Household calamity, here in the wilds of Berkshire.
My appliances have clearly held a meeting and do not approve of their working conditions. And now a conspiracy is afoot.
The first to down tools was the food mixer. Then the breadmaker, producer of wholemeal, home-made bread daily, began to produce flat paperweights which could anchor a small liner.
And finally a tetchy Phil informed me the iron was roughing up his shirts.
We have two choices: we can repair: or throw away. It rankles to throw these things out; their construction is sturdy, their composition nigh-on irreversible, and they were all purchased in the not so distant past.
But we are not practical people. While we might long to look under the bonnet, we wouldn’t have a clue what was going on there. For the want of an odd job man, the three miscreants might as well take themselves to the tip and chuck themselves over the side. The waste verges on criminal.
An underrated man, Johnny Do-It-All. Or as they say in Latin, Johannes Factotem.
And never more than when the term was used of the greatest playwright who ever populated the boards.
Of course, the term was meant to be derogatory. And it was wielded by a character who was a literary giant when William Shakespeare was a young upstart.
Actually – and this is a tangent I am unable to resist – it was used a year before Christopher Marlowe was stabbed in a pub brawl, placing Shakespeare in London before Marlowe’s death, and vanquishing my favourite conspiracy theory that Shakespeare was indeed Marlowe.
The litarary giant was a big, bluff, badly behaved man called Robert Greene.
How badly behaved it is difficult to divine, for he made his name in later times as a celebrity writer, chronicling his own bad deeds and decline in fly-on-the-wall pamphlets. Many of his claims are dramatic; their provenance questionable. He claims to have travelled Italy and Spain where he “sawe and practizde such villainie as is abhominable to mention”, yet there is no evidence of this experience in his writings.
Greene seems to have been born in 1558 in Norwich, the son of a saddler or a publican – there are two Robert Greenes born in that year in Norwich- and then gained a scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge.
He did not distinguish himself; he graduated 38th out of 41 scholars. But he made a canny move: he began to write romances.
Like the MIlls and Boons of today they sold well. They were carefully pitched to appeal to gentlewomen but wooed gentlemen as well. But the parallel with penny fiction ends there: as well as being prolific he was clever, inventive and entertaining. His works flew off the shelves.
At which time he turned to parodying himself.
He wrote about his misdeeds and his clear need to repent and the audience loved it. Green became the first celebrity writer, according to the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography. A fellow writer, Gabriel Harvey, in his Foure Letters, described him by the late 1580s: “Who in London hath not heard of his dissolute, and licentious living; his fonde disguising of a Master of Arte with ruffianly haire, unseemely apparrell, and more unseemelye Company … his fine coosening of Juglers, and finer juggling with cooseners, … [his] impudent pamphletting, phantasticall interluding, and desperate libelling. ”
But he knew writing. And he knew plays, too: he took the rough English dramas of the time and gave them form: he linked different sub plots with common themes, and treated women differently and more sympathetically, much as he had in his romances.
And then a young playwright appeared who bested all that, and has buried all Greene’s achievements.
William Shakespeare: a young actor-turned playwright. Scholars have uncovered affectionate references in the younger man’s work to the older man’s influence. One academic has even advanced the theory that Falstaff is Greene.
But just after the death of the old reprobate, a posthumous pamphlet was published under his name. No-one knows conclusively whether it is his or not. It is called Greenes Groats-Worth of Witte.
In it: pure historical gold: the first written reference to Shakespeare. Although it is a curmudgeonly perspective.
“there is an upstart Crow,” it goes, “beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrie.”
So: Shakespeare was a Johnny Do-It-All. An upstart crow with a tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide.
And that was just the beginning of a very long story…
Written in response to Side View’s Theme for this week: Odd Jobs – which you can find here