Updated: Nov 8
Once upon a time, or rather, fifty-five years ago, Stratford-upon-Avon buzzed with the hum of American tourists keen on all things Shakespearean. Amongst the cobblestone streets and historical landmarks, there was me — a young lad with a camera in hand and an enterprising spirit.
I had photographed Stratford's landmarks, the very places where the Bard himself strolled. To lend these photos an extra touch of historical gravitas, I enlisted the talents of Dennis Eagle, the curator of the grand estate at nearby Charlecote Park. He deftly turned my photographs into pen-and-ink drawings, adding an artistic flair that only enhanced their appeal.
Dennis was a fascinating man with stories as intriguing as the drawings he created. He showed me a private painting from the Charlecote collection that depicted William Shakespeare standing before the landowner, Sir Thomas Lucy, having been caught poaching deer at Charlecote Park. Despite there being no factual records of this event, and it largely being dismissed as fable, this painting, said Dennis, was never shown to the public, and I was sworn to secrecy. I can’t find any mention of it online either, which makes the experience all the more enchanting, and intriguing.
With these newly converted artworks in hand, I first took the important step of having the originals copied as both prints and postcards. The postcards were sold to shops in town but with the prints I headed for the tourist-laden streets of Stratford. These copies were my wares. But here's where a bit of mischief came into play. I would sit in apparent concentration, pen poised over a large print, feigning the creation of an 'original' masterpiece. Tourists would often stop, intrigued by the 'artist' at work, and many asked for signed pieces.
To them, the signature made it a priceless memento. For me, it was a profitable, if not entirely honest, summer venture that brought in a modest but welcome income. The illusion was as masterful as any Shakespearean plot twist, and like any good story, it left an indelible mark on all who were part of it.
So there it is, my tale of art, deceit, and Shakespearean allure, played out against the backdrop of a Stratford summer. The experience was not just a financial boon; it was a lesson in the ways of the world, a lesson in craftiness and opportunity, and a nod to the very themes that the great Bard himself so often explored.
I sometimes think back to that fateful summer, to the tourists' faces lit up with delight and to Dennis, whose artistic talents and secret paintings set the whole stage. It's a memory that reminds me of the cunning and complexity that life's twists and turns often entail, a veritable play in which I was both actor and spectator. And like any good story, it's one worth telling, again and again.
So ends my Stratford tale. Would the Bard have approved? Ah, who knows. But it certainly made for one unforgettable summer.
So doth conclude mine tale from Stratford's street,
Would Master Shakespeare give his nod or frown?
Ah, who can say, where truth and fiction meet,
Yet verily, a summer of renown.