The Tragedy of Arthur
by Arthur Phillips
From the very first sentence, the author informs you that he is, unlike so many the world-over, not a fan of Shakespeare. In fact, he finds the man quite insulting. He’s insulted even by the fact that Shakespeare has had such a lengthy and successful legacy.
Phillips does, however have his reasons. His mis-placed anger toward his father, (himself a Shakespeare admirer) and his jealousy of the mutual hobby of Shakespeare worship shared between his twin sister and father leads Phillips to reject the playwright’s body of work at an early age. But there’s more, much more.
The book, marketed as an introduction to a new-found Shakespeare play may seem more of an autobiography of Phillips himself — and it is — for good reason. The resurrection of “The Tragedy of Arthur” is greatly influenced by his personal family history. One can’t help but wonder when, exactly, the author will get down to the business of the play. And yet, Phillips is able to keep his readers engaged. He even allows the reader a glimpse of conversations, emails and mailed correspondence between himself and his publisher, as well as the legal team of his publishing house.
Certainly there were times I felt no pity for the misfortunes of Phillips, some thrust upon him, others self-made. A handsome author, (I’ll allow those who are curious to Google for themselves) living first in New York and later Europe, he seems at a young age to worship women, with little respect for them.
But just before you begin to dislike the guy, he surprises you. In the end, Phillips wins his reader’s admiration, if only for his self-judgement and his well-crafted prose. He is painstakingly honest. He divulges his most essential personal weaknesses and failures in a way that leaves the reader with a newfound respect for Phillips himself. I often forgot the purpose of the introduction is to — well — introduce the play itself. I was simply lost in the story, enjoying the journey, as I would a long walk through a dense forrest with no view of the path.
And boy can this guy write. Phillips has a way of slowly developing into a wonderful paragraph of prose. As he unravels the painful, but often sweet familial stories, Phillips pays homage to his family by putting to paper his fondness for their quirks, even though he admits that as the book is going to print, his twin sister isn’t speaking to him. (The sister alone is a wonderful character).
Now down to the alleged Shakespeare play. Because I cannot claim to be a Shakespearean expert, (and because so many of the experts cited in the book were stumped themselves), I will leave the final decision to you. Did Shakespeare write the play? We may never know, but I can assure you both the book and the play are well worth the read. Who doesn’t, after all, enjoy a bit of mystery?