Friday, July 30, 2010

Stealing Shakespeare: poverty, debt and delusion

Anyone else watch the Stealing Shakespeare documentary last night on BBC1?

Okay, the reason I ended up watching was thanks to a timely tip-off three mins in from Chrissie to say David Tennant was doing the narration, but it was a fascinating programme.

The central figure, Raymond Scott, was by turns eccentric, lavish in his performed lifestyle ("it is possible to live a champagne lifestyle on a larger budget" - yes, if you get yourself nearly £100,000 GBP in debt) and utterly deluded.

Scott, from County Durham, claimed to have acquired a book in Cuba which he then took to the Folger Shakespeare Library... The narrative from that point got more confusing with Scott being proven to have not even been in Cuba at the time he claimed (though he'd certainly lived the highlife there on several previous occasions). The book he presented for investigation? A Shakespeare First Folio - minus its covers, frontispiece, final page and with its binding significantly damaged.

The programme was a curious beast: Scott, happy to have more than his Warhol allotted 15 minutes of fame, appeared throughout the documentary, in his Tiffany sunglasses indoors and outdoors. At first he just appeared to be a rather odd wealthy Brit, with ostentatious taste in clothes, decor and accoutrements (his Ferrari car). He travelled the world, spending freely. But the reality was he was unemployed and living with his elderly mother --- I couldn't help thinking what his mother thought he was doing and whether her parts of the rather ordinary house they lived in were equally lavishly decorated? What is it about credit companies that can allow someone someone to get into such levels of debt?

Anyway, Scott was eventually cleared of stealing the Durham copy of Shakespeare's First Folio (which had been stolen in the 1990s), but was found guilty of handling stolen goods. The Durham edition, mutilated as it was by the time Scott tried to have it authenticated, is hopefully heading back to Durham. Scott faces time in prison, where I really hope someone can helpfully temper his delusions of grandeur (and lying). I'm all for people looking at the stars, not being constrained into misery by poverty and circumstances, but delusion - and corresponding indebtedness - are not the way to dream of a better life.

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