Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Arthur Phillips

In Arthur Phillips's latest novel The Tragedy of Arthur, the protagonist--also named Arthur Phillips--is bequeathed a previously unknown play allegedly written by Shakespeare in 1597. The man who gives him the play (titled The Tragedy of Arthur)--which appears in the novel in its five-act entirety--is his father...who happens to be a con man.

From Phillips's Q & A with Julie Steinberg at the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: How did you go about writing a Shakespearean play?

Arthur Phillips: The experts helped me on later drafts. It was a very technical process. I read all of Shakespeare’s work the order it was written in and compared the source book to finished product. It was a question of vocabulary choices and the rigidity of the rhyme scheme, the number of syllables. I didn’t use any words that he didn’t have access to. I looked at how often he ended an act in a rhyming couplet and the percentage of people who tend to be dead at the end of a history play, for example. The more questions you can ask yourself about his patterns, the more you can find him.

Were you trying to organize the novel that way as well? Shakespeare often portrays events over which the individual has no control, something that happens to Arthur in the book.

It was mostly accidental. I was very conscious of the form in the play and tried to match his structural habits. In the novel, I wanted to have his other plays echoing throughout. When Arthur falls in love, it’s with a “dark lady.” Stuff like that mattered to me.

The book confronts issues of authenticity in the form of a debate on whether Shakespeare wrote all the plays himself. Does it matter for you who wrote them?

I’m...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue