Of Shakespeare, Queen & honours

Columnist  | Kishwar Desai

Opinion, Oped

Keeping to the royal theme, a scholar has discovered that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet later than people had thought.

William Shakespeare

On the royal front, the news is that the Queen missed the Christmas and New Year festivities due to her cold but is back in harness. The job she does is demanding but little do we know how much so. We just learned that while strolling in the grounds of her palace late one night she was shot at by a guard who thought she was an intruder. Fortunately he missed and apologised. She did not mind; just promised to phone ahead next time she felt like taking a midnight stroll.

Keeping to the royal theme, a scholar has discovered that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet later than people had thought. He wrote it after Queen Elizabeth the First had died and not during her lifetime. So now one can read it as a veiled critique of the mayhem of conspiracies and murders in the Elizabethan age. By the time Shakespeare wrote the play, James the Fifth, King of the Scots, had been invited to take over the English throne as well. This is what happens at the end of the play Hamlet. The hero Hamlet, his uncle Claudius, his mother Gertrude, Laertes, the brother of Ophelia, are all killed by one or the other of them. Then after these multiple murders, a foreign King, Fortinbrass, enters and as he takes over the Kingdom of Denmark, he reflects on what an awful condition the kingdom is in. Had Will written it while Good Queen Bess was around, he would have been at the wrong end of a rapier.

Passengers on a train from London to Edinburgh on the Virgin Rail East Coast line had a nasty surprise. A scorpion was found crawling along the carriage. Panicked people appealed to the guard for help. The scorpion was nabbed. It belonged to a lady travelling on the train. It was her pet scorpion whom she carried in a plastic box. She was told to give up the creature or get off the train. She let it go and continued her travel. No doubt in India, passengers could have tweeted Suresh Prabhu and he would have tackled the problem online.

On a more serious note, Indian women resident in the UK have demonstrated against domestic abuse by their husbands and family by sleeping a night on the streets. The Indian Ladies in the UK (ILUK) is an organisation with several thousand members. On December 23, the women joined the worldwide Million Women Rise March. They have been doing this for 10 years. It is a progressive group which tries to raise gender awareness among the diaspora community. All power to them.

The New Year Honours came around again. This year there was a lot for sportsmen and women. Andy Murray, who has had a very successful 2016, winning Wimbledon for a second time and ranking number one in the Association of Tennis Professionals list, got a well deserved knighthood as did Mo Farah, the champion runner. Literally at the top of the list was Professor Shankar Balasubramanian of Cambridge. Among others were two hockey players from the UK women’s team. Kate Richardson-Walsh, the captain, got an OBE, and her wife in their lesbian union, Helen Richardson-Walsh, got an MBE. It says something about the revolution David Cameron gave a hand to when single-sex marriages were legalised. Sir Roger Banister, who ran a four-minute mile 60 years ago and then served Cambridge University in many capacities, became a Companion of Honour as did Shirley Williams, the much loved politician who was a Cabinet minister under Labour, broke away to form the Social Democratic Party and became finally a Liberal Democratic peer. She is also a great friend of India.

London has broken the record for air pollution. In five days of the New Year, the annual air pollution limit has been exceeded. Brixton Road in Lambeth, not far from where our house is, has been the winner in this pollution race. Sadiq Khan had promised to tackle this problem. Now it has become an urgent problem. He has promised to get it down by 2019 to half its current limit. He better get his skates on.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the distinct radio programme, Desert Island Discs. The format is standard since Roy Plomley interviewed the first guest back in 1942. The idea is that if you are a castaway what eight records would you like to hear. Then the guest is asked what one item if luxury would they choose. “Endless afternoon tea” was Alan Bennett’s answer. Hitchcock told Plomley in 1959 that his next film was a psychological, a gentle horror film. Norman Mailer wanted a long stick of marijuana. Plomley told him it was an illegal request. After Plomley there have been Sue Lawley and Kirsty Young and more will come as the programme marches to its centenary.