Volume 76, Number 44 | March 28 - April 3, 2007

The bard in question: Drama revisionist John Hudson would have us believe it was Aemelia Bassano Lanyer, left, who wrote “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and not the guy above. Hudson’s version is at the Abingdon Theater through April 1.

A midsummer’s misunderstanding

By Jerry Tallmer

It was the dice that did it, gave him the clue, like a light going on, like a key turning in a lock.

A couple of Roman soldiers passed the time at the foot of the Cross rolling some dice. We have been told this by John — John the Baptist, that is, not John Hudson.

“And now look at the death of Pyramus,” says drama revisionist John Hudson, stirring his tea. “Look at the parallels.”

He means Pyramus as played by Bottom the Weaver — he of the ass’s head that so charms Titania — in the Rude Mechanicals’ assault on the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” an entertainment by, until this moment, a certain William Shakespeare.

“First this Pyramus is stabbed in the side. Then the light disappears, as in the Gospels. And then there’s a game of dice. Excuse me!” says John Hudson with a Brit’s plus a statistician’s asperity, “but that’s the Crucifixion! A comic Crucifixion.”

The thread of those two dice games would lead John Hudson, whose profession he defines as “the critical statistical analysis of literature and the media,” to spend the next three years pursuing, developing, and proving to his own satisfaction that the play we all thought William Shakespeare had written is — instead — “an allegorical Jewish satire” written by an Elizabethan Jewish woman of dark hue named Aemelia Bassano Lanyer (1569-1645).

A formidable (not to say tireless) poet, and the mistress of men in high places — the Lord Chamberlain, censor of the London theater, for one — Lanyer was the offspring of a family of Venetian musicians of Jewish Moorish descent who had come to England in 1528 to serve as court musicians for Henry VIII. Britain’s provocative scholar A.L. Rowse wrote a book about her, “The Poems of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady” (1973), that has stood Hudson in good stead.

Having proved to himself that Amelia (the spelling varies) Lanyer wrote “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” not to mention all the rest of Shakespeare — Hudson’s encyclopedic portfolio of what he submits as evidence goes far beyond a dice game — the 53-year-old researcher is now amongst us rude mechanicals on this side of the water with a theatrical offering he hopes will clinch Aemelia’s Shakespearean authorship — or at least open our minds to it a crack.

The show — “Midsumer Night’s Dream: A Comic Jewish Satire, by Amelia Bassano Lanyer, a/k/a William Shakespeare” — is performed by the Dark Lady Players, who are indeed 11 young ladies (and one young man), as directed by Mahayana Landowne, with Hudson as dramaturg.

After a single performance last week at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., it opens here Wednesday, March 28, 8 p.m., for four evenings and two matinees through April 1 at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex on West 36th Street.

In Hudson’s interpretation, checked and rechecked and computer re-rechecked by him to 17 decimal places, Bottom = Pyramus = Jesus; Flute = Thisbe = the Church; Titania = Titus Caesar, destroyer of Jerusalem; Oberon = Yahweh (Jehovah), the Hebrew God; Puck = Robin = the Devil; The Wall = the partition between Earth and Heaven; the Little Indian Boy (whom Titania and Oberon fight over) = the Jewish Messiah; the little boy’s Votress mother = the Virgin Mary; and so on. 

I asked Hudson if he could put his whole theory, his whole thesis, into one sentence, maybe 30 words. Here they are:

“This play is a comic Jewish allegory depicting the death of Jesus and the Church, and Yahwey’s revenge on Titus Caesar for destroying Jerusalem and stealing away the child who represents the Messiah.”

Well, 33 words. Not bad. Thirty words if you subtract “This play is.”

He compares his analysis to “peeling away the layers of a coconut” until you get to the truth at the core. When he was at Exeter University in the early ’70s, he did research on how, in the Gospel of Matthew, “some of the speeches from the Cross are, as is well known, a direct reversal of Psalm 22.”

Not just Elizabethan theater but Elizabethan life, Hudson points out, was full of allegories and puns. “Once you know what they are, they’re not difficult to find.”

John Hudson was born January 24, 1954, in Harrow, England. “Yes, where the famous school is, but I didn’t go to that school, I went to Merchant Taylor’s.”

His mother was, he says, a hidden child in Germany during the Holocaust. He sums up his father as “an English Protestant” who was “deputy secretary for state employment in the Thatcher government.”

John Hudson had put in much of his life doing “complicated analyses of the media” for big corporations that want to one-up one another. (“Did you know that the Elizabethan theater was in a sense the beginning of mass media?”)

One day he decided “to stop working for big corporations and go to work for myself.”

What he found was Aemilia Bassano Lanyer — and Bottom as Pyramus as Jesus. And that’s no donkeyshines.

MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: A COMIC JEWISH SATIRE. By Amelia Bassano Lanyer, a/k/a William Shakespeare. March 28-April 1 at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, 312 West 36th Street, (212) 868-4444.

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