A short introduction to this paper
One of the most outstanding features of the human mind, is its strange incapability to accept – or even to recognize – the most obvious facts. That is to say: inconvenient facts.
Such an ostrich-like attitude is in general no help to improve knowledge. But this seems not always to be a disadvantage. As demonstrated in the case of that ancient historian, who once upon a time had to judge the truth in certain court gossip about the ancestry of his sovereign. It was only a couple of generations before his own time that some sceptical courtiers had suggested a young nobleman as the more likely father for the newborn Heir Apparent than the elderly King, who was senior to his Queen by quite a lot of decades. In the end this historian was able to produce two undeniable facts to refute this rumour as completely unfounded.
- Fact One: the courtier in question was to the Queen a lifelong friend, from the
day of her arrival at court onward.
- Fact Two: the heir developed during childhood an everlasting hatred towards
this same gentleman.
And as the historian brilliantly pointed out: things would have been exactly the other way round if this gentleman indeed had saved the dynasty from extinction. A conclusion that reveals a mind both working with scientific logic, and blessed with a deep insight in human psychology. This was in that age a rare combination of virtues, and therefore it was a remarkable achievement to combine these two unconnected observations to a single piece of evidence on the heir’s legitimacy. But once it was done, it appeared, as all sparks of genius, to be the summit of simplicity.
It learns the truth at first sight, just by taking facts at face value: To begin with; people cannot but love their natural parents. So, who would imagine an absolute monarch, his power and glory based solely on his descent, to be capable of hating the guts of the man supposed to have broken the chain of succession, if it had been true? And wouldn’t it be downright ridiculous to expect a man and a woman to remain friends for life if they indeed ever had produced a child together?
Even centuries after date it is hard to find some flaw in this line of reasoning. Explaining why nobody doubted the heir’s legitimacy ever after. His descendands continued to rule their country without a worry in the world, and if their dynasty is not extinct or overthrown, they still do this very day.
At least this historian had achieved that his findings could never be abused to cause a grave constitutional crisis.
Time has long since turned this powder keg into a harmless anecdote, fitting perfectly to the central theme of this article. But never ask me to reveal who was who. What can be gained from blackening a great queen’s reputation? As a rule, however, it is to a disastrous effect when experts submerge their heads in sand. Take for instance all those admiring comments on the short Elizabethan love song O Mistress Mine. The author being William Shakespeare himself is apparently all it takes to leave a dramatic collapse of quality – in only twelve lines – unmentioned. There is in fact as little poetry in the final triplet as there is clothing on an emperor in a certain tale by Andersen.
Yet, the title of OMM should be written in capitals. Its final chord might sound a little disappointing at first, but for those willing to accept this, there is a host of hidden extra’s in this song. Turning it into a box where sweets compacted lie.
The courage to bring Shakespeare down to one’s own level, is of course only to be found in another genius. As a result I had my own first taste of these sweets on a September evening in 2001, when the conductor of a Dutch chamber choir handed out twelve pages with choral music by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).