‘William Holds the Stage’ by Richmal Crompton

Taking a quick detour into classic children’s comedy, in which no-one is stalked by a grisly double but a schoolboy does nearly drive his teacher insane. I think including this story might be cheating, since I listened to the audiotapes – read by Martin Jarvis – so much as a child that I’m not entirely convinced I’ve ever actually read it. A story in which William Brown gets involved in a production of Hamlet, ‘William Holds The Stage’ contains probably the finest takedown in English Literature of Shakespeare-truthers, and it’s my favourite for this reason:

“How could that other man Ham…”
“I said Bacon.”
“Well, it’s nearly the same,” said William. “Well, how could this man Bacon write them if Shakespeare wrote them?”
“Ah, but you see I don’t believe that Shakespeare did write them,” said Mr Welbecker mysteriously.
“Well, why’s he got his name printed on all the books then?” said William. “An’ if this other man Eggs…”
“I said Bacon,” snapped Mr Welbecker again. “I want first to tell you the story of the play of which you are all going to act a scene,” he said. “There was a man called Hamlet…”
“You just said he was called Bacon,” said William.
“I did not say he was called Bacon,” snapped Mr Welbecker.
“Yes, ‘scuse me, you did,” said William politely.
“Listen!This man was called Hamlet and his uncle had killed his father because he wanted to marry his mother.”
“What did he want to marry his mother for?” said William. “I’ve never heard of anyone wanting to marry their mother.”
“It was Hamlet’s mother he wanted to marry.”
“Oh, that man that you think wrote the plays.”

Collected in William The Pirate, George Newnes, 1932

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