Shakespeare in France: France comes to Shakespeare

As Scotland ponders its future in a very public process, researchers looking for evidence that Shakespeare visited France have uncovered a wealth of information that shows that Shakespeare’s patron, James Stuart and his court were very well established in France, giving pause to traditional analyses that claim that France was not appreciative of Shakespeare’s work until a couple of centuries after his death.

Part of the problem for traditional scholars seems to be that the borders of France continued to shift, bringing Lorraine and Alsace into the country for good a scant 70 years ago. Prior to that time, although they were historically dually French and of the Roman Empire, they did not attract the same amount of notice as the rest of France.

No wonder then that in looking through records that register the lives of French people during that time period, there is a treasure trove of information available showing that the relatives of the Guise family of Lorraine, the British and Scottish Catholic exiles in France, and merchants and other royalty not only attended Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe, but were also influenced by what they saw.

Comedy becomes Tragedy

Over time, as wars were waged, the role of the locals in every event from the Spanish Armada to the escape of Arabella Stuart- to the gossip surrounding one of the locals, who returned from a royal visit purportedly pregnant are discussed. Unfortunately, the ravages of time include grafitti and historical raids on documents that could be construed as reshaping history through the lens of those who would like to keep information as stratified as possible have taken their toll on the digitized versions available to the public.

The Tale of Anna/Alisa Ger

In the 1500s, the descendants of Janos Wass, the illegitimate son of Louis II of Hungary arrived in the wine country of Eastern France. A daughter, Alisa, soon made her way up to Scotland aboard one of the many ships on the Strasbourg – England, Scotland route. As a royal, she purportedly met James VI and spent time with him in 1586 when he was still a prince. According to the records in 4 separate towns, the result of that meeting was that she was accorded the privileges of a lady and had her claim to descendancy legitimized. She also received a piece of jewelry from James VI at that time. By the early 1600s, when her daughter, Anna Wass got married, the rumors were flying and subsequently written down that she was descended directly from James VI.  As most of the locals were descended from former knights, a steering committee was set up to continue to safeguard the records.

Meanwhile, in other parts of Lorraine and Alsace, like tulip mania, other women were recorded as having slept with and having children with the descendants of James VI- so that after a century and a half, popular as it was to have royalty associated with your business, hundreds of French descendants were able to claim an illegitimate link to the royal family of Scotland and England.

By the time the American revolution rolled around, the Ger family and the Plaus or Plowlove, sic. Plaus luv family became something of a topic of conversation as the competitors of the young American republic dove into the French records to find where the founders’ families came from. What they started to find was the legend that James had indeed fathered several people- and that there had been no acknowledgement that those recording it were telling the truth.  For those families that were connected to the Wass family, it was therefore something of a bonus to find out that Pierre du Cimitiere, the artist who worked closely with Thomas Jefferson, codified their lineage forever in his version of the Great Seal that was intended to serve as the seal for the United States. Of course, included in the drawing of the great seal were also a series of maps that showed not only the journeys of pro-US agents as they garnered support for the revolution, but a list of European countries that stood firm in backing the US as it’s own country. . Of even further interest are the troop movements on ships that were shown in various parts of the US and world.

The beauty of the story from Pierre’s perspective would have been the notion that a touching story about a family’s attempt to legitimize their history was finally ended happily by forever documenting them in a seal that would stand the test of time- and served as a layer that would distract people from the other purposes of the actual message. In a sense, although the seal was never adopted, it probably ended up being useful as a propaganda tool for politicians as they could see which countries stood with them instantly. The question for historians is: Was the Ger James VI story a revolutionary gambit to aid in information gathering? Was it truly a ‘placid lamb’ acting as a lion as the records indicate? Or was the payoff to the lambs a seal that forever bore their name?

As for Shakespeare, the Wass family was also connected to James Stuart’s closest advisers, who helpfully passed along information over the years that showed their cousins work on stage for Shakespeare and behind the scenes on specific plays. Of those families that history does not necessarily record otherwise, Williams is a name that shows up frequently in France as having been involved and there are several Williams that moved back and forth between London and Strasbourg during that time period.

What it did for France

Although the various voyages in the French records do not record Shakespeare as having visited, they do show that his bawdy humor came through in the records… and a house of Play was formed that has become famous over the centuries for the titles of the plays that were supposedly performed at French weddings. Ian Plowlove in No War, Just Luv and Hugues, Love Earl are examples of how topical satire was blended with a form of wordplay that utilized not two, but three or four meanings and more than one language at a time. This is in direct contradiction to what some scholars claim about the France of this time period with regard to drama.

Of course, popularity does not only breed emulation, it also brings competition in the form of people who want a say in what history does have to say. Therefore, before the records were digitized, various groups that gained access to the original records managed upon occasion to create rewrites for faded records that blended new meaning into the old documents. Unfortunately, without a system of documented provenance, for those people who had their records rewritten during that time period, a lot of the information that explained historical exploits that occurred during the actual time period were also wiped out in favor of the new point of view, effectively erasing what their family had been.

The Southern California Connection

Hollywood and Southern California are a place where connections often matter. For much of the early 20th century, the records in France and the family connections with others in industry helped people launch careers. Because of the intense competition for work there, however, at a certain point, the records in Eastern France were plundered by early data miners in order to help them figure out whose family was whose. Business intelligence groups went to work learning whose network was whose and people with connections to the area began to be attacked.

By the late 20th century, the documents were on their way to being digitized and the need to write over them was gone for those that intended to change history. After the documents went on line, a group of hackers assembled and began to add neon and other layers to documents so that people who wanted to add notes without people viewing the documents noticing could see what they were trying to say. It proved to be an interesting way of keeping track of each record- except when the people that were doing that to compete with others left their info online, it became available to anyone that could read it with a filter. Groups of families that knew that the records were under attack also formed counter groups to ‘cover’ the records by associating words in the records in order to keep track of any changes that might be made to specific records.

The net result was some nastiness that has been frequently recycled. One record that contains info about Carl Karcher, the founder of Carl’s Jr. was recently re-used in an attempt to discredit the documentation of Pan Am 1′s editor, a distant cousin of the Karcher family. The record was probably used decades ago to gather information on the Karchers and this time around they attempted to use graffiti close to the record to state that the record was bogus. As it worked out, Pan Am researchers merely mentioned that it was not a record associated with the family of the editor or the Karchers and so why would it matter. The attacks ended.

Other records that were manipulated point to phrases in English that were incorporated into documents that have proven to be ‘predictions’ of the future for the family in the record. Several deaths and maimings have therefore occurred over the past century as a result of this; and where it can be shown that the record was rewritten with an innocuous, yet dangerous set of circumstances embedded, the police have sometimes been contacted.

Just the same, with Scotland ready to vote on its potential independence and more and more records available all the time, families that go online to check their genealogy might be surprised at the richness of cultures present in their families before they arrived in the Americas.