Oxford Shakespeare Company Founder Returns Home To Give Talks

NEW YORK- On Wednesday at 2 p.m. and on Friday at 6 p.m., local audiences are invited to hear Jamestown native Ron Song Destro talk about Shakespeare, and to be offered the results of his many of years of research into whether ”Hamlet” and ”Macbeth,” and all those other famous plays were actually the work of another small-town native, who lived in England, 400 years ago.

Destro is the founder and artistic director of the Oxford Shakespeare Company, an organization which educates actors in how to perform the canon of the Bard’s plays, and which produces performances of those plays.

We spoke with Destro, recently, in New York City, as he was preparing to spend a week here in Chautauqua County with his remaining relatives, as a break from his duties which regularly take him from Manhattan to London to Stratford-upon-Avon, where he regularly works with theater professionals at the very pinnacle of their professions. While he is here, he has agreed to share the results of his studies with audiences at Chautauqua’s Smith Memorial Library Wednesday, and at the James Prendergast Library on Friday.

Both presentations are open to the public without charge, although anyone attending the Chautauqua presentation will need to pay for admission to the grounds, if they don’t already have a gate pass.

”I first became really interested in Shakespeare while I was studying at Jamestown Community College,” he said. ”A group of actors and backstage professionals from England, belonging to a group called ‘The Poor Players’ came to teach about Shakespeare and to produce a performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ with a combination of British and JCC actors.”

With the Poor Players was a director named Rudy Shelley, who taught a class at JCC for acting students. Destro took the class and found himself thrilled and excited to learn about these wonderful plays which seem to understand so much about each of our lives, even from centuries away. From his studies in Jamestown, Destro went on to study at the University of Southern California, and to spend a year in London with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

As his studies progressed, Destro began to learn about the many people who have come to question that the man now called William Shakespeare could have possibly written the plays and poems which are attributed to him. He began to associate with a growing organization of people who are seeking to prove that someone with more education, and more life experience must have created the writings.

”We’ve been accused of being historical ‘Trekkies,”’ Destro laughed, admitting that conversation tends to be very singularly focused on Shakespeare, whenever they assemble.

”Many people take the attitude that to our perspective, hundreds of years after everyone in question has died, that it doesn’t matter who wrote the plays and poems, and we should just study them and watch them for themselves. I hold that first of all, someone who has made such a wonderful accomplishment deserves to be credited for having done it, but more important, knowing the true author of the plays affects the meanings of the words,” Destro said.

Among the candidates for the true identity of Shakespeare are Sir Francis Bacon, playwright Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Derby, The Earl of Rutland, and even the suggestion that the Queen herself, Elizabeth I, might have penned them and hidden her identity with a false name, so that she might speak the truth without creating a government scandal. Other researchers attribute one play to one candidate, two more plays to a different possible writer, etc.

Destro believes he knows who wrote the plays, and that it wasn’t ”the Stratford Man,” which is the term those who don’t believe Shakespeare wrote the plays use, reserving the name Shakespeare for whoever did write them, regardless of his or her real name.

”When I give these presentations,” he said, ”we typically get an audience of about 100 people. We take a rough vote before we begin and typically everyone but a handful believes that Shakespeare wrote the plays. By the time we’re done, nearly everyone is prepared to vote that he did not do so.”

Audiences are invited to attend one of Destro’s two lectures, to see if they can learn about Shakespeare’s plays, and if they can be convinced that the Stratford Man didn’t write them. As the author wrote himself, ”A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”