Village hosts first arts festival

WAS he or wasn't he? That is the question. It is a line that could come straight out of a play by William Shakespeare - or should that be Edward de Vere?The true identity of the "immortal bard" is the main topic of discussion as one of the region's historic villages hosts its first ever arts festival, which started last night .

WAS he or wasn't he? That is the question. It is a line that could come straight out of a play by William Shakespeare - or should that be Edward de Vere?

The true identity of the "immortal bard" is the main topic of discussion as one of the region's historic villages hosts its first ever arts festival, which started last night .

A 320-seat amphitheatre has been set up in Lavenham's market place, where some of Shakespeare's finest works will be recreated during the three-day EADT-sponsored event.

But many of the visitors who flock to enjoy the production of the farcical Comedy of Errors or the tragic Macbeth will be unaware the occasion will be somewhat of a homecoming for the celebrated playwright.

A growing band of academics believe Lavenham's former Lord of the Manor and 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, was the true author behind the plays attributed to Shakespeare.

Born at Hedingham Castle in 1550, the aristocrat was a patron of the arts and his legacy left Renaissance Britain with a rich theatrical and poetic heritage.

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And although he died 400 years ago, his loyal band of supporters, know as Oxfordians, cite two pieces of evidence to back up the theory de Vere was the real Shakespeare.

They say there are parallels between his personal experiences and the works of Shakespeare, adding that direct references to de Vere's life and concerns are made throughout the bard's poems and plays.

The Earl was also known to have been a great favourite of Elizabeth I, for whom the Merry Wives of Windsor was specifically written.

Brian Hicks, of the de Vere Society, will give an insight into the identity of Shakespeare during the festival, which has been organised by the Historic Lavenham Merchants Guild.

The eagerly awaited event began last night when Leigh Aston gives a presentation on Lavenham's historic buildings, which will be followed by Heartbreak Productions' performance of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors in the amphitheatre.

Events throughout today will culminate in a concert by up-and-coming jazz singer Clare Teal, who recently signed a multi-million pound deal with Sony Records, with the festival brought to a dramatic end with a production of Macbeth tomorrow evening.

Event spokesman Julie Isahak said: "In its first year Lavenham Arts Festival will be celebrating the performing arts within the magnificent setting of the Market Place.

"Sixteenth century drama will rub shoulders with 21st Century music in the open air concert hall. Topping the Lavenham jazz bill is Clare Teal. She is dubbed the sexiest voice in jazz and is guaranteed to melt hearts."

For tickets, telephone Julie Isahak on 01787 248179 or Tony Hepworth on 01787 248054.

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