In the heady euphoria since the birth of His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge, it's been apparent that Cambridge is, as ever, not a bastion of royalist sentiment. While local news confidently predicted that the city would be swaddled in baby blue, the city's mayor, interviewed on the evening of the birth, was circumspect– possibly even complacent – about any boost to the city's national or international status by dint of association with the latest heir to the throne. He has a point: there are, at present, so many visitors that it's already impossible to walk unjostled through Cambridge's main streets.
If Cambridge blue has yet to be replaced by an infant hue, the souvenir stands dotted around the tourist routes are still doing good business. “I heart London” hoodies and Big Ben plastic snowstorms are, as ever, flying off the shelves. Perhaps, respectively, they're successful, if subliminal, antidotes to the heatwave. To judge by their comparative unpopularity, paperweights shaped like King's College Chapel are somehow lost in translation.
My Oxford-born daughter wonders if, because of his territorial designation, the new Prince will at some point come to study at Cambridge. It strikes me as just one of the unanswered questions upon which his life will be buoyed and, it seems likely, of less concern than certain other key conundrums such as the future of hereditary monarchy. Counter-suggestive to a fault, my Cambridge-born son asks why there is no corresponding Dukedom of Oxford.
Experience teaches that it's easier to pick up the ball and run with it than supply a short answer which will lead to another question in cases like this. Hence a lengthy monologue-cum-interrogation on the Earldom of Oxford (now believed extinct), the 17th holder of that title, and his putative authorship of the works of Shakespeare. Indeed, as the summer holidays stretch far, far ahead, the spirit is willing but I suspect I may not find time to read [the recent offering from Cambridge University Press http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/literature/renaissance-and-early-modern-literature/shakespeare-beyond-doubt-evidence-argument-controversy] on the very topic of Shakespeare controveversy.
Its authors, Professor Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson, are noted scholars associated with The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Their thesis is that Bard denial has gone too far when Brunel University offers an MA in Shakespeare Authorship and, among others, noted Shakespearean actors (including Sir Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance) have nailed their colours to the sceptics' mast of the glover's son from Stratford-upon-Avon being the wrong man. Cambridge's new prince may not, as yet, have elicited any demonstrable allegiance here, but Cambridge University Press has indeed made a controversial alliance.
My children inhabit a meritocratic universe with which the concept of the peerage does not square. An end of term exhortation to pupils at my daughter's school prize giving commended three role models, one of whom was Sir Robert Falcon Scott, after whom Cambridge's Polar Research Institute is, in tribute, named. No mention of the fact that, unlike his contemporary polar adventurer Roald Amundsen, he was responsible for lost lives and the oxymoronic appellation 'heroic failure'.
Not unreasonably, my son asks what one has to do to have one's name attached to a university building. I talk about legacy, money, reputation and impact. I've just watched the BBC's recent biopic about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and I remember with clarity and delight spending many student hours at the then Burton Taylor Theatre (now Burton Taylor Studios) before the Oxford Playhouse re-opened. I add that it's also sometimes to do with love; of person, place, or time. My son might cringe but Scott, whatever I might think of his achievement, was loved by many.
Richard Burton loved language and forever valued his six months of study at Exeter College, Oxford, endowing the University with priceless rehearsal and performance space just as he lavished jewels on Elizabeth Taylor. The new Prince of Cambridge will certainly be loved (and I wouldn't bet on a pub or two in his honour) and, as for Shakespeare...
Image by National Portrait Gallery