McGonagall: A play what he wrote
"Seldom has there been a writer of such indefatigable ambition, singularly unmatched by even a smidgen of talent. There's something a bit cruel about the repeated reprinting of McGonagall's work." - DR GERARD CARRUTHERS, GLASGOW UNIVERSITY
Story in full ALREADY hailed as the world's worst poet, William McGonagall is poised to claim the title of the world's worst playwright, thanks to a newly discovered manuscript.
The lost play by the Dundonian wordsmith, which is set to be published next month, has been held up as a prime example of how not to write.
Penned in 1886, Jack o' the Cudgel, or The Hero of a Hundred Fights, is believed to be inspired by Shakespeare, although critics say it is a far cry from the Bard's high standards.
Critics who have already savaged the writer's poetic works are now turning their attention to his theatrical manifestations.
Dr Gerard Carruthers, a senior lecturer on Scottish literature at Glasgow University, described the play as "all action and no thought" and "a string of the most predictable clichs".
"Seldom has there been a writer of such indefatigable ambition, singularly unmatched by even a smidgen of talent," he said. "There's something a bit cruel about the repeated reprinting of McGonagall's work."
Chris Hunt, editor of the recently published William McGonagall Collected Poems, said: "McGonagall tried his hand at acting before turning to poetry. He thought he could write a play with a brilliant part for himself.
"I would very much imagine that he saw himself playing the role of Jack, but as usual he didn't get anywhere with it."
It was previously believed the poet's theatrical leanings ended after he trod the boards in the role of Macbeth.
Refusing to die, he was dragged off-stage by the audience. Dundee magistrates later banned him from performing after he caused a riot at a circus.
McGonagall famously walked to Balmoral Castle in a vain effort to persuade Queen Victoria to appoint him poet laureate.
He died penniless in 1902, but since his death the scribe has attracted a cult following, with fans including the late comedian Spike Milligan and members of Monty Python's Flying Circus. JK Rowling even named Harry Potter's teacher Professor McGonagall in his honour.
Marc Lambert, chief executive of the Scottish Book Trust, said despite McGonagall's literary shortcomings, he represented a form of writing still found in contemporary writers.
"He's become a whipping boy for people who want to sneer at that kind of writing, but he wanted to write for the people and be popular," he said.
"To an extent, it's criticising someone for what they're not, and never intended to be. There's no point in comparing him to Shakespeare.
"The plays of Liz Lochead for example, come out of that tradition of writing for a popular audience, and it's important not to devalue it."
THE LYRICAL GENIUS OF WILLIAM McGONAGALL
"Pig-headed giant begone or I'll make you repent/ For my name is Jack and I hail from Kent." (Jack o' the Cudgel)
"Beautiful railway bridge of the Silv'ry Tay/ Alas! I am very sorry to say/ That ninety lives have been taken away/ On the last Sabbath day of 1879/ Which will be remembered for a very long time." (The Tay Bridge Disaster)
"The pleasures of the little birds are all fled/ And with the cold many of them will be found dead/ Because the leaves of the trees are scattered in the blast/ And makes the feathered creatures feel downcast." (An Autumn Reverie)
"Beautiful Moon, with thy silvery light/ Thou seemest most charming to my sight/ As I gaze upon thee in the sky so high/ A tear of joy does moisten mine eye." (The Moon)
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