Diana De Vere solved the crux of the Washington summer party (the problem has always been what to have a summer party for) by calling in the supreme poet of the language.
She could not quite manage William Shakespeare himself, of course, but she got Sam Schoenbaum, who is practically the same thing, being a world authority on Shakespeare's biography.
She also avoided the common pitfall of rounding up too many Shakespeare buffs, who by nature are full of curious theories and loud dissensions and add little to a party. Instead you might find a State Department fellow fascinated with the relationship of budget to policy, and a splendid doctor of internal medicine and so on.
Newspaper reporters add very little to a just celebration of Shakespeare, but this did not bother Miss De Vere who had a whole flock of them and, in a startling show of boldness, even invited a reporter's brother.
One young man had been in three houses where he saw ghosts - people were much put out that they had never seen any while this man had seen three, but as President Kennedy used to say, life is unfair.
There was a Ms. Godley ("just think of ungodly") and a Ms. Bott, and Mr. Jones - but Bott is a name that makes any Shakespeare buff leap a lap or two, as Schoenbaum proved.
"Did you hear her name?" someone said.
"Yes," he gasped.
Before Shakespeare bought his fine old house at Stratford, there was a family named Bott, and all Shakespeare scholars recall Wm. Bott.
That man's son-in-law once observed he had been "openly detected of great and notorious crimes, as, namely, felony, adultery, whoredom, falsehood and forgery," but of course no one is perfect, and the thing that really raised eyebrows in the 16th century was that the said Bott's daughter "did die suddenly an was poisoned with ratsbane and therewith swelled to death" (as contemporary documents attest).
"There was a strain of Peyton Place in Stratford," said Schoenbaum.
"Just like 45th Street," said a guest (the party was on 45th Street).
The scholar's new book, "William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life," is an Oxford Press popular version of his earlier lavish documentary biography which critics vastly admired though as the critic of The Guardian complained, it was too bulky for comfortable reading in bed or bath.
The new version is of smaller format and dandy for such places.
Schoenbaum dug up the Bott murder from files of an earlier researcher and like much else in the book made it easily available to the general reader. A purported witness to the alleged murder goes on in ghastly and delicious detail about it, in the book.
Of course that was long ago and everybody is dead.
De Vere herself bears a name famous for belonging to one of the leading contenders for "the real Shakespeare." (There is a thriving cottage industry in the manufacture of identities for Shakespeare, since many people refuse to believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's verse, and they prefer to think somebody grander than a rual glover's son was author. Edward De Vere, the 16th Earl of Oxford, was a much fancier gentleman, and some people for some reason think the aristocracy make better poets than country boys, on no evidence whatever.)
With Sam Schoenbaum, who believes Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, such matters are not discussed.
His fascination with the poet dates to his high school days in New York City when he saw Paul Robeson in "Othello" and never got over it.
"I can't remember anything from last year," the scholar said, "but of course I can remember everything about that Othello vividly."
A director of Shakespeare plays at the Folger Shakespeare Library was pleased. The only way (he said more than once) to get into Shakespeare is to see the plays performed. Often, he said, people are put off by the long cast of characters, and besides education today does not teach kids how to read plays, but once you see a play, then it's easy to read it.
Schoenbaum was ready at this point to launch his favorite argument, that Shakespeare has been all but ruined for millions by the reverence and awe in which he is held.
"The old Mount Rushmore treatment," he said while negotiating some Brie on a hunk of bread and wondering if the conversation would keep long enough to get some wine from a table under a tree.
"Look at those slates," said a guest in this interim, and everyone admired the inch-thick roof tiles of De Vere's house. "They don't cut slates like that any more."
"Indeed they don't," another guest said, "Poor quarter-inch staff nowadays."
But Schoenbaum refused, trailing the glory of the English Renaissance with him, and continued:
"You remember Wolcott Gibbs" he said. "Who could not enjoy Shakespeare because it has been ruined for him as a youth. All that reference and awe.
One thing I do in my book is stick to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] evidence. Shakespeare was human.
"He married at 17 - his wife was already [WORD ILLEGIBLE] . . ."
How little the world changes everyone said.
"And he had children and figured in lawsuits and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] property and at the second finest house in town."
They say he drank, and illegally shot deep in the great Lucy estate, and there was this other Anne who was not his wife and of course the Dark [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and the man known only as [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] and people have always suspected there was more - he was [WORDS ILLEGIBLE]
This was only one two murders shortly before Shakespeare bought the house in which the murder was done to gain or reinforce an estate. The same theme occurs in "Hamlet," which as Schoenbaum is delighted to point out, was written shortly after Shakespeare acquired the murder-ridden house.
His own favorite of the plays is "Antony and Cleopatra," he went on. "These final scenes in which Cleopatra holds the asp like a baby . . ."
"And Antony hauled on ropes in the tower," blurted someone.
"And how she deceived Caesar," said the scholar, whose cheese and wine were quite gone, but who was excited and delayed further fodder, lost in the deviousness of Cleopatra.
"We say we admire the psychological development, but don't we really mean we are seduced by the words," said a fellow.
The scholar, half assenting, began [WORD ILLEGIBLE] from Cleopatra's death scene, when someone commented on the gorgeous language Shakespeare sometimes gave servants and monsters.
"Caliban has all the gorgeousness of "The Tempest" someone argued.
"Not quite," said the scholar. "There is Prospero, after all."
"Yes, but it's Caliban who melts you, more than the cloud-capp'd towers," went the argument.
"But that's Shakespeare," said the scholar. "He always likes to argue against himself. He sets up Prospero as marvelous, then takes a character who is his opposite, the animal-like Caliban, and gives him such beautiful lines you see Caliban's point, too."
"Shakespeare in that case sort of eats away what he has so painstakingly built up, then," said someone.
"Well," said the scholar, "they say creation is a kind of self-destruction."
Meanwhile Diana De Vere was getting properly nervous as none of her guests to speak of showed any signs of going home. She wound up with about 20 unexpected guests for supper, but was alive and breathing when last seen.
For her the Folger Library has been the focus of her intellectual life since coming to Washington some years ago. She organized its tour-guide program in 1969, and is and always has been both a friend and a Friend of the place.
It annoyed her that a distinguished biographer of the greatest poet should turn out what critics have often called a "masterpiece" book, without much fanfare, while every whodunnit makes it big in the media. She didn't say that, but that's what was going on in her head, you could tell.
The scholar said he knew of a youth turned on to Shakespeare by the simple means of an actress playing Juliet coming down from the stage and plopping down in the young man's lap, saying her lines.
She just flang her arms around the lad and gave him a script to answer her back. He made instant progress in his studies.
Everyone said well that is one way to teach, but education is not what it was.
People came up and tossed in their observation or their question then drifted off, and the night were on agreeably. The sky was not inlaid with pattens of bright gold, or if it was you couldn't see it through the capital smog, but at least the mood was full and many howled, as the scholar poured out wonderful things.
But back to Cleopatra, "The thing is, there is magic in it that you can't account for because the words do not seem so rare or magical yet they are," said a fellow, "like such a line as 'The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.' A child could say it."
But as the scholar pointed out, a child didn't and Shakespeare did.