Friday, July 23, 2010
Bingo's unlikely story began in the 1890s at Glover's Animal Preserve in Warwickshire, where he received the standard monkey education of the day. Most of his time would have been spent memorizing portions of Lily's Cercopithecus Latina as well as attending church. After Warwickshire, there is a gap in the timeline of nearly ten years, commonly known as the "lost years." Some scholars believe that Bingo might have been the same monkey—alternately referred to as "Bongo" and "Banjo"—who was rumored to live in the household of the wealthy Huffman family near Lancashire around the turn of the twentieth century. Details about Bongo or Banjo are murky because at the time monkey ownership was frowned on by the Anglican Church, so the Huffmans would have had to keep their monkey as secret as possible. Though we'll probably never know for sure if the Huffman monkey was indeed Bingo, it is nearly certain that near the end of these lost years he attached himself with a small circus, probably Lord Strange's Monkeys, which would have taken him to London.
It was shortly after he arrived in the city that Bingo was sold to Dr. Giancarlo. For the next thirty-three years Bingo typed away, starting with the sonnets, moving into the comedies and histories, and, finally, the tragedies, just as Shakespeare had done. His pace was remarkable from the beginning: While other monkeys were struggling with the stage directions of Titus Andronicus, Bingo was putting the finishing touches on Hamlet's famous "To be, or not to be" speech. After Bingo was finished with Shakespeare, he rejected Dr. Giancarlo's offer to give Faulkner or Joyce a try, and decided to put away his typewriter for good. He retired to Warwickshire, where he died a few years later as the most celebrated monkey typist of all time. But his legacy would not be left to rest in peace.
In the 1960s, some scholars asserted that Bingo (the "upstart monkey" in the words of one of his contemporaries) hadn't actually typed the plays and that a much more likely candidate was Marshmallows, who was also a part of Dr. Giancarlo's project. They believed that Bingo, having merely attended the King's New Monkey School back at Warwickshire, would not have had the education to randomly type Shakespeare. Marshmallows, on the other hand, was a celebrated monkey typist who had been to university at Cambridge as part of a number of lab experiments, so it was argued that he would have been exposed to a wide range of science, history, and literature. However, the Marshmallows theory was disproved definitively in 1968, when it was discovered that he had been killed in a brawl over a bunch of bananas before the typing of Romeo and Juliet. The Marshmallows theory was replaced soon thereafter by a group who posited that it must have been Sir Francis Bacon who typed the plays. This theory, too, was shot down easily, as it was revealed that the "monkey" Sir Francis Bacon was not even a part of Dr. Giancarlo's experiment, having died a few hundred years before it began. It was also discovered that Bacon was in fact a human being famous for works such as Essays, Colours of Good and Evil, and the Meditationes Sacrae. Amazingly, there are still some Baconists who cling to the idea that their man was the monkey that typed Shakespeare.
Since then there have been several theories proposing alternatives to Bingo. Indeed, for the last thirty years a veritable cottage industry in the publishing world has grown out of the question, "Which monkey really typed Shakespeare?" The latest offering is from Rubin James and Brenda Williams, who have written a new book, The Real Monkey Shakespeare: Bingo Was Not His Name-O. In it, they claim that it was not Bingo but Pancakes, another monkey in the Dr. Giancarlo's experiment, who typed Shakespeare. They point to the fact that Pancakes was well educated, had traveled to all the countries used as settings in the plays, and had a life that matched up with the action and settings of the plays. Williams has suggested that the aristocratic Pancakes, who was a distant relation of Bingo, would not have wanted the publicity that was sure to follow any monkey who typed Shakespeare and might have wanted to give his "his poorer cousin a paw up" by attributing the typing to him.
James said that he began exploring the connection between Bingo and Pancakes about eight years ago. "It was really an accident," James explains. "I was reading Bingo's dedication for the sonnets, trying to figure out who this mysterious 'Mr. P K' was, when I noticed something strange, something that didn't quite make sense." That something, says James, was a secret code that, when deciphered, read "thy monkey," followed by "Pancakes." After cracking this code, he then checked the names of the monkeys used by Dr. Giancarlo's. He verified that one of the monkeys was indeed named Pancakes, who had been the monkey to the ambassador of France. This time with the ambassador would have given Pancakes the insight into the inner workings of courtly life that Williams and James feel any Shakespeare monkey typist would need. Plus, Williams discovered that Pancakes had been imprisoned in the Paris zoo for siding with Émile Zola in the Dreyfus Affair, which would explain his uncanny ability to type the tragedies, particularly Hamlet. "It's fantasy to believe a monkey like Bingo could have typed such sophisticated plays," says Williams. "Pure fantasy."
Most Bingo scholars disagree. "It's just snobbery," claims Dr. Peter Zeus, recent recipient of the Davy Jones Professorship in Monkey-Typing Studies at Warwick University. "There is plenty of evidence that Bingo received a quite good classical education at Warwickshire, not to mention he was a part of the vibrant London circus society that placed a high value on random-typing skills." Dr. Zeus points to the fact that Bingo would have associated with monkeys from all over the world and therefore would have been familiar with all the cultures that Shakespeare wrote about. "There's just no real evidence that points to any monkey but Bingo." But Dr. Zeus says that people will go on believing that it was simply impossible for a monkey with such a "common" background to have typed Shakespeare's plays. "It's a shame," he says ruefully, "because this was one special monkey. That anyone would deny that Bingo typed Shakespeare just drives me bananas."