What – or who – is Chatterton?
Well, that depends on how much you trust the historical record, and, I guess, whether you believe anything can be verified by documents at all. The “real” Thomas Chatterton was a historical personage – an 18th-century English poet who committed suicide at the age of 17, after having invented a 15th-century poet, Thomas Rowley, and published a series of “found” poems under that assumed identity. The “fictional” Thomas Chatterton of Quantum Theatre’s adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s 1987 novel Chatterton is, like his model, a forger of documents, and the trail of fakery he may or may not have left in his wake casts doubt on what seems to be a clear historical record. In this version, even his suicide may have been faked – or accidental – or real – and the same goes for a whole host of poems by later (and greater) poets whose work the fictional (or was it real?) Chatterton may or may not have imitated or forged after he supposedly did or didn’t die.
By Wendy Arons, The Pittsburgh Tattler