Thursday, May 17, 2007

Total TV and the Top 5

Tip o' the hat to fellow heretic Alex McNeil, former president of the Shakespeare
, who in yesterday's online edition of the Boston Globe did an interview/live chat about his two favorite subjects: Television and Edward de Vere. McNeil is the author of one of the best encyclopedic guides to the 60-year history of American TV shows, Total Television.

He covers some of the essential arguments for de Vere capably and succinctly. (And he gives good ink... er... pixel... to a book we're particularly fond of here.)

asibtroy__Guest_: What are the top 5 reasons you can give that Oxford wrote the plays?

Alex_McNeil: Interesting question.
Alex_McNeil: 1. He was recognized during his lifetime as a poet and playwright (even an "excellent" one), yet no plays, and few poems, exist under his name.
Alex_McNeil: 2. His life fits the plays in uncountable ways. I would refer you to Mark Anderson's "Shakespeare by Another Name" for a detailed examination. But take Hamlet. Hamlet's mother remarried quickly after Claudius's death; Oxford's mother remarried quickly after the 16th earl's death. Polonius is generally agreed to be caricature of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's chief adviser. Oxford grew up in Burghley's household. Ophelia is Polonius's daughter, and Hamlet's love interest. Oxford was married to Cecil's daughter, Anne. (Ophelia = O + philia, or "Oxford's love").
Alex_McNeil: 3. The First Folio (1623) is dedicated to two lords, Montgomery and Pembroke, who no doubt financed the project. One was Oxford's son-in-law, the other had been engaged to another of Oxford's daughters.
Alex_McNeil: 4. Shakespeare "thinks like a lawyer," i.e., he has legal training and uses legal terms with ease, when referring to legal matters and in other ways as well. Oxford was trained in law, having spent at least a year at Gray's Inn.
Alex_McNeil: 5. Back to Hamlet -- Rosenkrantz & Guildenstern are two minor characters. Oxford's brother-in-law went on a dioplomatic mission to Denmark, and wrote of it upon his return. Among the guests at the state dinner were Messrs. Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern. Yes, those names do appear elsewhere, but the frequency of such coincidences cannot be explained by chance.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bard without Baggage

Dateline: Taipei. Four out of five stops into the "Shakespeare" By Another Name mini-tour of Taiwan, it is safe to report a vast potential audience here for an alternative theory of Shakespeare—such as, oh, say, the Oxfordian one. The English/Foreign Language and Literature departments at three Taiwanese universities (listed below) have all graciously hosted talk(s) by yours truly, unfolding the case for Edward de Vere as "Shakespeare" as might a prosecuting attorney in the courtroom. (Although at the risk of sounding grandiose, this prosecutor has cooler-looking graphics than most.)

Each of the four lectures—and one-on-one discussions throughout this visit—have been particularly noteworthy for the rationality with which the faculty, undergraduate and graduate students approached this topic. Of course of course of course there are many (though not enough) English profs and college/grad students today in the States and the U.K. who keep an open mind toward Edward de Vere and the authorship issue. But I have yet to find a college or university English department in an English-language-native country where there aren't also card-carrying members of the Unhinge Me Here contingent.*

"Unhinge Me Here"-ers can be any class, creed, political persuasion, sex or age. Their chief distinguishing characteristic is to transform, wolfman-like, from a sane and reasonable person into a snarling and/or awkwardly grinning bearer of impatient discomfort. Mention any two or more of the following words in the same sentence, and an Unhinger will suddenly see you as little more than an annoying pebble in their shoe: Authorship question, Oxfordian, Earl of Oxford, [insert name of other alternative Shakespeare candidate here], anti-Stratfordian, Shaksper, the Stratford man.

This irrational, hackles-up response to the Oxfordians and other "Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare" types stems, no doubt, from the exalted place that Shakespeare today sits in English-speaking cultures. His words are the closest our language will probably ever get to (apologies to Peggy Noonan) slipping those surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God. And the Horatio Alger myth that traditionally accompanies the story of the man who allegedly wrote these words is really hard for some people to even consider letting go of.

But it's not so—or at least not nearly so much—in a culture that appreciates and studies English but doesn't worship at any of our secular altars. Shakespeare is, to some in Taiwan, a status symbol. (Akin to a Mercedes Benz, one prof here wryly noted.) But, even then, that status is conferred no matter who he was.

I have long suspected that some of the greatest contributions to the Shakespeare authorship debate will be coming from countries that have no traditions of Bardolatry to overcome. Expect more from this island nation in the coming years.

(*P.S. Ooop. Just thought of one. Concordia University in Portland, Oregon: The exception that proves the rule!)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Taiwan On

As the Taiwan-based blogger Nostalgiphile recently wrote, "Taiwanese literature departments seem to be hell bent on carving a niche for themselves in the fascinating field of Renaissance studies." Shakespeare, specifically.

Although Nostalgiphile has his own take on the relevance and appropriateness of the Bard-centric English departments in Taiwan, which seems to open up a whole different discussion/can o' worms, I can only say this much: This blogger will next week be able to report first-hand on how the Bard is taught and received on the island the Portuguese christened Formosa (i.e. "Beautiful"). The "Shakespeare" By Another Name mini-tour of Taiwan will be occupying this page for the next fortnight or so.

With a genuflecting bow to my hosts at Tamkang University and a grateful tip of the hat to the two other universities where I will also be speaking (Soochow University and National Ilan University), I sign off from one side of the International Date Line and look forward to approaching Shakespeare, Edward de Vere, and the authorship question from an entirely new vantage.