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!)

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