Saturday, September 29, 2007

Take the green line to Shylock

February before last, a wily netizen going by the nom de net Barry Heck posted a parody of the iconic London Underground map (designed in 1933 by Harry Beck), replacing each tube stop with its anagram, transforming Old Street into Eldest Rot and Oxford Circus into Crux for Disco.

The new non-map circulated across the Interwebs in a New York minute, leading the tube's owner, Transport for London, to issue take-down notices to any websites hosting this, um, copyright infringing graphic.


"Barry Heck" squeezed the toothpaste out. Now the Royal Shakespeare Company has squeezed off more still from the same tube. As the Guardian blogged yesterday, the RSC has produced its own faux Underground map, with each line representing character types like "Mothers" or "Heroes" or "Fools," and each stop being Shakespearean characters of said type.

Best part are the icons attached to some of the stops. Titus Andronicus, hero of the cannibalistic play of the same name, gets a knife and fork symbol, while Richard III gets a wheelchair. Aaron (the moor from Titus) is on the same villains line as the original Tricky Dick but, gratefully, gets a baby changing station. (Aaron's often found, when not otherwise occupied in moustache-twirling, carting around his baby boy.)

Helena and Bertram (from All's Well That Ends Well) get their own baby changing table on this map too. All's Well's heroine ends the play all knocked up, and the title of the play certainly indicates a happy ending for this married couple. Would that the historical prototypes for Helena and Bertram enjoyed the same.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The greatest mystery of recent times has at last been solved

So begins a great new review of "Shakespeare" By Another Name from a site billing itself as "The Internet's Longest Runing Entertainment Magazine." Long may she reign!

The Good, The Bad, The Silly

The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition continues to generate ripples in the press. If Time posted the best response to the recent Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance event, the blue ribbon for goofiness must surely go here. Ah-yup.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Maybe, one day, the truth will out."

Time magazine just published the best article yet on the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition.

I've already said my bit about the "snobbery" argument, below. But there's another old saw in the authorship wars that the author of the Time piece, Jumana Farouky, handily puts to rest:

As Shakespeare (or maybe Bacon or possibly De Vere) asked, "What's in a name?" The star-crossed lovers still die, there will always be something rotten in the state of Denmark, no matter who wrote the plays. So why all the fuss? Both sides argue that knowing the identity of the man behind Hamlet, King Lear and The Tempest is essential to understanding them. "Our interpretation of Shakespeare's works would be entirely different if we knew who wrote them," says Bill Rubinstein, history professor at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and an academic adviser for the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition. "If he was heavily involved in politics, for example, every line in every play would have a different motivation."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

As They Liked It

There is no good contemporary film adaptation of Shakespeare's pastoral comedy set in the Forest of Arden... or, rather, there was no such beast. Apparently till now. Starting Monday, HBO will be broadcasting Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of As You Like It, set in 19th century Japan. Consensus of the reviews seems to be a solid thumbs up..

Monday, September 10, 2007

Playing the "Snobbery" Card

(Creative commons image by John Cohen)

There is a widespread allegation about Shakespeare heretics that has baffled me each of the 5,573,861 times I've heard it raised. The latest incarnation appears in a column in tomorrow's edition of the Times of London. Here's how the columnist phrases it:

"Fundamentally, anti-Stratfordianism comes down to one proposition: Shakespeare was too low-class to have been a literary genius."

Countless variations on this theme have been posed in countless forums and conversations about the Shakespeare authorship issue. As anyone who has spent any time in the Shakespeare authorship wars will tell you, there's scarcely a crowd that doesn't contain at least one person who tries to make this very point.

Here's what confounds me, though: This "snobbery" question completely and utterly misses the point. It may, in fact, actually reveal more about the questioner's own bias than it does about anything in the Shakespeare authorship debate.

Let's break down this little steam-engine, shall we? If there were, in fact, a rational objection contained within the "snobbery" question, then the questioner would be well advised to pick a different tack, one that could be truly devastating.

Consider what the "snobbery" question, posed above, is actually alleging: Our hypothetical, unnamed anti-Stratfordian heretic, we are told, has no appreciation for historical fact whatsoever, so much so that his own beliefs (i.e. "Yay, team blueblood! Go, aristocracy!!") act as a substitute for the real, historical evidence about Shakespeare.

The "snobbery" question, in other words, contains two objections, only one of which is ever stated. Objection (1) is that of narcissism, that the anti-Stratfordian has a blurry sense of where the beliefs inside his own head end and where the objective, outside world of historical fact begins. Objection (2) is that the anti-Stratfordian picked the wrong team to root for. He should have been rooting for the hardscrabble underdog from the streets, not the posh little toff from the castle on the hill.

But if you're making a rational argument in an actual debate, you always attack the weakest link. Objection (2) is silly and distracting. Objection (1), if it could be proved, is self-evidently the undefended citadel to hit with everything you've got. If you can reveal to the audience that your opponent's arguments are not based on historical facts but rather just nuggets of unbridled narcissism, then it's game, set and match. You're not only through with the question, you can probably stick a fork in the whole debate. It's done.

So why, in the countless times the "snobbery" question has been broached over the years, haven't the defenders of the Stratfordian faith raised Objection (1) instead?

The answer, of course, is that the "snobbery" question breaks down into a pile of rubble when you try to take it seriously as a real, objective question. It's not about objective anything. It's, at its most cynical, just a cheap and obvious ploy to push an audience's (or in this case readership's) buttons.

On the other hand, to raise that first Objection, you also have to be able to recognize it.

But why, then, would the blurring of historical fact with personal belief be such a blind spot for Stratfordians?

That one I leave for the psychoanalysts to ponder.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Rumblings from the Internets

A few new news clips worthy of note:

The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition that was blogged about here back in April is beginning to generate some public and media attention.

The Guardian calls it the harbinger of a "literary conspiracy theory that refuses to go away, and which has a growing army of supporters all over the globe." [ADDENDUM from the comments: The BBC does present a more sympathetic take on the situation. Thanks to jhm for pointing this out.]

The reason for the press attention was because of a recent public signing of the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt by the acclaimed Shakespearean actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance at a performance of Rylance's new play... deep breath... The Big Secret Live - I Am Shakespeare - Webcam Daytime Chat-Room Show.

The London Telegraph gave this dramedy a begrudging thumbs up, unwilling though the reviewer was to sign on to the main premise, the same premise as the Declaration, that the Shakespeare authorship issue is a real and serious issue--poke fun at it though we may (and probably should).

One review that escaped my notice last month was this great little writeup of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of All's Well That Ends Well in The Denver Post, in which the reviewer says All's Well will always be a difficult play to stage until de Vere's authorship of Shakespeare is recognized.

Author, author!

Let's be frank: In Shakespeare, there are no problem plays, only problematic interpretations.

The root of the issue is the refusal by entrenched academic and ancillary industries to acknowledge that many think Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the actual author of the plays, sonnets, etc. attributed to William Shakespeare.

Once de Vere's life is illuminated, we see that this play is filled with biographical details, beginning with Bertram's petulant refusal to consummate his forced marriage to Helena, continuing with "stepsister" Helena's budding confusion over her relationship with Bertram, moving forward with Bertram's profligate behavior throughout, climaxing in the famous "bed trick," and culminating with the resurrection of Helena.

Next time around, we suggest an adaptation in which Bertram is modeled on de Vere and Helena as Anne Cecil. Problem solved: The story is a clever metaphor for actual events with which the entire Elizabethan court was familiar and knowledge of which we owe ourselves and our posterity the pleasure.