Friday, October 26, 2007

Pericles and the "Cranks"

[Creative Commons images by De Shark and Kaptain Kobold]

Two items on the agenda today, both of which are red herrings used by orthodox Shakespeareans to dissuade people away from the Edward de Vere camp:

First was raised this week by British blogger Oliver Kamm, who ran through the standard-issue tirade against Oxfordians (snobbery blah blah conspiracy theory blah blah) that reveals the all-too-standard-issue problem that he doesn't begin to grasp the state of the debate he criticizes.

Shakespeare disbelievers, to him, are "outright cranks" who fail to appreciate that "the number of scholars of Elizabethan and Jacobean literature seriously entertaining [alternate theories about who wrote Shakespeare] is, to my knowledge, fewer than half a dozen."

As blogged about on these pages back in April, in fact, The New York Times conducted a survey of four-year colleges and universities across the U.S. this year and discovered that 17 percent of Shakespeare professors said there may in fact be "good reason" to doubt that Will Shakespeare of Stratford wrote those plays and poems.

Kindly count again, Mr. Kamm.

Second is a bigger issue raised by a bigger voice in a bigger venue.

In this weekend's edition of The Guardian, James Shapiro reviewed a new Shakespeare book by Charles Nicholl. In his review, Shapiro raises what looks to be an emerging anti-Oxfordian argument, that in 1605 "George Wilkins, a violent low-life with literary pretensions ... was soon collaborating with [Shakespeare] on Pericles."

De Vere died in 1604, and so this would be a devastating argument for de Vere partisans... if anyone had any proof for it.

As it is, the Wilkins-Shakespeare collaboration theory is like practically everything else in Stratford-ville: A whole lot of possibly-maybe-perhapses packaged neatly with a big red bow and presented to the reader as fact.

Here's what we know: A guy named Laurence Twyne wrote a book in 1576 that contains a story that was then appropriated (to put it politely) by another guy named George Wilkins in 1608. Wilkins's book says it's "The true history of the play Pericles as it was lately presented..." Shakespeare's play Pericles was published the following year, in 1609.

The conventional theory goes that Wilkins and Shakespeare worked together on this plagiarized story from Twyne, and that Wilkins and Shakespeare worked together on the play that was attributed solely to Shakespeare. But this is pure speculation.

Here are some other facts: Twyne registered his story with the state censors in July 1576. Three months before that, de Vere raced across the English Channel on a ship from France (intercepted by pirates, no less) convinced that in his absence, his wife had borne a daughter out of wedlock. Twyne's tale is of the tribulations of a daughter born under tumultuous circumstances involving both pirates and a disastrous journey at sea.

Furthermore, de Vere knew the Twynes -- having rented lodgings for Laurence Twyne's brother Thomas in 1573 so that Thomas could translate a book about the history and geography of England.

In other words: Whoever one thinks wrote Pericles, Laurence Twyne's book and the distressing events from de Vere's life in 1576 constitute the best source(s) for the play. George Wilkins -- and with it, yet another anti-Oxfordian silver bullet -- have essentially nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Scottish Play's The Thing

(Creative Commons image by JulianB)

A new Oxfordian edition of Macbeth has just been published, edited by Richard F. Whalen, author of the concise 1994 Oxfordian synopsis, Shakespeare: Who Was He?. In addition to the text and scholarly footnotes, Whalen's Macbeth contains both a biographical introduction by the editor, revealing how de Vere's life and times informed the Scots tragedy, as well as an essay by the Oxfordian actor Sir Derek Jacobi on "Acting Macbeth".

Future Oxfordian editions in the same series are now in the works for Hamlet, Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Tempest, among others.

The book is a budget-friendly $15 and available for purchase online. A first-ever Oxfordian edition of this Shakespeare classic is a good investment, by any measure. In the words of another British classic, There's your book... Now, buy it!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Look where my abridgment comes

This news item was passed along by reader A.Z. -- detailing a school district in Mesa, Arizona taking a field trip to see the farce The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), only to be sent packing when an unnamed school official deemed the play "inappropriate."

The Complete Works... is a whimsical and irreverent trek through the Shakespeare canon, typically very improvisational, that was first performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company in 1987 and has afforded actors, class clowns and perennial hams the opportunity to chew scenery whilst waxing pseudo-Bardolic for two decades running. The one production of The Complete Works that I saw, in New Haven about ten years ago, was certainly enjoyable and, at times, gut-bustingly funny. But its unabashed bawdiness could -- I suspect -- readily be deemed inappropriate for schoolkids as young as sixth grade.

Yeah, yeah, I know... they see this stuff every day on their TVs and play it on their Xbox'es. But, said the unnamed school official, "That's not what we believe in presenting to our students."

I'm inclined to chalk this whole incident up to an underpaid, overworked teacher somewhere seeing the name Shakespeare on a flyer and thinking, Edith Bunker-like, "Saay, here's some cultcha for the kids!"

I also suspect if those same censorious authorities actually knew how much "inappropriate" material is in even the greatest Shakespeare plays, they'd be burning as many copies of the real Complete Works of Shakespeare as they could get their little Jergens-moisturized palms on.

Case in point: Macbeth. Listen to this cool (unfortunately, incomplete) podcast series from 2005 and marvel at the Scots tragedy's dirty little secret: This play practically revels in torture porn.

Just goes to show how important it is to speak your most unpleasant truths in a language the hoi polloi cannot comprende. Why do you think Hamlet uses such fancy words?