Saturday, March 29, 2008

Did Shakespeare visit Venice? ... Does the Pope wear Prada?

[Creative Commons image by Martino Pizzol]

The Times of London this week published an article that reconsiders the "cloak of invisibility" argument: Plays like Merchant of Venice are simply too replete with Venetian lore, geography, etc. that it forces the conclusion that the author must somehow have visited the city he so accurately immortalizes. So, given Will Shakspere as the author, he must have just slipped on his invisibility cloak for a year during those fabled Lost Years and snuck off across the Alps to make his way to La Serenissima -- all, of course, without leaving a single trace in the historical record. And these days, with his place of origin seeming more and more like Speculation-upon-Avon, why the hell not?

Shaul Bassi at the University of Venice recently co-wrote a book with the Italian writer Alberto Toso Fei titled Shakespeare in Venice (published in Italy, in Italian) that weighs in with what looks like not a small chunk of the same evidence "Shakespeare" By Another Name puts forward. Here's The Times:

It was striking that he had given the name “Gobbo” to Shylock's servant, a reference to the carved figure of a hunchback (Il Gobbo di Rialto) on the bridge, a feature well known in Venice but not beyond it. Shakespeare had also used local words such as gondola, as in Act 2, scene 8 of The Merchant, when Salarino remarks: “But there the duke was given to understand that in a gondola were seen together Lorenzo and his amorous Jessica.”

...Shakespeare knew about the Venetian custom of offering pigeons (“a dish of doves”) as a gift, and showed rare insight into cosmopolitan Venice's ethnic and social relations, and its tolerance of foreigners and minorities.

Bene bene! Eccezionale! Couldn't agree more. In fact, if you want to follow "Shakespeare" through Venice -- and the rest of Italy -- there's already a free Google Earth Atlas that let's you retrace his every step from the comfort of your own virtual desktop.

One hitch, though. A slight change of byline is needed.

But if the reader is willing to take that provisional step then, hey, the world is thine oyster.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Open letter to a vehement Stratfordian

[Editor's note: Book blogger Bill Peschel weighed in earlier this week with a review of Bill Bryson's recent biography Shakespeare: The Man Behind The Stage, half of which is spent taking on what Peschel calls "the anti-Shakespeare crowd." For instance, Peschel writes, "In fact, the... evidence on the anti-Shakespeare side [is] so weak, that it should be considered a measure of a person's intelligence and reasoning ability. If you believe that Shakespeare didn't exist, you're an idiot. It's comforting know there's some certainly in this world."]

Below is this blogger's response:

An open letter to Bill Peschel:

In April of last year,
The New York Times conducted a survey of all Shakespeare professors around the country and found that one out of six who responded said there appears to be ample cause for doubt about William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author of the plays and poems conventionally attributed to him. Polemics, such as yours, against such "non-believers" are of course nothing new. A century ago, incredibly nasty screeds were leveled at another group of heretics who only had a handful of arguments for their crazed ideas -- challenging the self-evident notion that the Earth's continents were fixed in place. In fact, it took generations of accumulated circumstantial evidence before the theory of continental drift became accepted. Continental drift (a.k.a. plate tectonics) is today as widely accepted a scientific theory as is Darwinian evolution or Newton's theory of gravity. A closer look at the history of practically any field of study, in fact, reveals this same story being told over and over again.

Don't rest so confidently in the majority opinion on your side today, Mr. Peschel. The Shakespeare skeptics and heretics undoubtedly stake out a minority position among Shakespeare experts today. One out of six is still just one out of six.

But the real debate, should you ever choose to engage it with any credibility, begins with actually bothering to understand the opposing side's point of view. (It is indeed blinkered nonsense to suggest that no one named Shakespeare ever existed. That's a classic straw-man. No one's suggesting that.)

Here are two good websites promoting the argument for Edward de Vere as "Shakespeare" (one ... two). And, to be fair, here are two websites advocating your point-of-view that actually engage the Oxfordians in evidence-based arguments, not just vapid name-calling. (One ... two)

Finally, here's a book. It argues for the heretical point of view based on historical and literary evidence. Plenty of it.

Next time, a brief survey of some actual facts of the Shakespeare authorship case would be advisable before simply labeling all doubters "idiots."

Glass houses, Mr. Peschel. Glass houses.

[This post edited April 26, 2008. See comment thread.]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Tempest was written before 1604

Those not familiar with the quirks of the Shakespeare authorship question may not know how offensive (to some) the above statement is. But thanks to new research published this year, it is verifiably true -- and it demolishes the main substantive objection to Edward de Vere as the man behind The Bard's mask.

The war over the Bard's identity is often waged in a proxy skirmish over the Shakespeare chronology -- because Edward de Vere died in 1604, while traditional scholarship dates the composition of a dozen or more Shakespeare plays between 1604 and 1613. If any Shakespeare play could definitively be dated after 1604, then de Vere is kicked to the curb as a "Shakespeare" candidate.

And while there's very little proof that any Shakespeare play was written after 1604, The Tempest has long been a sticking point.

The Tempest, the standard thinking goes, quotes directly from a book called The True Repertory written sometime after 1609 by an adventurer named William Strachey. We know Strachey wrote his True Repertory after 1609 because in it he describes a shipwreck in the Bermudas that happened during that year.

But the American researcher Roger Stritmatter (Coppin State Univ., Baltimore) and the Canadian author Lynne Kositsky have published six new scholarly articles that establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Strachey in fact plagiarized his shipwreck descriptions from books that were written decades before, in 1516, 1523 and 1555, specifically. The Tempest references those same books, Stritmatter and Kositsky argue, and suddenly Strachey is no longer a source for Shakespeare.

Suddenly, The Tempest falls back in line with the rest of the Shakespeare canon, comfortably situated in the pre-1604 world.

These new Tempest studies are as important as anything since the discovery of Edward de Vere's Geneva Bible in 1991. And while the paperback edition of "Shakespeare" By Another Name summarizes their findings (which arrived too late to make it into the hardback), even the paperback wasn't able to list where these groundbreaking papers can (or will soon) be found.

Now we can.

  • Roger Stritmatter & Lynne Kositsky, "The Spanish Maze and the Date of The Tempest" The Oxfordian 10 (2008) 9-19

  • Stritmatter & Kositsky, "Shakespeare and the Voyagers Revisited," Review of English Studies N.S. 58.236 (Sept. 2007) 447-472

  • Stritmatter & Kositsky, "A Moveable Feast: The Tempest as Shrovetide Revelry" The Shakespeare Yearbook. Forthcoming.

  • Stritmatter & Kositsky, "Eastward Ho! The Vogue of Virginia and the Date of The Tempest" Forthcoming.

  • Stritmatter & Kositsky, "O Brave New World: The Tempest and De Orbe Novo" Questioning Shakespeare, ed. William Leahy. Forthcoming.

  • Stritmatter & Kositsky, "Pale as Death: The Fictionalizing Influence of Erasmus's Naufragium on the Renaissance Travel Narrative" Verite 1:1. Forthcoming

**APRIL 2014 ADDENDUM: The comments to this blog post contain some interesting claims about William Strachey as a person -- and testimonial that he was, perhaps, not a plagiarist. 

Subsequent to the original blog post above, Stritmatter & Kositsky written an excellent book about the Strachey's True Repertory and The Tempest. They have also kindly responded to these comments about Strachey, below:

We show conclusively in the book, without a shadow of a rational doubt, that Strachey was *not* an eyewitness to key passages recounted in the narrative which , and therefore *was* one way or another plagiarizing earlier narratives when he produced it.  The internal evidence of True Repertory's extensive process of revision through the incorporation of other narratives and texts is overwhelming. So all this circumstantial stuff about what a great guy he was and how much responsibility he had been given is totally beside the point. He was a plagiarist. Now, that doesn't in itself prove anything else, but it is one of the most obvious and undeniable conclusions that can be drawn from the book, because we 1) demonstrate that many other scholars attribute plagiarism to him; 2) we proved from internal signs the plagiaristic properties of True Reportory.
Strachey's plagiaristic habits are so well documented as to be beyond doubt. The only problem is that when discussing True Reportory Strachey the plagiarist suddenly becomes Strachey the "eyewitness" in the critical literature.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The mother of all "conspiracy theories"... was indeed a conspiracy

Anyone who seriously doubts the conventional story of Shakespeare is often tarred with the "conspiracy theory" brush. As in: Wouldn't Edward de Vere as "Shakespeare" involve some elaborate and practically impossible conspiracy?

I won't add to the libraries of musings over the general conspiracy question but will only pause to note that that thing that's practically synonymous with conspiracy theories today -- JFK's assassination -- turns out in fact to have been a conspiracy.

This is the conclusion reached by Naval War College historian David Kaiser in his new book The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy (published by that bastion of reckless conspiratorial speculation, Harvard University Press).

As Kaiser tells veteran radio journalist Christopher Lydon in the latest edition of Lydon's program "Open Source," Kaiser combed through the reams of new documents made available by the JFK Assassination Record Collection Act of 1992 and after years of the boring but necessary grunt work that all good historical scholarship entails, all but definitively determined that the Oswald-Acted-Alone crowd are the lone nuts in this story.

In the 1989 PBS Frontline program "The Shakespeare Mystery" the late Shakespeare scholar Samuel Schoenbaum confidently stated, "There are no grassy knolls in Shakespeare."

Ah, professor doctor Schoenbaum. You wrote and edited some pretty good books in your time. But the time is now officially passed when a finger-wag in the direction of Dealey Plaza is sufficient to shut up sober-headed, serious people.

Even in our comparatively free and liberated age, it's a documented fact that big, elaborate and seemingly impossible conspiracies do happen.

So, then... can someone in Parliament please pass the Shakespeare Authorship Record Collection Act now?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Houston, New York, Boston, Vegas!

[Creative Commons images by Snowriderguy and 2757]

Just posted a new itinerary of upcoming speaking engagements:

Houston (March 13-15), New York (March 27), Boston/Concord (May 30-June 1) and Las Vegas (July 11)

The final stop on this spring-summer tour is a debate (at Bally's Casino!) on the Shakespeare authorship question that I'll be participating in with Alan Nelson of U.C. Berkeley (arguing for the Stratfordian theory) and William Rubenstein of the University College of Wales (arguing that Elizabethan courtier Henry Neville was the Bard). The verbal tussle will be part of the "great debates" series at the weekend-long Freedom Fest conference.

C-SPAN's Book TV will be filming events and debates at the conference. We're not guaranteed that Book-TV will cover the Shakespeare debate, but if you'd like to see the Shakespeare fireworks on your television sometime later this year, please contact Book TV and let 'em know. (Here's the webpage with all the information about the Freedom Fest debate series.)

Thank you.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Robin Williams and the heretics

Thanks to GQ (reader, not magazine) for passing along this video from c. 2000 when the A&E network did their "Biography of the Millennium" series. Shakespeare not surprisingly merits a segment of his own. What is somewhat surprising is comedian Robin Williams discussing the case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare.

Williams says, in the bit that begins at the 4 minute, 5 second mark, "[Anti-Stratfordians] also think of not only Francis Bacon but also the Earl of Oxford. There's a huge debate about that. Here's the deal. ... Look in the plays. There's incredible references in Latin, Greek, travel. The scope is global."

If you skip ahead to 4:05 into the segment, though, you'll miss (at 3:10) Williams riffing on The Two Gentleman of Malibu and Richard IV (i.e. Tricky Dick). Brilliant stuff.