Saturday, July 12, 2008

Shakespeare in Sin City

Welcome to the Las Vegas strip, where a roller coaster zips past the Statue of Liberty every five minutes, and -- a few long blocks north -- Venetian Gondolas swarm up and down an oversized swimming pool.

There's always room to belly up at the "1 cent" slot machines (these of course cost a dollar), but you may have to stand in line for the oxygen bar.

Yes, you read that last item correctly. Some extremely clever bastard, please note the level of jealousy rising in your correspondent's voice, has actually figured how to get people to pay good money for gourmet air.

By now it must be abundantly clear what a natural market a hotel-casino on the strip is for a debate on the Shakespeare authorship question.

So yesterday afternoon, Friday, July 11, Profs. Alan Nelson, William Rubinstein and I sat down for a one-on-one-on-one debate at Bally's Casino, part of the larger FreedomFest '08 conference, a primarily libertarian-oriented gathering. Not surprising, I suppose, that our 100-minute confab was programmed during the same time slot as debates on "Islam: radical or peaceful?" and "Should we regulate Wall Street more or less?" as well as talks about "rare coins and collectibles" and "the hottest commodity for 2009: copper!" [sic]. A live teleconference with former Republican presidential contender Rep. Ron Paul of Texas also competed for butts on seats.

Shakespeare, it seems, was not on the high priority list of most 'fest attendees. Still, a despite relatively low draw (the attendance fluctuated between c.15 and 40), the debate itself was actually quite good.

Prof. Alan Nelson, long known to Oxfordians for his often strident stance about both heretics and Edward de Vere himself, presented the case for Will Shakspere of Stratford. Bill Rubinstein, co-author of the recent book The Truth Will Out presented the arguments for the arriviste Bard contender Henry Neville. And yours truly made his case for an Elizabethan literary earl who, they both claimed, died too soon to have been Shakespeare.

This was the point I decided to go on the attack about, rather than taking a defensive posture. In my allotted eight minutes for presenting the pro-de Vere case (the first half provided another 11 minutes to make the case against the Stratfordian theory), I argued three points: The Shake-speare chose settings from de Vere's life, the author characterized people from de Vere's life and the Bard stopped creating new works in 1604, the year de Vere died.

The first two points are, in no small part, the story of "Shakespeare" By Another Name. I discussed the parallels between de Vere's life and Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and Merry Wives of Windsor. (Rubinstein, I noticed, places emphasis on MWW and how Henry Neville was fat and... er... therefore Falstaffian? The death of Falstaff in Henry V, he says, comes at the receipt of an ambassadorial post in Paris for Neville. Rubinstein's "Shakespeare" needed to kill off his most popular character so the author could go serve Her Majesty's pleasure across the English channel.)

Nelson, on the other hand, centered his pro-Shakspere argument around the claim that during the author's lifetime, everyone who referred to him referred to him as "Master" or "Mister" -- meaning he was of lower class, not aristocratic or courtly class.

I didn't dispute his claim. For instance, I said, John Davies refers to "Mr. Will: Shake-speare" [sic] as "our English Terence," adding that many people at the time believed that Terence was a Roman actor who stood as a front-man for one or more Roman aristocratic authors.

Nelson also denigrated de Vere's skills as a poet, although admitted that de Vere was at least "in the same ballpark" with Shakespeare -- stating that no one recognized Henry Neville as a poet or playwright of any stature during his lifetime, and so the Nevillian case comes way out of left field. He also quoted a lengthy diatribe by David Kathman (proprietor of the Stratfordian Shakespeare Authorship website) against the Nevillians.

As a result, I didn't have to do much work against the Neville case.

The 1604 argument, however, is something I think Oxfordians need to claim as ours. The evidence is on our side, especially now that the new research on The Tempest is beginning to get published.

I'll blog about my 1604 argument another time. (Right now, hotel check-out time looms.)

In the end, those in the audience willing to venture a vote for one candidate over any other broke for Shakspere vs. de Vere vs. Neville by 11 to 8 to 1. Oxfordians were in the minority, but only just.

Now the trick is to get a crowd next time.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Table Talk

Today NPR's Morning Edition aired the third and final installment of its Shakespeare-under-dispute series. Actor Mark Rylance (below) joined this Mark and two other Oxfordian advocates (Dan Wright of Concordia University in Portland and British author Charles Beauclerk) in making the case for Edward de Vere as the man behind the Shakespeare mask.

Like yesterday's segment, making the case against Will Shakspere of Stratford, today's piece skillfully packed a lot of material into a 7-minute, 45-second time slot.

By way of correction (or as a former editor of mine preferred to call it, "clarification"), I do want to offer up one note about host Renee Montagne's copy. She stated that Edward de Vere's brother-in-law served as a royal emissary to the Danish court at Elsinore, where he recorded his own personal experiences with Danish drinking rituals that are preserved in Hamlet and his bread-breaking with Danish courtiers named Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern.

All of that is true. But Montagne said this material came in the form of personal letters written to de Vere. That's where the clarification comes in. In fact, anyone reading this blog in London can walk into the British Library and see the documents for themselves. The shelf mark is Cotton MSS Titus C VII 224-229.

Recorded on those fascinating, little-studied pages, are the brother-in-law's (Peregrine Bertie's) personal notes of his Elsinorean exploits with the Danish king and his court. None of this material would have been available outside the queen's inner circle or the company of Bertie's immediate family and friends, a group that included de Vere.

De Vere never visited Elsinore himself. But the author of Hamlet did preserve some of the peculiar local lore and legend, courtesy of a roistering brother-in-law whose mission in no small measure was to party down with Danish royalty for a few months and then return to England to tell the tale.

So... party on, Rosenkrantz; party on, Guildenstern.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Shakespeare Riots -- and the Shakespeare Debate

[Creative Commons image source]

As this blogger prepares to debate the authorship issue next week in Las Vegas, NPR's "Morning Edition" program today began a three-day series on Shakespeare disputes, including the authorship question.

Today's eight-minute segment concerned a riot in 19th century New York over two rival Shakespearean actors and the class warfare that it fanned.

Tomorrow and Friday, host Renee Montagne said, they'll be tackling the authorship question. (Last summer Montagne interviewed yours truly and a number of other Shakespeare heretics as well as defenders of the orthodox standard.)

"Groundlings," she said in her provocative teaser for the upcoming authorship segments, "Grab your tomatoes."

UPDATE 1 (Thursday): Here's the second Morning Edition segment on the Shakespeare heresy.