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.


fl said...

In the last few decades, academics have found that biographical criticism, or drawing conclusions about an author's works based on events in his life, can be quite sketchy. Even Freud (himself in the Oxfordian camp) argued that only the weakest or most juvenile authors write about events in their own lives. I'm not saying that the biographical case you present here is necessarily wrong or not compelling, but that in order to get the argument across to academics working in Shakespeare studies, a careful justification of the use of biographical data as a determinant of authorship would have to be in order.

Mark said...

If Long Day's Journey Into Night, Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, and practically the whole of the Jane Austen canon -- to name just a few -- are, allegedly, weak and juvenile, then color this reader a sucker for weak and juvenile lit.

Of course of course no work of literary creativity worth its salt could ever be classified as pure and simple autobiography. All I, and the Oxfordians, are doing is adding an autobiographical layer to the already well-known and well-studied literary, dramatic, poetic and sublimely artistic qualities of the Bard's immortal works. No one would care about Shakespeare, whosoever he was, if he couldn't connect the personal and particular with the universal.

That said, FL, it's an important point to remember that often the heretics and the orthodox professors talk at cross purposes. Much (though certainly not all) of Shakespeare criticism stands, regardless of who the author was. On top of that, the Oxfordians bring a whole new level of autobiographical meaning that the plays operate within. So the heretical reading becomes a complementary component -- and not so much an either-or, which is how this issue is typically framed.

LS said...

Hello Mark!

I was passing through a New Jersey library, visiting family, and I picked a book (on CD) off the shelf, and said, "Why, this looks interesting."

I began listening to it, and thought, "My, this is interesing!"

I then remembered my old-pal-of-the-radio, one "Mark Anderson," and thought, "Wasn't he working on a book on this subject?"

I looked at the box, and under the title, "Shakespeare by Another Name," was the name of the author:

Mark Anderson.

Faith and begore, what a great book. What work you've done.

My sincerest congratulations. I'm listening my way through it, and shall read it subsequently.

Do send me an email, or drop by the blog. We're still fighting some old battles, and moving onto new territory as well.

here's me: and

You be well. And good work, man. Very good work!