Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The big debate and why it matters

The debate over Edward de Vere's contribution to (or authorship of) the Shake-speare canon has been smoldering for generations, since a British schoolmaster with a funny name first suggested de Vere might indeed be da Bard. And the fallback position one often hears is "Really, though, why does any of this matter?"

The following comment from a recent BBC article on the authorship controversy aptly summarizes the point:

What does is matter who wrote the books? They are great reads regardless of the class or caste of the author. It's a silly argument and we should just appreciate the work.

There are, of course, many earnest attempts to straightforwardly answer this objection that are already online. I won't add to that volume here.

Instead, I recently put the "What does it matter" question to two members of a New York Times and Wall Street Journal-acclaimed production of Twelfth Night, staged by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison, N.Y.

The play's director, John Christian Plummer, had come across a copy of "Shakespeare" By Another Name two weeks into rehearsals. He says, from this first-hand experience, that knowing the historical context of de Vere's life and times helps both Shakespeare directors and actors tremendously.

The actor here, Eleanor Handley (pictured above, left), also drew from de Vere's life (and particularly that of de Vere's sister Mary) in her brilliant portrayal of Twelfth Night's trickster Maria.

In fact, the New York PBS affiliate WNET chronicled the rehearsals and behind-the-scenes perspectives on the Hudson Valley Shakespeare's production of Twelfth Night and will be airing a documentary about it on September 18 -- followed by an airing of this truly inspired adaptation of the Bard's Illyrian comedy.

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