Saturday, April 18, 2009

WSJ: U.S. Supreme Court tackles Shakespeare question

Today's Wall Street Journal has a great feature story on U.S. Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens and where he and his colleagues fall on the Shakespeare authorship question.

The chart (right) has the details on each justice's stance. With only two justices casting a ballot for Will of Stratford -- and two casting their lots with Edward de Vere -- the nominal vote (with some noteworthy abstentions) is, astonishingly, a tie!

Justice John Paul Stevens and the late justice Harry Blackmun had both previously gone on the record with their conviction that Edward de Vere was "Shakespeare."

But it's news to this blogger that Justice Antonin Scalia -- leader of the court's conservative wing, as Stevens is leader of the liberal wing -- is also an Oxfordian. Scalia's wife, he said, berates him for his conviction that de Vere wrote "Shakespeare."

"She thinks we Oxfordians are motivated by the fact that we can't believe that a commoner could have done something like this, you know, it's an aristocratic tendency," Scalia told the Journal. But, he adds, "It is probably more likely that the pro-Shakespearean people are affected by a democratic bias than the Oxfordians are affected by an aristocratic bias."

[This post edited to add links to four six seven blogs that discuss the WSJ article: One and a-two and a-three and a-four (HuffPo); five (Volokh) and a-six and a-seven.]

More from the article:

All signs pointed to de Vere. Justice Stevens mentions that Lord Burghley, guardian of the young de Vere, is generally accepted as the model for the courtier Polonius in "Hamlet." "Burghley was the No. 1 adviser to the queen," says the justice. "De Vere married [Burghley's] daughter, which fits in with Hamlet marrying Polonius's daughter, Ophelia."

Shakespeare dedicated two narrative poems to the earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, "who also was a ward of Lord Burghley and grew up in the same household," Justice Stevens says. "The really quite remarkable."


Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who retired in 2006, cast the court's deciding vote many times. On Shakespeare, she says, "I'm not going to jump into this and be decisive."

According to Justice Stevens, "Sandra is persuaded that it definitely was not Shakespeare" and "it's more likely de Vere than any other candidate." Pressed, Justice O'Connor says, "It might well have been someone other than our Stratford man."

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Doublets and Double-takes: Spring Break with the Bard

Through April 19, Tampa, Florida's Gorilla Theatre Company presents troupe founder Audrey Hampton's new drama Elizabeth and Edward --a new play arguing that de Vere was "Shakespeare".

From the Tampa Bay Tribune review, it looks like a hodgepodge of dramatic flashback and rhetorical argumentation.

Ten actors, the review says, "take on several roles and time periods to support the Oxfordian line of thought. Ghosts of actors past open the play at the 500th [sic] Shakespeare Jubilee, 1569-2069, where the question of authorship segues into a series of qualifying vignettes." (No doubt a typo here referencing David Garrick's 1769 Stratford Shakespeare Jubilee.)

Here's the pity:

As the review says, "If de Vere wrote 'Hamlet,' 'Macbeth' and the like, he would have been under pressure to hide his identity. And that would have been even more likely were he Elizabeth's bastard child, as the scholars suggest." [My emphasis]

Some orthodox scholars are indeed taking more and more seriously the Oxfordian argument that Edward de Vere played a key role -- arguably was the author -- behind the "Shakespeare" byline. But I have yet to see a single scholarly paper or book arguing that de Vere had Tudor blood, let alone was Queen Elizabeth's bastard son.

The waters are muddy enough with Stratfordian mumbo-jumbo. It's too bad that Oxfordians, too, have to add to the confusion.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Taming of the Streep

This video excerpt, from a 1981 performance of The Taming of the Shrew starring Meryl Streep and Raul Julia (r.i.p.) was posted online early last month and has been busting guts of Shakespeare fans ever since. (H/T reader G.Q.) Two superlative actors at the top of their game hitting all the right marks.

It's tough to imagine a better Kate-Petruchio pair or a more inspired, sexy, vivacious performance. And I don't think it's just the Streep fan in me* that makes me say Shakespeare comedic performances don't get much better than this.

* Don't get me wrong: I think both Meryl Streep and Raul Julia are/were amazingly talented actors. But, true confessions time, only Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) could claim equal footing with Ms. Streep as a fanboy crush for this blogger as a high school-aged bloke.