Friday, May 29, 2009

Overbury Overdrive: Live and in concert

For Boston-area residents, tonight and tomorrow in Watertown, Mass. will be home to an event called Shakespeare from the Oxfordian Perspective, with Hank Whittemore's one-man show "Shakespeare's Treason" this evening and public talks at the Watertown Public Library tomorrow -- including discussions about Shakspere's last will and testament, Ben Jonson & The Tempest and the succession crisis of the 1590s.

I'll also be giving a public talk ("Overjoyed, Over Him, Overbury: The New 'Cobbe Portrait of Shakespeare' and what it means for the authorship question") tomorrow at 11:15 a.m.

Links here to the program and directions.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Billy Vanilli?"

Just a great little Shakespeare authorship-related blog headline posted today.

William Shakespeare: Business man and Actor. Milli Vanilli??
Who is this man? Did he write all those plays and sonnets or was he a cover for someone or some group?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Monstrous Adversary's Adversary

"Shakespeare" By Another Name first appeared in print, in 2005, soon after Liverpool University Press published an academic biography of Edward de Vere by Prof. Alan Nelson of the University of California, Berkeley. And I've been asked countless times what I think of this book.

Monstrous Adversary is, in short, an infuriating book. And the following set of capsule reviews provides a good sense why.

If Monstrous were just a hatchet job, then it'd be easily dismissed, full stop. But some great, groundbreaking, rock-solid scholarship awaits in there scattered amidst wild-eyed polemic (so viciously against de Vere you almost feel dirty reading the thing), scattered amidst some real howlers of sloppy scholarship too.

There's no simple answer -- at least if you're a curious person looking for as many leads as possible into de Vere's life. I couldn't honestly tell an interested scholar that I don't in some sense recommend the book. But caveat emptor, to be sure.

That said, the book appeared on my desk in time to be able to fit much of Nelson's new scholarship into the narrative of SBAN.

After the jump, I excerpt my favorite review from this latest bunch: From someone who's only interested in biographies about nobility of the period and has no personal ax to grind one way or another on the de Vere = "Shakespeare" question.

The reviewer notes...

I have for some years been interested in the nobility of 16th and 17th century England, and have read a number of pretty good biographies, so looked forward to MONSTROUS ADVERSARY with great anticipation. Unfortunately it was clear early on in the book that Nelson was anything but a disinterested biographer. The tone of the book breathes hostility toward its subject, and after having read it, as well as having looked over Nelson's web site, it's obvious why. This was not a biography per se, it was a polemic, in the guise of a biography, against the idea that de Vere was Shakespeare. Whether that idea is harebrained or not - and Nelson believes it is - is beside the point. Nelson misses no opportunity to defame de Vere, treating as valid every scrap of negative evidence, however dubious - for example, that given by his Catholic ex-friends after he had delivered them to the authorities. Nelson's interpretations are the mirror image of [Bernard M.] Ward's, as he describes the earlier writer's 1928 biography [of de Vere]; where [Ward] infers nothing but the best of his subject, Nelson infers nothing but the worst. I note that Nelson is not a historian, and quite frankly, it shows. That he relies on the likes of William F. Buckley - one of the lousiest writers of fiction I've come across - as an arbiter of de Vere's poetry implies that he must be pretty desperate to prove his case, whatever its merits. He dismisses Ward's book as "hagiography"; as I remember it, having read it years ago, it was pretty good. Nelson's, in any case, is a "hatchet job".

As to matters of style, I can do no better than quote the end of the very first sentence of the Introduction, which made my heart sink from the get-go: "[de Vere's life] ... just overlapped the reign of Elizabeth I at both ends". Ugh. And Nelson is ... oh, yes, Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at the University of California, Berkeley. Ye gods.

Having paid good money for what I assumed was going to be a biography, I ended up with a screed that was obviously produced to demolish the de Vere = Shakespeare movement. If that's what Nelson wanted to write, potential readers should have been made aware of this. As it stands, this anything but impartial view of de Vere disqualifies MONSTROUS ADVERSARY as legitimate biography, for all its invaluable documentation.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Overbury Overdrive - the Radio Parallax edition

The April 30 episode of the radio program Radio Parallax featured an interview with yours truly talking both about the "new Shakespeare portrait" kerfuffle and, more generally, about the authorship question. For your listening enjoinment:

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Kenneth Branagh - Oxfordian in the making? [UPDATED]

[UPDATED May 11] John Shahan, president of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition writes today with this update repudiating the Express article on which this blog post was originally based. Quoting:

I've learned that the article by Sandro Monetti in the Sunday Express on May 3rd was in error. Kenneth Branagh did not mean to say that he has changed his position. The article has been taken down. An authoritative source confirms that he has always believed, and still does, that "the plays of Shakespeare were written by the man from Stratford, of the same name." Mr. Branagh is fascinated by the alternative theories, but he is "a Stratfordian through and through and expects to remain so."

An article from today's Sunday Express (UK) drops a bit of a bombshell:

"Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh... admits he is beginning to be swayed by the theory that the true author was not William Shakespeare but the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere."

Quoting more:

Branagh said: “There is room for reasonable doubt. De Vere is the latest and the hottest candidate....

"I’m fascinated by all the speculation. If someone could find conclusive proof that Shakespeare wasn’t the author of the plays then it would cause a seismic shock – not least to the economy of Stratford-upon-Avon.”

He was speaking at the US premiere of his BAFTA-winning Swedish detective series, Wallander.

(End quoted passage.)

Outspoken Oxfordian Sir Derek Jacobi (who wrote the foreword to SBAN) has long been a mentor figure to Mr. Branagh. It's been a subject of some speculation in Oxfordian circles whether (or perhaps how often) Sir Derek has broached the authorship issue with his protege.

When Branagh was promoting one of his Shakespearean film adaptations (Hamlet? Love's Labour's Lost?), he made an appearance on Dave Letterman's Late Show. And to his credit, Letterman asked Branagh what his take was on the authorship question.

I don't have the direct quote of Branagh's response, but it was essentially that Branagh didn't have any doubt that Will of Stratford was the author.

Clearly something has changed.

(h/t reader D.B.; Creative Commons image by Cien de Cine)