Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mark Twain: The other Shakespeare centenary

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shake-speare's Sonnets -- one of two important Bard-related centennials to come up in 2009.

The other is the 100-year anniversary of the publication of Mark Twain's signature anti-Stratfordian book, Is Shakespeare Dead?, an authorship-related tome that still hasn't been matched in its wit and breezy readability.

Today's New York Times' Times Traveler archive blog reprints a mini-tempest that was stirred up when Twain printed his witty diatribe against "Stratfordolators," as he called the orthodox Shakespeareans. Clips after the jump.

The controversy arose over Twain's excerpting of 22 pages-worth of the classic anti-Stratfordian book The Shakespeare Problem Restated by George G. Greenwood.

Ironically, Twain reprinted a chapter from Greenwood's landmark book and stated as much -- but, crucially, he also neglected to cite Greenwood by name as the excerpt's author.

Below are excerpts from the June 9, 1909 NYT article "Can Mark Twain Be A Literary Pirate?"

[Twain's publisher Harper & Bros. stated,] "The manuscript, exactly as he gave it to us, with the title, 'Is Shakespeare Dead?' was put into book form as quickly as we could do it.

"No one thought of looking particularly to see if Mr. Twain had given credit to Mr. Greenwood. It was noticed that the book itself was credited, and that seemed sufficient. Later on, when the John Lane Company [Greenwood's publisher] called our attention to it, we learned that Mark Twain had failed to speak of Mr. Greenwood. We felt very sorry about it then, but it was too late to recall the edition. We don't put the blame on Mark Twain exactly. Of course if we had noticed the omission we would have called his attention to it. Quite likely it escaped his notice, as it did ours. He didn't mean to be unethical."


'"Is Shakespeare Dead?" is being sold here [in the U.S.] unrestricted, but in England the John Lane Company, protected by copyight laws which do not extend to their books in this country, are watching to prevent a copy of Mark Twain's volume from being marketed.

"We don't like to be discourteous about this," said Mr. [Rutger Bleecker] Jewett [manager of John Lane Co.], "but we feel we must protect the authors who put their confidence in us. Mark Twain should have been more careful."


An effort was made yesterday to see Mark Twain, but he was not at his home in Redding, Conn., and could not be reached."

[h/t to G.Q. and W.N.; Creative Commons image from Okinawa Soba]


Lee said...

Hey Mark,
I did a mash-up miniature of you from an Edward de Vere 1588 Nicholas Hilliard. It was a lot of work, but the miniature came out pretty good, I think. Anyway if you want it then it's yours to steal off the site of Shakespeare Portraits. My way of saying thanks for all your work. I hope you like it.

Mark said...

Hello, Malvolio. Thank you for the tribute.

I should note, btw, that I don't agree with your blog's attribution of the Sanders portrait. IMO the case for the playwright John Fletcher as the Sanders sitter is still the strongest one I've seen. In any event, the upshot of Sanders, Ashbourne, and now Cobbe portraits all being: We still don't know what the man from Stratford looked like.

Lee said...

I'll post some mash-ups and side-by-side on Fletcher-Sanders theory in a day or two, and I think you'll agree that dog don't hunt. Their eyes are shaped very differently, but it's the mouths, specifically the lower lips, that disqualifies them being the same guy. Fletcher had a meaty lower lip whereas the Sanders actually had a fuller top lip than bottom (rare). The two mouths just have nothing in common.

Still, I'd like to read the argument for the Sanders being John Fletcher. I keep hearing that idea mentioned, but I can't find the source.

Lee said...

Ah,it was Jonathan Bate who favored Fletcher, (in Shakespeare's Face by Stephanie Nolan), and it wasn't as much an argument as a whim.

As of this morning, bright and early, SP has already dropped a few pianos on this Fletcher theory of his and will continue to do so in a more detailed (and serious-minded) post tomorrow.


Lee said...

Okay, the dead-serious post arguing against Fletcher as the Sanders sitter can be read can be read here.

This is a much more straight-forward approach, partially because the nine hours of work I did on mash-ups and side-by-sides and animations left me too exhausted to make jokes. I think the notion that Sanders is John Fletcher has been put to rest. The Sanders may or may not be Edward de Vere (though the likeness with the Welbeck matches up exactly) but it sure ain't Fletcher.
No Mas, Mark? Well, you should have known better than to adopt a Stratfordian theory(: Look at the eyes on the cover of your amazing book and then look at the eyes of John Fletcher . . .