Sunday, June 27, 2010

Smelling Psalts - another de Vere treasure trove

"Shakespeare" By Another Name reader Richard Waugaman of Georgetown University sent a note this week about his new publication in the journal Notes & Queries.

He told the SBAN Blog he's been peeking at Shakespeare's answer key lately and discovering a "jackpot" of new discoveries about the Bard's sources.

N&Q has now published two articles by Waugaman on a newly rediscovered source for the Shakespeare plays and poems: The Whole Booke of Psalme (WBP) from 1565. This popular edition of the biblical book of The Psalms set the sacred text to a steady rhythm, enabling the psalter to be sung more easily during church services. (It's also clunky and dated poetry and so has made an easy target for critics like C.S. Lewis, who said the WBP had practically no value as a literary influence for "cultivated writers.")

But the Folger Shakespeare Library has Edward de Vere's personal copy of the WBP -- one that's hand-annotated and bound with de Vere's copy of the Geneva translation of the Bible. (The latter is the subject of SBAN's Appendix A.)

De Vere's personal copy of the WBP is a treasure trove of material for Shakespeare.

De Vere marked 21 of the 150 psalms in the WBP. Waugaman has examined eight of those marked Psalms (8, 12, 25, 51, 77, 103, 137, 139) to discover dozens of new references to these psalms (sometimes to this edition of the Psalms) throughout Shakespeare's Sonnets as well as Rape of Lucrece; Macbeth; Richard II; Henry VI, Part 1 and the apocryphal Shakespearean history play Edward III.

"Using the psalms de Vere marked has led to what is probably the largest literary source for Shakespeare discovered in many years," Waugaman said in an email.

As with de Vere's biography, his travels in Italy (about which I'll be blogging more soon) and his personal copy of the Bible, de Vere's edition of the WBP once again proves that detailed examination of the particulars of de Vere's life recovers vast new vistas on the "Shakespeare" canon.

And once again it appears that if de Vere wasn't in fact the one who wrote behind the "Shakespeare" mask, then it sure looks like "Shakespeare" spent a lot of time looking through de Vere's eyes.

Richard Waugaman's first (Dec. 2009) article on WBP & Shakespeare
Waugaman's second (June 2010) article

(Creative Commons image by Orin Zebest)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Shakespeare's Italy - the teaser

As noted in the comment thread to the previous entry, I discovered after posting about Richard Roe's forthcoming book The Shakespeare Guide To Italy ... Then and Now that the commercial edition is still forthcoming -- but not as in a few weeks or months from now. More like later this year or sometime next year. (Hopefully on the sooner end of that scale.)

Still, I don't want to whet appetites without also providing an appetizer until the main course becomes available.

So I'm pleased to report my recent discovery that a one of the classic studies on Shakespeare's Italy is now available for free download. It was among a handful of excellent sources that I used to write the two Italy chapters of "Shakespeare" By Another Name.

The 17-page work, "Shakespeare and the Waterways of North Italy," obliterates two of the most frequently-cited claims of the Bard's "ignorance" about Italy -- and continental Europe.

Case in point, says the scold: Shakespeare set part of The Winter's Tale on the seacoast of Bohemia. That'd be like trying to find some nice oceanfront property in Nebraska.

In fact, says Bart Edward Sullivan, the study's author, Bohemia during its most prosperous years had two seacoasts. (And as SBAN readers may recall, the first patch of foreign coastline Edward de Vere encountered on his 1575 trip down the Adriatic Sea out of Venice was land ruled by the then-King of Bohemia.)

OK, then... another case in point: Shakespeare didn't even know which Italian cities were on the Mediterranean and which were landlocked. Multiple plays feature voyages by ship from inland towns.

Sullivan demolishes that objection, too. Every one of the references to travel by boat via inland Italian towns (in The Tempest, Taming of the Shrew, and Two Gentlemen of Verona) is in fact spot-on for 16th century Italy, when travel across Northern Italy was often more convenient by water than by land routes. The Po and Adige rivers as well as via a network of canals and tributaries that look today like a Renaissance Italian bus map provided the routes for the region's network of ferries and boats.

Sullivan adds, however, that for Two Gentlemen of Verona (which prominently features water travel between Verona and Milan), he couldn't determine whether the entire journey between the two Italian cities could be made by boat.

And that's one hurdle Richard Roe's book clears. He records some pretty impressive gumshoe detective work to determine that an uninterrupted river/canal trip between Verona and Milan was not only possible -- it was also recorded in accurate detail in Two Gentlemen. The Bard's critics are, again, the ones with egg on their face.

The dispiriting thing about Sullivan's work is that it was published in 1908. And Sullivan was a Stratfordian. His work is still widely ignored to this day.

Evidently, a Shakespeare who knew Italy like the back of his hand is a Shakespeare that academic Shakespeareans want nothing to do with. They know that if the Bard can be kept safely holed up in London, leaving no traces of a well-traveled Renaissance life, there's no threat to the happy myth of a commercial writer who spent his career churning out potboilers for the stage.

The fun begins soon, friends. Sullivan is just the starter dish.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Shakespeare in Italy: Game, Set, Match?

When Mark Twain wrote his witty and still-unsurpassed anti-Stratfordian opus Is Shakespeare Dead?, he ultimately boiled the Shakespearean authorship problem down to one question: Was the Bard a lawyer?

His question is still an interesting one -- and certainly highlights just one of many problems the conventional Stratford theory has to overcome.

But as of 2010 -- with the forthcoming publication of a long-awaited book that represents practically a life's worth of research -- I think there's a new BIG question in town: Did "Shakespeare" personally visit the Italian locations of his plays?

Today I received in the mail an advance copy of Richard Paul Roe's beautiful, forthcoming book The Shakespeare Guide to Italy - Then and Now.

A longer review is forthcoming. But let me just say that I've interviewed Mr. Roe before, and over the years I've seen presentations and read papers by him and have had a longstanding respect and admiration for his work. He in fact kindly shared a small but significant number of his research findings for the Italy chapters of "Shakespeare" By Another Name.

And now just a brief perusal of his own opus confirms what I've long suspected: Mr. Roe's lifetime of research in Italian archives, visiting often-obscure Italian locales (nevertheless locales clearly referenced in Shakespeare), building up the case brick-by-brick... has certainly paid off.

The Shakespeare Guide to Italy could be a game-changer, in other words.

Of course, how orthodox scholars react -- no doubt in their time-honored "ignore all serious opposition" strategy -- is another subject altogether.

More on that and the big book itself to come.