Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Links & tangled webs

Two new and noteworthy web resources came to my attention this past week worth passing along.

First, a new (brief) documentary biography of Edward de Vere has been posted -- for free download, no less. Canadian researcher Nina Green, familiar to many Oxfordians as the moderator of the "Phaeton" email list, recently posted her 44-page Oxford's Biography (PDF) on her Oxford-Shakespeare website.

It's not an Oxfordian biography. (We, ahem, already have a pretty decent one of those.) Rather, it's a strict recitation of all the known facts and documents relating to Edward de Vere's life, from the christening cup granted to baby Edward on April 17, 1550 to the June 18, 1604 custody transfer of the Forest of Essex (six days before de Vere's death).

The PDF biography refrains from theorizing about the Shakespeare authorship issue. The previous documentary biography of de Vere (Alan Nelson's Monstrous Adversary, 2003) wore its hostility toward de Vere on its sleeve -- indeed in its very title. Its errors skewed toward making de Vere look bad and his case for any claim to the "Shakespeare" canon worse.

Kudos to Ms. Green for assembling this fresh and welcome new look into Edward de Vere's life.

Second link is a great new website hosted by the Georgetown University clinical psychiatry professor Richard Waugaman, "The Oxfreudian". It's a fine turn of phrase, with a good (and we hope ever-growing) collection of papers Waugaman has written on Edward de Vere and the authorship issue.

Like the late Bronson Feldman before him (one of the great underappreciated Oxfordian writers and critics), Waugaman brings a career of clinical experience as a psychoanalyst to the authorship issue, with often incisive results. For instance, in one essay for the Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review (co-written with Roger Stritmatter), Waugaman notes

It may come as a surprise to psychoanalysts to learn just how much current literary theory minimizes the significance of an understanding of the psychology and life experiences of the author. For several years, the predominant view has instead been that studies of the text itself should be paramount, and it is often not considered legitimate or relevant to introduce data, much less psychological speculations, about the influence of the author’s psychology on their literary creations.

Freud touched on this problem when he accepted the Goethe Prize. He interwove his comments on de Vere with his defense of a psychoanalytic study of Goethe. He acknowledged that some would object that such psychoanalytic studies would "degrade" a great man. He met this objection with the claim that only a psychoanalytic study of great writers can "throw any light on the riddle of the miraculous gift that makes an artist" or "help us comprehend any better the value ... of his works" (Freud, 1930, p. 211). We strongly agree with Freud that advances in our understanding of literary genius, and creativity in general, will be promoted by once more legitimizing the study of connections between the artist’s life and work.

Creative Commons photo by Jenny Downing

Friday, December 24, 2010

The pen, the spear... and the temptation - part 2

Earlier this month, I blogged about a tantalizing piece of Oxfordian evidence that was divulged this year in an endnote (!) to a paper on a different subject.

The evidence consisted of a book published in 1604 written by someone who knew Edward de Vere. In his 1604 book, the author made an elegiacal reference to an unnamed individual who "with one hand [holds] a speare... and with the other [holds] a pen."

The year of de Vere's death, in other words, the book might seem to record a contemporary remembering the recent passing of "Shake-speare."

My initial response to this find was -- like discovering an incredible new album or book or movie -- excitement... to the point of growing a bit starry-eyed about the material itself.

It was, in the words of the old journalist's saw, "too good to check."

And here is where a wiser version of me would have sat on it for a time. And spent some time researching it and thinking about it before making any public statement about it one way or the other.

Because once I was able to investigate it, the whole thing rapidly crumbled into nothing.

And so I record the following notes on one that got away as a reminder to myself -- and anyone else who cares to join along -- how important it is for Oxfordians to be their own harshest critics. Certainly, go ahead: Entertain that wild-eyed notion about what so-and-so said about this or that. But then go back and play devil's advocate. Far better to catch yourself in an error -- or, at least, be called on the carpet by one's peers -- than to be dragged through the mud after an opponent discovers the mistake.

Barnaby Riche was a professional soldier, eight years older than Edward de Vere. Riche had fought in Irish military campaigns in 1573 and 1599 and in France and the Low Countries at various times in Queen Mary and Elizabeth's reigns.

In 1581, he wrote a book of stories and satire in which he bid, as the title suggests, Farewell to the Militarie Profession. Shakespeare scholars know it as the book containing a possible source for Twelfth Night: Riche's story "Apolonius and Silla." Trace back the source of Riche's story, though, and one finds the commedia dell'arte performed on Twelfth Night in the Italian town of Siena (Gl'Ingannati). It's a longer and more twisted tale than is worth getting into here. For more detail, The Atlantic magazine from 1902 has an extended discussion of Twelfth Night's possible intermediate sources. (In the final analysis, one really only need know this: De Vere traveled to Siena, and in fact wrote a letter to his father-in-law from Siena just two days before Twelfth Night of 1576. It's a fair bet de Vere saw enacted onstage the original Italian version of Twelfth Night.)

Some Oxfordians might also know Farewell as another source: In his book, Riche goes on at length about an effeminate and Frenchified dandy that he sees on the streets of London. Some Oxfordians have presumed Riche was talking about de Vere here.

In my first draft of "Shakespeare" By Another Name, I presumed that too. However, I cut it out in the final draft. I owe a more careful and sober look at Riche's book to the (now sadly departed) Oxfordian researcher Peter Moore. There is, Moore patiently pointed out, practically nothing in Riche's description of the fop that would specifically identify him as Edward de Vere.

So it also is with Riche's 1604 book A Souldier's Wishe to Britons Welfare. The book is dedicated to King James's son Prince Henry. The original endnote that set this jolly train in motion earlier this month might seem to suggest that the "pen" and "speare" reference was found in the dedication. But it is not.

After an unremarkable dedication to Prince Henry, Riche launches into a long dialogue between two soldiers, Captain Pill and Captain Skill. The former is a greenhorn and the latter a leathery old vet. As military historian Paul Jorgensen summarizes Riche's fictionalized dialogue, "Throughout the book the pattern of discourse scarcely varies. Pill offers his respectful opinion on a military subject; Skill counters it with his more learned judgment."

On page 61, then, we get to Pill and Skill's exchange in question. (I've modernized the spelling and punctuation here.)

Pill wonders, "When shall arts prevail and flourish then?" To which Captain Skill replies, "When kings become philosophers again."

Pill says, "That time is come, and God be thanked... But now if the goodness of a prince may promise a gracious consideration to the well deserving, England is made happy in him whose name is already consecrated to immortality, whose magnificence equalled with virtue, is able with Caesar, with one hand to hold the spear in the rest and with the other to hold the pen, whose imperial seat is no less renowned by Mars than beautified by the Muses." (My emphasis)

Just for starters: Riche's Captain Pill is clearly talking about someone who holds the scepter of power, who sits on an "imperial seat."

In other words, Riche is probably talking about Prince Henry. Perhaps King James himself. (There was by the time of Henry's untimely death in 1612 a full-blown cult that recognized in the Stuart heir to the throne a platonic ideal philosopher-king -- one who if he had lived to inherit the kingdom would have carved out an entirely different trajectory for the English speaking world than that of his foolish brother Charles I, whose controversy-plagued reign played no small role in sparking the English Civil War in 1649.)

In any event, that Riche is not talking about de Vere comes clear in just the phrase preceding the "spear/pen" fragment: De Vere was many things, but a Casear he was not.

So we return good Captains Pill and Skill to the obscurity whence they came. As with Riche's other possible Oxfordian reference, from 1581, a closer examination of the full text reveals a simple and straightforward fact. There's no de Vere here.

(Thanks here also goes to the careful and diligent researcher C.P., who also emailed his own analysis of the 1604 Riche "evidence," drawing the same conclusion that nothing in it pertains to Edward de Vere.)

Creative Commons photo by striatic

Monday, December 20, 2010

Video: Why Was I Never Told This?

This new YouTube video was recently posted by the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition.

Please take a gander -- and if you like it, please tweet, facebook & email it to others!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Jacobian Lear - mark your calendars

Sir Derek Jacobi, The Wall Street Journal said in a review Friday, is now treading the boards in London in "the finest performance of Lear we are likely to see for some time."

And it's not just the WSJ who are waxing rhapsodic. Jacobi's King Lear (directed by Michael Grandage) has been widely hailed as one of the great (legendary?) Shakespearean performances of the present day.

The Daily Express calls it, "An evening of greatness" and "one of the most remarkable performances of the past decade," while The Daily Telegraph called this production "A Lear to rank with the greatest."

In a separate article The Telegraph also reminds its readers where Jacobi stands on a related matter: "Sir Derek Jacobi doesn't believe Shakespeare wrote 'King Lear' - but he's still given one of the greatest performances in the role."

That Jacobi is an Oxfordian and patron of the De Vere Society (UK) doesn't appear to merit mention. But the legendary actor's apostasy may indeed not be irrelevant to his clearly penetrating insights into Lear's psyche.

The Evening Standard's critic extols Jacobi's "exaggerated pomp, wounded majesty, paternal indignation and, as his tyranny turns to self-knowledge, a blighted, ordinary humanity." While the Independent says, simply, Jacobi's Lear comes off like a "coward and a poet."

The downward spiral of Edward de Vere's life tracks Lear like a phantom horseman -- from de Vere's disbursement of his ancestral castle amongst his three daughters (from his first marriage) to his bastard and legitimate sons (the latter from his second marriage) that clearly inform the portrayal of the play's Earl of Gloucester.

And if I didn't know any better, the "pomp, indignation, tyranny" and "coward" quotes above might seem to be a slanderous summary of de Vere's life, as portrayed by contemporary libelers (such as Charles Arundel) or current-day ones (such as Alan Nelson).

If you can get thee to London's Donmar Warehouse before Feb. 5 (or to the locations of its UK tour through April 9), then please let readers know what you thought in the comments section here.

For the rest of us, though, there's good news: In February, select cinemas around the world will be screening Jacobi's Lear as part of the National Theatre Live project. (See the link for details on venues and screening dates near you.)

Last month Jacobi, 72, told The Guardian:

"The pressures are much bigger now," Jacobi said. "There was a lovely actress called Dorothy Tutin and she always said that there were three categories of actor. The first one was 'young and talented,' which is a great category to be in. You've got youth on your side, and you're the rank outsider in the race. You've got everything to play for, nothing to lose. Then you become, if you're lucky, 'experienced and successful.' You've got work, you're making a living, and you're also getting wonderful experience. And then there's the last one, which is 'distinguished and acclaimed.' And that's where the pressure is. Now you're the favourite in the race, you have to win or come a good second. Now people are putting money on you to win."

As the Guardian's critic concluded, "I think this Lear may turn out to have been worth the wait."

The pen, the spear... and the temptation! - part 1

Recently, a reader emailed to draw attention to a most curious new piece of literary evidence. If the discoverer was right, it would constitute powerful and fascinating new further proof of Elizabethan writers associating Edward de Vere with "Shakespeare".

For several days, I was persuaded. After doing more digging, however, I made an about-face. I no longer think it relates to Edward de Vere or "Shakespeare."

All the same, I want to share the process of getting from there to here.

It may be useful, in other words, to share a story of a fish that got thrown back in the pond. Not every catch is a keeper. And a lot more get away than are worthy of keeping.

The evidence in this case comes from a book written in 1604 by the courtly soldier and poet Barnabe Riche (c.1540-1617). As pointed out in "Shakespeare" By Another Name, Riche arguably knew about (maybe participated in) the Falstaffian good times at de Vere's pleasure palace Fisher's Folly in the 1580s.

Then sometime during the year de Vere died, 1604, Riche wrote a book dedicated to King James's son Prince Henry. And in that book, Riche appealed to England's king -- or at least to an earthly representative of the ideal philosopher-king -- to pay homage to an unnamed individual who "with one hand [holds] the speare... and the other hand [holds] the pen."

Heady stuff, right?

This seemingly explosive discovery actually appears in a footnote in the latest edition of the online Shakespeare authorship journal Brief Chronicles. Footnote 96 (!) of Robert Prechter's paper "Hundreth Sundrie Flowers Revisited" says the following:

"[I]n A Souldiers Wishe from 1604 Rich wrote a heartfelt commentary requesting
King James to honor a certain unnamed person who was able 'with one
hand to holde the Speare... and with the other to hold the pen.' Barnabe
Rich. A Souldiers Wishe to Britons welfare, (London: T. Creed for Jeffrey
Chorlton, 1604), 61."

Here, then, is temptation by another name.

The year 1604, of course, is the year Edward de Vere shuffled off this mortal coil. And it'd be a curio worth crowing about if a soldier-poet from rival Philip Sidney's circle urged King James to commemorate de Vere's passing using punning references to the "Shakespeare" name.

Not only would another suggestive allusion to de Vere as the Bard be added to the hopper -- but also this one would further solidify the point that "Shakespeare" died in 1604.

What's that line about being especially careful when something seems too good to be true?

Yep. Pretty much.

In the next post, the above lovely edifice of Oxfordian handiwork will be taken apart.

(My one regret here lies not with the investigation of the evidence itself. Research is the steady accumulation of such disappointments -- and, with any luck and lots of hard work, an occasional breakthrough. Instead, I regret stating off-handedly in the latest "Shakespeare" By Another Name email bulletin that I would be blogging about a great new discovery connecting de Vere to "Shakespeare." For that bit of premature celebration I do apologize. Please pass the crow!)

Creative Commons images by sean_hickin and neil conway.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Remembering Richard Paul Roe

This morning I learned of the passing of Richard Paul Roe, a key expert on an important and underappreciated topic in Shakespeare scholarship: Shakespeare's Italy. Roe is pictured here in an interview I did with him in 2002 at (as it was then titled) the Edward de Vere Studies Conference at Concordia University in Portland, Ore.

Practically for as long as I've known about the authorship issue (dating back to 1993) I've heard reports about Roe's treasure chest of new evidence on the Bard's Italian knowledge. Roe, one soon learned, had been gathering this wealth of new research over many years of travel to and research in Italy.

Roe's fundamental point was that, contrary to the ignorant-old-Will Stratfordian dogma, the author of the "Shakespeare" canon knew the Italian and French settings in his works exceptionally well. The "Shakespeare" Italy plays in particular, Roe argues, display a kind of organic and intimate knowledge that only comes from first hand experience.

I've seen Richard give talks, and I've had the great privilege to interview and correspond with him. He was very kind to provide a few important and unpublished findings for "Shakespeare" By Another Name.

I'm very sorry to have to report the news of his death today.

One small solace is that Roe lived to collect, write and supervise the preparation of a tremendous book containing all of his findings. This magnum opus, The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Then and Now, will be published next year by HarperCollins.

The Oberon Blog today reports a conversation they had with a publicist at HarperCollins, who announced a Nov. 1, 2011 publication date for Roe's book. I have an advance copy of the book and will only reiterate what I said earlier this year: It's a superb piece of work.

As the publication date approaches, I'll be posting a full review.

Meantime, I extend my condolences and sympathy to the loved ones he leaves behind.

Roe's work will be long admired and appreciated. There has been, I think, no greater collection of Shakespearean scholarship in recent years. And that, in the words of the Sonnets' dedication, is surely a fine and fitting kind of "eternity promised by our ever-living poet."