Saturday, December 10, 2011

Guest post: How Did A Man Who Didn't Go to Italy Go to Italy? A review of Richard Paul Roe's The Shakespeare Guide to Italy

Book review of Richard Paul Roe, The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard's Unknown Travels (Harper Perennial, Nov. 2011)

by John Christian Plummer

Imagine that you lived in a time in which every educated person was absolutely certain that the planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn moved both forward and backward.  This is what the astronomer Tycho Brahe called “retrograde motion.”  In Hamlet, when Claudius tells Prince Hamlet that a return to Wittenberg (the alma mater of Brahe) “is most retrograde to (the King’s) desire.” 

From the standpoint of the 21st century, it requires a powerful feat of imagination to reckon that a vast celestial body like Mars would stop in the middle of space and reverse its direction.  And that it would do so consistently.  But that is precisely what many well educated 16th century Europeans thought happened, and they didn’t just make this up out of a desire for imaginative tales; they had a problem that needed explaining.  The problem was Mars appeared at one point in the east of the sky, progressed westward, but then appeared back east of its westward position.  If Mars were to move in that way as it orbited the earth…well…one logical explanation would suggest it wasn’t orbiting the earth.  But that was impossible, of course, because Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and all the other planets, as well as the sun, absolutely did orbit the earth, because the earth, as everyone knew, was the center of the universe.  So given that unassailable fact, Brahe proposed his theory of retrograde motion. Mars, like a crab, like Hamlet, moved backward.
From where we sit in the age of Einstein, it’s easy to chuckle at this absurd mental contortion which, we now know, flies in the face of not only the correct, heliocentric model of the solar system, but also basic Newtonian physics.  But let us not forget that the educated Europeans of the 16th century were operating from a working hypothesis – the geocentric model of the universe – that was powerful enough to put mortal fears into the minds of men like Copernicus and Galileo, whose more elegant, thoroughly researched and ultimately accurate explanations eventually won the day.

It is no hyperbole to call Richard Paul Roe a twenty-first century Galileo of literature.  Roe isn’t examining the stars without, but rather the stars within: specifically a third of the canon of the man some call the greatest author who ever set pen to paper, the man we call William Shakespeare.  The so-called Italy plays of Shakespeare are the subject of Roe’s tremendous inquiry, and his more than two decades of painstaking investigation and research have resulted in the landmark book, The Shakespeare Guide to Italy, Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels, just released, posthumously, under the Harper/Perennial imprint.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Anonymous" with a Byline - Screenwriter John Orloff interview (part 2)

As of the writing of this blog post, the Oxfordian biopic Anonymous has earned $6.9 million in international box office revenue. The movie also continues to open in staggered release in countries all over the world through the end of February. Later in 2012, of course, its extended life will begin on home video, on television, on airplane flights, in classrooms, etc. 

Despite the sometimes astonishingly vein-bulging tantrums of Oxfordian deniers, Anonymous will continue to introduce millions of people to the Shakespeare authorship mystery and to the most likely alternative "Shakespeare" candidate -- Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. 

We're grateful for Anonymous screenwriter John Orloff giving this blog an exclusive long-form interview with him about the alpha to omega of his script. (Orloff has also generously provided some of his own personal collection of photographs he took while on set with director Roland Emmerich -- during the movie's principal photography last year.) 

In part one of the "Shakespeare" by Another Name Blog's interview with Orloff, we discussed the screenwriter's own discovery of the Shakespeare authorship question courtesy of the 1989 PBS Frontline documentary The Shakespeare Mystery. Orloff ultimately wrote a screenplay about Edward de Vere and "Shakespeare," a script he originally titled Soul of the Age

Orloff had, he said, shopped it around Hollywood. And on the strength of Soul of the Age, Orloff had had meetings with Tom Hanks -- who ultimately hired Orloff to write two scripts for Hanks' co-production with Steven Spielberg, Band of Brothers

(SPOILER ALERT: This part of the interview with Orloff (part 2 of 3) begins getting into the thick of the movie's plot.)

MARK ANDERSON: Does Tom Hanks have an opinion on the authorship question?

JOHN ORLOFF: We never discussed it. My guess is he's a Stratfordian. But we never got deep into it. But Soul of the Age led to me getting a writing career and doing other work. A lot for Tom. 

MKA: Beyond Band of Brothers?

JO: Only that was produced. But I wrote about three more scripts for Tom over the years. And then meanwhile, I got a phone call from my agent saying Roland Emmerich is looking for writers for this disaster movie he's going to make about global warming. I said, "I don't know if I'm the right guy for that kind of stuff. I don't know the genre that well."

But [my agent] said, 'Yeah, but he's heard a lot about you. He really wants to meet you.' 

MKA: So this was when?

JO: This was 2002 or '03. We sat down in his office, and we talked about "Day After Tomorrow." Which sounded totally cool. But it also sounded like a movie I didn't understand as a writer. It's very outside of my wheelhouse, as they say. 

The other thing is, as a writer, I have to write things I love. And I don't know that genre as well as I should. And I said that to Roland. I said, "I'm so flattered that you think I can do this. I'm not sure I can. And I think quite frankly you can get a lot of writers who are way better than me for this kind of material." 

He said, "Well, what else have you written?" And I do what I always do, which is, I say, "Funny you should ask. Do you know anything about the Shakespeare authorship issue." And as usual there's a blank face. And I start doing my spiel, my 20 minute spiel. And I could see he was really interested. He said he wanted to read it. And about a week or two later, my agent called me up and said, "Hold on to your seat. Roland Emmerich wants to buy your script."

Which was a surprise. As it would be to anybody. Now that I know Roland, it's not a surprise at all. But not knowing Roland it seems like a surprise. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Shakespeare" with an E - The new 2011 ebook edition of "Shakespeare" By Another Name

As noted previously on this blog, on the ShakesVere Facebook boards and elsewhere, "Shakespeare" by Another Name has been updated and revised for an ebook edition

Today, I'm pleased to announce, the ebook of SBAN is now online and available for sale at ebook retailers across the Internet and around the world. The new ebook copy is also now being converted into a print-on-demand paperback that will be available for sale later this year. More announcements on that front forthcoming. 

Anyone with an ebook reader, smartphone, tablet or even just plain old PC or laptop can buy the ebook and read it on their device(s). The ebook is available in formats for all the major portable reader devices today (Kindle, Nook, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android tablets & smartphones, Google Books devices, etc.). Formats for reading the ebook on your PC/laptop reader (PDF) are also available or will soon be available, depending on the outlet. (Some sites take longer than others.) 

The central clearinghouse for all of this is the publisher's page for SBAN. As of this writing, SBAN's ebook publisher, Untreed Reads, is offering a 30% off sale -- just $5.59 for "Shakespeare" by Another Name in its new e-formats. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Anonymous" with a Byline - Screenwriter John Orloff interview (part 1)

Note: A year ago, the screenwriter John Orloff sent an email over the transom and started what has become a yearlong correspondence about his Edward de Vere biopic Anonymous (with which "Shakespeare" by Another Name is unaffiliated -- although that said, I very much enjoyed the film and hope everyone reading these words takes the opportunity to see this tremendous movie on the big screen).

When the publicity push for Anonymous was kicking into high gear, in early October, Orloff sat down for an interview for the "Shakespeare" by Another Name Blog at Orloff's office in western Massachusetts.

Orloff had already, three weeks before the movie's release, heard and read so much misrepresentation of what his movie was about and where it was coming from. In this long-form interview, Orloff wanted to help set the record straight. He also, very kindly, provided a number of his own behind-the-scenes photographs from the set of Anonymous, some of which are below.

What follows is the first part of the transcript (part 1 of 3) of our two-hour interview.

MARK ANDERSON: So let's start at the beginning. You're coming out of UCLA film school and eager to get into the film and TV industry. What happens next?

JOHN ORLOFF: What happened was 20-some-odd years ago, it was a very different film business. And it was a lot harder to get in to. Especially as a screenwriter. I first realized that I didn't have anything to write. I hadn't lived. I had nothing to say. And I was 22 years old. I had a relatively sheltered life. I lived in LA all my life. I'm actually fourth-generation film business. My great-grandparents were Fibber McGee and Molly. Jim Jordan and Marian Jordan. Their son, Jim Jordan Jr. was a TV director, and my grandmother was a B-movie actress. My father was a commercial director. And my brother's an Academy Award winning sound mixer.

In my 20s, I ended up working in advertising, because I could get work there. Just struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And then I met my now-wife, who at the time was working at HBO in the long-form movie division. She would bring home these long form scripts that tended to be non-fiction based. Movies about Dorothy Dandridge, the African American Baseball League. I've always been interested in non-fiction based movies. A lot of my favorite movies are David Lean movies. I love historical films.

One thing led to another, and I started talking to my wife about the Shakespeare authorship issue, which I'd already learned about through the "Frontline" [episode on the Shakespeare Debate]. This was probably 1995. But I'd learned about the issue around 1989. Which led me to then going, "This seems true. It seems crazy that I've never heard of this." That led me to reading Ogburn's book as my first book. I was really just blown away by it. As many people are.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Comment-upon-comment: The scholars consider

On the Facebook ShakesVere boards, Geoffrey Green points to a recent blog post by a Stratfordian  scholar who sighs and says, OK, Anonymous now means we have to take on the Oxfordians. 

My comment on this literary scholar's blog after the jump. 

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Soul of the Age, The Amadeus of the Stage: A review of the movie ANONYMOUS

In brief: See this movie. Anonymous is, first and foremost, a ripping good yarn. It also represents the biggest media event in the history of the Oxfordian story and perhaps the whole Shakespeare authorship question. Over the coming months and years, millions of people around the world who know nothing about Edward de Vere and his relationship to the "Shakespeare" canon will be witnessing the entire Elizabethan and Oxfordian world that Anonymous has fascinatingly and carefully created -- historical liberties and all. Some critics will undoubtedly knock Anonymous's departures from documented fact, even setting the Shakespeare authorship issue aside. But such criticism, in this reviewer's opinion, misses the point of the fictionalizing: The dramatic license the movie wields all arguably helps it tell a powerful and gripping story to as wide a global audience of moviegoers as possible. This is, on balance, a very good thing.

Review: Roland Emmerich's forthcoming Oxfordian biopic Anonymous (Columbia Pictures, US & UK release Oct. 28, elsewhere here) is a revolution in a 16:9 frame. Fittingly, the story prominently features its own uprising.

An enraged mob has just seen a performance of the Shakespeare play Richard III. Incited by the play's allegorical depiction of the crook-backed Elizabethan Machiavel Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg), they're ready to smash and burn. The playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) sees a trap, though, and he tries to stop the masses from running headlong into it. 

However, as the "Essex Rebellion" actually played out 410 years ago, it was preceded by a performance of the Shakespeare play Richard II -- a knottier drama whose relationship to the rebellion turns on less immediately accessible points, concerning a scene depicting the deposition of an English monarch. And while we're nitpicking, Jonson wasn't part of the marauding hordes either. 

Yet the success of Anonymous is that even those who know the historical facts with which the movie takes its liberties aren't given much time to care. It's a wild and entertaining ride. The intrigue and literary double-dealing sweeps the viewer up into a shadowy world all its own. The actor Shakespeare, as the film portrays him, is an ale-hoisting codpiece who fronts as the author of plays written behind the scenes by an Elizabethan court playwright who is no stranger to readers of this blog, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. 

The depiction of de Vere blending into his Shakespearean milieu -- from authorship of plays and poems to courtly performances to outdoor public theaters -- is a revelatory and sometimes shocking experience. Even for an Oxfordian viewer.

Those who make a hobby or (part-time) profession professing the case for de Vere as "Shakespeare" nevertheless live in a hostile Stratfordian world, forever defending ourselves from critical brickbats. We rarely if ever get, even in our minds' eyes, to inhabit these worlds. But Anonymous exerts every effort to ensure that for two hours and ten minutes, we do. And, thanks to a painstaking work of filmmaking, we really do.

The immersion comes not just from the lavish production design and photorealistic and nearly ubiquitous CGI digital backdrops. (The computer generated imagery in fact fits so comfortably and seamlessly into the scenes and settings that it actually fooled Variety's reviewer into claiming Anonymous is "nearly CGI-free.")

A few performances -- in particular the mother-daughter team of Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson as the elder and younger Queen Elizabeth -- entice the viewer like a siren to join the film's Oxfordian universe.

And Rhys Ifans's quiet and measured turn as the mature Edward de Vere reverses nearly a century of academic slander against his character by flashing the fire and shaking the spears that Oxfordians have long said makes him such a compelling and convincing "Shakespeare." Ironically, Ifans' knowing glances, each themselves concealing volumes, will probably reach more eyes than the whole output of books and articles in the long history of the authorship question. 

At a public Q&A with Emmerich recently, Columbia University professor James Shapiro (Contested Will) tried to smear Emmerich with insinuations of Nazism -- a vile slander that provided a case-in-point of the desperation and intellectual bankruptcy that marks most Stratfordian rearguard actions today. 

Orthodox Shakespeare scholars -- those whose reputations and careers rely on Shakspere of Stratford claiming exclusive right to the "Shakespeare" canon --  have good reason to be worried. The comparable arrow in their quiver, Shakespeare in Love, is an empty vessel compared to the heady draught of thriller, romance and epic literary biography that Anonymous serves up.

That Anonymous surpasses Shakespeare in Love, incidentally, is actually no trivial statement from this reviewer. I am one Oxfordian who enjoyed Shakespeare in Love, especially for its own witty and carefully crafted depiction of the period. But Shakespeare in Love was -- like Stratfordian best-selling books Will in the World or 1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare -- entertaining ultimately only for its backdrops and bit players. None of these stitch jobs had a living, approachable, comprehensible, and fallible human soul at its core.

Anonymous, on the other hand, delivers just that. It makes the kind of immediate and visceral human connection to its protagonist that good movie performances can forge. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Anonymous class 1: Why search? Why ask?

This week, we're welcoming all to join in a discussion led by the teachers of an eight-week course called "Anonymous the Movie and William Shakespeare's Identity." (Description here [PDF], p. 21.)

The class is offered by the University of Minnesota's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and taught by OLLI science/liberal arts leader George Anderson* and retired Univ. of Minn. humanities professor James Norwood.

The instructors have one question this week which they'll be asking their students -- and ask anyone else to join in here and on the "ShakesVere" Facebook page. It's as follows:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Anonymous post-Toronto: The Good, The Better, The Oscars?

It has been fascinating to monitor the press coverage of the Oxfordian Columbia/Sony Pictures film Anonymous as it had its official premiere at the Toronto Film Festival this past weekend. It opens in movie theaters across North America and the UK on Oct. 28 -- and throughout the rest of the world in the two months following.

The upshot has been very upbeat: Four reviews (that I've been able to find) have posted so far, and all four are anywhere from begrudgingly positive to wholly positive. 

After the break, excerpts from the four. First, though, SBAN blog correspondent Ted Alexander was in attendance at last night's screening and had the following to report: 
    I loved the movie as did my wife and daughter. Crowd liked it too. No standing O but sustained applause.
    I think the movie succeeded spectacularly as entertainment. The actors were superb in their roles; the story was interesting and I thought,well-told; the cinematography, costuming, CGI, etc were all great. I really enjoyed all the bits of the various Shakespeare plays that they staged in the film (really enjoyed the Henry V, Mark Rylance does a wonderful job with the opening chorus).
    Now as to the historical accuracy of the movie, there are a lot of things wrong, especially chronologically and a lot of things that are highly speculative. I'm not a proponent of the PT theory but it does serve the plot well and makes the story more interesting. We don't know anything about what sort of relationship Ben Jonson had with the author but the way it is portrayed in the film feels like what I imagine it could have been or at least what I would have liked it to have been if that makes any sense. I really liked the Jonson character in the film. He has one of the best lines in the film to de Vere's wife when leaving their home near the end of the film.
    All-in-all I think the writer and the director have done a masterful job of creating an entertaining film that is still enlightening in some significant ways while taking liberties with the facts. Bravo! Can't wait to see it again.

(Mr. Alexander also took a handheld video of the audience Q&A with director Roland Emmerich, five members of the cast and the screenwriter John Orloff.)

**EDITED on Sept. 13 to add correspondent Kathryn Sharpe's brief review after attending the other public screening to date of Anonymous -- this year's Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference in Portland, Ore.:
I loved it. Emmerich says it's his story of Shakespeare--a darker story. He changed the known history when necessary to convey an "emotional truth" just as Shakespeare did with his history plays. The changes will bother people who know what actually happened, but it's not unlike seeing your favorite book made into a film. Things will change for the sake of the art form. The most memorable scene for me? The interior of Oxford's study, with shelves piled high with leather-bound manuscripts, those precious manuscripts. And Hank Whittemore said that he does not mind that the movie will be picked apart and compared to the historical record, because it is not a pure fantasy (as was Shakespeare in Love), it is about real people, real literary works. Real politics and real power.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

"Shakespeare" the Venetian: Why Titian matters

Following up on the previous post -- which finds Hamlet using dialect peculiar to East Anglia, where Edward de Vere grew up -- it's worth remembering that the Shakespeare canon is also brimming with evidence that the author knew and wrote about Italy from first-hand experience. 

In a few cases, it's even possible to date when the author must have been there -- or, at least, communicated with someone who was in Italy at the time. 

The Shakespeare epic poem Venus & Adonis provides one such clincher. It contains lines that suggest the author was in Venice -- and was capable of gaining entrée to a prestigious Venetian artist's studio -- sometime before August 1576, when the artist died. 

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, traveled in Italy using Venice as his home base from May 1575 through March 1576. When de Vere traveled to La Serenissima, the city of canals had one superstar celebrity who arguably eclipsed all other cultural figures in town: The painter Tiziano Vecellio, a.k.a. Titian (c. 1488/1490 - 26 Aug. 1576). 

When the king of France, Henri III, had visited Venice in 1573, the king insisted on meeting Titian at the master's Venice studio. The octogenarian artist, former arch-rival of Michelangelo, had met and in many cases painted most of the leading intellectual, cultural, religious and political figures of the century

An Italianate English lord -- an emissary from Queen Elizabeth's court -- visiting Venice would have almost been expected to pay homage to the city's greatest living cultural icon. To have neglected to do so could have verged on the impolitic. 

If de Vere did indeed meet Titian, for starters, he could have heard a first-hand account of the life and the grisly death of one of Titian's patrons, the Duke of Urbino. The dearly departed Oxfordian scholar Andrew Hannas long advocated that Titian's portrait of Urbino, pictured here, was arguably the pictorial inspiration for King Hamlet's ghost, cap-a-pie, as Horatio says
A figure like your father,
Armed at point exactly, cap-a-pie [head-to-toe],
Appears before them, and with solemn march
Goes slow and stately by them: ...
On the Elsinore battlements, we hear again about the ghost's armor, his pale complexion and his "countenance more in sorrow than in anger." Check, check and check. The apparition does, the soldiers say, have a grey beard. (Titian's Urbino doesn't.) Then again, aren't all ghosts supposed to look grizzled? 

Anyway, Hamlet's play The Mousetrap stages Urbino's murder. Titian's patron was poisoned by a courtly rival named Gonzago. In the ear. (Hamlet says of the murderer, "His name's Gonzago: The story is extant, and writ in choice Italian.")

Titian could have told de Vere all about the gruesome deed his patron fell prey to and the insider politics behind Hamlet's play-within-a-play. 

Titian also had in his studio at the time a masterpiece that would become a prime inspiration for the first work ever published under the name "Shakespeare," the 1593 epic poem Venus and Adonis

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Shakespeare" the East Anglian: Hawks, Handsaws & Hamlet

In 2006 Greg Hancock, a reader from Coburg, Ontario, sent an email to the "Shakespeare" By Another Name Bulletin sharing his revelation that Hamlet's enigmatic line "When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw" actually derives from hawking lingo popular in East Anglia -- where Edward de Vere was born and spent part of his childhood.

Today, Mr. Hancock sent an update on this fine little nugget. Thanks to Google Books, he uncovered a fuller explanation of what Hamlet is talking about.

"Harnsa" (phonetic spelling) was East Anglian slang for a heron. When a hawk chases a "harnsa," the heron often flies with the wind to escape its predator. When the wind is from the south, the sun is at the hunter's back, so he can easily differentiate between his bird and his bird's prey. (By contrast, when the wind is from the north, the hunter might have to squint into the sun -- and would have a harder time telling the difference between the two birds.)  

What the commentator (from H.H. Furness's 1877 edition of Hamlet) doesn't say, however, is that the gloss only holds if the author of Hamlet's line knows East Anglian regional dialect -- and, presumably, has some experience hawking in that part of the country. De Vere, yes. Will of Stratford? Another misfit. 

In Mr. Hancock's words:

Basically the important point is that a heron or hernsew is pronounced "harnsa" in Norfolk and Suffolk, which together constitute East Anglia.  East Anglia is only about 150 miles from Stratford on Avon, but even in 2011 it is culturally and linguistically in a different country. ... It was presumably the same in the 16th century.

The Earl of Oxford was of course brought up in Suffolk, so he would have understood.  It is very unlikely Stratford Shakespeare would have been familiar with Suffolk dialect, or would have [understood] written references to it.

It is pleasing to me that the reference to a handsaw had been correctly identified as being a "harnsa" or heron before 1877 by a Fellow of Trinity Hall Cambridge, and as such gives a little more academic credibility to the theory.

His original email to the SBAN Bulletin is below, after the jump. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

This. Looks. Big. (pt. 2)

Sony Pictures released its second Anonymous trailer last week. US & UK release dates are still set for Oct. 28. (Other worldwide release dates are here.) 

[Aug. 17 addendum: The movie's international trailer was also recently released: More dialogue snippets, less short-attention-span smashcutting between visual baubles. (Ahem, not the most flattering commentary about American audiences, no?) Clearly providing more hints about the movie's storyline. Facebook discussion about all the above here.]

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Anonymous questions: Did Queen Elizabeth have children?

[Aug. 9, 2011 EXCLUSIVE: See below for a crucial clarifying point from the screenwriter of Anonymous.]

In our sexually enlightened (obsessed?) times, discovering that a female monarch was once celebrated as "the Virgin Queen" immediately calls the pronouncement itself into question. Doth the lady protest too much?

The chaste public image campaign of the (ostensibly) childless spinster Queen Elizabeth I -- selling her to English Catholic revolutionaries as something like a royal, secular Virgin Mary -- was a piece of pure agitprop. And a brilliant one at that, engineered in no small part by her political genius of a chief counselor, William Cecil, Baron Burghley.

Queen Elizabeth was a woman with her own private sexual appetites. And no doubt like anyone else, some were fulfilled, some not. But, as portrayed considered in the movie Anonymous (and stated as fact by a host of Oxfordian and even Baconian books over the decades), the story of the Bard is allegedly one of almost unspeakable Elizabethan desires: Royal incest. Elizabeth, these claims state, was mother to "Shakespeare" and lover of "Shakespeare" who then produced a child by "Shakespeare."

The movie's director Roland Emmerich (2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day) has never been known to let the facts get in the way of a blockbuster storyline. The man has a track record for getting millions of butts into movie seats all over the planet. So let me not here be guilty of pettifogging a tub of popcorn.

On the other hand, the latest book that does unequivocally assert the royal incest theory of Oxford, Elizabeth and Southampton  that, by all accounts I can find, inspired the royal incest storyline in Anonymous is Charles Beauclerk's Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom. That's a book purporting to present a lost history of the Elizabethan court. That's fair game for more serious debate.

Nowhere have I seen a more thorough consideration of SLK than in Christopher Paul's review [PDF] in the 2011 edition of the online journal Brief Chronicles. Anyone interested in the so-called "Prince Tudor" debate would be well advised to familiarize themselves with Paul's characteristically cogent analysis.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Memo to an Internet Critic - huff and puff and tweak the wording

At the end of October when it debuts in cinemas worldwide, the movie Anonymous will undoubtedly bring many new eyes and ears to the Shakespeare authorship mystery.

In the meantime, movie fan sites like IMDB have been hosting ongoing online debates that are never short on definitive opinions stated definitively. (Film nerds are not known to be shrinking violets when it comes to expressing their point of view.)

In one recent conflagration, I was called out for being "completely wrong" and "completely clueless." Other adverb-laden barbs loudly and boisterously made their presence known too.  

So what was the critique? It concerned a sentence I wrote in a 2006 online discussion forum about my book. (The same sentence also appeared in Appendix C of "Shakespeare" By Another Name -- "The 1604 Question.")

As I'm now in the midst of making some minor edits to the next edition of SBAN that will be appearing in September -- more on that soon -- I wanted all the more to know exactly what I'd gotten wrong in Appendix C so I could make the correction

The critic's contention and my examination of his contention follows after the jump.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Who Was "Shakespeare"? - The Essay Contest

This year the two major American Oxfordian membership organizations -- The Shakespeare Fellowship and the Shakespeare Oxford Society -- are sponsoring an essay contest for high school students (or those who graduated from high school in 2011).

The four possible essay topics involve considering if the authorship debate is based on valid evidence and if it matters; analyzing the movie Anonymousand (its one not-strictly-authorship-related question) discussing the role and significance of the Shakespearean heroines. 

The Shakespeare Fellowship has posted a gallery of winners and honorable mentions from 2002. Contest rules and details for this year are here (PDF). 

The prize values are $1000 for first, $800 for second, $600 for third and three $200 honorable mentions. If you're a high school English or history teacher or know one please consider/pass along this blog post.  Previous years have seen upwards of 600 entrants, and with the attention Anonymous will bring to the topic, that number may well go up this year. 

This is a great way to engage the next generation of Shakespeare fans and students about that "fine mystery" (as Charles Dickens put it) about the Bard's identity. "I tremble every day," Dickens continued, "Lest something should come out." 

Creative Commons image by Keith Williamson 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sir Derek Jacobi and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford a.k.a. "Shakespeare"

"...A piece many years in doing and now perfectly perform'd."
The Winter's Tale

On Thursday night at the Riverside Church in Manhattan, I had the great pleasure and honor of helping present a noteworthy statute to Sir Derek Jacobi at a benefit fundraiser for the newly launched theatrical company The Ensemble Theatre Company of New York

Jacobi is fresh off a widely acclaimed run as perhaps the greatest King Lear of our time -- one that brought him this spring to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (He also serves as the narrator of this fall's Oxfordian feature film Anonymous.) 

Thanks to some stealthy planning and gracious goodwill (see acknowledgments below), my co-conspirator Gerit Quealy and I had set beneath a concealing veil the very first ready-for-primetime Edward de Vere bust from the entrepreneur Ben August and sculptor Paula Slater. (The story of the de Vere bust was blogged about here and here.) 

At the completion of the evening's program celebrating the legendary Shakespearean actor -- and longtime Oxfordian advocate -- we were generously allowed to include a surprise presentation of the de Vere bust to Jacobi. 

The five-minute presentation featured Quealy, who'd originally conceived of bestowing the statue on Jacobi, recalling the recipient's peerless Prospero and Lear. She said in her experience as an actor, the finest practitioners of the craft are forever searching for new windows on the truth. My contribution concerned great artists being unafraid to take big and sometimes controversial risks. (I wrote the remarks beforehand but tossed it out the window almost completely when the moment came. The one thing preserved word-for-word, though, was a poignant and funny Bertrand Russell quote -- someone else's quip, yes, but it still gave this admitted fanboy a thrill to say something witty enough to make one of his heroes laugh out loud.) 

Jacobi was surprised, touched and most grateful for a bust of the Bard that he could claim as "Shakespeare." 

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Hamlet, Elsinore and an exploded world

Yesterday, NASA posted as its Astronomy Picture of the Day an x-ray image of something called "Tycho's Supernova Remnant." (Pictured here) What the copy didn't mention is this astronomical object is also arguably known as "yond same star that's westward from the pole" in Hamlet

Yet it's predictably opaque and inexplicable why Shakespeare of Stratford (if he were the author of the play) would make such a seemingly random association between an old exploded star and a Danish fable whose inspiration supposedly derived from some kind of nominal homage to his recently deceased son Hamnet. (The boy was named after a Stratford neighbor of Shakspere's, Hamnet Sadler.) 

On the other hand, the allusion fits comfortably within a broader framework that supposes Edward de Vere behind the "Shakespeare" pen. 

Here's the story. 

It's hard to imagine today, but in 1572 when the light from this stellar explosion first became visible on Earth, it was a world-shaking event. Here was a new star -- not on any previous charts -- so brilliant that it was visible even in the full brightness of day. 

There was, simply, no cosmic or scientific explanation for such an unprecedented heavenly phenomenon.  

In England, the mathematician Thomas Digges studied the "new star" and wrote a book about it. Digges dedicated his book to Edward de Vere's new father-in-law Lord Burghley. In Denmark, the legendary astronomer Tycho Brahe made the most precise observations of the object in the world. Thus the object's modern-day name. 

This new star, in effect, upended everything. It provided damning confirmation of an emerging scientific understanding of a dynamic universe. Under the prevailing Ptolemaic system -- which posited all heavenly bodies were unchanging and firmly fixed in place -- such nearly unimaginable notions were heresy. 

Hamlet's reference to Tycho's Supernova (as it's known today) at the beginning of the Danish tragedy, in fact, constitutes a perfect setup to a cosmological debate that takes place throughout the drama

Hamlet, in fact, enacts a specific astronomical dispute that Edward de Vere arguably witnessed first-hand in 1583. (Worst case scenario: De Vere did not witness the back-and-forth at Oxford University himself but was privy to courtly gossip about it at the time and enjoyed ample insider access to every detail after the fact.) 

The debate was about old worldviews colliding with new — a familiar and comforting geocentric universe colliding with Copernicus's revolutionary heliocentric one. Hamlet, however, goes into more specific detail concerning both the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (a geocentrist) and the obscure 1583 court appearance of a bombastic Italian scholar (a Copernican) named Giordano Bruno.

There is no explanation for how a 19-year-old Shakspere of Stratford would have witnessed, read about or even cared about this esoteric, egghead dispute, one that was certainly antithetical to crowd-pleasing entertainments at the Globe Theatre. (And that's what we're told a Stratfordian Shakespeare canon is all about.) 

After the jump, two excerpts from "Shakespeare" By Another Name that pick up the story where Tycho's Supernova Remnant leaves off. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The dumbshow Hamlet - pay no attention to that author behind the curtain

How has it come to this? Hamlet, perhaps the single most celebrated literary work in the English language, is still today widely read as so much dumbshows and noise when it comes to its biographical layers of meaning. 

The editor of the new definitive edition of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray inadvertently highlights this strange point in a recent interview

In the Harvard University Press promotional podcast on its new Gray, editor Nicholas Frankel says

"[Wilde] did say ... that the book 'contains much of me in it.' I think those were his words. '[The characters] Basil Hallward is who I think I am; Lord Henry [Wotton], who the world thinks me; and Dorian Gray, who I would be in other ages perhaps.' I think that's pretty clear evidence that Wilde saw himself all over this novel in all three of those central characters. Although to give him credit, he also said that art generally conceals the artist more completely than it reveals the artist.... So I think he would have been displeased with us wholly reading the novel in terms of himself and his biography. And of course we wouldn't do that with many works of art. We wouldn't do that with Hamlet, for instance. We wouldn't read Hamlet as an expression of Shakespeare necessarily."
Hear the lady protesting too much for yourself below, starting at the 12:20 mark.

Monday, April 11, 2011

News from Germany (Drei)

From our own Mr. H.W. in Germany today comes this news: Kurt Kreiller's book (Der Mann, der Shakespeare erfand: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford) will be published in paperback on April 18. This hard-hitting Oxfordian tome, our correspondent notes, has proved since its 2009 release to be "quite a success." Kudos to gentle master Kreiller! 

Moreover, the peerless Oxfordian researcher Robert Detobel (a helpful and careful early proof-reader of "Shakespeare" By Another Name) has a new book coming out in response to James Shaprio's recent anti-Oxfordian diatribe Contested Will. The book cover is pictured here. 

Detobel's Will - Wunsch und Wirklichkeit - James Shapiros Contested Will ("Will -- Wishes and Reality -- James Shapiro's Contested Will") is slated for publication in October. 

According to its press release, the new Will will be challenging Shapiro's "almost unbelievable range of errors... and deliberate distortions."Hear hear! 

Both books are in German only as of this writing. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Shakespeare" in Venice - film under construction, carnivale underway soon!

On Wednesday night (April 13), Club Oberon in Cambridge, Mass. will host a fundraising preview party for the film Nothing is Truer Than Truth, a work-in-progress documentary centering around Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford and his Shakespearean adventures in Italy in 1575-'76. 

Readers of this blog have been introduced to the filmmaker, Boston-based Cheryl Eagan-Donovan, and to her recent successful campaign to underwrite her forthcoming trip to Venice to film on location at many of the sites that de Vere traveled to and immortalized in the "Shakespeare" canon. 

Eagan-Donovan has also recently signed Deborah Cesana, location assistant for recent Hollywood films The Tourist and The Merchant of Venice, to be the production coordinator for her film's Venice-based shoot.

According to Eagan-Donovan, she will be traveling in May to Italy for on-location photography and also this spring and summer will be filming interviews in the U.S. with Oxfordian scholars Roger Stritmatter and Richard Waugaman, authors Stephen Greenblatt (Will in the World) and Steven Pinker (The Stuff of Thought), as well as Tina Packer (founder of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass.) and Academy Award winning actor F. Murray Abraham.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

This. Looks. Big.

Anonymous teaser trailer out today. Wow.  (Postscript: The movie's worldwide release dates are logged here. As of June 29, Anonymous will debut in cinemas in the US & UK on Oct. 28.)

Monday, April 04, 2011

"Shakespeare" = salty dog

Thanks to reader R.H. for passing along this great little excerpt from the book A Gipsy of the Horn: The Narrative of a Voyage Round the World in a Winjammer (Rex Clements, 1925).

Upshot: The Bard knew sailing and nautical terminology first-hand. Almost as if, say, he had crossed the English channel at least four times (SBAN pp. 70-71, 75 & 113), had circumnavigated much of Italy in a Venetian galley (pp. 85-92) and likely plied stormy seas on the open Atlantic, in advance of the Spanish Armada attack (pp. 222-29):
The books that had survived the West Coast had succumbed to the rigours of the Horn and had been dumped, a sodden pulp, overboard.  My battered old Shakespeare was the only book left in the half-deck and I hung on to that with grim solicitude. ... 
On one occasion, when the bosun came in I fired off the first scene of the The Tempest to him. He was immensely taken with it, but would hardly believe it was Shakespeare at all.  However, he knew what "bring a ship to try" was, which was more than I did at the time or, I dare say, a good many others who have read the play.  Shapespeare’s knowledge of the sea always struck me as remarkable.  For an inland-born poet he was very fond of similes, and astonishingly accurate in his use of nautical technicalities.  How did he acquire his knowledge? One ignorant of sea-life would hardly use the phrase "remainder biscuit after a voyage" as a synonym for dryness, or talk of a man as "clean-timbered." I like to think that in the obscure early years of the poet’s life in London he made a trip to sea, perhaps as an adventurer in one of the ships that smashed up the Armada. ['cuz why not? –Ed.] At least, no one can prove he didn’t; [!] and to my mind what more likely than that a high-spirited youth doing odd jobs about the old Shoreditch theatre, in the scampling and unquiet times when Medina Sidonia was fitting out should join some salt scarred vessel. ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Paula Slater - Sculptor, Iconoplast

Last week, the "Shakespeare" By Another Name Blog featured an interview with Ben August, the Houston entrepreneur who a week ago unveiled one of the most ambitious art projects in the history of the Shakespeare authorship controversy -- a life-sized bronze bust of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Below we'll be featuring an extended interview with the bust's sculptor, Paula Slater

The de Vere bronze August says, will soon be for sale in a limited edition casting as well as in marble resin and Hydro-Stone. More information on this, as well as August's painted duplicates of the "Wellbeck portrait" of Edward de Vere (on which the bust is based) can be found on his website:

August said in his interview that once he had the idea in 2008 of replacing his old Shakespeare bust with that of the true Bard, he began looking online and at art exhibitions for the right sculptor to take the project on. Last year, after interviewing and rejecting several other artists, August said he'd finally found his ideal. He commissioned Hidden Valley Lake, Calif.-based artist Paula Slater

Slater, pictured here with a rough of the de Vere bust before its layers of patinas had been applied, had sculpted many monuments but in 2009 earned international acclaim as the sculptor of a memorial bust of Iranian revolutionary martyr Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old protestor whose shooting death by Iranian government forces was captured on a widely distributed video on the Internet. Within days she'd  become memorialized around the world as the "Angel of Iran."

I spoke with Slater by phone in early March, as she was putting the finishing touches on her de Vere bust. 

SBAN BLOG: When did Ben August first approach you with his possible commission for the Edward de Vere bust, and what was your first response?

PAULA SLATER: Ben came to me in July [2010]. He sent me an email saying he was interested in commissioning a portrait. We talked about how I do portrait bronzes. Then he emailed that picture [i.e. the Wellbeck portrait of de Vere], and I about flipped over the moon!

SBAN: Why?

SLATER: I sculpt congressmen and senators and leaders of industry. And this was so different. I love doing anything that has period clothing. Anytime there's period clothing, it's a challenge and a stretch.

Then when he emailed me more about the Oxfordian theory and who this actually was, I was totally captivated. I started reading more.

SBAN: How would you describe your own style -- and how would you be applying that for this commission?

SLATER: I like to sculpt in high detail and with museum-quality finishing -- in the style of [Gian Lorenzo] Bernini and Jean-Antoine Houdon.

The Wellbeck is a very flat painting. I really felt that I was going to need to bring it to life. I wanted that knowing look -- yet also knowing there's something hidden behind those eyes. That's what I wanted to capture. 

First I became enthralled with sculpting this portrait, and then I became enthralled with this story. And then I purchased those ["Shakespeare" By Another Name] CDs. You just can't listen to those CDs and believe that anyone else was the author of the works.

I think in hearing about Edward de Vere, I felt there was an intensity and a lust for knowledge, certainly. And a bravado. At that age too, there is an invincibility. I think he displayed all of that. Some of that came across in the Wellbeck, and some of that was my feeling.

He was an aristocrat, and he had that flair with the clothing. He was an extravagant personality. But there's this mystery. He was really a deep thinker. I felt I needed to have this mystery behind the eyes and have this depth of thought.

SBAN: Could you describe the process of making the de Vere bust?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Hitch Said - An Important Counterpoint

It is a basic premise of "Shakespeare" By Another Name -- and this blog -- that a very often unappreciated (or under-appreciated) autobiographical layer of the "Shakespeare" canon exists. For actors, directors, scholars and just plain fans of the Bard, tapping into this new level of meaning only enhances the experience of the greatest works of literature in the English language

But of course all those other layers of meaning -- poetic, linguistic, philosophical, dramatic, tragical, historical, tragical-historical-pastoral, etc. -- still remain in an Oxfordian reading of the canon, too. And they're just as rich as if we knew nothing about the author's life story and its relationship to the works. (The latter is, essentially, the Stratfordian position. Pace the valiant effort of books like Will in the World, there is no substantive connection between Will Shakspere of Stratford and the canon.) 

Here, with that setup in mind, is a wonderfully concise exposition of the universal qualities of Shakespeare -- whoever wrote the works -- within the context of an appeal to skepticism about religious certainty. It's from recent remarks made by the author Christopher Hitchens:

The key quote from Hitchens here concerns the question of heaven. "Why don't you accept this wonderful offer?" he asks

"Why wouldn't you want to meet Shakespeare, for example? ... The only reason I'd want to meet Shakespeare or might even want to is because I can meet him any time. Because he is immortal in the works he's left behind. If you've read those, meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment."

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Bard Gains A Dimension: The New Bust of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

In November, I received an over-the-transom email from a businessman based in Texas who had a vision: He was a lifelong Shakespeare fan who had kept his bust of the Bard in a prominent place in his home. But he'd lately come to realize that "Shakespeare" was the mask that concealed another author -- Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

So, in so many words, Ben August set out to fill a void. The stunning and lifelike bust that August ultimately commissioned last year and is pictured here was unveiled yesterday at his new website Verily Shakespeare ( (August also regularly updates his gallery's Facebook page.)

Verily Shakespeare today sells a "giclée" print of the 1575 "Wellbeck portrait" when de Vere, then visiting Paris, was 25. It also shows photographs of the bronze bust he's commissioned from Hidden Valley Lake, Calif.-based sculptor Paula Slater

August says the life-size bronze bust of de Vere (with colored patinas) will soon be available for sale at He says he will also ultimately offer for sale a marble resin casting of the same bust as well as a "Hydro-Stone" plastic with a bronze finish. Moreover, August plans to offer a half-sized bust in all three media.

There will be a limited edition of both full-sized and half-sized bronze busts made, August says. On the other hand, he says, he will not be limiting the production run of busts made in marble resin or Hydro-Stone.

Over the past four months, I've corresponded and consulted with August as he quietly developed this ambitious art project. And today the "Shakespeare" By Another Name Blog features an interview with August -- an impresario who has carved out a unique role in creating a powerful new representation of Edward de Vere, a.k.a. "Shakespeare."

Later in the week, the "Shakespeare" By Another Name blog will feature an interview with the bust's creator, the renowned sculptor Paula Slater -- who in 2009 launched to international acclaim with her memorial bust of Iranian revolutionary martyr Neda Agha-Soltan ("The Angel of Iran").

(Full disclosure: I have provided feedback on the de Vere bust as it was being developed but am not financially affiliated with the project. August has, however, bought copies of "Shakespeare" By Another Name for his web store.)

SBAN BLOG: How did you discover the Shakespeare authorship question and the story of Edward de Vere?

BEN AUGUST: When I was in college [in the late 1970s], I started reading Shakespeare and fell in love with it. I was so taken by the power and the conciseness of The Sonnets that I started memorizing them. I've probably got up to 40 sonnets memorized. I just immersed myself in Shakespeare.

It wasn't until 1995 that I came across the authorship issue in Michael Hart's book [The 100: A ranking of the most influential persons in history]. I read that and was shocked. So I started digging around. And I'd run across an article here and there. And then I read your book in 2005. That created an avalanche of interest. After that I started picking up everything I could.

SBAN: How does the bust come in?

AUGUST: It was after reading your book that I took my bust of Shakespeare down. I always had one in my house. I had it for, gosh, 25 years. It had been on my mantle. I said, 'There's no sense in looking at this guy!'

I also love Goethe. Johann Goethe and Shakespeare are my two heroes. I've got several images of Goethe around my house. And a pretty good library of his works as well. So [in 2008] I was missing my Shakespeare, when one day it occurred me, 'Why don't I just create my own?'

SBAN: What did you do to put this plan in motion?

AUGUST: Every now and then, I'd look at sculptures. I'd start searching for sculptors. And I'd talk to them and get a feel for them. Four or five months later, I'd talk to another one.

I was not in any rush. I wanted to wait until I was absolutely taken by the work of a sculptor -- and also their personality. I had to feel like I could work with this person and feel like they could pick up on my passion and inspiration for this project. It needed to be somebody I felt I could have a good rapport with.

SBAN: Without mentioning names, could you give an example of one of the artists you decided not to choose -- and why you made that choice?

AUGUST: To me the key was capturing the character of the individual in the face. Really, that's what it came down to.

I've loved fine art for years. My mother was a collector of fine art. I'd go to art museums. I'm very familiar with the old masters. I would just look at everything I could find from these sculptors and what they'd send me. And what [the others sent] just didn't move me to act on this.

SBAN: So when did you come across Paula Slater's work?

AUGUST: I came across Paula in 2010. We talked back and forth for a couple months. I looked at her work closely. And I decided to share with her what the project was. I commissioned her in June 2010.

I believe Paula has a remarkable ability to capture the essence of a person in her work. I've seen several of her pieces -- pictures of them as well as in person. She does it remarkably well. Her attention to detail is exceptional, too. But you can be a technician and get that. It's a much greater art to capture the character of somebody's persona.

[n.b. Ben August and Paula Slater are pictured here in a recent photo with a rough of the bronze Edward de Vere bust.]

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Edward de Vere & "Shakespeare's Company" - What We Know

One frequent question I find when giving talks on the Shakespeare authorship mystery is "What was Edward de Vere's relationship with Will Shakspere?" It's a good question for which "I don't know" is not a very satisfactory reply.

One way at this question is to point, for instance, to the revealing scene between the clown Touchstone, Audrey and the country lad Will in As You Like It (5.1). As Alex McNeil has argued in an article for Shakespeare Matters, it suggests an antagonistic relationship between author and front-man.

To me, though, the best answer would incorporate evidence and perspectives from outside the "Shakespeare" canon. And to this end the best alternative I've come up with -- I'm open to other suggestions -- is an answer to a slightly larger question on which we do have some guidance.

My standard response to the question above is: There's some very suggestive evidence that de Vere was working with at least one member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (a.k.a. "Shakespeare's Company") around the time of the first public performance of As You Like It.

The story begins with a book written by Lord Chamberlain's Men player Robert Armin. It's called Quips Upon Questions (1600) and is, essentially, a book of jokes. Alas, they're not terribly funny ones. But the introductory dedication is where the action's at.

Armin's book dedication talks about the comic actor's heading out to serve "the right Honorable good Lord my Master ... [in] Hackney." And in 1599, when these words were written, there was only one person who fit this description (i.e. both a resident of Hackney and a nobleman befitting the "Right Honorable good Lord" honorific) -- Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Also in 1599, the final draft of As You Like It was being prepared for a public performance by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. (The date derives from contemporary references in the play to current events, such as the 1599 "Bishop's Ban" on satires.) Robert Armin is believed, for good reason I think, to have been the first actor who played the role of Touchstone on the public stage.

Summarizing, then, The actor who, it appears, first played the character Touchstone during the year he was preparing the role was spending time in Hackney working in the service of Edward de Vere. This, I think, is phenomenal evidence for at least one actor in As You Like It workshopping his role with de Vere.

It suggests a model of adapting these courtly entertainments that, according to Oxfordians, de Vere wrote for private audiences in the 1570s and '80s. And in the 1590s and early 1600s, de Vere then transformed these texts for the public theaters. It stands to reason de Vere was consulting with the players who were bringing these works to the world at large. And the Armin example is, so far at least, the closest we have to a gold standard for de Vere's relationship to the public staging of plays we today know as "Shakespeare."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Zeitgeist watch: The casting call for "Ed Devery"

An old Broadway play opening in April is now, according to casting for a lead character who once worked for a Supreme Court justice and was "destined for greatness" but now "they speak of his past brilliance."

This sorry old fella who's been battered around by fate is named Ed Devery.

It'd be easy to read too much into this. (The play, Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin, was written in 1946 -- six years after researcher Charles Wisner Barrell created a stir in the pages of Scientific American identifying the sitter of the "Ashbourne Portrait of Shakespeare" as Edward de Vere.)

Still, in a year that will see the first Edward de Vere biopic, this revival reminds how we may be seeing more names or characters or situations from de Vere's life story emerging in sometimes unexpected places.

After the jump, the relevant excerpts from the casting call listing.


Philip Morgaman, Frankie J. Grande, Anne & Vincent Caruso & James P. MacGilvray (prods.) are casting the Broadway production of Born Yesterday. Garson Kanin, writer; Doug Hughes, dir.; Binder Casting, casting dir. Rehearsals begin approx. March 1; opens in mid-April in NYC.

Seeking — Ed Devery: early 50s, thirty years ago, when he was secretary to a great Supreme Court Justice, he was known as a young man destined for greatness, fifteen years later, they speak of his past brilliance in law, and charitably forget that he now has but one client, Harry Brock, who might have difficulty in finding a reputable lawyer to serve him, but Ed is past caring, Brock represents over $100,000 a year, which buys plenty of the best available scotch, attractive, but the years and the booze have taken their toll, but he still retains a glimmer of his earlier appealing looks, protects himself with an ironic, jaundiced sense of humor; Eddie Brock: late 40s-early 50s, Harry's cousin and servant, wiry little streetwise mug, knows he is dependent on Harry, and genuinely fears him, as he has seen him at his most dangerous and violent, smart enough to know how to stay in Harry's good graces, while at the same time having a dry sense of irony and humor about the position he is in...

Probably better just to end this post before venturing too much into the storyline here. Interesting, though, about Devery's "wiry little streetwise" colleague Eddie Brock. Will Shakspere redux?

EDITED to add links and references to the original version of Born Yesterday. The first draft of this post suggested the play was new. It ain't.

(Hat tip to G.Q.; creative commons photo by matt.h.wade)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Look Here, upon This Picture, and on This

Two items crossed the transom today. First comes the new publicity still of Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere and its accompanying blurb from Columbia Pictures.

Cue generic, string section-saturated thriller soundtrack music. And, as you read these words, think of that one guy with the deep voice behind every movie trailer ever made:

Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, Anonymous speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds ranging from Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to Henry James and Sigmund Freud, namely: who was the author of the plays credited to William Shakespeare? Experts have debated, books have been written, and scholars have devoted their lives to protecting or debunking theories surrounding the authorship of the most renowned works in English literature. Anonymous poses one possible answer, focusing on a time when cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles hungry for the power of the throne were exposed in the most unlikely of places: the London stage.

And so it goes.

Second is the forthcoming release (unspecified date in "spring/summer 2011") of the next big Oxfordian book, Richard Malim's The Earl of Oxford and the Making of "Shakespeare". Its publisher's blurb reveals this tome will be taking a broader scope than just a literary biography of de Vere.

The Making of "Shakespeare" will also provide "a historical overview of English literature from 1530 through 1575" and a speculative appendix on the role of Will Shakspere of Stratford in the unfolding "Shakespeare" drama.

Unless it packs a lot more new evidence into it than the blurb suggests, it won't be bringing as much original material to the table as will Richard Roe's forthcoming Shakespeare's Guide to Italy. But I have high hopes that Malim -- longtime contributor to the De Vere Society's newsletter and related publications -- will assemble a solid and compelling precis for the Oxfordian case.

Given the slough of misinformation about Edward de Vere that'll be flying when Anonymous hits movie theaters in the fall, Mr. Malim's work in the New Releases section of bookstores will, no doubt, provide a great assist.