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.