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:

    For an ice-breaker, we are asking the class to tell us what got them started thinking about the Shakespeare authorship question?
    What got me [G.A.] started was Oxford's Geneva Bible and the curious coincidences between the marginalia that Roger Stritmatter compiled compared to the Shakespeare canon. The rest of the arguments for Oxford were simply "downhill" from there.
    So, in one sentence, What got you started? What turned your head?

I'll kick the discussion off here: For me it was hearing a radio program in the summer of 1993 that asked whether Edward de Vere might have written some or all of the "Shakespeare" canon. I'd never heard of the authorship question before that.

So, as a cub journalist, I started reading all I could find on the subject. (Including, throughout 1994 and into '95, an immersion in every word published under the Bard's byline.) And the more I read, the more I recognized how unusual and intriguing this particular mystery was -- and still is. I've been reading and writing on the subject ever since.

Please share your own stories in discovering the authorship debate either in the comments section below or in the related comments section on the Facebook ShakesVere page.

(* Yes there is a family relation here. cf. SBAN's dedication...)


Alice Eaton said...

I think I had two moments. One was after reading a Shakespeare biography that I purchased in Stratford-upon-Avon, probably in the gift shop at one of the Royal Shakespeare Company's theatres. I remember thinking, that's it? That's all they've got? It didn't add up. I was a junior in college.

Years later, pursuing my PhD in English, focusing on 20th century literature but ever enamoured with the works of Shakespeare, I attended a colloquium jgiven by fellow grad student Roger Stritmatter drawing parallels between Shakespeare's work and DeVere's bible. It all made sense to me and I was so grateful that rumors about Oxford were more than just rumors. My mother attended with me and later, discussing the shock and outrage of nearly all of the professors in attendance, she said "It was like watching the ritual of some strange tribe." I met Roger at a party soon after and picked his brain and sympathized with the absurd reception he had gotten. Perhaps I had a third moment when I read Mark Anderson's Shakespeare by Another Name last summer--now I'm hooked!

Heart of Fire said...

In the 1970s I entered a poetry contest sponsored by the Deep South Writers Conference in Lafayette,LA. I noticed a contest in the brochure for the best play about the life and works of Edward de Vere. 20 years later I was looking for literary contests and found the same contest still running. I finally looked the name up and realized, "Oh, he's that Earl of Oxford my Shakespeare prof glossed over when I was an undergrad." I did some research, soon became convinced that de Vere was the true author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare, and wrote a play about it. I won the Miller Award in Louisiana and corresponded with Ruth Miller. Eventually I published the play, Eclipse of the Sun, and it's still available on Amazon. I'll send a freebie to anyone who'll post a review on Amazon.

Thomism said...

I read the 1999 Harpers article on the authorship debate and thought the Oxford theory got the better of it. I found de Vere's letters in a library while in grad school and was struck by similar turns of phrase in the letters and the shake-speare corpus. SBAN clenched it for me, as well as the continued developments on this blog. That hawk/harnsa article below, for example, is priceless.

jhm said...

I can't get "The Valley Advocate"'s archive search to acknowledge it, but as I remember it, Mark wrote an obituary for Mr. Charlton Ogburn Jr. in said publication. This lead me to the library to read a copy of "The Mysterious William Shakespeare." There really was no turning back.

Mark said...

JHM, the Valley Advocate may no longer have the Ogburn obit in their archives, but the Shakespeare Oxford Society does [PDF, pp. 6 ff].

Dean A. Hoffman said...

For myself, it was the 1989 PBS Frontline documentary, "The Shakespeare Mystery" combined with reading one too many glib Stratfordian toss-offs like, "Shakespeare could have come upon a chapbook version for this source."

C'est la guerre!

Academically, where I am there may not be daggers in men's smiles, but there is a large interdisciplinary coterie of Stratfordians who are so reactionary, uncollegial, and secretive that it's downright Masonic. Furrowed brows, hallway snubbings, ridiculously overwrought anachronisms in local stagings, shrill departmental chirpings of "SHAKESPEARE WROTE SHAKESPEARE!" all inspires such confidence!

Tom Goff said...

These are good comments. Most Oxfordians, anti-Stratfordians, or Shakespeare agnostics have a triggering insight or epiphany opening up the hollows of the tradition, or the "brave new world" of awareness surrounding a viable contender for the authorship. I thought reading Shakespeare biographies a dismal chore.

Yet in 1984, I picked up Charlton Ogburn's great book expecting to laugh...and flipped the page open to the observation that Shakespeare/Shakspere, the supposed champion of women, didn't bother to educate his daughters. Without a doubt, I skimmed much else, enough information on the spot to make buying the book an imperative, but in my mind, Shakspere's daughters and their miserable state of existence are the source of my present belief.

Wordmaster Helen said...

As an English major at the U of Utah, I had a great Shakespeare course, in which I was taught the tradition. But I wondered how such a humble person could brag in one Sonnet, "so long as men can breathe and eyes can see, so long lives this and this gives life to thee." How could he be so sure his poetry would be immortal?
After reading Charlton Ogburn Jr's book and that of his parents "This Star of England" I became intrigued with the idea that W.S. was a pen name, probably used by the 17th Earl of Oxford. Oxford's life corresponds amazingly with events in the plays and poetry. I have been able to match every sonnet with an event in the life of Edward de Vere.
In 2005 I published a book "The Secret Love Story in Shakespeare's Sonnets," and in the 2nd edition of 2008 I revealed more research I had done,offering a solution to the riddle of the sonnet Dedication as influenced by Rosicrucian and Freemason symbolism and imagery. That book is available on Amazon Kindle, or if any of you want to contact me I will be glad to share the tons of research that led me to the conclusion that Oxford had excellent reasons for using the pen name of William Shakespeare--primarily to protect the queen's reputation and that of her love-child, raised as the Third Earl of Southampton.
Helen Heightsman Gordon

Bruce Lewis said...

Well, actually, I don't believe that De Vere was any more than the genius-patron and occasional writer-cum-director for one of the most brilliant theatric COMPANIES in the history of Western Literature.

I think many of the folks who insist on that old chestnut of Romanticism involving the "solitary genius" don't know much about theatre or about how theatric companies work.

For me, my doubt that one "William Shakespeare" or one "Edward de Vere" wrote ALL of the Shakespeare canon was when I learnt how the plays of Moliere were written IN REPERTOIRE.

Yes, De Vere wrote most of the Shakespeare canon, but he had a lot of help.

Tom Goff said...

I agree to a point with Bruce Lewis that we may over-romanticize Shakespeare/De Vere the lone genius and underrate the degree of collaboration. Nevertheless, we live in such hectic times that we may severely underestimate the amount of work then doable by a man with vast (not infinite) leisure and limitless passion for his writing.

Sister Miriam Joseph, in weighing the big difference between Shakespeare's rhetorical skills and those of his peers, and Morris Palmer Tilley, in assessing Shakespeare's unparalleled command of proverb lore, are surely pointing at the conclusion Charlton Ogburn more loosely drew in marvelling at the "impress" of that "unique mind."

Sonja Foxe said...

After I read Mark's book, I was convinced. I also believe that April 12, 1550 date via Burghleigh spurious ... I could see Seymour as Oxford's biofather, beauclerk's presentation convincing. But the PT theory, not so much. When did Elizabeth remove her wig?

Robert Loughlin said...

When I visited Stratford in the 70's, I realized what a phantom Will was. There is very little there to connect to him--his house was redone, virtually no artifacts or furnishings remain from the period when he lived there--sketchy records, a bust that may or may not be Will, buried beneath a marker with no name--quite a letdown from what one might have expected from the greatest author of all time.

Michael Prescott said...

I was participating in an online forum devoted to movie special effects. Somehow the conversation turned to Shakespeare, and one of the participants, Oscar-nominated stop-motion animator and matte painter Jim Danforth, expressed his anti-Stratfordian sentiments. I was skeptical and probably a bit sarcastic in my response, but eventually I reconsidered, when I realized that I was dismissing Danforth's position without having studied it. I started reading up on the subject and gradually began to believe that Will Shakspere wasn't the true author. But I wasn't fully convinced of Oxford's authorship until I read Mark's book.

John in Berkeley said...

I had one definitive tipping-point, you'd have to call it. The ground had been being prepared for years, as I subsequently realized. Yes, the tipping-point was Mark's book, but this was because I had been an asst. prof. of English lit, with a medieval specialty, and unexpectedly got the opportunity to teach year-long Shakespeare seminars at a certain venerable liberal arts college, whose symbol is Minerva!, not far from the capital of NY state.

Rich Roach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich Roach said...

For me, it began with the uncanny similarities between Marlowe's poem, "Hero and Leander," and Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis," particularly the verses about horses, where it is clear the two poets were either writing side by side or one was purposefully shadowing the other.

Later, I remember seeing a TV documentary dealing with the authorship controversy. I was surprised to see a Lord put forth as a possible candidate. I read whatever smatterings remained of Oxford's work and could again immediately see a close connection between his writing and that of William Shakespeare. It seemed to me (and still does) that Oxford's writing is completely infused with Shakespeare's language because he was an admirer. I find that interesting, because there seems to be no connection between Shakespeare and Oxford, other than the fact they were both known as writers.

I have read every available book on the subject since then, and am thrilled about the movie because this private passion so many of us have over the authorship question is going to reach the mainstream.

Great question!

Gregory Berry said...

Twenty years ago Charlton Ogburn changed my life. Suddenly Shake-spear's life finally made sense. I found myself sharing this revelation with any of my friends that would listen--I think they humored me quite a bit.I am a bookseller by trade and a theatre practioner. In 2005 I had the good fortune to host a reading with Mark Anderson at the Elliott Bay Book Company. It was a thrill to be able to share my own enthusiam for DeVere with someone with far more knowledge than me.I remain perplexed that so many are resistant to even considering the Oxfordian theory. One can only hope that with greater exposure to Oxford more people will be interested in learning more. It will open up new worlds in Shake-spearean studies.