Sunday, August 02, 2015

Who Wrote Shake-speare: Why It Matters

[Note: Cheryl Eagan-Donovan, author of this guest blog post, has launched a Kickstarter for her documentary Nothing is Truer Than Truth, which is partly based on "Shakespeare" by Another Name. She's now working with a great composer on the film's score and a top editor who, among numerous credits, worked on the Academy Award-nominated film Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me.

A guest post by documentary filmmaker Cheryl Eagan-Donovan

I am often asked why it matters who wrote Shake-speare. As a writer, educator, and parent, my answer is that it matters now more than ever. Great writing is the result of access to great books, the ability to draw on and synthesize life experience, and the art of relentless revision.  The author of the world’s greatest literary works must have had these opportunities and developed these skills. Education is the pursuit of knowledge combined with constant critical analysis that challenges what we know and how we know it. I teach writing, literature, and cinema with the aim of inspiring my students to become lifelong learners, actively engaged in research, discovery, and innovation.  

I discovered Edward de Vere in a history class at Harvard University. Professor Don Ostrowski suggested the authorship question as a topic for an essay on source material and history, and recommended J. Thomas Looney’s book, Shakespeare Identified. Looney noted Shakespeare’s conflicted feelings toward women and analyzed De Vere’s early poetry. Having written poetry and completed an independent study on the theme of androgyny in Shakespeare’s work, I was convinced by Looney’s argument that De Vere was the true Shakespeare. I searched for other books on the topic and found Joseph Sobran’s Alias Shakespeare. Sobran makes a very strong case for De Vere’s sexual preference as the reason for the pseudonym. 

Sobran links the publishing of the Folio of Shakespeare’s work in 1623 with the suppression of the Sonnets: “It makes no mention of Southampton, to whom all of Shakespeare’s major nondramatic poetry had been addressed.” He further suggests that “One aim of the Folio… was to portray Shakespeare as a mere untitled common player…thereby implicitly dissociating him from Southampton and the poems written in his honor – thus burying any memory of the homosexual amour between Oxford and Southampton, who was still very much alive and to be reckoned with.”  Sobran concludes, “The 1623 Folio deliberately focused entirely on the plays and so reinvented Shakespeare.” (1)

After reading Looney and Sobran, I did some research on the still nascent internet and learned that Mark Anderson was writing a biography of De Vere. I knew that I wanted to option Mark’s book, “Shake-speare” By Another Name, to make a film, before he had even finished writing it. As a writer, I immediately recognized its narrative potential. De Vere’s story has all the elements of the archetypal hero’s journey, from losing his father at age twelve, to answering the call to adventure on the continent, and returning home to England with the Holy Grail of the Renaissance and commedia dell’arte. Mark is one of the world’s leading scholars in authorship studies research, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to adapt his seminal work. As an educator and a parent, I also recognized the importance of acknowledging the themes of sexuality and gender identity in the canon and their relationship to the author’s life. 

I am not alone in my reading of many of the Sonnets as homosexual love poems, nor am I the only one to identify the theme of bisexuality in so much of Shakespeare’s work.  Marjorie Garber, Harold Bloom, Stanley Wells, Rene Weis, and Stephen Greenblatt are just a few of the Shakespeare scholars who acknowledge the significance of sex and gender identity in the canon. None of these authors, however, is an Oxfordian. In my essay for the Harvard history class, I concluded that the author’s bisexuality was the reason for the resistance to De Vere as Shakespeare in academia. 

While making the documentary film, Nothing is Truer than Truth, I discovered some facts to support my thesis. Many of the university professors I contacted preferred not to appear on camera, or politely declined to be interviewed. De Vere remains taboo on most college campuses. I learned more about the relationship between Elizabethan theater and the sexual behavior of actors and patrons at the playhouses. I researched the attitudes towards sexuality and gender identity in late-sixteenth century Venice. I read respected authors and interviewed scholars about the use of pseudonyms by writers throughout history. I found a correlation between the use of a pen name and a desire to conceal sexual preference by several playwrights and authors. Though this evidence is circumstantial, I am committed to the premise that De Vere’s sexuality is a major reason for the pseudonym. 

When I discovered De Vere in 1997, Ellen DeGeneres had just become the first television personality to come out on the air.  Much progress has been made in terms of attitudes toward sexual preference and gender identity in the past eighteen years, but some things remain unchanged. Students are still persecuted in schools and online for not conforming to sex-role stereotypes. Bullying behavior is often related to anxiety about sexual identity. Bisexuality, like homosexuality, was not just marginalized but denied by many people until quite recently. Science has proven that human experience includes a broad spectrum of gender identity and sexual preference. Shakespeare’s writing reflects an unprecedented awareness of psychology and behavior. 

As a writer and filmmaker, I bring to this project the point of view that defines an author: the search for voice and identity. I am committed to providing students the opportunity to express themselves through words and visual images, and to develop their own unique and powerful voices. Through understanding Shakespeare, we can enhance our knowledge of human behavior and the complexities of interpersonal communications. 

Shakespeare for Bullies, the educational outreach program for my film, empowers students to change behavior by sharing their stories. The interactive website aggregates the canon, commentary, extant letters and poetry written by De Vere, and students’ own stories, providing a resource for learning and a platform for communication. By focusing our attention on the search for identity and cultivating respect for differences, Shakespeare can be not just an effective tool for confronting the self-perpetuating violence of bullying, but a catalyst for lasting change. 

Please join me in bringing Nothing is Truer than Truth to audiences around the world, because it really does matter who wrote Shake-speare. 

(1) Sobran, Joseph, Alias Shakespeare, New York, The Free Press, A Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1997, pp.  219-220 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Hermione, Juliet, Helena prefigured: A new poem by Edward de Vere?

Last November, Georgetown University psychology professor (and self-proclaimed "Oxfreudian") Richard Waugaman released a Kindle-only ebook that I think hasn't been given enough recognition. It's called Newly Discovered Works by "William Shake-Speare" a.k.a. Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

(In recognition of Oxford's birthday, Prof. Waugaman is offering this ebook free of charge on April 12, 2015.)

As the title promises, Waugaman makes compelling (if not necessarily, by his own admission, conclusive) arguments for attributing five anonymous poems from the 1570s, '80s and '90s -- as well as a landmark work of literary criticism, The Arte of English Poesie (1589) -- to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

And there is one work in Waugaman's thought-provoking collection in particular that I want to mention here. Since reading his short ebook last year, this is the poem that sticks with me most. It's called "A Letter written by a yonge gentilwoman and sent to her husband unawares (by a freend of hers) into Italy." (The link here is to the entire poem on Google Books.)

It's an anonymous 96-line poem published in 1578 that is written, as advertised, in the voice of a woman pining for her husband as he travels in Italy.

Of course, Edward de Vere gained great renown at court in the 1570s for his 1575-'76 Italian tour and the disastrous aftershocks from his tumultuous return when he accused his wife, Anne Cecil, of cuckolding him while he traveled abroad. (She did give birth while he was out of the country, and the he-said-she-said arguments that ensued upon his return were tempestuous and epic. And, in a sense, they're still being rehashed on stages around the world to this day.)

Here's why Waugaman's find matters: If it were indeed Oxford writing these words, it'd be one of the more "Shakespearean" poems in his canon of early verse. For here is a poem that could be a kind of early draft of a speech from one of the many Anne Cecil-inspired heroines in the canon: Helena and Hermia come to mind in particular here. The former for her contending with a lover who has run off to Italy. The latter for a pathetic appeal she makes to her man citing the baby they have (she says) in common. Or in the words of "A Letter"

"And last of all, which grieves me most, that I was so beguiled
Remember most, forgetful man!, thy pretty tattling child." (ll. 37-38)

The Stratfordian myth we're now told about Oxford, exemplified in Alan Nelson's Monstrous Adversary, is that Edward de Vere saw the world through an "egocentric, cry-baby attitude" that Nelson (p. 161) memorably describes as being emblematic of Oxford's poetic style. Oxford was allegedly too self-absorbed, in other words, to have written in anyone's voice but his own.

But this poem would give the lie to such a claim. If Waugaman's attribution is correct, it's Oxford in his full youthful voice -- bold, unabashed and arrogant. But then channeling that through the voice of a self-effacing and modest gentlewoman who might be an understudy for a number of early Shakespearean heroines. (No fierce Portia or assured Isabella to be found here, admittedly, but a peer perhaps of the more meek-seeming, early Anne Cecil-inspired characters like Anne Page, Hero or Adriana/Luciana.)

The poem, indeed, purports to tell the story of a woman exactly in Anne Cecil's situation in 1578, when it was published. For this reason, Waugaman quotes the Stratfordian critic Steven May (an expert on Elizabethan courtly verse and editor of an edition of Oxford's attributed youthful poems) noting that the "poem's speaker seems to be in exactly the state of Anne De Vere during her husband's sojourn" in Italy.

And, it should be noted, the author of this anonymous verse also gets a dig in at the Cecils, with the sarcastic line about a "rich and wealthy dower." As "Shakespeare" by Another Name was first to point out, witness a previously unnoticed letter from a Spanish source, William Cecil appears to have dangled a staggering £15,000 dowry in front of Oxford as inducement to marry his daughter Anne. But, so far as I've been able to trace at least, Cecil never paid it out. Yet Cecil appears, again if the Spanish source is correct, to have made arrangements to pay the dowry with Spanish gold behind Spanish enemy lines in the Lowlands. (!) Which I think is why Oxford ran off to the Lowlands as he did in 1574.

In any event, Steven May does not go along with Waugaman in attributing the poem to Oxford. Though May is hardly the final authority on the matter either. Readers already familiar with the inventive, strongly rhythmic, metaphor-laced (often high-born metaphor-laced) voice of the early "Shakespeare" style should pay close attention.

I think Waugaman has a ringer here. Usage, spelling and other stylometric tests might constitute a strong followup attribution study of this poem. I'd be curious to know what readers would add to Waugaman's and this blog's initial reactions to the poem. Please contribute to the discussion in the comments section below.

So, until a more complete attribution study is done on this poem, I'd definitely put "A Letter Written by a Young Gentlewoman" in the keep-an-eye-on-this-space category.

Please, in any case, buy Waugaman's ebook. (Or, on Apr. 12, 2015, download it for free.) It's worth the small price of entry. And, to add to the discussion of its merits, I've posted a modern-English version of the poem below. (Please also post a comment below or send an email if you discover any transcription or translation errors.)


A Letter Written By A Young Gentlewoman and Sent to Her Husband Unawares (By A Friend of Hers) Into Italy

Imagine when these blurred lines, thus scribbled out of frame,
Shall come before thy careless eyes, for thee to read the same:
To be through no default of pen, or else through proud disdain, 
But only through surpassing grief which did the author pain.

Whose quivering hand could have no stay, this careful bill to write
Through flushing tears distilling fast, whilst she did it indict:
Which tears perhaps may have some force (if thou no tiger be),
And mollify thy stony heart, to have remorse on me.

Ah, perjured wight reclaim thyself, and save thy loving mate,
Whom thou hast left beclogged now, in most unhappy state:
(Ay me poor wench) what luckless star? What frowning god above?
What hellish hag, what furious fate hath changed our former love?

Are we debarred our wonted joys? Shall we no more embrace?
Wilt thou my dear in country strange ensue Aeneas' race?
Italians send my lover home, he is no German born,
Unless ye welcome him because he leaves me thus forlorn.

As erst ye did Anchises' sonne, the founder of your soil,
Who falsely fled from Carthage Queen, reliever of his toil.
Oh send him to Britannia['s] coasts unto his trusty feere,
That she may view his comely corpse, whom she esteems so dear.

Where we may once again renew our late surpassed days,
Which then were spent with kisses sweet and other wanton plays.
But all in vain (forgive thy thrall, if she do judge awrong),
Thou canst not want of dainty trulles Italian dames among.

This only now I speak by guess, but if it happen true,
Suppose that thou hast seen the sword, that me thy lover slew.
Perchance through time so merrily with dallying damsels spent,
Thou standst in doubt and wilt inquire from whom these lines were sent.

If so, remember first of all, if thou hast any spouse.
Remember when, to whom and why, thou erst hast plighted vows,
Remember who esteems thee best, and who bewails thy flight,
Mind her to whom for loyalty thou falsehood dost requite.

Remember Heaven, forget not Hell, and weigh thine own estate,
Revoke to mind whom thou hast left, in shameful blame and hate:
Yea mind her well who did submit, into thine only pow'r
Both heart and life, and therewithall, a rich and wealthy dower.

And last of all which grieves me most, that I was so beguiled
Remember, most forgetful man, thy pretty tattling child.
The least of these surnamed things, I hope may well suffice
To shew to thee the wretched dame that did this bill devise.

I speak in vain, thou hast thy will, and now saith Aeson's son,
Medea may pack up her pipes, the golden Fleece is won.
If so, be sure, Medea, I will show forth my self in deed,
Yet gods defend, though death I taste, I should destroy thy seed.

Again, if that I should inquire, wherefore thou dost sojourn,
No answer fitly mayst thou make, I know, to serve thy turn.
Thou canst not cloak (through want) thy flight, since riches did abound:
Thou needs not shame of me thy spouse, whose birth not low is found,

As for my beauty, thou thy self, erstwhile didst it commend,
And to conclude I know no thing, wherein I did offend.
Retire with speed, I long to see, thy bark in wished bay,
The seas are calmer to return, then earst to fly away.

Behold the gentle winds do serve, so that a friendly gale,
Would soon convey to happy port, thy most desired sail.
Return would make amends for all, and banish former wrong,
Oh that I had, for to entice, a Siren's flattering song:

But out alas, I have no shift or cunning to entreat.
It may suffice in absence thine, that I my griefs repeat.
Demand not how I did digest, at first thy sudden flight,
For ten days space I took no rest, by day nor yet by night.

But like to Bacchus' beldame none, I sent and ranged apace,
To see if that I mought thee find, in some frequented place.
Now here, now there, now up, now down, my fancy so was fed,
Until at length I knew of troth, that thou from me wert fled:

Then was I fully bent with blade, to stab my vexed heart,
Yet hope that thou wouldst come again, my purpose did convart:
And so ere since I liv'd in hope bemixed with dreadful fear,
My smeared face through endless tears, unpleasant doth appear.

My sleeps unsound with ugly dreams, my meats are vain of taste
My gorgeous raiment is despised, my tresses rudely placed
And to be brief I boldly speak, there doth remain no care:
But that thereof in amplest wise, I do possess a share:

Like as the tender sprig doth bend, with every blast of wind,
Or as the guideless ship on seas, no certain port may find.
So I now subject unto hope, now thrall to careful dread,
Amidst the rocks, tween hope and fear, as fancy moves, am led.

Alas return, my dear, return, return and take thy rest,
God grant my words may have the force, to penetrate thy breast.
What dost thou think in Italy, some great exploit to win?
No, no, it is not Italy, as sometimes it hath been.

Or dost thou love to gad abroad, the foreign coasts to view
If so, thou hadst not done amiss, to bid me first adieu:
But what hath been the cause, I need not descant long,
For sure I am, meanwhile poor wench, I only suffer wrong.

Well thus I leave, yet more could say: but least thou shouldst refuse,
Through tediousness to read my lines, the rest I will excuse:
Until such time as mighty Jove doth send such lucky grace,
As we thereof in friendly wise, may reason face to face.

Till then farewell, and he thee keep, who only knows my smart
And with this bill I send to thee, a trusty lover's heart.

Thy mate, though late, doth write, her light,
Thou well, canst tell, her name.

[Adapted with permission from Richard M. Waugaman M.D., Newly Discovered Works by "William Shake-Speare": a.k.a. Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. (2014) Oxfreudian Press. Kindle Edition; image: Henrietta Rae, Mariana]