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]

Monday, December 01, 2014

Welles the enigma, Welles the (sometime) Oxfordian

[Note: This post has been edited to add quotations from & discussion about the new book My Lunches with Orson, below.]

Orson Welles the maverick, Orson Welles the provocateur, Orson Welles the puckish contrarian. Also, on the strength of one unequivocally Oxfordian remark recorded c. 1954, there's Orson Welles the Oxfordian.

Below I'll discuss why I think he should be labeled a "sometime Oxfordian," because it's clear he'd changed his views over the course of his life. By the end he'd backed off, in other words, from his full-blown endorsement of Oxfordianism.

The questions over Welles' flirtation with the authorship question goes back to line a quoted from him in Cecil Beaton and Kenneth Tynan's 1954 book of celebrity interviews, Persona Grata. (i.e. "I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don't there an awful lot of funny coincidences to explain away.")

I don't think it's a coincidence that the Ogburns' opus This Star of England had been published in 1952, just a year or two before Welles' now well-known utterance. Welles was clearly impressed by the raft of correspondences between Oxford's life and the Shakespeare canon. And the timing at least suggests he'd learned of these correspondences from This Star of England. 

Yet why did he not say anything more on the matter after 1954? He died 31 years later, after all, in 1985.

I'd like to offer new evidence that Welles by the end of his life had resolved himself to a kind of defeatist agnosticism. (Meaning he de facto accepted the conventional story but preferred not to know much about the author -- satisfying himself with just the works.)

Now, fast forward to the early 1980s, when Welles was in his late 60s. The filmmaker Henry Jaglom took many lunches with Welles during the final three years of the legendary Hollywood maverick's life, 1983-'85. The BBC this week has an interesting hourlong radio documentary based on Jaglom's troves of tapes, recorded with Welles' permission, of their lunches together. It's a great listen, providing a fly-on-the-wall's view of this larger than life figure of stage and screen.

There was also a book published last year (My Lunches With Orson) transcribing many of Jaglom and Welles' conversations. I've been able to look through this book a little more since writing the first draft of this post.* And I've come to modify my views, namely that Welles evidently settled on a stance reminiscent of Charles Dickens' famous quote about the authorship question. ("It is a great comfort, to my thinking, that so little is known concerning the poet. It is a fine mystery, and I tremble every day lest something should come out." [Dickens letter to William Sandys, June 13, 1847])

Ironically enough, Welles' statement to this effect comes right after talking about Dickens.


Orson Welles: [W]ith writers, they have become my friends from the testimony of the pages they've written. And anything else diminishes what I feel. If I'm enraptured by any writer's work, I don't want to know about him. Somebody's come out with a snide biography of [Joseph] Conrad now. Just reading the review of it made me sick.

Henry Jaglom: But doesn't it add another dimension that --

O.W.: Nothing. I know everybody thinks that way, but I don't believe it. I don't want to keep hearing that [Charles] Dickens was a lousy son of a bitch. The hateful Dickens, you know. I'm very glad I don't know anything about Shakespeare as a man. I think it's all there in what he wrote. All that counts, anyway.


Welles makes it clear elsewhere in the interview that he accepts Will Shakspere of Stratford as the author (discussing, for instance, Shakspere's coat of arms and real estate transactions). Welles adds that he thinks any mystery around Shakespeare is "greatly exaggerated," which might seem to contradict what he said above. (It's probably worth noting too that as Jaglom told the BBC, these lunches also involved imbibing no small amounts of wine. So expecting logical self-consistency here might be, shall we say, a bit too stringent a requirement.)

There's a kind of once-burned-twice-shy quality to Welles' musings about Shakespeare here. As Jaglom himself tried to interject, an author's biography does "add another dimension." (I might suggest a book for him to read.)

Oxfordians of course have a straightforward response as to why the Stratford biography simply makes no sense and adds zero insight into our understanding and appreciation of the "Shakespeare" canon.

Namely scholars and biographers have the wrong guy. Jaglom's absolutely right. And Welles was right, once upon a time, too.

On a related note, the blogger Rambler has this year been assembling a monumental and impressive case that Vladimir Nabokov was fascinated with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford and the authorship question and peppered many of his own enigmatic and hard-to-decipher novels with allusions (e.g. the "discreet Bill" interlude at the end of Lolita) to Nabokov's own discoveries and musings about the authorship debate.

If Rambler is right, and I think he makes a compelling case over months and months of blog posts encyclopedically proving his point, then Nabokov offers up a provocative case study of a great artist who embraced the Oxfordian mystery -- albeit in a characteristically veiled manner. Welles' response of fleeing from it, I think, offers the other side of the coin.

Nabokov (1899-1977) and Welles (1915-1985) are rough contemporaries whose flirtations with/explorations of the Shakespeare authorship question and Edward de Vere, I think, might be considered in light of one another. Both relished their role as controversialist and enjoyed a love-hate relationship with scholars, critics and fans. Nabokov, Rambler has convinced me, discovered artistic wellsprings of inspiration to be found in Oxfordian readings of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Would that Welles had arrived at a similar frame of mind.

* The first draft of this blog post also stated we do not know what Welles' position on the authorship question was later in life. As can be seen from the passage above, this is clearly not the case.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Waste of Shame: The case of Vivian Maier

This weekend Penny and I saw a documentary that, as I reflect on it, has some curious correspondence to the authorship question. It's called Finding Vivian Maier, and it's about a secretive photographer who shot over 100,000 images during her long life but yet never revealed nearly any of her great works to anyone, whether friend or colleague or agent or auctioneer.

This phenomenal corpus was only brought to light when an archivist happened to discover some of her negatives. Struck by the singular nature of these images, he unearthed more and more of Maier's photos till he ultimately became her posthumous advocate and agent (as well as the director of the present film). 

As the documentary notes, Maier's body of work is arguably among the greatest of any American photographer in the 20th century. The immediacy and probity of her photos, piercing to the quick her subjects with a single stunning image, is often impossible to adequately convey with words. Overall it's a fascinating story well told. On its own merits, Finding Vivian Maier comes highly recommended. (Amazon / iTunes. Not on Netflix that I'm aware.) 

I mention it here, though, because it's also a mystery not unlike the authorship mystery behind another great artist. Namely, Finding Vivian Maier asks but does not answer a fundamental question behind the whole story: Why? 

Why would someone so clearly adept at taking stunning photos, an artist so singularly possessed, spend her whole life -- Emily Dickinson-like -- hiding her phenomenal talent and body of work? For paying work, Maier spent nearly her entire career as a nanny for various families mostly in the Chicago area. She would take her children with her on day trips into the city, photographing everything and everyone she encountered. 

It's not coincidental, I think, that Maier also took to concealing her identity using assumed names -- a storyline in the film that comes out briefly in the trailer. It's not a tremendous leap, one suspects, to go from an artist who conceals her work to an artist who conceals her name. 

It is further revealed that she concealed some darkness in her life too. Without providing any spoilers, I'll just note that Maier emerges from this film as an enigmatic, troubled and brooding figure. Was she disturbed by the mania that possessed her in her work? Was she shamed by the work itself somehow? Was she embarrassed by her related obsessive-compusive behaviors and neurotic tendency to hoard?

The answers are only dimly revealed. But I was struck by the similarly open questions one finds in the story of an author who seems also to have been compulsively driven to conceal his work and identity. In the Sonnets, the author bemoans his buried name (e.g. 72) and his tongue-tied art (66). But he's also drawn by the undertow of shame. ("I am shamed by that which I bring forth..."; "Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame...") 

So what is the nature of the author's shame? For those who see Edward de Vere as a conflicted, bisexual man battling his own erotic desires (esp. in the "Fair Youth" sonnets to the young man), one might appreciate how the enveloping shadows of shame might darken his consciousness. Then again, some see the author's self-guilt more stemming from, in the words of Sonnet 127, "beauty slandered by a bastard shame." Concealed blood relationships -- royal or otherwise -- they argue is at the core of the author's battles with shame. 

This post is not going to delve into that long-standing battle behind Oxfordian lines. But it may be worth considering this related story of an artist singularly possessed by his/her work, but who for whatever reasons could not reveal this work to anyone else. 

Are the artists' feelings of shame related to their drive to conceal their work? The case of Vivian Maier, while clearly different in obvious ways from the Shake-speare authorship question, does present a psychological profile of a great artist driven to bury and conceal. To the point of self-obliteration. 

Thankfully, in both cases, the forces of obliteration did not win in the end. The works survive, though many mysteries remain. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Corrigendum: The case of "Oxford's Greek New Testament"

On the Facebook forum ShakesVere, researcher, author and blogger Marie Merkel recently questioned a piece of evidence in the Oxfordian docket. The item -- a Greek New Testament (it is surmised) that Edward de Vere gave to his wife Anne -- is mentioned in Appendix A of "Shakespeare" by Another Name

In reviewing this material, I'm persuaded that, yes, there's more supposition than fact here. As will be described below, I think the matter still merits an endnote. But only as a hypothesis, and one that also should be flagged as such. 

As Oxford's first biographer, B.M. Ward first pointed out, there's a record in the calendar of manuscripts at Hatfield House (XIII, 362) of a copy of a New Testament which is no longer extant. But the manuscript calendar does transcribe a Latin inscription from the book's flyleaf. Nina Green's excellent Oxford-Shakespeare website has the full Latin transcript with an English translation here.  

The Latin poem from the New Testament's flyleaf contains homophonic, though not etymological, puns on Vere and the Latin veritas (truth). Here's part of it:
"[S]ince thou, a Vere, art wife and mother of a Vere daughter, and seeing that thou mayest with good hope look forward to being mother of an heir of the Veres, may thy mind always glow with love of the truth, and may thy true motto be Ever Lover of the Truth. And that thou mayest the better attain to this, pray to the Author of all Truth that His Word may teach thee; that His Spirit may nourish thy inner life, so that, thus alleviating the absent longings of thy dear husband, thou, a Vere, mayest be called the true glory of thy husband. ... To the illustrious Lady Anne Vere, Countess of Oxford, while her noble husband, Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, was travelling in foreign parts."
Not exactly Virgil. Still, despite its anonymous nature, the context of the poem does suggest Oxford's hand, especially as it might offer an interesting glimpse into an insecure, doting zealotry in Oxford's intense scrutiny over Anne's pregnancy.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

These c. 1602 references to Macbeth explode the Stratfordian myth

Readers of this blog hopefully already know that a much more active site of SBAN-related discussion these days is the  Facebook group ShakesVere. And a familiar refrain on SV over the past year has been "Please, go read Rambler." 

Rambler is a pseudonymous blogger with an encyclopedic grasp of early modern drama who's been posting on nearly a daily basis since last April about his forays into Elizabethan and early Jacobean plays written by many authors other than "Shakespeare." 

Executive summary of Rambler's posts: Writers from the London literary scene 400 years ago -- Chapman, Middleton, Jonson, Nashe, and numerous others as well -- had all written in guarded terms about Edward de Vere as "Shakespeare." Their testimony taken as a whole exposes and validates what we today call the Shakespeare Authorship Question. And the Oxfordian theory specifically. Stratfordians have COMPLETELY missed the boat here.

Rambler's blog carries the catchy spoonerism "Quakespeare Shorterly" and is at the URL Anyone interested in the authorship question should really bookmark its RSS feed and Please, just go read Rambler

Rambler's latest two posts concern, in part, Queen Elizabeth as a historical prototype for the character Lady Macbeth. (Post 1, post 2) As I was writing "Shakespeare" by Another Name in 2002-'04, I'd reached the conclusion myself that England's queen seems to have served as a prototype for the play's bloodthirsty Scottish queen -- at least in the context of the Mary Queen of Scots trial and Elizabeth's (and, as a jury member in Mary's trial, Oxford's) ordering Mary's beheading. 

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587 was an extraordinarily big deal, especially for a member of the feudal nobility who had been reared in the belief that kings and queens were God's handpicked agents in human affairs. (As noted in SBAN's Appendix A and in Roger Stritmatter's landmark PhD dissertation, the motif of anointed kings is a commonplace in the handwritten biblical annotations found in Oxford's copy of the Geneva Bible too.) 

To liken Mary's execution to deicide is no mere exaggeration. The anxiety over the royal blood Oxford and Elizabeth had spilled spills over into Macbeth in multitudinous ways. Books can, and should, be written about this. SBAN only begins to get the ball rolling. (Though it's also been surprising to me to learn how little even Oxfordian commentary there has been on Lady Macbeth and Queen Elizabeth.) 

Anyway, Rambler's two posts argue that the late Elizabethan play Blurt, Master Constable riffs on Lady Macbeth and language in Macbeth that strongly suggests Macbeth inspired this play that was published in 1602. Rambler points out that previous scholarship points to 1600-'01 as Blurt's likely composition date, but 1602 would be a hard-fast number here. For Macbeth to have influenced Blurt, some version of it must have been written and likely performed before Blurt was published.

If Rambler is correct, to put it mildly, this would pose a serious problem for Stratfordian chronology. It would mean some early draft of Macbeth were written before at the latest 1602 -- and would, by extension, stand to devastate no small portion of the whole house of cards upon which the Stratfordian chronology is built. 

Stratfordians have long claimed, on very little evidence, that Macbeth was a direct response to the Gunpowder Plot, a terrorist campaign that quickly became a public sensation in London in 1605-'06. Yet, as noted in SBAN's Appendix on the "1604 Question", the allusions Macbeth makes that might be seen as Gunpowder Plot references also trace back to courtroom trials from the 1580s and '90s, one of which Edward de Vere even sat on the jury for!

Despite all this, Macbeth and King Lear have been emerging lately as the Stratfordian fallback positions to a losing battle they're now fighting on The Tempest. (See here and especially here.) In all 3 cases, the claim is these are plays definitively written sometime after Edward de Vere died, in June 1604. So, if any one of those claims could be established firmly, then – again to put it mildly – it'd be very difficult sledding ahead for the Oxfordian paradigm.

Instead, however, 1604 has emerged as a kind of line in the sand. Attempts to discover firm evidence for composition of "Shakespeare" plays before 1604 often prove fruitful. Oxfordian chronologies of the "Shakespeare" canon from before 1604 draw on much the same evidence Stratfordian chronologies do.*

But after 1604, Stratfordian chronologies are, to put it bluntly, a joke. There is not only no firm evidence to date any "Shakespeare" play after 1604, there's plenty good evidence to argue that a post-1604 date is wrong.

Blurt, Master Constable is just the latest example.

As Rambler signs off, Thank you for reading. 

*That said, Oxfordians are also not bound by the Stratfordian stringent timeline for Will Shakspere. His move from Stratford to London in the late 1580s at the very earliest is presumed to be the earliest possible date for any "Shakespeare" work. Of course with Oxford circulating in Elizabeth's court  from 1562 onwards, Oxfordians have much more leeway to (realistically, I think) stipulate substantial foregrounds for many of the plays. So Comedy of Errors, as an example, may ultimately date to 1594 as Stratfordian chronologies theorize. But the performance at court in 1577 of the anonymous play A Historie of Error (as noted in SBAN) also makes good sense as an early draft of what eventually was staged and published as the mature "Shakespeare" work.


POSTSCRIPT: I can already hear the Stratfordian reply: Who's to say Macbeth wasn't referencing Blurt, Master Constable? To which I say, simply, one is one of the greatest plays ever written. The other is a largely forgettable lark. If you knew nothing else about popular culture over the past 50 years and saw Spaceballs and then Star Wars or Austin Powers and then Goldfinger or even read Pride and Prejudice and then read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.... which one would you think came first and which one came second?

The spoof post-dates the thing it's spoofing. Great masters at the top of their game don't worry themselves with referencing disposable goofs and trifles. Seriously, folks. In anywhere but topsy-turvy Stratford-land, this is Q.E.D.

(cc) image: John Singer Sargent, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Shakespeare, Decaffeinated

The Hungarian mathematician Alfréd Rényi once said, "A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems." The same might be said about writers and books -- or plays. 

London's first coffeehouse opened in 1652 and was an instant hit. With not much exaggeration, it's been said coffee fueled the Enlightenment. As one recent account of London coffeehouses on the website Public Domain Review notes,

"Remember -- until the mid-seventeenth century, most people in England were either slightly — or very -- drunk all of the time. Drink London’s fetid river water at your own peril; most people wisely favoured watered-down ale or beer (“small beer”). The arrival of coffee, then, triggered a dawn of sobriety that laid the foundations for truly spectacular economic growth in the decades that followed as people thought clearly for the first time. The stock exchange, insurance industry, and auctioneering: all burst into life in 17th-century coffeehouses — in Jonathan’s, Lloyd’s, and Garraway’s — spawning the credit, security, and markets that facilitated the dramatic expansion of Britain’s network of global trade in Asia, Africa and America."

In the spring of 1575, Oxford wrote back to Lord Burghley from Paris that in his travels from Venice and beyond he intended to "bestow two or three months to see Constantinope and some part of Greece." That plus the fact that King Henri III of France had given Oxford letters of introduction to the Sultan's court in Constantinople suggest it's at least possible that the man Elizabeth called her "Turk" did in fact visit Turkey.

For me, when I was researching and assembling "Shakespeare" by Another Name, Turkey became a bridge too far in piecing together the most likely itinerary for Oxford's Italian, Adriatic, Mediterranean (and Aegean and Black Sea??) travels. I just couldn't make it all fit, and Turkey just seemed too far out of the likely orbit.

But there it is. Oxford said he wanted to go. And he had letters of passage from the King of France to give him entry.

There the coffee certainly flowed like water. Er... well at least syrupy water. A Turkish proverb from the time said coffee is best served "black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love."

Given how much Italy Oxford brought back to England with him in 1576, I'm inclined to suspect -- given the absence of Turkey (and coffee!) in his life and works and in the "Shakespeare" canon as well -- he never quite made it to Sultan Murad III's court.

The age of "Shakespeare" was still some 50 years before the dawn of the age of coffee in England. Hamlet written with the benefit of caffeine: It's a curious thought experiment at least, though I suspect it will forever be only just that.