IMG_0569
Blog powered by Typepad

« Bored now | Main | Walking it back ... »

Comments

Whoever designed the ciphers in the Stratford plaque, the Sonnets dedication, the Troilus and Cressida headline,and the Jonson introductory poem to the First Folio consistently included "Vere" as the purposed feature of the respective devices. Each device followed the same Elizabethan diplomatic system of equidistant sequencing, so as to create a vertical message of extreme brevity and simplicity. Otherwise the surface message could be identified as an indication of an ulterior one. As it is, those nonsensical messages are barely grammatical, and only the foolishness of intelligent humanity has given them the reverent exaltation they have received in modern times.

William Ray
wjray.net
Shakespeare Papers

Interesting post. My feeling: Who knows?

The trouble I have with Oxfordianism is that it feels like a giant category mistake: the evidence that advanced by Oxfordians is *not* the evidence that typically satisfies in such situations.

Stuff that would satisfy and convince me:

•Anything in his own papers where he directly admits to being the author of his works.

•Anything by a contemporary unambiguously citing him as the author.

Instead, we get codes, textual exegesis, and arguments based on his purported ability to have written the works based on his experiences and knowledge. However good this evidence can get (and I have found it to be pretty mediocre), it's not the type of thing that really satisfies.

I think there are two main possibilities IF assume for a moment that De Vere was the author:

• He wanted to remain anonymous forever. In this case, he more or less succeeded, as I don't think the evidence truly has the power to leave one without a doubt.

• He wanted eventually to be known as the author. In this case, he clearly failed where he could easily have succeeded. He could simply have told people to reveal the truth after he died or otherwise arranged it to be known. I also don't buy that he could not have acknowledged his authorship during his own lifetime. Thus, I find this option implausible.

I thus conclude that, if De Vere was the author, then he truly wanted that to remain a secret. If so, then you really can't blame people for not acknowledging him as the author. He covered his tracks well.

In response to your points, Matt, I think we have nothing unequivocal from De Vere asserting his authorship because all of his personal correspondence was destroyed after his death. (Which is an interesting fact in and of itself.) Only some dry business letters remain. In addition, his ancestral home burned down some years later, destroying whatever family documents might have been kept there.

I do think he did his best to tell us through his art. For instance, in the sonnets he boasts that his "powerful rhyme" will live forever, but he also laments the prospect that his name will be forgotten as soon as he is dead. The two sentiments don't mesh; how could the poems be remembered while their author was forgotten? But if the poems were to be published under an assumed name, his statements make sense.

I also think it was something of an open secret among the cognoscenti that De Vere was "William Shakespeare." They didn't talk openly about it, just as White House insiders didn't talk openly about JFK's philandering or FDR's limited mobility. There are, however, many inside jokes and nudge-nudge-wink-wink comments in contemporary texts like Return to Parnassus, Willobie His Avisa, and Greene's Groatsworth of Wit.

Incidentally, we don't have anything from Mr. Shakspere "in his own papers where he directly admits to being the author of his works."

In fact, there are no papers. No letters that he wrote have survived (if indeed he ever wrote any - and given the difficulty he faced in signing his own name, it is quite possible he never did). No journals, either. No manuscripts. And there is no mention of books or manuscripts in his will, even though these would have been valuable properties. (And yes, writers who were his contemporaries did leave behind letters, journals, manuscripts, and records of books they owned.)

I would also argue that we don't have "anything by a contemporary unambiguously citing [Mr. Shakspere] as the author." The First Folio was released seven years after his death, and is the first time the Stratford man was publicly connected with the works, as far as we know. And even then, the allusions in the Folio are ambiguous and strange.

Notice that the Stratford monument (erected years after his death) makes no mention of any Shakespearean works - no reference to his acclaimed narrative poems, or to his plays that were given command performances before royalty. It does mention "all that he hath writ" in a garbled sentence that is virtually impossible to decipher, but that's all.

Moreover, people who knew Mr. Shakspere and were familiar with poetry and theater do not seem to have the made the connection between the man and the works. One example is Shakspere's son-in-law, Dr. John Hall, an educated man who liked to name-drop his more notable patients in his published journals, but who never mentioned his supposedly famous father-in-law. The book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? (note the question mark) lists ten such contemporaries of Mr. Shakspere, who seem inexplicably unaware of his accomplishments.

Amazon page for Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?:

http://tinyurl.com/ne2alac

I apologize but I just couldn’t resist.
Who do you suppose wrote this:

DAN: Tonight, when taper wick be lit
there be a throat that must be slit. A gentle task!
All unsuspecting shall the knave,
athout e’en a blade that might to save,
walk to the trap and ne’er detecting,
nor seeing the hand so sure directing,
the ready blade that itcheth for its plunge,
take its bare kiss and feel his body lunge
back to the clay from whence it came.

Can he then tell the man, or name his name
that he who doth the deed may take the blame?
Nay, but another dungheap richer be.
And he who bid the deed. . . then where be he?
Minstrelling some lady and she applauds his gallantry!
Esh! I’m sick to puke upon the rotten fare!
Rather would I to snap my sword and dare
the wrath of court, or yet the Queen. . .
bawdy old slut who taketh not a King!

WILL: Ha! Ha! so sayeth youth
who hath not learned him yet that truth
be not a glove to fit unholy hand,
rather it be an iron band that chokes the liar,
cracks the necks of thief;
yet, choked or dying they’ll ne’er declare disbelief,
for lieing be the cloak of every thief.
Ye lie, ye steal, ye lie again, then kill
and killing lie ye on and on until death
in its justice doth thy tung to still.
Thus lieing be the everturning mill
whose hopper gristeth from its spill,
and ever will, the evils of the day.

The above quote was taken from a play about a young Shakespeare written by a woman with an 8th grade education in 1933. She had no interest in Shakespeare plays, having slept through two plays when she was taken by her mother to see them as a young child. She had never traveled abroad and most of her life was spent in Texas, Missouri and California. She had no special interest in history or literature, had never travelled to England.

This was channeled by Pearl Curran from ‘Patience Worth’ - AOD

Interesting, Amos. The poetry is not in the Shakespearean style (blank verse), and I don't think it's very good, but of course what's impressive is that she came up with it extempore. There are people who can do this, though. Think of rappers who can improvise complex rhyme schemes. Or the ancient Greek bards (like the legendary Homer) who sang poetry off the cuff.

With regard to Shakespeare, those who doubt the orthodox position aren't saying that a relatively uneducated person can't tell a story or even learn to improvise acceptable verse. On the contrary, I suspect that Mr. Shakspere served as a theatrical impresario and play broker, in which capacity he would have overseen the editing of play scripts and their performance. (I'm sure he could read. Whether or not he could write with any proficiency is a different matter. In those days there were many people who could read but not write. But he could surely have made cuts and dictated line changes.)

What we iconoclasts are saying is that the range of Shakespeare's knowledge and experience was beyond Mr. Shakspere's ken. We also think that the attitudes of an aristocrat are clearly evident in Shakespeare's works - an obsession with bloodlines, low regard for commoners, sympathy with the ruling class, nostalgia for feudalism, and a snobbish contempt for the rising class of self-made men. Not very attractive qualities! But no one said Shakespeare was a likable guy, or a modern democrat.

I think De Vere was a real piece of work - eccentric, dandified, probably a high-functioning alcoholic, quite possibly bisexual or gay, prone to dizzying emotional highs and lows, and capable of eviscerating anyone with impromptu stabs of cruel wit. But these qualities aren't so unusual in a writer. Think of Truman Capote or Gore Vidal.

Thanks for the response Michael. I am by no means qualified to comment about the writing of Shakespeare. I do however find the above quote similar to the writing style of Shakespeare's Sonnets, 'A Lover's Complaint, 'The Rape of Lucrece', 'Venus and Adonis' and 'Funeral Elergy by W.S.
Patience Worth disclaimed that her play, An Elizabethan Mask was written by Shakespeare. Never-the-less, I too find the writing interesting. - AOD

The Patience Worth excerpt has an Elizabethan feel to it, and could possibly have been penned by a minor poet of the period (Middleton*, say). IMO, it's not up to Shakespeare's standard. For one thing, he seldom used rhymed couplets in his plays, though they do appear in his narrative poems; for another, the lines don't scan very well; finally, the language lacks the richness of Shakespeare's vocabulary and the freshness of his imagery. Again, in my opinion; your mileage may vary.

I agree that Pearl Curren is a fascinating case.

*Middleton is often credited with the witch scenes in Macbeth: "Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble ..."

Michael,

||Incidentally, we don't have anything from Mr. Shakspere "in his own papers where he directly admits to being the author of his works."||

Yes, true, but the argument is not parallel inasmuch as we don't have a image for Shakespeare at all, aside from some very sketchy stuff. Thus, there's nothing really to get attached to.

That's why, I think (and others have pointed out), that theories about the authorship have arisen in the first place: we want to know the man better. We know a lot more about De Vere, so the desire arises to see him as Shakespeare.

We'll never know unless we can invent a device to look back in time (which I think we actually will do within the next 100 years). Then we'll know all we want to know. Until then, it's just fun theories.


FWIW, I agree that the channeled poem doesn't sound like Shakespeare.

I would argue that the problem is not that we don't know anything about Mr. Shakspere, but that what we do know about him doesn't jibe with his purported identity as Shakespeare.

For instance, we know that he had trouble signing his own name. We know that he allowed both of his daughters to grown up illiterate. We know that he mentioned no books or manuscripts in his will. We know that there was no public recognition of his death in 1616 (unlike other celebrated poets and playwrights of the period). We know that he was a sharp-dealing businessman who sued people over minuscule debts, hoarded grain, and conspired with other wealthy Stratfordians to prevent townsfolk from using long-established common areas - all this from the author who gave us King Lear! ("Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,/ That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,/ How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,/ Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you/ From seasons such as these? Oh, I have ta'en/ Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp./ Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,/ That thou mayst shake the superflux to them/ And show the heavens more just.")

There is, at the very least, a disconnect here, a Jekyll and Hyde quality, which we don't find in other authors. The personalities and interests of Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe - not to mention Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, et al. - are mirrored in their works. I can't think of another writer whose life diverges so radically from his writings.

When you add the problem of Mr. Shakspere's limited education and provincial origins, and consider the range of Shakespeare's knowledge and vocabulary and his apparent intimacy with aristocratic pursuits and court gossip, it's not hard to see why the name Shakespeare is thought by some to be a pseudonym or an allonym.

||I would argue that the problem is not that we don't know anything about Mr. Shakspere, but that what we do know about him doesn't jibe with his purported identity as Shakespeare.||

If one wishes to get into the minor and scarce "facts" that are "known" about him (all the things you said are fiercely debated, and I don't really care one way or another). I've always just known the works and accepted that not much about him is known.

It *is* frustrating that such a great author remains a mystery.

"all the things you said are fiercely debated"

Not really. The signature thing, yes. Maybe the grain hoarding - I seem to recall someone claiming that the injunction against Mr. Shakspere had been misinterpreted. As for the rest of the specifics - illiterate daughters, no public recognition of his death in 1616, no books or manuscripts mentioned in his will, litigating over small sums, trying to enclose the commons - it's not that controversial.

People do debate the proposition that Shakespeare had a snobbish, feudalistic attitude. To me it's obvious that, as Walt Whitman memorably observed, the bard's works were written by one of the "wolfish earls" or someone close to them.

Of course there's endless debate over the level of knowledge displayed in Shakespeare's works. I'm sure some "bardolators" exaggerate his omniscience, but it's hard to deny that he knew Italy first-hand (see Roe's Shakespeare Guide to Italy), was intimately acquainted with falconry (an exclusively aristocratic pastime), was fluent in several languages, knew court gossip (Love's Labour's Lost), and had access to unpublished manuscripts circulating among the elite and to expensive and rare books in an age when there were no public libraries.

I suppose only a time machine could resolve all doubts. Unlike you, I'm not optimistic about such a breakthrough. I suspect the closest we will ever get is retrocognition, as practiced by some of the psychics who work on archaeological digs.

Just as an example,

||People do debate the proposition that Shakespeare had a snobbish, feudalistic attitude. To me it's obvious that, as Walt Whitman memorably observed, the bard's works were written by one of the "wolfish earls" or someone close to them.||

There's a whole essay on this at Shakespeare Authorship:

http://shakespeareauthorship.com/aristocrat.html

Makes sense to me.

||I suppose only a time machine could resolve all doubts. Unlike you, I'm not optimistic about such a breakthrough.||

I don't think a "time machine" is possible but rather a device that would let us read the Akashic records directly (i.e., see into the past).

"There's a whole essay on this at Shakespeare Authorship"

I'm not sure I'd call that a whole essay. It's just "part of a post [Kathman] made to [a] newsgroup" and hardly scratches the surface of the controversy. At any rate, the criticism of Romeo and Juliet is inaccurate, as Kathman ought to know. Shakespeare (De Vere) traveled extensively in Italy, and one of the things he reported was how the heads of even wealthy households interacted closely with the servants - quite unlike the conventions in England at the time. Romeo and Juliet is, of course, set in Italy, so the depiction of a noble household is correct.

Regarding the idea that Ben Jonson's learning is relevant to the authorship question ... Jonson constantly praised his teachers and the value of education, and though he did not attend a university, he was sent to one of the best prep schools in England. Wikipedia: "Jonson attended school in St. Martin's Lane; and later, a family friend paid for his studies at Westminster School, where the antiquarian, historian, topographer, and officer of arms, William Camden (1551–1623) was one of his masters. In the event, the pupil and the master became friends, and the intellectual influence of Camden's broad-ranging scholarship upon Jonson's art and literary style remained notable, until Camden's death in 1623."

There is nothing like this in Will Shakspere's record. It is not even known if he attended the Stratford Grammar School, or, if he did, for how long. He certainly did not have the educational opportunities afforded to Jonson. Nor is there any indication that Mr. Shakspere was an educated man. He made no provision for the education of his grandchildren in his will (a common practice among the educated), was content to let his daughters grow up illiterate, seems to have struggled to write his own name, is not known to have owned any books or manuscripts, etc.

All this is very different from Honest Ben, whose journals and letters survive, who maintained an extensive library, and whose educational background is well known.

Incidentally, I would be wary of accepting anything written by Kathman (or on Kathman's site) at face value. Like James Randi, Kathman is an advocate who can be selective in his "facts." Using him as a primary source of info on the authorship debate is like using the JREF site as a primary source on psi. That's not to say there's nothing good on Kathman's site (or on JREF's site, for that matter), but it pays to remember that relevant opinions and evidence are often left unmentioned.

Michael,

It's funny you mention the paranormal as relevant to this debate. I would also mention global warming, where you and I agree.

The epistemology is tough! You could read a skeptical site or a pro-CAGW site and come away thinking that the opposition are complete idiots and the case is easily and completely settled. Of course, it ain't so.

I respect that factor in this debate as well.

Good points, Matt. I could argue this stuff all day (I enjoy it), but ultimately I'm not that concerned about it. Some people seem to live solely for the day when they can prove that De Vere (or some other candidate) was Shakespeare. For me, it's a fun issue, but not the hill to die on. "What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?" Ultimately it's a lot of drama over something that resists an absolutely conclusive resolution.

About the only thing I am confident of is that Shakspeare didn't write the plays and poems. I can't believe the guy who was such a jerk to his wife and who neglected the education of his daughters would never have written the women in the plays, Helena, Miranda, Portia, Lady MacBeth, Paulina...

It's fairly clear that he couldn't write, not even his name, and it would appear he never owned a book. And, as you said, there is nothing connecting him to the plays and poems until those two hams got their hands on the rights to those works and they needed a front so the real author's family couldn't make a claim.

Fascinating post!

Being a fan of the Bard, and having spent a very pleasant afternoon a couple of weeks ago at Stratford-upon-Avon (I can recommend the 'El Greco' Greek restaurant for lunch!), I have now had my interest well and truly piqued by the 'Shakespeare authorship' question, and must get stuck into it!

(Perhaps a good start would be the book 'Contested Will', whose title should win some sort of award IMHO!)

Sad to say, Stratford has become more commercialised than ever. It's still very pleasant if you can go on a weekday and off-season, but avoid weekends in the summer!

Rather than Contested Will, the best intro might be two books that give the pro and con sides: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, put out by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and its rejoinder Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? (note question mark) put out by anti-Stratfordians.

Though I don't agree with everything in the second book, it's a good overview and an easy read.

The two books together give a good sense of the debate.

Thanks for the recommendations, Michael.

The comments to this entry are closed.