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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: May ::
Re: Character; Polonius and Authorship
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0432.  Saturday, 14 May 1994.
 
(1)     From:   James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
        Date:   Friday, 13 May 1994 09:37:55 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0429  Re: Character; Masks; Double-Casting
 
(2)     From:   David Joseph Kathman <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 May 94 22:03:25 CDT
        Subj:   Polonius and authorship
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
Date:           Friday, 13 May 1994 09:37:55 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 5.0429  Re: Character; Masks; Double-Casting
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0429  Re: Character; Masks; Double-Casting
 
To E.L. Epstein:  Yes, for real characters, real people, the meat is already
there.  But the rest of us can come to know what that meat is (behind it,
within it, controlling it -- choose your favorite metaphor) _only_ by inference
from what the meat says and does, just -- just exactly -- as we the audience
infer "who" Hamlet or Blanche DeBois are from what they say and do on the
stage.  We have no other means, unless there is an as-yet unknown gene for
telephathy.  In fact, the case can be made that we cannot know ourselves (and
the actor,in particular, cannot know a character's character, cannot know how
to embody it) without hearing what we say and watching what we do.  It is pure
Aristotle:  we are what we do (including what we say):  the things we do harden
into character.
 
But perhaps I have misunderstood your posting.  If so, please set me aright.
 
Jim Schaefer
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Joseph Kathman <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 13 May 94 22:03:25 CDT
Subject:        Polonius and authorship
 
Since the Polonius/Burleigh issue seems to have brought the Oxfordians on the
list out of the woodwork, I thought I'd chime in with my two cents from the
other side.  I agree with Martin Mueller that the case for identifying
Polonius/Corambis as a satire of Lord Burleigh (or Burghley; they're alternate
spellings) is "persuasive, if not completely compelling", but I also agree with
him that this has nothing to do with the authorship question.  Well, maybe not
"nothing", but it's certainly no evidence against Shakespeare of Stratford,
despite the triumphant tone of John Mucci and Pat Buckridge.
 
The idea that Polonius-as-Burleigh "proves" that William Shakespeare couldn't
have written *Hamlet* (and presumably that the Earl of Oxford did) rests on two
assumptions, both of which, I would argue, are mistaken.
 
Assumption 1: William Shakespeare of Stratford could never have known enough
about Burleigh to caricature him, since he (Shakespeare) was not a member of
Court.  To this I say, balderdash.  Shakespeare was a member of the Lord
Chamberlain's men, the leading acting troupe of the day, who often performed at
court --- at least 17 times between 1594 and Burleigh's death in 1598, and
undoubtedly more times for which records have not survived.  But, I hear the
Oxfordians saying, a mere actor could never have learned the behind-the-scenes
stuff found in the character of Polonius. How do you know?  Were you there?  Do
you rationally expect us to believe that there was not abundant gossip about
just such behind-the-scenes stuff, especially among the acting troupes whose
livelihoods depended on royal patronage, and whose fortunes could shift with
those of their patron? When the patron of Shakespeare's troupe, Henry Carey
(1st Lord Hunsdon and Lord Chamberlain) died in July 1596, his son George
became 2nd Lord Hunsdon, but because of a power struggle at Court, the title of
Lord Chamberlain unexpectedly went to William Brooke (Lord Cobham), who was
considerably less friendly to actors.  In a letter a month later, Thomas Nashe
wrote of the players that "in there old Lords tyme they thought there state
setled; it is now so uncertayne they cannot build upon it."  The following
March, William Brooke died, and George Carey managed to get the title of Lord
Chamberlain back for his family.  Don't you suppose Shakespeare and his fellows
were intensely interested in such power struggles, in many of which Burleigh
played a central role, and soaked up all the gossip they could get?  I have to
believe that any information about Burleigh and his character which has managed
to survive for 400 years so that we know it would have also been available to
Shakespeare, who was right there.
 
Assumption 2: William Shakespeare of Stratford would have been tossed in jail
if he had dared to satirize someone like Burleigh; thus the author msut have
been a well-connected nobleman.  This completely ignores the fact that the
plays of the late 1590s and early 1600s are bristling with satirical portraits
of all kinds of public figures, including members of the nobility, many written
by playwrights of considerably less stature than Shakespeare.  Let me give an
example.  In Ben Jonson's *Every Man in his Humour* (1598), the character of
Cob is generally taken to be a satire of Henry Brooke, 8th Lord Cobham and son
of the William Brooke who was briefly Lord Chamberlain.  In addition to the
obvious association of Cob / Cobham, the character of Cob is a menial
water-bearer, which is a satire on Cobham's then-recent appointment as Lord
Warden of the Cinque Ports; furthermore Cob says "my lineage goes to rack,
poore cobs they smoke for it, they are made martyrs of the gridiron, they melt
for passion"; which is an obvious satire on Sir John Oldcastle, a medieval Lord
Cobham who was burned at the stake as a Protestant martyr.  Now, this was one
of Jonson's first plays, and his first real popular success.  Why was such a
junior playwright (at the time) not thrown into jail for such impudence?
Presumably because, while some members of court might have been offended,
others (such as George Carey, the Lord Chamberlain and Cobham's bitter enemy)
relished the satire.  The same goes for the Burleigh/Polonius issue. Burleigh
had been dead for two years when *Hamlet* was produced, and in his lifetime he
had made many enemies at court.  Undoubtedly these enemies laughed heartily at
the character of Polonius when they saw the play at Court, and undoubtedly
Shakespeare correctly judged that such enemies would greatly outnumber any
defenders Burleigh might have.  It's hard for us to reconstruct Elizabethan
court politics with any precision at this late date, but from what we know
there is no reason to believe that satirizing Burleigh as Polonius would have
gotten anybody in trouble.
 
Before I go, I have to address the "Rozenkrantz" and "Guildenstern" connection
noted so triumphantly by John Mucci, because it seems to me to be a
particularly flimsy argument in the Oxfordian arsenal, one which has appeared
in different forms in many, many anti-Stratfordian arguments over the years.
These two names were common Danish names, and they pop up all over the place.
Claud Sykes, in arguing that the Earl of Rutland wrote the plays, pointed out
that Rutland had some fellow students with these names in Padua.  Those who say
the Earl of Darby wrote the plays point out that there were a couple of
students with these names at Wittenburg University who Derby probably met.
Some Baconians point out that the names are found on a portrait of Tycho Brahe
that Bacon probably saw. The fact that the guest list a banquet in Denmark
contains the names "Rozenkrantz"(sic) and "Guildenstern" is just one more piece
of evidence that these were common names in Denmark, and has nothing to do with
who wrote Hamlet.
 
I'm sure the above won't convince any Oxfordians, but I hope it will at least
put to rest the notion that orthodox scholars are somehow running scared,
afraid to address this issue.  Believe it or not, Dover Wilson and E. K.
Chambers were not complete idiots; they were aware of all the above and more
when they suggested that Polonius was a caricature of Burleigh.
 
Dave Kathman

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