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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: July ::
Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1392  Tuesday, 8 July 2003

[1]     From:   Graham Hall <
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        Date:   Monday, 07 Jul 2003 15:20:15 +0000
        Subj:   Knotty Wood

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Jul 2003 16:52:58 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Jul 2003 12:19:19 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare

[4]     From:   Keith Hopkins <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Jul 2003 20:52:28 +0100
        Subj:   Wood on Shakespeare

[5]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Jul 2003 23:56:45 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare

[6]     From:   Jim Carroll <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Jul 2003 21:30:41 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare

[7]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Jul 2003 11:29:53 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Hall <
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Date:           Monday, 07 Jul 2003 15:20:15 +0000
Subject:        Knotty Wood

A review, by Clive James, of Michael Wood's TV Shakespeare programme
will be available to the public in the next edition of the TLS. But as
James is one who does not appear to have been asked to contribute to the
content of the series perhaps he also will be taking more lee way than
satisfies the balanced criteria roundly set by a recent SHAKSPER
circular.

Best wishes,
Graham Hall

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Jul 2003 16:52:58 +0100
Subject: Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare
Comment:        SHK 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare

Carol Morley insists that Michael Wood "makes a point of establishing
distinctions between facts, professional opinions, popular legends
contemporary propaganda and wishful thinking."

But the way he dealt with John Shakespeare's Spiritual Testament was a
disgrace, in these terms. It was the lowest point in a generally biased
programme.

As for "Let's be sure we're none of us carping, as experts, because we
weren't invited to make our contributions on camera", I don't consider
myself an expert worthy of being put in front of a camera to talk about
Shakespearean biography. But then, neither is Wood, whose specialism is
and always has been Anglo-Saxon archaeology (it was no accident that the
archaeological sections of the show were the most successful).

David Starkey, on the other hand, whatever one thinks of his exaggerated
public persona, has made a contribution to Renaissance court studies
that is probably without parallel.

Since the subject has been broached, however, I think I could do a
decent job of general early-modern TV history, though, if anyone's out
there offering work - I'm young, vivacious, and fairly photogenic!

m

[Editor's Note: I'm old, tired, and not at all photogenic (and
apparently NOT the Walrus), but I am looking for a new job that will
enable me to continued delivering these digests. Vita available at
online. -Hardy]

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Jul 2003 12:19:19 -0400
Subject: 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare

Colin Cox:

Having a family full of Catholics makes Shakespeare a Catholic? Not
according to the plays. Friar Lawrence, the kindest, most loving, most
hopeful man. Result? Everyone who trusted him is dead.

Henry V: Act I.1 with the bishops. All their imagery is venal. Then the
weirdest little thing, speaking of Henry's maturation from Hal to king,
Canterbury uses the word "reformation." That's a bit odd from a Catholic
mouth. It's a Will alert! He's about to be a very bad boy. Sure enough,
a mere eight lines down, Canterbury says "You would desire the king were
made a prelate." Uh, that was the British Reformation, right? King
becomes head of Church? Right?

Still, it's probably nothing. Like it's nothing 27 lines later when
Canterbury says "miracles are ceased," a tenet of Protestant belief but
NOT of Catholic.

Why, please, is good Catholic William Shakespeare using poetic
association to make Henry V a Protestant before he goes up against the
Catholic French?  Everyone in Europe and England knew H5 was a Catholic
king. Why not play that up?

Another thing about Will's Catholic family. Will left home. He was the
eldest son in a primogeniture nation and he left home. Didn't move back
till Daddy dearest was dead, either. Don't we all have relatives we love
but can't live with? Can barely be at dinner with before a fight breaks
out?

Assuming that contact with Catholics made Will a Catholic is
disingenuously rosy. As easily assume the sight of them made him think
of treason, civil war, and Daddy plunging the family into debt with
recusancy fines.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Keith Hopkins <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Jul 2003 20:52:28 +0100
Subject:        Wood on Shakespeare

I am not disagreeing that Wood is not a likeable enthusiastic and
photogenic individual who makes interesting and watchable television.
My slight caveat is that really the stuff that his presenting as being
at least, relatively new and original is really so much old hat, and has
been know of by scholars for at least two centuries.

As the previous correspondent noted, Shakespeare's Roman Catholic family
background is pretty much a matter of established fact, and yes, in the
18th century  this may have been glossed over, but   Woods ridiculous
claim that Shakespeare as a Catholic would have been unthinkable to the
Victorians, should be blown out of the water for the tripe that it is,
and as  I previously remarked  does a  disservice, not only to the work
of great Victorian Shakespearean scholars, but perpetuates a myth about
the Victorians, which in a professed historian like Wood, is to say the
least surprising.      Numerous aspects of Shakespeares art may well
have been influenced by his Catholic antecedents and indeed sympathies,
but we have all know this for a very long time, and Woods approach is a
bit like, someone coming along and saying, there is this fantastic new
scientist on the block called Isaac Newton, and has got some really
weird ideas about apples and things that fall.

I am just rather suspicious of someone who states what most literate
people already know and gives the impression at least, that he is the
guy who has found everything out.

Dealing with vox populi, I think this is where we have to be
particularly careful, because surely people who know less  than the
average intelligent person does about Shakespeare, would surely think
our Woody is the unique discoverer of fascinating 'new'  facts about the
Bard.

Does he for instance acknowledge the work of other scholars in this
area? Correct me if I am wrong please, but doesn't  he hog the
limelight?

He also said in his article that, he is not aware of any recent work
placing Shakespeare in his historical context.

Dear, Oh Dear, Has he not read or even know of  'Park Honan's'
brilliant 1997, Life of Shakespeare.

But then of course it does not fit the Wood thesis, which is that he is
the man that has discovered all this stuff.  And it is a kind of
'Blairite' thing, which is that he thinks that religion is really not
very modern and hip, and it's all an establishment conspiracy to Blacken
Shakespeare's name. I am really not sure whether it is the kind of
television history which does not do more harm than good.


Keith Hopkins
London

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Jul 2003 23:56:45 +0100
Subject: 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare

Colin Cox wrote:

>Wow! Does he need to come back from the grave and recite a Mass before
>your eyes?

In which case it would prove that William Shakespeare was not only a
Catholic, but a priest as well!

Not everyone would regard Edmund Campion as "the greatest of all the
English martyrs" - John Foxe would have had other views.

John Briggs

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jim Carroll <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Jul 2003 21:30:41 EDT
Subject: 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare

I wrote the other day:

...the"Shakespeare as Catholic" fantasy (and I say this for lack of
evidence, not that it might not be true) is just another example of
things like the Dark Lady, . . .

Colin Cox <
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 > replied on Thursday, 03 Jul 2003:

>Wow! Does he need to come back from the grave and recite a Mass before
>your eyes? A grandfather (declared in his will),

Well, it's not terribly surprising that Shakespeare's grandfather was
Catholic, at least for part of his life, is it? The Act of Succession
occurred in 1534, William Shakespeare was born in 1564, so it must be a
near certainty that some of his ancestors were Catholic, isn't it? My
own ancestors are about 75% Catholic, 25% Protestant, as far as I can
tell, but if I were to go back far enough, I'm sure I'd find some
pagans.

>mother and father (who hides 'testament of my soul' in his attic).

You know for a fact that they allied themselves with the pope in their
lifetime as adults? John Shakespeare was involved as an official of
Stratford in removing the Catholic frescoes from the town's chapel.  The
"testament" has disappeared, unavailable for scrutiny by forensic
experts.

> An uncle (beheaded for it)

Which uncle was this? His uncle Henry died in his own house, according
to Schoenbaum, and at one time was excommunicated.

>and a daughter (declared recusant for it.)

Which daughter was this? This is also news to me. Susanna was charged
with having failed to receive the sacrament one Easter, but she married
a man Schoenbaum characterized as "impeccably Protestant", John Hall.

>Every schoolmaster he
>encounters (one ends up in a Catholic seminary; another is the brother
>of a martyred Jesuit, alongside the greatest of all the English martyrs,
>Edmund Campion).

There is documentary evidence that Shakespeare encountered a
schoolmaster? Where is all of this fascinating information buried?  I
want to know!

>Raised in one of the most Catholic 'spots' in England
>(all Gun Powder plot chaps come from within thirty miles of
>Shakespeare's house).

But then it would have to follow that every person who lived within 30
miles of Shakespeare's house was a Roman Catholic.

>Not to mention EAJ Honigmann's wonderful hypothesis (yes, no more than
>hypothesis, but certainly more than 'fantasy') on the Preston
>connection.

I don't know about this one, but other things that Honigmann has written
make a lot of sense.

>I'm all for innocent until proven guilty, but the 'let's play ostrich'
>mentality?

I think my standards of evidence are differ from yours. I find most of
the evidence brought forth for Shakespeare's involvement with papists to
be of the wishful-thinking variety, nothing even close to definitive,
and there are lots of reasons to doubt such involvement. The plays, for
instance, where Catholics are not portrayed very sympathetically ("We of
the spirituality will raise your highness such a mighty sum....").

Jim Carroll

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Jul 2003 11:29:53 +0100
Subject: 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1374 Re: Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare

Colin Cox writes:  Wow! Does he need to come back from the grave and
recite a Mass before your eyes?

This, and his consequent list of Catholic connections, is another
example of facts being confused with circumstantial evidence.  It is the
stuff of rabid conflicts between opposing groups who would kill rather
than give up their dear suppositions.  Cox's list proves nothing, but
suggests quite a lot - but in the end, proves nothing.  The one and only
clear fact we have from Shakespeare are the plays and poems.  Whether
they were written by the aristocracy, royalty or a catholic glovemaker
from the midlands is irrelevant.  The plays are the thing and a true
wonder of the world.

SAM SMALL

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