The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0334 Friday, 18 February 2005
From: David Basch <
Date: Thursday, 17 Feb 2005 13:40:09 -0500
Subject: 16.0318 Greenblatt Discussion Forum
Comment: Re: SHK 16.0318 Greenblatt Discussion Forum
I thank Peter Bridgman, Bill Lloyd, and Todd Lidh for commenting on my
last posting concerning Hebrew elements in Shakespeare's work. Cross
examination is one of the most useful tools in coming to grips with
controversial issues and I wish to do my part in this exchange.
Peter Bridgmen has heard of the account of Rev. James Wilmot in the
1780's, about 160 years after the death of Shakespeare, but he has a
different ending to the one I read of this investigator of the
Shakespeare record. Peter Bridgmen notes that he used an account of the
incident written in a book by Ian Wilson. I got originally got my
account from the New Yorker article by James Lardner about the Supreme
Court Justices who debated whether it was Edward deVere that was the
true author of Shakespeare's works and confirmed it more or less in
reading other accounts. In Lardner's account, Wilmot was so troubled by
what he found that he would reveal it to no one, but murmured, "It
wasn't him, it wasn't him." Thus was born the industry to find other
authors of Shakespeare's work. Upon his death, Wilmot ordered all his
findings to be burned and burned it was. I do recall somewhere that
Wilmot did mention Francis Bacon as the one he preferred to see as the
true author of Shakespeare's work, but it seems to me that his view was
that he would be happy if it was anyone but Shakespeare.
Bill Lloyd urges caution in treating this subject, noting that often
researchers have the tendency to find just what they are looking for. I
think this is a wise consideration. As a matter of fact, when Neil
Hirschson in Midstream Magazine in the late 80's brought up the idea of
a Jewish Shakespeare as a result of some insights on the Merchant of
Venice, including that Antonio the merchant was portrayed as a convert
from Judaism, I was very skeptical. I wondered if he had allowed
speculation to get the better of him since so much seemed to point in
the opposite direction. But later, finding myself with access to a
university library, I began to check his evidence for myself. Not only
did I confirm his findings, but to my surprise I found new material that
filled in Hirschson's leap.
I am by no means a Hebrew scholar, just someone that was lucky enough to
have had as a youngster a strong Jewish, religious education. What I saw
was that Shakespeare was using some of the very popular teachings that
were part of this education. So you can imagine how surprised I was when
I found this stuff coming back at me from Shakespeare's work.
I gave a number of examples of the poet's use of Hebrew and materials
from the Talmud. No one has called into question the presence of the
instances I raised. There may be other explanations of how and why this
material got into his work, aside from receiving it in a Jewish
classroom, but not about the fact of this.
For example, King Priam did cite points of Jewish law in using the same
technical categories mentioned in the Talmud in giving restitution to a
person one has injured. One of these categories is payment for "shame"
("bow'shes" in Hebrew, the "shame" of appearing in public on crutches).
Though here King Priam uses the word "honour" instead of "shame," it is
evident that these are merely alternative names for the same kind of
damage payment. And then there are the four others categories mentioned
right on the button.
After finding so many allusions in this vein in the poet's work, many
accompanied by a light covering to obscure the reference, I came to the
conclusion that the poet was communicating something about himself
through the use of this. An example of a light covering is the line
about Marcias/Coriolanus, "who rewards his deeds by doing them." This
creditable deed is part of the same Talmudic section from which came
Richard III's declaration, "sin will pluck on sin." The saying from
Coriolanus refers to the part that declares that "the reward of [the
deed of] the mitzvah is the [deed of] the mitzvah" (mitzvah being a
commandment to perform a deed incumbent on a Jew). While there are
numerous interpretations of this Talmudic saying, one of them is that
"the deed is its own reward," which is what is being told about
Coriolanus. Hence, instead of giving a conspicuous direct quote,
Shakespeare obscures it slightly by giving the interpretation of this
Talmudic dictum. The presence two elements from the same Talmudic
paragraph indicates that the writer fully knew of it.
Todd Lidh also cautions that we look carefully lest we make the
obsessions of a writer (like me) color reality. To this I must respond
that I began with no such passion. As I have mentioned many times
before, I, an architect by profession, did not dream that I would come
up with this. A year and a half before, had anyone said I was going to
do this, I would have laughed in his face. I began only to check out
what another fellow claimed and to my surprise ended up by finding more
and more in the same vein. Each time I thought I was finished, new
material cropped up until I recognized a definite pattern in this
material that to me told where the poet was coming from.
What Shakespeare did was apply to his literary work the philosophical,
legal, moral, and religious concepts of the Talmud, an encyclopedic work
that contains a wealth of discussions, parables, and analyses of these
subjects and he uses hidden communication devices that are known in
Judaic circles. Ironically, before I wrote each of my books I thought
that I had exhausted my subject, only to discover that there were ever
new veins to mine on this subject.
So is this all a personal and ethnic ego trip? If that was all there was
to it then the effort will have been of interest but of little value.
But as I learn, we are able to understand the poet's thought in a deeper
way than before and he brings us back to the values of religion and the
respect for Heaven that our society has been losing touch with. We
reject these deeper insights at our own loss and peril. On these things
I agree with poet.
I would note again, William and Elizabeth Friedman explored many of the
alleged ciper codes that were reported to be found in Shakespeare's
work. They were professional code breakers who had worked during World
War II on breaking enemy codes. They checked out all of these alleged
cipher codes and discovered that all were deficient as codes and the
product of book-cooking that enabled the original proponents to see what
they wished. I would be happy to have competent scholars like the
Friedmans to review my findings-some have and have concurred with me but
not publicly. There may be other explanations of substance and
implications for my findings than what I have concluded and I would
thank in advance any competent scholar who will check it out and, on the
basis of solid analysis like what the Friedmans did, come to such a
different conclusion. Whatever will be concluded, I am sure we will all
profit from such rigorous examination.
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