The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1450 Saturday, 3 September 2005
From: Herman Gollob <
Date: Thursday, 1 Sep 2005 12:14:15 EDT
Subject: Shakespeare by Another Name-- Mark Anderson
This review appeared in 8/21 issue of Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Shakespeare By Another Name-Mark Andersen
The shocking revelation in Mark Anderson's SHAKESPEARE BY ANOTHER NAME:
The Man Who Was Shakespeare is not its claim that the Shakespeare canon
actually is the work of a nasty little nobleman named Edward de Vere,
Earl of Oxford, but rather the endorsement of this dubious premise in a
foreword by one of the most brilliant actors of our age, Sir Derek
Jacobi. However, Sir Derek has in the past opined that Hamlet's " To
be or not to be" soliloquy actually is a speech that should be addressed
to Ophelia, a concept so notably bereft of common theatrical sense as to
suggest that his celebration of Mr. Anderson's "seminal work" may
indicate a mind somewhat in disarray when it sets itself to theorizing.
The obsession with attributing Shakespeare's plays and poems to someone
else is not a recent phenomenon. No, we can't blame this aberration on
the bloggers of the world. The first person to claim in print that
Shakespeare is not the true author of Shakespeare's work was an a
madwoman named Delia Bacon who in 1856 had deciphered a code which she
asserted proved that Francis Bacon, Walter Ralegh and several other
contemporaries had written the plays. But the first person to publish a
book, SHAKESPEARE IDENTIFIED (1920), claiming Edward de Vere as the real
Shakespeare was a gentleman named J. Thomas Looney (no snickering please).
Mr. Andersen painstakingly lays out in exhaustive (if not exhausting)
detail the standard anti-Stratfordian, pro-Oxford case, which in essence
is sheer snobbery: only an aristocrat such as de Vere could have
written the plays. Shakespeare lacked the university education, the
background, the imagination that only de Vere possessed. Edward de Vere
was a courtier (ward of Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's principal
advisor, and ultimately Burghley's son-in-law); a soldier (he served
without distinction during a rebellion in the North and as commander of
a small garrison at Harwich during the war against the Spanish Armada);a
patron of a company of players; and a scholar (he was well-tutored in
Burghley's household and matriculated at Cambridge).
He was also, according to Mr. Anderson, also "at times a cad and a
scoundrel...and a notorious teller of all tales [i.e., a liar]." For
example, while married he seduced and impregnated one of Elizabeth's
ladies-in-waiting, a sure way of incurring the Queen's wrath. For a
time he secretly embraced Catholicism and along with his friends Henry
Howard and Charles Arundell, plotted insurrections and outrageous
schemes to return Britain to the Catholic fold. But fearing that his
reputation and his paramour's would not survive the revelation of her
pregnancy, he thought to ingratiate himself to his monarch by confessing
to his clandestine Catholic dealings and squealing on h is companions.
All three were imprisoned in the Tower, but de Vere was released after
To Mr. Anderson, the canon "charts an artistic path intrinsic to the
flawed but fascinating life of the artist and uncovers new levels of
autographical meaning in the greatest works of English literature."
HAMLET, for instance, is Shakespeare's most autobiographical play: in
France, de Vere once encountered a Teutonic prince parading his troops;
later, he was on a ship that was overtaken by pirates, who left him
naked on the English shore. Here we have the inspiration for
Fortinbras and for the pirate ship episode in HAMLET. And the story of
Bertram in ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL merely retells deVere's experiences
as a snobbish young lord forced to marry a woman he doesn't love.
deVere had three daughters who inherited their alienated father's family
seat while he was still alive. And on and on.
Why was de Vere forced to use a pseudonym? To conceal the personal
elements in his work. Although you might ask, how was it possible in
the parochial worlds of court and theatre for this ruse to be effective?
And why, years after de Vere's and Shakespeare's deaths, did the First
Folio bear Shakespeare's name? Again, politics were in play: the de
Vere estate feared that a marriage between King James's son, Prince
Charles to the Spanish Infanta would ultimately bring about a Catholic
regime in England, very bad news indeed for anyone involved in the
publication of a collection of plays ardently promoting the Protestant
cause (Clare Asquith's provocative new book, SHADOWPLAY, makes a
provocative argument for the plays as hidden messages of support to
England's beleaguered Catholics!).
The Oxfordian premise has been in recent times, I think, effectively
demolished by Jonathan Bate in THE GENIUS OF SHAKESPEARE and Irvin Matus
in SHAKESPEARE IN FACT. The education Shakespeare received in
Stratford's grammar school would daunt many college graduates today. As
a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare was often exposed to
life in court; perhaps he knew de Vere, and being a man on whom nothing
is lost (as Henry James's Lambert Srether advises young Chad Newsome in
THE AMBASSADORS), used him as a source.
Further, these plays could have been written only by a man of the
theatre, an actor as well as a playwright and part-owner of the
enterprise, a professional who lived and breathed his craft. Northrop
Frye once observed that all of Shakespeare's plays were essentially
about the theater. Case closed.
Except for this: a matter of character. Carolyn Spurgeon, in
SHAKESPEARE'S IMAGERY, concludes that five words sum up the essence of
Shakespeare's character as seen in his images-sensitiveness, balance,
courage, humor and wholesomeness. Try applying these words to Edward de
Vere, Earl of Oxford, as the true test of the real Shakespeare.
As the feller said, The plays are the things wherein we'll capture the
character of the Bard. The man from Avon. William Shakespeare.
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