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Shakespeare the Grain-Dealing Tax Evader

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0178  Monday, 15 April 2013

 

[Editor’s Note: When I saw the news account—“Shakespeare Was a Tax-Evading Food Hoarder, Study Claims”—I found it slightly interesting and wondered indeed if there was any “new” documentary evidence for the alleged claims. Discussion in this regard such as the postings by Silvia Morris and Robert Berman are welcome as are discussion about issues arising from the claims. However, discussions of the so-called “authorship question” have been banned on this list since 1994, and I do not appreciate backdoor attempts to introduce them again. As a minor contributor to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy (Cambridge University Press, 2013) that demonstrates conclusively William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon’s authorship of the plays and poems attributed to him, I cannot in conscience permit discussion on this academic list of theories I consider preposterous and will not waste my time with them. Incidentally, Shakespeare Beyond Doubt will be launched at this year’s birthday celebration at the Shakespeare Centre in Stratford and be available soon. –Hardy] 

 

[1] From:        Michael Egan < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         April 12, 2013 2:32:45 PM EDT

     Subject:     Shakespeare Businessman 

 

[2] From:        JD Markel < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         April 12, 2013 3:59:08 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: Businessman 

 

[3] From:        Thomas Davis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         April 12, 2013 4:38:09 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Businessman 

 

[4] From:        John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         April 12, 2013 5:20:40 PM EDT

     Subject:     RE: SHAKSPER: Businessman 

 

[5] From:        Mari Bonomi < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         April 12, 2013 6:07:39 PM EDT

     Subject:     The Discussion re Shakespeare the Businessman 

 

[6] From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         April 12, 2013 8:37:20 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Businessman 

 

[7] From:        William Sutton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         April 13, 2013 5:59:20 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Businessman 

 

[8] From:        Bob Bearman < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         April 15, 2013 5:58:42 AM EDT

     Subject:     SHAKSPER: Businessman 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Michael Egan < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 12, 2013 2:32:45 PM EDT

Subject:     Shakespeare Businessman

 

Harry Berger appears to agree with John Drakakis that “artistic sincerity” is claptrap, “silly . . . a Chinese opera.”  Both insult the memory of the many great writers and artists and musicians who died so that their work might live, who bravely told the truth when threats of death and imprisonment were daily realities, who spoke up when it was safer to shut up, who wrote about the horrors of war or oppression while in the trenches, breadlines or at the barricades.

 

I think of my former office companions (at different times), Chinua Achebe and Joseph Brodsky: how they would have laughed to scorn comments like Berger’s and Drakakis’. True art is a deadly serious business and they knew it. And if you don’t think this applies to Shakespeare, whose art was tongue-tied by authority, consider the fate of Sir John Hayward, Ben Jonson, etc.

 

Is this where we are right now? Shakespeare was a ruthless and predatory money-grubber whose plays and poems were no more than efforts to increase his wealth? He pandered to that poor forked animal, man, cluck-clucking sympathetically while relieving him of his purse behind his back?

 

Sorry, gentlemen, but the care, precision, detail, depth of thought and feeling, understanding of human emotion and motivation, the catching of truth in a fine net of words, the ability to move the heart of millions—that is not the work of a lying manipulator. That is the work of an artist.

 

Michael Egan

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        JD Markel < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 12, 2013 3:59:08 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: Businessman 

 

John D. is right. It is “romantic claptrap.” That is, the idea of the artist being above business. It is an English Romantic Era remnant, which I thought Andy Warhol and Jeffrey Koons buried. Another pernicious idea is that moneylending was uncommon in Shakespeare’s day. The commonly proffered “proof” of such is three of four contemporaneous anti-moneylending tracts. The ridiculousness of the “proof” is shown with a more modern comparison—is the prevalence of temperance tracts in late19th century United States good evidence Americans abhorred drinking in the late 19th century? Or is it evidence Americans were drinking a lot?

 

“These great works would never have endured if built on lies, hypocrisy, and guilt.” Disagree. What makes works great is how well they portray lies, hypocrisy, guilt, etc.

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Thomas Davis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 12, 2013 4:38:09 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Businessman

 

Michael Egan writes: “no letters to and from, not a single reliable anecdote, no memoirs, gossip, not one record of anyone having met him, no indication of how he acquired his vast learning, no record of his travels to Italy and Scotland, not even the certain identity of Mr W.H. or the Dark Lady.”

 

A perusal of any recent biography of Shakespeare will show that this statement is loaded with errors of fact and questionable assumptions. For example:

 

Questionable assumption: that the plays demonstrate the author’s first-hand experience of Italy. 

 

Error of fact: no record of anyone having met him. What to make of Thomas Greene’s diary, where he says (quoting from memory, sorry): “on my cousin Shakespeare’s coming yesterday to town, I went to see him how he was.”

 

Questionable assumption: vast learning? A few weeks with Ovid’s Metamorphosis would account for about 60% of it; the rest of it from Plutarch and Holinshed. 

 

Error of fact: no gossip? What do you call Manningham’s diary entry about William the Conqueror? (Actually, I like to think of this as a reliable anecdote, but I’m trying to be fair.)

 

I suspect there’s an authorship conspiracist behind these statements, but I won’t go there.

 

Tad Davis

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 12, 2013 5:20:40 PM EDT

Subject:     RE: SHAKSPER: Businessman

 

I’m afraid that I can’t compete with Michael Egan’s righteous indignation. I thought I was raising a question about how we shape perceptions of the subjects about whom writers write biographies. The issue of ‘sincerity’ is entirely irrelevant to the argument. And it is even more dangerous to select from the Shakespeare oeuvre to demonstrate that that ‘sincerity’ is the key to the ‘character’ of the writer. There are enough documents in existence to raise questions about what from a modern perspective seem to be contradictions. All I ask is that they should not be glossed over. How we deal with them is a much more complex matter.

 

Not that Egan is listening, but on the off-chance that he is, the point about Tony Blair is that he was (and continues to be) very persuasive, and that it was, and is, the rhetoric and its capacity to persuade that I was referring to.

 

Anyone who thinks that a literary text is a transparent window offering direct access to the soul of the writer has obviously been fast asleep for the past 30 years.  Of course, to tamper with such slumber, as I now realise, is to threaten the foundations of religious faith.

 

As Ever,

John Drakakis

 

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Mari Bonomi < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 12, 2013 6:07:39 PM EDT

Subject:     The Discussion re Shakespeare the Businessman

 

With Michael Egan, and then Larry Weiss, followed by Egan’s rebuttal, I fear we are straying perilously close to The Forbidden Topic. 

 

I for one would prefer not to go there and am with Harry Berger (to whom I raise a glass of grappa) in asking how silly can we get.

 

Mari Bonomi

 

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 12, 2013 8:37:20 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Businessman

 

>Drakakis also thinks “romantic claptrap” is the reason 

>Shakespeare biographies are unsatisfactory.  Actually, 

>it’s because there’s almost nothing in the record—no letters 

>to and from, not a single reliable anecdote, no memoirs, 

>gossip, not one record of anyone having met him, no 

>indication of how he acquired his vast learning, no record 

>of his travels to Italy and Scotland, not even the certain 

>identity of Mr W.H. or the Dark Lady. In fact, almost the 

>only docs we have concern his ruthless profiteering.

 

Is this leading where I think it is?

 

>Larry Weiss wonders whether the difference between 

>Shakespeare’s words and his actions give support to the 

>idea that his works were really written by someone else.

>La, Sir, I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.

 

For clarity then: No, I don’t think there is any support for that notion whatever; I was just asking if Michael Egan, who simultaneously is the editor-in-chief of “The Oxfordian” while publishing cartoons ridiculing the anti-Stratfordians for being deluded, would like to stop being coy about what his own views are. In his treatise on Woodstock he explains his involvement with the Oxfordians by saying “causes have their uses” (vol. 1, p. 88). Is Egan an Oxfordian masquerading as a Stratfordian in the hope that the Shakespeare community will accept him as one of their own and not reject his Woodstock attribution out of hand, or is he really an orthodox Stratfordian who lends his name and rhetorical talent to the Oxfordian heresy for the financial gain that offers? If the latter, it hardly lies in Egan’s mouth to criticize Shakespeare for business practices which some of the characters in his plays deplore. I think we are entitled to an unequivocal answer.

 

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        William Sutton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 13, 2013 5:59:20 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Businessman

 

Hi All,

 

I’m confused as to Michael Egan’s motive here. Is it to cast doubt on the dread question? The Stratford boy’s dad was a usurer and sued for loans etc. and made chief alderman entrusted to deliver news to the Court. He even loaned to his boy’s future father-in-law. He ended up not so well off. His son took the fruits of youthful learning and turned it into success. He gained that title of gentleman his dad had so wanted. 

 

And he did it in early modern commercial theatre, where if you were in the right place you could make a killing. There isn’t a scrap of new evidence in this round of the debate about tax dodging and lawsuits. What’s that biblical quote again? Let him who is without sin.

 

So who is your candidate Michael and is he or she so squeaky clean? (offline response as we know the editor’s restrictions on the topic). We know even if they did write the works that Oxenforde was a complete profligate douche and Marlowe no better. The EO type tone of your attack and suggestive implication in ‘ruthless profiteering’? Ruthless, really? Not just a profiteer but a ruthless one. 

 

Or gouging the poor so they paid exorbitant sums for his hoarded grain? We have the record he hoarded grain not that he exploited the poor. If you have such a reference for these ‘outrageous’ sums people purportedly paid, please supply. Also how these tie into the lawsuits he launched against his debtors. And how different was he from his contemporaries in wealth and land in avoiding taxes and sueing for debts outstanding, when principle/principal is at stake?

 

And as for the lack of evidence about Will Shagsy you are aware of the Allusion book but then there is (for the antis and I assume you are an anti) not enough historical specificity attached. What if Shagsy was the playwright equivalent of Banksy? Or a Glenn Gould?

 

The fame thing was just starting at this point in history. Obviously the real Shakespeare wouldn’t want that. He did or did not have immortal longings.

 

Obviously another contender could not, except through the works. Obviously Shagsberd falsely appropriated that fame, again through his works. So what really matters is the works, until proof positive for the doubters appears and a true squeaky clean moral and ethical identity can be determined. 

 

Yours in the name of Will,

William Sutton

blog.iloveshakespeare.com

 

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Bob Bearman < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 15, 2013 5:58:42 AM EDT

Subject:     SHAKSPER: Businessman 

 

As Michael Egan points out, the documentary record for Shakespeare’s life is sparse. Moreover, what does survive certainly throws more light on his business dealings, particularly in Stratford, than it does on his theatre career. However, this evidence does not reveal quite as much as we are being asked to accept. In the ‘note of corn and malt’ of 1598, Shakespeare was recorded as holding 10 quarters of malt – but, unlike many others, no wheat, no barley, no mill or bread corn, no oats, no vetch, no beans and no pease. The only person to whom Shakespeare is known to have sold any of his malt was the victualler, Philip Rogers, clearly part of a straightforward business agreement which Rogers did not honour, and, equally clearly, nothing to do with the sale of grain to the poor for ‘outrageous sums’.  

 

Similarly there is no evidence to substantiate the claim that Shakespeare was prosecuted for not paying his taxes: he was twice listed as a defaulter but only because he had moved house. The idea that he was involved in money-lending in a professional way also lacks documentary back-up. Richard Quiney, in a famous letter, may have appealed to Shakespeare, as a friend, for his ‘help with £30’, but anyone who has closely studied this document will know that there is considerable doubt over exactly what Shakespeare was being asked to do; and in any event the manner of the approach does not cast him in the role of somebody actively looking around for vulnerable clients. He is known to have pursued one other debtor in the local Stratford court, namely, John Addenbrook, a ‘gentleman’ from a nearby village, who owed him £6. But again this does not strike one as having anything to do with the pursuit of ‘those poor who couldn’t pay his outrageous prices’. In fact, given that the local court records are full of examples of leading burgesses repeatedly seeking redress in their business dealings, all we can safely conclude is that, in contrast, Shakespeare is hardly ever known to have resorted to such methods.   

 

In pointing these things out, I seek not to defend, or ‘plead’ for, Shakespeare but simply to stress the limitations of the surviving evidence. To go beyond this inevitably involves degrees of speculation. 

 

Bob

 
 

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