SBReview_21: Shakespeare Made in Canada: A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.460  Friday, 9 October 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, October 9, 2015

Subject:    SBReview_21: Shakespeare Made in Canada: A Midsummer Night's Dream 




William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare Made in Canada, General Editor Daniel Fischlin. Oakville, ON: Rock Mills Press, 2015. Xli + 107 pp. US$14.95. (ISBN-13 978 0 9881293 6 8).


Reviewed by Peter Hyland, Huron University College 


A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first volume in a series from Rock Mills Press, alongside Hamlet, that is directed primarily at Canadian students, and so it is reasonable to judge it as representative of the series as a whole. The series has been developed from the Adaptations of Shakespeare Project supervised at the University of Guelph by Daniel Fischlin. It makes on its cover a strong nationalist claim that ‘Canadians have uniquely remade Shakespeare,’ and this is bolstered with an account of the Sanders Portrait (which is reproduced on the cover and will presumably decorate the entire series), a Preface by the fine Canadian actress Martha Burns, recounting her first childhood encounter with the play, and an Introduction by Andrew Bretz, a researcher with the Adaptations Project, examining ways in which Canadian scholars and theatre practitioners have ‘remade’ the play.  


Whatever nationalist agenda the series might have, it has to offer good editions of the plays. The apparatus attached to this one is student-friendly, perhaps to a fault, offering not only a plot summary, but also character synopses, and a list of ten tips for reading Shakespeare, some of them rudimentary and underdeveloped; for example ‘No Pedestal Shakespeare’ offers a single sentence that does not address the issues of Bardolatry that it appears to imply. More useful is its incorporation of questions in the footnotes that might help draw students into discussion of the play. The text itself is modernized, using Canadian English spelling, but otherwise attempting to create out of the original quarto and folio texts something that ‘as accurately as possible represents what Shakespeare actually wrote and had played on the stage’ (xli). It might have been helpful to explain that what was written and what was played were not necessarily the same thing. It is not clear who edited the text, only that it was ‘newly prepared by a team of researchers’ (102), presumably scholars and students involved in the Project. The editorial choices seem at times to be a little arbitrary and could certainly have been made more explicit. There are two reading lists. The first is attached to the Editorial Principles and lists sources of the explanatory notes and definitions, but includes only two earlier editions. One of these is O. J. Stevenson’s 1918 edition, from which the footnotes borrow copiously for no better reason than that Stevenson was Canadian. The second is a list of works cited in the introduction. This severely limits the range of books and articles that could have been suggested to the reader and excludes much important work on the play; a larger bibliography, preferably annotated, would have been helpful and would have made a good project for a student editor.  


Apart from the editorial work, the most significant pedagogical contribution is the Introduction. Bretz attempts to identify ‘a distinctly Canadian performance tradition’ (xviii), and finds the Canadian engagement with A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be shaped by a number of things: the nation’s conflicted identity, its multiculturalism, its confrontation with wilderness. Its various ambivalences have responded to ambivalences arising from the play, particularly to the Victorian tradition of reading the fairies as childlike or feminized innocents rather than potentially violent primitive forces, and this tradition has also concealed the play’s political meanings. Bretz is more interested in uncovering the bawdry than the politics, though, and he spends a lot of energy on elucidating double meanings, using Pauline Kiernan’s sometimes dubious Filthy Shakespeare as a source: at one point he provides a very questionable ‘translation’ of 2.1.42-56 (xvii). What matters primarily about all of this, though, is how it has been manifested in Canadian productions of the play, and Bretz provides a frustratingly brief survey of the stage history.  


A major problem for a project like this is the absence of much documentary material, particularly about earlier performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The history of Canadian performance of the play really only dates back to the late nineteenth century, and it is here that the struggle with the British Victorian tradition began. The erasure of the bawdy as opposed to the romantic potential of the play encouraged Victorian producers to shift towards spectacle, with effects that astonished audiences. Canadian theatres, generally smaller spaces, did not have the capability (or the money) to emulate this and so avoided the play or, if they staged it, avoided the spectacle. In the twentieth century and after, the play has been staged more frequently, and Bretz notes that the Canadian voice is increasingly one ‘that emphasizes plurality and diversity’ (xxvii). There is, of course, much more documentation of more recent productions, and Bretz’s survey of these is peculiarly spotty. Of the ten or so productions that have been staged at Stratford he mentions only three, including the two latest, both from 2014. Some of the others would surely have helped his arguments, though, and while he does mention Joe Dowling’s version of 1993, he does not mention that it had for its wood near Athens an aggressive set of phallic and vaginal structures for the fairies to sport in—about as far from the Victorian ethic as it was possible to be. While there is much in this introduction to like, perhaps it is trying to do too many things, particularly for an edition aimed at students who are thought to need character synopses. It does contain one egregious error: the Irish actor Barry Sullivan is identified as ‘of Gilbert and Sullivan’ (xxi) -- peculiar mistake for a theatre historian to make.  


Any new series of editions of Shakespeare’s plays needs to offer something powerfully different if it is to succeed in a very crowded field. As a text, this one does not offer much that can’t be found in more established (and often less expensive) series; consequently its value rests on its Canadian claims. Some of these are a little tenuous, and it is difficult to imagine how they can be sustained through a whole series. Certainly, the overarching methods and concepts of the series need to be more fully articulated than they are here; perhaps then there will not be the need to give such great to the Sanders portrait.  



SBReview_20: Antony Sher’s Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.459  Friday, 9 October 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, October 9, 2015

Subject:    SBReview_20: Antony Sher’s Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries




Sher, Antony. Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries. London: Nick Hern Books, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-18484-2461-6 189 pages.  £16.99


Reviewed by Kirk McElhearn


“Falstaff has never been a part I’ve remotely thought of as being mine,” says Sher on the first page of this new book explaining how he became Sir John. Nevertheless, he took on the role, to great acclaim, and wrote a book about the experience. 


He blames it all on Ian McKellan. Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Sher’s partner, had been trying to cast Falstaff for some time, considering actors such as Patrick Stewart, Jim Broadbent, and Brian Cox. When Doran asked McKellen, the latter replied, “But why are you looking for Falstaff when you are living with him?” 


After much thought and discussion, Sher finally acquiesced, and this book relates the process of his becoming Falstaff. Sher performed the role in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon, then in London. He is currently preparing to play the role again in London, in December 2015 and January 2016. 


Sher’s book is a diary, illustrated with a handful of his own sketches and paintings, in which he recounts the day-to-day process of becoming Falstaff. From the earliest casting choices through opening night, Sher gives a taste of what it’s like to be an actor in such a demanding role, and how he built up the part. The process was long and complex, even though Sher would have liked some more rehearsal time. He explains how he begins by learning lines, how the play is created in rehearsal, and how different actors use different techniques during the rehearsal process. For example, one actor tries different approaches each time they work on a scene; another always has his script in hand. 


Part of the process includes field trips – such as to the site of the battle of Shrewsbury – or visiting scholars, such as historian Ian Mortimer, who talks about the live of King Henry, or Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro, who examines the plays in the context of Shakespeare’s oeuvre. 


Sher says, in early January, “I’m still planning to play Falstaff as an alcoholic: I mean, explicitly. To do this, he not only researches alcoholism by reading books but also meets with a recovering alcoholic who explains what it’s like to need a drink first thing in the morning. As a result of this, Sher makes sure his hands tremble in the first moments he’s seen on stage as Prince Hal helps him take his first drink.


In between the first suggestion that he play Falstaff in February, 2013, and the play’s performances in the spring of the following year, Sher performed other plays, shot some scenes for The Hobbit in New Zealand (which were deleted from the final cut), and started thinking about playing Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, later that year, and King Lear, which he is to perform at the RSC in early 2016. 


The title of the book - The Year of the Fat Knight - highlights one of the more difficult aspects of the role. Falstaff is fat, florid, a bon vivant, prone to gluttony and bombast. A man of Sher’s physique needed some help to be able to exhibit these characteristics; help that came in the form of a “fat suit.” 


We take it for granted when we suspend disbelief for a couple of hours, we assume that the actor we see on the stage is the character, and often forget, in most cases, how much they need to alter their bodies. Sher goes into great detail about this transformation, not only with the suit, but also the wig and beard that he needed to make his face look fatter. It’s not easy performing with a fat suit, because of its weight, the difficulties one has in answering the calls of nature, and the amount of sweat generated. 


Sher’s book is interesting to the theater buff, but also to actors. He openly discusses his worries as he goes through the rehearsal process, thinking that only three months isn’t enough for the two plays. In late January, he wrote:


“I could do an impression of him - his voice, his character - but it was like an outline, a cartoon. I have to find the real man. It’s vital -otherwise the part can just consist of bluster.” 


I saw Henry IV Part 1 twice, and Part 2 three times. The first performance I attended of Part 1 on April 8, during the previews, was outstanding, and I was interested to read Sher’s comments on that specific evening in the book. He says:


“This evening’s audience - for Part I - was probably the best we’ve had: packed to the rafters and wild with enthusiasm. On occasions like this, I always say that the show flew, I flew - but tonight it was almost true. At one point I felt so exhilarated that I had a sort of out-of-body experience: it was as though I lifted out of myself, and saw the enormous theatre, filled with this joyful crowd, and there in the middle of it - there I was playing Falstaff. Now that wasn’t written into my destiny. And all the more fucking marvelous for it!”


Opening night, April 16, came, and Sher, like much of the cast, was stricken with a “terrible coughing illness which swept through the building.” Standing around Shakespeare’s grave in Trinity Church, in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the cast prepared to launch the play with the tension that is common on such evenings. It’s a tough day; the cast performs both of the plays to the press, and the anxiety one must have on such a day is doubled. Sher says, of Part 1, “after the interval, I start to get that press-performance feeling: just getting through it, no sense of enjoyment or inspiration.” And for Part 2, in the evening, the theater isn’t even full. “Then finally it’s over.” 


But Sher isn’t cynical for long. The context begins to take hold. A few days later, on April 23, Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, after a performance of Part 1, he writes: “How wonderful to be here, in this town, on this particular night. I have just played one of Drama’s classic roles in a production which Greg directed, in the theatre that he runs, and then we joined all those people to pay homage to the playwright who made it all possible, the local boy made good. It’s one of those moments when I realise I’ve been sleeping through my job, and then suddenly wake up, and see it for what it truly is, and it’s completely bloody amazing.” 


He concludes the book, saying “I have Falstaff inside me now - I can say it confidently at last - and that great, greedy, glorious bastard leaves no room for anything else at all.” 



SBReview_19: Women Writers of the Early Modern Period

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.458  Friday, 9 October 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, October 9, 2015

Subject:    SBReview_19: Women Writers of the Early Modern Period




Bicks, Caroline and Jennifer Summit, eds. The History of British Women’s Writing 1500-1610. The History of British Women’s Writing, Volume 2. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-230-21834-5; xxx + 346. US$30


Dowd, Michelle M. and Thomas Festa, eds. Early Modern Women on the Fall: An Anthology. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2012. ISBN-13 978-0-86698-458-4; 386.  US$60


Frye, Susan. Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-812-4238-6/ 978-0-8122-2252-4; xx + 302. US$65/27.50


Hodgson, Elizabeth. Grief and Women Writers in the English Renaissance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1-107-07998-4. 196.  US$90 


Knopopers, Laura Lunger, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0-521-88527-0; xxvii + 306.  US$344.99


Reviewed by Annalisa Castaldo, Widener University


Scholarship on women writers of the early modern period continues to be a thriving and growing field. From collections of early modern texts to monographs on specific topics, new work is being published all the time. This review highlights the range of that scholarship over the last ten years. It does not aim for coverage; there have far too much published for that, but instead it aims to give a taste of the different ways scholars engage with women writers from the 16th and 17th centuries.


One major publishing trend has been collections about women writers designed to introduce teachers and students alike to the writers of the period. In the 1980s and 90s, these works tended to be straightforward collections of excerpts with brief headnotes about each writer: collections such as Moira Ferguson’s First Feminists: British Women Writers 1578-1799 (1985), Katharina Wilson’s Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation (1987) and James Fiztmaurice’s Major Women Writers of Seventeenth Century England (1997) fall into this category. A more recent example of this type of collection would be the 2004 Reading Early Modern Women, edited by Helen Ostovich and Elizabeth Sauer, which includes not only poetry and plays, but letters, legal documents, and medical manuals. Now, with the majority of these texts widely available in print and on line, publishers have shifted from simply providing editions of works by early modern women writers to collections that offer much needed context and background of these writers.


Cambridge and Palgrave have both come out with collections of essays about early modern women writing, and the differences are instructive. The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing (2006) is specifically positioned as a teaching text, claiming to feature “the most frequently taught female writers and texts of the early modern period” (back cover). It does not focus on individual women but instead delivers a rich background on an array of genres as well on sites of productions, in six essays which discuss how women functioned as writers in a variety of spaces from the feminine (the household) to the masculine (the courts). Four other essays provide important information on reading, writing, manuscripts, and publishing. The editors, in taking this approach, join scholars who have “challenged or refined the essentialist assumptions . . . that took a largely biographical approach to women’s writing” (6). They seek to provide context for the women writers that students will read and scholars will study, and they even call into question the very idea that early modern women writers viewed themselves as women first: “Is the category of women’s writing a historical one?” (8)


Published just four years but a sea change later, The History of Women’s Writing 1500-1610 (2010) does not bother with the hand wringing evident in the Cambridge companion. Rather than consider whether or not “woman writer” is even a valid category, the series preface (of which 1500-1610 is volume 2) states, “As the research on women’s writing has moved from the margins to the confident centre of literary studies . . . no published series has taken on the mapping of the field.” This collection offers to do just that: “its ambition is to provide . . . a clear and integrated picture of women’s contribution to the world of letters within Great Britain from medieval times to the present” (viii-ix). The introduction to volume two picks up this claim “we propose a new approach to women’s literary history” (1).


For all of the boldness of this claim, the two volumes are actually rather similar. Both contain a chronology that lists major historical events matched with works by major women writers. Both have essays on reading and print culture; both recognize the value of looking at spaces. The difference lies in the way the editors of Plagrave’s The History of Women’s Writing confidently assume that women writers will be a central focus of study; none of the essays even considers that special pleading or arguments about relevance are even necessary.


One aspect of this explosion of research into women writers is works devoted not to an overview but to a specific topic-based slice. It is wonderful to see scholars engaging with women writers in a specific ways instead of lumping, together all women who put pen to paper in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One of the most interesting of these collections is Early Modern Women on the Fall (2012), edited by Michelle M. Dowd and Thomas Festa. Dowd and Festa have collected a wide range of female voices, from Aemilia Lanyer in 1611 to Mary Chudleigh in 1701, all engaging with the religious question of what the Fall, and Eve’s part in it, means for women.  The book has informative footnotes and a valuable introduction, but considering it is positioned as a teaching text, the lack of headnotes situating each author historically and culturally is baffling. A less successful work is Elizabeth Hodgson’s Grief and Women Writers in the English Renaissance (2015). The problem is not with the research or the individual readings—Hodgson offers nuanced and interesting readings of works by Mary Sidney Herbert, Mary Wroth, Aemilia Lanyer, and Katherine Philips. But it is not until the postlude that Hodgson makes any specific argument for focusing on women writers. In the introduction, she states she will “examine four particular sites of this complex connection between the dead and the living who mourn them” (2). A fascinating idea, but a book titled Grief and Women Writers by its very nature suggests that there is something about the way women mourn that is different and worth paying attention to, a claim that is not convincingly explored.


In addition to collections of early modern writers, of course, scholars have continued to investigate the work from a variety of angles, analyzing rather than just presenting the primary materials. There are many more works than this review can hope to cover, so I will mention two that I feel deserve special attention. The first is Susan Frye’s Pens and Needles (2010). In this truly original piece of scholarship, Frye redefines what it means to be an author by considering the needlework women produced in this period as text and by demonstrating intertextual connections between written works and needlework creations such as samplers. 


Finally, a work that will appeal especially to those of us who are interested in early modern drama is Alison Findlay’s Playing Spaces in Early Women’s Drama (2006). The first task Findlay must undertake is demonstrating that women did create drama in any sustained way before the 17th century, which in itself might require a book length study. Even early modern scholars might not be faulted for thinking that very few women wrote and no women performed in plays before the Restoration. Findlay presents credible and engaging evidence that this is not true if we take as playing spaces the courts, gardens, and homes as well as the actual theaters. She then argues that fully understanding the importance of place allows us to understand how women participated much more fully in the dramatic tradition than has been understood.


These are only a few of the works published in the last ten years which tackle the topic of women writers in the early modern period. There are sure to be many more to come, with both pedagogical and theoretical approaches. The work of these and other scholars makes it possible for those who do not specialize in women’s writing to bring women into their work and their classrooms and for that we should all be grateful.



Reboot of the SHAKSPER Book Reviews (SBReviews)

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.457  Friday, 9 October 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, October 9, 2015

Subject:    Reboot of the SHAKSPER Book Reviews (SBReviews)


This Newsletter is a very special one; it marks the reboot of the SHAKSPER Book Reviews (SBReviews) under the editorship of Annalisa Castaldo, Widener University and Associate Editor of SHAKSPER. 


We have a treat for readers today: three reviews of new Shakespeare books.


It is only appropriate that we will begin with Professor Castaldo’s own review of recent scholarship in the field of women writers of the early modern period. The works considered are Caroline Bicks and Jennifer Summit, eds., The History of British Women’s Writing 1500-1610, The History of British Women’s Writing, Volume 2 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010); Michelle M. Dowd and Thomas Festa, eds., Early Modern Women on the Fall: An Anthology (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2012); Susan Frye, Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010); Elizabeth Hodgson, Grief and Women Writers in the English Renaissance. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). Laura Lunger Knopopers, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).


Next, we have Kirk McElhearn’s review of Antony Sher’s Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries (London: Nick Hern Books, 2015).


Finally, we have Peter Hyland’s review of William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare Made in Canada, General Editor Daniel Fischlin (Oakville, ON: Rock Mills Press, 2015).


All SBReviews peer-reviewed and are archived at the SHAKSPER web site’s Scholarly Resources section: in book-quality PDF files.


If you are interested in suggesting a possible book for review or if you are interested in reviewing yourself, please contact Annalisa Castaldo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and please also copy me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


I hope you enjoy these reviews, and I look forward to seeing more in the future.


Best wishes,

Hardy M. Cook

Editor of SHAKSPER


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Shakespeare's Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.456  Friday, 9 October 2015


[1] From:        Jim Carroll <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 8, 2015 at 3:18:19 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: Shakespeare's Sonnets 


[2] From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 8, 2015 at 11:50:30 PM EDT

     Subject:    Sonnets 


[3] From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 9, 2015 at 12:00:24 AM EDT

     Subject:    Sonnets 




From:        Jim Carroll <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 8, 2015 at 3:18:19 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Shakespeare's Sonnets


Harry Rusche wants to make use of the typo idea, because he correctly sees the extra space after the H, but he uses too many letters; there is only one space.  The epigraph can be seen in the Folger library digital collection:  and scroll down to “Early Printed Texts” to see the online facsimile.


Ian Steere doesn’t want us to “distort the evidence” by adding another character, but it is distorting the evidence to deny that there is an extra space. He also says “Thorpe’s “wishing” for (rather than his expectation of) promised immortality implies doubt that Shakespeare will attain Heaven. In the context of a tribute such doubt appears out of place.” I don’t know what to call that kind of sophistry; special pleading, perhaps? When we wish someone a happy birthday, are we doubting that they will have a happy birthday? Ian then adds that there is some way we can connect the sources to two particular people, but the sources of Shakespeare’s sonnets involve at least 6 persons: Thomas Watson (“Hekatompathia”), Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney, all of whom wrote their sonnets long before Shakespeare was on the scene; and Barnabe Barnes, Samuel Daniel, Henry Constable, and Watson again (“Tears of Fancy”), who published their sonnets in the early 1590’s. 


For example, here is Shakespeare’s sonnet 129:


The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action, and till action, lust

Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame;

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;

Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;

Past reason hunted, and no sooner had;

Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait

On purpose laid to make the taker mad;

Mad in pursuit and in possession so;

Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;

A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;

Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well

To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.


This juxtaposition of "heaven" and "hell" with physical lust is found in

Watson's sonnet 8 from "Tears of Fancy" from 1593:


Oh what a life is it that lovers `joy, 

Wherein both pain and pleasure shrouded is; 

Both heavenly pleasures and eke hells annoy 

Hells foul annoyance and eke heavenly bliss, 

Wherein vain hope doth feed the lovers heart, 

And brittle joy sustain a pining thought; 

When black despair renews a lovers smart, 

And quite extirps what first content had wrought, 

Where fair resemblance eke the mind allureth, 

To wanton lewd lust giving pleasure scope, 

And late repentance endless pains procureth. 

But none of these afflict me save vain hope 

And sad despair; despair and hope perplexing, 

Vain hope my heart, despair my fancy vexing. 


Philip Sidney’s sonnet 86, written before his death in 1586, has “heaven” and “hell” together in the last line, just as Shakespeare’s poem has them.


Alas, whence came this change of looks? If I 

Have changed desert, let mine own conscience be 

A still-felt plague, to self-condemning me, 

Let woe gripe on my heart, shame load mine eye. 

But if all faith, like spotless ermine lie 

Safe in my soul, which only doth to thee 

(As his sole object of felicity) 

With wings of love in air of wonder fly, 

Oh, ease your hand, treat not so hard your slave. 

In justice pains come not till faults do call, 

Or if I need, sweet judge, must torments have, 

Use something else to chasten me withal 

Than those blest eyes, where all my hopes do dwell. 

No doom should make one’s heaven become his hell. 


Identifying “W.H.” with someone other than Shakespeare simply makes no logical sense. The address is “Mr.”, so the epigraph doesn’t express good wishes to a noble patron, the only kind of person other than the author to whom such praise (“the only begetter”) would be appropriate in a literary work. Even an address to a patron would be written as a dedication, not simply praise, and would be accompanied by another poem with congratulations or some kind of praise addressed to the author as well, but there is only one epigraph. In his edition of Lucan, Thorpe praised his friend, the publisher Edward Blount, because the translator of Lucan (Marlowe) was dead, but there was no ambiguity as to whom Thorpe was addressing. The existence of a “Mr. W.H.” also implies that Thorpe was somehow privy to Shakespeare’s personal life, and that Shakespeare wanted Thorpe to single out “Mr. W.H.”, rather than do it himself. Otherwise you are going to have to come up with some reason why Thorpe would do such a thing as identify the object of the sonnets. Would anyone do that, ever, unless the author were dead? As Foster pointed out in his paper, there are lots of misprints in the sonnets, but there are few variants, so it wasn’t proofread and there wasn’t a second edition with errors corrected, and given the extra space in the epigraph, a misprint is the answer. It’s time to retire  “Mr. W.H.”.  Permanently.


Jim Carroll



From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 8, 2015 at 11:50:30 PM EDT

Subject:    Sonnets


A few responses to Ian Steere:


Jerry likes the concept of a misprint:


No, I like to Think Thorpe printed the name as is, on purpose. 


As Harry Rusche implies . . . it gets us no further.


A self-contained missive is far enough for me.


why [would Hall] be prepared to forego business and profit


The Sonnets seem not to have been profitable; Thorpe probably paid for the copy in any case. And the subject matter was very dangerous. But all this is beside my point. I assumed W. Hall to examine the Dedication itself.


Perhaps though, Thorpe was trying to pun:


That’s right. I’ve no trouble accepting begetter from beget in any sense. Who’s the decider?


If so, there was a more apt word readily available.


Treading on dangerous editorial ground. But I understand Shakespeare himself is being rewritten in English. I might catch a few productions. How much do they pay?


If the begetter was a procurer of the sonnet manuscripts, then Thorpe was also a begetter. There was therefore no “sole” procurer; nor . . . is there any evidence . . . that he would be described as peerless . . .


Getting far afield. Thorpe credits the onliest himself. Peerless?


However, we should have regard for the entire range of the subject matter in the poems.


That’s not necessary to the Dedication, which refers to the more innocent topics.


Judging by the references to “our ever-living poet”, Thorpe had esteem for Shakespeare.


Shakespeare called himself ever-living, but I’m sure Thorpe valued the work. I’m not opposed to the heavy sexual load. I like Martin Green’s Labyrinth. I haven’t followed Ian’s theory. His story seems short of evidence. I favor Southampton for the usual reasons.


Gerald E. Downs



From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 9, 2015 at 12:00:24 AM EDT

Subject:    Sonnets


Harry Rusche is almost there:


Now all I have to do is figure out who Mr. W. Hall is.


I would hate to spoil my assumption by fingering someone. I assume too that Harry Rusche knows the usual suspect. I like to write up my thoughts before learning where I stole them; my late reading left a few loose ends about the H. guy that I’ve mulled over despite all happy wishes (mine included).


First, I recalled a title I had seen in one of my apple boxes just last week: The Mystery of “Mr. W.H.” (Colonel B. R. Ward, 1923). I had never read the book and some of its pages are yet uncut. I won’t mention his unmentionable opinions, other than one.


Second, a search for William Hall and Margery Gryffyn led me to the Google Books Title, The Life and Death of King Richard II. The entry is actually Hyder Rollins’s Variorum Sonnets; something else for Harry to figure out. For all I know the whole book is reproduced but William Hall wore me out. I meant to acquire the Variorum at one time but hadn’t seen it before now. My reading is spottier than Dick and Jane.


Rollins can’t get over the number of scholars who credit William Hall as the eternal Mr. That’s a good topic; I saw (and dimly recall) that Sir Brian Vickers favors the attribution. It was interesting to read of the case and to confirm that none of my thinking is original. Speculation predated Lee’s Bio but he pinned the historical stationer to the tale. As I stated, the fitting T.T. dedication word-play appeals but the possibly corroborating real persons don’t quite reach me.


Rollins observed that Hall may not have been the publisher of Southwell’s poems and that Southwell may not have been their author. But I noted that a reported reason for the first opinion was that Hall printed protestant material; therefore he wouldn’t dare offend his crowd with Catholic poetry. And a reported reason for not accepting his begotten ways was that he would publish the Sonnets himself. Neither argument sways me. Catholic poetry would not have been frowned on nearly so much as man-loves-boy verses. Nevertheless, Hall remains obscure as evidence. I do like the proposition that Edward Gryffin, Margery’s putative Pop, was a scrivener; the possibilities are endless as his ink-pot. He was apparently on hand for a number of wills, for example. But again, evidence is wanting.


B. R. Ward made a claim that I have been trying to understand. He purposely consulted the Hackney marriage register because his hypothesis was placed in that parish. He found W. and Margie got hitched in 1608. The entry had lain there all along, and though the event seemed unique on inquiry elsewhere, the names are somewhat common. That’s pretty interesting, though I might agree it doesn’t prove a thing (relevant to the Sonnets).


From Ward: “I emphasize the fact that I went to the Registers to find a definite individual to fit a particular case, because a successful find under such circumstances is more valuable as evidence than a chance discovery, for the reason that it tends to confirm the hypothesis on the strength of which the search was being conducted . . .” (21).


It’s true that hypothesis-driven searches can be fruitful and that serendipitous finds require receptive minds. If there were more than 100 parishes around London, the pairing of mind and find would be truly coincidental—even if the evidence is bad. But can a deliberate search add to the value of the evidence? It seems to me that such evidence weighs the same no matter what. Evidence may not be recognized as such, but even if one is credited for finding and describing a link, it must stand on its own. However, there are surely times when purposeful search is essential to discovery. One of the Dedication Theories that bothers me has elements of this conflict. It could be significant but I’m not up to evaluating the evidence.


Though I was behind the door (near the bar) when the cipher bug was passed around, I can’t help thinking that John R. Rollett’s discovery of ‘Henry Wriothesley’ in a rectangular configuration of the Thorpe dedication is mathematically testable and that it might beget some convincing odds. As I recall, ‘WRIOTH’ went one way, ‘ESLEY’ another, and ‘HENRY’ took a diagonal. Further, a number of rectangles so formed got nothing. I prefer obvious ciphers.


But in the Ward Ward, Southampton would have been one of the characters searched for: ‘Babe Ruth’ wasn’t on the list, and you can bet his name isn’t there. If one ponders Henry’s full, correctly spelled name coming up on one line, it’s easy to see that chance won’t get it done. That may be true of the three chunks.


If Gunga Din (a better man than I) were to assign probabilities to letters (not easy) and take special factors into account, the odds might favor a deliberate act. Even so, the presence may reflect only a guess, or an open secret that’s beyond us. If Southampton’s name is the only one producible, it must be said that a directed search is all that could have turned it up. Yet I don’t judge the finding because I wouldn’t trust my arithmetic.


Gerald E. Downs




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