Call for Papers: The International Sidney Society

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.265  Wednesday, 10 August 2016


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

Date:         August 9, 2016 at 2:00:18 PM EDT

Subject:    Call for Papers: The International Sidney Society


Dear Colleagues,


The International Sidney Society is sponsoring two sessions at Kalamazoo in 2017, as described below. Please send abstracts of 250 words along with the participant information form required by the Congress to Nandra Perry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


This Way Out: Sidneian Endings and Exits

This session invites attention to techniques and problems of closure in writings produced or inspired by the authors of the Sidney Circle, broadly construed.  In addition to the obvious exit of death, we welcome papers that consider the Sidneian sense (or nonsense) of an ending as it relates to poetics, narrative, biography, correspondence, and editorial practice.


The Sidneys and the Sister Arts

 This session seeks to recover the relationship of Sidneian texts to the visual and musical cultures within which they originated and circulated.  How did emergent discourses of visual and musical “making” influence Sidneian poetics?  What is the role of art and music within the works themselves? What is the Sidney legacy to art, book illustration, music, and musical theater?  We invite papers on all authors and texts inspired by the literary legacy of Philip and Mary Sidney and welcome a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives,     


Submission deadline: September 15, 2016

Participant Information Form (due by September 15)

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




MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.264  Monday, 8 August 2016


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

Date:         August 7, 2016 at 5:20:11 PM EDT

Subject:    MV Dialog


To John Drakakis: 


Thank you very much for the more specific response. This is more like the dialog that I wanted.


I do not assume that Shakespeare had an “intimate knowledge of Elizabethan court politics,” whatever that means. Shakespeare did have better access to details about Elizabethan court politics than most. After all, he had an intimate relationship with the Earl of Southampton. At the time Shakespeare was writing The Merchant of Venice, Southampton was having an affair with Elizabeth Vernon, who was a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen and a cousin of the Earl of Essex. Southampton was also a devotee of the Earl, who was himself a member of the Privy Council. Essex’s wife was the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham and the widow of Sir Philip Sydney.


Southampton and Essex were both frequent playgoers. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that some or all of these individuals who did have such “intimate knowledge” might have shared some interesting tidbits with Shakespeare. Of course no direct evidence exists concerning any such conversations.


In any event, most of the examples I have provided — and those to come — would have been known to most alert, well-educated Londoners. “Intimate knowledge of Elizabethan court politics” would not be required in order to connect the Portia of the play with the Queen.


I gather that by “aristocratic history” you mean history focused on aristocrats. I do not claim that my analysis is “objective.” I have admitted from the outset that speculation is involved. There’s just no getting around it, given the complete lack of contemporary evidence concerning the play.


My reasoning did not begin with any speculation concerning Elizabethan court politics. It began with the realization that Shylock was really the Devil disguised as a Jew. As I researched that aspect, I moved on to the Court Scene. I then realized that Shakespeare wrote the scene in such a ridiculous way that almost everybody in his audiences would have known that it could not have been a serious, semi-realistic trial. Something Else had to be going on.


Given that no scholars have accepted my invitation to explore this matter, I am doing the best I can. We will discuss what I think the Something Else might be and what the “causal connections” might be quite a bit later. But first we have to understand just who the characters are.


Please be patient. It is premature to draw conclusions about my analysis at this early stage of our dialog. I hope you will take my suggestion to have some knowledgeable legal scholar in your law school read my article ( and give you their opinion.


You ask about my methodology. If you mean some formal construct, I have none. My entire focus is on Shakespeare’s words in the text; specifically, the text in the First Folio. I honor Shakespeare’s words, believing that he meant every one of them as he wrote them down. I further believe it is a serious mistake to change any of Shakespeare’s words. It’s not Shakespeare’s fault if someone cannot figure out what he was getting at. 


Once I bump into a word or phrase or action that strikes me as odd, I do some more research, read the text several more times, and do more thinking until I have arrived at a satisfactory explanation, or until I give up on it.




By “English Reformation” I mean that period between the time Henry VIII declared himself the Supreme Head of the Anglican Church to the year 1598, when the play was probably first produced. Specifically, the wrenches in English society from the changes in the state religion: from Catholic to crypto-Catholic to Protestant back to Catholic and back again to Protestant. 


I mean more particularly the persecution of the English Catholics by Elizabeth and her administration, with a nod to the previous persecution of the English Protestants by Bloody Mary. The torture and brutal executions of the Jesuits. Stiff fines for recusancy. Closing off most positions from Catholics. That sort of thing.


I hope to show by my analysis that Shakespeare was involved at least to the extent of “opening men’s eyes” to what was going on, with a view to a reconciliation between the two faiths. He was also involved in the Essex Rebellion when he and his acting company put on a performance of Richard the Second just before that doomed effort. I cannot speak to his other plays, which may or may not include matters similar to what I have found in MV.




Shakespeare used the name “Portia” in JC because that was in fact the name of Brutus’s wife. I have not analyzed that play and cannot say what other meanings it may have. His use of that name in MV refers to that historical fact. I do not believe it was coincidental.


I hope it is clear that I do not contend that the Belmont Portia is the Roman Portia. The relationship is associative, not factual. 


Why do you suppose Shakespeare used that name?


I have no idea exactly why Shakespeare would do something as risky as “imagine the death of the monarch,” an offense which was punishable by death. I suspect that Shakespeare was angry with Elizabeth and her administration, which had engineered the death of Christopher Marlowe.


The “select few” for which this reference would have had such a meaning might have been only Essex and Southampton. This might be something akin to the Sonnets. Only a “select few” would fully understand to whom and about what Shakespeare was writing. 


To answer your question. Shakespeare would have been interested in “regime change” for at least two reasons. First, Elizabeth and her administration were continuing their persecutions of English Catholics with no mercy in sight. Second, Southampton and Essex were soon to be cut off from all patronage, and from the income generated by Essex’s farm on sweet wines. A “regime change” that vested control of the government in Essex’s hands would solve both problems.


We will discuss this later when I try to put things together in some intelligible way.




I do not contend that Elizabeth was the only woman to use make-up. I do contend that she was the only well-known woman who was so public with her whiteface make-up.



It’s not my “might.” It’s yours. A = B. B = C. Therefore, A = C. Portia connects to Diana. Diana connects to Elizabeth. Therefore, Portia connects to Elizabeth. 2 + 2 = 4.



I do not contend that Shakespeare was “in cahoots” with the Master of Revels. I very plainly said that the acting companies and the Master of Revels had worked out an understanding so that the acting companies and the playwrights would know what was acceptable and what was not acceptable. That way the acting companies would not waste their time with plays that would not be allowed to be produced.


I mentioned the relationship of the Master of Revels to the Lord Chamberlain, and the Lord Chamberlain’s relationship to the queen, as a suggestion that perhaps the Master of Revels may have cut Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men some slack when it came to approving plays for performance. Just a suggestion.




I do contend that much of what I have discovered about Elizabeth was available to those members of the audience who understood that there was a Political/Religious/Current Events dimension of meaning in the play. Unfortunately, we have no record of any of the aspects of performance, such as costumes, make-up, mimicry, and the like, which might well have indicated such a dimension to the audiences. 


I definitely do not want to narrow my analysis down to Elizabeth and Essex. Stay tuned.




Lewekenor’s translation did not appear until at least a year after Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice. Money had at least as much to do with London as with Venice. In fact, the Puritans in London were often called “Christian Jews.”


Are you saying that the English felt threatened by Venice’s supposed republican nature? We will have to agree to disagree for the nonce on Venice’s identity with London on the Political/Religious/Current Events Dimension of Meaning.


I am indeed trying to demonstrate that Shakespeare wrote MV in a particular cultural context, and made many specific references to that context in the text of the play. And the play is all the richer for it.




To Sidney Lubow:

Very droll. Wouldn’t put it past him.

Thanks for the chuckle.



Thanks to all





Re: Social Climbing & Trumping

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.263  Monday, 8 August 2016


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

Date:         August 7, 2016 at 4:21:11 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Social Climbing & Trumping


A few comments on recent postings here on SHAKSPER. First, on Shakespeare's coat of arms (SHK 27.234  Friday, 8 July 2016):


Shakespeare's quest for a coat of arms has been known for a very long time. "Draft of Grant of Arms to Shakespeare's Father (1596)" and "Confirmation and Extension of Heraldic Honors to John Shakespeare (1599)" are two of the documents that make up the list of documents  that begin the 1926 edition of Tucker Brooke's "Shakespeare of Stratford". Of the first document Brooke comments (p. 17), "It is reasonably conjectured that the motive for John Shakespeare's position came from the poet, and that it reflects the latter's ambition and worldly prosperity. Other wealthy actors-e.g. Augustine Phillips and Thomas Pope of Shakespeare's company-assumed arms to which they appear to have had no hereditary right. A contemporary herald, Ralph Brooke, mentions Shakespeare as one of twenty-three persons charged with obtaining coats of arms to which they were not entitled."


Samuel Schoenbaum's 1977 book "William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life" likewise discusses the issue, with added details (p. 232): "The particulars of Brooke's complaint are not recorded, but may be inferred from the joint reply of Garter and Clarenceux. They defended the eligibility of John Shakespeare-a magistrate 'of good substance and habilite' who had married an heir of Arden...." 


Obviously the copies of the arms dated 1602 and later have William's, not

John's, name on them because John was buried in September 1601.


The claims for Shakespeare's "social climbing" seem to me to be unwarranted. First of all, I don't consider a reward for accomplishing something significant to be "social climbing". I would consider the empty gathering of credentials to obtain a fake authority, or schmoozing like Osric, or rewriting the same old thing to earn tenure, to be "social climbing". Second, we have no solid evidence at all that William Shakespeare had anything to do with the granting of the arms. The arms would descend upon Shakespeare at his father's death whether he wanted them or not. It seems to me that a scenario just as likely is the John was envious of his son's success and wanted something to compensate. Anyone who has had a father buy a more expensive car than the one they bought will know what I mean. I think the misplaced desire to place the "social climber" title on William Shakespeare has more to do with modern commentators projecting their own trivial sense of "ambition" onto him than anything else.


(S sable (black) A argent (silver) Or (gold)


PWDG permitted (by) William Dethick Garter (King-of-Arms)


P Ro. Co. Cla.  Permitted (by) Robert Cook, Clarenceux (King-of-Arms)).



Paul Hamilton's piece is apt:


but more can be added. The Trump personality itself is more likely to be found in Jonson:


Volpone: Good morning to the day; and next, my gold:

Open the shrine, that I may see my saint. 

                                                     - Volpone 1.1.1-2


and his business associates as well:


Sir Epicure Mammon: Come on, sir. Now you set your foot on shore

in novo orbe; here's the rich Peru:

And there within, sir, are the golden mines,

Great Solomon's Ophir! He was sailing to't

Three years, but we have reached it in ten months.

This is the day wherein to all my friends, 

I will pronounce the happy word, 'be rich'.

                                          -The Alchemist 2.1.1-7


Shakespeare has the political Trump (Cade) and that portion of the electorate 

which is the most childish and short-sighted and thus most likely to vote for a Trump:


CADE. Be brave, then, for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny; the three-hoop'd pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer. All the realm shall be in common, and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass. And when I am king- as king I will be - 


ALL. God save your Majesty!


CADE. I thank you, good people- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers and worship me their lord.


DICK. The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.


CADE. Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? That parchment, being scribbl'd o'er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings; but I say 'tis the bee's wax; for I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since. How now! Who's there?


Enter some, bringing in the CLERK OF CHATHAM


SMITH. The clerk of Chatham. He can write and read and cast accompt.


CADE. O monstrous!


SMITH. We took him setting of boys' copies.


CADE. Here's a villain!


SMITH. Has a book in his pocket with red letters in't.


CADE. Nay, then he is a conjurer.


DICK. Nay, he can make obligations and write court-hand.


CADE. I am sorry for't; the man is a proper man, of mine honour; unless I find him guilty, he shall not die. Come hither, sirrah, I must examine thee. What is thy name?


CLERK. Emmanuel.


DICK. They use to write it on the top of letters; 'twill go hard with you.


CADE. Let me alone. Dost thou use to write thy name, or hast thou a mark to thyself, like a honest plain-dealing man?


CLERK. Sir, I thank God, I have been so well brought up that I can write my name.


ALL. He hath confess'd. Away with him! He's a villain and a traitor.


CADE. Away with him, I say! Hang him with his pen and inkhorn about his neck. 

                                            - Henry VI part 2 4.2.64-110



Jim Carroll




Beethoven and Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.262  Thursday, 4 August 2016


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

Date:        August 3, 2016 at 9:07:13 PM EDT 

Subject:   Beethoven and Shakespeare


It is extremely interesting that Beethoven was taken by the canon of Shakespeare and admired his poetry. As a matter of fact, his poetry was, when translated, considered better in German.  If, as I believe, that the bard was speaking to his mirror, himself, his 'self', in German, 'selbst', could it be possible that the other genius, Beethoven, understood the Bard's Sonnets, when he wrote to his 'immortal beloved' in the following way in a letter that was found in a draw with a nail protruding that started the futile search for the woman:


Mein Engel, mein alles, mein Selbst -nur ein paar Worte heute in der Tat mit Bleistift (mit Ihnen)


My Angel, my all, my very self. - just a few words today with pencil, (yours)




MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.261  Tuesday, 2 August 2016


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

     Date:         August 1, 2016 at 5:00:12 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER; MV Dialog 


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

     Date:         August 1, 2016 at 4:29:58 PM EDT

     Subject:    MV Dialog 




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

Date:         August 1, 2016 at 5:00:12 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER; MV Dialog


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


To John Drakakis


In response to your post dated July 22, 2016.


You wrote: 

Bill Blanton’s attempt to establish a link between Portia in MV and Elizabeth I, while interesting, doesn’t seem to me to be very convincing. There are a number of problems with the thesis although the methodology is not unfamiliar, and of the kind that one finds in allegedly ‘scholarly’ biographies of Shakespeare. I suspect that the (usually male) fans of Portia are not too dissimilar to those that many years ago Linda Woodbridge noticed had a soft spot for Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. There’s an odd, unacknowledged presentism in all of this that doesn’t quite get acknowledged, but might be worth investigating further.  Terry Hawkes thou shoulst be living at this hour. Shakespeare he hath need of thee!



I had hoped for more specificity. I have numbered the paragraphs to make it easier to reply. If any specific example is mistaken in some way, please let me know. You have made it abundantly clear that you do not agree with my approach so I do not expect you to agree with any example. It would be helpful, however, if you could express your agreement or disagreement with any example by assuming without agreeing to that approach.


After all, this is supposed to be a dialog. I want to profit from your knowledge of the play in order to correct any errors in fact or logic that I may make. In return, I believe that you can learn from me some things about the play that you do not already know.


You say that “there are a number of problems with [my] thesis.” I would be grateful if you would spell them out.


I do not particularly mind that you dismiss my ideas as “allegedly scholarly.” I have acknowledged from the beginning that our respective approaches to the play are very different: yours is scholarly and geared towards Shakespeare as Literature; mine is that of an amateur who concedes you the scholarly analysis but who wants to analyze the play from the perspective of a sophisticated Elizabethan playgoer.

OK Bill, let me put it this way: Your basic assumption - in fact the assumption upon which your whole case rests is that Shakespeare had an intimate knowledge of Elizabethan court politics. In the plays there are passing references to particular events - and some of them are in MV. References to ‘the Andrew’, for example.  In order to connect the play to the ‘history’ that you want to follow (an aristocratic history rather than a ‘popular’ history) you invest the details you focus on in the play with meanings that you claim to be ‘objective’.  Your reasoning seems to be: (a) I think this happened in the court politics of the later 16th century and (b) Shakespeare must have been aware of it and incorporated it into his play.  I can’t accept responsibility for the General Editors’ preface to the New Arden series. I didn’t write it.  In any case the phrase ‘cultural context’ is open to very wide interpretation. It is wide enough to allow you from your own position to speculate, and I am prepared to concede that methodologically speaking. BUT whenever we speculate (and I do in my edition) we need to be careful to try to establish some kind of causal connection between the various elements that we are trying to connect. It all depends very much on what you understand by ‘cultural’ here, and I think that you will need to be a lot more explicit about you own methodology here. 

I quote from your General editors’ preface:

“Both the introduction and the commentary are designed to present the plays as texts for performance, and make appropriate reference to stage, film and television versions, as well as introducing the reader to the range of critical approaches to the plays. They discuss the history of the reception of the texts within the theatre and scholarship beyond, investigating the interdependency of the literary text and the surrounding ‘cultural text’ both at the time of the original production of Shakespeare’s works and during their long and rich afterlife.” (emphasis supplied.) pp. xiv-xv.


This great play has a fascinating cultural context, wrapped up, I believe, in the continuing conflicts created by the English Reformation. I intend to demonstrate that Shakespeare was very much involved in those conflicts, did what he could to improve the situation in England, and tried to “open men’s eyes” to what was happening around them.


I agree with you about the play’s fascination but you would need to be more explicit about what you understand by ‘the English Reformation’ and where you might think Shakespeare was positioned in it. How was Shakespeare ‘involved’?  You seem to think that ‘involvement’ here is a kind of lifestyle choice. I would put it to you that ‘involvement’ could be very dangerous, and there is little evidence to show that Shakespeare was ‘involved’ in any committed sense. I am not trying to suggest here that Shakespeare was event-handed, but I don’t think that we can deduce anything certain about his ‘involvement’ or otherwise from the plays.


I would ask Bill Blanton to consider this: at 1.1.161 ff. Bassanio gives a glowing description of Portia whose “sunny locks / Hang on her temples like a golden fleece, / Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchis’ strand, / And many Jason’s come in quest of her.” (ll.169-72). As an heiress Portia is desirable, and Bassanio’s quest is at root a business proposition if a little romanticised.  This ‘might’ be connected to the alleged desirability of Elizabeth or of any eligible heiress.



I have considered 1.1.161 ff. In fact, in my post dated 8 June 2016 I specifically referenced 1.1.165-66, noting that Shakespeare had named the previously unnamed Lady of Belmonte as Portia, and further associated her with Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia. That is in paragraph 3, which has incited some reaction to my speculation concerning “regime change.” I also mentioned “regime change” as a possible reason why Shakespeare connected Portia with the Sibyl (paragraph 5) in my post dated July 1, 2016.


I’m even more confused here Bill. Yes, the name Portia has ‘resonances’ (and Shakespeare went on to use the name again in JC). I think the place to start from here is the name and its historical rather than its mythical resonances. Let’s take the ‘regime change’ issue.  Why would Shakespeare be interested in ‘regime change’ (even assuming that it was thinkable for him, which I don’t think it was)  Here you are mixing up your discourses, and you are allowing a very modern concept to provide a gloss for something that would not have crossed the minds of ‘ordinary’ Elizabethans. Elizabethans were inventive readers, as the response to Sir John Hayward’s The History of Henry IV (1597) indicates, but if anybody thought that MV even hinted at ‘regime change’ Shakespeare would have been for the chop, after having been hung and drawn. . 

On pp. 163-4 of your edition you provided a number of scholarly references to the name Portia. All of which are interesting, but most of which fail to address the cultural context with which I am interested. Of all the possible references, Shakespeare himself specifically identified only one: wife of Brutus. So I asked myself: why that particular reference? My answer: so that Bassanio becomes Brutus when he marries Portia on the Story Dimension, and Essex becomes Brutus when he marries Elizabeth on the Political/Religious/Current Events Dimension. 

The key phrase here Bill is “the cultural context in which I am interested”. Now I’m all for ‘democratic reading’ (see my review in SHAKSPER of Harry Berger Jnr.’s excellent book on the Venetian plays, where he demonstrates that). It is also nonsence to say that Bassanio becomes Brutus when he marries Portia. This is NOT the Roman Portia; this is the Belmont Portia, and the only ‘evidence’ for your argument is a forced connection between two unconnected details. Even if you wanted to say that the Roman Portia was a ‘republican’, and that Venice is a ‘republic’, you would need to tease out the resonances of ‘republic’ much more carefully than your forced link suggests. Of course, you are perfectly at liberty to re-invent the play if you want, but if we are trying to proceed in a scholarly manner then we need to establish some protocols. A question: why would Shakespeare engage in these arcane links that few members of his audience would have understood or had knowledge of? And this time I’m afraid I can’t allow you to invent a ‘select few’ with whom Shakespeare was allegedly communicating. If we carry along that line then we’ll end up with the film Anonymous and we’ll be back into the crazed debate about whether Shakespeare was Shakespeare.

In particular, I will be analyzing this matter further when we discuss the identity of Bassanio on the Political/Religion/Current Events dimension of meaning. The myth of Jason and the Argonauts plays an important part in my analysis.


As you say, Shakespeare paints Portia as desirable and that Bassanio’s quest is for business, which “might” be connected to the desirability of Elizabeth or of any eligible heiress. To my mind, it must be to Elizabeth because Shakespeare specifically connected Portia to Diana, who was famously connected to Elizabeth at the time Shakespeare wrote the play. Surely this is obvious.

I think your ‘might’ gives the game away here. There is no connection with Elizabeth. In any case Elizabeth (or those around her) invented a number of occasional classical connections...which does not mean to say that anyone else who used classical narratives was referring to Elizabeth. I think the danger of your approach here is that you put two and two together and come up with five. 


BUT if we move to 3.2. we find this speech that begins:


                                                     Look on her beauty                    

            And you shall see 'tis purchased by the weight,

            Which therein works a miracle in nature,

            Making them lightest that wear most of it:

            So are those crisped snaky golden locks,

            Which maketh such wanton gambols with the wind

            Upon supposed fairness, often known

            To be the dowry of a second head,

           The skull that bred them in the sepulchre.

            Thus ornament is but the guiled shore

            To a most dangerous sea; the beauteous scarf

            Veiling an Indian beauty; in a word,

            The seeming truth, which cunning times put on

            To entrap the wisest.


What is Bassanio ‘thinking’ of here? Could Shakespeare be drawing upon archetypal notions of ‘woman’ that might be common in early modern male discourse of praise and doubt? The above passage, if Shakespeare had Elizabeth in mind would surely have earned him a visit to the local torture chamber wouldn’t it? 



I do not think that Shakespeare was drawing upon “archetypal notions of ‘woman.’” As I described in my post of 7/1/2016, I believe that Bassanio/Essex was talking about Elizabeth in a most unflattering manner. Makeup. Hair fashions. Wigs. Changeable mind. Of course, Shakespeare might have been utilizing these archetypes as part of his plausible deniability, as discussed below.


Of course you reject ‘archetypes’ here because you are wedded to the Bassanio/Essex connection, and you flesh this out with a Portia/Elizabeth connection. Elizabeth wasn’t the only woman to use make-up. Look at what Claudius says about the ‘harlot’ in Hamlet and I’d be very surprised if this was a direct reference to Elizabeth’s “beutying o’er with the plastering art.”

Shakespeare knew how to avoid the torture chamber. Playing companies and their playwrights had worked out a modus vivendi with the Master of Revels so that they knew what would be acceptable and what not. If some dissident matters were to be included in a script, they knew how to disguise them sufficiently to pass muster, while at the same time making the subversive material sufficiently apparent to the cognoscente


This is precisely why Shakespeare chose source material set in Venice, and why he set his story in Venice: plausible deniability. No offense intended here. See, it’s in Venice. It involves a Jew and generic Christians, not Protestants and Catholics. Portia is a beautiful young woman, not an aging monarch. Any notion that it might refer to London, or to the conflict between Protestants and Catholics, or to the persecutions of one against the other, or to the Queen, why, that’s all in your head. Nothing to do with me.


Besides, the Master of Revels answered to the Lord Chamberlain, patron of Shakespeare’s acting company and cousin to the Queen.

Here you go again Bill, You are trying to make the ‘facts’ that you determine fit the thesis.  Your notion of ‘plausible deniability’ is interesting but implausible. Yes, Shakespeare seems to have been careful - more careful than Jonson, or Marston, for example. BUT that does not mean that he was in cahoots with the Master of the Revels. OR that he was nodding and winking to some ‘cognoscenti’. You have to invent these people in order to sustain your case, which is why I come back to protocols.


What we have to consider here is ‘context’, and it is this term that Bill Blanton stretches widely in one direction, just as he narrows it down in another to one specific sort (an aristocratic sort) of ‘history’. Nailing the play down to a specific ‘history’ reduces its appeal, and (by the way) tells us nothing specific about Elizabeth. 



I beg to differ. 


Cultural context is exactly what I am considering. I do not understand what you mean by “narrow[ing] it down in another to one specific sort (an aristocratic sort) of ‘history.’” Please explain.


I am not trying to nail the play down to a specific ‘history.’ I am trying to show that the play is vastly more appealing precisely because of the various Dimensions of Meaning that I have identified and am trying to explicate. The play does tell us some specific things about Elizabeth, which I have been at some pains to point out. The historical context is just one star in the fascinating galaxy of stuff going on in this play.


Indeed you are. You are claiming that all that you have discovered about Elizabeth was fully available to an audience, or (even more implausibly) that part of the audience who were allegedly ‘in the know’ for whom Shakespeare was writing. This is why I say that you are offering us a very traditional aristocratic history. I agree that there is a lot going on in this play, but you want to narrow it down to Elizabeth and Essex. You are telling me I can read this play in any way I want so long as I agree that it is about Elizabeth and Essex.  As Dr Johnson once said:  if I were starting out for Roscommon, I wouldn’t start out from there.


Certainly not that Shakespeare, or any of his contemporaries harboured a desire for ‘regime change’. We might as well say that Portia is a composite of George W. Bush and Tony Blair...with the gender switch to throw us off the scent, and that Shakespeare prophesied events in Iraq and Syria. Myself I think Shakespeare prophesied BREXIT, and that Julius Caesar is a key text (the knifing of the brute Boris Johnson...with Antony and Cleopatra prefiguring a fatal encounter between Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson, with the empress Teresa (Octavius) May - who, apparently shares a name with a porn star- pronouncing unctuously at the end of the fiasco! 


To be fair to Bill Blanton, his proposal nowhere near as whacky as that, -given some of the nonsense that passes for ‘scholarship’ these days - though it seems to me to come out of a stable that is methodologically to close in proximity for comfort.


As Ever

John D



Let’s not fool ourselves. You are not trying to be fair to me; in fact, you are insulting me by comparing my ideas to the “whacky” examples that you dreamed up. I have not insulted you and do not intend to do so. Like you, I am a professional, and would prefer that our conversation be conducted in a professional manner.


OK Bill, my intention was to offer you a lighthearted example of what happens when people misunderstand ‘presentism’.  There has been a lot going on here about BREXIT that probably won’t mean very much to you, and there have been a lot of Shakespeare quotations flung around in an opportunistic way. My point - and it is a serious one - is that you seem to me to be trying to offer an ‘objective’ kind of cultural history. The problem I have with it is that you also seem to me to occlude the part you are playing in fabricating the connections between its elements. I’ve tried to see some of the connections that you are proposing, but they simply won’t gel. I’ve probably said enough about Venice, so I won’t repeat myself. BUT I will repeat the view that Venice is NOT England, nor is it a cover for England (a common error that still persists in criticism). You might like to consider the difference between ‘a monarchical republic’ (the phrase that Patrick Collinson coined in his 1987 Manchester lecture) and the kind of republic that is described in great detail in Lewis Lewekenor’s translation in 1599 of Contarini’s History of Venice. The connection with Venice has to do with money - another segment of cultural history, that is much more pregnant with meaning in MV, and that Shakespeare can be shown to have had an interest (sorry, no pun intended!) in. In this connection have a look at Robert Bearman’s excellent recent little book Shakespeare’s Money

Best regards,



Best wishes, as ever



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

Date:         August 1, 2016 at 4:29:58 PM EDT

Subject:    MV Dialog


 Bill Blanton, what is Shylock referring to by using the words ‘Pirates’ and ‘ducats’? Is this a cat and mouse game by the clever bard?



Oh, no, no, no, no: my meaning in saying he is a

good man is to have you understand me that he is

sufficient. Yet his means are in supposition: he

hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the

Indies; I understand moreover, upon the Rialto, he

hath a third at Mexico, a fourth for England, and

other ventures he hath, squandered abroad. But ships

are but boards, sailors but men: there be land-rats

and water-rats, water-thieves and land-thieves, I

mean pirates, and then there is the peril of waters,

winds and rocks. The man is, notwithstanding,

sufficient. Three thousand ducats; I think I may

take his bond


How interesting that Michael Lok goes over the heads of the Masters of Stylometrics who cannot recognize a pun from the mind of Shakespeare. Do we need a poke in the ribs to recognize the RATS

In the word piRATeS or even duCATS?


MiChael Lok the Merchant of London?


Sid Lubow




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