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TLS: Clowning and Authorship

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.491  Tuesday, 9 December 2014


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

Date:         November 22, 2014 at 10:22:34 AM EST

Subject:    Clowning and Authorship


[Editor’s Note:  The past few weeks TLS has had a number of Shakespeare and Early Modern reviews. I will provide excepts here; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . -Hardy]


in Early Modern Theatre 

Richard Preiss

295pp. Cambridge University Press. £60. 

978 1 107 03657 4 


Traditional accounts of the evolution of English theatre have held the terms “clowning” and “authorship” – the key terms Richard Preiss’s original, sophisticated and deeply researched book – in opposition: as the playwright grew in status (appearing more often on the title pages of printed plays and acquiring greater control over performance), the clown (by nature an extemporizing, uncontrollable figure) grew ever more marginal. The classic example is the split between Will Kemp and Shakespeare’s company around 1600. Hamlet’s advice to the players to “let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them” is seen to mark the triumph of the author over the clown. Preiss’s book complicates this narrative. 


He begins by confronting a problem that might stymie his research at the outset: the fact that nearly all evidence of the clown’s activity is by necessity textual. In the printed play, “rebellion is foreclosed: whatever the clown says or does there has, of course, already been absorbed into a text”. Preiss’s solution is to read widely and with acute scepticism. He examines works written by and about famous comic performers (such as Kemp’s Nine Days Wonder, Robert Armin’s Fool upon Fool and Tarlton’s Jests) but also the plays and prose tracts (such as Richard Brome’s The Antipodes and Thomas Dekker’s The Guls Horne-Book) that helped to construct the playwrights’ story of the demise of the clown. Preiss shows that clowns in fact continued to be hugely popular well into the seventeenth century, with Shakespeare’s company itself adopting John Shanke (well known for his jigs) to replace Armin in 1613. The categories of “authorship” and “clowning”, he argues, are less easily separable than the old narrative suggests: comic performers such as Kemp, Armin and William Rowley used print with dexterity, and Jack Tarlton (as he survives to readers) is more a print character than a presence on the stage. 


[ . . . ] 


Bart van Es 

Shakespeare First Folio Fates

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.490  Tuesday, 9 December 2014


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

Date:          December 9, 2014 at 10:16:23 AM EST

Subject:    The Strange Fates of the Shakespeare First Folio


December 8 2014, 5.59am EST

The strange fates of the Shakespeare First Folio

By Eric Rasmussen


The Shakespeare First Folio (1623), the first collected edition of his plays and the sole source for half of them (including Macbeth, Antony & Cleopatra, All’s Well, As You Like It, and The Tempest), is one of the most valuable books in the world: Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, recently paid US$6 million for a copy.


The unexpected discovery of a Shakespeare First Folio in the public library of a northern French town has raised questions about how many were originally printed (estimated to be 750), how many still exist (now 233), and how often such books come to light. If recent history is any guide, the answer to the last question appears to be once every six years.


In 2002, Lilian Frances Cottle of Tottenham, North London died intestate and a tattered copy of the First Folio was found among her effects. In 2008, an unemployed, self-described ‘fantasist’ named Raymond Scott walked into Washington, D.C.’s Folger Shakespeare Library with a copy that he claimed to have acquired from one of Fidel Castro’s bodyguards. The First Folio in question turned out to have been stolen from Durham University, and the flamboyant Scott – who arrived at his trial in a horse-drawn carriage, dressed in all white, holding a cigar in one hand and a cup of instant noodles in the other, while reciting lines from Shakespeare’s Richard III – was convicted of the theft and imprisoned).


And in the most recent discovery, exactly six years later, Remy Cordonnier, a librarian in St. Omer, France, identified a mis-catalogued collection of Shakespeare’s plays as an original First Folio. The book had been housed in the library of the Jesuit College of St. Omer for centuries before being inherited by the town’s public library. But because it was lacking the title-page and had no identifying title on the binding, it had long been assumed that it was a relatively worthless reprint, until Cordonnier took an interest in the volume and called me in to authenticate it.


For more than a century, considerable effort has gone into determining how many copies of this rare book still exist. In 1902, the British scholar Sidney Lee published a book – Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: A Census of Extant Copies – that rightly claimed to be the “first systematic endeavour to ascertain the number and whereabouts of extant original copies of the Shakespeare First Folio.” Lee located 152 copies and was later knighted for his efforts.


The tireless legwork of British folio-hunter Anthony James West in the 1990s led to the discovery of 80 more copies. In our 2012 census, The Shakespeare First Folios: A Descriptive Catalogue, West and I gave an extensive account of the 232 copies known at that time, relying whenever possible on firsthand inspections by ourselves or our research associates.


Curiously, though, several copies recorded by Lee have disappeared since 1902. During the Great Depression, a copy was filched from Williams College by a New York shoe salesman (who ultimately returned it in a drunken stupor because he was worried that it might fall into the hands of Adolf Hitler). Another copy stolen from Manchester University in 1972 has never been recovered.


Although the theft of institutional copies is generally well publicized, a few privately owned First Folios have quietly vanished. Despite two decades of searching, our research team could find no trace of the copy that had belonged to Major-General Frederick Edward Sotheby of Northamptonshire (which had been in the Sotheby family since 1700). The title-page from the copy owned by Ross R. Winans, Esq., of Baltimore somehow found its way into the First Folio now at Carnegie Mellon University, but the Ross folio itself has vanished.


The copy owned by Lord Zouche of Parham was sent to the British Museum for safekeeping in 1900, and the librarian confirmed to Sidney Lee that Zouche’s “folio Shakespeare is here with his books of which we are taking care.” They did not, it seems, keep a watchful eye over it: the copy has since gone missing.


And six years after Lee published his census, the novelist Thomas Hardy wrote to inform Lee that “Mr [Alfred Cart] de Lafontaine, my neighbour in Dorset, is the fortunate possessor of a 1st Folio Shakespeare, which he would like to show you. Your opinion upon it will be highly valued by him, & of great interest to me.”


In 1899, the same Alfred Cart de Lafontaine had given a talk about the recent restoration of his manor to the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club. His audience, gathered “under the shade of a fine cedar,” heard Lafontaine detail the work he had done to the house and gardens; he described the long gallery or library, and singled out its two most precious items: “a pair of boots worn by King Charles I when a boy” and “also a very fine folio Shakespeare.”


Despite these written records, Lafontaine’s copy has never been traced.


So while the discovery of the St. Omer copy has added to the number of known copies, one can only regret that at least a half-dozen have somehow slipped through our fingers.


Then again, there’s always the chance that six years from now, one of them will turn up.

FYI: Marlowe Society

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.489  Tuesday, 9 December 2014


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

Date:         December 8, 2014 at 12:53:04 PM EST

Subject:    FYI: Marlowe Society of America Homepage


The Marlowe Society of America


We are a non-profit organization of scholars formed thirty years ago to promote research and scholarship on Marlowe’s life, works, and times, as well as his relationships with his fellow playwrights and his crucial role in early modern stage history. 

Gay Bard

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.488  Monday, 8 December 2014


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

     Date:         December 5, 2014 at 12:31:29 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Gay Bard


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

     Date:         December 5, 2014 at 10:06:17 PM EST

     Subject:    Gay Bard 


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

     Date:         December 6, 2014 at 7:38:51 AM EST

     Subject:    Gay Bard 




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

Date:         December 5, 2014 at 12:31:29 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Gay Bard


I was happy to read Brian Vickers’ take on an alleged “gay Shakespeare,” that he does not buy into this view. I fully agree with him. However, I would add much more to his case against this view.


I am astounded that scholars today are blind to the allegorical nature of the poet’s sonnets. It seems to me that the last two sonnets, which clearly present allegories, are the poet’s way of telling that the others of his sonnets are in this allegorical vein.


The allegory in the Sonnets is a familiar one, representing the two conflicting aspects of man’s soul, one godly, the other in the opposite direction. The godly soul is represented as an idealized form of the poet, the “lovely” young man. The woman represents man’s earthly nature. A better symbol for this aspect cannot be imagined since she embodies all the temptations of the lower soul. Sonnet 144 gives away the game since it tells who these aspects of soul are.


Since the poet in the Sonnets aspires to godliness, he loves his higher soul, the young man, more than his lower soul, the temptress. As is represented in the first 17 sonnets, the young poet had been infatuated with this higher aspect and, therefore, he must be tempted by the lower soul to regain a new balance. His chagrin at this kind of temptation makes for some of the comic aspects of these sonnets.


There is more to the sonnets than this. But, when this allegory is recognized, many of the remaining sonnets fall into place and the great poet is restored to an emotionally healthful state that his admirers all along have seen in his work.


David Basch



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

Date:         December 5, 2014 at 10:06:17 PM EST

Subject:    Gay Bard   


I feel that I must weigh in on this “gay bard” topic, as my central focus for years has been on the Sonnets: Here is a quote from an Introduction I authored, and forgive my using it, but it is with sincerest credit due to Margreta de Garzia:


"As to whether a young man or woman is a central part of the Sonnets, the gender of the addressee in most of the Sonnets is in fact unspecified. Indeed, “Shakespeare is exceptional among the English sonneteers (Sidney, Spenser, and Daniel, for example) in leaving the beloved’s gender unspecified in so many of the sonnets: about five-sixths of them in the first 126 and just less than that in the collection entire.”   


The quoted section is from Margreta de Grazia, “The Scandal of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, ed. James Schiffer, {2000}.


Margreta’s complete article on the “gender” issue, shows fine scholarship, and is worth a look by those intent on learning more on this topic.


Further, I must agree with Hardy in saying that current criticism [on the Sonnets] makes it clear that interpretations which have assumed biographical facts about the author have not succeed in making out a conclusive case. 


For those interested in seeing the complete Introduction from which the entire quote is taken, I would be happy to reply offline, or have a look at SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS AND THE BIBLE, on the Amazon webpage where you can “peek” at it.


Best wishes,

Ira Zinman



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

Date:         December 6, 2014 at 7:38:51 AM EST

Subject:    Gay Bard


Once upon a time, for a short time, I had a sweetheart who was a poet — a poetess, actually. It so happened that the confluence of our orbits in the launch of that short-lived incandescent harmony coincided with the publication of her first book of poems. I had not read her work before and I was stunned by them. I thought her poems wonderful, and although my enchantment with her did not last, my admiration for those poems is unabated. One particular poem touched on some things I knew of her family and her youth, but when I asked her about the events in it, she said, “Oh, that’s fiction. I just made it up.” I was hugely surprised. Dumb as it sounds, that had never occurred to me before, that a poet, just like any writer of novels or other fiction — really, like anyone who has ever told anything to anyone else — might have just made it all up. Well, I’m no longer quite as dumb as I look. Now I know that writers make stuff up, and that there is not the slightest reason to believe that what a writer, especially a poet, has written about ever actually happened, or happened to him, or happened as he describes it or alludes to it, not unless he actually says so, and even that’s not conclusive proof. Indeed, I don’t even have reason to believe she told me the truth when she said it was fiction. Humans just can’t always be relied upon that way. When I think about trying to puzzle out that not very important matter, about the vivid events in her poem and their congruence with other things I thought I knew about her life, I wonder how people can look at poetry written four hundred years ago and imagine they can know from those works what happened in Shakespeare's life outside that poetry. Nothing proffered about Shakespeare in this thread is really evidence of his sexual orientation, one way or the other (or others), much less proof. Hardy is absolutely right about what we know about that and all those other questions too: maybe, maybe not.


Best to all,

Bob Projansky


Shakespeare in India Controversy

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.487  Monday, 8 December 2014


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

Date:         December 5, 2014 at 11:35:58 AM EST

Subject:    Shakespeare Wades into Indian Freedom of Expression Row


December 5 2014

Shakespeare wades into Indian freedom of expression row


A recent adaptation of Hamlet caused outrage in India, flagging up just how deep the rift between artistic culture and so called “Indian values” runs.


When the trailer for Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kashmir-set film of Hamlet, came out in September there was speculation that it wouldn’t get past the Indian film censor board and might not even screen in India.


The film is set in 1995, at the height of the armed conflict between India, Pakistan and those who fight for a free Kashmir. It offers an unflinching and nuanced portrayal of the toll that the conflict had on the people there. As such, it could not help but be critical of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Indian army and Border Security Force, who have been present in the state since 1947 when the British colonisers left and the division of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan took place.


Reports by NGOs including Human Rights Watch have documented the disappearances, the torture of prisoners and extra-judicial killings, the culture of impunity the forces work under and the climate of fear people live in.


The Prince of Kashmir

Haider confronts all of these issues with an aghast, despairing sensibility. It also acknowledges the corresponding radicalisation of Kashmiri young men who leave their homes to cross the line of control into Pakistani territory to fight for an independent state. And the plight of the generations of “half-widows” left by the violence is laid bare: the hundreds who don’t know if their husbands, brothers or sons are alive or dead.


As in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Haider shows that no side is innocent. Sunni, Shi’a and Hindu Kashmiri Pandit communities are all depicted as capable of abuse, brutality and corruption. India, Pakistan and Britain are all marked as culpable.


The irony is thick: Haider (played by Shahid Kapoor), who is Muslim, is away at Aaligarh University when his father “disappears”. When Haider returns to Srinagar to find out what happened, he tells the Indian military at a checkpoint that he is studying “the revolutionary poets of British India”.


Hindu Indian ultra-nationalists are quick to take action against any cultural offering that offends their religious sensibility, criticises the Indian state or army or denigrates Indian “values”. Some went as far as to accuse Kashmiri journalist and Haider scriptwriter Basharat Peer of being funded by Islamic State.


More recently, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, a group named “Hindus for Justice” called for the film to be banned and filed court documents claiming that “the sovereignty and integrity of India has been attacked with impunity”, and “the unity of the nation has been undermined” by the film.


[ . . . ]


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