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Gary Taylor’s Review of New Shakespeare Novel

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.176  Monday, 7 April 2014


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

Date:         Monday, April 7, 2014

Subject:    Gary Taylor’s Review of New Shakespeare Novel


[Editor’s Note: The following review appeared in The Washington Post a few days ago. –Hardy]


‘The Secret Life of William Shakespeare,’ by Jude Morgan

By Gary Taylor, Published: April 3


Shakespeare was our greatest writer of historical fiction. Onto the uninformative spine of a chronicle he sculpted muscle and meaning. Think “Richard III,” “Julius Caesar,” “Macbeth.” Shakespeare turned the dull prose pages of the dead into the most present-tense of all art forms: a play, an ensemble of moving, speaking, purposeful bodies, here, now.


Shakespeare would have recognized British writer Jude Morgan as a fellow charlatan and shaman: a magical bone-animator. “We are liars by profession,” Morgan writes in a postscript, speaking of novelists. “People pay us to make up stories for them.” But the “we” and the “us” obviously include Shakespeare, too.


Morgan’s fictional chronicle is better written, and more interesting, than any scholarly biography. After all, the biographer can only carbon-date the bones, subject the documents to microscopic scrutiny, situate them in the larger debris-field of Stratford-upon-Avon, 16th-century London, the Renaissance or Reformation. By contrast, Morgan can transform a bureaucratic record of Shakespeare’s marriage (to a pregnant bride) into the very Shakespearean contrast between “the roundness of her belly and the emptiness of the church.” He can photograph the scene in words: “A single shaft of light falls slantwise from the narrow window, looking both solid and temporary, like something propped there for now, soon to be taken away, sawn up. And between two calls of a crow from the churchyard, they are made man and wife.”


Anne Hathaway is, in fact, Morgan’s most engaging creation. Eight years older than Shakespeare, when the novel begins, she is already getting just a little too old for the marriage market, grieving too long for her dead father. She’s a woman expecting more from life than life delivers — until life delivers 18-year-old Shakespeare. With his “green passion,” romantic words fly from him “like the hawk flying to the kill from the falconer’s wrist.”


Like the heroine of an Austen novel, Anne lives “in the great vault of the unsaid,” wed to a master of public language. She is a woman at home only in the country, married to a man whose work can be done only in a distant city. “In some buried sea-chamber of her heart she wanted him not to go,” Morgan writes, “and him to know it without her saying, and abandon his traveling-cloak and London and eminence, and just stay.” But he puts on his traveling-cloak and returns to London, two days before their son, Hamnet, comes down with the “high and frantic fever” that quickly kills him. Will is not there for his son’s sickness, death or burial. She learns that “you never stop losing a child.” He buys one of Stratford’s most impressive houses, New Place, as “a huge golden apology,” but she cannot forgive him.


The Secret Life of William Shakespeare” begins the day he meets Anne; it ends when she finally forgives him (in 1603, leaving another 13 years for a sequel). The novel is structured, and works best, as historical romance, with Shakespeare in the role of dark, mysterious genius, rebelling against his father and the dull routines of a village glover’s life. He’s much more interesting — and convincing — in Stratford than in London. Morgan is free to invent the personalities of Shakespeare’s extended family and Stratford neighbors, and he invents them brilliantly.


But London is populated with famous names that Shakespeare has to meet and with the famous plays and poems that Shakespeare has to write, and Morgan’s imagination is tied down there. I’ll remember his description of the brawl in Deptford that “ended with the dagger piercing and so ending Christopher Marlowe’s brain.” But I prefer Rupert Everett’s Marlowe in “Shakespeare in Love,” and Geoffrey Rush’s Henslowe, too. I’ll remember Morgan describing Ben Jonson’s “strident need to pee,” but I don’t believe that Jonson, hearing “Romeo and Juliet,” would ever have compared “hearing each line [to] having a petal plucked from the stem of your soul.”


In London, Morgan finds himself stuck writing someone else’s novel, filled with someone else’s characters. Anyone interested in Jonson’s fascinating, richly documented life would be better served by Ian Donaldson’s biography. As for the undocumented alien Shakespeare, Morgan can only repeat the Romantic cliche of negative capability, having Marlowe apply to Shakespeare — in the novel’s most embarrassing moment — the phrase that Laurence Olivier’s film applied to Hamlet: “The tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.”


Every word Shakespeare wrote required him to make up his mind to choose that word instead of another, or instead of a silence. Morgan imagines the most spectacularly attention-grabbing writer in our language as “the least noticeable person” in a brimming world; Anne “never hears him enter a room.” Even if this were true, it is not new, and not a secret. And have you ever known a professional actor who didn’t know how to make an entrance?


Taylor, a professor of English at Florida State University, has written or edited more than 20 books, including, most recently, “The Creation and Re-creation of Cardenio: Performing Shakespeare, Transforming Cervantes.”


[ . . . ] 

Benedict Cumberbatch to Play Richard III on BBC2

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.175  Monday, 7 April 2014


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

Date:         April 7, 2014 at 2:19:27 PM EDT

Subject:    Benedict Cumberbatch to Play Richard III on BBC2


[Editor’s Note: The following announcement is from The Guardian. –Hardy]


Benedict Cumberbatch to play Richard III on BBC2

Actor will tackle role as his Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman plays same character on West End stage


The Guardian, Sunday 6 April 2014 10.39 EDT


Benedict Cumberbatch is to play Richard III on television – the same character his Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman will play in the West End.


The star has been cast in the second series of Shakespeare’s History plays (Henry VI in two parts and Richard III) in the Neal Street Productions film for BBC2, the broadcaster has announced.


It comes just two days after it emerged that Freeman would play the title role in Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End later this year.


The second series of Shakespeare’s history plays is from the creative team behind the Bafta-award-winning The Hollow Crown films and will be directed by Dominic Cooke. It will be the first time Cooke, a former artistic director of the Royal Court theatre, has directed for the screen.


Cumberbatch said: “I can’t wait to work with Dominic Cooke again to bring this complex, funny and dangerous character to life for the BBC and Neal Street Productions’s peerless series of Shakespeare’s history plays.”


The creative team at Neal Street Productions includes Sam Mendes, who is an executive producer for Shakespeare’s history plays.


Another executive producer, Pippa Harris, said: “Neal Street Productions worked with Benedict on both Stuart: A Life Backwards for the BBC and the film Starter for Ten. His range and dexterity as an actor make him the perfect choice to bring one of Shakespeare’s towering characters to television.”


Ben Stephenson, the BBC drama controller, described Cumberbatch as “one of the world’s most brilliant and in-demand actors”.


Cumberbatch is also to play Hamlet on stage in London next year.

Routledge Library Editions: Hamlet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.174  Monday, 7 April 2014


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

Date:         April 7, 2014 at 6:40:56 AM EDT

Subject:    Routledge Library Editions: Hamlet


Routledge Library Editions: Hamlet


Hardback: £280.00


27th November 2013


Reissuing works originally published between 1919 and 1988, Routledge Library Editions: Hamlet offers a selection of scholarship on the Shakespearean tragedy. Classic previously out-of-print works are brought back into print here in this small set of dramatic and literary criticism. Includes;


Form and Meaning in Drama: A Study of Six Greek Plays and of Hamlet

By H. D. F. Kitto


Shakespeare's “Hamlet” bound with The Problem of "Hamlet"

By A. Clutton-Brock, J. M. Robertson


Hamlet’s Fictions

By Maurice Charney


Hamlet: Critical Essays

Edited by Joseph G. Price


To view inside and learn more about these titles visit the series webpage at



To recommend the set to your librarian visit

The Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.173  Friday, 4 April 2014


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

     Date:         April 3, 2014 at 6:40:43 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: The Sonnets 


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

     Date:         April 4, 2014 at 4:04:45 AM EDT

     Subject:    Sonnets 




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

Date:         April 3, 2014 at 6:40:43 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: The Sonnets


Dear David, 


I am sure you did not consult Eric Partridge’s Dictionary. “Hell” is an Elizabethan slang term for “vagina”. What this sonnet is saying is that one of the speaker’s (you should never say “the poet’s”!) friends is having some relatively indecent fun with the other!


Markus Marti



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

Date:         April 4, 2014 at 4:04:45 AM EDT

Subject:    Sonnets


Conscious that the detail of our exchange is probably of little interest to others, I will comment only briefly in response to David Basch’s interpretation of Sonnet 144.


Perhaps David is unaware of the poem’s bawdy, far-from-spiritual, connotations—though these would have been apparent to Shakespeare, given the mastery of the genre demonstrated rather widely in his works. If he had not meant these connotations to be recognized by his intended audience, he would have used different wording in the sonnet (and several others) to preclude unwanted misinterpretation.


David, I will respond to you no further in this thread - unless you introduce evidence which is both relevant and objective. Peace be with you.


Lukas Erne's Book Trade

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.172  Friday, 4 April 2014


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

Date:         April 3, 2014 at 7:56:18 PM EDT

Subject:    Lukas Erne's Book Trade


Steve Roth replied to my posting on Lukas Erne’s book but I’m not sure how we agree or disagree:


> While Shakespeare quite possibly, even certainly, was not

> “complicit” in publication of his plays, I think Gerald would

> agree that he must have been quite cognizant of it. His works

> were being published.


That’s the presumption for plays not yet written when the stream of publications began. I alluded to this standing observation (Greg, etc.) in my post and in my 2005 Review Essay of Erne’s Literary Dramatist. Knowing one’s work may be published (probably corruptly) and taking steps to publish (& profit) aren’t the same. For example, Heywood lamented the mangling of his plays as reason to forestall thieves by publishing them himself; as did Chapman. Apparently Shakespeare took no such steps; further, he died with no assurance that all his works would be published (authorized or not). “Cognizance” isn’t a good way to claim intentions; it just introduces intentions when evidence doesn’t exist.


> They were being purchased in considerable numbers, read,

> quoted, and commented upon . . . . 2. Significantly—given

> Shakespeare’s positioning as actor, playwright, and company

> and theater sharer amidst the whole poetomachia business—by

> his competitor and compatriot playwrights, and other sniping

> and snippeting literati.


One may suppose. Ben Jonson and H & C took special note of the corruption. Contemporaries probably didn’t enjoy the mangling as much as we do.


> 3. By arguably his most prized audience, Elizabeth and James’

> courtiers. These were also the most educated, attentive, and

> perspicacious of his customers, those who (Shakespeare could

> hope) would plumb the density, complexity, allusions, and

> multilevel ironies he offered up.


Prizes, customers, hope, and levels notwithstanding, Shakespeare didn’t offer up anything, apparently. It’s plumb ironic.


> I’ll just assert baldly: writers want their readers/auditors to

> get their jokes.


All of them? Fortunately, I delete most of mine. I’ve been thinking of showing how Q1 Hamlet players themselves didn’t get the jokes. For example, In Q1 and Q2 the Prince replies to the King’s greeting,


King  How now son Hamlet, how fare you, shall we have a play?     Q1

Ham. Yfaith the Camelions dish, not capon cramm’d, / feede a the ayre.


King. How fares our cosin Hamlet?                   Q2

Ham. Excellent yfaith, / Of the Camelions dish, I eate the ayre,

Promiscram’d, you cannot feede Capons so.


Q1’s senseless ‘capon crammed’ is a corrupt transposition of terms (funny, but probably not authorial). An explanation is in order, which might have less to do with perspicacity than density. I guess Q1 buyers felt a bit ripped off. And surely, the player represented in Q1 (Hamlet!) didn’t get the wordplay. Yet Q1, called (obviously) a reader’s text, is light years from Shakespeare. Although Steve has observed that the writer behind Q1 had worked with Shakespeare, in this instance someone tried to memorize lines that were meaningless to him.


> To suggest that Shakespeare cared nothing for those readers

> when writing, that he exerted no effort to cater or deliver unto

> them (especially given his obsession with literary immortality,

> expressed especially and resoundingly in the sonnets), to me

> beggars belief.


All you have to do is believe Erne; as a bonus you get a Biography Decoder Ring: Be-sure-to-drink-your-Ovaltine. No one suggests Shakespeare wouldn’t have liked to be read. I’d like to see his unadulterated work myself. But there’s no use pretending that “what he left us” is what he would have left us, given the extant texts and their histories.


> Like others, I remain befuddled by the evidence (and

> notable lack of same) suggesting that Shakespeare was

> uninvolved in publication. But still: “Shakespeare didn’t

> care about publication” does not suggest, to me, that

> “Shakespeare didn’t care about his readers.”


It’s a mistake for Shakespearians to trust presuppositions (feelings: theirs or his) more than evidence, which indicates no authorial publishing presence. Fuddling arrives with the baggage.


> On the befuddlement, one possible, unprovable, surmise,

> that would explain things rather simply: Maybe Shakespeare

> just hated paying attention to previous works, was always

> moving on to the next: Not at all unheard of, among authors.


Careful, Gary Taylor spank! I’m sure Shakespeare didn’t revise Q1 Lear to F Lear. The thing to remember is that Shakespeare’s return to his texts, however he may have done so, is probably not reflected in the extant texts. In the historical aftermath, we see Q1 Lear as great literature; from Shakespeare’s point of view, Q1 would have been a piece of crap. Heywood’s If You Know Not Me went through seven editions before the author spoke of its crippling reproduction:


And in that lamenesse it hath limp’t so long,

The Author now to vindicate that wrong

Hath tooke the paines, upright upon its feete

To teache it walke,


Heywood was mighty mad about his play of Elizabeth, but he took thirty years to take the pains to fix it. And in the end he invited playgoers to see it, not to read it.


Literary Dramatist treats Q1 Lear by chapterly need: copy “may have been a private transcript, or even a transcript of a private transcript at more than one remove from Shakespeare” (107). Later Erne asserts that “Blayney . . . Warren . . . Urkowitz, and Gary Taylor have made a strong case for the authority of [Q1], thereby disposing of earlier theories that had little to recommend themselves” (185). Well, page 107 is earlier than 185, but I like to note that Blayney has made no case in the 32 years following his suggestion that Q1 copy was Shakespeare’s foul papers. And in 1983 Taylor accepted Blayney’s opinion while asserting that making a new case would be a waste of time. Authority, my eye. In Book Trade Erne plumps for Shakespearian authority, not by argument (why start now?), but by appeal to the notion that Shakespeare “cared about publication.”


> Or maybe he was just a hard-headed and clear-eyed man of

> business when it came to his work: he knew the money was

> in the playhouse, not on publishers row.


I’ve read somewhere that that beggars belief.


> Or both. Two perfectly plausible explanations, neither of which

> implies that Shakespeare didn’t care about readers when writing.


Plausibility is at some point a necessary criterion; but like simplicity it has to mesh with the evidence. In this case, the old view, that Shakespeare had nothing to do with publishing his plays, has sound backing. The old view that his rough drafts and his personally supervised promptbooks supplied the printers isn’t plausible because the evidence doesn’t agree.


Gerald E. Downs

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