Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0466.  Friday, 27 May 1994.
From:           Pat Buckridge <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 27 May 1994 09:48:19 +1000 (EST)
Subject:        Authorship
I find the openly partisan spirit of Hardy Cook's ruling on authorship debate a
little troubling, but I can easily live with the ruling itself, since I suspect
there's a lot more interest in the question than he and some others seem to
believe.  It's a surprising assumption, to say the least, that because there
are five (more or less) self-confessed Oxfordians on the list everyone else
must be either on the other side or uninterested.  My sense is that there might
be quite a large number of silent members who are interested and keeping their
options open.  I may be wrong.
Anyway, I'd like to say three things from within the quarantined enclosure, if
I may:
1. A few quick rejoinders to Bill Godshalk's 'several points' against Oxford:
First, Will Shakspere would hardly have been punished for writing a play which
both Burghley and his son knew he hadn't written.  Elizabethan justice may have
been harsh and inequitable, but it wasn't quite that arbitrary.
Second, it is quite inconceivable that Ben Jonson, of all people, would have
spilled the beans on Oxford's authorship, even after his death, since Jonson's
whole livelihood was intricately tied up with the Earls of Pembroke, Montgomery
and Derby and their families: the last two earls were married to two of
Oxford's daughters, and the first earl had been engaged to the third daughter;
Pembroke arranged for Jonson's pension in 1616; all three couples acted in his
court masques; and Pembroke and Montgomery were joint sponsors of the First
Folio.  Others less directly indebted to Oxford's sons-in-law and daughters
than Jonson was would have been equally cautious about ridiculing him as a
'common playwright', since James showed his favour towards 'great Oxford', as
he called him, straight after his coronation by renewing his mysterious annuity
and reappointing him to the Privy Council.  During the Christmas season after
his death the following year, seven of his (Shakespeare's) plays were presented
at Court.
Third, as to there being 'no shred' of evidence linking Oxford to play-writing,
there are quite explicit statements to this effect by George Puttenham and
Francis Meres, as well as many other (understandably) more guarded and
ambiguous statements before and after Oxford's death.  (Is there some covert
suggestion in the word 'popular'? If so, I've missed it).
2. A point that has nothing to do with Polonius/Burghley, but a lot to do with
Oxford.  Sonnet 125 begins with the line,
'Were't aught to me I bore the canopy?'
'Shakespeare' then proceeds, as he does in several other sonnets, to belittle
the privileges of high rank to which he (the poet) is entitled. (Quite apart
from other considerations, this is surely an odd theme for the man from
Stratford to pursue, but there it is).  Now it so happens that one of the
hereditary privileges of the Lord Great Chamberlain (i.e. the Earl of Oxford)
was to bear a canopy over the head of the sovereign in Royal processions.  One
such celebrated occasion was immediately after the defeat of the Spanish Armada
in 1588, and Oxford's prominent role as canopy-bearer was commemorated in a
popular ballad.  I'd be interested to know how the Stratfordians manage to
finesse that one away.  As far as I can see the canopy has no metaphoric force
And by the way, all the above is straight out of Charlton Ogburn.  No wonder he
once got testy.
3. A point which - wonder of wonders - has nothing (necessarily) to do with the
Oxford authorship claim.  I think Rick Jones's reflections on topical allegory
are spot-on.  For far too long now the reaction against seeking historical
'applications' in Renaissance poetry and drama has gone unchecked.  There is
absolutely no reason to regard these systems of topical reference as falling
below the horizon of serious literary analysis.  We know how important these
systems were to the writers and readers of the day; we even know that they
theorised about them; yet we persist in treating them as something piecemeal,
old-fashioned and speculative, to be relegated to the notes of scholarly
editions, or to Notes and Queries. As Jones's suggestions indicate, we now have
scholarly and analytical tools which would enable us, if we chose to use them,
to approach those levels of textual meaning with a rigour and sophistication
that wasn't available to the last generation that took much interest. New Old
Historicism, I'm all for it.
4. A late addition.  I strongly endorse John Mucci's statement that the bottom
line for Oxfordians, as I'm sure for most others on this list, is the love of
Shakespeare's poetry.  Any demonising implication that the Oxford advocates are
embarked on some kind of fanatical mission that leads away from recognising and
celebrating the inexhaustible greatness of the poetry is quite unwarranted and
unfair.  Like Christine Gordon, I make a habit of memorising sonnets and
passages from the plays, and I approve of getting students to do it.
Patrick Buckridge

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