Richard III

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0142  Wednesday, 21 February 2018


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

Date:         February 16, 2018 at 3:58:04 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Richard III


The thing that bothers me about the idea of a theatrical transcript is.... how would it work? Presumably the transcriber would have to enter the theater with a substantial amount of paper, something to write with, and a flat surface to write on. Wouldn’t the gatekeepers be suspicious of someone carrying a lap desk? And how would they avoid being caught in the act? What they were doing must have been obvious to the people sitting near them. Did they hire enough co-conspirators to completely surround them and hide them from view? (Of course, that’s not a serious question. But seriously, I’ve never been able to visualize the mechanics of this proposed activity.)




New Paper for Comment: Henry V: A Genius (Ironic) Hoax?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0141  Wednesday, 21 February 2018


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

Date:         Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Subject:    New Paper for Comment: Henry V: A Genius (Ironic) Hoax?


As a service to its members, SHAKSPER makes selected papers for which the author would like comments available for a short time on the SHAKSPER server.


The following paper is currently available:     pdf Henry V: A Genius (Ironic) Hoax? folder   (Click on title to the left to download a pdf copy.)


Henry V: A Genius (Ironic) Hoax?

By Mark E. Alcamo <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>


None of Shakespeare’s plays is so persistently and thoroughly misunderstood as Henry V, and one is tempted to think that there is no play which is more important to understand . . . Shakespeare can scarcely have intended that force of preconception should, hundreds of years after his death, still be preventing the careful, the learned, and the sympathetic from seeing what he so definitely put down. The play is ironic: that is, I venture to think, a fact susceptible to detailed proof. - Gerald Gould (1919)


Although Henry V does not typically make a short list of Shakespeare masterpieces, the critical history of the play is one of the most interesting in the canon, and although it is generally not considered a problem play, it is “by far the most controversial of the histories.” The controversy centers on discerning Shakespeare’s intent for the play: is it to present King Henry V as an exemplar, a mirror for other monarchs to emulate, and to glorify his incredibly improbable victory at Agincourt, or is Shakespeare taking his audience in with that outward appearance while his perspective of the action is actually ironic, and is revealed in the subtle but pervasive undermining and subverting of that celebratory view. The dispute is generally acknowledged to have been started by William Hazlitt (1817), the first critic to attempt noticing a chink in the armor of King Henry V, and although Hazlitt’s essay often switches between comments pertinent to the historical King Henry V versus the play’s King, he does label the play character “a very amiable monster,” which is at odds with him being referred to in the play as “the mirror of all Christian kings” (2.0.6). During the next hundred years of commentary there arose a few more disparaging comments about the King and the war presented by Shakespeare, including from William Watkiss Lloyd and W.B.Yeats,5 but for those who see something beyond a gung-ho war lay in Henry V, the next definitive milestone in the play’s criticism was from Gerald Gould in the essay quoted above, where he unequivocally states “the play is ironic.” His position was that although the play appears to be celebratory of King Henry and his Agincourt victory, it is actually “a satire on monarchical government, on imperialism, on the baser kinds of ‘patriotism’, and on war.” And although commentators by no means jumped onboard Gould’s bandwagon, from this point on a review of the criticism on the play will clearly show a noticeable concern with the protagonist King Henry, his actions and his character, and with the war, from the cause and effect of it, to how it is presented. For almost three hundred years the play had been almost beyond reproach seen as a patriotic panegyric to a heroic king and his impossible victory at Agincourt—George Bernard Shaw even termed it jingoistic—but Gould had definitely thrown down a gauntlet challenging this view that scholars deemed necessary to consider and respond to. If you were of a mind to celebrate English hegemony in martial matters, with an accent on their heroic and noble aspects, Gould’s essay might be seen as analogous to an opening of Pandora’s box: Henry V’s world hasn’t been the same since.



The author lives in the Pacific Northwest and has been reading and studying Shakespeare for many years. He has also written a more broadly ranging essay on the ironic Henry V,  “Once More: The Case for a (Mindful) Reading (Ironic) of Henry V” that can also be found free on the Internet, as well as a comprehensive book on the ironic interpretation of Henry V titled, A Genius Hoax: Shakespeare’s Trojan 

Horse War Play.



You should send your comments directly to the author by Mark E. Alcamo <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>; or if you wish, you may start a thread through the normal SHAKSPER channels by sending it to the list at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Richard III

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0140  Friday, 16 February 2018


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

Date:         February 16, 2018 at 10:14:49 AM EST

Subject:    RICHARD III:  can't let go of RICHARD or GERALD


Nope, I can’t turn away “cold-turkey.”  


Gerald Downs’ last post again claims or implies something like “speech-prefix-variants indicate a stenographic reporter at work. He explains that the reporters would get the words down and then insert the speech prefixes later. Therefore, those speech prefix variants give evidence of stenographic reporters at work or evidence that the speech-prefix-variant is a key that opens a magic door into unexpected intervenors into the Shakespearean script. “But . . .. but . . . but . . . but . . . but . . .” I sputter. “We have the observation that Shakespeare himself ALSO seems to have written down the spoken words of speeches and only later returned to put in the speech prefixes.” The speech-prefix-variants support many theories. We have to go further.


So I ask, “Cui bono?” Who benefits, or what is gained, if Gerald is correct? And conversely what if Urquartowitz got it right? For the Gerald Downs side (which oddly coincides in form and overall consequence with the latest edition of the Oxford University Press Complete Works of Shakespeare) we should look more suspiciously at the earliest printed versions. We should reject their reliability as conduits of Shakespeare’s intent. Instead we should turn to the puzzle-masters like Gary Taylor. We should trust their de-crypted versions and narratives. And (wow, gee-wilikers, Gary!) you mean that we can say Christopher Marlowe was one of the authors of those Henry Six plays? Gerry, you mean RICHARD III Folio actually distorts Shakespeare’s own plan? “Oh frabjous day, Calloo, Callay.” Ain’t life so much better now?


My side says, “Nope! It ain’t like that.” Paraphrasing Yeats’ “Under Ben Bulben,” I say, “Shakespearean Readers, learn your trade” so that “we in coming days may be, / Still the indomitable Shakespeare-ry.”


The trade, OUR trade is or really should be “stage-craft.” How will version 1595 Octavo play on stage? How will its equivalent published in the 1623 Folio play on stage?


We can’t learn to cook by reading a cookbook. At some point we have to get into a kitchen, pick up the dead chicken in our very own hands, and do squeamy things to it. A recipe is an idealized plan. The map is not the terrain. A script is not a play.


So, my dear colleagues, and my dear Gerald Downs, too, try this: Get some half-dozen friends together and act out the variant texts of RICHARD III 3.1. Yummy stuff, both ways. NOT dissected desecrated and distorted Shakespeare. Rather they will think, "Ah, this one is garlicky and that one has so much more cilantro!" BOTH are tasty. I promise you, we and our friends will learn SO MUCH about cooking, and so much about alternative recipes, and so much about why we cook in the first place that we won't ever go back to just looking at the recipes. We'll COOK! We'll cook SHAKESPEARE! MANY WAYS!


Oops, I’m shouting again. But with laughter and dance. Thank you, Gerry Downs. Come, let’s dance, and then sit down and eat together!



Urkcookowitz, the dancin’ fool, now eatin’ his very cold turkey


(replies invited, RSVP)




Plagiarism Software and Shakespearean Sources

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0139  Friday, 16 February 2018


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

Date:         February 15, 2018 at 4:57:22 PM EST

Subject:    Plagiarism Software and Shakespeare Sources


Jim Carroll wrote:


“I agree with Michael Luskin. Plagiarism is hardly the word. The review highlights an example provided by Dennis McCarthy: “In the dedication to his manuscript, for example, North urges those who might see themselves as ugly to strive to be inwardly beautiful, to defy nature. He uses a succession of words to make the argument, including “proportion,” “glass,” “feature,” “fair,” “deformed,” “world,” “shadow” and “nature.” In the opening soliloquy of Richard III (“Now is the winter of our discontent …”) the hunchbacked tyrant uses the same words in virtually the same order to come to the opposite conclusion: that since he is outwardly ugly, he will act the villain he appears to be. Here is the brief passage from George North from the excerpt in the NY Times piece, transcribed by me:


“According to the golden counsel of that grave philosopher who willeth us oft to view our own PROPORTION in a GLASS, whose form and FEATURE we find fair and worthy to frame our affections accordingly, if otherwise the hair (by skill or will) DEFORMED our outward appearance, and left us odible to the eye of the WORLD, then (to cure, SHADOW, or salve, the same) so to govern and guide our behavior, and so to moderate our inward man, as NATURE herself may...”


and Shakespeare’s R3:


But I, that am not shap'd for sportive tricks,

Nor made to court an amorous looking-GLASS;

I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty

To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;

I, that am curtail'd of this fair PROPORTION,

Cheated of FEATURE by dissembling NATURE,

DEFORMED, unfinish'd, sent before my time  

Into this breathing WORLD, scarce half made up

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them —

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,

Have no delight to pass away the time,

Unless to see my SHADOW in the sun        R3 1.14-26


Doesn’t this prove Shakespeare’s genius? He delights in North’s words—and reverses the context. It’s rather like his putting Plutarch’s description of Cleopatra in the mouth of Enobarbus.”  END QUOTE FROM CARROLL POST


Yes, that is exactly what gives meaning to the allusion, and makes it more than a clever literary parlor trick. It shows WHY Shakespeare went to the trouble of leaving those keywords like a trail of textual breadcrumbs leading the knowing reader to the source he had worked from, thereby subliminally ironizing the reading of Richard III’s speech. 


By close analogy, this is very much the same kind of sly, erudite authorial legerdemain by Shakespeare which I described in my below linked blog post in 2015. I showed that Shakespeare embedded a perfect “SATAN” acrostic in Friar Laurence’s speech to Juliet about the effect of the sleeping potion at pretty much the exact same place as Arthur Brooke embedded two “kissing” SATAN acrostics in Romeus & Juliet.


Just as with North’s meaningful keywords, Shakespeare does not merely slavishly copy his source, he wittily plays off his source, so that a reader who knows Brooke’s play will recognize that Shakespeare created this acrostic in that particular speech, because he wanted it to be recognized that Friar Laurence (as per the Protestant trope of that era re Franciscan monks) is a “Satan” (as Brooke overtly says in his preface, but then seems to undercut in his poem), most of all when FL sets the plan in motion which will end up with Romeo, Juliet, and Paris all dead: 


And in my above post, I also showed that Milton picked up on Shakespeare’s picking up on Brooke’s kissing serpentine Satans, in the (by now) well known SATAN acrostic in Paradise Lost.


It should finally be noted that these are not points likely to be noticed during a live performance of Shakespeare’s plays, these are literary “caviare” for the erudite readers of the texts of his plays.







TLS Letter Regarding Mr. W. H. Dedication

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0138  Friday, 16 February 2018


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

Date:         February 16, 2018 at 7:25:28 AM EST

Subject:    TLS letter regarding Mr WH


Geoffrey Caveney’s theory (SHAKSPER, February 15, 2018) has been aired at least once before on SHAKSPER - in February 2015. There were two respondents (including me) who pointed to what we saw as significant obstacles to his argument. I don’t recall any other development of the debate. Here is an extract from what I wrote then:


...[this] theory, summarized in the article posted by Hardy (SHAKSPER, February 2) is essentially a variant on the flawed William Hall proposition originated by Sidney Lee.


Like the latter, Caveney interprets “begetter” as “procurer”, a stretch of English unsupported by the literature of the time. Like Lee, he is unable to find evidence to support possession of the manuscript poems by his WH. Each takes Thorpe’s address to represent a tribute to WH, though that which is unambiguously wished for the latter is confined to “all happiness”. And neither takes account of Thorpe’s position as an experienced publisher, who would have known that some of the content of the poems would (as corroborated by history) be distasteful to the public.


Caveney’s interpretation is further compromised by the anonymity, opaqueness and brevity of what he postulates to have been a memorial tribute to the recently deceased William Holme....


Anyone interested may read the full narrative at


Ian Steere.




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