October 10, 2010

Shakespeare

I once read a scholarly biography of Shakespeare, which made for an odd experience since we know a fair amount about Shakespeare from property records and the like -- England having enjoyed careful registration of deeds and contracts for many centuries (perhaps more careful, it appears, than in 21st Century America) -- but none of it shedding much light on what we're most interested in: how Shakespeare came to write his plays.

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering the paucity of contemporaneous comment on Shakespeare as a writer, a couple of centuries later various people began to argue that somebody else must have written Shakespeare's plays. As Mark Twain pointed out, there's very little contemporaneous record (at least still remaining) of anybody noticing Shakespeare's retirement or death.

On the other hand, there's even less comment from the early 17th Century suggesting anybody else wrote them.

The truth is that there is always an absolutely colossal amount of popular culture, the vast majority of which is almost quickly forgotten, except for a tiny fraction that stays in a few influential people's minds and comes to form our heritage of high culture.

I suspect it would have been extremely surprising to people in England at the time of Shakespeare's death that 400 years later anybody would be interested in debating who wrote Shakespeare's plays. It's like the joke that drives the plot of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: that a representative of a future civilization has to journey back in time to make sure that Bill & Ted don't have a high school falling out because the heavy metal music of the band they form after high school, Wyld Stallyns, is the basis of all cultural life in the 27th Century.

For another example, think back to the absolutely countless number of funny morning disk jockeys there used to be in America before satellite hook-ups turned local businesses into another winner-take-all industry. What if bootleg recordings of one of them came to be recognized in another generation or two as works of genius? People would wonder why almost nobody had noticed when the great genius disk jockey had been fired.

For example, from age 10 to 13, I thought the funniest guy in the world was the morning man at an underpowered San Fernando Valley radio station KGIL, Dick Whittington, who specialized in zany stunts like announcing that since the Vietnam War was so depressing, America needed to by cheered up by winning a war. Therefore, he led 10,000 listeners on an invasion and conquest of Catalina Island in 1972. And then after a number of years, he quit or got fired, and everybody instantly lost interest, the way most Londoners lost interest in Shakespeare when he retired back to Stratford.

This being the Internet Age, I can quickly find out that there are a few other people out there who have also thought about Dick Whittington in the last 20 years. From them, I can find out that, to my surprise, Whittington appears to be still alive, in retirement on the Central California coast, putatively writing an autobiographical novel. But, for the benefit of the anti-Stratfordians, I can point out that nobody seems to know anything else about Whittington, such as what his real name was, was he Jewish or gentile, straight or gay, how did he survive the Great Hollywood Snowstorm, and so forth?

Do recordings still exist of Dick Whittington's old radio shows? If they do, will our civilization someday come to be based upon them? Will we then have debates over whether he really existed or whether he was just a front man reading rants written for him by more historically significant characters in California  at the time, such as, say, Richard Feynman or Ronald Reagan?

P.S., The corollary of all this is that almost nobody whom we think of as long having not gotten his due was wholly ignored in his own time. For example, Jane Austen's reputation has grown to new and dizzy heights in my own lifetime. Yet, she was by no means unknown in her own. She was a bestselling author, the Prince Regent was an outspoken fan. And then she died, so interest fell off. But a few writers, often the very best, kept reading here and speaking up for her and her reputation endured, then soared in the last few decades. But the point is that rediscovered artists were almost never unknown in their own times. Even Vermeer was a big deal in his prime and during the lost centuries continued to a obsess a narrow lineage of connoisseurs.

138 comments:

Dregs said...

Steve, this is the best appraisal of Joe Sobran I have read yet. (Is anyone else distrubed to know that Scalia doesn't believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare?)

James said...

But his extant signatures do look like those of someone who didn't know how to write. Or perhaps that's just how everyone wrote back then.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point.

If people had been entirely ignored, of course we'd have none of their work preserved. Why would we? So there might have been a brilliant philosopher who just didn't fit in with the mood of the times, so no one bothered to copy his works, they got forgotten, and here we are.

R. J. Stove said...

In terms of classical music's reputations, the strangest posthumous fate is surely that of Monteverdi.

For the last 30 years or so of his life (he died in 1643) Monteverdi was probably Europe's most celebrated living composer. Within a generation almost no-one would admit to having cared about him. I am aware of no evidence that Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, or Schumann ever knew a solitary phrase of Monteverdi's work, or considered themselves handicapped by their ignorance thereof. Verdi knew some of Monteverdi's church music, and was none too keen on it. Very occasional stagings of Monteverdi's operas occurred in the early 1900s, mostly in lavishly re-orchestrated versions by the likes of Respighi. Then they were largely forgotten about. (A 1928 music history on my shelves mis-spells the composer's name as "Monteverde.")

By the time my father was a young man, Monteverdi (in particular the Monteverdi LPs issued by androgynous-sounding Swiss tenor Hugues Cuénod, who, almost unbelievably, is still alive, aged 108) had acquired a certain cultish, collegiate chic among Maynard G. Krebs types. But this was as nothing compared with the Monteverdi-mania that began in the 1970s and still shows no signs of ceasing, with the result that The Coronation of Poppea is now a repertory piece.

So: three centuries of scarcely disturbed oblivion, followed by universal acceptance as an all-time great. Moreover, this acceptance occurred without any single critic's advocacy, such as T.S. Eliot brought to John Donne and the other Metaphysical Poets.

Anyone else know of analogous musical instances? Because I don't.

sabril said...

Why are you skipping the obvious next question:

Is Shakespeare's prominence solely a function of the huge merit of his work? Or is it mainly just the snowball effect of people jumping on the Shakespeare bandwagon in order to demonstrate their intellectual superiority which increases the incentive for other people to do the same thing?

MSG said...

If Shakespeare was just a front for someone else, it would seem difficult to explain how Shakespeare fooled Ben Jonson, his acquaintance and competitor. Every hostile or skeptical thought that occurred to the later anti-Stratfordians would have occurred to Ben Jonson and would have convinced him, had there been a basis for it.

dan said...

My girlfriend likes the line that William Shakespeare's plays were not actually written by him but by somebody else of the same name.

Thursday said...

But the point is that rediscovered artists were almost never unknown in their own times.

The only quibble I'd have with your analysis is that a lot of the great artists weren't necessarily all that popular in their time. But they always had at least a small, elite audience. IIRC, Milton sold around 600 copies or so of Paradise Lost the first time round, but those first readers included Andrew Marvell and John Dryden.

Even in our own day, it is possible to be quite unknown to the general public, yet be a great artist. Garner Moody is a great sculptor, yet I doubt hardly anyone has heard of him.

Even the artists that were seen as merely popular entertainers by most of their contemporaries always had an elite audience. The playwright Calderon was a booster of Cervantes as was Ben Jonson in England. Jonson was also one of Shakespeare's biggest boosters, comparing him to Sophocles and Aeschylus in the dedicatory poem to the First Folio.

BTW I happen to think that in future we will think of Steven Spielberg as the greatest filmmaker of film's first century. Not quite the film Shakespeare, but perhaps the film Homer or Tolstoy.

Thursday said...

BTW has there _ever_ been a case where someone has successfully pulled off passing someone else's work as their own?

Anonymous said...

Hank Whittemore's version of Prince Tudor Theory is absolutely fascinating [timelines e.g. here and here].

I defy any Stratfordian to make that much sense of the sonnets.

Heck, I defy any Stratfordian to make any sense whatsoever of [any single one of?] the sonnets.

Thursday said...

One of the funny things about all the Oxfordian arguments is that they seem to all be based on parallels with the Earl of Oxford's life.

The problem seems to be though, that a lot of these parralels seem to reflect fairly common family situations among the aristocracy. The plot of Hamlet, for example, is rather closely paralleled by the life of King James I.

Wido Incognitus said...

Now THIS is troll-bait!

tanabear said...

Many authors, composers, artists and scientists weren't famous in their own time, yet there is little debate today about who they were and what they did. Johann Sebastian Bach wasn't particularly well-known as a composer during his lifetime. He was even considered old-fashioned and outdated towards the end of his life. Now he is remembered as one of the greatest composers ever.

I've only read a little bit about the Shakespeare authorship controversy. If the evidence was clear cut in any direction such a controversy would not exist. It seems strange that there is a dispute over history's greatest writer, "Shake-speare", while none over Chaucer, Dante, Milton, or Petrarch. All writers who came from the same or earlier era.

The only comparable poet whom scholars debate whether he wrote his works or not is Homer. But he lived at the end of the Greek Dark Ages.

St. D. said...

The NFL's policy on video reviews of controversial plays should also apply to the Shakespeare authorship question: unless there is undisputed evidence to the contrary, the play on the field stands as called.

SFG said...

"such as what his real name was, was he Jewish or gentile, straight or gay, how did he survive the Great Hollywood Snowstorm, and so forth?"

You have to love what the first historical question he comes up with is. :)

Anonymous said...

My favorite factoid about forgotten artists is from opera. Many Americans say that opera is just not American. But that's not true. In the nineteenth century there were more than two thousand operas written in America - mostly about cowboys and Indians.

Not a single note survives.

Shakespeare has been preserved because he became a part of high culture. That is the culture that people brag about at cocktail parties, or attend so as to meet the right sort of people. But of course he achieved his fame and fortune at the time in popular culture. His plays were hits at the time rather the way James Carpenter's movies are popular today. But the serious high culture of his day was in poetry not the stage. For Elizabeth's court Shakespeare was a "guilty pleasure".

Part of the appeal of the high culture is that it is boring and obscure. If you can manage to like Shakespeare's plays or opera while so many of the ordinary people find these once popular entertainments incomprehensible, then you have established a class line - and you're on top. You are clearly a better person because instead of sitting on the sofa at home and watching "Dancing with the Stars" you dress up, travel downtown, and sit through all of "Tristan". If it pure agony for you (I don't care much for Tristan myself)it's better yet. There won't be many competitors in the cultural status competition if the initiation process is so painful.

So it is with Shakespeare. In his day people went to his plays in spite of the negative social costs attached. Today people travel to distant cities and sit through a complete Hamlet missing most of the words and allusions. All that's missing now are super-titles so that people can read what the character on stage actually means. (e.g. "Frailty thy name is woman" might be rendered "The bitch got no cojones".)

Albertosaurus

chris said...

"Contemporaneous" would be more clear than "contemporary" when describing the past.

Anonymous said...

Your point about Austen is well taken. I find it more interesting that most of the "Giants" of Literature/art I knew growing up have simply faded away.

Miller is still popular but does anyone still assert he's up their with O'Neill and T. Williams? Capote and Mailer are fading fast and Sinclair Lewis and John Dos Passos are almost forgotten. Same with Upton Sinclair and Saul Bellow.

And the internet and Cable TV have changed Pop Culture and Celebrity. No longer can some TV exec pick some mediocre journalist like Dan Rather or Sam Donaldson and make him a nationwide TV celebrity. Remember how well known and powerful 'Nightline' was? Or that having a column in Newsweek was a big deal. George Will in 1980 was THE conservative spokesman, now he's almost forgotten.

Kim Vanrando said...

This is awful, Steve... Funny, and shows your mind at work, but clearly you don't know much about either Shakespeare or Elizabethan history.

Shakespeare, unlike any other writer of the time has left no personal literary paper trail, despite being researched probably more than any man in history (they've found a ton of documents, just nothing that has anything do with anything literary). Diana Price has a good book on this - she went thorough every writer from 1588-1616: every single one of them, despite orders of magnitude less energy spent searching, has left behind several literary or tangentially literary primary sources -- a rough draft manuscript of a poem here, or a letter talking about literature there, maybe a receipt of payment for writing this or that, a literary item left in a will, a letter asking for, or thanking someone for patronage, etc. That in itself is very strange and requires explanation. But it's one of maybe 100 equally curious things. For example, Shakespeare clearly knew Italian (and several other languages) and the geography / "tourist sites" of Italy, backwards and forwards: he used sources that were not yet translated, referred to obscure local customs and sites, etc., plus other points of evidence which would take too long to get into here. Also the idea that Shakespeare wrote his plays for kicks and didn't want his plays known to posterity is an absurdity foisted upon us by modern professors of literature, by whom you've been uncharacteristically hoodwinked. First of all, the man from Stratford was an absolute money grubbing shark, from the documentary record (relentless in starting lawsuits over the smallest amounts, hoarding grain in a famine, his mind seemingly always on investments) - yet something liek the sonnets were published in 1609, sold out right away - someone made a lot of money - but he didn't care? Then, when his works were finally published in 1621, they sold like hocakes, despite being expensive. He'd skip that opportunity? then, read his works ferchrissakes - he's obsessed with art making one immortal. Hamlet as written was far too long for conventional theatre (if th egoal was just to bang out pieces for the Globe ttheatre)- obviously it was meant to be read as well as perfromed. Etc.

Ed said...

Somewhat off the point, but Mark Twain also said that those plays were either written by Shakespeare, or by someone else with the same name.

Anonymous said...

It's not only the DJs of the 60s and 70s--think of the giants of old-time classic radio. Eddie Cantor. Arthur Godfrey. These men were the Kings of All Media in their day, household names, with national audiences of tens of millions and further marketed with sponsor goodies and movie tie-ins. And not only totally forgotten by the time their bodies were cold in the grave, but with little hope of any popular revival of their memory.

Actually, you want a Whittington-type candidate, i.e. a localized DJ-type from the 60s and 70s who might be seen by future centuries as the ur-figure or progenitor of a new culture? I'd suggest a guy named Bob Wilkins, who just died, in obscurity, of Alzheimer's early this year.

Wilkins was the bespectacled host of the original late night Creature Features on KTVU in the San Francisco Bay Area, and an afternoon childrens' host who introduced then-arcane Japanese sci-fi to American television audiences for the first time. His shows would locally beat SNL in the ratings, but besides wide popularity, his future influence will be measured by the then-young figures who were devoted to his shows and his way of mediating their message: George Lucas, Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks, and a hefty percentage of the Bay Area late boomers and early Gen-Xers who now run Silicon Valley. If the future of culture in the 21st-23rd centuries will result from the offspring of the offspring of the marriage of that Valley and Hollywood, Wilkins' role could eventually be seen as Hegelian in its importance. And yet, I'll bet few videotapes (if any) remain from CF or, say, Captain Cosmic.

Anonymous said...

Well, we would expect artist who have become canonical to have been successful during their own lifetimes, if only for the reason that someone who completely fails to support himself as an artist will be forced to start spending his time in another line of work. Shakespeare is not a counterexample. The oddballs are more interesting -- off the top of my head, I can think of John Kennedy Toole, who won the Pulitzer prize for A Confederacy of Dunces after he killed himself over his lack of literary success. Maybe he would have written more and become more famous if he had had just a bit of early success.

H.P. Lovecraft had very modest success during his life. After his death, he has gone on to having maybe a bit more than just a cult following. I could imagine that in the future, he could be perceived as having been greater than Edgar Allen Poe.

Anonymous said...

The Feynman/Reagan line is pretty darned funny.

Anonymous said...

I am an oxfordian/anti-stratfordian because as an english lit major, I came to see how almost all worthwhile fiction is based in large part on the author's background and experiences. If you read some of the oxfordian literature (which makes the case that the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere was Shakes-speare), then you will find many amazing parallels between the works of Shakespeare and the life of De Vere/Shake-speare.

It is almost an axiom that worthwhile fiction must be based in large on one's life experiences.
--cryofan

Anonymous said...

OK, I give up.

If Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, then why did Ben Jonson, a contemporary poet and effective rival, never even suggest the possibility that Shakespeare was a fake? Are people really suggesting that Jonson had simply no clue as to the ruse employed -- even though he was himself very much familiar with the entire theatrical community at that point?

How is this dismissed under the conspiracy theory?

Anonymous said...

I've heard that Shakespeare was a workaholic grind out.

Anonymous said...

It is well known that Socrates was the progeny of a stonemason and a midwife -- hardly the cream of aristocracy in Ancient Greece.

I suppose that we should conclude that Socrates didn't really have anything to do with philosophy and the Socratic method -- and, I suppose, that he was unjustly sent to death by the Athenians because he was not capable of exerting a bad influence on youth via philosophy, sophistic or otherwise.

Oh, and BTW, when it comes to the arguments that Shakespeare couldn't have written the stuff he wrote because he wasn't privy to the behavior of nobility, isn't there an obvious like problem for a supposed noble source of Shakespeare's works: any number of Shakespeare's characters were from the lower classes, and have always been held to be likewise authentic in their depiction?

Maybe we should conclude that Shakespeare's work was actually the product of a committee composed of writers from all walks in life and perhaps across all manner of nationalities?

Anonymous said...

"Anyone else know of analogous musical instances? Because I don't."

I know next to nothing about classical music. However, isn't it true that Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and Vivaldi himself, were almost forgotten until the 20th century? By the way, The Four Seasons is one of the most beautiful things my (admittedly ignorant) ears have ever heard.

Mike Kenny said...

Great post!

A fun game to play is to imagine who in our time will actually be remembered in a few hundred year's. Maybe it won't be a person, but something like a TV show. Of course, TV shows seem likely to date more easily than other media.

Sam said...

This is a good book decribing the Shakespeare conspiracies

http://www.amazon.com/Contested-Will-Who-Wrote-Shakespeare/dp/1416541624/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1286746923&sr=8-1

Contested Will by James Shapiro

James Kabala said...

Anonymous: Shakespeare's plots were mostly based on pre-existing stories. Of course, he often turned mediocre material into gold, but original plots were not his forte. The basic Hamlet story (with a happier ending, as the King Lear story also had) predates both Shakespeare and Oxford by centuries.

Shakespeare thought Padua was on the coast and wrote multiple plays set in Venice without ever mentioning the canals. I see no reason to believe the plays were written by a well-traveled man.

Montresor said...

A few words to the wise:

Try to remember that people a lot smarter and talented than you take the Shakespeare Authorship problem very seriously. Not in order of greatness or in any way complete, but but just off the top of my head: Mark Twain, Dickens, Sir Greenwood, Nietzsche, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Freud, Charlton Ogburn, a majority of Supreme Court Justices, Kenneth Branagh, Orson Welles, Sir Derek Jacobi, Sobran, Larry Auster etc.).

Therefore, rather than leaving smug comments (kinda goes for Steve too), either admit you don't know or care much, or do some research first. You can start here http://doubtaboutwill.org/ (and look at how many really smart people have signed the petition in the last 2 years). I absolutely guarantee that if you do such research, especially the negative case about why shaksper the merchant couldn't have written the works, you may or may not become a bliever -- but you will most assuredly not regard the problem as absurd.

Only then read about possible candidates -- Oxford is certainly a strong candidate, but a recent book ("The Ghost of Marlowe" ) makes an absolutely fantastic case for Marlowe -- there is in fact very good evidence pointing to the fact that he didn't die in the tavern, as history has it; the case rests upon evidence that he was a spy for Queen Elizabeth (that he was a spy, and an important one, is unequivocally true, denied by no-one) and that he had been in danger of execution for atheism (also unequivocally true), so he had every reason to fake his death (the "police report" of which, in itself, has never been taken at face value).

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare, unlike any other writer of the time has left no personal literary paper trail, despite being researched probably more than any man in history (they've found a ton of documents, just nothing that has anything do with anything literary). Diana Price has a good book on this - she went thorough every writer from 1588-1616: every single one of them, despite orders of magnitude less energy spent searching, has left behind several literary or tangentially literary primary sources -- a rough draft manuscript of a poem here, or a letter talking about literature there, maybe a receipt of payment for writing this or that, a literary item left in a will, a letter asking for, or thanking someone for patronage, etc. That in itself is very strange and requires explanation.

And so the obvious explanation is that someone else wrote the plays, but left behind absolutely no documentary evidence that he did so, despite the fact that he DID leave behind a not-insubstantial paper trail? I have neither the knowledge nor the motivation to have an opinion about this controversy one way or another, but clearly "lack of a paper trail" is an argument that, in this case, cuts both ways.

dearieme said...

Sir Walter Scott thought that Miss Austen was the bee's knees. Or the cat's maiow.

James Kabala said...

I can't waste any more time on this (unless really provoked), but here are two good review of the book cited by Ms. Vanrando.

http://stromata.tripod.com/id115.htm

http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~ahnelson/price.html

And by the Price/Vanrando standard, why aren't they any surviving Shakespeare manuscripts in Oxford's hand?

Anonymous said...

R. J. Stove: But this was as nothing compared with the Monteverdi-mania that began in the 1970s and still shows no signs of ceasing, with the result that The Coronation of Poppea is now a repertory piece... Anyone else know of analogous musical instances? Because I don't.

Well, there's the converse: Mahler was something of a demi-God [or maybe even a full-blown God] when I was a kid, back in the 1970s.

But nowadays, you NEVER hear the guy anymore.

A cynic might point out that that timeline coincides almost perfectly with the rise of Jewish hegemony in the MainStream Media [the MSM], and that maybe somebody is still nursing a grudge about Mahler's conversion to Popery, but, hey, who knows?

We still get to hear Mendelssohn, and he converted to Lutheran Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Again: If there are any ardent Stratfordians on this board, then I welcome you to try to explain even one single sonnet.

eh said...

Shakespeare has been preserved because he became a part of high culture.

Or maybe Cliff Notes employs good lobbyists.

Baloo said...

My Shakespeare contribution HERE.

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend likes the line that William Shakespeare's plays were not actually written by him but by somebody else of the same name.

Got home today to find everything in my house had been replaced with a perfect replica.

Anonymous said...

"Is Shakespeare's prominence solely a function of the huge merit of his work? Or is it mainly just the snowball effect of people jumping on the Shakespeare bandwagon in order to demonstrate their intellectual superiority which increases the incentive for other people to do the same thing?"

There is that. There's also another dynamic. Eugene O'Neill stock was up when he was alive, went down for a long time, and is now back up. A critic will get bored going with the flow and re-assess someone. (In O'Neill's case they chastised him for not being experimental and for being melodramatic and derivative). Then that becomes the new standard and the next generation goes the other way.

Baloo said...

Did you ever notice how the quality of Vonnegut's writing dropped when Nixon died? Just something to think about.

Anonymous said...

Steve, there's still hope that posterity will accord your writing with the attention it deserves!

Jim O said...

@Anonymous who starts "OK, I give up."
One hates to answer a question with another question, but: why didn't Ben Jonson mention him at all as a playwright during Shaksper's lifetime??? Why didn't anybody? I don't get how you can look at the overwhelming evidence that the author's work corresponded so closely to DeVere's life experiences, and answer it conclusively by pointing out something that Jonson didn't say.

I mean, the absence of evidence that Jonson called him out as a fraud is evidence that Shaksper was the playwright, but the absence of evidence before the publication of the First Folio - seven long years after his death - that Jonson ever mentioned him is evidence of, well, what? Nothing?

Read the Stratfordians carefully. Whenever we say "DeVere would have known what the author obviously knew (the Italian language and geography; detailed knowledge of the history of English Royalty; the plots of works that had not yet been translated into English; intimate, fluent knowledge of the legal terms; the love life of the young Earl of Southhampton*)" they respond "well, the Stratford man could have learned them, too. And therefore he must have, if you start from the unshakeable presumption that Shaksper was the author.
Could have = did.
Really did = [hands over ears] Nah, nah, nah! Not listening!!!

Shear illogic. Anybody ever hear of Occam's razor?

And the Oxfordians are unpersuasive?

*Except for Southhampton. Since the sonnets mirror DeVere's life so closely, Statfordians resort to the assertion that the story they tell is as meaningless as Lennon's Revolution Number 9.

Claverhouse said...

Thursday said:


The problem seems to be though, that a lot of these parralels seem to reflect fairly common family situations among the aristocracy. The plot of Hamlet, for example, is rather closely paralleled by the life of King James I.


Quite; and the greatest of American authors, James Branch Cabell wittily reset an imaginary wild version of James' relationship with his greater son far back in Renaissance Italy in The King Was in His Counting House... There are comparatively few basic plots, we are told.


"Abominable and prosaic tyrant, your work shall go on. I promise you, sir, that so often as the weather permits, the town band shall continue to play in the plaza."

Mencius Moldbug said...

If Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, then why did Ben Jonson, a contemporary poet and effective rival, never even suggest the possibility that Shakespeare was a fake? Are people really suggesting that Jonson had simply no clue as to the ruse employed -- even though he was himself very much familiar with the entire theatrical community at that point?

Let me get this straight: you're suggesting (by implication) that Ben Jonson, because he was a pretty damned good writer, inevitably told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in the material he published?

(Jonson does mention Shakespeare/Shaksper in his private journal, Timber, which was not meant for publication at least in his lifetime. Unfortunately, this text is at least as plausibly read to refer to the actor-producer, Mr. Shaksper, whom we find in the records - the Beard and not the Bard.)

But this is a perfect example of the kind of presentism we generally see in arguments that the Oxfordian thesis is implausible. Because the Ben Jonsons of 2005 would have been unable, unwilling, and uninterested in keeping such a secret, especially after the writer's death, it is assumed that for the Ben Jonsons of 1605, this narrative is no less implausible.

Of course, to imply this is to be wildly misinformed - at best - about the social reality of Elizabethan England. Dude, this is not a costume drama; it's an alien society. A hundred years later, Defoe could still get himself sent to the stocks for a seditious pamphlet.

Even the Englishmen of the late 17th century could not really understand Elizabethan society. The entire royalist universe, the universe which created Oxford if not Shaksper, had been smashed by history's first modern leftist revolution. The Restoration restored nothing like it. And the England of the Whig triumphant is, was, and always has been very well-disposed to accept the legend of the Barefoot Bard. Even Dr. Johnson, not exactly a Whig, descends into bucolic bathos on the subject of Shakespeare.

Anonymous said...

I think the plays were written by William Shatner.

David said...

>Is Shakespeare's prominence solely a function of the huge merit of his work? Or is it mainly just the snowball effect of people jumping on the Shakespeare bandwagon in order to demonstrate their intellectual superiority<

Tolstoy thought so. He detested Shakespeare.

>isn't it true that Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and Vivaldi himself, were almost forgotten until the 20th century?<

Yes, but he had an artistically prominent "re-discoverer" or advocate: Ezra Pound.

>any number of Shakespeare's characters were from the lower classes, and have always been held to be likewise authentic in their depiction[....] Maybe we should conclude that Shakespeare's work was actually the product of a committee composed of writers from all walks in life and perhaps across all manner of nationalities?<

Excellent observation.

mike said...

R.J. Stove - if Monteverdi was forgotten, one of his tunes certainly wasn't. The madrigal "Zefiro torna," from "Scherzi musicali," set as a fuga per canonem (two voices in canon at unison over a ground), was used as the basis for pieces (among others) by Tarquinio Merulo, Giovanni Felice Sances, Mario Cazzati, John Blow, Philipp Jakob Rittler, Heinrich von Biber, Johannes Schenck, and Niccolo Piccinni. It thus served as a point of departure for other compositions for more than a century. The original may be heard at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6tjWY2Vaz4

The contention that the rustic Shakespeare could not possibly have written such sophisticated plays deserves comparison with what we know of some of the musical composers of his time. How about (for example) Giles Farnaby? He was every bit as much a rustic as Shakespeare, and although he somehow was graduated B. Mus. from Oxford in 1592, spent most of his life as a "joyner" (cabinet-maker) and not as a professional musician. Yet many of his pieces require great skill to play (e.g., "Up tails all"), and others (e.g., "His Humour") show him to be a capable parodist of his contemporaries.

Reasoning along the lines of the various anti-Stratfordian arguments, the case might be made that a country bumpkin from Cornwall could not possibly have shaken the wood shavings from his rough homespun to compose these demanding and sometimes witty keyboard pieces. No one has done so, perhaps because it takes more effort to peruse the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and speculate about the origins of its content than is necessary with the Yale Shakespeare - but the parallel ought to be plain. Farnaby is as improbable a composer as Shakespeare is a playwright. And yet we possess works of high merit attributed to each of them.

As Sobran did to the conventional account of the Holocaust, I will stipulate to the Stratfordian argument, since it is not really something I know enough about to judge the various claims, and I am happy to be agnostic about such issues.

This being said, I believe the anti-Stratfordians under-estimate the quality of education that was available to the English middle class of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods; and I agree with James (second from the top comment) in his second suggestion that Shakespeare's extant signatures look just how everyone who used the common English secretary hand, and was not a professional scribe, wrote back then.

David said...

For the love of God, Montresor, please do some reading yourself.

Argumentum ad vercundiam

>you will most assuredly not regard the problem as absurd<

Who said it was absurd? Don't put words in my mouth.

Anonymous said...

how can you post this? you don't know the topic at all . not at all. It's like you decided to post about "shakespeare" and pulled out sentences out of your ass.

btw, it was Ed DeVere, aka Oxenford that wrote the plays.

James Kabala said...

OK, one more comment: Instead of just thundering anathemas, could Moldbug give a few examples of the sort of royalist worldview that no commoner in Elizabethan England could be expected to possess?

In fact:

"Muriel St. Clare Byrne... came to a very different conclusion. I am inclined to take Ms. Byrne's opinions on this subject seriously; she was the author of Elizabethan Life in Town and Country, one of the standard Elizabethan social histories, and she edited the letters of both Henry VIII and of Arthur Plantaganet, Viscount Lisle, so she knew something about sixteenth-century court life. She wrote the chapter on 'The Social Background' in the 1940 book A Companion to Shakespeare Studies, edited by Harley Granville-Barker and G. B. Harrison. In this essay, she illustrates that Shakespeare made numerous mistakes in the depiction of court life in the plays, and that his 'court' households often bear a much closer relationship to a typical middle-class household than they do to an actual Tudor noble household. She also found that the accuracy of his depiction of noble households increased in the later plays, as though the author had gained knowledge and experience (by whatever means)."

Source: http://www.shakespeareauthorship.com/aristocrat.html

R. J. Stove said...

Anonymous writes: "isn't it true that Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and Vivaldi himself, were almost forgotten until the 20th century?"

Yes and no. Most of Vivaldi's music was forgotten till the 20th century, but not all of it, because Bach arranged for keyboard several Vivaldi works; and these arrangements continued to be remembered even when the rest of Vivaldi's output had fallen into neglect. No such connection with a younger genius benefited Monteverdi.

James Kabala said...

Jim O.: Christopher Marlowe was not recorded as a playwright by ANYONE during his (admitedly brief) lifetime. Only after his death did his name appear on the title page of two posthumously published works. One of his plays (Tamburlaine) was not linked with his name until DECADES after his death. The surname "Marlowe" comes from these title pages; he spelled it "Marley" in his only recorded signature, and Cambridge records call him "Marlin." He never traveled to Malta, let alone the Middle East. Did Marlowe write his own plays?

Peter A said...

Anyone who actually speaks Italian and knows something about 16th century Italy can tell you that Shakespeare's plays are about as realistic as your average ABC sitcom. I've never seen any evidence in the plays that Shakespeare knew anything at all about Italy other than the stereotypes then current in popular culture. The other element the anti-Stratfordians forget is that Shakespeare's plays were very probably collaborative efforts - he didn't write novels. Other people in the theatre troupe probably gave him ideas, suggestions and corrections all the time. It's probably true that Bill Shakespeare gets credit for many lines and plots he didn't come up with himself - the same way Mick Jagger and Keith Richards steal ideas all the time and publish under their names. The anti-Stratfordians are the ones refusing to use Occam's razor.

Mencius Moldbug said...

Shakespeare thought Padua was on the coast

This is a lie.

and wrote multiple plays set in Venice without ever mentioning the canals.

This is also a lie.

I can't waste any more time on this (unless really provoked)

This is always the tactic of the denialist: lie and run. He never stays for a fight; he never admits error, even the most glaring; his goal is to pack the maximum insult into the minimum number of words.

Montresor said...

>For the love of God, Montresor<

Nice ;)

>Argumentum ad vercundiam

>Who said it was absurd? Don't put words in my mouth.<

My point is, a lot of people pass off the Shakespeare authorship question as tin-foil hat material. If you research it in good faith, however, you may not be convinced, but you will see that it is a legitimate question, persuasive to lots of really smart people, and as such, it's a travesty that there isn't more academic research allowed to be done on the topic. The same way that researching race/IQ can end a social sciences career, so can showing any doubt about Shakespearean authorship end a humanities career.

Mencius Moldbug said...

Christopher Marlowe was not recorded as a playwright by ANYONE during his (admitedly brief) lifetime. Only after his death did his name appear on the title page of two posthumously published works. One of his plays (Tamburlaine) was not linked with his name until DECADES after his death. The surname "Marlowe" comes from these title pages; he spelled it "Marley" in his only recorded signature, and Cambridge records call him "Marlin." He never traveled to Malta, let alone the Middle East. Did Marlowe write his own plays?

I invite any fool (or anyone who might otherwise be fooled by this) to examine Marlowe's Wikipedia page and note the many educational and literary references.

Was this the same guy that posted the Marlowe signature? I forget. But it illustrates the tactics of the Stratfordian (or any denialist): they are used to arguing without opposition, making devastating put-downs that will not stand any cross-examination at all.

Anyone who actually speaks Italian and knows something about 16th century Italy can tell you that Shakespeare's plays are about as realistic as your average ABC sitcom.

Um, if you're looking for literary realism, you're about three centuries too early. No one is arguing that Shakespeare was actually Michael Gold.

I've never seen any evidence in the plays that Shakespeare knew anything at all about Italy other than the stereotypes then current in popular culture.

See the links above. But also, who should I believe? You, or Ernesto Grillo? I'd like to see you get into a Guinea Deathmatch with Professor Grillo.

Mencius Moldbug said...

James Kabala:

Instead of just thundering anathemas, could Moldbug give a few examples of the sort of royalist worldview that no commoner in Elizabethan England could be expected to possess?

Shakespeare:

The heavens themselves, the planets and this centre
Observe degree, priority and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office and custom, in all line of order;
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthroned and sphered
Amidst the other; whose medicinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,
And posts, like the commandment of a king,
Sans cheque to good and bad: but when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents! what mutiny!
What raging of the sea! shaking of earth!
Commotion in the winds! frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixure! O, when degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
Then enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows! each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores
And make a sop of all this solid globe:
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead:
Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong,
Between whose endless jar justice resides,
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.

Mencius Moldbug said...

How about (for example) Giles Farnaby? He was every bit as much a rustic as Shakespeare, and although he somehow was graduated B. Mus. from Oxford in 1592

Really? So where was Shakspere's degree from? The Stratford Free School's records are lost. Oxford's aren't.

Social mobility in a restricted sense was not at all unheard of in the Elizabethan (and earlier) eras, but it took place exclusively through the educational system, which did an excellent job of finding poor bright kids and getting them into the educational system. It was probably better than England's system today.

Cardinal Wolsey, for instance, was a butcher's son. Marlowe's origins were as low as Shaksper's, though not as provincial. But Marlowe is a scholarship boy who went to Cambridge. Not at all unusual.

The kind of education it took to create the learning in the Shakespeare canon is, IMHO, a degree above even the Elizabethan scholarship track. It suggests private tutoring - eg, someone whose uncle was Arthur Golding, England's first translator of Ovid.

It's important not to forget that the Shakespeare author is first and foremost a poet. The plays are amazing, but the verse still more. When you search for "rustic poets of the Elizabethan era," you get a very blank screen. Only centuries later do you see the likes of John Clare, Robbie Burns, etc - and "Venus and Adonis" is not terribly reminiscent of John Clare.

Mike said...

How about the "coast of Bohemia" in "A Winter's Tale"? I have seen the claim that this is a reference to a time when Bohemia actually had a coast on the Adriatic, during the reign of Ottokar II, who reigned in the early 13th century.

Numerous errors of historical detail in Shakespeare's plays, as well as in those of known writers of noble birth (e.g., Ariosto and Tasso) suggest that even relatively recent history - 400 or 500 years before their time - were not well known at this period either to aristocrat or to tradesman.

The Bohemia known to both noble and commoner at the time "A Winter's Tale" was first performed was then a landlocked kingdom. It is commonly thought that the Bohemian seacoast made its way into the play via a widely performed anonymous play entitled "Mucedorus." It went through 17 editions prior to the Restoration - more than other play of its time - and would have been widely known to the ordinary theatre-goer. If anything, an aristocrat might have been expected to be aware that contemporary Bohemia was landlocked, when a less well educated man, relying on this popular play for information, would not have done.

James Kabala said...

That passage proves that Shakespeare had conservative, pro-hierarchical political beliefs (or at least that he put such beliefs into the mouth of a character); it doesn't prove that he was himself an aristocrat.

A lengthy but inconclusive footnote by a modern editor over one ambiguous word in The Merchant of Venice is not enough to convince me that Shakespeare was aware of the Venetian canal system when he repeatedly refers to Venetian "streets."

Marlowe's Wikipedia page is interesting; it doesn't contain references to him as an author when he was still alive.

Pentheus said...

Mencius Moldbug:

I wonder why you write with such committed passion on this particular subject. I have never seen you express such fervency or vitriol on your website. It almost makes me wonder who is the real author of these Shakespeare comments here ascribed to you.

It is a bit much to label people, especially people not so deeply involved in the Shakespeare Authorship debate, as "denialists" (and compare them to Holocaust deniers!) for disagreeing with, or even questioning, the Oxfordian view on this very scholarly question. Would you think it appropriate for Homer scholars to call each other "denialists" for their differing theories of the authorship of Homer's works?

BTW - I have theory as to why Steve put up this Shaekspeare post. It was because you (MM) stirred the pot well in the Sobran comment thread and he wanted to get a reaction and keep it going as part of a primary post. I would take this as a compliment.

Mike said...

Re - Shakespeare's knowledge of Italy, Dame Frances Yates pointed out in her 1934 biography of John Florio that much of it appears to originate in Florio's Italian-English phrase books, and his dictionary "A World of Words." There are even those who believe that Florio wrote the Shakespeare plays. Florio was a professional scholar (he made the first English translation of the essays of Montaigne), as well as being intimate with several aristocratic families and with the royal household of Anne of Denmark, queen consort of James VI/I.

The dramatis personæ of "Love's Labour Lost" include a character named Berowne. Dame Frances pointed out the similarities of this character to Giordano Bruno in her 1936 study of the play. Florio was personally acquainted with Bruno during his stay in England, and introduced him to the crowd mentioned in Bruno's "Cena de le ceneri." "Love's Labour Lost" is so reconditely intellectual that if it would have been beyond William of Stratford, perhaps it would also have been beyond Oxford. Maybe Florio's your man.

Anonymous said...

Tolstoy thought so. He detested Shakespeare.

So did Napoleon Bonaparte. And J.R.R. Tolkien.

Bardolatry has by no means been a universal faith over the course of history. Some great minds have never gotten the memo.

Anonymous said...

Read the poems. Honest to God, you believe they were written by an illiterate country bumpkin? Really?

Galtonian said...

How about the idea that Edward DeVere and William Shakespeare were lovers and that Shakespeare was DeVere's confidant during the years that Shakespeare lived in London?

In this way William Shakespeare could have acquired much of the intimate knowledge of elite background ascribed to Edward DeVere.

Anonymous said...

The portrait of Christopher Marlowe on the wikipedia page is a spitting image of what a young William Shakespeare would look like based on his Folio portrait.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that William Shakespeare of Stratford raised two daughters who were illiterate. Daughters are not sons, I know, but still, come on.

Anonymous said...

The idea that Shakespeare couldn't have written his poems because he supposedly was some kind of country bumpkin is simply bizarre.

Look, Ben Franklin got no education beyond the age of ten. He became an intellectual prominent across the world, and was considered greatly sophisticated even by the French. Abraham Lincoln was formally educated apparently only for 18 months and became one of the greatest debaters and orators in American history. Keats had no formal education beyond age 14. Thomas Chatterton composed remarkable pieces of poetry before even the age of 12 that he managed to convince a number of quite literate people were written instead by a medieval poet.

Somehow, in the face of this demonstrated record of the ability of human beings with great underlying verbal talent to overcome poor formal education, I just don't feel much inclined to believe that Shakespeare could never have composed the poems attributed to him because he was "a country bumpkin". Shakespeare's father was a prominent member of the village of Stratford -- certainly affluent enough to have afforded his son everything short of a university education.

And as for the idea that Shakespeare couldn't have written about nobility with the knowledge he did, I think it's worthwhile to remember two things:

1. We have no idea how accurate Shakespeare's depiction of nobility actually was. It's hardly as though there's some independent, extremely detailed contemporaneous sociological study of the nobility against which we can check Shakespeare's depiction for full accuracy. All we have is a depiction that seems authentic enough to us.

2. Creating what seems like an authentic characterization is just what good writers do, and great writers do stupendously well. That is why it's not only the nobility in Shakespeare who seem authentic, but also the soldiers, the women, the jesters, and just about every other kind of person who turns up in his plays.

Anonymous said...

Tolstoy thought so. He detested Shakespeare.

Oh, I despise Shakespeare's nihilism [both his obvious, explicit nihilism, and the deeper, underlying structural nihilism inherent to his entire approach to the language].

But, sadly, to the best of my knowledge, he's the greatest wordsmith in the English language.

[Although if anyone knows of a better wordsmith in the English language, then do tell.]

Anonymous said...

The same way that researching race/IQ can end a social sciences career, so can showing any doubt about Shakespearean authorship end a humanities career.

Oh, please. If an academic were to emerge from an archive with positive proof that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, and if he were to present said proof soberly and thoroughly, with due attention to any objections that might be raised (as opposed to concocting a conspiracy theory based on dubious assumptions and circumstantial evidence, and delivering said theory with a liberal helping of paranoia and hyperbole and disregard for alternative explanations), that academic would have more job offers than he would know what to do with.

Ray Sawhill said...

The Italian Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca, now considered one of the immortals, was more or less forgotten for almost 400 years.

http://www.2blowhards.com/archives/2003/01/pieros_reputation.html

Glaivester said...

Thursday: BTW has there _ever_ been a case where someone has successfully pulled off passing someone else's work as their own?

If there has been, we don't know about it, becaue if there has been, then by definition that fact is not publicly accepted. The moment the accusers stop being fringe elements and become mainstream, the person has no longer successfully pulled it off, have they?

albertosaurus: All that's missing now are super-titles so that people can read what the character on stage actually means. (e.g. "Frailty thy name is woman" might be rendered "The bitch got no cojones".)

Actually, a better rendering would be "Women are by nature sluts," or, to be colloquial "Bitches are all sluts." "Frailty" was used in that line to imply poor sexual self-control rather than physical weakness or cowardice.

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare was a prosperous business man, developing various luxury properties including the Globe theater, but also someone who wrote drama for popular tastes. He was not a starving artist at any time during his brilliant career, although he was born into modest circumstances. This suggests he was REALLY smart -- it is estimated that he had a vocabulary of nearly 30,000 words.

So I can imagine him as a well off real estate developer and theater mavin at a time when live theater was huge. And when you have part ownership of some cash cow theater in London and are getting a big take of the box office receipts, of course you are going to try to come up with decent dramatic material that will pull in the crowds.

Think of Titus Andronicus as Shakespeare's Sam Peckinpah phase.

As for why Shakespeare didn't more carefully establish his authorship over his works, I'd say it was because there was no percentage in doing so. Copyright law in Elizabethan England, what's that? Great plays were meant for immediate performance and public consumption. I'm sure Shakespeare thought himself well rewarded for his literary efforts since the globe seated about 1000 patrons. And he then would take his cut and wisely invest it in London real estate.

Anonymous said...

"Read the poems. Honest to God, you believe they were written by an illiterate country bumpkin? Really?"

Nope. The education Shakespeare would have got in Stratford would have been considerably more rigorous than most universities in the US today.

The question, if there is one, is why some people feel the compulsion to assign the authorshipt of the plays elsewhere. The 'country bumpkin' claim is weak and there is no other name associated with the plays.

Sobran et al were just cranks. Sorry to spoil the conspiracy for you.

Heliogabalus said...

Anonymous says:

"Mahler was something of a demi-God [or maybe even a full-blown God] when I was a kid, back in the 1970s. But nowadays, you NEVER hear the guy anymore."

What utter bunk!:

http://mahler.universaledition.com/

http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/find/festivals-series/201011-mahler-anniversary-season

http://www.mahler150.com/en_GB/home

dearieme said...

"The education Shakespeare would have got in Stratford would have been considerably more rigorous than most universities in the US today." Alas, that claim is credible.

"Little Latin and less Greek" puts him well ahead of the modern undergraduate, since even those modest amounts would have been taught with rigour.

David said...

>The kind of education it took to create the learning in the Shakespeare canon is, IMHO, a degree above even the Elizabethan scholarship track.<

With the right tutor, you too can become "Shakespeare" in six easy lessons.

Without one, you will remain a "country bumpkin."

Moldy is an Educator, evidently.

Dahinda said...

Steve,in your time in Chicago, did you ever listen to Steve Dahl?

neil craig said...

I was surprised to find that Dick Whittingon had moved from the Mayor's office of 14thC London to modern California. Who would have thunk such an histroically well known person would do that.

Jim O said...

The anonymous who says "nope" after quoting someone else is pretty typical of Stratfordians. Just ad hominim attacks.
Except for the profound observation that a sixth grade education was better then than now. Well, that settles it, right?

If I wrote comments like that, I'd prefer to be anonymous, too.

James Kabala: I know so little about Marlowe (other than that he died in 1593 at age 29) that I can't debate the topic with you. I don't see, however, its relevence to the Shakespeare authorship issue. The fact that no one wrote of Shakerspeare as a poet or playwright during his life time (or even at his death) is only one small brick in the wall of evidence for DeVere.

The work "canal" admittedly does not appear in his plays based in Venice, but a mis-trascription of the word "traghetto," the ferry used to cross the canals in the 16th Century, does.
JK, this is but one of the nits that Stratfordians pick when faced with the overwhelming evidence that only a man who had lived Devere's life could have been the author.

MQ said...

could Moldbug give a few examples of the sort of royalist worldview that no commoner in Elizabethan England could be expected to possess?

I find Moldy's perspective here odd (as usual with him), since MM himself is a commoner with a royalist worldview. And that at a time when reactionary royalism is massively out of favor, as opposed to Elizabethan England when it was the leading political ideology throughout the society.

Anonymous said...

In line with my theory that Shakespeare was in it for money: he only wrote stuff you could sell: 37 plays and 154(?) sonnets. Books of sonnets no doubt could fetch considerable sums when sold in the street -- think Hallmark. Plays generated box office revenues.

Heady essays about the nature of God could be left to Sir Francis Bacon and other over educated noble toffs born into the world with property, which might include a bucolic estate and a mansion with a well appointed library.

Robert said...

The Earl of Derby is a better fit than the Earl of Oxford.

Montresor said...

>Oh, please. If an academic were to emerge from an archive with positive proof that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare,<

No, you don't get it. Someone involved with a major academic institution will be run out of town if he even admits skepticism on the issue. Say goodbye to a tenure-track position anywhere good. Be prepared to be ostracized in your own department. How will he find the time, funds, support to try such a thing? The reason all the authorship stuff is done by independent scholars (usually wealthy) is because you cannot even bring up the authorship question in major English departments, the same way you can't be in the biology department at a major university and say you want to study creationism. The difference, of course, is that there's not a single major (or even minor) life scientist who finds creationism compelling. On the other hand, there are and have been dozens of thinkers and writers of the highest rank who could be expected to understand literature as well as the few careerist professors who are actually "experts" (most everyone else just follows the herd), dozens of notable lawyers and judges who could be expected to understand evidence pretty damn well, dozens of psychologists, historians, theatre personalities (Mark Rylance!)-- such that treating authorship skeptics as tin-foil hat wearers reveals more about the accusers than the accused.

Anonymous said...

"Tolstoy thought so. He detested Shakespeare."

Oh, I despise Shakespeare's nihilism [both his obvious, explicit nihilism, and the deeper, underlying structural nihilism inherent to his entire approach to the language].

But, sadly, to the best of my knowledge, he's the greatest wordsmith in the English language.

[Although if anyone knows of a better wordsmith in the English language, then do tell.]


People misusing the word 'nihilism' on the iSteve blog comments section should be stood up against the wall and shot. It is really, really tiresome abuse of the English language.

Mike said...

A point about Shakespeare's plays that may have been made somewhere in this discussion already is that most of them were borrowed from earlier sources and they also featured stock characters, particularly in servile roles, to provide low comedy for the standees in the pit of the theatre. These stock characters - porters, nurses, etc. - can be found in many other plays of the period.

After hearing a few instrumental pieces and religious cantatas by the seventeenth-century composer Alessandro Stradella, some years ago I obtained a CD of his opera "Il Floridoro, o moro per amore." As I listened to it, its plot seemed vaguely "Shakespearean" - with lovers in disguise at a royal court, and a young noblewoman with a valetudinarian nurse (the latter played for laughs). The libretto was by Flavio Orsini, duke of Bracchiano.

This name brought to mind "Twelfth Night," in which one of the dramatis personæ was Orsino, duke of Illyria. According to notes in the Yale Shakespeare, the character's name was inspired by Virginio Orsini, duke of Bracchiano - the grandfather (I believe) of the librettist of "Il Floridoro." Duke Virginio may have seen a performance of the play. He certainly was in London at the time of its first performance.

I'm not sure that Flavio Orsini had any knowledge of Shakespeare, but it is without doubt that both "Twelfth Night" and "Il Floridoro" drew on the "Inganni" plays that had been popular in Italy since the sixteenth century. Likewise, the comic servants are a constant presence in Italian drama, even when it is tragic; cf. Arnalta, Poppea's nurse in "L'incoronazione di Poppea."

If Shakespeare was acquainted with John Florio, used Florio as a script doctor, or in fact this and other Shakespeare plays in Italian settings were written by Florio, knowledge of their sources in old Italian plays is easily explained - just as well or better than in the case of the earl of Oxford.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, to me Shakespeare's Italian characters sound an awful lot like Englishmen, except with o's at the end of their names. His Moor sounds... English. His Vienna sounds like... England. His Illyria sounds like... England. His Rome and Egypt sound like... England. His Denmark sounds like... England.

I'll admit his Scotland sounds a little Scottish to me, but that could be whimsy, I'm no expert on Scotland.

My sense of the author is not one of a world traveler, but of a guy who was interested in everything, who talked to everyone and listened to what they said, and who lived in a big bustling metropolis where he could meet lots of different types of people.

If you read Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World," it does a pretty good job of mapping elements of Shakespeare's life against his work. I find the sheer modesty of scale of the claims more persuasive than the (I have to say kind of nutty) idea that the Shakespeare canon is actually de Vere's autobiography in secret code, b/c he went to Italy, got jealous there, and knew some moneylenders. You mean like every other aristocratic wastrel dining out on his family fortune?

Maybe Shakespeare didn't speak Italian or French, but he knew Latin (a grammar school was pretty good in those days) and has a schoolboy's smirking contempt for it a lot of the time, and for abstruse learning in general ("For what says Quinapalus?"). Italian and French could be easily translated. I can't speak for the Italian stuff, but I seem to recall that the French in the wooing scene at the end of Henry V is pretty pedestrian stuff; I could read it with two years of high school French.

One last thing, de Vere fans: stop with the whole "Stratfordian" business, it makes you sound like petulant children. The present and long-standing consensus is and has been that "William Shakespeare" is the author of Shakespeare, not some guy named Stratford. The onus is on you guys to prove your case, so stop sledging against the accepted author with this invented word "Stratfordian." Have enough maturity to use "Shakespearean" until you legitimately win, which I doubt will ever happen. Be grownups about it, for pete's sake.

Mr. Anon said...

"James Kabala said...

A lengthy but inconclusive footnote by a modern editor over one ambiguous word in The Merchant of Venice is not enough to convince me that Shakespeare was aware of the Venetian canal system when he repeatedly refers to Venetian "streets.""

Venice does have streets; it's not all canals. In fact it has more streets than it has canals.

C. Van Carter said...

Ben Jonson never went to university. Maybe he didn't write his plays, either.

The poems Vere signed his name to are drivel. Maybe this was on purpose, to deflect suspicion he was the author behind Shakespeare.

The influence of Golding's Ovid can be detected in Shakespeare. It's strange a university educated genius would need to lean on someone else's Latin translation.

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, I had Steve Dahl in mind when writing this.

Steve Sailer said...

RE: Lord Mayor Dick Whittington.

The disk jockey who used that name once called up Buckingham Palace live and got Queen Elizabeth II on the phone using nothing other than some fast talking about having a historic name.

Anonymous said...

Actually this whole fru-ha-ha is just another form of the nature-nurture controversy and is therefore consonant with the main thrust of this blog.

Let's all agree that whoever wrote the Shakespeare plays was a damn good playwright. Now comes the harder question - did that excellence proceed from his genetics or his environment?

If you believe that most intellectual excellence comes from your genetic makeup you will probably have little trouble believing that Shakespeare arose from the great middle part of the population. More people = more chances for a genius.

If you believe however that intellectual attainment is the product of a superior environment than you will be susceptible to arguments that attribute authorship to someone from a "better" family or someone who went to a better school.

Let's suppose that one percent of the population is privileged and ninety nine percent aren't. Or make it ten percent privileged if you like. If schooling is of overwhelming importance then all of your famous composers, artists, poets, and writers will have been aristocrats. Joseph II wrote better music than Mozart - right?

If on the other hand you think genius arises by fortuitous genetic expressions then you would expect such creative people to have come from where there are the most people.

This whole Shakespeare authorship controversy is a kind of projection test. Those who favor some Earl or King as the "true" author betray a fondness for aristocracy and a belief in elite schooling.

Shakespeare was smarter than I am. I sometimes have trouble understanding how a man of such a modest background could write so convincingly about parts of the court and Europe which he had never himself directly experienced. But then I remember - Shakespeare was smarter than I am.

Albertosaurus

James Kabala said...

Mr. Anon: Yes, I wrote a bit sloppily there.

Anonymous said...

No, you don't get it. Someone involved with a major academic institution will be run out of town if he even admits skepticism on the issue.

There's that paranoid hyperbole again. First of all, casually raising the "anti-Stratfordian" possibilities in conversation with colleagues isn't going to get anyone run out of town. Secondly, there would be nothing to prevent a scholar with suspicions about authorship from undertaking research in the biography of Shakespeare and the literary history of Elizabethan England, as long as such research was not advertised as a fishing expedition.

Sure, professional academics need to be extra careful when they rock the boat. They might have to keep their speculations private until they can prove them. But that's a feature, not a bug.

C. Van Carter said...

Montresor:

These professors weren't "run out of town", despite claiming Oxford wrote works attributed to Shakespeare and works attributed to Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe, Lyly, Holinshed, and a few dozen others

Anonymous said...

The Boston Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of wobbly dotard James Levine, is performing Mahler (and Wagner) this very week.

Brutus

Mike said...

As for Shakespeare's Italy seeming English - bear in mind that John Florio (who was certainly a great source of Italian material for Shakespeare, if not more) had never spent a day of his life in Italy. He was more English than Italian; Protestant, the son of a Protestant refugee, brought up to speak Italian, and had experienced travel in Protestant Europe, but no doubt would have been immured in the dungeons of the Inquisition (as his friend Giordano Bruno was) had he dared enter Italy. Thus, his acquaintance with the country of his ancestors was indirect, through his father, through its literature, and through occasional contact with Italian visitors to England.

Anonymous said...

People misusing the word 'nihilism' on the iSteve blog comments section should be stood up against the wall and shot. It is really, really tiresome abuse of the English language.

Trust me, I know exactly what I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

Books of sonnets no doubt could fetch considerable sums when sold in the street -- think Hallmark.

For the umpteenth time, I beseech of the Stratfordians: Pick a random number between 1 and 154.

Call it X.

Then plug X into your browser window thusly:

http://www.bartleby.com/70/50X.html

For instance, X=116 gives the sonnet which was read in Ang Lee's version of Sense & Sensibility:

http://www.bartleby.com/70/50116.html

Anyway, choose a random number X [where 1 <= X <= 154], go to the sonnet, and tell me just what in Hades that sonnet is supposed to mean.

The utter incomprehensibility of the Sonnets [absent some sort of biographical story line to explain them] is one of the things which compels serious readers of Shakespeare to go in search of an answer [or a candidate for an answer] such as de Vere.

Severn said...

If schooling is of overwhelming importance then all of your famous composers, artists, poets, and writers will have been aristocrats.



Because aristocrats received such excellent schooling in music, art, and poetry. Or something.


Joseph II wrote better music than Mozart - right?


Mozart received far better schooling in music than did Joseph II. His father was a music teacher and composer, and taught young Wolfgang from an early age.

Severn said...

Let's all agree that whoever wrote the Shakespeare plays was a damn good playwright. Now comes the harder question - did that excellence proceed from his genetics or his environment?



The correct answer is always "Both".

Jim O'Sullivan said...

So, the major Stratfordian here has retreated from the position that the author didn't know about Venice's canals to the safer position that it's "inconclusive."

And he claims he was just writing "sloppily" when he chastised the author for writing of Venice's streets.

Stuff like this happens all the time when you discuus the subject with Stratfordians long enough.

Like Alexander Hamilton wrote of opponents to the constitution during ratification: "our arguments confound, but they do not convince."

MQ said...

If on the other hand you think genius arises by fortuitous genetic expressions then you would expect such creative people to have come from where there are the most people.

If it were this simple then we should have a hundred Shakespeares writing today, based on our population. Not to mention dozens and dozens of Mozarts, etc.

Genius is always a mix of environment and genetics, with environment probably being more important because genius is so dependent on social setting (geniuses always stand "on the shoulders of giants"). But years of formal education is a terrible, terrible metric of environmental influences.

Anonymous said...

People misusing the word 'nihilism' on the iSteve blog comments section should be stood up against the wall and shot. It is really, really tiresome abuse of the English language.

I believe there is something in the isteve smallprint that gives special dispnsation to Lucius Vorenus to use the term though.

Anonymous said...

Brutus - The Boston Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of wobbly dotard James Levine, is performing Mahler (and Wagner) this very week.

Lol!

And I hear he says nice things about you too.

Anonymous said...

The utter incomprehensibility of the Sonnets

LXVI

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry, -
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by autority,
And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:

Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

***************************
What's incomprehensible about it???
This reads like letter to Time magazine or something.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, to me Shakespeare's Italian characters sound an awful lot like Englishmen, except with o's at the end of their names.

In line with what Hegel said when he commented that while he heard other critics say that Shakespeare depicted ancient Romans accurately, he demurred: he (Hegel) thought them obviously Englishmen to his reading, but that they were above all, men, and "thus they wear the Roman toga well."

I sometimes have trouble understanding how a man of such a modest background could write so convincingly about parts of the court and Europe which he had never himself directly experienced.

He may not have known as much about the Court as de Vere, but he did know quite a bit about the Bar, as can be deduced from e.g. the sophisticated understanding of the disposition of suicides' estates shown in parts of Hamlet. This is not surprising--a play like Twelfth Night was not premiered at Court, but at the Middle Temple. My pet theory is that Shakespeare's day job when he first arrived in London was clerking at one of the Inns of Court--the equivalent of a paralegal in today's world. Certain Supreme Court Justices notwithstanding, most attorneys who study the playwright have been convinced the guy who wrote them must have spent a lot of time hanging out with lawyers--far more time than with courtiers or soldiers, as a fellow like de Vere would have.

Anonymous said...

Another thing to consider is that Sobran, like a lot of crank Oxfordians, thought that de Vere's homosexuality was central to his need to remain anonymous. Which is ridiculous--not only was someone like Christopher Marlowe well-known to his contemporaries as preferring men, but he could pen a play that like Edward II that was completely unambiguous about depicting gay relationships, making a Shakespearean history like Richard II look practically censored by comparison.

Mencius Moldbug said...

Once again, Wikipedia impresses on the coast of Bohemia.

One last thing, de Vere fans: stop with the whole "Stratfordian" business, it makes you sound like petulant children. The present and long-standing consensus is and has been that "William Shakespeare" is the author of Shakespeare, not some guy named Stratford.

The present and long-standing consensus for 2000 years of Western civilization was that the Sun revolved around the Earth. The present and long-standing consensus for the lives of those now living is that all children are born equal.

There is no reason to give the "present and long-standing consensus" any logical weight in any discussion. This is simply the fallacy of the status quo.

The fallacy of the status quo is exactly what you're committing when you assign the heretical hypothesis a label, but refuse to assign the conventional hypothesis a label. What you're doing is refusing to consider the alternative interpretations on equal terms.

People often make this mistake because they are used to seeing argument in terms of criminal trials, in which the judgment process is inherently biased: the defendant gets the benefit of the doubt. But this is done for political reasons, not logical reasons. Needless to say, neither William of Stratford nor the Earl of Oxford is on trial here. There is no benefit of the doubt.

Mencius Moldbug said...

The education Shakespeare would have got in Stratford would have been considerably more rigorous than most universities in the US today.

At least when it came to Latin and Greek. But that ain't saying a lot. The Stratford grammar school, assuming Shagsper actually went there, probably had some standard readers chained to the desks.

The Earl of Oxford's education:

As a student, Oxford was tutored by some of the greatest minds of the Elizabethan age. He was first tutored by the Cambridge don and statesman, Sir Thomas Smith... At Cecil House he was tutored by Laurence Nowell, one of the founding fathers of Anglo-Saxon studies...

No one, not even Bill Gates' kid, receives anything close to this quality of pedagogy today.

Hence our basic problem in understanding Shakespeare. We can see that, as a poet, he could do things no one can do today. How was this genius created? A quality of education that no longer exists, and a quality of genetic breeding (ie, hereditary aristocracy) that remains very rare.

Our democratic biases are so pervasive today that we fail to realize that, in a working aristocracy, the best people actually are on top. We are used to purely ornamental, purely useless courts. No one would expect to find real greatness at the court of Elizabeth II. Elizabeth I - another matter.

Mencius Moldbug said...

I wonder why you write with such committed passion on this particular subject. I have never seen you express such fervency or vitriol on your website.

I'm simply trying to demonstrate to Stratfordians how it feels to be repaid in their own currency. If you look at the contempt and vitriol they express on these threads, it's an order of magnitude higher.

It is a bit much to label people, especially people not so deeply involved in the Shakespeare Authorship debate, as "denialists" (and compare them to Holocaust deniers!) for disagreeing with, or even questioning, the Oxfordian view on this very scholarly question.

It's the style of argument, not the content. Error is one thing - some otherwise excellent historians, including Harry Elmer Barnes and James J. Martin, have doubted the Holocaust. But they didn't argue like the modern Holocaust denier. What the two have in common is not that they are both evil (I don't attach all that much opprobrium to historical errors), but that they are both wrong.

Mencius Moldbug said...

Look, Ben Franklin got no education beyond the age of ten.... Lincoln... Keats...

Didn't I post some of Lincoln's "poetry" earlier?

This sort of argument, again, illustrates the extreme difficulty even the educated modern reader has in projecting back to the Elizabethan era. The distance in time between Shakespeare and Franklin is not much less than the distance between us and Franklin. These are not both the ancient, pre-iPhone past - they are very different societies. Furthermore, the intellectual achievements of Franklin and Shakespeare could hardly be more different.

The intellectual ideals of the English Renaissance- ideals the Shakespeare canon most certainly lives up to, if not in fact defines - involved a level of literary cultivation which can only be compared to the training of a professional sports player today. Anyone here read Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy? Much of the point of this boring, infuriating, and intermittently wonderful work is that the author has read pretty much the entire Greek and Latin corpus.

If you see, say, a professional tennis player today, you can be certain that this individual (a) has the best genes imaginable for tennis, and (b) has been intensively coached since first grade or so. This is what we see when we look at Shakespeare - top-notch talent and top-notch training.

It is very possible to play very good tennis in a world in which professional tennis doesn't exist. Someone with the right genes and some instruction could become a very good tennis player in this world. He could never compete with Roger Federer.

This is what makes the Stratford hypothesis so implausible - it's like a random ballboy entering the US Open and beating Roger Federer. Genes are not sufficient. You need Nick Bolletieri.

Mencius Moldbug said...

[cont]
Intellectuals in our own era, or even Franklin's, practice styles in which natural talent is relatively more important, and training relatively less. Whoever had the natural talent to write the Shakespeare works could probably have written decent modern free verse, without much training. The Sonnets? Gimme a break.

Much of the shock of understanding the Oxford hypothesis is the realization that, 400 years ago, the English Renaissance produced a level of human achievement which no longer exists. Oxford was by no means unique as a "Renaissance man." Consider, for instance, the Admirable Crichton...

Thursday said...

Stuff like this happens all the time when you discuus the subject with Stratfordians long enough.

Oxfordians major in minor stuff like this. Take pleasure in your victory on a very minor point over some guy on the internet.

Yet, the Oxfordians don't seem to take much notice of major problems with their theory like Ben Jonson's testimony or the fact that Oxford was dead before many of the plays were performed.

The more I look into this the more I think one has to be completely crazy or contrarian for the sake of being contrarian in order to believe in the Oxfordian theory.

Wanderer said...

What if bootleg recordings of one [radio DJ] came to be recognized in another generation or two as works of genius? People would wonder why almost nobody had noticed when the great genius disk jockey had been fired.

Phil Hendrie.

James Kabala said...

Yes, I made one really dumb mistake - obviously it should have struck me that there must be some way to get around on the islands of Venice themselves, not simply between the islands. That hardly compares with the many tendentious assertions Oxfordians make all the time.

Here's an example: Birth of Shakespeare to birth of Franklin - 142 years (154 years for Oxfordians). Birth of Franklin to my own year of bith (substituted for Moldbug's since I don't know his age) - 274 years. Oops!

And of course, even if Shakespeare did know of the canals, that hardly proves that he visited Venice.

I have to make an own goal (as the British say) here, however - Marlowe's homosexuality is based mainly on rumor (and the textual evidence of not just Edward II but Hero and Leander), and some scholars doubt it.

James Kabala said...

Mencius: If only an aristocrat could have written a Shakespeare, then who wrote Marlowe, Spenser, Jonson, Milton (born before the Civil War), etc.? Or are you a bit of a bardolater yourself, arguing that he was not merely better than those other poets, but better by several orders of magnitude?

And now, although my earlier (broken) promise was mocked by Moldbug as cowardice, I really will retire from the field. I don't hope to have convinced any committed Oxfordians, but I hope at least I provided some facts (and one dumb mistake about Venice) for the neutral or uncommitted reader.

Sam I Am said...

Mencius Moldbug, ladies and gentlemen, on fire.

Anonymous said...

The fallacy of the status quo is exactly what you're committing when you assign the heretical hypothesis a label, but refuse to assign the conventional hypothesis a label. What you're doing is refusing to consider the alternative interpretations on equal terms.

This is not a matter of logical fallacies, and it's not a question of "Stratfordians" refusing. It's a question of Oxfordians appearing to take a cheap shot at their opponents and arrogate to themselves legitimacy that they may not yet have earned. To a layman like me, it makes Oxfordians look like desperate crackpots. They would be doing themselves a favor if they would just concede the conventions of nomenclature and let their arguments speak for themselves.

C. Van Carter said...

Mencius: Shakespeare was unlikely, but then the most singular literary genius of all time can't help but be unlikely.

“How was this genius created? A quality of education that no longer exists”

Ben Jonson’s education: Westminster school, on to bricklaying, then a stint in the military.

"What you're doing is refusing to consider the alternative interpretations on equal terms."

Oxfordians don't give equal weight alternatives that work against them. They are able, somehow, to rule out Sir Henry Neville, for example. They ignore the implausibility of someone of Edward de Vere's background involving himself in the writing of plays.

Jim O said...

Thursday:

Ben Johnson never wrote word about his supposed good friend/rival, the Stratford man, till long after his death. I don't know why, and neither do you. It says nothing either way. There are lots of reasons DeVere might not have wanted his identiy revealed. Our argument does not depend on establishing those reasons. Our argument rests principally on the uncanny congruence between the works of Shakespeare and the life of DeVere, which Stratfordians pathetically attempt to counter with niggardly objections that are easily swatted down, as Moldbug has done on this thread.

And, forgive me for being snarky but: I don't know how time works in the universe in which you live, but the fact that the first records of public performances of some of the Shakespearian ouvre were not entered until DeVere died does not disqualify DeVere (ever hear of "Rent"). Surely I need not explain this point further. Or do I?

I'm snarky only because I'm human, and, as an imperfect human, it infuriates me that you charge us with being "completely crazy or contrarian for the sake of being contrarian" rather than find a true refutation of our arguments. Keep trying, though.

And before you accuse me of racism, onlookers, look up the word "niggardly."

OK, I think I'm done.

Mencius Moldbug said...

Yet, the Oxfordians don't seem to take much notice of major problems with their theory like Ben Jonson's testimony

Testimony? I was unaware that the introduction to the First Folio was, um, an affidavit.

The introduction to the First Folio is by far the strongest evidence linking Shagspere to Shakespeare. It's quite clear that if the two are different, we are looking at... an Elizabethan literary hoax. In which honest Ben Jonson is involved.

Not Ben! But I trusted him so completely. Fire up the infinite improbability machine! What is the improbability of... an Elizabethan literary hoax? Now, what is the improbability of an otherwise anonymous actor from Stratford, 3 years older than the Earl of Southampton, dedicating elegant, didactic courtly love poems to him? You'll find a gap of several orders of magnitude between these.

[cont]

Mencius Moldbug said...

To assess the contending hypotheses of Stratford and Oxford is to assess their respective probability. All over the Stratford story, we find wild improbabilities - the Sonnets; Italy; dying without books; the signatures; intimate knowledge of the law; lack of literary remains; etc, etc, etc. Each of these requires considerable energy to explain away, as we've seen. But on the pro side, we have honest Ben Jonson, plus Aubrey and his "from Mr Beeston," plus a number of Elizabethan title pages.

Since an Elizabethan literary hoax is hardly a rara avis to begin with, when we multiply all the other improbables, it becomes the most probable explanation. We are then in the position of discarding the attributions and searching for a plausible author, as if the Shakespeare canon had been published anonymously.

When solving this problem, we find a lot of very convincing coincidences pointing to the Earl of Oxford, and we do not see the kinds of improbables we have in connecting Stratford to Shakespeare. The case for other notables of the time, such as Bacon, is considerably weaker.

What convinces me the most is that I hear Shakespeare's poetic voice in the Oxford juvenilia. (Looney, the original discoverer of Oxford, is particularly eloquent on this point - if you have a strong opinion on the subject and you haven't read Looney, why not?) This is an extremely subjective assessment, and will not convince anyone not convinced that he has an ear.

But it's no doubt why so many writers have expressed skepticism about the Stratford story. Most of the best Stratford skeptics before Looney have no preferred candidate; after Looney, Baconians and the like become a small minority. (Bacon really does not sound anything like Shakespeare.)

or the fact that Oxford was dead before many of the plays were performed.

Um, so? You've lost your mind, Thursday.

Mencius Moldbug said...

Ben Jonson’s education: Westminster school, on to bricklaying, then a stint in the military.

It's the exception that proves the rule. Westminster was and is the finest public school in England. Jonson didn't go to Cambridge, but many of his contemporaries thought he had - he certainly would have been prepared for it. The Stratford Free School does not stand any sort of comparison.

Moreover, Jonson is not Shakespeare - when he gets classical and learned, he always feels like he's showing off. And furthermore, a personality like that of Jonson - a partial autodidact - jumps out at us from a bazillion records. If Shaxper, whose education is not even recorded, had been the same kind of autodidact, he also would have been a remarkable and well-recorded personality. Unless he was a recluse. But we know Shaxper was anything but a recluse. "Producer" and "recluse" are not synonyms.

In contrast, for the last 10 years of Oxford's life, he appears to be holed up in a castle doing nothing, receiving a gigantic pension from Queen Elizabeth. Maybe he was holed up in a castle doing nothing. Maybe he was drinking, or smoking opium. Or maybe he was writing the Shakespeare plays. The point is: when you look at Oxford's life, it always seems to fit, with very little sewing and stretching required.

They are able, somehow, to rule out Sir Henry Neville, for example.

When I search for Neville, I find cryptograms and other Ignatius Donnelly material. This does not inspire confidence.

They ignore the implausibility of someone of Edward de Vere's background involving himself in the writing of plays.

Francis Meres in 1598 praises Vere as a writer of comedies.

James Kabala said...

"Francis Meres in 1598 praises Vere as a writer of comedies."

And treats Shakespeare as a separate person in the same passage. Apparently Meres moved from carefulness to recklessness about the hoax in the space of five minutes.

http://www.elizabethanauthors.com/palladis.htm

James Kabala said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thursday said...

What convinces me the most is that I hear Shakespeare's poetic voice in the Oxford juvenilia.



You've lost your mind, Thursday.

Alas, no, but you seem to have lost your literary taste.

I've read the Oxford juvenelia and this statement is batshit crazy. At best Oxford's verse rises to the inoffensive, at its worst it's drivel, but never is it anything like Shakespeare.

C. Van Carter said...

"Moreover, Jonson is not Shakespeare"

I agree. He was plainly better educated than Shakespeare. You would think someone tutored by the "greatest minds of the Elizabethan age" would have had a grasp of Greek and Latin than the son of a bricklayer.


"When I search for Neville, I find cryptograms and other Ignatius Donnelly material"

When I search for Vere I don't find any direct evidence, either. Neville was born in 1564, and died in 1616. His nickname was Falstaff. He was a descendant of John of Gaunt, a distant relative of Shakespeare, a director of the Virginia Company of London. After choosing to go down this road, it’s difficult to know when to stop.

"Francis Meres in 1598 praises Vere as a writer of comedies."

Yes, court comedies. Which apparently he was writing in addition to all of the Shakespeare stuff.

Anonymous said...

"The point is: when you look at Oxford's life, it always seems to fit, with very little sewing and stretching required."

It seems to fit if you 'Want To Believe', like Mulder said in the X Files.

James Kabala said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Testimony? I was unaware that the introduction to the First Folio was, um, an affidavit.

Um, "testimony" is the standard term in literary scholarship for any information (usually the kind transmitted by a contemporary) about an author's life and works. I think you just perpetrated a howler, Mr. Moldbug.

Anonymous said...

Moldbug: "All over the Stratford story, we find wild improbabilities - the Sonnets..."

What I'd like to know is, why does everyone persist in assuming that the Sonnets _must_ be autobiographical? Shakespeare was a playwright, he wrote in the voices of many characters. Was Lear autobiographical? How about Venus and Adonis? Is Rape of Lucrece autobiographical? If not, why not? After all, it's not a vulgar play, it's court verse, so that must make it personal. Right? Because vulgar plays aren't personal, except when de Vere writes them, and then they're always personal. From this we may infer that de Vere was a king of Scotland, and was also a vainglorious household steward, as well as a hunchback.

Why is it so "improbable" or impossible to believe that, in a world full of taverns, and gossip, and intrigue, and tavern gossip about intrigue, a guy who was all ears might hear some interesting gossip about say a Dark Lady, and decide that the whole thing made for a great poetic voice 'in character'? Shakespeare seems to have had a voracious hunger for material. Why is it impossible he didn't just 'use' some things he overheard, to try out a new poetic format in mimicry, at which he evidently excelled?

Again, de Vere's biographical details fail to impress me as a gotcha. If _you've_ heard all about them, then how is it impossible that Shakespeare didn't?

SHAKESPEARE: So tell me, Your Grace -- what happened next on your sea voyage?
DE VERE: Why, lad, then I was taken captive by... pirates!!
SHAKESPEARE: Pirates?! Marry, do tell more! What did Your Grace do next? (aside to Mistress Quickly) Oh, this is good. Keep the drinks coming.

Since de Vere had a theater bug most of his life, maybe he was eager to spill his stories and see them transformed on stage. He paid a lot of money and sort-of ruined his estate to hang out with actors and artists and writers.

"There is no reason to give the "present and long-standing consensus" any logical weight in any discussion. This is simply the fallacy of the status quo."

I wasn't giving anything any 'logical weight'. I'm pointing out that name-calling makes you guys sound petulant, and stooping to make your case by twisting and inventing words (see 'pro-choice' vs. 'pro-life' or the hijacking of the word "justice" in the spurious concept, "social justice").

"The fallacy of the status quo is exactly what you're committing when you assign the heretical hypothesis a label, but refuse to assign the conventional hypothesis a label."

The conventional hypothesis _has_ a label, and it's "Shakespearean."

You guys carry on as if Shakespeare had committed some grave offense, and rail at him as a wicked malicious impostor; yet if your thesis is true, it must be the case that de Vere himself participated in the fraud, and indeed almost certainly must have instigated the fraud himself. Thus, regarding William S: no harm, no foul.

And yet you folks persist in insulting him, accusing him, etc etc. ---Hey, where'd your whole "fallacy" schtick go all of a sudden?

You have committed the fallacy of hunting for fallacies in other people's mere conversation. This is a blog, not the Royal Society.

Anonymous said...

Here's an excerpt from a fine scholarly study, "Meet It Is I Set It Down: Scenes from the Amazing Life of Edward de Vere" (The Literalist Press, 1961)

p. 83: "...furthermore, during his military service in Flanders, de Vere was captured for a few days by the enemy, who had him bound upon a wheel of fire, which his own tears did scald like molten lead. However, he was subsequently rescued and returned to his regiment, where he cleverly quipped, 'If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.' He then proceeded to sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings."

Now I ask you: how else could such lines _possibly_ have been written?

The Oxfordians rest.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading some of de Vere's poems, and I wouldn't call them "drivel" at all. They strike me as technically and formally competent, emotionally pretty self-possessed, and often kind of sophisticated. What I don't think they display too often is the fiery originality of a first-rate poetic mind. They sound to me like the work of an educated guy who likes literature and writing, the sort who in our own times would publish in a good university literary magazine, and then go not much further.

There are indeed a few places where I detect a style and sensibility quite similar to the author of the Sonnets. But more often than not what I detect is a talent that has more or less fully blossomed, but in a distinctly different style from that author, at once more technically elaborate and yet more artistically circumscribed. And for a guy trained in the law, he doesn't use many of those sophisticated legal terms that are supposed to point straight to him in the Sonnets, rather than to Shakespeare whom everyone admits spent a lot of time in court, suing people, so that we can assume Shakespeare was highly interested in legal proceedings. He was already doing legal schtick at an early age with Jack Cade in Henry VI.

Here's the thing that bumps me. The de Vere poems seem to have been written circa late 1570s to maybe early 1580s, and as I say they evidence a mature style which explores a lot of different verse forms besides iambic pentameter, and indeed seems quite comfortable with complex diction and unusual rhythms.

But Shakespeare comes on the scene in the late 1580s, and his early work like Titus Andronicus and the Henry VI plays employs the thundering clumpety-clumpety-clumpety rhythms that a man of the theater would have picked up from being around guys like Kyd and Marlowe. There isn't a lot of byzantine diction in early Shakespeare, there's mostly that very steady beat in the verse, and it's mostly emotionally very direct, and highly theatrical. In other words it all sounds like a young man testing his mettle for the first time, not like a guy who perhaps 15 years earlier was already a past master of much more subtle and complex forms. And it sounds like a man of the theater, not like an academic poet.

In later plays like Twelfth Night Shakespeare is still making jokes about King Gorboduc; "Gorboduc" was the title of an old war-horse of a play that had been a hit years earlier, and that a young actor of say, Shakespeare's age, would very likely have cut his teeth on. It doesn't prove anything, but Shakespeare sure does make a lot of inside jokes of the sort that actors and directors make.

As to whether a "country bumpkin" could write this stuff, here's a bit from Titus Andronicus...

What, man! more water glideth by the mill
Than wots the miller of; and easy it is
Of a cut loaf to steal a shive, we know...
What, hast not thou full often struck a doe,
And borne her cleanly by the keeper's nose?

Sounds to me like precisely the sort of stuff a country boy would know about.

Lucius Vorenus said...

I believe there is something in the isteve smallprint that gives special dispnsation to Lucius Vorenus to use the term though.

Holy Cow - THE DERB IS BACK!!!

I knew he wouldn't have gotten that gun permit if he didn't sense that there was something worth living for [and, if necessary, worth dying for].

And the skeet shooting videos just cinched it for me.

Anonymous said...

As Schopenhauer says - genius is determined by posterity. Great works of art, including literature, is that which endures beyond its own time and there is no way of knowing whether a work will become great and endure or whether it will be greatly lauded (because it is fashionable) and then promptly forgotten.

It is laughable today how literary critics are always harping on about modern classics. The term is an oxymoron.


- Breeze