History

The Oxfordians Done Found Me!

William_Shakespeare's_First_Folio_1623Some time ago, I put up a quick post called “Oxfordians: The Birthers of the Elizabethan Renaissance“, taking on the grammar-school argument of Oxfordians. This has at last earned a reply, from one earlofoxford17. I post it below, intermingled with my responses:

If “grammar school” in Elizabethan England was such a “cradle of serious learning,” and Stratford school, which Shakspere MAY have attended, was the intellectual equal of Harvard, then where are all the works of all the geniuses that were there at the same time? Why isn’t English literature filthy with Shakespeares?

I think you can do better than this. The argument is that someone who went to a 16th-century grammar school could have written Shakespeare’s plays, not that everyone who went there would do so. I can easily reverse the terms of your response: if Harvard, or Oxford, or Cambridge, are such cultural powerhouses, why don’t they graduate a flock of Shakespeares every term? In any case, Shakespeare didn’t learn how to write plays in school. Shakespeare learned to write plays from acting in plays and working on plays with other playwrights. Shakespeare’s real teachers were Kyd (graduate of the Merchant Taylor’s School), and Marlowe (who did go to Cambridge), and the rest of the crew. As MFA’s in Theater did not exist in those days, I can’t imagine where else he would have learned it.

The mystery is that many of the sources that Shakespeare uses were available only as manuscripts, owned by wealthy individuals. How did Shakspere gain entrance to those private libraries without leaving a trace? Why is there no mention by anyone that “Good Will Shakespeare visited my library Tuesday last…”? Why is there no mention of a living breathing Shakespeare until Ben Johnson claims AFTER HIS DEATH to have employed him as an actor?

Why would there be? As a playwright, Didn’t Shakespeare occupy a social position somewhere between a pimp and witch? Isn’t the whole crux of the Oxford theory that Mr. de Vere had to use a stand-in to produce his plays, because for an aristocrat to write for the stage was unseemly? More to the point, does this circumstantial evidence exist for ANY of the Elizabethan playwrights? Is there a “Thomas Kyd was in my library today” or a “I lent Good Ben Jonson my copy of Plautus”? I myself doubt how necessary it would have been for Shakespeare to pour through these valuable texts to write what he did. No one has ever accused Shakespeare of putting too much accurate detail into his plays (Bohemia has a coastline?). He knew the basics and ran with them. Creativity and spirit are what we prize in Shakespeare, not rigid formulations of Classical form, such as Sir Phillip Sydney trafficked in. By the same token, how much real history would Marlowe have needed in order to write Tamberlaine the Great? Recall that the historical person of Timur the Lame was nearly two centuries and half a world away from Marlowe. What sources did he use? Where is the evidence that he had access to them?

The doubt about Stratford springs from the realization that the story of the famous playwrite is not backed by evidence on the ground. Had he written one or two plays we might be able to accept his intangibleness, but the Stratford story demands a very public individual over a considerable period of time.

No, it demands evidence of a playwright at a time when no one particularly cared about playwrights. No one asked Shakespeare what he thought about the Spanish Armada, or whether the Queen ought to marry, or if the Book of Common Prayer was maybe a bit too la-de-da. Shakespeare wrote plays, and people liked them. Expecting his contemporaries to look at him with our historically-dazzled eyes is a bit silly. Which could explain why Ben Jonson thought to mention him later, because he saw Shakespeare’s name vanishing, and thought that unjust. Shakespeare’s works fell right out of fashion in the 17th Century, and only enjoyed a revival in the 18th. We are forced to conclude that Shakespeare did not become SHAKESPEARE until well after his mortal coil was shuffled off.

At a time when paper was rare and used until it was covered, no one thought to save a souvineer of the famous man. Or even record in there diary that they met him…

I’m sorry, I don’t follow this. What does the scarcity of paper have to do with souvineers?

The conclusion is that the name Shakespeare was not famous in his day, but that rocks the Stratford foundation..the story of a fulltime writer /actor /heavy drinker in London at the same time as he was a businessman in Stratford is just not supported by the reams of letters, manuscripts and receipts that would be left behind. But despite no real evidence to support it, the theory is still there, but the emperor has no clothes.

I was given to understand that there was no shortage of evidence on Shakespeare’s business dealings in Stratford. Given that playwrights were paid only a pittance for their work, I don’t see why a man who earns his living one way and lives his dream in another is so wildly implausible. And forgive the repetition, but do you expect this standard of attestation for Shakespeare’s peers? How much evidence is there that explicitly spells out how Thomas Nashe earned a living from writing The Choice of Valentines? Or denotes how Ben Jonson made ends meet? And if the lack of evidence is so damning, consider this: when the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays were published in 1623, both De Vere and Shakespeare were long dead. There was no longer anyone to protect from the truth: de Vere’s son Henry was in prison for mouthing off about Buckingham, so no one would care if his dad’s theatrical activities were finally outed. So why did Hemminges and Condell keep up the lie? Why did Ben Jonson write a poem to preface it? What point had the conspiracy when everyone who could have been hurt by it was dead and buried? Or if they did not know, why did no one come forward? Where is the evidence that anyone in 1623 doubted that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare?

Game of Roses, or How George R.R. Martin Gave New Names to Historical Persons

I see my friends getting all excited for the new season of Game of Thrones. It almost makes me wish for HBO. But as I’ve said before, I’ve read the books, and as I’ve said before, Martin has drawn heavily on the actual history of 15th-century England in creating his saga. Sure, most people with a basic knowledge of the Wars of the Roses will see York and Lancaster in Stark and Lannister, but it goes deeper than that. Some of the key characters are practically reincarnated versions of real people who played the game of thrones in an England drenched in war.

To wit: (Spoiler-Free for anyone who has seen up to the end of Season 3 of the series, but hasn’t read the books) (more…)

Alexander the Great Haunted His Followers For Decades

Which, of course, we knew. The Tale of the Diadochi would make a grand tragedy were it not so feverishly complicated. There have to be five or six tragic heroes among them, each one more hubris-laden than the next. But this book, which I’ve just started:

 

…spells out everything in clear, beat-by-beat style. There’s probably a dynastic study of the Argeads coming up on this blog, but how this story hasn’t been turned into an epic cable series  (Showtime: this is how you beat Game of Thrones. The story’s all-written already!) is beyond me. There are even compelling female characters who aren’t Alexander’s mom!

I’m two chapters in, and savoring every word.

Henry VIII and His Desperate Dynasty

Sarah Hoyt addresses the elephant in in the doublet:

Is that a fat joke?

Anyway, so every author agrees Henry VIII as a young man was a true renaissance man, good at everything and so very good looking.  And every author wonders what dread disease caused him to turn not just into a murderous tyrant, but a stupid murderous tyrant in old age.

Except if you dig in you find that when his dumbest moves were made was after he’d killed his two ministers, first the great one and then his apprentice.  (Wolsey and Cromwell.)  Which brings us to… was he really that brilliant or were they great at manipulating him.

She goes on to question his authorship of his books and music, the quality of his poetry, and the wisdom of his policy, given that despite helping himself to the centuries-old wealth of monastic England, he still left the kingdom in debt.

Which is nice to see, because I’m plumb tired of Henry VIII and really, all his dynasty. The Tudors (1485-1603) are a vastly overrated family, as a ruling group, and as people. Their accomplishments are dwarfed by the attention afforded them. (more…)

Bloggers Don’t Die, They Just Burn Out.

It’s 9/11, and I’ve mostly given up blogging about 9/11, because I don’t have anything new to say on it. My Year Ten at Ground Zero post at Revolutionary Nonsense pretty much summed it up:

So, with the shattered Towers transformed into watered gravestones for those eternally interred by them, we can at last put our grief and rage from memory into history. We have remembered, and we have moved on, through the light and shadow of a world born in fire. We make the best of that world to the extent that we feel that those who suffered at last have peace. Time will bury all wounds, but as the centuries pass, men and women will walk through Lower Manhattan and see the names of those martyred for being American.

This is what stands in the place of smoke and death today. Because, America.

Rather, I’m more interested in the subject of the blogosphere, partially because Instapundit took the opportunity of the anniversary to ponder his status as survivor, but mostly because I seemed to notice the blogosphere at about that time. I started blogging myself in 2003, and I’m still doing it. But I’ve burned out a couple of times. It happens. It starts to feel like a job, or worse, an unpaid internship that never ends. You start getting bored with the struggle to say something that several million people are not already saying. So you just stop.

But I keep coming back. Whenever I shuttered a blog, I would suddenly find myself with things to say. So I’d start a new blog. At one point I had two, plus a randomly updated LiveJournal. That was too much, which prompted me to set up shop at WordPress in 2011.

I don’t nuke blogs when I tire of them anymore. The new rule is: When I don’t feel like blogging, I don’t blog. Andrew Sullivan used to take August off, I usually end up doing the same. When I feel like blogging again, I come back.

Here’s another blogger that burned out and came back. She’s funny, too.