Theater

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?

Little-Known Facts About Aaron Burr

  1. Early Advocate of women’s education and abolition.
  2. Presided over the Senate’s first impeachment trial, that of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. Even Burr’s enemies’ praised his conduct of the trial. One Senator wrote that Burr had presided with “the impartiality of an angel and the rigor of a devil.”
  3. Had it in his head that he ought to be Emperor of Mexico.
  4. Loved the ladies. Loved, loved the ladies.
  5. Spent his sunset years hanging out with the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who coined the phrase, “the greatest happiness to the greatest number.”

All of which is but prologue to what I’ve been working on for Glass Mind Theatre’s upcoming Brainstorm event. The deadline’s today, and it hasn’t been selected yet, obviously, but I have hopes.

Local Theater Review: Chekov’s The Seagull

Written for local news web site The Dagger:

Chekov’s play, a drawing-room tragedy about a group of actors, writers, and other intellectuals taking a break at a lake house, bristles with all the frustrations of the artistic temperament. The characters denounce, declaim, and threaten to decamp, yet somehow find themselves again in each other’s company at the curtain’s fall. This may not jump out as the first choice for an evening’s entertainment in a holiday season of splendid spectacles like The Nutcracker. Indeed, the average theater patron may consider a play about authors and actors sufficiently self-referential to disappear up its own navel. However, the real drama is less about books and theater than about envy, ambition, love, fear, and regret. Chekov is not subtle: rather, like Eugene O’Neill, he cuts right to the heart. In this time of year, when the world is cold and dark and our hearts are restless and tired, such honesty can be as satisfying as any Christmas pageant.

Of course, after today’s events, Chekov seems both more and less relevant.