Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Direct From The Waiting Room, Here's Something Fun

The author of the most truly rigorous examination of the evidence for a literary career by the Shaksper man, Diana Price, wrote this succinct summary of just some of her research.  Price's book Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography : New Evidence of an Authorship Problem is one of the most impressive jobs of first-class scholarship into the issue.  Her insistence on using a single-standard in judging that evidence and insisting on using the modern, professional standards of academic historians and biographers produces a devastating rebuttal to the common received wisdom on that topic.

She pretty conclusively shows that without insisting on double-standards, cutting corners, making stuff up.  etc. the entire Shakespeare industry, the tourism based one and, especially, the massive academic facade crumbles.   Where she speculates, attributing the appearance of variations on THE NAME on publications to either him acting as a front, in contemporary slang, a beard, for authors who wished to or needed to remain anonymous* or as just a crook (see Ben Jonson's Poet Ape) she makes a compelling case without doing what virtually everyone else has, fixing that argument to a specific candidate.  Given that the name appeared on a number of other plays and works, works that no one believes were by whoever it was who wrote the plays, today, I'd say it's a pretty good explanation of that evidence.

As important is this collection of quotes and comments on the standards of evidence that are applied in rigorous scholarship.  It's worth reading through and considering how virtually NONE of the "best" scholarship on the Stratford man is based on those agreed to, accepted criteria.

Of all the stuff I've read, conventional Stratfordian, anti-Stratfordian, Baconian, Oxfordian, even Marlovian, on this issue, Diana Price's work stands out for its integrity and moderation.  She never tries to pass off her speculations as biography or evidence, she bases her remarkably few speculations in supported evidence, not supposition.   She applies the accepted standards of judgement in cases like this evenly, rigorously and without twisting it to come out where she'd want it to.  Her answers to some of her critics is, invariably, better than their criticism.

*  As Kier Cutler noted, being identified as a playwright in those decades was an extremely risky thing.  Thomas Kyd was arrested and tortured for his writing and to get information on other writers in his circle.  Under torture he told his Elizabethan inquisitors that Christopher Marlowe, his room mate, was guilty of crimes.  I'll accept the official version that Marlowe was conveniently murdered just as he was being called to appear before the officials who had tortured Kyd, something which led to his death not long after.  And they were hardly the only ones who were arrested for their play writing activity.  Ben Jonson was arrested several times.

And you can understand why a police state like Elizabeth's England would be especially antsy about the public, popular, theater.  Given the fact of widespread illiteracy and the rarity of books at the time, just as in ours, it would have been possible for hundreds of people who couldn't read a book to hear and see a play and believe it, true or totally false.  Consider how many college educated folk, today, believe that the complete fiction they are presented in movies is true, like Inherit the Wind and Shakespeare in Love.  And that's WITH literacy and a modern education.  I dare say that the large majority of the people who watch and believe FOX, who support Trump or Cruz are far more literate than the average Elizabethan and Jacobian Londoner and with far more access to a range of information and look how led by the nose they are.   For comments about the aristocratic, non-public theater, you can read what Price says about that here.

One notable exception to the list of arrested (tortured, killed) playwrites is especially notable because "his" play, Richard II figured heavily in the failed coup of the Earl of Essex,  a performance of it being commissioned by the conspirators within days of their attempt to rouse the residents of London to overturn the government of Elizabeth.  She had an author of a pamphlet on the topic of Richard II arrested to get him to name his source - many people believe his pamphlet was inspired by the play.  She even asked one of her most eminent Councillors,  Francis Bacon to search it for treason.  He told her that he could find no treason in it but much felony, when she asked him what , he, accurately, noted that the author had stolen material from Cornelius Tacitus.   Whereas Bacon was an eminent scholar of the classics, Ben Jonson (perhaps sarcastically and tellingly) called Shakespeare someone who knew "little Latin and less Greek".  As to the relative difficulty of reading Tacitus in the original, here's the testimony of someone who has considerably more than "little Latin".   Jonson wrote his deeply ambiguous praise of "Shakespeare" as he was working with Francis Bacon in his project to publish his major work  before he died but as he was still the target of his enemies in the court of James who had managed his fall from power.  I think it's more than likely that, by that time, Jonson as part of publishing the work, huge amounts of which were not documented as having been written during the life of Shaksper ( who died seven years before the Folio was published) was in on the use of that convenient pseudonym,  though that's speculation, as well.

Most interesting, though, is that the play had been published anonymously shortly before the Essex rebellion but was republished with the name "William Shakespeare" attached to it AFTER ELIZABETH HAD BEGUN HER SEARCH FOR THE GUY SHE BELIEVED EQUATED HER WITH THE DEPOSED KING, RICHARD II.   Despite his name (or a near equivalent to it) being attached to the play, just as it was most dangerous for the author to be associated with it, the Stratford money lender, broker and theater investor was not arrested or, as far as can be found, questioned about it.   Imagine what would happen if that guy could have said,  Who?  Little old illiterate me with, by the way,  little Latin and less Greek, WROTE a play?   If the total absence of him leaving a personal literary trail was an indication that he was known as an illiterate broker who passed off other peoples' work as his own (see Ben Johnson Poet-Ape) he would have been a perfect person to have paid, covertly, to take that risk, he had a perfect alibi.  Which is speculation but it's no more speculative than what they make the  official "Shakespeare" out of.

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