Monday, July 8, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 7 - Apprenticeship

The last post emphasized the debate between Wells and Price on the importance of the non-existence of a literary paper trail to support the belief in William of Stratford’s authorship. Noteworthy was the complete absence of acknowledging Price’s research in the new book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt.

But if we review the basic elements of the Stratfordian theory of Shakespeare’s authorship there are some additional points of the story that are fading away.

His assumed apprenticeship

Not that all Shakespeare scholars agree on the basics of his assumed path to being a playwright for the Lord’s Chamberlain’s Men, but one prominent argument is that, like for other professions, there was an apprentice system that playwrights evolved through and it’s implied that this was the only way that Shakespeare’s plays could have made it to the stage. For instance, we find:

“Theater companies were extremely busy. They would perform around six different plays each week, which could only be rehearsed a couple of times beforehand. Also, there was no stage crew like we have today; every member of the company would have to help make costumes, props and scenery. The Elizabethan acting profession worked on an apprentice system, making it very hierarchical. Even Shakespeare would have had to rise up through the ranks.”

So this is the story of his professional beginnings. It sounds sort of reasonable. He could have had a sound grammar school education and then worked his way up the theatrical ladder. But more than that, there were some ‘lost years’ that he certainly learned and developed on his own and for his apparent plan to be a playwright. So we also find this:

“The second period [of lost years] covers the seven years of Shakespeare's life in which he must have been perfecting his dramatic skills and collecting sources for the plots of his plays. "What could such a genius accomplish in this direction during six or eight years? The histories alone must have required unending hours of labor to gather facts for the plots and counter-plots of these stories.” and “…sometime between 1585 and 1592, it is probable that young Shakespeare could have been recruited by the Leicester's or Queen's men. Whether an acting troupe recruited Shakespeare in his hometown or he was forced on his own to travel to London to begin his career, he was nevertheless an established actor in the great city by the end of 1592.            

The problem with this apprenticeship assumption is that the actual evidence, in his case, appears to contradict it. According to Irvin Leigh Matus in Shakespeare, IN FACT, “Shakespeare fits into the pattern of the free-lance playwright according to his earliest quartos. The title page of the first of his published plays Titus Andronicus (1594), states that it found its way into the repertory of three acting companies—those of the Earls of Derby, Pembroke and Susex.” He provides more evidence regarding Henry VI part 2 and The Taming of the Shrew and concludes “Clearly, Shakespeare got around until he began his association with the Chamberlain’s Men some time in 1594 and thus became the first playwright known to be affiliated exclusively with one acting company.” So, while not yet with any London theatrical company, he was reading histories to collect facts for plots. No doubt he also read some other literature to collect more plot ideas.

Are we really to believe that, beginning sometime after 1585, he spent years unknown as an apprenticed actor and then playwright in an “extremely busy” theater company rehearsing several plays a week while also helping to “make costumes, props and scenery” and then also spend “unending hours of labor” reading histories, the classics, and an enormous amount of other literature, and then ‘graduate’ from his apprenticeship and LEAVE his sponsoring company to be a free-lance playwright writing first rate plays?

Let’s compare that scenario (ignoring for now all other circumstantial evidence) with another in which someone with no need for manual labor, who didn’t wander around during some lost years, but who, from earliest years, spent a great many hours as a youth with the best tutors, highest educated gentry and nobility in London, ready access to many of the most complete libraries, and at least with many years of tangible connections to the practice of masques and plays, and who THEN found a way to submit plays to a theatrical company without his/her name attached.

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