Thursday, August 1, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 17 - Textual Evidence

In Chapter 10 of SBD there is the argument of – What does textual evidence reveal about the author?

Reading through this whole book it just becomes clear that one of the problems for the traditionalists is that they’ve spent their whole careers analyzing the plays and interpreting their meanings and explaining how they were created, ALL from the perspective of Stratfordian theory. It’s so deeply ingrained in them they are unable to think outside that box like a non-Stratfordian.

Many of their points of argument make easy sense from the ‘man of the theatre’ model. But many other issues they need to jump through impossible or nearly impossible hoops, without any hard or even good rational evidence, to satisfy a belief in their model. So I hope that showing some alternate explanations for many more of their points will help them out of that mental box a little. It’s a bit tedious going through them but it’s probably necessary to get the point across that their ‘necessity’ is really only one possibility.

There is the catchphrase used again that “He was a professional man of the theatre”. This particular group of evidence and arguments aim to show that the author had to be a theatre insider “who always wrote with a nuanced understanding of the specific requirements and limitations of his acting company”.

The first piece of evidence is that the plays were written having in mind “the practice of doubling” in which the actors played more than one part. He had to know, for example, that for a play with as many as seventy speaking parts, that his company could produce it having generally no more than a dozen or so actors.

But why think that it’s impossible for someone not employed by the theatre to know how many actors it had available at the time a script is being written? An alternate candidate had to have some means of getting a script to the playhouse, either to Will of Stratford, or to either Heminges or Condell, or to some other member of the company. In this scenario we see that the company would have had a working arrangement with the outside author. It’s not difficult to then imagine that, say for example, a play manuscript courier, asking one of the managers or actors or other workers there, how many actors they had on hand, and how many boy actors for the parts of women, etc. Or Heminges or Condell or Will could even ask the courier to pass on to the author things to keep in mind about their specific requirements and limitations. It’s accepted that the Cambridge students that put on the Parnassus plays at least knew the names and characters of some of the principal players. So who the principal actors were wasn’t like a secret. And so with a working relationship with the company it wouldn’t be difficult to learn of their resources for putting on a proposed play.

Also, were the playhouses closed off from outsiders during rehearsals? Could not a worker or friend of the author just stop by and watch them practice or when they’re performing other plays, and thence get an idea of their acting personnel and other capabilities and limitations? This would include knowing  something about the boy actors with the company, that one was tall and the other shorter, and that one was more fair and the other darker, or that the company had both light and dark wigs.

We’re given an example of how ‘extraordinarily complex’ producing a play could be. King Henry VI has 67 roles and could be played by 21 actors, with some actors able to play as many as ten roles. First, this might actually suggest that the author wasn’t a theater professional or else he would be less likely to put such a strain on the acting limitations of the company! But also remember that we were just told that the company generally no more than a dozen or so actors. But now we’re told that they could produce a play with 21 actors. Obviously they had some flexibility in largely increasing their acting staff if necessary.

Next, it’s argued that the author clearly knew how long it took for an actor to change costumes, and that ONLY an insider could know that. But again, an alternate author would need only to watch or ask a friend to estimate the time it took for costume changes, or again, ask the managers or other members of the company for this knowledge. As the author writes he (or she) would be imagining the play and working out mentally the practical aspects of its production. Any particular concerns may again be answered by asking some experienced contact there. Since the plays were written over many months there would be plenty of time to get some of these concerns ironed out. And then we’re even told in the essay that “… we must not underestimate the dexterity of actors.” There are at least three dozen known instances of a costume change done in 25 lines of dialogue or less. It looks like a professional company of actors are able to work around many an outsider playwright’s difficult expectations. An in-house playwright would more likely be harassed by his fellow actors for difficult production challenges until he made them easier to perform.

Another argument is that only a professional would exclude Lear’s fool from the opening court scene because he would know that the actor had to play the part of Cordelia. Why the boy actor playing Cordelia also HAD to be the actor playing Lear’s fool is not explained in the essay. In the Arden King Lear it says “There has been much speculation about the casting of the play, most of it based on the assumption that the King’s Men worked with the smallest number of players needed to stage it…”

Yes, there is a scholar that proposed doubling the part of the Fool with that of Cordelia. But it also states that “As Shakespeare conceived it the part of the Fool was probably written for an actor who specialized in such roles, Robert Armin, so it is unlikely that doubling the part with that of Cordelia was in his mind”.

We can expect that there’s much speculation and assumptions on casting in the other plays as well.

The handwriting of Sir Thomas More is brought up again. It’s noted that a ‘u’ in Hand D is closed at the top so that it resembles an ‘a’. And then that some words in Shakespeare texts, like ‘Gertrad’ or ‘sallied’  are misprinted when they were meant to be ‘Gertrud’ or ‘sullied’. A problem with this argument is that there doesn’t seem to be a ‘u’ in any of Williams’ six signatures. Is there some other confirmed handwriting of his with a ‘u’ that looks like an ‘a’?

There’s another timing knowledge argument that ONLY an insider would know how long it would take for the God Jupiter descending on an eagle in Cymbeline. Was this the first time in London theater history for a character or some contraption to be lowered to the stage and then retracted up? And no one would be able to estimate beforehand how long this would actually take? I’d like to see the complete argument for this. It seems like any experienced or even casual observer could estimate this.

Another argument involves the stage directions in Much Ado About Nothing which list Leonato’s wife Innogen more than once but who never speaks. It’s said that this is unrealistic with all that’s happening with her daughter Hero. Therefore, Shakespeare had to have known that the company just ran out of boy actors for this to be a speaking role.  Such an argument again sounds speculative. Was Shakespeare otherwise always realistic to real life behaviors elsewhere in this and all his other plays? Is it possible that an outside author could either know how many boy actors were available then or that he  had some other literary or practical reason for wanting a character present but with no speaking role?

Next is the argument that since Shakespeare’s play output, based on currently accepted dates of publication, increased when the theaters were closed for about two years due to the plague. And this was most likely because William wasn’t acting but still depended on the income from writing plays. Isn’t it possible though that there was just less social activity generally because of the plague, including less time spent at court, during these years and that many people, including many alternate author candidates, tended themselves to have more time to write or do whatever at home?

Another argument is that Only an inside author could have written into Hamlet his instructions to the actors and what “sounds like the complaint of a playwright who knew Kemp’s habits…and had grown tired of writing around his improvisational skills.” What the essay writer is unaware of is that there are a couple extracts from Bacon that are very much like Hamlet’s speech. Honestly, any intelligent and experienced theater goer, especially a playwright, could add  such a scene in a play.

Another argument is that “while it is not impossible a candidate might have noticed and alluded to the ‘War [of the theatres]’ they wouldn’t comment on it unless they had “a personal stake” in the business of London playhouses”. So, does it follow then that the author wouldn’t refer to some aspect of the law, or medicine, or Italy unless he had some personal stake in them? Any playwright so active in producing plays would know what’s going on in the London theatre world. And a hidden author couldn’t easily comment on them or satire them under his own name without drawing unwanted attention. So doing so in a play would make sense.

Then we’re told that the BEST evidence that an inside professional wrote the plays is from his use of actor’s parts. Each actor received small scroll of speech along with 2-3 cue words. “Shakespeare manipulated the players by including ‘repeated’ or ‘premature’ cues within long speeches. Early cue words led to one actor interrupting another so that a “battle for the cue-space” erupted. And it’s said that ONLY someone with a thorough understanding of the details of the playhouse practice could use speech cues in such a strategic manner.

More likely, and assuming it was intentional, it ONLY took someone with a lot of cleverness and the ability to imagine the play mentally to intend some theatrical effect with the actors. The author could have seen it happen by accident in a play and then think how a deliberate use of early cues could add comic relief or tension to the scene. We’re also told that Shakespeare conceived of the plays in actor parts and ONLY an insider could do that as well as allude to ‘backstage’ parts of the craft. But in the History of English Literature (Vol. 2.201) were told that “…most great playwrights have mastered stagecraft without being actors. Even an outside playwright, having learned how plays are rehearsed, could write them to fit the practical requirements of play preparation and revisions.

Consider also that Bacon, for one, was involved in the production of six masques. At a minimum he had some knowledge of how parts were prepared for actors and what the craft was like ‘backstage’. And Marlowe would likely have known what actors did backstage. And Oxford should have had easy access to backstage activities with the groups he was involved with. And with their theater involved acquaintances or play liking friends, they could easily have learned much more.

Finally, there’s some more scholarly work that indicates Shakespeare was not a man of the theater. Here’s part of the promo for the book Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist. You can find it on To quote: “In this groundbreaking study Lukas Erne (Professor of English Literature) argues that Shakespeare, apart from being a playwright who wrote theatrical texts for the stage, was also a literary dramatist who produced reading texts for the page. The usual distinction that has been set up between Ben Jonson on the one hand, carefully preparing his manuscripts for publication, and Shakespeare the man of the theatre, writing for his actors and audience,…is questioned in this book. Erne argues that Shakespeare wrote many of his plays with a readership in mind and that these literary texts would have been abridged for the stage because they were too long for performance.” A playhouse insider that writes first for a non-playhouse audience of literature readers is a less likely scenario than an outside author and playwright.  

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