Thursday, April 23, 2015

Shakespeare's Birthday - Stratford Moniment/Monument Inscription

With Shakespeare’s accepted birthday upon us it seems appropriate to write a post to honor the author’s memory. Fortunately, there’s some new material relevant to recent posts pointing out that it’s not clear at all that the First Folio is strong evidence for the Stratfordian authorship theory. We’ve shown that there is much willful fabrication in the First Folio such that the authorship attribution to the Stratford William cannot be taken at face value. 

But there are still two important pieces of evidence which seem to strongly suggest his connection. 

The first of these is Ben Jonson’s phrase “Sweet Swan of Avon” being taken as a reference to Stratford-upon-Avon. A recent counter-argument by Waugh is that this Avon actually refers to Hampton Court with its Great Hall which was used for dramatic entertainments. That argument can be read here:

Now, there has also been a counter-argument to this proposal so I don’t know how well it’s standing up to scrutiny. However, another possibility is that Jonson used ‘Avon’, as others have, in a more idealistic manner as is found in Minerva Britannia:

Thy solitarie Academe should be
Some shadie groue, vpon the THAMES faire side,
Such as we may neere princely RICHMOND see,
Or where along doth silver SEVERNE slide,
Or AVON courtes, faire FLORA in her pride
The poem suggests a river in an imaginary location where poets can get away from the city and connect with their muse, in a kind of academe of nature where philosophical musings are encouraged. The words Thames, Avon, Swanne are mentioned together along with the starry sky and Constellations and the art of poetry, just as in the same passage in the First Folio commendatory poem by Ben Johnson. And the town of Stratford may not at that time have been distinguished as –upon-Avon”. This reduces the confidence in Jonson’s ‘Avon’ as a reference to the town.

Still, though, is the later direct reference to the “Stratford moniment” where a monument to William Shakespeare is indeed found. Finally, here appears to be the hard evidence for William’s authorship. The non- and post-Stratfordians have had various challenges to this evidence too over the years. But what is new is another revised interpretation by Alexander Waugh of this monument and the accompanying inscriptions.

Waugh reexamined the Dugdale drawing of 1634. In past years I’ve read the Strat and non-Strat arguments about his drawing and the supposed changes to the monument over the years. And I know that some prominent post-Stratfordians have concluded that his drawing is likely a poor or false representation of what existed when he was there, perhaps because of poor lighting or weak drawing skills. But I’ve continued to lean to the argument that his drawing was likely much more accurate than inaccurate. For one thing, I couldn’t dismiss the detailed patterns on top of the two pylons on each side of the Shakespeare figure. If the lighting was poor or he was an unskilled draughtsman then I don’t think these would have had the careful detail he seems to have taken care to get right.

So, what Waugh discovered, was that immediately on top of each post, and below that of the leopard heads, is what can be seen or interpreted as ape or monkey heads. Now it took me one or more minutes of staring at the figures to finally see them, but once you do it is then not difficult, for the unbiased, to see the resemblance.

Waugh then ties this in with Ben Jonson’s ‘On Poet Ape’ epigram. To me it does seem plausible and unless and until I see a good refutation I will hold it as a viable interpretation that answers important questions in the authorship theory, at least from the non-Stratfordian perspective. 

And incidentally, I don’t take his interpretation as any kind of insult to the Stratford William, primarily since he was long deceased. Actors were often referred to as apes since they imitated or voiced the words of the writers. Also, the monument was designed with visitors or tourists in mind. Ben Jonson, among others of the time, placed a very high value on people being well-read and learned and perceptive. They didn’t take well to those, even other writers or university graduates, who were smugly ignorant, or whom he considered as merely ‘gaping auditors’ of life. Like Hamlet he wanted people to be more judicious than the unskillful auditors of the stage. Bacon referred to such superficial and misdirected thinking as ‘Idols of the Marketplace’ or ‘Idols of the Theater’. The German philosopher Nietzsche interpreted the first of these as referring to “the way common folk are fooled by advertising, rhetoric, misleading claims, etc.” He interpreted the second as having a “reliance on Authority, experts, and swallowing the received wisdom, without questioning. The bigger the lie, the more easily it is accepted.” So whatever your opinion is, it should at least be a well-educated one. 

Continuing with Waugh’s interpretation of the plaque inscriptions. He works out what seems a plausible unravelling of the allusive:

Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem
Terra tegit, populus maeret, Olympus habet

Which he argues should be more correctly read as:

Earth covers, people mourn and Olympus holds
Pylius with his judgement, Socrates with his genius and Maro with his art.

And then worked out a solution to the puzzle so that it can be seen to refer “ . . . not to Shakespeare, but to three great English poets, respectively Beaumont, Chaucer and Spenser whom ‘Earth covers [in ‘Poets’ Corner’], people mourn and Olympus holds”. And from there to the additional Oxfordian documentation that Lord Oxford also ‘ . . . lieth buried at Westminster’.

Please read his whole argument at the link listed at the end.

I really don’t have a problem with much of any of this. It shows that this last piece of hard evidence is as debatable as that of the First Folio front matter, and perhaps even stronger for the post-Stratfordian side.  But part of the strength depends on how well it can be tied to any particular alternative candidate for authorship. Waugh has shown it can be applied to Oxford.

I can say that for Francis Bacon the Latin inscription works at least as well, perhaps even more straightforwardly.

ForPylius (Nestor) with his judgement’, and more than that since Nestor was also known for his ancient wisdom, great oratorical skills, and being a respected advisor and counselor. So was   Bacon known for all these same attributes and he was also, in a post-mortem tribute, specifically referred to as ‘Nestor’s own senior’.

For ‘Socrates with his genius’ we have another tribute to Bacon which included these lines:

“None greater in genius;
Who of richer eloquence?
A judgment most piercing”

Also, in the 2015 book The Political Philosophy of Francis Bacon by Tom van Malssen, he writes on pages 266-67 that Socrates “called philosophy away from heaven to establish it in the cities, to introduce it into the households, and to compel it to inquire about men’s lives and manners as well as about the good and bad things” and that “Bacon’s meaning [for his own philosophy] approximates what in almost identical terms was said about Socrates”.

Interestingly, in Joseph Hall’s Virgidemiarum (Book IV, 1597/98) he mentions “As bolder Socrates in the comedy” which is explained as “It is related of Socrates, that when present at the representation of The Clouds, a celebrated comedy of Aristophanes, in which the character of the philosopher is introduced in a ridiculous light, he [Socrates] good-naturedly stood up in order to give the spectators an opportunity of contrasting the original, with the caricature drawn by their favourite comedian.”

Then as for the reference to Virgil – ‘Maro for his art’ there is another tribute to Bacon, and as a plaintive cry:

“But, who shall write thy great story, who, pray, of thy life or thy death?
Give place, Oh Greece! Yield thee Maro, first tho thou be in Rome’s story.
Eloquence thine in supremacy; powerful of pen, great in all things,”

Which seems to say “Virgil/Maro, step aside for a greater writer than thee”.

And finally, in response to ‘Olympus holds’, another tribute to Bacon includes these lines:

“Thinkest thou, Oh! Foolish traveler that this cold marble is hiding
Phoebus’ own chorister; -- leader of the great band of the Muses?
Thou art deceived then! Avaunt thee! Verulam [Lord Bacon] shines in Olympus
And lo! The boar (part of his family’s crest), great Jacobo, glitters in thy constellation.”

[Great Jacobo = King James, but I have no idea about his ‘constellation’.]

We can all see then that the Stratford monument, for the judicious viewer, can be associated to at least two other authorship candidates, and both at least as plausibly as for Stratford’s William. It looks to me more like a monument, as a charade or spoof to invite further inquiry, to Bacon’s (or possibly Oxford’s) authorship mask than to a straightforward honoring of William.

Here now is the link to Waugh’s article:

Another, earlier and thoughtful article on the same topic from another Oxfordian, with many excellent points, one of which is that:

Nestor, Socrates, Maro and Olympus are all remarkable for their absence from Jonson’s dedication in the First Folio.

Can be read here:

1 comment:

  1. One of the greatest writer is Shakespeare. His writings and personality inspire a lot of people.