Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Responses to a Shakespeare Enthusiast - Authorship, Othello, Venice

Here's my response to some recent comments:

--Yes, it really does take a fair amount of time to gain a decent understanding of the relevant evidence and arguments. Too often people who have read very little of what is really a great amount of material, will make some comment as if it’s some decisive point. They don’t realize that there are hundreds of books and many, many thousands of articles written on the authorship topic, mostly all by non-Stratfordians. I have yet to come across a single Stratfordian that has read even the basics of this literature. Only a very few have read a fair amount and then it’s just enough for them to come up with some counter arguments which do serve the debate well but then they drop it, especially after they’ve been rebutted. So I’m always encouraging people to try and maintain an open mind, and preferably develop an educated opinion by reading quite a bit.

--I certainly have no problem with Shakespeare enthusiasts not wanting to spend the time to really know the authorship subject. It’s one of those things that has to kind of grab a hold of your interest. I wasn’t very interested for some time until I saw some self-proclaimed expert spewing some ridiculous nonsense about Francis Bacon. I just happened to have a lot of counter information at my fingertips then and could easily rebut everything. And then I just continued on from there since I saw that most people really didn’t know anything about his case or the authorship question in general. Also, I had good training in research and saw some of the worst aspects of academia so it’s sheen had completely worn off and I could look at evidence and arguments with my own eyes.

--Yes, Stratfordianism is a rather straightforward theory. And it can seem obvious at first glance. But think of it this way. I see it as one of those perception illusions that seem obvious at first, but the more closely you look at it, the less obvious it becomes as other features begin to stand out. There are many, many such examples of visual ambiguities. One of the best is the young vs old woman in the drawing. Which do you see?

--Many people have to stare quite a while before they see more than what first seemed to be true to them. It takes the mind awhile to be able to see both or multiple perspectives. Same with the authorship question. It may seem obvious at first, but if you carefully and patiently examine other pieces of evidence and perspectives you will eventually begin to see a kind of alternate reality that for many of us, makes more obvious or logical sense than the original perspective. But only a minority of people bother to do this and the majority still see the original surface appearance.

--Now let’s look closer at your ‘obvious’ theory for a moment. First, “the man from Stratford who became a player”. Do you realize that there’s really very little proof of this? From what evidence has been carefully examined, it seems the best we can say is that he might have been a minor player in some plays. There’s little or maybe no confirmatory evidence of him being like a well-known actor. Yes, he was called a player on some documents, but that could also be because he was associated with the main troupe even though it might have been primarily in a business sense than as an actor. He may primarily have been a broker and financial deal-maker. Ben Jonson lists him as an actor, and spoke of him as such but Jonson is thought to have been in on the joke, or whatever the deception might be called. Second, “evolved into a playwright”. This is the primary failing of the traditional theory. There is no proof that he wrote the Shakespeare works, even when there are many probable places for this proof to have been easily found. But the proof keeps being evasive. Is that just by chance? Thirdand wrote the plays attributed to him, and was indeed the subject of the accolades bestowed upon him by his contemporaries”. You have to keep in mind that most of these attributions and accolades are to ‘the author Shakespeare’ whoever he was. Most contemporaries, maybe nearly all, show no evidence of actually knowing the author personally, or knowing the man from Stratford personally. Some who knew the man from Stratford personally also do not seem to have considered him a poet or playwright. And perhaps only Ben Jonson seems to present evidence of knowing the Stratford man and the author, but not necessarily as being the same person. More poets and playwrights should have known the poet/playwright personally, but we don’t find strong evidence of that, as we think we should. Even mainstream scholars often write about Shakespeare as a kind of ghost or a reclusive that no one can say much of anything about. Keep  in mind also that many scholars doubt that Hemings and Condell wrote the passages where their names are attached.

Stratfordian: The arguments against the Stratford man seem to me to always boil down to that he was insufficiently educated, or aristocratic, or familiar with the politically powerful, or Italian, etc. to have written these plays. For me these are insufficient arguments, the real question being not how could the man from Stratford have written these plays but how could ANYONE have written these plays and poems!

[My Response]--That’s a very good and important question! And much of the research beginning from over a century ago continues to grow showing how the author was not only a great poet, but highly connected with about everyone of any note in London and exceptionally knowledgeable, such that only a very few can be argued to be well able to meet his qualifications. For many, not just the Stratford man, but even for Marlowe, it has to be imagined how he could have become so  knowledgeable about, say, law, medicine, and the high-politics of the realm. Genius by itself is not a sufficient explanation.

--When I watch the plays I watch them purely for the pleasure, with no thought of the authorship question. When I read them it’s primarily for the pleasure but then I’m also able to pick up on points relevant to the authorship question. Right now I’m reading Othello and even just up through Act 2, scene 1, I’ve come across these points:

Act 1.1.7
1.      In the first scene Iago mentions “Despise me if I do not. Three great ones of the city…”

The Arden footnote to this is:
Great ones: Did Shakespeare know of Venice’s Savii Grandi (elected by the Senate to superintend boards beneath it, in effect ministers of state)? See Wotton, 1.413n.

Henry Wotton mentioned the Savii Grandi in a letter.

Wotton was the English Ambassador to Venice and as well a longtime friend of Francis Bacon.

2.      At the start of scene 1.3 there is the Duke and some Senators discussing the varied news reports they’ve received on the size of the Turkish fleet.

The Arden note is: Before modern methods of communication were invented the movements of foreign armies and navies were reported to the Privy Council (or guessed at) exactly as here. Cf. HMC, Hatfield House.

Again, William of Stratford would have no direct knowledge of how the Privy Council worked or received war news. Nor do we know of any connection he had with any member of the Privy Council. But the Earl of Oxford was a member of the Privy council as was Francis Bacon later and before that his father was active in these serious state affairs.

3.      Later in this same scene, at lines 34-36 we have:

   The Ottomites, reverend and gracious,
   Steering with due course toward the isle of Rhodes,
   Have there injointed with an after fleet –

The Arden note says: In 1570 a Turkish fleet sailed towards Rhodes, then joined another fleet to attack Cyprus, as here; Shakespeare must have known this (see Honigmann, ‘Date of Othello, 218-19).

As before, there’s no reason to believe that William of Stratford would have learned of this. However, a political insider, especially having served on the Privy Council, would be familiar with this history.

Then, most interesting, Shakespeare gives a perfect illustration for handling the Authorship question. In scene 1.3 Desdemona’s father Brabantio asks the Venice ‘Great ones’ to haul Othello off to prison for using witchcraft spells and potions to abuse and steal his daughter. Othello makes his case against this and Brabantio responds again to the Duke. So who to believe?

Then the Duke says:
“To vouch this is no proof,
“Without more certain and more overt test
Than these thin habits and poor likelihoods
Of modern seeming do prefer against him.”

From the Arden notes this can be glossed or paraphrased something like this:

“Suspicion or accusation is no proof,
Without more certain and more clearly proved evidence
Than these implausible suggestions and weak probabilities
Of commonplace appearances brought against him.”

--So then Desdemona arrives and says she voluntarily loves Othello, etc.
The point then is this—Shakespeare demonstrates a case of allegations, suspicions and ambiguity of evidence among disputants, much like with the authorship question. There are ‘commonplace appearances’ which could called prima facie evidence. To resolve it he further illustrates and dramatizes the process of having both sides present their testimony, along with whatever witnesses can be brought up. This is all done before a panel of supreme and independent judges who are best qualified to adjudicate the issue.

Then, if Shakespeare offers this method to resolve an important dispute, and educates us on it, then how can Stratfordians, if they are also Shakespeareans, justify their unwillingness to likewise use Shakespeare’s approach to resolve this dispute, given that it’s an important historical question that deserves such attention? I mean, isn't it also of historical interest to both scholars and lay people to know who Michelangelo and Da Vinci were?

-------------------    -
--Then I’m also reading a great book which I highly recommend: Profoundly Entertaining: An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Artistry by Herbert B. Rothschild Jr., 2006. It has nothing overtly to do with the Authorship question, at least so far as I have read. However, in chapter 5 where he’s writing about Twelfth Night and he is discussing whether or  not the director should dress Viola and Sebastian as exact twins, he writes:

“Until the very end of the play, no other character knows that there are two of these siblings abroad in Illyria, so none of them would be looking to discern any difference between them. A similarity of appearance rather than an exact copy would suffice to create the mistaken identifications.”

--And that can relate to the authorship question because non-Stratfordian theory argues or suggests that the real author has been made to appear like the supposed author in order to deliberately create mistaken identification among the audience – that is -- us future readers of the works and those who have questions about the author. The author seems often to play with the audience’s semi-participation in the plays in terms of guiding them in using their imagination to pretend that the characters are real people or alternatively, reminding them, that they are not. And Shakespeare doesn’t seem to be alone in this. So why couldn’t it be possible that he or his fellow Ben Jonson would want to continue such a charade that they have often employed during their careers? It may seem incredible at first thought. But there are actually good reasons for this to have been done and some suggestions it was planned well in advance.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Shakespeare's Political Acumen

Recently there was another great article on Shakespeare’s unusual keen knowledge. This one referred to his apparent expertise in Politics and comes from Shakespeare author Gary B. Goldstein. Here’s the link for it:

Among the quotes by experts are these:

Historians such as Lily B. Campbell are emphatic about the systematic political uses to which the history plays of Shakespeare were designed. The UCLA professor concluded her 1947 study of the history plays by stating, “Each of the Shakespeare histories serves a special purpose in elucidating a political problem of Elizabeth’s day and in bringing to bear upon this problem the accepted political philosophy of the Tudors.”

Examining Shakespeare’s political philosophy was the aim of the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford. In his essay “What’s in a Name?” he wrote that the best way to discover Shakespeare’s political beliefs was to examine the underlying assumptions taken for granted by all of his characters. What he found was the philosophical outlook of an aristocrat pervaded with longing for the past and gloom about the future, precisely because Shakespeare’s arrival as an artist coincided with the end of the Renaissance.

In an interview for the PBS documentary The Shakespeare Mystery, Enoch Powell applied his own political experience when probing William Shakespeare’s working knowledge of high politics: “I had been a member of the Cabinet, and I’d been in politics for twenty years, and I had some idea of what it’s like in the kitchen. And my astonishment was to discover that these were the best works of somebody who’d been in the kitchen. They’re written by someone who has lived the life, who has been part of a life of politics and power, who knows what people feel when they are near to the center of power, near to the heat of the kitchen. It’s not something which can be transferred, it’s not something on which an author, just an author, can be briefed: “Oh, this is how it happened”; it comes straight out of experience — straight out of personal observation — straight out of personal feeling.”

The same conclusion was reached by American ambassador Paul Nitze, who thought the Shakespeare plays spoke directly to a life experienced at the center of power. “Many of [the] plays of Shakespeare, of course, deal with people of the upper echelons of the society. Deals with kings and queens and principally courtiers. It’s at that level that emotions are extremely tense and rivalries are extremely bitter, and that the important issues cut and bite deeply into the human spirit.”

As with Powell, so with Nitze — “Shakespeare understood the psychology of power as it was actually employed during the English Renaissance, because of his personal history: Shakespeare knows what it is like at the center of power. He has the insider’s knowledge of the way power can be used for good or evil and the consequences that ensue. He understands the struggles that result from the tension between ideals of morality and the needs of statecraft”.

There is no evidence whatsoever that William of Stratford had any insider’s knowledge of court politics. However, among some of the alternative authorship contenders, at least the Earl of Oxford and Francis Bacon would qualify. Oxford was a great noble and he is Goldstein’s favorite. But Bacon, though not a noble, was part of the aristocracy and known as a political animal, being immersed in it his whole life. He even served as the country’s regent for a time in the absence of King James.

This is just one more area of knowledge that the Stratfordian theory of authorship can only make feeble guesses to account for in the works.

Here’s one more politician that would agree:
"I cannot accord it to him who, though rich, did not educate his children, and who, though he sought fame through a coat-of-arms claimed to have been earned by the valor of his great-grandfather, nowhere, not even in his last will and testament, claimed the fame of authorship,--such authorship,--and whose sole posthumous anxiety centered on his dust and bones remaining undisturbed in the chancel of Stratford church."-J. Warren Keifer, Former Speaker of the National House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., 1904