James Shapiro & Shakespeare Authorship

James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), attended my performance of SHAKE-SPEARE’S TREASON at the Globe in London on Thursday night November 20th.  Mr. Shapiro is working on a book about the Shakespeare authorship question and has been doing some research at Brunel University, which has a new MA program in that field.

He has written to me privately to say he enjoyed the show but left before we had a chance to speak because his policy is to avoid discussing the authorship topic – at least, I assume, during his process of research and writing.  I wish him well!  He’s a very good writer and, yes, his research is also good.  But – but – we intend to show how he would do so much better if he realized that the true author of the “Shakespeare” works was not that fellow from Stratford, but, rather, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604).

Yep, we’re going to keep up with him and not let him off the hook when we think he’s wrong!  In the preface of his book on the year 1599, on page xvii, he states that “we don’t know very much about what kind of friend or lover or person Shakespeare was.”  Hmmm!  How is it we know so much about the character of Ben Jonson but not that of the creator of Prince Hamlet?  How is it that we have not a single account by anyone of any personal encounter with the flesh-and-blood man known as Shakespeare?  How is it that we have not a single personal letter written by him?  How could he not have written many, many letters to various friends and none of them have kept a single scrap?

This lack of knowledge about “Shakespeare” author has “opened the door to those who deny that Shakespeare wrote his plays,” Shapiro writes.  No, no, no, we must correct this kind of statement here and now, folks.  No one denies that Shakespeare wrote his plays!  The point is that “Shakespeare” was a pen name.  No one denies that the man who used that name (as a printed signature) did most certainly write those plays!  The whole point is that “Shakespeare” and the traditionally assumed author from Stratford upon Avon are two separate entities – one entity a glorious pen name suggesting a warrior shaking his spear (the spear of his pen!), and the other entity a very real man who was a money lender, grain dealer, property owner and apparent Globe shareholder.

So the statement by Mr. Shapiro, made by many others before him, simply begs the question; that is, it assumes the truth of the very point being raised!  It assumes, at the start, that “Shakespeare” was in fact the man from Stratford, when in fact that’s the very assumption whose truth is being questioned!

This lack of information about “Shakespeare,” writes Shapiro, has led the deniers to attribute the plays instead to “Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon, or the latest candidate, the Earl of Oxford.”  And, he continues, “It’s unfortunate, because even if we don’t know much about his personality, we know a great deal about Shakespeare’s career as a writer” – whoa, whoa, there!  The author’s “career as a writer” is in fact the career of the printed name of Shakespeare, not of the man from Stratford!  Here again Shapiro, like so many others before him, is begging the question – big time!

Sure we know a great deal about the printed name (which, I argue, is a pen name), but that’s a separate subject and it has no physical body attached to it. What we do know about William of Stratford has nothing to do with any kind of writing, much less the greatest writing of the English language.  That set of documents is also a separate subject.

If we’re going to discuss the authorship question with any degree of honesty, let’s try to avoid such circular reasoning.  That’s an old trick; it may even be used unconsciously, and not deliberately, for all I know.  But as others have done before me, I point it out.  I raise a penalty flag.  I mean, come on, no court of law would allow it for a second.

More on all of this soon enough.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 25, 2008 at 12:52 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Well put, Hank. Yes there is a lot of muddy thinking surrounding the name and what it means. A name is indeed a label. The questions is, who’s using it and why? I’ve never understood why you think the Earl of Oxford was in such dire need of a label.

    He had some need perhaps but nothing like the degree to which Marlowe would have needed a label if he did not die at Deptford on May 30th.If that was true, would you admit to a greater need on Marlowe’s part?

    Of course, till the proof that Marlowe did live on turns up, and many are working on that, you don’t have to address my greater need argument.

    If and when it does, would you agree that both Shakespeare and De Vere are then gone, given the so very close links between the two bodies of plays, those of Marlowe and those bearing the Shakes label.

    To be reminded of how close those links are, discussed by orthodox scholars over hundreds of years, do have a look at Daryl Pinkson’s new book, Marlowe’s Ghost.

    I declare my special interest. I made Much Ado About Something, a clip from which can be searched on YoutTube. Cheers, Mike Rubbo

    • Hi Mike – No question that Marlowe is a key player in the “Shakespeare” question and that his works share much, both generally and specifically, in common. I will look up “Marlowe’s Ghost” and report my reaction in this blog.

      Meanwhile, about the need for a “label” or pen name. Many Oxfordians believe that De Vere wrote under various names, of the living and the dead, prior to adopting the “Shakespeare” pen name at age 43 in 1593, launched in his dedication of “Venus and Adonis” to Southampton. For example – his uncle Arthur Golding gets credit for the 1567 publication of the English version of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” – and more likely the very young Oxford, then seventeen, would have produced that wondrous, rollicking translation (to much later become “Shakespeare’s” favorite source), using Golding’s name. Prior to 1593 Oxford was writing as part of the government — for the royal court, also to help rouse patriotic spirit in the years leading up to the 1588 armada from Spain, also to help create an English language, an English cultural identity, which was just as essential in its way as a strong naval defense. Oxford had no need or wish to draw attention to himself as an author; and in fact the first “Shakespeare” plays published in the 1590’s (up to 1598) were all printed anonymously. But Oxford created the “Shakespeare” name in 1593 as his own battle cry, shaking the spear of his pen on behalf of his royal son, Southampton, linking him then and for all time with the famous pen name. The pen name in this instance — an “obvious” pen name, really — was to support Southampton publicly, from behind the scenes, in the power struggle with William and Robert Cecil over succession. It all culminated in the so-called Essex Rebellion of 1601, after which Oxford chose to save his son’s life by agreeing to glue the “Shakespeare” mask to his face, so to speak. But this view is not generally promoted in Oxfordian circles, even though it’s the only explanation for the pen name that has been offered.
      Thanks again – Hank

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