“Contested Jim” — Shapiro in New York for “Contested Will”

James Shapiro spoke to an audience at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Sunday, May 2, 2010, about his book Contested Will and his argument that those of us who question the attribution of the “Shakespeare” works to William of Stratford are, well, not quite right in the head.

Hank Whittemore and James Shapiro, author of "Contested Will," at the 92nd Street Y in New York

Jim Shapiro is a likeable guy even as he wields the ol’ blade, with a smile, to cut us into pieces — his victims including Henry James, Mark Twain, Orson Wells, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller, and dozens of other whackos who believe that a writer writes from his own mind and heart, so that knowing about his life can help us understand the meaning of his work.

I attended with Ted Story, co-writer and director of my performance in the one-man show Shake-speare’s Treason.  I performed it in November 2008 at the Globe in London, where Shapiro was in the audience.  At the time he was still researching his book, wherein he gets to the pivotal point of his argument on page 264, by bringing up my book The Monument, which demonstrates that the Sonnets of 1609 contain a real-life personal and political story, linked with real events of contemporary English history leading to the death of Queen Elizabeth I on March 24, 1603 and the succession of James VI of Scotland as King James I of England.

Hank Whittemore with James Shapiro, who signed a copy of his book

Here is Shapiro’s pivotal point:

“The more that Shakespeare scholars encourage autobiographical readings of the plays and poems, the more they legitimate assumptions that underlie the claims of all those who dismiss the idea that Shakespeare wrote the plays.  And every step scholars have taken toward such readings has encouraged their adversaries to make even speculative claims. The recent publication of Hank Whittemore’s Oxfordian reading of the Sonnets, The Monument, offers a glimpse of  where things may be heading. Even other Oxfordians (as William Boyle, editor of Shakespeare Matters, put it when news of Whittemore’s book first circulated) saw that they were ‘undoubtedly journeying into new territory,’ one that was both ‘controversial—and risky.’  The Sonnets  could now be read not as primarily fictional creations but as  ‘documentary evidence every bit as important and potent as any letters, any or anything to be found in the Calendar of State Papers.  In fact, in some instances the Sonnets provide historical information that exists nowhere else.'”

My colleague Bill Boyle had it right – the amazing revelation about the Sonnets is that they were written to preserve an important story for those of us living in posterity.  In a nutshell, the winners of the political struggle to control the royal succession also got to control the official record and, therefore, the writing of the history – “History is written by the winners,” as George Orwell put it in 1944 – but Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, before his death in June 1604, completed the “monument” of the private Sonnets to preserve the truth for “eyes not yet created” in the distant future:

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read.

Sonnet 81

And one big aspect of this truth involved the burial of the “name” or identity of the real author of the poems and plays and sonnets:

My name be buried where my body is
Sonnet 72

Try showing up at the Y and telling THAT to the group!

But try to keep telling students of this generation, and of those to come, that only the greatest writer of them all cannot be found in his work, and that we don’t need to know the man to understand his writings!

Here’s a secret:  Oxford poured his life into every corner of it!

Oh – on page 269, Shapiro writes, “Those who believe that Elizabethan plays were autobiographical ought to be able to show that contemporaries were on the lookout for confessional allusions.”  Well, the family of chief minister Polonius, which includes his daughter Ophelia and her suitor Hamlet, is a mirror image of the family of chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley, which includes his daughter Anne Cecil and her husband Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who, by means of confessional allusions in the play ‘Hamlet,’  gave us an intimate portrait of his life within that family and his emotional reactions to it.

Cheers from Hank

(Photos by Ted Story)

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Shapiro, like Bloom, like Akroyd, do not like a human Shake-speare, but a mythical or miraculous one.

    As Darwin said in his “Origin…”:

    He that believes that an old form was transformed suddenly, through a force or internal tendency, into another, for example, provided with wings, would be forced to admit, in opposition to all analogies, that many individuals varied simultaneously. (…) Admit all these is, to my thinking, to get into the regions of miracle and to abandon those of science.

    (…) But I am well convinced that these general affirmations, without its detailed facts, will produce a weak effect in the reader’s mind. I can only repeat my conviction that I do not speak without having good proofs.

  2. My friends laugh about the enormous size of your book, which, to my thinking, is a Bible (i.e. a book contaning many books).

    While I take it everywhere and underline the most important passages, I tend to be surprised and amazed by the new discoveries done about Edward de Vere’s multiple pseudonims, like Arthur Brooke, Nash, Greene, or, finally, Shake-speare.

    Or his decoys, like his uncle Arthur Golding for the translation of Ovid’s “Metamorphosis”, Lyly’s “Euphues” or Gascoine’s “Hundred Sundry Flowers”.

    His works are getting bigger and bigger as time passes by!

  3. Thanks for the comment! There is so much more material waiting to be found. Once you have the right key that turns the lock, there is no end to it. We’re building on what others have done and we’re lucky for it. Now students in future years will find even more. Cheers from Hank


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