More Answers to a Reader:

Continuing with the final three points made by Jim, a reader:

Two: Regardless of the authorship question, not even the makers of “Anonymous” can say the film is entirely truthful. The director, Roland Emmerich, admits in interviews that details like the writing of “Midsummer” when de Vere is 9 and de Vere’s later affair with Queen Elizabeth are false, part of creating a cinematic mood rather than documenting history.

Roland Emmerich, director, and John Orloff, screenwriter, of "Anonymous"

(If memory serves, screenwriter John Orloff DOES claim the whole script to be factual.) Historical films usually take some liberties with fact — this is to be expected — but in this case the liberties are rather large, and for a film that already faces a good deal of automatic skepticism, the decision not to hew closer to history is perplexing.

Some of my colleagues have expressed the same or similar feelings.  But I believe John Orloff may have made some confusing statements before clarifying.  For example, here’s a link to his recent article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Why I Played with Shakespeare’s Story” — which sort of speaks for itself.

Evidence indicates that Oxford and Elizabeth may well have had a sexual affair; but no, it’s not certain.  I would refer you to my book The Monument for evidence in the Sonnets that Oxford regarded Southampton as his son by the Queen and, therefore, as her rightful successor.

Three: For every dubious clue that the sonnets contain indicating concealed authorship, they contain several straightforward clues indicating Shakespearean authorship. Puns on “will” are commonplace in the sonnets. Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, is referenced once or twice. Did de Vere insert these references to make the Shakespearean ruse more convincing? It seems unlikely, because…

Well, now, those uses of will and Will are interesting, but I’d say that more likely they refer to (1) the Queen’s will or command as a monarch, and (2) the pen name William Shakespeare.  If the author’s real name happened to be William or Will, in my view he’d never use it that way – too obvious, too direct, especially for Shakespeare.

The line in Sonnet 145 is “I hate, from hate away she threw,” – and forgive me, but I’d say it’s an absurd stretch, a desperate stretch, to find a deliberate reference to Anne Hathaway … really … more of a stretch than most of what you find Oxfordians doing.

Four: If de Vere wrote the sonnets, there was no reason for him to hide it. Playwriting MAY have been inappropriate for a noble of his stature (though I am not sure of this — some of the Earl’s peers wrote court masques for Queen Elizabeth), but the writing of poetry certainly was not. Sir Philip Sidney is an excellent example of a high-ranking courtier whose poetry was accepted and influential. Coincidentally, Sidney also wrote at least one court masque.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586)

I believe Sidney’s poetry was published under his own name only after his death, as expected.  But in my view the sonnets were private poems by Oxford, who did not write them to be published in his own lifetime.  And also in my view, they recorded Southampton’s royal status and the story of how Oxford made a deal with Robert Cecil to spare Southampton’s life and gain the promise of his eventual liberation by James.  In that context this was a hot book, claiming that James had stolen the throne from a rightful English heir.

Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton (circa 1595)

By contrast, those who got the Folio published managed to depict the author as a theater man, an actor and a playwright, while wiping away any mention of the poetry dedicated to Southampton or the sonnets written to and about him.

To summarize, I don’t see a strong motive for de Vere to conceal his authorship, and without that motive, evidence such as the name references in the sonnets and the traditionally accepted dates for the plays persuasively indicate Shakespeare as author.

Again, I’m not trying to troll or be rude — just to have a conversation!

Again, thanks.  Next I’ll put up my take on Sonnet 145 as set forth in The Monument.

Ongoing Work on “The Tempest” by Lynne Kositsky and Dr. Roger Stritmatter

It’s long past time for this blog to direct readers to the website of Dr. Roger Stritmatter and his colleague Lynne Kositsky — SHAKESPEARESTEMPEST.COM, with links to five articles on various aspects of Tempest sources, chronology, and literary themes, as follows:

From page 1 (after the introductory matter) of the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623 -- with some markings added later

O Brave New World: The Tempest and Peter Martyr’s De Orbe Novo.”  Critical Survey 21:2 (fall 2009), 7-42.

Pale as Death: The Fictionalizing Influence of Erasmus’ ‘Naufragium’ on the Renaissance Travel Narrative.” Festschrift in Honor of Isabel Holden,  fall 2008, Concordia University, 141-151.

The Spanish Maze and the Date of The Tempest.”  The Oxfordian, fall 2007, 1-11.

Shakespeare and the Voyagers Revisited.”  The Review of English Studies, September, 2007 (published online June, 2007), 447-472.

How Shakespeare Got His Tempest:  Another “Just So” Story,” Brief Chronicles I(2009), 205-266, print edition.

There’s much more on their site and I recommend that readers keep in touch with it as they continue to develop this important story.


Some Answers to a Reader’s Response: When did the author Write those plays?

A reader (named Jim, I believe) commented on my replies to Professor James Shapiro, regarding his criticism of the movie Anonymous.  It seems worthwhile to continue the discussion here, on the main page.  Jim brought up four separate topics, and I’ll try to take up one or two at a time.

"The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth" was played by the Queen's Men in 1583 and serves as the foundation for "Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2" and "Henry V" by "Shakespeare"

“I don’t mean to be rude,” he begins, “but I hold with those who believe that Shakespeare is Shakespeare and I would like to reply to a few of your points.”

You’re not being rude; and thanks for the chance to respond.

First I should mention the Oxfordian view that saying “Shakespeare is Shakespeare” would be akin to saying “Mark Twain is Mark Twain.”  True enough, but we know that “Mark Twain” is a pen name used by Samuel Clemens.  So when we say “Shakespeare” we mean the printed name, referring to an otherwise unidentified poet-playwright; and we believe it’s a pen name, or pseudonym, as opposed to the name “William Shakspere” referring to the real individual who lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire.

[Of course, orthodox scholars and general commentators regularly start from the assumption that Shakespeare and Shakspere are one and the same, thereby from the outset blocking any further discussion.]

Orson Welles as Macbeth - 1948

“Most datings of the plays put them much later than you do,” Jim writes.  “For a variety of reasons, including pieces of text that seem to refer to current events (cf. ‘Macbeth’ and the Gunpowder Plot) many of them have been specifically placed after the death of Edward de Vere. I understand that the standard Oxfordian riposte to this is that de Vere actually wrote all the plays, and some were released after his death, edited to appear current. I don’t find that persuasive because I can think of no motive for it.

“Whatever the case, citing unorthodox information on the dates of the plays from a specifically pro-Oxford text is surely not fair play.”

The generally accepted dating for each play is based primarily on the biography of an author (Shakspere) who came to London in the late 1580’s or early 1590’s.  He would have begun writing the thirty-seven or more plays assigned to Shakespeare soon after; if he wrote two per year, it would take him eighteen-plus years up to 1610 or so.  So the assumption of Shakspere’s authorship is the reason why the writing of the plays is traditionally dated within that spectrum; the single premise of him as the great dramatist makes it “impossible” for the writing to happen during an earlier period.

When Oxford’s life is used as a guide, however, we can start way back when he was a teenager in the 1560’s; we can view him writing all during the 1560’s, 1570’s and 1580’s – three decades – prior to the 1590’s and the first appearance of “Shakespeare” the poet and/or playwright.

Moreover Oxford played a part in establishing the Queen’s Men  (Queen Elizabeth’s Men) in 1583; in that decade this major company performed no less than six plays of royal history that “Shakespeare” is said to have “rewritten” later to create his own plays – The Troublesome Reign of King John, The True Tragedy of Richard III, King Leir, The Famous Victories of Henry V and so on – with many of the same scenes that “Shakespeare” uses.

"The True Tragedy of Richard the Third" - By Anonymous - Played by the Queen's Men in the 1580's - Was it Early Shakespeare?

Oxford was cited in 1589 (The Arte of English Poesie) as first among courtier poets “who have written excellently well, as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public.”  Richard Whalen, who edited a new Oxfordian printing of Macbeth, suggests Edward de Vere may have written the first version back in 1567, at seventeen!  (An anonymous play about the assassination of Lord Darnley, the King of the Scots, was performed in 1568 at the Court of Elizabeth.)

There’s no evidence that Macbeth was performed during the reign of King James [1603-1625].  The account allegedly written by Simon Forman, describing a performance he supposedly witnessed in 1611, was discovered by the notorious nineteenth-century forger John Payne Collier – so we can’t count on that!  Otherwise the play was never printed, nor does any record mention it, before the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623.

The dating of play composition is tricky and requires much research.  I again recommend Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence, edited by Kevin Gilvary.

A fascinating Oxfordian study was made in the 1930’s by Eva Turner Clark in her book Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays.  Clark cites evidence that Oxford had written all the plays, at least their original versions, by 1590.  He could have made many revisions up to his death in 1604; other writers, so-called collaborators, could have made revisions and additions over the next nineteen years until the Folio; and that might account for some of the apparently post-1604 references.  On the other hand, Oxfordian researchers such as Kositsky and Stritmatter are producing new evidence to show that ALL such references could have come from earlier events and sources.

We’ll continue soon with the other issues …

(Meanwhile, I might observe that reviewers of Anonymous who cannot view the Shakespeare Authorship Question with an open mind are relying on traditional assumptions, which, if presented right now for the very first time, would cause the same reviewers to laugh with scorn.  Why?  Because those traditional assumptions have absolutely no biographical or historical foundations.  Without the flimsy “evidence” to be found in the First Folio and the church in Stratford, along with mention in the 1640 Poems by Will Shakespeare, Gent.  of the Stratford man’s death in April 1616, there would be no trail leading to Warwickshire — none.  Even with those allusions, there’s no biographical or historical trail.]

“Shakespeare Suppressed” by Katherine Chiljan — New Revelations about the Earl of Essex, King James and the Earl of Southampton

Katherine Chiljan in her new book Shakespeare Suppressed: The Uncensored Truth about Shakespeare and his Works (Faire Editions: San Francisco: 2011) puts forth striking evidence about the relationship of Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex and King James  – documents that may be new to most researchers until now.  “Evidence shows that Essex did not wish King James VI of Scotland to be the next English king,” Chiljan writes in Chapter 17, “nor did James sincerely regard Essex as his martyr.”

"Shakespeare Suppressed" by Katherine Chiljan

Thomas Wenman, learning of a conversation between the king and an agent named Ashfield, wrote to Essex in Ireland on August 18, 1599.  He warned that Ashfield told James he regarded Essex as “the only likely obstacle” on the Scottish king’s possible path to the English throne — and that King James, hearing this, resolved to work behind the scenes to effect Essex’s downfall.

Wenman wrote to Essex:  “[Ashfield] proposed your lordship as the only likely obstacle to withstand and resist the intended Scottish title: which suggestion has taken so deep root in the King’s heart that he is resolutely determined to work by all possible means your utter ruin and final overthrow, the which I think he will endeavor to effect rather by the fox’s craft than the lion’s strength … He [James] desires nothing more than the ill success of the Irish wars in general,” Wenman added to Essex, “or of your own person in particular.”

Chiljan reports another letter, shortly before the Essex Rebellion of February 8, 1601, reporting that James was “sorry for it” in one way but, in another way, “pleased” with the earl’s downfall.

Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex (1566-1601)

Essex was executed seventeen days after the aborted rising; but before the Queen’s death in 1603, Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland, wrote a letter to James telling him that Essex had thought it would be “scandalous to our nation that a stranger should be our king.”  [The fact that James had not been born on English soil made him legally ineligible to succeed Elizabeth, but Essex may well have had other reasons to say this as well.]

Essex “wore the crown of England in his heart these many years,” Percy told James, adding that therefore the earl had been “far from setting it on your head if it had been in his power.”

Chiljan offers more evidence on this subject, providing solid proof that Essex and Southampton were NOT acting on behalf of James; in fact, Essex had “inveighed against” James in his conversations with friends.  Essex had indeed corresponded with James – for example, two years before the Rebellion — but, Chiljan writes, that correspondence was only to request that the king send an ambassador to England.  “It appears,” she adds, “that Essex wanted James’ diplomatic support only after he had enacted a change of regime.” [My emphasis]

There is much additional evidence in Shakespeare Suppressed, which I highly recommend not only for these revelations but for its discussion of many other issues.  Katherine Chiljan has written a new Oxfordian/authorship book that wipes out the Stratford man forever.   I suggest it represents a new landmark book that belongs on our shelves.

In my book The Monument (2005) I suggested that the Earl of Southampton was not only the young man addressed in the Sonnets but also “the onlie begetter” of the dedication or “Mr. W.H.,” who had inspired the writing of them and  later caused them to be published.  Now Chiljan independently supports that argument with largely unknown documentation that Southampton had been associated professionally with publisher Thomas Thorpe five years before the 1609 printing of the Sonnets, and then again seven years afterward:

In 1604 Thorpe published A Succinct Philosophical Declaration of the Nature of Climacterical Years Occasioned by the Death of Elizabeth, written by Thomas Wright and dedicated to Southampton, who evidently sponsored the publication.   In 1616 Thorpe published The Praise of King Richard the Third by Sir William Cornwallis, using a manuscript that Southampton himself had altered, prior to co-leading the failed Essex Rebellion of February 8, 1601; and in this case, too, the evidence points to Southampton as the one who got the revised manuscript to Thorpe in 1616.  The earl’s alterations had cast a negative light on the historical Richard III, with whom Secretary Robert Cecil had been compared.

Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton (1573/4-1624)

“Southampton’s open patronage of one work published by Thorpe, and his being the evident supplier of the manuscript of another work published by Thorpe, strengthens his case as the source, the begetter, of SHAKE-SPEARE’S SONNETS,” concludes Chiljan.

“And she provides additional evidence that Southampton’s action to get the Sonnets published “may have been specifically directed to King James and his son [Prince Henry, 14) to remind them of his royal blood” — that is, as the natural son of Queen Elizabeth I by Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, as depicted in the new movie Anonymous from Roland Emmerich.


Part Three of My Reply to James Shapiro

Continuing with Part 3 of 3 my replies to James Shapiro:

SHAPIRO: “Perhaps the greatest obstacle facing de Vere’s supporters is that he died in 1604, before 10 or so of Shakespeare’s plays were written.”

Dating Shakespeare's Plays - Edited by Kevin Gilvary

WHITTEMORE:  How do you know this?  When a play was performed, and when it was printed, may have nothing to do with when it was written.  Topical references could easily have been added by others, after the writer’s death.  I suggest that Professor Shapiro consult the new and valuable book DATING OF SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS, A Critical Review of the Evidence, from the De Vere Society in England and edited by Kevin Gilvary; for example:

On Macbeth from contributor Sally Hazelton:  “Macbeth can be dated between 1587 (Holinshed’s Chronicle) and 1611 when it was witnessed by Simon Forman.”

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford reportedly died on June 24, 1604.

“It seems likely, on the current evidence, that Macbeth was mostly written in 1601, but that some parts are earlier … that the main inspiration for the story was the 1600 Gowrie conspiracy, with references to the 1567 murder of Darnley; and that the vision of the future kings was possibly suggested by the legend of Catherine de Medici’s vision.  The theme of equivocation, which runs through the play, was a feature of all the murders and attempted murders above.”

On The Tempest from Philip Johnson and Kevin Gilvary:  “There is no contemporary evidence to date the composition of The Tempest.  The play is usually assumed to have been completed by 1611, when it was performed at court.  It can be dated any time after 1580, when all the major sources had become available.”  (The Strachey letter is dated 1610 but not published until 1625, but there’s no evidence it was in circulation and therefore available to Will of Stratford, who died in 1616.  Stritmatter and Kositsky have proved that the author could have used other, much earlier sources.)

And so on…

SHAPIRO:  “Anonymous offers an ingenious way to circumvent such objections: there must have been a conspiracy to suppress the truth of de Vere’s authorship; the very absence of surviving evidence proves the case.”

WHITTEMORE: It did not require any such conspiracy, in the same way that the public never knew that Marilyn Monroe swam in the White House pool or that FDR had to use a wheelchair.  In any case, the poet of The Sonnets left behind him some very clear statements about his authorship.

Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I

Sonnet 71: “My name be buried where my body is.”

Sonnet 76: “Every word doth almost tell my name.”  (The operative word is “almost”.)

Sonnet 81: “I (once gone) to all the world must die.”

Sounds like he was trying to tell us something!

SHAPIRO:  “In dramatizing this conspiracy, Mr. Emmerich has made a film for our time, in which claims based on conviction are as valid as those based on hard evidence.  Indeed, Mr. Emmerich has treated fact-based arguments and the authorities who make them with suspicion. As he told an MTV interviewer last month when asked about the authorship question: “I think it’s not good to tell kids lies in school.”

WHITTEMORE:  It’s unbelievable that this statement can be made in light of the history of Stratfordian biography, which is based solely on conjectures – with phrases such as “he might have … he could have … most likely … probably …. undoubtedly …”

SHAPIRO: “The most troubling thing about Anonymous is not that it turns Shakespeare into an illiterate money-grubber.”

WHITTEMORE:  Not the writer “Shakespeare” but, rather, Shakspere of Stratford, who seems to have been unable to write even his name and was, in fact, a money-lender.

SHAPIRO:  “It’s not even that England’s virgin Queen Elizabeth is turned into a wantonly promiscuous woman who is revealed to be both the lover and mother of de Vere.”

WHITTEMORE:  The film portrays Elizabeth as not knowing that Oxford was her son.  As for her being wantonly promiscuous, I’d say she’s portrayed as a healthy, sexually active woman.  I’d say that is not “troubling” at all.  Next to what we know about her father Henry VIII, she comes across as amazingly normal — especially since she was an absolute monarch.

SHAPIRO:  “Rather, it’s that in making the case for de Vere, the film turns great plays into propaganda.”

WHITTEMORE:  Do you mean the way, for example, Arthur Miller writes The Crucible about the Salem witch trials in order to comment on the McCarthy hearings?  Do you mean the way Hamlet inserts lines in a play to catch the conscience of the king?  Do you mean the way Shakespeare writes Henry V to inspire national unity?   Do you mean how the skits on Saturday Night Live often make fun of, and comment upon, our politicians?

SHAPIRO:  “In the film de Vere is presented as a child prodigy, writing and starring in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1559 at the age of 9. He only truly finds his calling nearly 40 years later after visiting a public theater for the first time and seeing how easily thousands of spectators might be swayed.”

WHITTEMORE: That’s nonsense about only then finding his true calling; on the contrary, the film portrays him as having written his works (the first versions of them) much earlier, for the Court of Elizabeth.  At least six of the plays are performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s – plays of royal history, during wartime – prior to the appearance of “Shakespeare” in the following decade of the 1590’s.

SHAPIRO: “He applauds his art’s propagandistic impact at a performance of Henry V that so riles the patriotic mob that actors playing the French are physically assaulted. He vilifies a political foe in Hamlet, and stages Richard III to win the crowd’s support for rebellious aristocrats.”

WHITTEMORE:  So?  At that time there was no internet, no CBS News, no CNN, no Saturday Night Live, no newspaper or radio – the stage was powerful; it was the media.

SHAPIRO:  “De Vere is clear in the film about his objectives: ‘all art is political … otherwise it is just decoration.’  Sony Pictures’ study guide is keen to reinforce this reductive view of what the plays are about, encouraging students to search Shakespeare’s works for ‘messages that may have been included as propaganda and considered seditious.’ A more fitting title for the film might have been ‘Triumph of the Earl.’”

WHITTEMORE: Reductive?  Why not admit that knowing the biographical and historical background of a play might expand our understanding of the work?

SHAPIRO:  “In offering this portrait of the artist, Anonymous weds Looney’s class-obsessed arguments – “

WHITTEMORE:  Once again you’re slipping in an attack on the messenger, not the message.  I don’t know about Looney’s personal views, only that his arguments are logical and sound.  It was the Elizabethan age itself that was class-obsessed and “Shakespeare” was far from being an exception.  Here is from Blood Will Tell in Shakespeare’s Plays by David Shelley Berkeley, an orthodox scholar:

“Shakespeare is the arch-conservative, the most obdurate insister, partly owing to his prolific pen, on the merits of the gentry and the demerits of the base-born … Shakespeare’s plays always intensify whatever class-consciousness may exist in their primary sources.”

And so on…

SHAPIRO:  “In offering this portrait of the artist, Anonymous weds Looney’s class-obsessed arguments to the political motives supplied by later de Vere advocates, who claimed that de Vere was Elizabeth’s illegitimate son and therefore the rightful heir to the English throne. By bringing this unsubstantiated version of history to the screen, a lot of facts — theatrical and political — are trampled.”

WHITTEMORE:  I realize how tempting it may be to believe that Oxfordians must be snobs; and to believe, therefore, that what we really want is for Shakespeare to have royal blood.  The fact, however, is that I don’t know any of us who thinks that way.

Again, as Professor Berkeley points out, the one who does think that way is Shakespeare himself:  “Characterization, plotting, and theme in the Shakespearean plays are in a broad sense regulated by an invisible but firm line between gentility and plebeinanism.  If a character’s blood is high enough, he is capable, like Hamlet and Henry V, of all that human nature can attain to…” 

SHAPIRO:  “Supporters of de Vere’s candidacy who have awaited this film with excitement may come to regret it, for Anonymous shows, quite devastatingly, how high a price they must pay to unseat Shakespeare.”

WHITTEMORE:  The only price will be the need to drop all the fantasy written over the past two or three centuries.

SHAPIRO:  “Why anyone is drawn to de Vere’s cause is the real mystery, one not so easily solved as who was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.”

WHITTEMORE:  If you’re unable to tell your students why, sooner or later they’ll tell you.

Report on a Panel to Discuss “Anonymous” the Movie

Here’s my report on the panel discussion following a preview of ANONYMOUS last Saturday at the Chelsea 9 Theater in New York, sponsored by the Media Educators Association.

John T. Yurko, director of the group and chairman of the Communication Arts Department at Caldwell College, NJ, did a great job leading a question-answer session; and I was grateful to be on the panel with English professor Dr. Mary Lindroth and History & Political Science professor Dr. Ben Lammers, both from Caldwell, who made important contributions.   This account covers only some of the topics and it’s by no means intended to be complete.

First of all the audience seemed to really like the movie.  You could hear the proverbial pin drop as all attention was focused on the screen; and that alone is a great achievement on the part of screenwriter John Orloff and director Roland Emmerich, along with the cast and crew.

HISTORY OR FICTION:  How much true history is in the film?  I answered that the major characters and their relationships, along with major plot points, are most certainly real.  As an example I pointed out that in the movie there’s a performance of Richard III just before the abortive Essex Rebellion of 8 February 1601, when in fact the conspirators had gotten the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to play Richard II at the Globe.

Sir Robert Cecil, Principal Secretary

But the purpose in real history was the same – to signal an attempt to remove Secretary Robert Cecil from his control over the aging Queen Elizabeth I and persuade her to name an heir to the throne or, at the least, call a Parliament on the matter of succession.  The movie’s choice of Richard III instead of Richard II was to use the more dastardly king, depicted by Shakespeare as a hunchback, to remind the Globe audience of the hunchbacked Cecil; otherwise, the basic point is that a play by “Shakespeare” was definitely used for a political purpose — something that traditional teachings of Shakespearean history have tended to underplay or even to forget.

OTHER CANDIDATES: There was a question about authorship candidates other than Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford, as depicted in the film.  I answered that in my view, if you look at Oxford’s biography it becomes very difficult to walk away.  Why do our teachers and students know so little about this pivotal figure within the English renaissance of literature and drama during the 1580’s?  Why do they usually neglect the crucial history leading to the sudden appearance of “Shakespeare” in 1593?  How come they seldom try to explain the great author’s full-blown maturity as exhibited by that highly cultured, sophisticated narrative poem, Venus and Adonis?  Was it a miracle?

SHAKESPEARE (OR SHAKSPERE) THE ACTOR:  Does the movie go too far in terms of making the Stratford man pretty much a buffoon?  Maybe so, I said, pointing out that in the “Oxfordian” community we’re still grappling with the question of what role that William Shakspere actually played, if in fact Edward de Vere was the true author.  My own feeling is that the Stratford man was never running around London claiming to be “Shakespeare” the poet-playwright.  In other words, I do not believe he was ever an active “front man” for the Earl of Oxford.

SHAKESPEARE’S PHYSICAL APPEARANCE:  In response to another question, I replied that the engraving in the First Folio, by Martin Droeshout, is the most “accurate” portrait the Stratfordians have – but, of course, the engraving is pretty much a cartoon.  You can see it’s a mask.

The Droeshout Engraving - 1623

THE TEMPEST:  One person asked how Oxford could have written The Tempest, since he died in 1604 and the play was written in 1611.  I asked:  “How do you know it was written then?”  He replied:  “Well, everybody says so.”  I think it was written much earlier than 1604; I also think, as some others do, that it was performed in 1604 for King James under the title The Spanish Maze.  (See some of the great work on the dating of The Tempest that’s being done by Dr. Roger Stritmatter and Lynne Kositsky.)

COLLABORATORS:  Someone wanted to know how all those “collaborations” could have taken place after 1604 if Oxford was dead by then.  I replied that other writers may have worked on some of the plays precisely because the author was no longer alive.  Of the thirty-six plays to appear in the First Folio of 1623, seven years after Will of Stratford’s death, exactly eighteen or half of them had never been printed before.  Why not?  And why would the living Shakespeare have needed any collaborators in the first place?

There were more questions and answers, of course; overall I felt a genuinely positive atmosphere and interest in learning more.  I tried to emphasize that one thing at stake is our understanding of the “creative process” itself and how we teach young people about it.

Are we teaching them that, because Shakespeare was such a great “genius” (which I’m sure he was), he had no need to draw upon any life experience and apprenticeship?  I suggested that, as the author Charles Beauclerk has said, imagination is being confused with fantasy; that is, the imagination used by Shakespeare must have required much more than fantasizing; on the contrary, it must have required a transmutation of many elements of learning and living and hard work.  And that’s what we need to tell those who represent our potential poets, novelists, playwrights and writers of the future.

I sense a new energy on its way, a new enthusiasm for Shakespeare, for literature, for theater, for film, for art  itself – all to replace the dull stuff that has “turned off” so many in previous generations.  A great dam is about to burst open; a great flood of new exploration and discovery is about to begin.

Panel to Discuss Shakespeare, Oxford & “Anonymous”

I’m looking forward to being part of a panel tomorrow (Oct 22) after a showing of Roland Emmerich’s movie ANONYMOUS sponsored by the Media Educators Association.

The group consists of teachers, administrators, librarians, etc., who meet each Saturday morning at the Chelsea 9 Theater in New York City for advance screenings of films for evaluation and discussion.

Chelsea 9 Theater in New York

Director of the group is John T. Yurko, chairman of the Communications Arts Department at Caldwell College in New Jersey.

Also on the panel will be two Caldwell colleagues: Dr. Mary Lindroth, Professor of English, and Dr. Ben Lammers, Professor of History and Political Science.

I’ll be bringing some Oxfordian notes, which I’ll share on this blog soon afterward, along with a report on our discussion.  Meanwhile I want to thank the group in advance for inviting me.

Part Two of My Reply to James Shapiro’s Column in the New York Times

This is the second of three parts of my response to an Op Ed column (“Hollywood Dishonors the Bard”) in the New York Times by Professor James Shapiro of Columbia, who is defending the Bard of Tradition against the forthcoming movie “Anonymous” from Roland Emmerich, portraying Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford as the true author of the great poems, plays and sonnets.  Shapiro  is referring below to John Thomas Looney, whose book “Shakespeare” Identified in 1920 introduced Oxford’s candidacy.

The Bard of Tradition ... The Bard of Our Dreams

SHAPIRO:  “Looney also showed that episodes in de Vere’s life closely matched events in the plays.  His theory has since attracted impressive supporters, including Sigmund Freud, the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia and his former colleague John Paul Stevens, and now Mr. Emmerich.”

WHITTEMORE: Yes, indeed.

SHAPIRO:  “But promoters of de Vere’s cause have a lot of evidence to explain away, including testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else that confirms that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him.”

WHITTEMORE:  This is the classic mix-up of two separate entities.  The name “William Shakespeare” or just “Shakespeare” or “Shake-speare” was well-known and other writers referred to the great author by that name.  But they never described his physical person in any way, not during his lifetime; they never reported talking with him, breaking bread with him, working with him, drinking with him; they knew him as a name.  On the other hand, those “court records” had nothing to do with writing or poetry or the drama; such documents involved the man from Stratford and his very separate life.

James Shapiro -- Defender of the Bard of Avon

SHAPIRO:  “Meanwhile, not a shred of documentary evidence has ever been found that connects de Vere to any of the plays or poems.”

WHITTEMORE:  Well, for starters, Edward de Vere was connected personally in the 1560’s, 1570’s and 1580’s to virtually every writer whose work would become known as a “contemporary source” for the great author “Shakespeare” in his writings that appeared under that name for the first time in 1593.  Oxford’s poetry and other public writings can be viewed as part of what Looney called “the long foreground” of apprenticeship that has been missing from all so-called biographies of Shakespeare.  By contrast, Will of Stratford had no such foreground of prior work and there’s no record from his lifetime that he had any kind of relationship with any other writer.  Ben Jonson’s testimony comes way after the fact, in the Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623; and even in Ben’s own 1616 folio, he merely listed “William Shakespeare” as an actor while never mentioning him as a writer – even though Will of Stratford had died only a few months earlier that year, without a single eulogy or even mention of him.

SHAPIRO:  “As for the argument that the plays rehearse the story of de Vere’s life: since the 1850s, when Shakespeare’s authorship was first questioned, the lives of 70 or so other candidates have also confidently been identified in them.”

Roland Emmerich, Challenging Tradition with his movie "Anonymous"

WHITTEMORE: Well, now, there are more parallels between the single play of Hamlet and various aspects of Oxford’s life than we could find such parallels between all the Bard’s thirty-seven plays and the lives of those other seventy candidates combined.  Trying to put Oxford in the same category is another cheap shot.  No, sir, his credentials are different.  Anyone who looks at his life — as poet, playwright and play producer; as patron of writers, play companies and musicians; as scholar, traveler, etc. – will see the vast difference.  This would be true even if a thousand candidates had preceded Looney’s identification of him.

We’ll continue next time with the third and final installment…

Answering Shapiro … A Reply to the Professor’s Op-Ed Column in the NY Times Part 1

In the New York Times of Monday October 17, 2011, on the Op Ed page, appeared a column by James Shapiro, a professor of English at Columbia University, author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?  The constraints of time and blog compel me to reply in brief segments, of which this is the first:

With Professor Shapiro, who is signing a copy of "Contested Will" for me

SHAPIRO:  “ROLAND EMMERICH’S film ‘Anonymous,’ which opens next week, ‘presents a compelling portrait of Edward de Vere as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.’  That’s according to the lesson plans that Sony Pictures has been distributing to literature and history teachers in the hope of convincing students that Shakespeare was a fraud.  A documentary by First Folio Pictures (of which Mr. Emmerich is president) will also be part of this campaign.   “So much for ‘Hey, it’s just a movie!’”

WHITTEMORE:  Right – it’s not just a movie, it’s a game changer.  This particular film holds the potential to turn the study of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan age inside-out.  For one thing, it will substantially alter Professor Shapiro’s classroom world, especially when students view the documentary film (“Last Will and Testament”) and demand to know why they’ve never been told any of this stuff.

(I admit that saying that Shakespeare was a “fraud” is catchy but misleading.  In the real world of Oxfordian research “Shakespeare” is a pen name, a pseudonym.  The only fraud, if you will, is the misattribution of authorship to William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon.  The true author of the “Shakespeare” works — Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, using a pen name — was every bit the genius we know that “Shakespeare” was.   They were one and the same man.  Moreover, Oxford brought the Renaissance into England – and yes, that’s a fact.)

To call the movie + documentary film part of a “campaign” is an attempt to cast suspicion on the project — conveniently forgetting that the whole Shakespeare industry, based on the Stratford man, is part of a “campaign” that’s been carried on for more than two centuries … a campaign that has also blocked all attempts to bring the Authorship Question to the attention of students, teachers and members of the general public.

SHAPIRO:  “The case for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, dates from 1920, when J. Thomas Looney, an English writer who loathed democracy and modernity, argued — ”

John Thomas Looney (1870-1944)

WHITTEMORE:  Whoa, now, good sir.  We learned that trick on the first day of journalism class.  You could start with “Hubert Humphrey, a brilliant man, today announced he is running for president” or, rather, “Hubert Humphrey, once a pig farmer, today announced he is running for president” – and so on.  Loathed democracy and modernity?  Well … no, no, I refuse … no, I am not going to stoop to the position of defending that unassuming British schoolmaster who wrote “Shakespeare” Identified to describe his remarkable feat of literary detection.  I’m not going to allow my attention to be diverted from the message to the messenger.  That was the trick of Contested Will — trying to tarnish brilliant anti-Stratfordians such as Helen Keller, Sigmund Freud and Mark Twain — and, sadly enough, it worked all too well for those readers who had no other information.

SHAPIRO:  “ — that only a worldly nobleman could have created such works of genius; Shakespeare, a glover’s son and money-lender, could never have done so.”

WHITTEMORE:  No, Professor, not so.  That is not what Looney argued and it’s not what any of us argue.  We look at the plain facts of life in London during that time; and we also look at what’s actually in the Shakespeare works – such as, to name two items, the author’s intimate knowledge of Italy and his use of Greek sources, both of which have been denied to Shakespeare by traditional scholars because (1) the Stratford man never went to Italy, as the Earl of Oxford did, and (2) those Greek sources were unavailable in England except in private libraries such as that of William Cecil Lord Burghley, who was first Oxford’s guardian and then his father-in-law.   (In fact, that may have been the only library with such source material.)  So, no – the argument has nothing to do with what you suggest, which, simply, is that Looney must have been a snob … and the rest of us, too.  No, that misstatement is just another attack on the messenger, just another attempt to divert attention from the message.

(Dear Reader, to tell you the truth, I don’t really enjoy arguing against false charges.  I’d much rather spend my time on the positive, that is, on reasons to conclude that Oxford wrote the Shakespeare works.  But the imminent arrival of Anonymous has triggered a full-scale attack, so we’ll continue our reply to the professor in upcoming blogs.)

“Anonymous” Triggering the Great Shakespeare War! Shots Fired from the Professor! The Director is Firing Back!

Well, now, the Great Bard War is shaping up fast!  On one side is director Roland Emmerich, whose upcoming movie ANONYMOUS (Oct 28) is triggering attacks from behind the barricades of tradition, with Professor James Shapiro on the attack in this morning’s New York Times on the Op Ed page.

Hank Whittemore and Roland Emmerich

These are photos of yours truly with each of these fellows, on the eve of what I now predict will be a huge “game changer” when it comes to our perceptions of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan age … as students all over the world rush to corner their teachers and professors, demanding to know what they haven’t been told about Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford and the relationship of his life and the works of Shakespeare — and, folks, there’s a real and specific relationship, a factual one, right on the record … which has been kept from students and even from teachers and scholars!

Look forward to this blog answering Shapiro point by point…


Hank Whittemore and James Shapiro

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