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.

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hank, among other fine moments I like this especially:

    “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.”

    To which one might a very long list of other things, as well as point out as the anti-Stratfordians have known for decades but which one could never learn from Contested Will, that what Justice Stevens has termed the “imaginative conspiracy” (long before Shapiro split the phrase into two pieces to serve a rather narrow agenda) was in full swing by the late 1590s. Lots of people knew de Vere was Shakespeare and said so in one or another oblique way. Shapiro and those think like him may prefer to ignore this evidence, but I would venture to say that more and more people in coming months and years will chose rather to noticethan to continue repressing it.

    • Thanks, Roger. Maybe they could start with the anonymous “Willobie his Avisa” published in 1594 soon after “Lucrece” (or “The Rape of Lucrece”) that year — the first mention of Shakespeare and it’s hyphenated as Shake-speare, surely indicating that the author knows it’s a pen name and wants readers to know it, too. The final poem is presumably also by the author of the anonymous “Willobie,” and it’s signed “Ever or Never.” Getting closer…

  2. “Lots of people knew de Vere was Shakespeare and said so in one or another oblique way.” Just out of curiosity, has anyone discovered any non-oblique way? A letter or a diary for instance in which someone mentions de Vere having written a specific “Shakespearean” play? I believe de Vere was the author, but I figure there must be at least one written reference by someone somewhere linking de Vere to his works.

  3. Yep, those are good examples. And there are many more. My favorite is the work Detobel and Ligon did on Francis Meres. I see that many Stratfordians are still citing Meres as definitive evidence for their own theory. I would predict that as knowledge flows through the channels of the internet, such arguments will gradually disappear. It is dangerous now for Stratfordians to draw too much attention to Meres. He is a boomerang.

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

    Most datings of the plays put them much later than you do. 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.

    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. (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.

    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…

    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.

    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!

    All best!

    • You’re far from being rude, and I thank you for putting forward these replies. I’ll pick up the conversation sooner than later, and try to address them — and you can feel free to keep any back-forth going till whenever. Probably I should put it up on the main blog page. In any case, these are replies that are consistently made to us, and either we can satisfy those who make them or we can’t. (Of course, I think we can:-) Thanks again. Hank

    • Not writing poems in itself is what was ever so dangerous. But his son (and the son of the queen) chose not to enter the Burghley-world, but to support Essex. The first 17 sonnets are urging Henry to marry the Burghley-girl. But later de Vere from behind the curtains began to support the Essex-line, too. On the eve of the fatal rebellion, resulting in the execution of Essex, and the years-long imprisonment of Southampton, the theaters in London played from ‘Shakespeare’ II.Richard. After about half year the queen burst out, making it clear that she did know, II. Richard was actually she.
      Do you see it a bit clearer? I hope so. Hank has made a really great job. Read The Monument, you’ll understand even much more.

  5. Thank you for posting this. Was very interested to see how your debate would go, as have been doing all my reading on the topic from second hand sources as far as discussion panels go.

  6. I’ve seen youtube clips of other discussions as well, seems they all go the same and the people for the Earl are arguing the same points:

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