What Do Saul Bellow and “Shakespeare” Have in Common as Writers?

Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow

When the Shakespeare paradigm finally shifts from illusion to reality, the world will begin to see that the true author did not write about a wholly imagined life, but, rather, he wrote mostly about a lived life.  This was brought home to me once again amid the publication of a new biography of one of our most celebrated modern novelists:  The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune (Part One: 1915-1964), by Zachary Leader, who demonstrates how Bellow’s characters were based on real people in his life and that the he himself was his main subject.

Louis Menand, in a New Yorker review of May 11, 2015, reports that Herzog was “a revenge novel” in which Bellow took aim at his estranged wife and her lover.  The Herzog character “cannot make sense of a world in which people like his estranged wife and her lover can exist … Herzog was nevertheless received the way all Bellow’s novels had been received: as a report on the modern condition.”

Most Oxfordians would contend that the reception of “Shakespeare” over the past few centuries is similar; that is, although Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was usually writing about particular individuals and real-life issues of political and military policy, his works under the Shakespeare name have been regarded almost exclusively as imaginative reports on the universal human condition, with no relationship to the author’s actual life and times — much less as blasts of truth spoken to power!

“From the beginning,” Menand writes in his review, “Bellow drew on people he knew, including his wives and girlfriends, and the members of his own family, for his characters.  In Augie March, almost every character – and there are dozens – was directly based on some real-life counterpart.”

Edward de Vere  17th Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford

It follows that reading biographies of novelists such as Bellow, who draw from people and situations in their own lives, is a means of gaining further insights into those people – and, too, into their contemporary history, not to mention insights into the characters in the novels themselves.  The great failure of Shakespearean biography is that it fails to illuminate the author’s contemporary history and real-life counterparts, as well as the works themselves.

The most fully imagined characters in Bellow’s books are the protagonists, Menand notes, adding, “Their real-life counterpart is, of course, Saul Bellow, whose greatest subject was himself.”

Such may be said of the protagonists drawn by Edward de Vere…

Here’s a list (previously printed on this blog) of “authorial” characters running through the Shakespeare plays:

  1. Angelo …………………………… Measure for Measure
  2. Antonio …………………………. The Merchant of Venice
  3. Benedick ……………………….. Much Ado About Nothing
  4. Berowne ……………………….. Love’s Labours Lost 
  5. Bertram …………………………. All’s Well That Ends Well
  6. Duke …………………………… …Measure for Measure
  7. Philip the Bastard ……………King John
  8. Fenton …………………………….The Merry Wives of Windsor
  9. Feste the Clown ………………. Twelfth Night
  10. Hamlet ……………………………. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
  11. Jacques …………………………… As You Like It
  12. King Lear …………………………. King Lear
  13. Othello ……………………………. Othello
  14. Pericles ……………………………. Pericles
  15. Posthumous ……………………. Cymbeline
  16. Prospero …………………………. The Tempest
  17. Proteus ……………………………. The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  18. Romeo …………………………….. Romeo and Juliet
  19. Timon ………………………………. Timon of Athens
  20. Troilus ……………………………… Troilus and Cressida
  21. Valentine …………………………. The Two Gentlemen of Verona

It’s been said before, and bears repeating, that the Works of Shakespeare amount to the autobiography of the author himself.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nicely put, Hank.

    • Why, thank you, Ted!


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