The TV Documentary Correspondent for “The Shakespeare Mystery” Now Brings Us a Novel about a TV Documentary Correspondent Making a Documentary in Search of the True Shakespeare

Just finished reading The Cottage, a new mystery-thriller novel by Alan K. Austin — and I zipped through those 217 pages so fast it’s a shame the guy didn’t write it twice as long.  One essential key to any good novel, it seems to me, is to tell it through the sensibilities of some larger-than-life central character…

Alan K. Austin

So Al Austin, the great investigative reporter and correspondent for documentary films who gave us The Shakespeare Mystery broadcast on Frontline (WGBH – PBS) back in the 1990’s, brings alive a fellow named Jack Duncan, a likeable guy whose various strengths and weaknesses keep competing with each other to determine his destiny, and who also happens to be … a great investigator and correspondent who sets off to create a documentary film that might as well be called “The Shakespeare Mystery.”

Austin takes us on the roller-coaster ride of Jack Duncan’s journey to England where he visits a number of places including Stratford upon Avon, birthplace of money-lender William Shakspere, whom academia still calls the greatest writer of the English language; and Castle Hedingham in Essex, birthplace of Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford, the true poet-dramatist who adopted “William Shakespeare” as a pen name.

Along the way we can feel that we’ve put ourselves in good hands.  Why so?  Well, to put it simply, we can be confident that the author of The Cottage knows what he’s talking about – he’s been there, as the saying goes.  We have no doubt that Austin is opening a window on the world of the documentary filmmaker, where he once lived and worked and earned his living.   Not to mention, of course, that in various ways through Jack Duncan he must be giving us more personal pieces of himself, small and large.

Castle Hedingham, where Edward de Vere was born and raised until age twelve in 1562, when he became a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth (who had visited the castle for five days the year before) in the custody of William Cecil, her chief minister and the future Lord Burghley

And come to think of it, this aspect of writing is one of the bedrocks of the Oxfordian case for Shakespearean authorship – the fact that within the great poems and plays we can see large and small aspects of Edward de Vere’s character and life and even, if you will, pieces of his soul.  We’re talking about some magical combination of experience plus imagination and, in this case, we’re discussing “genius” as well – but please, no miracles!

Austin is also opening a window on the world of the Shakespeare Authorship Question that he himself had investigated, to such great effect that the Frontline documentary did more for the Oxfordian cause than anything since publication of The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn Jr. in 1984.  (It may be that the film attracted even more favorable attention, given the size of its audience and the power of its impact.)

A. L. Rowse (1903-1997), historian and Stratfordian biographer of Shakespeare

Along the way in Austin’s novel we can see reflections of some familiar figures – for example, in the marvelously drawn character of Dr. Lester Crowne, an authority on Shakespeare and the Elizabethan age modeled on the late A.L. Rowse, whose appearance in Austin’s documentary for Frontline supplied one of its many memorable moments:

“The Earl of Oxford was quite talented, he knew Italian, been to Italy,” Rowse said on camera, “and he wrote just a few poems, he never wrote a single play, and he really became a most frightful lightweight.  He was married to the daughter of the great Lord Treasurer, whom he treated awfully badly.  Because in point of fact he was a roaring homo, as Marlowe was and as Bacon was.  I mean it was perfectly obvious William Shakespeare’s plays are full of passionate appreciation and feeling for women, where the Earl of Oxford had none.  Neither had Christopher Marlow – Christopher Marlowe was only interested in the boys, and Francis Bacon had no interest – he was also another homo.  And William Shakespeare you might say was almost abnormally heterosexual – he was only interested in the girls.”

[I must interject here that I always suspected that Dr. Rowse was a closet Oxfordian — that he knew, consciously or perhaps just beneath his conscious mind, that Edward de Vere was the true author.  My reason?  Well, for one thing, he made sure to know everything he could about the earl.]

It was a wonderful speech that made most Oxfordians laugh out loud, given their knowledge that Edward de Vere had been (1) cited as the most excellent of all the courtier poets, (2) named as “best for comedy” among contemporary English playwrights and (3) punished harshly by the Queen for having carried on a secret love affair at Court with one of her Majesty’s own Maids of Honor, Anne Vavasour, who gave birth to their illegitimate son – not quite the usual behavior of a “roaring homo,” as Dr. Rowse told viewers.

Charlton Ogburn Jr. (1911-1998), author of “The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality”

In the novel Al Austin cites a few Oxfordians by name, among them the late Ogburn Jr., whose strong emotions rose to the surface:

“I think Hamlet was Oxford, and I don’t see how anybody who knows anything about literary creativity can fail to say that the author, whoever he was, has given his picture as Hamlet.  This is written from the inside – things happen in Hamlet not according to a preconceived plot, but as they do in life … I know what it cost him to write these plays.  I know what it cost him to have to give up any hope of being acknowledged as the writer.  God, you read the sonnets, you see it: ‘Though I, once gone, to all the world must die.’ That’s a tragic cry for a man …”

You can read the entire transcript of “The Shakespeare Mystery” online.

But for sheer reading pleasure, you can bring The Cottage with you this summer on vacation and take Jack Duncan’s journey with a great cast of characters, lots of mystery and suspense, some nifty insights as well as information within a fast-paced yarn, and – oh, yeah, loads of laughs!

The Second of 100 Reasons Why Oxford was Shakespeare: Uncle Golding & Ovid!

“Ovid, the love of Shakespeare’s life among Latin poets, made an overwhelming impression upon him, which he carried with him all his days: subjects, themes, characters and phrases haunted his imagination. The bulk of his classical mythology came from the ‘Metamorphoses,’ which he used in the original as well as in Golding’s translation.” –A.L. Rowse, “Shakespeare, The Man” (1973)

I’ve always loved this one.  It was one of the first things I’d tell people around the dinner table, whether they gave a damn or not:

The favorite classical source of the author “Shakespeare” was the literary work of the ancient Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.-A.D. 18).   As our two experts (quoted above) tell us, he drew upon the stories and rhythms and language of Ovid, from the original Latin text and, heavily so, from the English translation of the Metamorphoses by Arthur Golding (1567).  And this same Golding was the young Earl of Oxford’s uncle, living under the same roof with him at Cecil House in the early 1560’s, just when the translating of Ovid’s 15-book masterpiece would have been carried out!

“I mean … come on,” I’d say at the dinner table.  “Ain’t that a hoot? Why are you all looking at me like I’m speaking a foreign language?  Oh, well…”

A lot of times these things are astounding only because of the way in which you come upon them.  In this case, the British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney put forth hypothetically that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) wrote the Shakespeare works, which are filled with material drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in both the original and the Golding translation of the 1560’s — and then he discovered that Oxford had been physically present at Cecil House in London during the 1560’s, when his Uncle Golding had been acting as his “receiver” for financial affairs and apparently translating the Ovid work.

Hedingham Castle (what’s left of the original), childhood home of Edward de Vere

(John de Vere, the sixteenth Earl of Oxford, died in 1562, when his twelve-year-old son Edward, the future seventeenth earl, left his home at Hedingham Castle in Essex and went to London to live as a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in the custody of her chief minister William Cecil, the future Lord Burghley.)

I say Golding was “apparently” translating the Ovid because it’s far more likely that it was done by the young earl himself.  Golding was a puritanical sort who translated Calvin’s Psalms of David (which he dedicated to Oxford, his nephew) and would not have been crazy about translating Ovid’s tales of passion and seduction and lovemaking as well as incest by pagan gods and goddesses.  No, he was in every way incapable of it.

Here’s what I wrote about this in 1996, viewing the teenage Edward de Vere as “the young Shakespeare” at work:

“J. Thomas Looney used the phrase ‘long foreground’ for Shakespeare’s formative years, a period of necessary artistic growth and development which has always been totally missing from Stratfordian biography.  Unless he was a god with miraculous powers, the sophisticated English poet who wrote ‘Venus and Adonis’ went through much trial and error, creating a
substantial body of apprenticeship work beforehand.  By all logic Shakespeare must have begun translating Ovid in his earliest years, becoming thoroughly grounded in his old tales.  He would have labored over the original texts and ‘tried on’ various English nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, inventing new ones along the way; and in the process he would have acquired his astounding vocabulary of some 25,000 words, more than twice the size of Milton’s.”

The ancient Roman poet Ovid

And here is what Looney wrote in 1920 about the nature of some “discoveries” such as this one about Edward de Vere and Shakespeare’s favorite poet Ovid:

“The force of a conviction is frequently due as much to the intrinsic value of the evidence.  For example, when a theory, what we have formed from a consideration of certain facts, leads us to suppose that certain other facts will exist, the later discovery that the facts are actually in accordance with our inferences becomes a much stronger confirmation of our theory than if we had known these additional facts at the outset.  We state this principle in matters of science when we affirm that the supreme test and evidence of the soundness of a scientific theory is its power of enabling us to foresee some events as a consequence of others.  The manner, therefore, in which facts and ideas have been arrived at becomes itself an important element in the evidence.”‘Shakespeare’ Identified, 1920

“Shakespeare” Identified by J. Thomas Looney, 1920

So that’s the second of the first 100 reasons I conclude that Oxford was Shakespeare…

If there was any evidence of this kind in the life of William Shakspere of Stratford, would there be an authorship question?  I doubt it.  But such is the power of traditional thinking that, despite the fact that such evidence exists in Oxford’s life, the academic folks in the ivory tower won’t even consider it.

Another thought — which I should bring up in a separate blog, but I’d rather deal with it right here.  The orthodox camp loves to say that the doubters of Shakspere’s authorship are “creationists.”  Well, that’s ridiculous.  If anything in that metaphorical equation we’re evolutionists. The biblical creationists came first, as did the traditional Stratfordians; the evolutionists came later, just as we Oxfordians came later.

Stratfordians, echoing creationists, believe in the miracle of genius when it comes to Shakespeare’s vast knowledge and skill; we Oxfordians, echoing evolutionists, know that such amazing knowledge, skill and insight can be acquired — even by a genius — only through long development based on much learning and experience and painfully acquired artistic growth.  That they would stoop to calling us a name that should actually be applied to themselves is a measure of their growing desperation…

Cheers from Hank!

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