“Un-Reading” Shakespeare in Order to Read Him — More Brilliance from David Gontar

Unreading ShakespeareI’d like to call attention to the favorable word-of-mouth reactions for Unreading Shakespeare by David P. Gontar, author of Hamlet Made Simple and Other EssaysThe idea of the title is that we have received [and keep carrying around] so many automatic assumptions about the Shakespearean works that we seldom, if ever, listen to our own basic instincts and reactions to what the author has written.  “A barricade of preconceived ideas is thus thrown up around the text while the author at its core is erased,” Gontar writes; and the way into the experience of his works is by coming upon them as if for the first time, un-shackled by those preconceptions.

For many decades all who have been engaged in the Shakespeare Authorship Question (SAQ) have been saddled with the movement known as “The Death of the Author” or whatever name it has gone by — a wave of insane, knee-jerk teaching that any work of literature, including any play, must be severed from its authorial source, that is, from the mind and heart and personal experience of its human creator.  Very possibly that movement was borne out of the SAQ itself, out of a silent recognition that the Stratfordian biography of tradition contains no authentic information.  Within the halls of academic Authority there has always been a deeply running undercurrent of unease, based on the suspicion that our grand statements about Prince Hamlet or King Lear or the “I” of the Sonnets might be way off base, wrong; and of course one of the first instincts of Authority is to defend itself, in this case by behaving as if the greatest writer of the English language had never existed.

And then comes the unspoken thought: “See, we don’t need him!  And if we don’t need him, then we might as kill all the others, too!  No more writers!  Kill them all!”  As Hamlet responds before he himself is slain (speaking, I believe, for the author as well): “The rest is silence.”

Hamlet200Instead of allowing ourselves to tap into the author’s words as if for the first time, we have been left to scribble down and memorize the myriad ideas of the critics and professors, who have given themselves the total freedom to invent their own meanings.  It’s a free-for-all game without boundaries, in which no one ever loses, no one can be wrong.  Of course, only the author can serve as ultimate consultant, as most reliable source and guide to his own works, but in this case there has been no such author — and no author’s life — for us to consult for guidance!  Meanwhile David Gontar has been helping us reclaim our gut intuitions about the Shakespeare works, which we must “unread” before starting afresh.

One of the essays in Gontar’s new book is about the commentary of G. Wilson Knight, whose work on the Sonnets has been among the most insightful among traditional essays.  Gontar likes him, too, but then he proceeds to unravel some of Knight’s key perceptions — or misperceptions — about the true character and emotions of Hamlet.  I’ll not try to summarize his argument; instead, here are the final two sentences of that essay: “Knight betrays the very insight that could have conveyed him to the heart of the wheel of fire, where he would have encountered Hamlet’s burning soul.  Instead, he stumbled, and his raid on Elsinore went down in flames.”

There, now — Don’t you want to read how he leads up to that explosive finale?

A Further Comment on Oxford’s Choice of Poetry (the Sonnets) to Carry His Message to Readers in the Future

Here is an additional comment related to the previous blog post about David Gontar’s insight, in his new book Hamlet Made Simple,  into the reason for the existence of the Sonnets:

In that post I failed to emphasize Professor Gontar’s statement, “By electing to employ the medium of poetry, which well the poet knew would be perused by later generations, strata of broader significance were entailed.”   Within this statement is perhaps the best answer to the question, “Why did Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford use poetry (sonnets) as a means of preserving a true story for posterity?”

Southampton in the Tower(8 Feb 1601 - 10 April 1603)

Southampton in the Tower
(8 Feb 1601 – 10 April 1603)

The answer is that, if his truth were to have any chance of surviving, it would need to be conveyed within the most deeply felt lines of which Oxford was capable of producing.  He knew the power of poetry, of great poetry, and knew it has the potential to live forever; and it does seem that he believed he was achieving such poetical heights, as when he wrote the following sonnet — which, I contend, could be written only to a prince:

Sonnet 55

Not marble nor the gilded monuments

Of Princes shall out-live this powerful rhyme,

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall Statues over-turn,    

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.

‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth!  Your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

So, till the judgment that your self arise,

You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

In the act of communicating this promise to Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton, during the younger man’s first forty days (February-March 1601) in the Tower of London, the Earl of Oxford, father of Southampton, was also revealing his intentions to those of us who might read those lines in the future.  He made the same promise to Southampton in Sonnet 81:

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,

And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,

When all the breathers of this world are dead.

You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen!)

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Come to think of it, the above lines express the reason for the existence of this blog site.

Why the Earl of Oxford Used Poetry (the Sonnets) to Preserve His Truth for Future Generations

In putting up a blog about the new book Hamlet Made  Simple and Other Essays by David P. Gontar, and quoting some of his favorable comments about my book The Monument, I overlooked the very next paragraph, which, in my view, is one of the most beautiful statements explaining why Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford would have chosen to use poetry — and in particular, the sonnet form — to embody the truth for posterity.  The paragraph, following the author’s praise of The Monument as a means of understanding the Shakespearean sonnet sequence, is this:

Hamlet-Made-Simple-and-Other-Essays“The challenge after studying Mr. Whittemore’s book will be, of course, not what the sonnets meant immediately to their author, but what they may be for us today.  Secret messages serving a practical design could always have been conveyed by the use of ciphers rather than poetry.  The choice of the latter is thus significant.  It is the business of the cryptogram to transmit information, not to illuminate or inspire.  By electing to employ the medium of poetry, which well the poet knew would be perused by later generations, strata of broader significance were entailed.  Acquiring a firmer impression of the historical utility and import of the sonnets, then, wipes away some but not all of the readings that have been given over the past four centuries.  The art of fathoming the sonnets will remain what it has been always, a navigation between the shores of literalism and transcendence.” 

The way I’ve tried to describe this theme is that Oxford used the poetical lines of the Sonnets to create a double image, one in which, for example, “beauty” can mean everything it has always meant, and more, while simultaneously referring to Queen Elizabeth and/or her royal blood.  Both images are at work and we need not eliminate one at the expense of the other.

One thing that intrigues me about this concept is that there’s nothing secret about “beauty” referring to the Queen; rather, we have been told over and over for at least a century and a half that the word “beauty” is to be taken literally, and only on the literal level, as referring to “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind,” as my Random House Dictionary puts it.

Could it be that “beauty’s Rose” in Sonnet 1 signifies not only a flower but, also, the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose?  Could it be that “ever the same” in Sonnet 76 signifies not only what it usually means, but, also, Queen Elizabeth, given that “Ever the Same” was how Her Majesty herself wrote her motto Semper Eadem in English on her correspondence?

Of course it could be so.  Furthermore, if the poet was Edward de Vere, who had enjoyed the highest favor of Elizabeth at the royal court, it could not have been otherwise; that is, the Earl of Oxford could not have written “ever the same” without deliberately referring to the Queen.

I am continuing to enjoy Professor Gontar’s various essays, which are written with great care, precision and depth; and I highly recommend his book, especially to readers who like being surprised by new insights.  I can say this already — after reading his title essay “Hamlet Made Simple,” I will never be able to view that great play in the same way as before; my conception of what’s going on in Hamlet has been forever altered.

A New Book of Essays — “Hamlet Made Simple” — and Praise for “The Monument”

I received the new book Hamlet Made Simple and Other Essays by David P. Gontar and began thumbing through its 428 pages when, on the heels of a discussion of Sonnet 116, I found some very kind words about The Monument, my edition of the Sonnets as by the Earl of Oxford.

Hamlet-Made-Simple-and-Other-EssaysI certainly intend to read Mr. Gontar’s entire book and review it here, in addition to submitting a customer review at its Amazon location; meanwhile, I hereby surrender to the urge to shamelessly share some of his praise for my work, and hope to be forgiven for it:

“On the basis of reason alone, our appreciation [of Sonnet 116] can only advance so far.  Miraculously, in the case of the Sonnets that revelation is at hand.  We now have Mr. Hank Whittemore’s historical study, The Monument , which painstakingly sets out the long sought-after autobiographical significance of the Sonnets.  To be adequately assimilated, Sonnet 116 must be set in the context of English history, with special attention paid to the careers and conflicts of Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, and Queen Elizabeth I.  Against all odds, Mr. Whittemore accomplishes that end.  As a result, the ‘tempests’ mentioned in line six [of Sonnet 116] are successfully identified.  To attempt in this place a summary of his magisterial argument would be impractical and inappropriate.  Some related ideas are taken up in the chapter on Lucrece, ‘Wanton Modesty.’  But it is best to let Mr. Whittemore speak for himself, and then re-visit some of these issues.  One simple caveat must suffice: any attempt to come to terms with the Sonnets of Shakespeare  (or the present essays) which neglects The Monument cannot be taken seriously, and is doomed to failure.  Readers are encouraged to seek out this indispensable resource.  They will be amply rewarded.”

There are eighteen essays in Hamlet Made Simple, preceded by a substantial introduction and followed by a final section in conclusion.  I look forward to delving into it.

And thanks to David Gontar for his kind remarks.

David P. Gontar, Ph.D., J.D., served as Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Southern University from 1975 to 1982.  Thereafter he was engaged in the practice of law in New Orleans, Louisiana and southern California.  He is currently Adjunct Professor of English and Philosophy at Inner Mongolia University in China.  In 2010 he was the English editor of China’s application to UNESCO for World Heritage Status of the Xanadu site in Inner Mongolia, granted by UNESCO in June of 2012.  Professor Gonatar’s writings have appeared in Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, Tulane Studies in Philosophy, Plantation Society in the Americas, Loyola Law Review and New English Review. 

Hamlet Made Simple is published by New English Review Press.

%d bloggers like this: