Daily Archives: February 22, 2010

Hughes on Merkel’s Mousetrap

Stephanie Hopkins Hughes has published a review and commentary on Marie Merkel’s online work-in-progress, The First Mousetrap & the Tudor Massacre of the Howards: With the wrongful deaths of Anne Boleyn, Queen of England (beheaded 1536); Catherine Howard, Queen of England (beheaded 1542); Henry Howard, poet earl of Surrey (beheaded 1547); Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk (beheaded 1572); & several other unfortunate Howards never before deciphered.

Hughes’ commentary, “Merkel’s View of Titus Andronicus”, published February 17, 2010 on Hughes’ blog politicworm, confirmed her qualified approval of Merkel’s thesis:

Having promised to read your material online (The First Mousetrap) and consider your theory that Titus Andronicus is an allegory for the fate of the Howard family, I am half convinced that you’re right, even more than half.  I have to hold off a bit because I don’t see the kind of clearcut connections between the play and the Howards, the kind we can see with some of the other plays, but that doesn’t mean you’re not right, or at least on the right track.

. . .

I don’t see that you claimed anywhere in your chapters or introduction that the author was the Earl of Oxford (did you and I missed it?).  In fact, you make a few comments that seem to connect its creation with William of Stratford.  Once Oxford is seen as the author, a possible connection with the Howards becomes much stronger.  They were his family, he was in their camp from his early 20s to his early 30s, and with Sussex and then Hunsdon as his patron (1572-’82) he had every reason to write a play in their defense.  Also, with Oxford as the author, he would have no need of Holinshed.  His primary source would be his Howard cousins, who would have had their family history at the tips of their tongues.

Merkel responded with a comment added to the Hughes’ review:

This is a first book for me, and I may not have chosen the right approach. I wrote it entirely from the Oxfordian perspective, but always with a general audience of Shakespeare lovers in mind. My goal was to offer these readers a new view of the Bard as a passionately engaged commentator on his times. I didn’t want to start out by saying, in effect, “Look, Oxford really is the right answer, just read this book and you’ll see why!”

Each chapter builds on minutely observed historical connections with the words of the play, introducing the Howard and de Vere family members as their parallel characters appear. I begin with Act One, and work chronologically forward through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I. By the time the reader gets to chapter 15, when the story completely intersects with Edward’s childhood, I’m hoping that without my prompting, they’ll be furiously scribbling in the margins, “Oxford, and no one else, MUST have written this play!”

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Publishers Weekly stars Contested Will review

Publishers Weekly printed this laudatory starred review of James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? in its Nonfiction Reviews section today.

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? James Shapiro. Simon & Schuster, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4165-4162-2

Shapiro, author of the much admired A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, achieves another major success in the field of Shakespeare research by exploring why the Bard’s authorship of his works has been so much challenged. Step-by step, Shapiro describes how criticism of Shakespeare frequently evolved into attacks on his literacy and character. Actual challenges to the authorship of the Shakespeare canon originated with an outright fraud perpetrated by William-Henry Ireland in the 1790s and continued through the years with an almost religious fervor. Shapiro exposes one such forgery: the earliest known document, dating from 1805, challenging Shakespeare’s authorship and proposing instead Francis Bacon. Shapiro mines previously unexamined documents to probe why brilliant men and women denied Shakespeare’s authorship. For Mark Twain, Shapiro finds that the notion resonated with his belief that John Milton, not John Bunyan, wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress. Sigmund Freud’s support of the earl of Oxford as the author of Shakespeare appears to have involved a challenge to his Oedipus theory, which was based partly on his reading of Hamlet. As Shapiro admirably demonstrates, William Shakespeare emerges with his name and reputation intact. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Apr.)

I don’t know what is meant when the reviewer says: “Actual challenges to the authorship of the Shakespeare canon originated with an outright fraud perpetrated by William-Henry Ireland in the 1790s and continued through the years with an almost religious fervor.” I don’t think that Shapiro makes this claim in his book.

Feb. 25, 2010 Addition
Contested Will reviewer Richard Whalen said:

Shapiro does not say that Ireland’s forgeries were the first challenge to the authorship of Shakespeare’s works. He says that the forgeries might be considered the first authorship controversy in that they supported what people were hoping to find — a man of letters — just as people in the future would hope that they could find an alternative author. He says Ireland’s forgeries “. . . established a precedent for future claims about the identity of the author of the plays, which would turn out to be no less grounded in fantasy, anachronism, and projection.” (27) A rather subtle analogy.