Author Archives: lltheil

Dobson and Mantel say Shakespeare deniers need shrink

Michael Dobson, professor of Shakespeare Studies at Birkbeck College/ University of London wrote a review of James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? that was published yesterday in The Financial Times.

Dobson concluded his positive review with the comment:

Contested Will is a terrific read, but fully explaining the authorship controversy isn’t a job for a Shakespearean scholar: it’s a job for a pathologist.

In her review of Shapiro’s Contested Will published in The Guardian yesterday, Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel has similar disdain for the psychological health of Shakespeare authorship inquirers:

Shapiro does not waste words on the preposterous, but he does uncover the mechanism of fantasy and projection that go to make up much of the case against Shakespeare.

The Guardian chose to illustrate Mantel’s review with a version of the pretty-boy Shakespeare in sumptuous lace collar. Everyone has latched onto this new visual version of the Bard, as if replacing that boring old Droeshout from the First Folio somehow soothes our fractious nerves.

Sunday Times reviewer calls Shapiro book “devastatingly funny”

John Carey reviews James Shapiro’s new book in London’s The Sunday Times, dated March 21, 2010:  “Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro — A devastatingly funny look at the many attempts to reveal who “really” wrote Shakespeare’s works”.

Carey said:

The Baconian and Oxonian allegations, if true, would have entailed a huge cover-up, and modern willingness to believe that it really happened is cognate with the belief that Princess Di was murdered or that the moon landings were fake. They all stem from the conviction that governments are corrupt and secretive and that we are kept from the truth. Conspiracy theorists are prone to resist rational argument, regarding it as a tool of the authority that they distrust. So Shapiro’s book is unlikely to cut much ice with Oxonians. All the same, it deserves to. It is authoritative, lucid and devastatingly funny, and its brief concluding statement of the case for Shakespeare is masterly.

By Oxonian, Carey means those who like Oxford as Shakespeare. I think this is a new use of the noun. Previously one had to live in Oxford, or to attend or to have attended Oxford University to be so designated. I don’t think it’s a good use; too confusing.

Whalen reviews Contested Will


Book Review: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010)

Richard F. Whalen

For the first time, a leading Shakespeare establishment professor, James Shapiro of Columbia University, has given serious consideration to the controversy over Shakespeare’s identity in a book-length analysis — a precedent that may help make the authorship issue a legitimate subject for more research and discussion in academia, even though Shapiro remains a Stratfordian.

Shapiro’s book is a history of the authorship controversy, from Delia Bacon in the 1850s to DoubtAboutWill.org in 2007. He recognizes that the seventeenth Earl of Oxford is by far the most impressive challenger and that his backers have achieved considerable success in recent decades. His final word is that a choice must be made, a stark and consequential choice.

The book’s cover will dismay committed Stratfordians. It shows the Stratford monument depicting a writer with pen, paper and a pillow; but his head is cut off by the author’s name and the book’s title, including Who Wrote Shakespeare? Indeed, that is the question.

Shapiro, however, states at the outset that he aims to answer a different question: Why have so many eminent people doubted that Will Shakspere of Stratford was the author and why have they argued for someone else, such as Oxford? In so doing, Shapiro declines to enter the debate over the evidence for Shakspere or for Oxford in any depth of detail. As a result, the general reader is left with the impression that the question of Shakespeare’s identity may well be legitimate, despite efforts by many Stratfordians to dismiss it. That a scholar of Shapiro’s standing in the Shakespeare establishment should take this approach bodes well for Oxfordians.

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NPG curator repudiates “Shakespeare” portrait

An article by Sarah Knapton that appeared in the London Telegraph yesterday (dated 20 March 2010) throws doubt on the newest “Shakespeare” portrait: “William Shakespeare portrait could be 16th century courtier: A portrait believed to be the only surving portrait of William Shakespeare painted in his lifetime could be the 17th century courtier Sir Thomas Overbury, an expert believes”.

The very pretty picture has gained  sudden popularity as the current face of the Bard, but like many other Shakespearean facts, appears in a state of flux. Knapton wrote:

The Jacobean painting from the family collection of art restorer Alec Cobbe was thought to be the bard because it closely resembled the engraving in Shakespeare’s First Folio. It is also noticeably similar to another painting believed to be the playwright owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

But now experts believe the elaborate lace collar and gold embroided doublet are too grand for the playwright. Dr Tarnya Cooper, the sixteenth-century curator at the National Portrait Gallery in London, believes the portrait bears a greater likeness to Sir Thomas Ovebury.

She told The Times: “if anything, both works, the Folger and Cobbe portraits, are more likely to represent the courtier Sir Thomas Overbury”.

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More info on Cobbe portrait:

https://shakespeareoxfordsociety.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/cobbe-portrait-story-in-washington-post-today/

Hunter reviews Contested Will

Review: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare by James Shapiro (Simon & Schuster 2010)

Thomas Hunter, Ph.D.

Let’s start with the good news about James Shapiro’s Contested Will. The good news is that for the first time a Stratfordian has become familiar in some detail with Oxfordians and Oxfordian history. The bad news is the distortion, twisting, and misrepresentation Shapiro feels obliged to employ in telling the Oxfordian story.

Shapiro goes out of his way to protest the history of shabby, if not hostile, treatment of authorship proponents by the scholarly community.  As his narrative plays out, however, it becomes clear that Shapiro’s attitude toward authorship is as shabby and hostile as that of any of the traditional scholars he criticizes. It doesn’t take long for the book’s surprisingly collegial initial façade to deteriorate into the more familiar hard face of Stratfordian bias and intolerance.

From concept to conclusion, Contested Will is another perversion of scholarship to make a point. We have seen this before in Alan Nelson’s monstrous biography of Oxford.

Shapiro conducts no substantive analysis of authorship issues. He provides no discussion of the merits. His approach is to talk about the personalities of authorship. His modus is to explain away authorship by explaining away its proponents through the years. His book is one prolonged, detailed ad hominem attack — pure and simple.

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But soft, yinz guyz

Looks like the Arden Shakespeare editors are adding yet another play to the Shakespeare canon, according to yesterday’s Guardian, Shakespeare’s ‘lost play’ no hoax says expert: New evidence that Double Falsehood was, as 18th century playwright Lewis Theobald claimed, based on Bard’s Cardenio”

Arts correspondent Art Brown wrote:

The Arden Shakespeare’s general editor, Richard Proudfoot, said the play was being made accessible for the first time in 250 years. “I think Brean Hammond’s detective work has been superb. He is quite open to the obvious fact that there is an element of speculation, but both of us believe that the balance of doubt lies in favour of its claim being authentic rather than a total fabrication.”

. . .

Over the years some 77 plays have been attributed in whole or in part to Shakespeare, about half of them wrongly. There are also plenty of theories and books published claiming Shakespeare’s plays were written by Edward de Vere, Sir Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe.

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Update March 18, 2010:
Cultural critic Stuart Kelly posted an interesting essay on his blog, McShandy’s, today on the topic of Cardenio/Double Falsehood, “Single Error, Double Falsehood, Triple Bluff?”

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Update March 15, 2010 BBC: “‘Lost’ Shakespeare play Double Falsehood published — a play which was first discovered nearly 300 years ago has been credited to William Shakespeare”

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Update: Oliver Kamm comments
London Times Online, March 16, 2010: “It is part of his (Shakespeare’s) history that he knew and worked with his fellow artists on the stage and the page.”

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Roger Stritmatter suggested this online access to the play, Double Falsehood, on John W. Kennedy’s site: Double Falsehood or the Distrest Lovers.

Egan interviews Shahan in Forever Young

The Shakespeare Oxford Society’s The Oxfordian journal editor, Michael Egan, asked the SOS News Online to share an interview he conducted with Shakespeare Authorship Coalition Chairman John Shahan. The interview appears in the March 2010 issue of Forever Young, a Las Cruces, New Mexico consumer magazine that Egan founded and is editing.

Did Shakespeare Write Shakespeare? An Interview with John Shahan, Chairman and CEO of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition

Michael Egan

There’s an old joke that runs, “Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.  His plays were actually written by another man with the same name.”

It’s funny and maybe also true, because apparently there is some doubt about how a barely educated provincial boy could have grown up to become Shakespeare. We’re not just talking about a determined young man making a success of his life. William Shakespeare is the acknowledged genius among geniuses, the writer with the largest vocabulary of all time, the finest dramatist in history. In 2000 he was ranked the greatest Englishman who ever lived.

“If you read his plays without assuming that the man from Stratford-Upon-Avon wrote them, you can create a little ‘thought experiment,’” says John Shahan, chairman and CEO of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition. The SAC is dedicated to promoting the idea that there is ‘Reasonable Doubt’ concerning the identity of the author of Hamlet, Macbeth and other immortal works.

Shahan continues: “The thought experiment is to try imagining what kind of person wrote these master works, filled as they are with most amazingly detailed information about almost everything, botany, astronomy, music, the law. The writer seems to have been someone who knew the Elizabethan court and its politics inside out, was familiar with falconry, tennis, bowls and other aristocratic sports, and also fluent in Latin, Italian, French and perhaps even Greek! He knew how armies muster and encamp, how soldiers talk, understood ships and naval terms and must have travelled extensively in northern Italy. Fifteen of his thirty-six plays are set in and around Tuscany, and they’re full of detailed, first-hand knowledge.”

But, I asked Shahan, if Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare, who did? “I don’t know for certain,” he answers. “I just know it couldn’t have been the grain-dealer from Stratford, who died without a single book in his possession—not one!—and allowed his children to grow up illiterate.”

Shahan adds: “Lots of people have been put forward as possible authors in his place. It isn’t hard to find candidates who seem a lot more likely than William of Stratford. The most popular candidates are Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and Edward de Vere, the seventeenth earl of Oxford. But many other candidates have followers, such as William Stanley, sixth earl of Derby, Sir Henry Neville, Fulke Greville, plus at least two women – Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, and Queen Elizabeth I. Edward de Vere is the leading candidate, but nothing conclusive has turned up yet.”

I asked Shahan to describe the work of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition.

“Well, the main thing we’ve done is write a definitive statement of the reasons to doubt the Stratford man. It’s called the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of Williams Shakespeare, and it’s posted on our website where anyone can read it, sign it, and download a free copy. It’s at http://DoubtAboutWill.org. Some of the most notable signatories include Supreme Court justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, Charles Champlin, Arts Critic Emeritus of the LA Times, the actor Sir Derek Jacobi, and Mark Rylance, founding Artistic Director at the new Globe Theatre in London. Nearly 1,700 people have signed – eighty percent of them college graduates, thirty-six percent with advanced degrees, and 300 academics.”

Famous people in the past who have expressed doubts about the traditional Shakespeare include Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Henry James, Charles Dickens and Orson Welles.

Shahan considers the SAC’s Declaration of Reasonable Doubt a major step forward in what he calls the Authorship Debate. He explains: “Unfortunately, even today it’s not academically respectable to question the idea that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays. Professors are quick to mock the idea and group it with alien abduction and conspiracy theories about JFK. So when famous people who are obviously not crackpots say they have their uncertainties it makes it harder for the professors to ignore the blanks and contradictions in their version.  They’re forced to question their own assumptions, which of course they don’t like to do but is actually a very good thing.”

The matter of who did write the plays of Shakespeare will soon come to a head, Shahan predicted. In April, Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro of Columbia University will publish his new book, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? Already scholars are lining up for and against Shapiro’s conclusion that the case against Shakespeare of Stratford is a formidable one.

“Shapiro doesn’t exactly say Shakespeare of Stratford may not be the Shakespeare who wrote the plays and poems,” Shahan notes. “He’s an orthodox Shakespearean, after all. But after his book appears he really ought to sign our Declaration of Reasonable Doubt.”

Michael Egan

Feldman’s Hamlet Himself reissued

Shakespeare Controversy co-author Warren Hope recently reissued Dr. Bronson Feldman’s Hamlet Himself through iUniverse self-publishing company. The work is available in softcover or e-book form for $15.95/$9.99 at Amazon and  iUniverse:
http://www.iuniverse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000176202

Warren Hope talks about this tribute to Dr. Feldman’s memory:

Hamlet Himself is something of a neglected Oxfordian classic. It constitutes the most comprehensive of Dr. Bronson Feldman’s numerous analyses of Shakespeare’s plays. It combines the skill of a trained literary historian with the insights of a practicing psychoanalyst. The result is a survey of the life, friends, family, and times of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, as reflected in Shakspeare’s most autobiographical play.

The study first appeared in 1977, published at the author’s expense and in a format which, while it had its own quixotic charm, almost assured an extremely limited circulation. Beyond that, the format of the study meant that it would unlikely become part of the permanent collections of libraries. Technological improvements in both the printing industry and the methods of distributing books since the study’s first publication make it possible now to reissue the book in a format that is at once attractive and serviceable. The result should be a larger readership for the book and the chance for it to take its appropriate place on library shelves.

Feldman was the first American Oxfordian to earn a Ph.D. in Elizabethan literature by writing a dissertation on the influence of the Dutch wars on the Tudor drama under such traditional experts as Conyers Read, the biographer of both Burghley and Walsingham, at the University of Pennsylvania. Feldman by his writings earned the admiration and encouragement of such leading Oxfordians as Charles Wisner Barrell, Ruth Loyd Miller,and Father Francis Edwards. As a teacher at the Community College of Philadelphia, he introduced a number of people to J. Thomas Looney’s hypothesis and was for years the center of a small Oxfordian circle.

This reissue of his work is meant as a tribute to his memory.

Warren Hope

Hamlet Himself by Bronson Feldman is available online from Amazon and iUniverse at $15.95.

Shapiro in LRB and Observer

London Review of Books, Vol. 23 No. 5, March 11, 2010 (pp. 21-22) published a review of James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare, “Best Known for His Guzzleosity” by Helen Hackett, a reader in English at University College London. Her book, Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Meeting of Two Myths, was published by Princeton University Press in 2009.

The full article is available for sale through the LRB website and through subscribing libraries on the web. In the pre-jump section of Hackett’s review, she says of Contested Will:

The case for Shakespeare is made cogently and convincingly. Shapiro cites contemporaries who identified him as the author of the plays, and shows that the early printing history corroborates the attribution. The textual vestiges of rehearsal and staging practices, and of collaboration with other writers, demonstrate that the playwright was a working member of a theatre company, not a courtier or someone writing plays in his closet and delivering them fully formed to the actors. Moreover, the author can’t have died as early as 1604, as the Earl of Oxford did, because his late writing reflects the changes in dramaturgy brought about by the increasing use of indoor playhouses, and by Jacobean developments in court masques. Shapiro weaves together various strands of recent scholarship to make a case which is about as watertight as it can be.

I advise Ms. Hackett not to set sail in that watertight bark.

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Meanwhile, over at The Observer/Guardian, staunch Stratfordian Robert McCrum polls the cognoscenti and wonders about the deepest recesses of Shapiro’s soul:

Finally, in January, along came the first proof of Shapiro’s new book. But no, it was not about 1605 or 1606. Entitled Contested Will, it bore a fatal subtitle, “Who Wrote Shakespeare?“. Apparently, Professor Shapiro had gone over to the dark side, the blasted heath of the authorship question.

In today’s article, “Who really wrote Shakespeare?” McCrum states the authorship problem:

There was such an unbridgeable chasm between the complex brilliance of the plays and what they reveal about their author’s education and experience, on the one hand, and the bare facts of Shakespeare’s life, on the other, that a better explanation than “genius” had to be found. Unquestionably, said the “anti-Stratfordians”, as they came to be known, the recorded life of the man called Shakespeare could not possibly yield the astonishing universality and dazzling invention of the canon.

They had a point.

McCrum doesn’t bother to refute or respond to these plaints, he just refers to the “bizarre fraternity” of authorship doubters and criticizes Shapiro for responding to them:

This is the delusional world that Shapiro has chosen to explore inContested Will. He justifies his investigation with an assertion of scholarly daring – “this subject remains virtually taboo in academic circles” – and claims that his interest is less in what people think about the authorship question, more why they think it. “My attitude”, he goes on, “derives from living in a world in which truth is too often seen as relative and in which mainstream media are committed to showing both sides of every story.”

In fairness to “mainstream media”, even the most half-baked investigative journalism would swiftly dismiss the main contenders.

In McCrum’s pursuit of Shakespearean truth via the psyches of various theatrical types, he spoke to former Royal Shakespeare Company director Adrian Noble:

Talking about the man, Noble struggles momentarily and then comes up with a formula for an explanation of the mystery that will recur in my later conversations. “It’s like Mozart,” he says, citing the other most celebrated example of inexplicable, even divine, genius. Confronted with the mystery of Shakespeare’s extraordinary gifts, Noble has no time for the anti-Stratfordians. The idea that Bacon or some cabal wrote the plays is, on the basis of his experience, “utter nonsense. We know more than we think about Shakespeare. The more I work on him, the clearer his work becomes.”

It’s like Mozart, he says — evoking the universal poster boy for the highly prepared, highly documented genius. Noble apparently feels no sense of the chasm between the richness of Mozart’s life and the blank slate in Stratford.

McCrum’s article is a great read. I especially liked the part about fleas breeding in pizz-flooded corners.

Update: Commentary on the McCrum article
Daniel Hannan in The London Telegraph, March 16, 2010
David Blackburn in The Spectator, March 16, 2010

Shakespeare, Inc. by Don Fried

Don Fried’s award-winning farce about the Shakespeare authorship controversy, Shakespeare, Inc. was premiered by the Coal Creek Community Theater at the Louisville Center for the Arts in Fried’s home state of Colorado this month, and is being performed by the Second Skin Theatre in London until March 21.

Shakespeare, Inc. won first-place in the  full-length play category of the 2009 Rocky Mountain Theatre Association Festival Playwriting Competition and was selected as one of the winners of the Paragon Theater’s Trench New Play Development Competition. Time-Out London website said:

Hilarious, controversial and uncannily plausible, Second Skin Theatre break from their tradition of dark and intense theatre at The Rosie and take a wild romp throught Elizabethan England. Prize-winning American author, Don Fried, finally lifts the lid on who really wrote those immortal classics. Shakespeare will never be quite the same again…

A one-page synopsis of Shakespeare, Inc. is available on Fried’s website. The tale begins:

The lights come up on what appears to be a scene from an Elizabethan play. When the hero pulls out a squirt gun and soaks the villain, we discover that the actors are taking part in a current day theatrical house-party in Wilton House, the ancestral home of the Earls of Pembroke. The participants are all descendants of William Shakespeare and other authors who are rumored to have had some part in writing Shakespeare’s works — Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Edward de Vere, Mary Sydney and William Stanley. Mary, the owner of the house shows Christopher a manuscript that she has found in her attic, which purports to be a true account of how Shakespeare’s works were written. . . .

Fried (left) generously offered to talk about his work for SOS News Online readers.

SOS-NO: How did you come to write a farce about the Shakespeare authorship question?

Don Fried:

First, let me make clear that I’m not a Shakespeare scholar.  Or any other kind of scholar, for that matter. I’m a playwright, and as such, I’m always on the lookout for a great plot. That being understood, here’s how Shakespeare Inc. came to be written.

In December, 2007, I received as a present a copy of Bill Bryson’s new biography of William Shakespeare. The last chapter of the book deals with the authorship question, giving arguments for and against the works attributed to the Bard having been written by Shakespeare and only Shakespeare. I found myself unconvinced by the “for” arguments.  With each point, I found myself saying, “No, there’s an explanation around that.” And “There’s an explanation for that, too.”  Of course, the individual points of my quickly-developed theories didn’t fit particularly well together, and by the time I’d finished that last chapter, I realized that what I’d come up with was the plot of a reasonably complex farce.

“Too good of an opportunity to pass up,” I thought.  So off I ran to the University of Colorado library, from which I emerged two months later with 40 pages of notes, a gigantic spreadsheet with names, dates, and events, and a ten-page play outline.

In doing the research and developing the plot for Shakespeare Inc. I had three goals in mind.  First, while I have no illusions that what I was going to write would be what actually happened, I wanted it to be historically possible. I wanted Shakespeare scholars to say, “Very clever. Completely ridiculous, but very clever. And it makes a lot of things fit together that never worked before.”

Second, I wanted the play to be full of puns and funny references from Shakespeare’s works that the vast majority of theater-goers would recognize and enjoy.  But, third, I also wanted it to be accessible and of interest to people with no background whatsoever in Shakespeare. Just a well-crafted, farcical tale of conspiracy, intrigue, jealousy and murder.

The plot, and the ways in which it mixes history and fantasy, are too complex to include here. But you can read a one-page synopsis of Shakespeare Inc. on my website. And you can email me at <mailto:don@fried.cc>if you are interested in reading the script.

I completed the play in June, 2008. The script won two U.S. playwriting contests in 2009, and the play was produced in early 2010 in London and Colorado. Several Shakespeare scholars have read the script and seen the performances. So far, the consensus is that the play meets all three of my intended goals. If you decide to read the script, I hope you’ll agree.

SOS-NO: Do you have  any plans for future productions of Shakespeare, Inc.?

Don Fried:

At the moment, there are no specific plans for more productions of Shakespeare Inc., although I’m speaking with a couple of Shakespeare Festivals in the U.S. and with the company that is producing the current production in London. By the way, the London production one is at the Rosemary Branch in Islington and runs until March 21. The Colorado production runs for another two nights and closes on March 13.

SOS-NO: What else are you working on?

Don Fried:

My career has been going amazingly well.  I retired in 2006 to be a playwright after living for 30 years throughout Europe (including 19 years in the UK) and working in the Information Technology Industry.  I’ve written 6 full-length plays and 6 short ones.  So far, all of my plays except for the one I finished last month have been produced or are scheduled for production in the next few months.

Running concurrently with the productions of Shakespeare Inc. in London and Colorado is the world premiere of Postville, which is based on the true story about a group of Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn who come to a struggling small town in Iowa to re-open the shuttered meatpacking plant as a kosher facility. The locals think their problems are over, but a culture clash begins that turns the American melting pot in a pressure cooker that explodes. Literally! The response to that has been wonderful.

Next up are several gigs of Senior Moments, a series of short plays about people living in retirement homes, a production of a short play entitled “Young Mr. Hoover” as part of G-men in G-strings: the J. Edgar Hoover Chronicles, and a public reading of my latest play, Getting Betta, about an anthropomorphic computer program for assisting in the home. There are preliminary plans for a production in London within the next year of my farce, Present Future, which solves the age old problem of what to do with presents from friends and family that you absolutely hate (the presents, not the friends and family). Information about all my plays and productions is always kept up to date on my website Don Fried Writer.com.