Tag Archives: Shakespeare by Another Name

Still Plenty Of Room For Doubt — “Macduff’s” Insightful Review On Amazon.com Of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy

The following review, penned by “Macduff,” is certainly worth reading.  Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A6LSWAP1OPLEB/ref=cm_pdp_rev_title_2?ie=UTF8&sort_by=MostRecentReview#R2AHSYAEJA9BMW

Review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy by Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson

This book’s overriding theme is that readers should stop thinking for themselves and accept the word of “authority” when it comes to the Shakespeare authorship question. It disparages open-mindedness, belittles its ideological adversaries, presupposes the truth of the thesis for which it is purportedly presenting evidence, ignores its most able opponents while making mincemeat of weaker opponents, dodges some of the most critical questions regarding the Shakespeare authorship question, and attempts to shame the reader away from even considering the possibility that the traditional authorship theory might be flawed. And yet this book accuses its opponents of being dogmatic and unreasonable.

Anonymity and use of pseudonyms were common among writers in Elizabethan times, when people could be punished for expressing views that offended the authorities. Furthermore, as George Puttenham wrote in 1589, many noblemen wrote literary works, including plays, but would not allow them to be published under their own names because writing for publication was regarded as beneath a nobleman’s dignity. Such facts make it reasonable to entertain the possibility that “William Shakespeare” was a pen name. Yet Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (SBD) summarily considers that hypothesis out of the question.

SBD never once mentions Diana Price’s seminal 2001 book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem, which demonstrated that the Stratford man, whose name was spelled “William Shakspere,” left no literary paper trail during his lifetime: out of the 70 or so existing documents from the Stratford man’s life, not one identifies him personally as a writer of any kind or links him to the works published and performed under the name “William Shakespeare.” Price looked for a literary paper trail for 24 other Elizabethan writers and found evidence identifying each one personally as a writer during his lifetime, but found no such evidence for Shakspere.

But even though SBD doesn’t mention Price’s book, it more or less concedes her point. Stanley Wells admits in chapter 7 that no reference to the works of “William Shakespeare” before 1623, when the First Folio was published, explicitly identifies the writer with Stratford. SBD has no plausible explanation for the fact that the Stratford man’s death in 1616 was greeted by complete silence from the literary world, the nobility, and the public. Is it possible that no one at that time connected the Stratford man to the works of Shakespeare? Likewise, in chapter 6, Andrew Hadfield concedes that “there are virtually no literary remains left behind by Shakespeare outside his published works, and most of the surviving records deal with property and legal disputes.” Yet SBD insists that documentary evidence proves “beyond doubt” that the Stratford man was the true Bard.

While SBD ignores Price and other serious anti-Stratfordian scholars, such as George Greenwood, The Shakespeare Problem Restated, Mark Anderson, Shakespeare By Another Name, and Tony Pointon, The Man Who Was Never Shakespeare: The Theft of William Shakspeare’s Identity, it devotes three chapters to Delia Bacon, who wrote an unreadable book about the authorship controversy in the 19th century and later went mad. While no serious authorship skeptic of the past century relies on Delia Bacon’s work, she is an easy target for the authors of SBD. Its stratagem is to paint all doubters with the same brush as Delia Bacon and make the reader think that she epitomizes anti-Stratfordianism.

SBD categorically dismisses the idea of looking for a connection between the author’s life and his works. Matt Kubus in chapter 5 insists that there is no “inherent connection” between an author and “the content of his works.” While not all literature is thinly disguised autobiography, isn’t it reasonable to suppose that a writer might inadvertently reveal something about himself in the stories he chooses to tell? This should be an open question, one for debate and discussion, but the Stratfordians do not seem interested in discussion.

MacDonald P. Jackson in chapter 9 discusses stylometrics, the use of computer analysis of grammatical patterns and word usage, which allegedly shows that the Stratford man wrote the majority of Shakespeare’s plays with a little help from other playwrights of his time. But stylometrics is not a science: different stylometrics analyses come out with different answers as to who wrote what. Besides, the most that stylometric studies show is that the person who wrote the bulk of the plays (whoever that was) sometimes collaborated with others. They cannot prove that that central figure was the Stratford man because there is no known writing unquestionably belonging to the Stratford man to be used as a standard. Stylometrics may be a useful tool, but it cannot provide the total answer to the authorship question.

SBD never addresses the question of how the Stratford man acquired the vast knowledge of law, philosophy, classical literature, ancient and modern history, mathematics, astronomy, art, music, medicine, horticulture, heraldry, the military; etiquette and manners of the nobility; English, French and Italian court life; Italy; and aristocratic pastimes such as falconry, equestrian sports, and royal tennis, that is seen in the plays. Many books and articles have been written on Shakespeare’s intimate knowledge of these and other subjects. The author must have had extensive formal education, easy access to books, abundant leisure time to study on his own, and wide experience of the world gained through travel. This simply does not fit with the life of the Stratford man, who may or may not have had a few years of a grammar school education (documentary evidence is completely lacking on that subject), yet SBD makes no attempt to answer this anomaly.

Finally, and most disgracefully, SBD never ceases to use shaming techniques to frighten the reader away from questioning orthodoxy. One of its most unattractive ploys is to label anti-Stratfordians as “anti-Shakespearians.” As Edmondson and Wells explain in their introduction, the authors employ that word because “anti-Stratfordian . . . allows the work attributed to Shakespeare to be separated from the social and cultural context of its author.” How’s that for circular reasoning? It assumes that the Stratford man was the true author and implies that anyone who disagrees opposes the great playwright and all he stands for. Edmondson, in chapter 19, says that “open-mindedness” is merely a rhetorical maneuver and should be allowed only after the evidence for Shakespeare has been disproven, not (as Edmondson says) “merely ignored.” If Edmondson had read the better anti-Stratfordian writers, he would know that they have not ignored the evidence; rather, they have examined it and found serious flaws in it. “There is, too,” says Edmondson, “the loaded assumption that even though one may lack the necessary knowledge and expertise, it is always acceptable to challenge or contradict a knowledgeable and expert authority. It is not.”

That is the message of SBD: don’t question the authorities, who know better than you; don’t be open-minded; don’t read anti-Stratfordian books because you’ll go mad like Delia Bacon. It is an attempt to lull the reader into drowsy acceptance of authority. I hope that readers of SBD will resist its call for intellectual servitude, will explore the subject on their own, and will reach their own conclusions. Any reader who likes to hear both sides of an argument before making up his or her mind is encouraged to read Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? — Exposing an Industry in Denial.

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The Shakespeare Chronology Recalibrated: Excellent Review by William S. Niederkorn of “Dating Shakespeare’s Plays” Published by the De Vere Society in the U.K.

Kudos to William Niederkorn for writing an excellent, insightful review of Dating Shakespeare’s Plays.  And kudos to editor Kevin Gilvary and the many other contributors to this landmark work.  I shouldn’t (and won’t) reprint the entire review here.  Several paragraphs follow.  To read the entire review, which was published in the April 2011 edition of The Brooklyn Rail,  please click on this link now or click on READ MORE at the bottom on this post.

http://www.brooklynrail.org/2011/04/books/the-shakespeare-chronology-recalibrated

As anybody who has delved into the Shakespeare authorship mystery in any detail knows all too well, the issue of the chronology of the plays is a major point of contention between the orthodox camp and skeptics of various stripes.  The traditional Stratfordian chronology has always struck doubters as more or less arbitrary, arranged to neatly fit into the lifespan and presumed career of the Stratfordian Candidate — one William of Stratford.  Dating Shakespeare’s Plays tackles this vexing issue with a great deal of skill and refreshing even-handedness.  As Niederkorn puts it in his review:  “[R]egardless of one’s position on the authorship question, Dating Shakespeare’s Plays is a most informative and useful book on a subject at the center of the Shakespeare labyrinth. It is not the last word, but rather an advantageous starting point.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Niederkorn’s review is highly recommended reading … as is Dating Shakespeare’s Plays itself.

Matthew Cossolotto

The Shakespeare Chronology Recalibrated

by William S. Niederkorn

Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence
edited by Kevin Gilvary
(Parapress, 2010)

Determining the chronology of Shakespeare’s plays has been both central and problematic since Shakespeare studies originated in the 18th century. Edmond Malone, whose work is regarded as the cornerstone of Shakespeare scholarship, made the first serious attempt. Malone’s initial Shakespeare achievement was his essay An Attempt to Ascertain the Order in which the Plays attributed to Shakespeare were written, included in the second edition of the Johnson-Steevens Shakespeare in 1778. This was “pioneering research,” as Peter Martin called it in his 1995 biography.

In 1875, Edward Dowden, in his Shakespeare: A Critical Study of his Mind and Art, divided Shakespeare’s career into four periods, based on what he deemed appropriate to the playwright’s age and mood, a division that Shakespeare academics still widely affirm. Dowden vastly expanded on Malone’s use of stylistic data, like frequency of rhyme, to support his chronology with statistics.

E. K. Chambers thoroughly reviewed the full scope of dating research in his William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, published in 1930, and laid out a chronology derived largely from Malone and Dowden. Of the 36 plays in the First Folio, Chambers’s dating exactly matches Malone’s on 14 plays and deviates from it by only one year on eight more.

Then, in 1987, came William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. Though Wells and Taylor admitted, “The existing or ‘orthodox’ chronology for all Shakespeare’s plays is conjectural,” their dates match Dowden and Chambers exactly for 24 plays and differ on average by less than two years for the rest.

All of this is recounted in the introduction to Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence. This new book, apparently several years in the making, goes on to review other aspects of the inherited tradition, and then lays out, play by play, the evidence put forward by scholars who believe that the plays were written by William Shakespeare of Stratford, followed by the evidence put forward by scholars who believe they are by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

The book is a major comprehensive revision and re-envisioning of the Shakespeare chronology, but it does not set up a rigid chronology of its own. The new chronology is refreshingly diverse, like the world of Shakespeare authorship studies.

The main challenge to the Shakespeare orthodoxy for much of the past century has been Oxfordian, though Oxfordians, unlike Stratfordians, have made the effort inclusive and welcome into their conferences and journals advocates for Bacon, Marlowe, William Stanley, Edward Dyer, Mary Sidney, et al., including, of course, Stratfordians. As a result, a more open-minded approach to Shakespeare is developing outside the mainstream.

READ MORE

Angela Michelle’s Hubpages Article about Shakespeare Authorship Issue

Just calling your attention to this interesting article on Hubpages about the authorship issue and Edward de Vere.  Scroll down and you’ll find a survey question.  Scroll down even further and there’s a video of Mark Anderson’s TV interview about his book Shakespeare By Another Name.  Worth watching!  Matthew

Here’s the link:  http://hubpages.com/hub/Did-Shakespeare-Really-Write-His-Own-Stuff

William Shakespeare and The Authorship Debate: Did He Really Write His Own Stuff

// //

William Shakespeareis one of the most famous names of all time, due to his tremendous success as a playwright and poet. In fact, his success seems so incredible that many skeptics question the authorship of his sonnets and plays. Although a majority believe he was a legendary playwright and actor from Stratford-upon-Avon who was christened William Shakespeare. Others theorize that Shakespeare is actually a pseudonym for a group of playwrights. There are many theories in between, which name various men, such as Edward Bacon or Christopher Marlowe, as the true William Shakespeare. One of the more common beliefs is that the true authorof the Shakespearean works is Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. He is believed to have used “William Shakespeare” as a pseudonym to mask his true identity. Evidence for this theory is based on the lack of evidence for Shakespearethe playwright, the credentials of the Earl of Oxford, and the similarities between the Shakespearean characters and Edward de Vere’s life.(Read More) 

 

 

Egan defends Oxford on BBC

In an extensive report on BBC today, Shakespeare Oxford Society Oxfordian Editor Michael Egan defends the Oxfordian thesis of Shakespearean authorship.

“Edward de Vere: the Bard or not the Bard? Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was one of the leading patrons of the Elizabethan age, but was he also William Shakespeare?” by Dave Gilyeat was featured this morning on BBC Oxford.

The report led with the announcement of the publication of Kurt Kreiler’s book Der Mann der Shakespeare Erfand (The Man Who Invented Shakespeare) and offered a lengthy exposition of the Oxfordian thesis with long and multiple quotes from Egan.

“Nature and intellectual life abhor a vacuum,” added Dr Egan.
“We don’t know enough about Shakespeare’s biography.
“There are huge gaps and because we know so little about him – despite his being one of the most researched lives in literary history – the situation calls for alternative explanations.
“The real key to the authorship debate is the mismatch between what we know of Shakespeare of Stratford and what we can infer about the author of the plays when we read them.
“When you look at the plays without preconceptions of the author we’d have to say this is a highly educated person, well travelled, with intricate knowledge of the courts and aristocratic life.
“So the question is where did an obscure provincial boy gain all this information and knowledge?”

Shakespeare by Another Name author Mark Anderson was also quoted extensively. Anderson was able to elucidate his insight that Oxford’s 1604 death is a positive point for Oxfordian authorship.

“The chronology is ironically a solid piece of evidence for de Vere,” insisted Mark Anderson.
“In fact the proponents of the evidence actually suggest that the Shakespeare factory shut down in 1604.
“There are no new Shakespeare plays that appear in print after 1604 with two exceptions.
“There’s a brief period in 1608 and ’09 when de Vere’s widow sold the house where they lived and I think it stands to reason there was some house cleaning going on.
“An orthodox scholar would say there was a shipwreck in 1609 that The Tempest refers to.
“In fact there’s some really good scholarship published that suggests that it was a different shipwreck that was referenced in a couple of 16th century books that were in de Vere’s father-in-law’s library.”

The Stratfordian viewpoint was defended in Gilyeat’s article by Alan Nelson and Emma Smith.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/oxford/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8380000/8380564.stm

Detobel tranlates Mulot review of Der Mann

Robert Detobel reports that the Rheinischer Merkur (Rhineland Mercury — world news for Germany) published a review of Kurt Kreiler’s biography of Oxford, Der Mann, der Shakespeare erfand: Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) (The Man who Invented Shakespeare: etc.). The review was written by German author Sibylle Mulot on September 24, 2009:
http://www.merkur.de/2009_39_Vergesst_Shakespe.37385.0.html?&no_cache=1

Detobel has provided a partial translation of the article, having left out portions of “. . . well-known retrospective, mainly on Looney.”

Robert Detobel partial translation of “Vergsst Shakespeare!” (Forget Shakespeare!) by Sibylle Mulot in the Rheinischer Merkur September 24, 2009:

BIOGRAPHIC RESEARCH / Is the world famous name of the poet from Stratford-upon-Avon but a pseudonym? Yes, Kurt Kreilers says, in an impressive study. In truth, the creator of Hamlet and and Macbeth was the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.

Forget Shakespeare!
VON SIBYLLE MULOT (Note: Sibylle Mulot is a German author, born in 1959.)

In the beginning was the suspicion. The trader and sometime player of Stratford-upon-Avon was illiterate. That’s the upshot after decades of frenetic research. Possibly he could write his name? Six scrawls on six deeds show him as “Shaksper”, then as “Shakspere” or “Shakspear”….

Therefore, Shakespeare admirers for a long time consider “Will Shaksper” from Stratford-upon-Avon to be a front and the poet’s name “William Shakespeare“ a pseudonym. Since 1850 Shakespeare research has split. The partisans of “the Man of Stratford“, in their majority middle-class professors, fight tooth and nail against the doubters of the theory of the miraculous petty bourgeois. Did not the name “William Shakespeare” appear on the title-pages of the first printed plays? Not really. Actually the name read “William Shake-speare” with a hyphen, a hint in those times that it was “a telling pseudonym”. This was first overlooked, then denied. Granted, it cannot be proved that Shakespeare went to school. But– in Stratford there was a Grammar School! How many things could he have learned there! Granted, he never left England, but how many things could he have seen there, had he been there! The great genius was just an unlearned petty bourgeois, basta. The petty trader had to be a genius because of the big business, the millions of visitors, pilgriming each year to their hero in Stratford or what they imagined him to be, at stake were festivals, world fame, uniqueness.

. . .

In 1920 Looney found the needle in the haystack . . .

In Germany it was possible to be informed on de Vere’s war adventures, his politic quarrels, his engagement in the theatre … since 1995 when Walter Klier for the first time summarized Looney’s findings. Ten years later the US author Mark Anderson presented old and new “evidence“ and came to the conclusion that Shakespeare was “one of the most autobiographical authors that ever were“.

Now a new, comprehensive book has appeared from the pen of the long-standing German Shakespeare researcher Kurt Kreiler, a historical-biographical-stylistical analysis provided with new findings and concentrating on de Vere’s cultural tradition, his individuality and his poetic art. A homage, also suitable as initial reading, to the “master of poetical self-reflection“, the artist of love rhetorics, a soul-knowing tragedian and an illusionsless illusionist. Reasonable doubts that de Vere is Shakespeare are no longer possible. But no really good myth will ever proceed from thence: the man is too complicated, his life already too well investigated, not appropriate as projection surface. Good myths ought to be simple, incredible and homely.

Kurt Kreiler: Der Mann, der Shakespeare erfand. Insel Verlag, Frankfurt 2009. 600 Seiten, 29,80 Euro. Mark Anderson:Shakespeare by Another Name. The Life of Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, The Man Who Was Shakespeare. Gotham Books, NY 2005. 640 Seiten.

Note from Robert Detobel October 5, 2009:
The largest part of the (Rheinischer Merkur) review was not a review of Kreiler’s book but a retrospect of the Oxfordian case, mainly with reference to Looney. I translated the opening lines, the references to Klier and Anderson and, finally the last (and only) paragraph on Kreiler’s book. It was, however, a clear statement in favor of Oxford.

Update on Eagan-Donovan film project

This article by Cheryl A. Eagan-Donovan appears in the September 2009 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.

What if Shakespeare was bisexual? What if Shakespeare was French? What if everything you knew about Shakespeare was wrong?

The true challenge in making a contemporary film about Shakespeare is in making Shakespeare sexy. To compete with the absurdist queercore satire of Bruno, the teen angst fantasy world of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and the explosive testosterone of Michael Bay’s blockbuster Tranformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the filmmaker must totally reinvent Shakespeare.

Not that it hasn’t been done before. Shakespeare in Love started an Academy Award winning streak for the Weinstein brothers and Miramax that lasted close to a decade. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet transformed the classic love story into a psychedelic spectacular and outrageous musical. Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho paid homage to Orson Welles’ Shakespeare, with Falstaff and Prince Hal as archetypal class warriors and comrades. Most recently, Hamlet 2, the little indie that could, did, raking in a cool $10 million in box office, targeting YouTube viewers.

Everyone’s read Shakespeare. In China, the poet formerly known as the bard is a status symbol, as sought after as Gucci accessories. What they don’t know is that Shakespeare really is dead. After 400 years, what scholars around the world have discovered is that Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, is our ever-living poet. He is also undeniably sexy.

An A-list party boy on the continental circuit, a true alpha male, Edward de Vere was a man quite unlike any other. My documentary film project, Nothing is Truer than Truth, looks at the process of writing, where life experience, imitation of the masters, and relentless revision come together to create genius, as the key to discovering Edward de Vere as the true author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. The film will reveal de Vere’s epic life story and introduce a brilliant, troubled, charming man.

Having secured the documentary rights to Mark Anderson’s seminal biography Shakespeare By Another Name, I began by interviewing the leading Oxfordian scholars, documenting the ongoing debate about the significance of authorship, the role of biography, and the meaning of genius. With over 60 hours of footage, I have produced two fundraising trailers, and have had the great privilege of meeting some truly extraordinary and exceedingly generous people. On screen, Sir Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance regale us with their unique portraits of the earl, and British historian Charles Bird takes the viewer on a walking tour of Castle Hedingham, home of the De Vere family since the days of William the Conqueror. Without the support of the many Shakespeare Oxford Society members who have donated their time and financial resources to the film, I could not have made such progress.

Harvard Professor Steven Pinker has agreed to an interview. He is an acknowledged expert on language, neurobiology, and the definition of genius. In his book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Pinker concludes,

Almost by definition, art has no practical function, and as philosopher Dennis Dutton points out in his list of universal signatures of art: art universally entails virtuosity — a sign of genetic quality, the free time to hone skills, or both — and criticism that sizes up the worth of the art and the artist.

In The Mating Mind, the psychologist Geoffrey Miller argues that the impulse to create art is a mating tactic: a way to impress prospective sexual and marriage partners with the quality of one’s brain and thus, indirectly, one’s genes. Artistic virtuosity, he notes, is unevenly distributed, neurally demanding, hard to fake, and widely prized. Artists, in other words, are sexy.

Nothing is Truer than Truth will focus on the eighteen month period when De Vere escaped the confines of life at the court of Elizabeth I, and traveled the Continent from his home base in Venice gathering material for the great canon that would become known as the works of Shakespeare. It is my immediate and pressing goal to raise enough funds to begin principle photography this year, shooting on location in Italy and France.

Mark Anderson, author of Shakespeare by Another Name, describes what Edward de Vere encountered on his visit:

The Venice of 1575 was the New York City of its day – a world financial center, fueling an ongoing explosion of learning, literature, theatre, music, and art. The city nicknamed La Serenissima had, with the economic and artistic decline of its rival Florence, become perhaps the premier cultural capital of late sixteenth century Italy. Reaching the shore of the Venetian lagoon sometime in mid-May 1575, the conte d’Oxfort had finally arrived.

By the 1570s, Venice had become perhaps the most vibrant theatrical community in all of Europe. One can readily envision how, as this aristocratico inglese settled into his new hometown, he also began attending plays that would be meting out ideas, plots, characters, and inspiration for the rest of his life. The theatrical mixture of high and low, refined and proletariat, comic and tragic, that graced Venetian stages at the time would present an aesthetic philosophy that would later be developed into the works of Shakes-speare.

I began my career as a writer, and I know a good story. Nothing is Truer than Truth unveils a multi-media portrait of one man whose life story is perhaps the greatest story ever written. The trick is to convince the funders and distributors.

With blatant disregard for the previously mentioned box office successes, they seem to think that if Shakespeare is dead — that no one will want to see a film about Edward de Vere. One strategy that has proved effective in today’s independent film marketplace is the collection of zip codes, and the construction of a database of cities and towns, throughout the country and around the world, where film audiences are guaranteed to turn out for a screening.

If you would be willing to help organize a screening in your neighborhood, please write to me at eagandonovan@verizon.net, and if you can make a donation to the project in any amount, please visit our website at http://www.controversyfilms.com.

As a writer, I am determined to tell this story. With your support, Nothing is Truer than Truth will prove that the universal appeal of Shakespeare’s work is due to the fact that the true author was a perfectionist, a world traveler, a temperamental, tempestuous trouble-maker, and most of all, a writer.

Cheryl Eagan-Donovan studied Shakespeare and wrote poetry as a literature major at Goddard College, and holds a business degree from Boston University. She served as publicist for the award-winning features All the Rage (Roland Tec 1996) and Could Be Worse! (Zack Stratis 2000). Her debut documentary All Kindsa Girls (2006) screened at film festivals and in theaters in London, Toronto, and throughout the US. She is President of Women in Film & Video/New England and serves on the Board of Directors of The Next Door Theater in Winchester, Massachusetts. Contact: Cheryl A. Eagan-Donovan, Controversy Films, 119 Braintree Street, Suite 509, Boston, MA 02134, 617-987-002, eagandonovan@verizon.net, Fiscal Sponsor: IFP New York, http://www.iofp.org.

Much Ado on the Hudson

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at Boscobel on the Hudson

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at Boscobel on the Hudson

Reviewed by Stephanie Hughes

My family and I had a wonderful time last weekend at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, performed in (and around) a big circus type tent on the grounds of Boscobel, one of the great estates that line the Hudson River as it approaches Manhattan. Rather than a painted backdrop, the audience sees the action taking place before a living vista of the valley as day draws slowly down to night. Located at one of the most scenic junctures of the river, facing West Point on the western shore, the river dotted with sailboats, it’s as though one of the great nineteenth century paintings from the Hudson River School has come to three-dimensional life.

Like most of the audience, we picnicked first on the lawn.  Once within the theater tent where protected from the weather — though luckily we needed no protection on this beautiful evening — we observed the odd behavior of some beings from another time. We could have been sitting with the English Court on the lawn of some great estate in one of the summer bowers built to keep off the weather, watching the original cast perform this play.

Although the director calls his preferred style of costume design steampunk, the result for the audience is a happy submersion in the holiday world that Shakespeare portrays in most of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, parts of Twelfth Night, Act IV of A Winter’s Tale, Act V of Two Gents, and most of As You Like It, holiday plays meant to be performed out of doors in good weather.  Far more than we could ever be in a theater, here at Boscobel we are in the Old English holiday world of merry-making where there is no past or future.  One enters into it, has as good a time as possible, and leaves it when it’s time to return to the workaday world of clocks and calendars. In this world there is no past or future, so costumes can relate to any period. It’s the audience who, oddly dressed in T shirts and shorts, seem tourists from another time.

Much Ado is a comedy, of course, so out under the summer sky these professionals played it broadly and yet not so broadly that the tenderness is lost, for this is one of the most delicately tender of the Shakespeare romances. The actors who perform the roles of Beatrice and Benedick are more than up to the challenge, Jason O’Connell in particular bringing a wonderfully silly vision of Benedick as a louche narcissist who literally falls all over himself when he finds himself falling in love, while Nance Williamson is all anyone could wish as the as the sharp-tongued but tender-hearted Beatrice. “Everybody plays the fool, one time, there’s no exception to the rule,” goes the old song, and Shakespeare, and this wonderfully intuitive version of Benedick express this timeless message, so welcome on a warm and timeless midsummer eve.

I urge all who live in the New York area to see the show. The work is played in repertory with Pericles through July 31 in Garrison, New York, 8 miles north of the Bear Mountain Bridge on Route 9D.  Directions from Manhattan, New Jersey, and Westchester are on the website: http://hvshakespeare.org/.

The director of Much Ado, John Christian Plummer, is an Oxfordian — with a TV series based on Mark Anderson’s biography, Shakespeare by Another Name, up his sleeve —  and although I don’t see how knowing that affects a particular performance, if in any way it inspired this excellent version of this wonderful play, then efforts to get the Oxford story told have borne some truly excellent fruit.

Stephanie Hughes is an educator and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. She is a former editor of the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter and the SOS journal, The Oxfordian. Her work can be viewed on her blog, Politic Worm at http://politicworm.com.