Fallacious, strange, illogical, reasoning - I am tempted to check the moon phase when you were writing. I should note that I have certainly seen at least one memorable and great production of The Tempest. Parrhosios: Careful. Your hackles are rising. That way madness lies. Okay, maybe the Gospels were written by a quartet of Dead Sea hacks or lunatics.
Actually, this is another ploy to silence heretics. You are saying that our possession of the masterpieces is what counts - 'the play's the thing'. Let 'Shakespeare' stand for the writer, whoever he was. But in context the play was the thing wherein Hamlet would 'catch the conscience of the King'.
The play performed before Claudius had an external purpose and did not exist merely for its own sake. In other words, it matters who wrote the plays partly because it is worth understanding why, if it happened, a disguise was believed to be necessary in the first place. We need to discover the author's motives for concealing his identity, if indeed that is what he did. Justice also matters. The man who is generally acknowledged as the greatest poet, dramatist and humanitarian in the history of the world's literature deserves more than a shrugging indifference about his identity.
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If he did find it necessary to hide himself behind a mask, then we owe a debt of gratitude to his memory by establishing the truth and giving praise where it is due. Even if he wished to remain unknown for all eternity, that is no reason for us to acquiesce in his self-effacement. Praise where it is due should be given, not withheld, however modest the benefactor.
More generally, the attitude that it doesn't matter implies that we might as well go blindfold through the whole field of literary history. Doesn't biography and social circumstance help us to understand art? It is true, and Ihave argued as much above, that superficial biography can restrict art. Nevertheless, while Shakespeare is still universally regarded as civilisation's greatest poet, the force and significance of his art is being increasingly reduced by the effort of making it cohere, however remotely, with the mundane and mercenary life of the man from Stratford.
There is certainly often a gulf between Art and Life, but it is not that wide. The futile and self-defeating attempt to bring William's life within planetary space of the mind of Shakespeare has greatly simplified and distorted the extraordinary genius behind the works. The recent biographies by the likes of Greenblatt and Ackroyd are classic examples of this increasing reductionism.
Artistic truth is therefore, at least in this case, dependent on factual truth and the real author deserves to be rescued from the false identification. We must discover the man in order to rediscover his art: as Prospero pleads, our indulgence must set him free. But, Parrhosios, why stop at literary biography? Does it matter who anyone was? Does history itself matter?
Can facts be ignored? Is truth unimportant? Does anything matter? Curiously, the argument that it doesn't matter who wrote the works is often advanced by scholars, some of whom get very worked up about the true identity of the Dark Lady and whether or not Shakespeare was gay, but who fail to be aroused by the bigger question. Yet what is scholarship if not the 'disinterested pursuit of truth'? Is it not a denial of their whole function, a gross dereliction of their basic duty, a betrayal of their whole profession, to say that the authorship of Shakespeare doesn't matter?
Alas, poor Coleridge, Lamb and Swinburne To describe the above three great writers as Victorian hacks as somehat harsh. Frankly, give me them and their insights into Shakespeare any time in preference to the likes of Robert McCrum and James Shapiro. However, they have been the exception rather than the rule.
There has been the odd successful Tempest, but the majority fail. And Hamlet has only succeeded on the stage by being chopped in two. As I have suggested, I think many of them were indeed written specifically for the stage, but they were added to, embellished and dressed up for publication by a man of great intellect, and that comes out particularly in the tragedies and romances which ARE difficult, though not impossible, to stage. Hence the performed plays were much shorter than the published texts.
There is frankly too big a gap here, and it has nothing to do with genius. Parrhosios: Genius, wonderful though it is, nevertheless is not independent of the law of causation, and its possibilities do not transcend all natural laws, but are necessarily limited by the facts of education, knowledge and environment.
In short, genius alone will not make a Shakespeare. The evidence of the works themselves is unmistakably that that requires, from the beginning of his career, a high degree of education and culture, of knowledge of human life, especially the court, and an intimacy with the law. It proves that genius cannot defy natural laws. For even if William were the genius that is said of him, not even he could solve the physical logistics of the massive Shakespeare library.
Traces of hundreds of books have been found in the published plays. Where did William keep them? From the public records office and other sources, we can see that from to the early s William shared his living between Stratford and London. Did he hoik all these books with him on his journeys back and forth? Take Plautus as just one author. Where did he get it in Stratford? According to Haliwell-Phillipps, there were certainly no more than two or three dozen books in the whole town. We have to presume that,supposing the myth were true and that William did write Shakespeare, that he acquired most of his books in London.
According to Aubrey, his early years were spent in Shoreditch. Then in he bought New Place in Stratford, so presumably he brought the books back from his digs in Bishopsgate on the north side of the Thames. In he is still in Stratford and on 4th February is on a list of hoarders.
He is named as having illegally held 10 quarters of malt or corn during a famine. By , however, he is back in London and recorded as a tax defaulter in Southwark, on the Surrey bankside. By about he had moved to Silver Street, Cripplegate, in the city. So in this period he moved from lodgings in Shoreditch, to Bishopsgate to Stratford town, then to Southwark, and then to Cripplegate. Are we to assume that his substantial library went with him on all his travels? Dear All Sorry to break in on such wonderful stuff but I just had a thought today about the Presbyterian Mutual.
I see that the Presbyterian Church is willing to put some money into a fund for those unfortunate enough to have lost substantially. The wonder is that I managed a contribution on Sunday at all. You might also deduce from 20 in the Hugo, we love you! However, to return to the bard and your specific points, first he lived in an age when translations of Latin texts were becoming more common and probably had access to cribs of one kind or another.
I don't doubt but that he knew Plautus and similiar lower brow classical authors in some form. I cannot conceive, though, that the author of the plays we know had a full traditional classical education: the structural and formal concerns, the high seriousness, the consistency of mood which mark the works of the great Greek tragedians are wholly absent in Shakespeare, an absence of a kind which speaks of ignorance rather than conscious transformation.
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He exhibits a freedom in his treatment of structure and theme which comes from a knowledge of Roman crowd-pleasers and but scant aquaintance with serious classical critical theory. Then as to his access to books and libraries, the answer is surely in the poem to which to refer: Venus and Adonis.
I do not think Shakespeare's sexuality matters, if pressed I would say he was probably bi-capable, but I think it highly likely that an ambitious, talented, young provincial in a somewhat louche occupation, coming to London and seeking to advance his career, would have fluttered his eyelashes at any susceptible benefactors. I think there is the strongest case for thinking he probably slept his way around some of the best private libraries in London. Look at the poem - it is impossible not to read it as a homosexual text. Is it because it is a love that dare not speak its name that " They that love best their loves shall not enjoy "?
The poem is a fantasy feeder of the first order, Will knew how to lead men as well as women up the garden path - and we can be sure from the results that he was after their books as well as their baubles! If you contest my reading explain these lines: " He ran upon the boar with his sharp spear, Who did not whet his teeth at him again, But by a kiss thought to persuade him there; And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine Sheathed unaware the tusk in his soft groin ". Parrhasios: I absolve you, though not in the Amon Goeth manner.
I know that butterflies like the Parrhasius flit about from object to object without settling for long on any one.
It was a good motto and a valuable one. I think the truth matters almost more than anything else. It is the Holy Grail of all learning and all philosophy. It is the Veedon Fleece of enlightenment. Belittle truth and you belittle life itself. But of course, you are not alone. In order to fit the mundane and mercenary of William of Stratford to the works, recent biographers like Greenblatt and Ackroyd have stripped the Bard bare, downgrading the intellect from that rightly discerned by the likes of Lamb, Coleridge and Swinburne, and left him as an empty-headed bore, a country bumpkin made good.
In doing so, they betray the genius and nullify the efforts of every teacher of Shakespeare in the world who spends hours explaining every philosophical and pyschological theme, every classical allusion or pun, every reference to contemporary politics, every legal parallel, every contrast between appearance and reality, between dogmatism and scepticism, between love and romance, between justice and revenge, service and ambition, between art and nature, and between deduction and induction.
The deep thought and, yes, the deep throat - see below is swept aside and the greatness of the works are nullified. Perhaps William and Francis shared his bed as well as his library. Yet no biographer of Southampton or William has ever turned up any reference by Southampton to William of Stratford.
The homosexual inclinations of both Bacon and Shakespeare is one more piece in the jigsaw. Of course, William of Stratford was, by all accounts, exceeedingly heterosexual. Indeed Germaine Greer even thinks that he contracted syphilis from overindulgence with prostitutes at the theatres.
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