Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bardfilm's Fair Use Policy

kj. Bardfilm: The Shakespeare and Film Microblog. Web. 1 January 2011.
I've been thinking through Bardfilm's structure, and it occurred to me that it might be wise to state Bardfilm's policy regarding video use and to explain why Bardfilm's use falls under the "fair use" doctrine of United States law as articulated in, for example, Golan v. Gonzales, 501 F.3d 1170 (2007). That ruling provides, in part, a "guarantee of breathing space within the confines of copyright."

Accordingly, Bardfilm's policy follows these strict rules:
  1. Bardfilm's purpose is educational. I hope to educate my readers by providing commentary and appropriate illustrative material.

  2. Bardfilm always provides the most complete bibliographic information possible about the material it cites. It attempts to follow the format provided by The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, seventh edition, though the nature of the material cited here means that its form must often be adapted.

  3. Bardfilm provides, wherever possible, links to places to purchase the material it cites. In this way, it serves something of a promotional purpose for the manufacturers and distributers of the material it cites.

  4. Bardfilm does not make a profit. A small percentage of sales from the links I provide to books and DVDs on Amazon.com does return in the form of Amazon.com credit; however, those funds are used in their entirety (and their entirety is admittedly quite minuscule) to purchase materials to be reviewed by Bardfilm. Although there are ads on Bardfilm's site (provided by blogger.com), I haven't yet made any money from the ads. When I do, those funds will be used in their entirety to purchase materials to be reviewed by Bardfilm.

  5. Bardfilm never provides a video in its entirety. Not even "out of print" material is provided in total. This will encourage those who encounter the material to seek out the fuller version from its source.

  6. Bardfilm does not provide the highest video quality possible. This, too, will encourage readers to seek out higher quality video from its sources.
I hope that stating these policies will clarify Bardfilm's role. Bardfilm desires to help create, develop, and expand the market for Shakespeareana of every kind; it does not intend to hinder the market in any way or to prevent artists, actors, writers, and studios from profiting from their creations. Rather, it attempts to promote such profit and to encourage future creative work involving Shakespeare.

Thank you very much.

Friday, January 28, 2011

When Shakespeare had the Blues

“The World of Jazz.” By Leonard Bernstein. Perf. Alistair Cooke and Leonard Bernstein. Dir. Elliot Silverstein. Omnibus. Season 4, episode 2. CBS. 16 October 1955. DVD. Leonard Bernstein: Omnibus: The Historic TV Broadcasts. E1 Entertainment, 2010.
I saw this clip quite some time ago, but it's taken a while to confirm the details and to gather the necessary links—always both mandatory and important for a scholarly endeavor.

The clip is from the educational television series Omnibus, which was in production from 1952 to 1961—the same program that enabled Peter Book to direct Orson Welles in King Lear (for which, q.v.). In this clip, Leonard Bernstein explains a certain form of the Blues by pointing out that it consists of couplets in iambic pentameter. Not unnaturally, he then turns to Shakespeare to illustrate the point, giving us what he calls a "Macbeth Blues."

video


And that is quite remarkable, of course.

The line Bernstein uses is from Act V of Macbeth: "I will not be afraid of death and bane / [I said,] I will not be afraid of death and bane / Till Bernam Forest come to Dunsinane" (V.iii.59-60).

And I only wish the song continued. It would be even more remarkable if the Doctor's lines were given as a blues response to Macbeth's opening gambit: "Were I from Dunsinane away and clear, [I said,] Were I from Dunsinane away and clear, / Profit again should hardly draw me here" (V.iii.61-62).

Or imagine a wonderful call-and-response blues with A Midsummer Night's Dream's Hermia and Helena:
HERMIA: I give him curses, yet he gives me love.
I said, I give him curses, yet he gives me love.
HELENA: O that my prayers could such affection move!

HERMIA: The more I hate, the more he follows me.
I said, the more I hate, the more he follows me.
HELENA: The more I love, the more he hateth me.

HERMIA: His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.
I said, his folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.
HELENA: None, but your beauty: would that fault were mine!

HERMIA: Take comfort: he no more shall see my face;
I said, take comfort: he no more shall see my face;
Lysander and myself will fly this place.

Before the time I did Lysander see,
I said, before the time I did Lysander see,
Seem'd Athens as a paradise to me:

O, then, what graces in my love do dwell,
I said, O, then, what graces in my love do dwell,
That he hath turn'd a heaven unto a hell! (I.i.194-207)
Any takers? Any directors or musicians ready to take that on?

Or imagine, if you will, an entire play in musical form—a modernization of one of the great tragedies—Romeo and Juliet for example—that follows Bernstein's idea to its inevitable conclusion. Wouldn't that be something to see?

Links: The Episode at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Winter's Tale at The Guthrie:
Half-Price Tickets for Bardfilm's Readers

The Winter's Tale. Dir. Jonathan Munby. Perf. Ansa Akyea, Christina Baldwin, Raye Birk, Helen Carey, John Catron, Bob Davis, Sean Michael Dooley, Tyson Forbes, Emily Gunyou Halaas, Michael Hayden, Michael Thomas Holmes, Juan Rivera Lebron, Bill McCallum, Michelle O'Neill, Suzanne Warmanen, Christine Weber, Stephen Yoakam, Noah Coon,and Devon Solwold. Guthrie Theatre Company. Minneapolis. 29 January—27 March 2011.
In two days, the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis starts its run of The Winter's Tale, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Among the Guthrie's recent stellar productions are Macbeth (for which, q.v.), Two Gentlemen of Verona (for which, q.v.), and A Midsummer Night's Dream (for which, q.v.). Guthrie productions are always stunning, interesting, and well-acted. The vitality of the performances fills the incredible performance space. I anticipate great things for this season's Winter's Tale.

And that's one reason why I'm pleased beyond belief to extend this generous offer to Bardfilm's readers on behalf of The Guthrie Theatre:
READERS OF BARDFILM SAVE 50% ON ANY TUESDAY OR WEDNESDAY PERFORMANCE OF THE WINTER’S TALE IN FEBRUARY!

Re-Imagine Once Upon a Time . . .
Tragedy collides with comedy in this fairy tale that balances two worlds filled with music and dance: Sicilia resembling the Kennedy-era White House, and Bohemia capturing the freedom of rural Minnesota. Suspecting his wife has committed adultery with his childhood friend and consumed with unfounded jealousy, King Leontes of Sicilia abandons her and their newborn child, turning their royal dream into a nightmare. Sixteen years later the child has grown into a free-spirited young woman in Bohemia and unknowingly falls in love with the son of her father’s friend. But a twist of fate leads to long-kept secrets revealed and the family is reunited in a homecoming like never imagined.

Visit www.guthrietheater.org to view a performance calendar.

Call the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224, and mention “Bardfilm” to receive this offer. Not valid online, with other offers, or on previously purchased tickets. Handling fees may apply. Offer non-transferable.

Photo Credit: Guthrie Exterior by Sally Wagner.

If you're in the Twin Cities—if you're anywhere near the Twin Cities—plan to see this play! I genuinely hope that the discount tickets will help. Think of this offer as a coupon for the imagination.

Here's the calendar where you can choose the performance that best fits your schedule.

This production will be truly remarkable. I can't wait to see Antigonus exit, pursued by a bear, into rural Minnesota.
Links: The Play at the Guthrie Theater.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Shakespeare in Thirty-Eight Languages

The 2012 Season. Shakespeare's Globe. Artistic dir. Dominic Dromgoole. Web. 26 January 2011.
Starting on 23 April 2012, Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London will present all thirty-eight plays in the Shakespeare canon—each in a different language, each by a different company. The season is inspired by the 2012 Summer Olympic Games (parenthetically, they are also to be held in London that year).

I am intensely interested in global Shakespeares, and this is fascinating beyond all speaking of it. The biggest question I have is "Which plays will be performed in which languages by which companies for what reasons?"

Answers to that are currently hard to find. A few alert readers forwarded me an article by the BBC about the six-week season. The article mentions Lithuanian, Spanish and Greek without any connection to particular plays, but it also provides these specific connections:
Play————————Language

The Taming of the Shrew——Urdu
King Lear——Australian Aboriginal languages
Troilus and Cressida——Maori
The Two Gentlemen of Verona——Shona
Henry VIII——Spanish
Julius Caesar——Italian
Love’s Labour’s Lost——British Sign Language
The Tempest——Arabic
Titus Andronicus——Cantonese
[Note: I hope to add to that chart as information becomes available, so check back periodically.]

There's also an interview with Dominic Dromgoole, the Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe, on the subject—though it's not as informative as I'd hoped. Even so, Dromgoole does say this about the multi-lingual season:
The idea is very simple, which is to do the complete works but to do each play in a different language presented by a different company from abroad. [. . .] And we just want to make this about language more than anything else. It's not about directors; it's not about actors; it's not about stunning visions or anything like that. It's about the languages. It's about communities of artists taking pride in telling those stories in their own language and communities of audiences really enjoying the fact that they can take over this space and enjoy an afternoon or an evening with a story told in their own language and by . . . somewhat from their own culture. And I hope . . . I don't know what the result will be. Just shake things up a bit, I think.
The classic British understatement burrows its way into the last sentence of that quote. This will do more than "just shake things up a bit" by any measure. And it's a marvelous thought that Cantonese-speaking Chinese athletes (for example) will be able to unwind after a hard day's hammer throwing (for example) with a production of Titus Andronicus in their native tongue.

Of course, we can't help but wonder what will be gained a lost in the translation. Will the loss be as great as Lost in Translation suggests? I've taken the last few lines of the St. Crispin's Day Speech from Henry V and entered it into Lost in Translation. Here's the original:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day! (IV.iii.60-67)
And here's the same speech, once it's been translated back and forth from English to French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish:
Small, small happy, we found to the brothers. In sequence its blood with me is today the sources my brother. And the horseman in England that hopes to lodge imagines that here maledizioni he not estêve. They consider of them virilities economic, when, than it is fought with, spoken with so extreme in santo one of approximately of the day in Crispin! (IV.iii.60-67)
No. It will certainly be much more significant than that (as humorous as that is). The question of what is universal about Shakespeare will be complexly explored by these thirty-eight plays.

And if any athletes need inspiration to compete at their highest level, their coaches can just break into the most inspiring speech Shakespeare ever wrote: "Small, small happy, we found to the brothers!" (Henry V, IV.iii.60).

Links: The BBC's article. The 2012 season at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. The interview with Dominic Dromgoole. Lost in Translation.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Most Famous (or Infamous) Misquotation of Shakespeare

The Maltese Falcon. Dir. John Huston. Perf. Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre. 1941. DVD. Turner Home, 2009.
The last line of The Maltese Falcon is frequently cited as a misquotation of a line from Shakespeare. Sam Spade, the Humphrey Bogart character, says, "The . . . uh . . . stuff that dreams are made of."

The actual quote, spoken by Prospero in The Tempest, alters in only two respects:
. . . . . . . . . . . . We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. (IV.i.156-58)
Here's the line spoken by the inimitable Humphrey Bogart. The delivery is so marvelous that we overlook the altered preposition and the substitution of "that" for "as":

video

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Henry V and World of Warcraft

Schulz, Ben. "Leeroy Jenkins." World of Warcraft. Web. 19 January 2011.
I know this is a bit odder than Bardfilm's ordinary fare, but I wanted to draw our collective attention to the many and manifold uses to which the St. Crispin's Day Speech from Henry V has been put.

Here, we have a band of brothers playing the popular video game World of Warcraft. One of the members gives a particularly rousing speech, encouraging, above all others, the infamous Leeroy Jenkins to head, once more, into the breach:

video

Those of you who are particular fans of Henry V, World of Warcraft, and / or Leeroy Jenkins may appreciate this bonus extended-length version of the video:

video

And here's the text of the speech, part of which is drawn from the Battle of Harfleur earlier in the play:
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day. (IV.iii.21-23, 40-43, 56-67)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry "God for Harry, England, and [Leeroy Jenkins]!" (III.i.31-34).

Links: The Original Video at YouTube.

Click below to purchase the video game from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Friday, January 21, 2011

Anti-Anti-Stratfordian Resources

Shapiro, James. Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
McCrea, Scott. The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question. Westport: Praeger, 2005.

In addition to the valuable information provided by the good people of The Shakespeare Authorship Page ("Dedicated to the Proposition that Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare"), two books stand out as excellent for refuting anti-Stratfordian positions and re-establishing Shakespeare's claim to the authorship of his own works: James Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? and Scott McCrea's The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question.

McCrea's book tends to be a bit more haphazard, and it is occasionally inclined to state the case for Shakespeare's authorship too strongly. For example, he addresses the question of The Merchant of Venice's Gobbo characters (for my take on which, see "Another Oxfordian Children's Book") with this argument:
. . . the word "gobbo" was Italian for hunchback. The Author did not have to go to Italy to discover it; it was even collected in John Florio's 1598 Italian dictionary, World of Words as meaning "crook-backed."
That's all true, and McCrea doesn't actually say that Shakespeare could have found the word in Florio's dictionary, but the implication seems to be that he did. But it's most likely that he didn't. Since the absolute terminus ad quem for the play's composition is 7 September 1598 (when Francis Meres mentions it in his Palladis Tamia) and a more probable terminus ad quem is 22 July 1598 (with its entry in the Stationers' Register—see the Arden edition of the play (ed. John Russell Brown) for this information—the probability is that Shakespeare did not have access to Florio's dictionary when he composed The Merchant of Venice. I ought to note, to be absolutely fair, that the first quarto of The Merchant of Venice wasn't printed until 1600, and the late date of its printing gives Shakespeare time, during revisions to the play, to look up "Gobbo" in A World of Words and appropriate it for the names of two minor characters. It's a minor point, and it may not be intentionally misleading, but it's not quite as meticulous about the evidence as it could be.

Shapiro's book has a bit more scholarly weight to it—though it is geared to both popular and scholarly audiences. Both books address not only the evidence for Shakespeare's authorship and the most common claims the anti-Stratfordians make but also the reasons behind the claims.

They are both highly recommended.
Click below to purchase the books from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Did Christopher Marlowe Write the Plays Attributed to William Shakespeare?

Much Ado About Something. Dir. Michael Rubbo. Perf. Michael Rubbo. 2001. Frontline. 2 January 2002. DVD. PBS, 2008.
No.

The Oxfordians have a hard enough time with the 1604 death of their candidate for the authorship of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. They have to explain how roughly a dozen plays came to be written—written, not just performed or published—after the Earl of Oxford's death. The Marlovians—those who think Christopher Marlowe wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare—have an even more difficult task. Marlowe died in 1593, before all but a dozen (to be generous) of Shakespeare's plays were written.

Calvin Hoffman's The Murder of the Man who was Shakespeare (New York: J. Messner, 1955) is primarily responsible for the theory. Michael Rubbo's Much Ado About Something perpetuates it—although in an interesting, well-direted, well-shot manner. I'd like to take a look at two brief segments.

The first is an attempt at comparative analysis—an examination of passages in Shakespeare that are similar to passages in Marlowe:

video

Let me call your attention to one line: "Some of Calvin's parallelisms are pretty far-fetched, but he does have thirty pages of them."

First, that's not much of a reason to accept the conclusion. It's like saying, "Oh, yes, some of the chicken is spoiled, but we do have thirty buckets of it" or "Most of the iPods we're selling are broken, but we do have a large number of them!" Quantity of evidence is important, but the quality of that evidence is even more important. The largest pile of misleading, misconstrued, or misinterpreted evidence in the world is still misleading, misconstrued, or misinterpreted evidence.

Second, the words of Christopher Marlowe's plays weren't secret. They were part of the public record. If a phrase from a late play is similar to a Marlowe play, we don't need to posit that the late play was written by the author of the earlier play. By that line of reasoning, the author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare was the translator of the Geneva Bible—many phrases from the plays come from the earlier work. I'm afraid it just doesn't make sense. The theatre of Shakespeare's day was vibrantly collaborative, and playwrights would borrow from, parody, echo, and even steal from each other.

I think that the section with the two actors reading demonstrates this. It seems reasonable that a playwright would call up—and remind his audience of—a fabulous line like "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?" even if it was written by another playwright. Moreover, the ground would be thick with Marlowes if everyone who quoted, alluded to, or parodied "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?" was a Marlowe who had faked his own death and returned to write and re-write one of his best lines.

The last two quotes demonstrate those parallelisms that are "pretty far-fetched." They both have a tiger in them, and they both have a bitter, vindictive tone—but that's about it.

The other clip has to do with the burial register:

video

I recently addressed this issue in my post entitled "The Oxfordian Conspiracy" (for which, q.v.). For the most part, I'll reproduce what I said there.

This woman, both now and as a schoolgirl, presumes that the burial record ought to say “William Shakespeare, playwright.” I’m not sure why. Shakespeare himself was clearly not around to object to whatever the clerk happened to write. The clerk may have been bound by conventions of data entry for his time. Anne might have been too distraught to say, “Please make the record say either ‘poet’ or ‘dramatist’ or ‘author’ or ‘playwright’—Will would have wanted it that way.” Or she may have been angry enough at his having spent most of his working life away from her in London to say, “Make it say ‘gent.’ That’ll fix him. Second-best bed, indeed!”

I’ve been interested enough in the question to do some research—and to ask some marvelous librarians to do some research for me. I’ve tried to track down the burial records of contemporary poets to see if any one of them says, “Ben Jonson, poet” or “Thomas Middleton, poet.” But I’ve been unable to do so. So many burial records have been lost—Sidney’s isn’t there, Jonson’s isn’t there, Middleton was buried at St. Mary Newington Butts Churchyard, but we haven’t been able to track down the parish register yet. [Update: We have, at long last, tracked down Middleton's burial record!] It seems that we’re quite fortunate to have a burial record at all for William Shakespeare, and we should be profoundly grateful that it survived!

I think the disappointment at the “gent.” must just be a case of modern expectations being let down by renaissance conventions. We would like it to read “Will. Shakespeare, poet” because that’s how we know him. But the parish register may have been far more concerned with official records—getting his social status down on paper—than on profession or legacy. And the idea of anyone in the 1600s being "only a gent." shows another misunderstanding. Being a gent. was enormously significant, particularly for someone whose father had not been a gent. We may not like the idea that so much time, energy, and emotion was put into social standing, but it was, and the word "gent." in the burial record indicates particularly high social standing. And that can't be shrugged away.

Additional research led me back to the massive and fabulous two-volume set entitled The Shakespeare Documents: Facsimiles, Transliterations, Translations, and Commentary (ed. and trans. B. Roland Lewis, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1940). In volume 2, Lewis has this to say on the subject:
It is to be noted that the entry very definitely accords Shakespeare social rating. "Gent," "Mr," "Knt," were the social ratings ordinarily used in Parish Registers; virtually never was there any reference to such matters as literary or dramatic prowess. (525)
Of course, "virtually never" isn't quite the same as "never." I wish Lewis had provided the exception(s)—if he knew of any and isn't simply avoiding an unqualified claim—but he does not. I apologize to the magnificent librarians helping me on this subject: The search continues.

Marlovians and Oxfordians alike find something lacking in the man from Stratford. But the fault is not in Shakespeare but in themselves that they are conspirators.
Links: The Film at Frontline.

Click below to purchase the film
and Calvin Hoffman's book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Oxfordian Film References

Pimpernel Smith (a.k.a. Mister V). Dir. Leslie Howard. Perf. Leslie Howard. 1941. British National Films, 1941. Qtd. in The Shakespeare Conspiracy. Dir. Michael Peer. Perf. Derek Jacobi. 2000. DVD. TMW Media Group, 2008.
On the other hand, The Shakespeare Conspiracy does provide the only clip I've seen of the 1941 film entitled Pimpernel Smith, which James Shapiro comments on in his Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare (193-94).

The professor in this film (played by Leslie Howard) is an Oxfordian. In one of the scenes extracted below, he picks up a skull at an excavation site and delivers this speech:
An ancient Teuton. Alas, poor Yorick. Get thee to my lady's chamber, my dear general. Tell her though she paint an inch thick, to this favor must she come. Make her laugh at that. The Earl of Oxford wrote that, you know.
The quotes on IMDB also indicate a “Shakespeare was a German” theme. That seems quite interesting, and I'd love to be able to see the film in its entirety. One character argues that Shakespeare was really German; another argues that Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford—and they're both deliciously wrong. Fascinating!

video

Update: Alert reader and, for this post at least, copious commenter e. meritus prauf tracked down part of the film on YouTube and sent in on to me. I've extracted the portion that is relevant to the "Shakespeare was German" theme. The Professor and the General speak first of "Jabberwocky" before moving on to a bit of Shakespeare:

video

The dialogue is remarkably funny—but it also provides telling insight into the anti-Stratfordian position. First, here's the exchange:
General: Tell me—I am curious. Your English humorist, Lewis Carroll. Why does he write such idiocy? Listen:
[With intensified German accent—particularly on "vaa-bay"]: "’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe." It does not make sense!
Professor: But it does! [With intensified English accent]: "’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. / All mimsy were the borogoves / And the mome raths outgrabe." Well, it makes perfect sense.

General: But what does it mean?

Professor: It means whatever you want it to mean. You can either use it lyrically or, as I'm afraid I do sometimes, in place of swear words.

General: Extraordinary.

Professor: As a matter of fact, you know, ever since I've been in Germany, I've felt exactly like Alice in Wonderland.

General: Oh, but Germany is a wonderland.

Professor: Oh, it is, it is.

General: But we have one problem: "To be or not to be," as our great German poet said.

Professor: German? But that’s Shakespeare.

General: But you don’t know?

Professor: Why, I know it’s Shakespeare. I thought Shakespeare was English.
General: No, no, no. Shakespeare is a German. Professor Schuessbacher has proved it once and for all.
Professor: Oh, dear, how very upsetting. Still, you must admit that the English translations are most remarkable.

General: Good night.

Professor: Good night. Good night. "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

General: What is that?

Professor: One of the most famous lines in German literature.
Twice the dialogue slyly digs at the anti-Stratfordian argument. The first is when the words of "Jabberwocky" are purported to mean whatever the reader wants. Making it mean whatever you want it to mean may be fine for nonesense verse (though even that may be debatable), but it's not fine for the works of Shakesperare or for the evidence about his authorship.

The second dig is when we learn that "Professor Schuessbacher has proved it once and for all." The anti-Stratfordians—as in the previous clip—often claim that their arguments prove "conclusively that Shakespeare wasn't really Shakespeare." But the claims are never conclusive—they can't be. For the anti-Stratfordians, they can only be speculative at best and intentionally misleading at worst.

Thanks, e. meritus prauf, for calling Bardfilm's attention to the clip's availability and to the most interesting examination of the life and work of Leslie Howard you provide in the comments below.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Monday, January 17, 2011

The Oxfordian Conspiracy

The Shakespeare Conspiracy. Dir. Michael Peer. Perf. Derek Jacobi. 2000. DVD. TMW Media Group, 2008.

Gloucester's blinding in King Lear is one of the most difficult scenes in all of Shakespeare to watch. I'm afraid that The Shakespeare Conspiracy, though magnificently narrated by Derek Jacobi, is likewise extremely difficult to encounter. The manipulation of the evidence is simply excruciating to endure.

Yet endure it we must. For one thing, it's good to know exactly what tunes the devil is playing. For another, it's important to stand up (or sit down and compose a blog post) to speak the truth. I'd like to take you through a few of the claims The Shakespeare Conspiracy makes and try to set the record straight about Shakespeare's authorship of the plays attributed to Shakespeare.

Let's start with a common suggestion regarding what Shakespeare's Last Will and Testament did or did not contain:

video

The documentary suggests that not having books or manuscripts listed in a will indicates that Shakespeare possessed neither books nor manuscripts and that it's inconceivable that the author of the plays and poems possessed neither books nor manuscripts; therefore, the documentary claims, Shakespeare cannot have been the author of the plays and poems.

Shakespeare's will does not specifically itemize books or manuscripts—or inkpots, ruffs, cash boxes, scissors, or chotchkies reading "I Survived the Great Plague Outbreak of 1593." Additionally, once plays were sold to an acting company during Shakespeare's time, they became the property of that company and not of their authors. There may (or may not, to be quite fair) have been unsold, unfinished, or rejected manuscripts and books of various sorts in Shakespeare's possession, but they would have fallen under the category "All the rest of my goods, chattel, leases, plate, jewels and household stuff whatsoever" granted to his daughter Susanna and her husband, John Hall.

Bill Bryson, whose Shakespeare: The World as Stage (New York: Atlas Books, 2007) has a concise chapter devoted to the authorship question, answers claims like this marvelously:
. . . we know nothing about his incidental possessions. But the writer might just as well have suggested that Shakespeare never owned a pair of shoes or pants. For all the evidence tells us, he spent his life naked from the waist down, as well as bookless, but it is probably that what is lacking is the evidence, not the apparel or the books. (182)
The argument about books is similar to the one the documentary makes about Shakespeare's education: “There is no evidence that he ever attended any school at all, let alone the local grammar school.” It is true that no evidence exists connecting Shakespeare to the Stratford grammar school—but the documentary fails to mention that the earliest extant records from the grammar school are from the 1700s. According to Oxfordian logic, the school must have stood empty—except for the evidence we have of schoolmasters—from its foundation until the 1700s. Just imagine those poor teachers, standing in an empty grammar school, year after year. On the other hand, they can’t have had much grading to do, so I suppose it works out all right.

Please note that I cannot say that Shakespeare did attend the grammar school in Stratford (although I will say that it’s more likely than unlikely that he did); but neither can anyone make too much out of the fact that there’s no record of his attending the school. If we had records and his name failed to appear on them (a blank space appearing between “Shakebread, Rodney” and “Shakewood, Sidney”), it would be significant. Otherwise, the absence of evidence can’t be use to prove a point.

After one more quick note about the will, we'll move on to some stranger claims. The documentary posits that the first draft of the will was altered by Oxford supporters (who were still working hard, even though Oxford had been dead for twelve years, to make Shakespeare look like the author of the plays) to include bequests to two of Shakespeare's fellow players. But you can't have it both ways. Why would they go to all the time and trouble to insert bequests to players in the will and not insert (or plant) clearer evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays?

But we'll let that rest while we look at two other claims. The clip below starts and ends with some material on the "pseudonym" of "William Shakespeare"; in the middle, the documentary raises a separate but related issue: the occasional hyphenation of Shake-speare's last name and its purported significance:

video

This is one of the oddest claims in the entire documentary. The conspirators, wanting to get DeVere’s plays into the public theatres, brainstormed until came up with the ideal nom de plume. They wanted something that would suggest a poet playwright, and they finally hit on the perfect one: William (which was a general name for a shepherd and / or a bucolic poet) Shakespeare (after the well-known spear shaker Pallas Athena—the patron saint of Athens—itself the birthplace of drama). Therefore the name “William Shakespeare” really means “Poet Playwright.” It’s a great pseudonym. But there’s something even better. The Earl of Oxford started looking for an actual person who had this great pseudonymous name—and, lo! They found a man with exactly the false name they had constructed!

I’m sorry, but that idea is just weird. It’s as if you had set out to find a good name for an anonymous author and you hit on the name “Annie Nominous.” And, as soon as you made up your mind that that would be a good name, a Google search revealed that the Nominous family were distant cousins of yours and that you could use Second Cousin Annie (Twice Removed) as a cover for your anonymous work. It’s bizarrely backward.

The speaker at this point is Charles Vere, Earl of Buford, a descendant of the Earl of Oxford. That may have something to do with the stake he has in the argument.

In the middle of that oddly upside-down and illogical idea is the notion that the occasional hyphenation of Shake-speare indicates beyond question that it is a pseudonym.

I often warn my writing students against making unqualified claims. A claim of this magnitude (“No author’s name would have been spelt with a hyphen unless it was a pseudonym”) can be undone completely if only one example to the contrary can be found. As you can see, the good people of The Shakespeare Authorship Page ("Dedicated to the Proposition that Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare") have provided a substantial number of hyphenated names of real people—and the interesting example of Marprelate, an undisputably fictitious name, recognized in its own time as a pseudonuym, which is not hyphenated throughout the editions of the Marprelate tracts published by Robert Walde-grave, a real person’s real name that is really hyphenated in all the editions he published.

The documentary also takes issue with the First Folio. Here, it comments on Ben Jonson's "To the Reader" and its use of the word "Figure," after which it weirdly takes issue with the Droeshout engraving:

video

The idea is misleading in the extreme. I checked the Oxford English Dictionary, which may be considered to have some little authority to speak to the definitions of words in use in the time of Shakespeare, and the only relevant entries I found for the word "figure" were these:
I. Form, shape.

3. The proper or distinctive shape or appearance (of a person or thing).

II. Represented form; image, likeness.

9. a. The image, likeness, or representation of something material or immaterial.

10. esp. An artificial representation of the human form.

a. In sculpture: A statue, an image, an effigy.

b. In painting, drawing, etc.: A representation of human form (as opposed to landscape, still life, etc.). Now restricted to representation of the whole or greater part of the body.
The argument that "figure" was closely related to "fiction" falls flat. The two words do not even share the same Latin root. Feel free to check the entry from the OED yourself—for the next three days (the link expires after three days, I'm afraid)—to see the evidence firsthand.

The critique of the Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare smacks of grasping at straws:
"See? Shakespeare couldn't have written the plays because—because—well, because the illustrator of the volume published seven years after his death wasn't very good. He gave the engraving two right eyes? See? See? And two left arms! Can't you see it? I'm zooming in with mysterious music so you can see. Oh, and that line behind the jaw? That's not a double chin or anything—I mean, really! There no lineament of the human face there! It has to be a mask! No one would engrave someone with a slight neck roll, even if their subject were wearing a ruff that might push the flesh around the neck up a bit. Preposterous!"
Yes. Preposterous, indeed.

[Note: Some of the narration that accompanies the commentary on the engraving is drawn directly—and, as far as I can tell, without atrribution—from Charles Ogburn's massive book The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Realiy (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1984): "Then there is the line curving down from the unreal ear to the chin, paralleling the line of the cheek. It corresponds to no lineament of the human face" (224); "In current slang, the bottom line is indeed the bottom line: Don't look at the picture; read the plays. Sound advice" (225).]

Finally, I’d like to turn to a small point that has been a strangely large stumbling block for a number of people: the burial record. It reads (with "William" and "gentleman" abbreviated and with "Shakespeare" spelled without a mid-nominal "e"), “Will. Shakspeare, gent.”

video

Leaving behind the "mysterious circumstances" under which he is supposed to have died (the documentary itself also never mentions them again), we find a presumption that the burial record ought to say “William Shakespeare, poet.” I’m not sure why. Shakespeare himself was clearly not around to object to whatever the clerk happened to write. The clerk may have been bound by conventions of data entry for his time. Anne might have been too distraught to say, “Please make the record say either ‘poet’ or ‘dramatist’ or ‘author’—Will would have wanted it that way.” Or she may have been angry enough at his having spent most of his working life away from her in London to say, “Make it say ‘gent.’ That’ll fix him.”

I’ve been interested enough in the question to do some research—and to ask some marvelous librarians to do some research for me. I’ve tried to track down the burial records of contemporary poets to see if any one of them says, “Ben Jonson, poet” or “Thomas Middleton, poet.” But I’ve been unable to do so. So many burial records have been lost—Sidney’s isn’t there, Jonson’s isn’t there, Middleton was buried at St. Mary Newington Butts Churchyard, but we haven’t been able to track down the parish register yet. [Update: We have, at long last, tracked down Middleton's burial record!] It seems that we’re quite fortunate to have a burial record at all for William Shakespeare, and we should be profoundly grateful that it survived!

I think the disappointment at the “gent.” must just be a case of modern expectations being let down by renaissance conventions. We would like it to read “Will. Shakespeare, poet” because that’s how we know him. But the parish register may have been far more concerned with official records—getting Shakespeare's social status down on paper—than on profession or legacy.

[Note: Additional research led me back to the massive and fabulous two-volume set entitled The Shakespeare Documents: Facsimiles, Transliterations, Translations, and Commentary (ed. and trans. B. Roland Lewis, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1940). In volume 2, Lewis has this to say on the subject:

It is to be noted that the entry very definitely accords Shakespeare social rating. "Gent," "Mr," "Knt," were the social ratings ordinarily used in Parish Registers; virtually never was there any reference to such matters as literary or dramatic prowess. (525)

Of course, "virtually never" isn't quite the same as "never." I wish Lewis had provided the exception(s)—if he knew of any and isn't simply avoiding an unqualified claim—but he does not. I apologize to the magnificent librarians helping me on this subject: The search continues.]

Critically considered, the claims of the documentary do not hold water. At best, they are misleading; at worst, they are deliberately false. Strangely enough, the Oxfordians skew the evidence in just the way they claim the Stratfordians do: trying to uncover a conspiracy, they engage in the act of conspiracy.

William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. It's that simple.


Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Another Oxfordian Children's Book

Howe, Norma. Blue Avenger Cracks the Code. New York: HarperTempest, 2000.

I've been doing some work on the authorship question in my copious free time, partly in preparation for the questions that are sure to follow the release of the film Anonymous (for which, q.v.) and partly to prepare for a possible public lecture.

In the course of doing so, another Oxfordian young adult book came to my attention (the first one I encountered was Elise Broach's Shakespeare's Secret—for which, q.v.). The book is titled Blue Avenger Cracks the Code, and, for the most part, it's an interesting, quirky book about odd, mischievous characters. It's the kind of book I would have enjoyed in seventh grade.

And it would still be enjoyable . . . if it weren't for the heavy-handed anti-Stratfordian bias that pervades the text. I don't have time to address all the erroneous and misleading statements in the book, but I do want to take one as a case-in-point in unreliable logic—one that is, I'm afraid, quite typical of the anti-Stratfordians in general and of the Oxfordians in particular.

Blue, the main character, is introduced to the Oxfordian position by a disgruntled teacher with an inferiority complex and a last name that might be synonymous with "crazy" (I can't decide if Dr. Wood's name is a deliberate and clever play on J. Thomas Looney's or not). Because he tends toward the rebellious, Blue immediately and uncritically accepts the idea. Through a series of adventures (some of which roughly parallel plot points in The Merchant of Venice), Blue ends up in Venice, where he continues to investigate the authorship question.

One point that Blue obsesses on is the name "Gobbo." It's the surname of a family in The Merchant of Venice, and it's also part of the name of a sculpture in Venice. Here's the way Blue puts it in the novel (complete with the faulty logic that I'll examine below):
Two minor characters in The Merchant of Venice have the surname "Gobbo." They are Launcelot Gobbo, a servant first to Shylock and later to Bassanio, and his father, "Old Gobbo." Just north of the Rialto Bridge in Venice is a crouching stone figure sculpted in 1541 and known as the Gobbo of the Rialto. Edward de Vere no doubt became familiar with his figure when he was in Venice in the year 1575, but it is hardly likely that some "traveler" could have mentioned his obscure fact to William Shakespeare, and that he would subsequently use it in this play. (350)
The first problem with this line of reasoning is the reduction of the possibilities to one. There's a statue in Venice called "Gobbo." There are characters in Shakespeare called "Gobbo." The statue came first; therefore, the characters must get their name from the statue.

Other possibilities for the characters' names exist, and they ought to be considered. The Arden edition of the play (edited by John Russell Brown), which may have some authority to speak on the issue, gives this footnote to the name:
GOBBO] In Q and F, this form occurs only in a stage direction and speech prefixes for Old Gobbo; in the dialogue, the form "Iobbe" is used (II.ii.3ff.) which is either a misreading of Gobbo, or an Italianized form of Job (cf. Introduction, p. xxii).
The introduction talks about contemporary and near-contemporary uses of the word "Gobbo" as it tries to date the play; in that section, it concludes that Shakespeare intended for the characters to be named Iobbe and not Gobbo, neatly avoiding the issue.

But even if Gobbo is the intended name, the argument above is still illogical. There may be no connection between the statue and the characters.

And even if there is a connection, the argument above is too limiting. It attempts to say that the Earl of Oxford knew something that Shakespeare didn't: the name of a Venetian sculpture. Therefore, if the name of a Venetian sculpture appears in a play, it must have been written by the Earl of Oxford.

This takes us back to a larger assumption—one made by nearly all the anti-Stratfordians. If something is in a play, its author must have experienced that thing at firsthand. The playwright cannot get information from books, other people, reports, random gossip, or any other source: it must be firsthand experience. And that larger assumption just doesn't hold up. If it did, Shakespeare would have had to be—by his own experience—a peasant, a soldier, a sailor, an aristocrat, a witch (three separate witches, really), an elderly king dividing his kingdom in three parts, a friar or two, a shrew, a fratricide, and the Queen of Egypt. There's really no reason why he couldn't have heard from a traveller of a statue called The Gobbo of the Rialto and decided to use it in the play. That's one of the things good authors do—they keep their ears open and transform everything they encounter, however they encounter it, into magnificent literature.

One last crucial point is made in the "Author's Final Note: A Tribute to Charlton Ogburn." Norma Howe writes, "One thing is certain: until some definitive proof is found, the Stratfordians and Oxfordians will continue to do battle" (358). That's not quite the right way to put it. It's not a question of definitive proof; it's a question of what is accepted as proof. Stratfordians have a very strict and rigorous idea of proof. Anti-Stratfordians do not acknowledge the Stratfordians' proof as proof. Until the Oxfordians agree to accept certain kinds of evidence (firsthand accounts, published documents, government records, financial transactions, et cetera) as evidence, they will continue to fight a battle that has already been lost.

Note: While preparing this post, I noted and then dismissed the appearance of the word "Gobbo" on page 152 of John Florio's 1598 Italian Dictionary A World of Words (you can see the word in its context to the right or you can download the dictionary in its entirety). While its appearance there indicates that English-speaking people were aware (or could be made aware) of the word and its meaning in 1598, Shakespeare probably did not consult the volume before composing his play.

I mention this as a note because Scott McCrea, in his The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question uses it in his section on the Gobbo issue. He suggests—though he doesn't actually say—that Shakespeare could have found the word in Florio's dictionary.
. . . the word "gobbo"was Italian for hunchback. The Author did not have to go to Italy to discover it; it was even collected in John Florio's 1598 Italian dictionary, World of Words as meaning "crook-backed." (74)

Since the absolute terminus ad quem for the play's composition is 7 September 1598 (when Francis Meres mentions it in his Palladis Tamia) and a more probable terminus ad quem is 22 July 1598 (with its entry in the Stationers' Register—see the Arden edition of the play (ed. John Russell Brown) for this information—the probability is that Shakespeare did not have access to Florio's dictionary when he composed The Merchant of Venice. I ought to note, to be absolutely fair, that the first quarto of The Merchant of Venice wasn't printed until 1600, and the late date of its printing gives Shakespeare time, during revisions to the play, to look up "Gobbo" in A World of Words and appropriate it for the names of two minor characters. But that does seem unnecessary complicated.


Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Friday, January 7, 2011

Heavy-Handedness with Shakespeare's Biography

In Search of Shakespeare. Dir. David Wallace. Perf. Michael Wood. 2004. DVD. PBS, 2004.
In Search of Shakespeare is a lengthy, well-researched, interestingly-presented documentary. But it needs to be taken with a grain of salt because of a flaw too often evident in Shakespeare scholarship even at the highest levels. It steps from the speculative to the certain far too easily and with far too little indication to its viewers that it's doing so.

The documentary takes every opportunity to posit a Catholic Shakespeare. The approach it takes is extremely heavy-handed on this issue. Indeed, a better title for it might be In Search of Shakespeare's Catholicism. There's nothing wrong with attempting to make the case that Shakespeare was a crypto-Catholic, but the case for that—or for the argument that Shakespeare was a protestant, an atheist, or an agnostic—must be made fairly.

In the clip below, In Search of Shakespeare examines the theory that Shakespeare spent part of 1580 and 1581 with the Hoghton family in Lancashire. David Wallace, our guide, examines the main evidence put forward for Shakespeare's being in the household: A will, dated 3 August 1581, that reads, in part, "I most heartily require the said Sir Thomas to be friendly unto Fulk Gyllome and William Shakeshaft."

Notice, as you watch, what is done with this evidence. Here's the progression:
  1. "So who was Williams Shakeshaft, then?"

  2. “I reckon he could be William Shakespeare—under, perhaps, an alias.”

  3. “But why would Will have needed an alias? And why, in his late teens, would he have got a job here in Lancashire?”

  4. He was a crypto-Catholic.

  5. But how did get get connected to the Houghtons?

  6. John Cottam, who came from that area, taught in Stratford in 1579.

  7. “So William’s Stratford teacher was a Houghton man. Could that be what brought him here?”

  8. Kit Beeston said that Shakespeare, when he was young, worked as a teacher in the country.

  9. Was his teaching position at Houghton?
There's quite a leap between 1 and 2 above—and the documentary fails to notice the large number of people with the surname "Shakeshaft" living in the district or to ponder how effective the alias "William Shakeshaft" would be for a man whose actual name was "William Shakespeare"—but we progress to point 3 without a backward glance. Point 3 already assumes that Shakeshaft is Shakespeare and that we must now move on to find the reason he's taken on an alias.

The documentary has found its Catholic ground, so it trudges along, following it doggedly. By the time we get to point 7, we (unless we're paying careful attention) forget that we started out with a speculation and we're now in the realm of definite and certain fact: He came to Houghton (that's been established); was John Cottam the reason? It's cleverly done, but it really isn't fair to the evidence. Here's the clip:

video

In addition to being misleading in its logic, it fails to explain the source for Kit Beeston's statement. Around 1681, John Aubrey collected some scraps of information about Shakespeare (as well as other famous personages). He left his notes unpublished at his death; they were finally edited and published in 1898 as his Brief Lives. His biographical notes on Shakespeare run to a page and a half in the edition I have before me. Aubrey's biography of Shakespeare is a brief life indeed. He places Shakespeare in London in 1582 (at the age of eighteen), and, near the end, says "he had been in his younger yeares [sic] a schoolmaster in the countrey [sic]" (276). Samuel Schoenbaum (for which, q.v.) says that "Aubrey sought out and questioned old Beeston in his house at Hoglane in Shoreditch" (85). The idea that Shakespeare was a teacher may have been gathered on that occasion.

But Aubrey also tells us that Shakespeare's father was a butcher (he wasn't), that the character of the constable in Midsummer Night's Dream (there isn't one—he may mean Much Ado About Nothing) was based on a man "at Grendon, in Bucks . . . and there was living that Constable about 1642" (275), and that Thomas Shadwell "is counted the best Comoedian [sic] we have now" (276)—which may have been true but which is also regrettable. In short, not everything Aubrey says is accurate, and that seems to be an important part of the "Aubrey says that Beeston said" evidence. Not to qualify the evidence in this instance is remarkably unscholarly.

“Was it here at Holton?” is the question that concludes this clip. The answer might be “Well, I suppose it’s conceivable, though it’s pretty unlikely.” Instead, the film implies a hearty “Yes!” And that's not surprising. The conclusion seems to have been reached beforehand, and the evidence is manipulated to fit the conclusion rather than a conclusion being drawn from the evidence.

In Search of Shakespeare is in good company. Stephen Greenblatt, who also wishes to establish a crypto-Catholic Shakespeare, does the same in his biography of Shakespeare Will in the World. He starts with "might have," but he soon switches to "would have":
This precocious adolescent—recommended by Cottam as intelligent, reasonably well educated, discreet, and securely Catholic—would have come north in 1580 as schoolmaster. The terms of the will suggest that he soon began to perform, at first probably only recreationally and then with increasing seriousness, with the players that Alexander Hoghton kept. (104)
Just a bit later, he returns to the conditional: “Will’s life, if he actually sojourned in the north . . .” (105), but it's a bit too little too late. We've already been presented with speculation as certain fact.

Maintaining rigorous scholarly methods is vitally important. The history of Shakespeare scholarship is littered with "facts" that started out as speculation. These "facts" become so intertwined with factual facts—especially in the public imagination—that they are almost impossible to eradicate. Speculation is fine, but it must be presented as speculation rather than as certainty.

Works Cited

Aubrey, John. Aubrey's Brief Lives. Ed. Oliver Lawson Dick. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1957.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.

Schoenbaum, S. Shakespeare’s Lives. New Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2012 by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest