Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Shakespeare Debate

Also I am currently reading Players by Bertram Fields (A lawyer who represents most of todays rich & famous in Hollywood). I found a transcript of an interview he did on CNN with Larry King.

CNN interview April 16, 2005

And then Bert Fields, the high-powered entertainment lawyer who's repped everyone from Tom Cruise to Steven Spielberg. Now he's trying to get to the bottom of a 400-year old controversy.


KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE one of my favorite people. He is also my attorney, just for the record, Bert Fields, widely regarded as one of the most prominent entertainment attorneys in the world, author of a terrific new book "Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare." Bert has written novels, wrote another book called "Royal Blood," which was a terrific read. Are you a Shakespearian freak?

BERT FIELDS, ENTERTAINMENT ATTY: No, not really. I'm a history freak.

KING: What led you into this?

FIELDS: I was always curious about whether or not the guy from Stratford really wrote all those poems and plays, because he had almost no education, sixth grade education at best. He could barely write his name. We have six shaky signatures by the guy and yet, the fellow who wrote the poems and plays, spoke French, Italian, Greek and Latin, had great knowledge of legal terminology, naval...

KING: So you're saying it's obvious it wasn't him.

FIELDS: I'm not saying it's obvious but I'm saying...

KING: ... a good indication.

FIELDS: I'm saying it's pretty likely. The guy who wrote the plays had three times the vocabulary of anybody who was alive at the time. It is just -- it's very difficult to conceive of the guy from Stratford who, as far as we know, had never been out of England, knowing all these things. How do you know about foreign cities and foreign customs and etiquette in court?

KING: As you trace it back, was this a tough investigation?

FIELDS: I don't think it was tough. It was a lot of fun doing it. I enjoyed that. The British were great.

KING: getting over there, right.

FIELDS: Oh, yeah. I thought they would be resentful of an American taking on an English icon. They weren't at all. They were just terrific. I went to the College of Arms in Queen Victoria Street. I said, I'd like to look at William Shakespeare's application for a coat of arms. And they said, oh yeah, sure, bring down this box and set it in front of me, there the original documents and the guy says, will you excuse me. I have to go the men's room. And he's leaving me with these multi-billion dollar documents.

KING: Well, what do we know of the bard?

FIELDS: Well, we know, you got to separate the bard who wrote the poems and plays.

KING: And what do know of the man known as the bard?

FIELD: The Stratford guy?

KING: Yes, the Stratford guy.

FIELDS: He was born in '64, 1564. He went to the local grammar school we think. We don't think he finished.

KING: No biography of him?

FIELDS: Oh, there are dozens of biographies, but most of them talk about the guy who wrote the poems and plays and assume that it was the guy from Stratford. If you just look at what we know about the guy from Stratford, born in 1564, probably went to grammar school, got married because his wife was pregnant. She was eight years older than he was. After three years of marriage and three kids, left her, went to London for 12 years and went on the stage, became an actor. Then later in life went back to Stratford and did a lot of kind of petty selfish things. That's one of the problems you have is this guy didn't behave like the fellow who wrote those marvelous plays. He was very litigious. He sued people for a pound and 15 shillings. He hoarded grain so he could up the price at the time of great shortage. He just did all kinds of...

KING: Was he wealthy?

FIELDS: He was more wealthy than you would think an actor would be and yet if you look, there is no record of his ever being paid as a playwright.


FIELDS: No. He did plays for a guy named Henslow (ph) who kept meticulous records of every playwright he ever paid. There is not any record of this guy being paid.

KING: Then it's obvious, how did he get famous? How did he...

FIELDS: Well, it isn't obvious because no one will really ever be able to prove it, one way or another. T.S. Eliot said the best you could hope for in talking about Shakespeare is to be wrong in some new and different way, because you can never prove it. How did, why did this happen? It was not done for a nobleman or an aspiring politician like Francis Bacon.

KING: It wasn't Francis Bacon.

FIELDS: Well it could have been Francis Bacon. It could have been Oxford. It could have been Christopher Marlow. Some people say it was Queen Elizabeth. I don't think so. Wouldn't it be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to think so. A nobleman or an aspiring politician like Bacon could not write for the public theater. Public theater was disreputable, officially frowned upon.

KING: Low class.

FIELDS: Yeah, you couldn't do it. So a guy like Oxford would write plays for his friends, couldn't do it for the public theater, but if he could find a young, venal actor from Stratford who would pretend that these were his plays and pay him a little money to do this, that would be fine.

KING: And you investigate all this mysterious identity. How old was Shakespeare when he died?

FIELDS: He was 52. That was old in those days.

KING: He did not live a long life by today's...

FIELDS: By today's standard no...

KING: Was he acclaimed in his time?

FIELDS: Oh yes and that's one of the curious things. By the time the Stratford guy died, William Shakespeare, the poet and playwright, was famous and yet when the Stratford guy died, there was no mention that the great Shakespeare had died. Why?

KING: Why?

FIELDS: Because maybe he wasn't the great Shakespeare. How could they not mention that he died? And yet there's nothing, not a word. When other authors died, there are huge, huge outpourings.

KING: Why didn't the person who was writing it, once the acclaim occurred, take credit?

FIELDS: Because it still wasn't done to write for the theater. If you're the Earl of Oxford, you don't want to be famous for writing for the theater.

KING: The Earl of Oxford doesn't want to be known as the guy who wrote "Hamlet."

FIELDS: That's right. He does not. He's doesn't mind if a couple of friends know. He likes that. That's good for his ego, but he can't publicly be known as the guy who writes for the theater. In the case of Christopher Marlowe, there's even a better reason. Christopher Marlowe was wanted. If they found the papers that were attributed to him and were heretical, were blasphemous, he was probably going to be burned at the stake and all of a sudden, he gets into a fight over a check in a restaurant (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and gets killed in this fight. He's with three buddies and all of sudden he's buried. They had a coroner's inquest. It's all covered up. Maybe Christopher Marlowe went to Italy and wrote Shakespeare, maybe.

KING: ...didn't die.

FIELDS: ... didn't die at all. That's one theory.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Bert Fields. The book is "Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare." We'll be right back with Bert Fields.


KING: His previous book was "Royal Blood," Richard III and the Mystery of the Princesses." It's the Richardian book of the year award from the Richardian Society. And now he brings this attorney's approach to history in "Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare." His name is Bert Fields. He's renowned throughout the entertainment industry. Do you think it may have been two people?

FIELDS: I think it was two people. I think that the basic author, who was a man of enormous learning, widely traveled, a sense of great humanity and a sensitivity, wrote a first draft, maybe a second draft, turned the play over to the front, who was the guy from Stratford and I think the guy from Stratford, who know a lot about the stage. He was a great realist, would say, hey, boss. This don't play. We got to change the ending here in let's say "Merchant of Venice." He said, we're going to make fun of the Jew at the end. You can't just let this guy go and so they added that he has to convert to Christianity, Shylock. When Portia, who makes that great speech about the quality of mercy is not strained and then immediately after, she merciless to Shylock. I think that the Stratford guy added that at the end, the conversion because that would play. The audience loved it.

KING: How did Shakespeare handle his fame?

FIELDS: Well, if you're talking about the Stratford guy...

KING: The Stratford guy. You can him in the book, the Stratford guy.

FIELDS: Well, because if you don't, you get confused. Many people who have written books on the subject say, keep talking about the things that Shakespeare did and they assume they were done by the Stratford man. But...

KING: The Stratford man is the puppet here.

FIELDS: Well, that's the theory. The theory is...

KING: What theory?

FIELDS: Well, as I say, I can't prove it, no one will ever prove it. No one will ever prove the other. But it's just what I think is more logical than not and I think that he went around -- he applied for a coat of armed as I told you, because he wanted to be a gentleman. If you have a coat of arms, then you could be called gentleman and after that, he was William Shakespeare, gentleman and he had a model, not without right and Ben Johnson, who was very funny guy, put on a shoe in which he made fun of Shakespeare and he had a pompous guy to update a coat of arms with the motto not without mustard. And Shakespeare knew this was for him and I suspect he was somewhat upset.

KING: Did the Stratford guy marry?

FIELDS: The Stratford guy married very early in life. I think that's when he left his wife after three years of marriage and went on to live in London, came back to Stratford at the very end, not at the very end, a few years before the end and I guess went back to his wife.

KING: Stories that he might have been the real writer, gay?

FIELDS: Yes. I say yes, not that was definitely gay, but it's a real issue. If you read the sonnets, he's writing to a beautiful young man and he says you're the master, mistress of my passion. Can I compare thee to a summer's day, things like that, which is not -- I don't say that to you when we meet or at least they don't know about it. So many people believe he was gay. Oscar Wilde believed he was gay, but Oscar Wilde was gay.

KING: How great a writer was whoever wrote this?

FIELDS: Incredible. I think he's...

KING: No one in his league.

FIELDS: No one in his league. I think you take those plays and the more I read them, the more I thought, this guy is just amazing.

KING: And we use his language all the time and we're not even knowing it.

FIELDS: All the time.

KING: Shakespeare's quoted every day and in everyday language.

FIELDS: Every day. In court I use it all the time, all the time. There's a wonderful story about a southern trial lawyer who quotes from Shakespeare and says to the jury, the Bible say and he gives a quote from Shakespeare and his friend, who was visiting from New York said, hey, that's Shakespeare. That's not the Bible. And the trial lawyer said, listen, I know my juries and I'm not going to tell them it's Shakespeare.

KING: Do you have two lives Bert.

FIELDS: At least.

KING: You're a lawyer by day, writer by night.

FIELDS: Writer by night.

KING: How do -- with all your clients and as busy as you are, how do you get the time?

FIELDS: I do it mostly weekends, vacations and occasional trips to London to do the research. I just love it and it's a hobby.

KING: Working on another one?

FIELDS: I'm about to start.


FIELDS: Television interviewers.

KING: What fascinates you about Richard III, Shakespeare? Why?

FIELDS: Mysteries -- they're historical mysteries. Remember Richard III, there was a big mystery. Did he kill his nephews in the tower of London? Was he this hunchbacked withered guy and so I wanted to find out if he really was and I paced the tower of London, did all kinds of stuff like that. But solving the mystery is part of the fun. As far as why English, because it's my basic language and I would hate to try and do research in French, because my French really extends to French plumbing and eating.

KING: Is it true that the actors have said, you can never really play Shakespeare? I mean you can attempt to. You can't master it.

FIELDS: I think people can master it. What's interesting about it is the really great rolls have so much room for interpretation. You take a role like Shylock. We were talking before. I mean Shylock has been played all the way from a monster.


FIELDS: hugely sympathetic guy and you can read all...

KING: The same language.

FIELDS: The same language, the same words, the same lines and everything but you can interpret those lines in different ways and that's what's great about Shakespeare.

KING: Bert, it's an honor having you with us.

FIELDS: A pleasure to be with you Larry.

KING: The book is "Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare," written by one of the best lawyers there is, Bert Fields. It's published by Regan Books. More after this.



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