Monday, June 30, 2008

What is the Reduced Shakespeare Company

4 minutes
Thanks to Shakespeare Geek for this clip.

Shakespeare Challenges ends today.

Today is the last day of the Shakespeare Challenge. Thank you all for joining and participating.

I personally did not finish my challenge. I had too many other things happening in my life, and probably too many other challenges as well. But I am glad that others made better progress than I did. If there is any interest, I might run this again next year, but we will see.

I have picked up a few more books on Shakespeare.
One is called Alias Shakespeare by John Sobran, who seems to support the theory that Edward de Vere (Oxford) was the true author of the sonnets and plays.
Another is Shakespeare the Biography by Peter Ackroyd.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

William Shakespeare's Sonnets

sonnetsWhen I started this, I began to note the sonnets I really liked, but stopped in the 70s because I realized I liked almost all of them and the list was too long. While I can not relate to the emotions of some of them, there are many variations in this book. There are themes of not just love but of time, change, politics, desire, death, and much more. I found the theme of time and change to the be the most interesting. Maybe it's because I am a romantic, but the poetry worked for me on a lot of levels. These are words to be read aloud, as is usually the case for poetry. I was enchanted and moved. I have always liked Shakespeare, but I think this may be one of the works I love most from him. I did wonder a lot about Shakespeare the man when reading this. I am not so overwrought with questions about the identity, but I wonder his exact mind when he wrote this. Were they for someone? When did he write this? In any case, I am glad we have these beautiful words left. I would very much love to own a copy of these sonnets to cherish and read over and over again. Classic.

Shakespeare: The World as Stage

Shakespeare: The World as Stage
by Bill Bryson

I listened to this book on CD during a recent trip. It is a short history of Shakespeare and his times read by the author. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mr. Bryson is honest right from the beginning. He shares that he wrote this biography not because the world needed another book about Shakespeare but because it is part of a series. He states up front that there is a great deal we don't know about the Bard and his time in history. His work is for the lay scholar, the person like myself who wants to know about Shakespeare and his times but doesn't want to spend a lifetime in study. I don't need to know all the authorship debate or what in his life influenced him to write which play when. I want more than a morsel but not a college level class. This book fit my needs perfectly.

Bryson appears to have done a good deal of work. He lays out some of the main thoughts about certain areas, like the order the plays are believed to have been written in (no two scholars agree), then reminds the reader (or listener) about the lack of evidence to support any viewpoint. When he has an opinion to share he follows it with a brief explanation. The final chapter that deals with the authorship debate and where it stems from was interesting and I tend to agree with him. Why challenge Shakespeare as the author when there is no substantial evidence for or against and the circumstantial evidence is stronger for his being the author than for anyone else, especially when you consider where the challenge stemmed from?

I'm glad I listened to this one. I can recommend it happily.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sarah Smith's Chasing Shakespares

This is my last pick for the Shakespeare Reading Challenge, getting my fourth read in with just half a month to go. Too bad I had to end on such a disappointing note.

Chasing Shakespeares is the story of a Shakespeare scholar who may have found proof that the bard was not who we've been led to believe.

That the man behind all those brilliant plays and sonnets was not, in actuality, William Shakespeare is not a new theory. I thought for a while that I even cared. Credit Smith for curing me of that notion.

On her website, one paragraph describing this particular novel begins, "In a literary adventure reminiscent of the Da Vinci Code..." Blame Smith for making me appreciate Dan Brown a little more.

First off, the Da Vinci Code is a novel about conspiracy theories. Chasing Shakespeares is not. A conspiracy theory indicates there is someone or group still trying to conceal the truth. A tacked on enemy in Chasing Shakespeares might have added some much needed excitement. Instead, Smith tacks on a love story.

How truly boring were the the up-speaking Posy and the f-word spouting Joe Roper; lovers who were, of course, from opposite sides of the track. But even more unfortunate than the annoying characters was the transparency of Smith's desire to turn the book into a movie. There are film references all over the place:
"'You know,' she said, 'we could get rich. We could write a book about finding the letter. Give lectures. And that's just the beginning. The book. The movie from the book. I want,' she thought, 'Spielberg to direct the movie. Ben Affleck and Cate Blanchett to play us.'"
Okay, she might get Affleck on board.

Smith also seems to be under the impression that a revelation about Shakespeare's identity would cause mass riots:
"'You know you're going to have to take a stand on Oxford and stop caring what people say about you. Because like half the world is going to think you're Charles Manson for not believing in Shakespeare.'"
Granted, the two quotes I've used as examples above are both spoken by Posy and some readers might be inclined to say these grandiose statements are of a character's and not Smith's own delusions. Possibly. But the Hollywood-style cheese doesn't end there.

Last week Debbie and I watched Kevin Spacey in The Life of David Gale. There's one particular scene in which we were subjected to this Please-can-I-have-another-Oscar speech:
"'We spend our whole life trying to stop death. Eating, inventing, loving, praying, fighting, killing. But what do we really know about death? Just that nobody comes back. Then there comes a point - a moment - in life when your mind outlives its desires, its obsessions, when your habits survive your dreams, and when your losses... Maybe death is a gift.'"
Chasing Shakepeares is full of such lame attempts. Over and over again she makes references to God being a librarian. Likewise she runs a Twain quote about lightning bugs into the ground. Spacey's speech was bad enough, imagine if he made it in every other scene.

In Chasing Shakespares Smith tried way too hard. But not to write a good book.

(Cross-posted at The Book Mine Set)

Monday, June 9, 2008


I received an email today asking if I was interested in moving this Shakespeare blog to the PlayShakespeare website.

Here are the rules. On reading the rules, they require an update every day or at least several times a week. Obviously I cannot commit to that high frequency so I will decline. I like being able to post what I want to write about Shakespeare, when I want to, and it doesnt matter too much if a few weeks go by. It also help that some challenge readers are posting their books on this blog as well - thank you John, Pamela and Athena.

So I think I will decline their gracious offer, but I will bookmark the site. It looks very interesting. It has all the plays wriiten out in full (which is very useful. And it even has a few plays I am not familiar with.

Sir Thomas More is one, and Two Noble Kinsman is another. I have a vague idea that this was another name for the Cardenio play - I am not sure about that. There is no mention of Edmund Ironsides - a play I have in book form, but which most Shakespeare scholars reject as not being one of the bards. There is also a play listed called Edward III - another one I am not familiar with. I don't recall Shakespeare ever writing a play about any king named Edward. None of these four plays are listed in the First Folio. Which is probably why they are unknown.

And I just found another interesting website. Hudson Shakespeare Theater Company based in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Tempest review by Athena

Considered by many scholars as the last play written solely by Shakespeare, I found the Tempest an interesting mix of genres. While other plays are more obvious about their genres (be it tragedies, comedies, or romance/coms), this is considered a romance. While the romance of Miranda and Ferdinand does feature in a couple of scenes, I would not consider it a romance as compared to Romeo and Juliet. It is comedic, but also very subdued and serious at parts. Prospero is very manipulative; he seems to be in control of everything, even the courtship between his daughher Miranda and Ferdinand. There are images and themes of colonialism, servitude, and slavery, even in the romantic scenes between the lovers. Indeed, Prospero's control of the events in the play are even meta especially in regards to the ending where he asks the audience to applause. The island's magic and phantasmagorias can be viewed as a play within a play. I did not warm towards Prospero early on because he did not seem like a real character in the play, more a conniving puppet master moving characters toward his goal. He controls how one views the past and how the outcome will be. I think about Neil Gaiman's Sandman series interpretation of Shakespeare as he wrote The Tempest. A reflective, older man who has spent his life connected to the themes of stage, dreams, imagination and creation, moving characters and stories around, but keenly aware like Prospero at the twilight of his life.

Athena of

DId Christopher Marlowe fake his death?

John Penry the Welsh Martyr

On May 29th in 1593, a Welsh divine with a poor impression of the Church of England was hustled off from dinner to be strung up for sedition.

Dismayed by the poor quality of pastors in his native Wales — men of poor character, poor education, and poor command of Welsh — John Penry was one of many calling for a reformed Episcopal clergy. Critiques of his type formed the germ of the Puritan movement already underway, which would blossom after his death.

Penry would have been around to see all that if he hadn’t hacked off the realm’s chief vicar by running a salty underground press, most notably publishing the pseudonymous Martin Marprelate.

The Oxford man dodged the law for a good three years in the Scottish reaches, until he couldn’t resist moving to London, where (fittingly) a local clergyman recognized him.

The mere draft — nasty, but uncirculated — of a petition sufficed for the condemnation on grounds of sedition, and the annoyed Archbishop had the pleasure of inking his John Hancock on the Welshman’s death warrant.

Penry seems to have had a few friends in high places and some hope of cheating the executioner; he must have been taken by surprise when the sheriff burst in during the late afternoon this day to haul him immediately to a gallows at St. Thomas a Watering — unannounced, the better to keep attendance down,* with the prisoner denied the customary parting speech.

But was Penry’s ill turn a boon to the world of literature?

The day after Penry’s execution, star English playwright Christopher Marlowe was killed in a fray whose timing some find a bit suspicious.

Some enthusiasts think Marlowe faked his death and went on to write Shakespeare under a pen name. And if he did that, his confederates would have needed a body to pass off as Marlowe’s … the body, perhaps, of a man of Marlowe’s age and class who’d just been hanged a couple of miles up the road.

The Truth Will Out Book Review

The Truth Will Out - Unmasking the Real Shakespeare
By Brenda James & William Rubenstein
Regan (Harper Collins) 2006

This book is somewhat scholarly and academic to read. But it is still very interesting. And it gives all the proof that Shakespeare was just a frontman for the real author. Although Shakespeare was very well paid.

The real author was related to Shakespeare through his mother Mary Arden. The real man had a cousin whose mother was from the Arden family.

There is absolutely NO proof whatsoever that William Shakespeare ever travelled to Europe. BUT the real author knew the languages and the traditions and customs of those countries. He also obviously knew the cities of which he wrote. The real author had to have travelled to Europe and spent some time there.

Other names put forward as the Real Author include
Edward de Vere (Earl of Oxford - but he died in 1604 which was earlier than Shakespeare),
Sir Francis Bacon (but only by codes found in the plays - codes can be made to fit anything and to say anything).
Kit Marlow (he was killed in a bar brawl in 1593 and is said to have faked his death and moved to Europe - see next post) and lastly
Sir Philip Sidney or his sister Lady Mary Sidney. Philip wrote the Psalms as poems but didnt finish them all before he died. Mary completed her brothers project. But there is no proof that either of them wrote the plays.

But now that I have read The Truth Will Out, I am convinced that this man was the real author. He had the advantages that the other names mentioned did not. This man was NOT of the nobility, although he was descended from nobility. He was not an Earl or a Duke, although he was knighted as a Sir. He spent two years in France as Ambassador for England. He also spent two years in the Tower of London for his involvement in the Essex Rebellion. After he was released from the Tower, his plays became the darker tragedies (there were no more comedies written after 1601).

This man's name was Sir Henry Neville.

Here is some of the evidence from this book.

Neville names himself (covertly) in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

Sir Henry’s birth and death dates (1564 - 1615) are virtually identical to those of his pseudonymic front-man, William Shakespeare.

The chronology of the plays meshes with the emergence of Neville’s life events

Sir Henry had many reasons to hide his identity - his political work, family inheritance, even his life, would have been endangered, had he been discovered. So Neville never published anything under his own name; yet he was sought out by his contemporaries - including Beaumont and Fletcher and King James I - for advice on their own writing. Neville must therefore have been a ‘concealed’ writer.

Neville was a well-connected politician, and a close friend of Southampton (dedicatee of The Sonnets). Additionally, the Shakespeares tried to prove a connection between William’s mother, Mary Arden, and the Ardens of Park Hall (Warwickshire), to whom Sir Henry was related by marriage. Neville’s grandfather owned the house in which Mary Arden was born.

Neville had access to restricted sources witnessed in the plays: e.g. the documents of his Plantagenet and other ancestors including John of Gaunt in Richard II, Warwick the King Maker in Henry VI parts II & III, and King Duncan of Scotland in Macbeth. As an officer in the Virginia Company, he was able to use a private letter as a source for The Tempest.

Neville was multi-lingual, (some sources used for the plays were only available in French/Italian/Greek/Spanish etc, which we have no reason to believe Shakespeare knew.)

Neville became French Ambassador at just the time the French-based Henry V was written.

1601 marks an abrupt change in the plays from histories/comedies to the great tragedies. In 1601 Neville was in the Tower - under threat of execution for his part in the Essex Uprising.

The Northumberland Manuscript, discovered in 1867, has Neville’s name and ‘family motto poem’ at the top, plus repeated practising of William Shakespeare's signature lower down.

In 1623, the writer Ben Jonson was involved in putting Shakespeare's name on the First Folio edition of the Plays. Jonson was then employed by a college in London associated with the Neville family. There is an extensive document (written) by Jonson suggesting he knew about the 'front man' arrangement and that he helped promote the fiction of Shakespeare's authorship at the behest of the Nevilles.

The character Falstaff was partly based on Neville himself. Falstaff was initially going to be called 'Oldcastle', an antonymic pun on Neville's (‘New Town’ or ‘New Villa’) name.

Neville was an international trader: this is reflected in The Merchant of Venice and The Comedy of Errors. Neville resided on the Continent (1578 - 1583). Research also proves that he had overwhelming reasons, during those years, to visit the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, and Elsinore (Denmark) in pursuit of his newly-inherited iron and ordnance business.

‘Steel’ is mentioned 74 times in the works; ‘iron’ 48 times; ‘cannons’, and ‘ordnance’ 30 times. The name ‘Touchstone’ (As You Like It ) is metallurgical too. Other such specialised terms - e.g. ‘dross’, ‘unaneal’d’ - are also present. Neville is the only person to combine this knowledge with all other ‘Shakespearean’ attributes. He was an aristocrat/merchant hybrid by ancestry: his father was a ‘royal’ Neville and his mother a ‘merchant’ Gresham. The Neville family business was making weapons.

Neville was the first Englishman to receive forward knowledge about the Count Orsino and his possible visit to the English Court. Only he had time to write Orsino into Twelfth Night.

Neville - unusually for his time - majored in Astronomy at Oxford. Knowledge of Astronomy is present in some of the plays. The Copernican concept of ‘infinite space’ (mentioned in Hamlet) was totally unknown outside of specialised circles in England at the time.