The Holder of this blog uses no cookies and collects no data whatsoever. He is only a guest on the Blogger platform. He has made no agreements concerning third party data collection and is not provided the opportunity to know the data collection policies of any of the standard blogging applications associated with the host platform. For information regarding the data collection policies of Facebook applications used on this blog contact Facebook. For information about the practices regarding data collection on the part of the owner of the Blogger platform contact Google Blogger.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Historical inaccuracies in the film Anonymous: #4

The Cecils did not arrange for the Earl of Essex to be sent to Ireland.  William Cecil did not use the occasion to replace Essex on the Privy Council with his son.

In the movie Anonymous, William Cecil and his son Robert have a discussion in which William informs his son that he will arrange for the Earl of Essex to be sent to Ireland.  The aging William has convinced the Queen to send Essex and to introduce Robert into the Privy Council in the Earl’s place.  Soon thereafter, Robert has presumably executed his father’s instructions to arrange for the assassination of Essex and Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, as both assassinations are attempted and fail.

William Cecil dies soon after.  The Queen attends the funeral where she is informed by Robert Cecil that Essex has hatched a treasonous plan to gain the crown.  She orders that Essex return.

In actual historical fact, the decision to send the Earl of Essex to Ireland was made in early 1599.  The politics of the matter are not certain but Essex himself seems to have embraced the opportunity at martial glory.  It was his favorite means of gaining status and Ireland the only available theater of action.  Had he succeed in bringing Ireland back under English control he would have been the most admired man in England.

William Cecil, towering figure, and closest advisor to the Queen for decades, had already died some six months earlier, in August of 1598.  Robert could not have had Essex recalled then as Essex had yet to be appointed Lord Marshall of Ireland much less led his army to the country. 

There is no historical record of assassination attempts against either the Earl of Essex or of Oxford.  Edward de Vere was, in fact, injured in a street fight, probably around the thigh, but the injury occurred nearly 20 years earlier in an entirely unrelated matter.  The Cecils played no role.

As for William Cecil introducing his son to the attention of the Queen, and suggesting that he replace Essex on the Privy Council, Robert had already been a member of the Privy Council since 1591.  He was further appointed Principal Secretary to the Queen in 1596, roughly the equivalent of the modern Secretary of State.  At that time, William, his father, largely withdrew from active life, unable to perform his duties any longer due to illness and age.  William kept his office of Lord Treasurer though the duties were delegated to his son and his treasury staff.

There is another reason Robert Cecil could not have arranged to have Essex recalled from Ireland.  The foremost charge of insubordination against Essex was that he had returned in direct disobedience of the Queen’s direct order that he remain.  He had requested to return in order to conference directly with the Queen and Council about the conditions in that country and his request had been firmly denied.  He returned anyway.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Mermaid Series on Thomas Dekker (Part 4)

Page:  -1-  -2-  -3-  -4-

Later in the Mermaid introductory biography we learn that Henslowe paid Dekker (and, in one case, fellow playwright Henry Chettle) for plays with titles associated with Shake-speare:

The year 1599 especially, towards the middle of which The Shoemaker's Holiday was published, must have been a year of immense activity. On the 9th and 16th April, Henslowe records a play by Dekker and Chettle, Troilus and Cressida. On the 2nd of May, a payment of five shillings was made to him, “in earnest of a book called Orestes Furies” and again in the same month there are payments to him and Chettle, for The Tragedy of Agamemnon. In July and August The Stepmother's Tragedy is mentioned;…
Versions of The Tragedy of Agamemnon and The Stepmother's Tragedy (the latter under the title of An history of the crueltie of a Step-mother) were listed in the records of the Court Revels during the late 1570s and the 1580s.  These two titles have long been suspected to have been written by Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, and rewritten as parts of the Shakespeare plays Cymbeline and Troilus and Cressida. [1]  

Of course, a Troilus and Cressida under the name of Shakespeare began to be spoken of at around the same time that Dekker was paid for a play of the same title.  No manuscript by Dekker of any of these plays has ever been discovered.  No record of any payments to Shakespeare for any plays have been discovered. These coincidences cannot help but raise the question as to whether or not we may have a record of Dekker acting as a front man in dealings with Henslowe.  After all, Dekker arriving with a manuscript and demanding payment does not establish that he ever actually wrote the plays.

Source: Ellis, Havelock and Rhys, Ernest, editors.  The Best Plays of the Old Dramatists: Thomas Dekker.  London: Vizetelli & Co., 1887.

[1]  Endless thanks to Catharine Reed for bringing to my attention that a partial plot summary was made, by the scribe of The Admiral's Men, of the Troilus and Cressida.  This summary has long been understood to be of the Troilus and Cressida for which Henslowe paid Dekker and Chettle.  By all indications, the play is nearly identical with the plot we have of Shake-speare's.  This powerfully supports the thesis that there were not two Troilus and Cressida plays but one and that one delivered to Henslowe by Dekker and Chettle and thereafter attributed to Shake-speare.  For the source see: Henslowe Papers: Being Documents Supplementary to Henslowe's Diary, ed. Walter W. Greg @ 142.  [This note is added 10/8/15]

Page:  -1-  -2-  -3-  -4-

Also from Virtual Grub Street:

Click here to check out the Discovered: A New Shakespeare Sonnet Facebook Book Page.

Mermaid Series on Thomas Dekker (Part 3)

Page:  -1-  -2-  -3-  -4-

Page:  -1-  -2-  -3-  -4-

Mermaid Series on Thomas Dekker (Part 2)

Page:  -1-  -2-  -3-  -4-

Page:  -1-  -2-  -3-  -4-

Click Here to visit the author's Facebook Group

Mermaid Series on Thomas Dekker (Part 1)

Page:  -1-  -2-  -3-  -4-

The following is the text of the introductory biography of the Mermaid Series volume of the "best plays" of Thomas Dekker.  Havelock Ellis's excellent popular series is never less than solid and often surprisingly useful even to scholars.  Dekker's biography is written mainly in his own works.  The Mermaid volume, however, begins by collecting together the little documentary evidence that remains concerning the man.

Page:  -1-  -2-  -3-  -4-

Also from Virtual Grub Street:

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Historical inaccuracies in the film Anonymous: #3

When Edward de Vere and Vavasour had their affair, Anne, the Countess of Oxford, was in no position to arrive home to find them together.  Etc.

In the Shakespeare authorship movie Anonymous, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, takes a lover who he calls “Bessie”.  Bessie was the nickname of Anne Vavasour, with whom the Earl did indeed have an affair.  In the movie, Anne, the Countess of Oxford, arrives at one or another Oxford manor, to find Vavasour leaving after a night sleeping together with the Earl.  Vavasour is clearly pregnant.

The Queen is informed.  Edward and Anne Vavasour, his mistress, are arrested and thrown into prison (presumably The Tower).  Vavasour has their child while under arrest.  The day after the delivery, the decision is made to free Edward upon conditions.  He is no longer allowed to attend at Court.  The Baron Burghley — Edward’s father-in-law, the Great Lord Treasurer and closest advisor to the Queen — adds one further condition of his own: Edward is to return to the Countess, his daughter.

In fact, Edward and his Countess had not lived together since he left for a European tour on February 7, 1575.  The reasons he refused to return to her are not clear.  When Edward and Vavasour had their affair, Anne, the Countess of Oxford, was in no position to arrive home to find Edward and his mistress together.  Edward had lived a bachelor’s life at or near the Royal Court between his return from Europe, in April 1576, and March 23rd of 1581, when Vavasour delivered her child.

Anne Vavasour lived continuously at Court in one or another of the Lady-in-Waiting chambers.  For this reason it is highly probable that Edward and she never shared an actual bed on so much as a single occasion during their affair.  The voluminous female dress of the time prevented her pregnancy being detected until the end.  

Between June 26th and July 4th of 1580 — the span within which Anne Vavasour would have conceived if her pregnancy was of the normal length — the Queen and her Court were installed at her favorite country residence, Nonsuch Palace.  The palace sat in the midst of impressively large hunting parks and gardens, even in Royal terms, and was essentially a palatial hunting lodge.  It being a working vacation, the Ladies in Waiting were likely tucked away wherever a bit of space could be found and more or less forgotten when not in attendance.  If their rooms were not sufficiently private to allow trysts (and they likely were not), thousands of acres of woodlands were available for very private romantic walks.

So then, she and Edward were never rousted out of a shared bed, on any of Edward’s estates, to be escorted to The Tower.  They may have had opportunity for sexual intercourse on as few as one occasion, in some private spot in the woodlands surrounding Nonsuch, and surely did not have opportunity with any regularity.  Vavasour delivered her child nine months later, most likely at St. James Palace, where the Court had removed for the session of Parliament of that month, and she and her child were immediately thereafter escorted to The Tower.  Edward went on the lam in order to avoid the same fate.  Once found, he was placed under house arrest.  Upon his release from a brief token stay in The Tower he was indeed forbidden to attend at Court.

Regardless of all (including his powerful father-in-law’s desires), Edward still refused to set up housekeeping with his wife.  The two remained estranged.  In 1582, amidst considerable effort by the Baron Burghley, pleading in his behalf, the Queen declared that there could be no hope of a return to Court unless Edward reconciled with his wife.  By May of 1583, Oxford and his Countess were living together and a son was born to them.  The child died a few days after birth.  In June, after a stormy audience with the Queen, at Burghley’s estate in Greenwich, he was given permission to once again appear at Court.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Historical inaccuracies in the film Anonymous: #2

In the movie Anonymous, a rebellious London crowd pours out of The Globe theater, incensed by the suggestive performance of a Shakespeare play, and is cut down by troops of soldiers pre-positioned in order to slaughter them by the evil Robert Cecil.  The director of the movie explains that he intentionally changed the play from Richard II to Richard III in order to highlight that the Earl of Essex’ enemy was Cecil, the Queen’s Principal Secretary, rather than the Queen per se.  Both Cecil and Richard III were hunchbacked.

In fact, the Earl of Essex himself did not precisely know what he intended to accomplish by his rebellion.  He was furious at having lost certain royal monopolies once gifted to him by the Queen, in respect of his acts of insubordination while he commanded the Queen’s troops in Ireland.  His overbearing pride was further wounded to think that the world was watching his loss of prestige.  After his arrest he would claim that he had planned to remove Elizabeth’s evil counselors, not the Queen herself.  But the play his allies had commanded was not Richard III.  London theater goers were not treated to an evil hunchback on the stage but Richard II, a weak monarch with poor judgment in the selection of counselors who was forcibly deposed by nobleman who felt the monarch was not competent to rule.

It might be thought that it was an ally of Essex who commanded the play, and not Essex himself, and therefore he may not have known what had been done in his name.  Yet it is a matter of historical record that the play was publicly acted on more than 40 occasions over an extended period.  The Earl’s own coterie regularly attended the performances.  He could only have known.

At no point, during any of the 40 or so performances, or during the Earl of Essex’s machinations, did the army massacre a single person, commoner or gentleman.  If the army had been commanded to do so, London would have risen against the Queen.  Not because it supported the Earl of Essex but because the city possessed very powerful rights and was quite prepared to defend them even against the monarch.  The genius of Cecil was that he managed the defeat of the rebellion without firing a single shot (not the kind of thing to grip a movie audience).

In part because of the news that Richard II was being played in London for weeks, the Queen and her counsel were working behind the scenes to assure the loyalty of the civil magistrates of London.  The people never rose up in small group or large.  When the moment came that Essex would act, the London watch and strategically placed military units cordoned off the city.  The few citizens that did not immediately obey the order to clear the streets were arrested.  Essex found himself eerily alone.

Realizing that he had failed to gather the least support, and that he would soon be arrested, the Earl returned to Essex House and he and his close supporters resolved to resist.  No preparations had been made for such a step, however, and he lacked gunpowder and other essential supplies.  Soon all saw the wisdom of surrender.  Still, however briefly and foolishly, he had taken up arms in this fashion, against his Queen, and, in light of the fact, was guilty of treason.

    Sunday, August 02, 2015

    Historical inaccuracies in the film Anonymous: #1.

    In the film Anonymous, about Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, the young Earl is depicted killing a servant of William Cecil, Principal Secretary to Queen Elizabeth.  Oxford was a ward of Cecil.  It is well known that the Principle Secretary was given to the use of spies, household servants among them.  The servant has hidden behind an arras, ala the character Polonius, in Hamlet.  De Vere, hearing him, thrusts a dagger through the arras mortally wounding him in the chest.

    Edward did, in fact, kill a servant of the Cecil household.  According to the official inquest, the 17 year old Earl was fencing in a courtyard at Cecil’s London residence, on July 23, 1567, with a local tailor, when he killed an under-cook, who happened to be in the area, by running him through the thigh with his foil.

    In Anonymous, Cecil arranges for a finding of “self-defense”.  While the director placed the servant behind a curtain in order to evoke the scene from Hamlet (a popular conflation among those of us who understand Oxford to have written the plays of Shakespeare) and to add to the film's attractions for its key demographic, the historical inaccuracy of a finding of “self-defense” is less explicable.  Cecil actually arranged for a finding of “suicide”.  The under-cook, it was said, had been drunk and thrown himself on the sword.  It is not clear why the scriptwriter was either unaware of the actual finding or dissuaded from including it.

    Far more problematic still, in the film the evil Cecil (also a popular characterization among Oxfordians) blackmails Edward.  The Earl will receive a verdict of self-defense if he will agree to marry Cecil’s daughter Anne.  In this way, Cecil, a commoner at the time, will associate his family with the wealth and power of a senior Earldom.  The alternative is a guilty verdict and “the ax” (beheading).

    To begin with, the laws pertaining to royal wards at the time were perfectly clear that the guardian had the right to marry the ward to whomever he chose including his own daughter.  The ward had no legal say in the matter.  Cecil did not need to blackmail Oxford.  He was at liberty to force the marriage, with perfect impunity, as so many guardians had done and would continue to do.

    History is clear that Edward de Vere did indeed marry Anne Cecil, 4 ½ years later, in December of 1571.  Cecil had an embarrassing letter to write as a result.  By all appearances, he had not ordered Edward to marry his daughter or anyone else for that matter, regardless that a guardian stood to make large sums for such arranged marriages.  He had nearly closed a marriage contract between Anne and the heir to the Earldom of Rutland.   A letter was dispatched apologizing profusely for the sudden turn of events.  In it he declared of Edward that “I love hym so derely from my hart as I do myn own sonne,” and, Edward being reputed to be a bit of an empty headed fop, “ther is much more in hym of understandyng than any stranger to hym wold think.”   

    Cecil would hardly have forgotten that he’d already arranged for Anne via an earlier blackmail.  He was, above all things, a man who never lost track of the play of the game.  At the very least, he quite properly considered that an Earl in the hand is worth two in the bush.

    Monday, July 27, 2015

    To Mr. G.G. on the matter of Mr. H.W.

    “It seems to me,” writes G.G., “there are two possibilities, one, that you have read [H. W.]'s The Monument and reject some or all of its arguments, or two, that you are not aware of the details of [H.]'s book. Am I right that one of these describes your position, and if so which is it?”

    I have read H.'s closely related blog commentary on Vere, in bits-and-pieces, over the years. His theories are quite well known in considerable (but not complete) detail, I think it's fair to say. His blog has impressed me with the extent and dependability of his detail work on all aspects of the authorship question.  His ‘100 REASONS WHY OXFORD WAS "SHAKESPEARE"’ is an excellent resource.

    Click here for Amazon book page.
    Like H. himself (I suspect), my budget is unbelievably tight until I will begin to sell more of my various books. (My most recent humble purchase has been Dating Shakespeare’s Plays, on Kindle, which I have given a 5-star customer review and am sure to review eventually on my family of blogs.)  I can only buy books, for the present, that are immediately necessary to my research.  I am not yet able to do us both the honor of buying his book, The Monument.  

    As luck would have it, my method has always been (even during far better funded periods of my research) to read the period texts and primary source material, or accounts drawn directly from primary source material (such as there are, and there are a considerable number) rather than treatments of the sources.

    I try to read almost entirely from scholars who wrote before there was a Shakespeare Authorship Question of which to speak (the claim for Bacon notwithstanding).  I also avidly read the more rational of the books advancing Francis Bacon   The Stratfordian scholars in those days, having no need to be blind toward inconvenient facts, in order to protect their territory, are refreshingly willing to include findings that seem to make no sense in relation to a Stratford author.  Inconsistencies are openly admitted and attributed to the limited historical materials available or inscrutable nature of genius, etc. 

    The Baconians sometimes uncovered materials that didn’t seem to fit the Stratford authorship, as well, far more anomalous materials, and tortured those materials until they “fit” their man.  The process is unintentionally insightful on a dozen levels, at least.  But the anomalies were often gloriously real.  It was through a brilliant Baconian that I first came across the Labeo satires.  When I was finally able to set aside the time to solve the puzzle, no part of the many hours of research could be accomplished utilizing any 20th century volume.  Had Labeo been applied to the Earl of Oxford rather than Bacon, from the start, the meaning of the texts would have become known in the late 19th century rather than 2013 in my Edward de Vere was Shake-speare: at long last the proof.

    As I began the final writing of Edward de Vere was Shakespeare I had Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare, Loony’s Shakespeare Identified and Mark Anderson's Shakespeare ByAnother Name beside me.  I had previously read Sobran’s Alias Shakespeare.  They and the Internet provided me overviews of what theories were out there.  As I proceeded, I learned that there were a number of excellent resources available on the Net, resources without which I would have had to publish a less precise book.  Those sources appear in the bibliography of the book.  Mark Anderson’s book has since been added to the bibliography in respect of how much it helped guide me through the present State of the Question.

    All of this said, it should be clear from my books, and other comments, that I very respectfully disagree with a number from the “series of assumptions and hypotheses” that underlie H.’s book as well as the conclusions he takes from them.  Quite some number of years ago (before I was even aware of H.’s theories, or PT theory in general,) it began to be clear to me that far too many assumptions were involved in our traditional scholarship on the sonnets.  If the assumptions were no longer assumed, the sonnets suddenly looked quite different.  There was no inherent reason, in the texts themselves, which in the end are nearly all we have to go on, to understand the sonnets as being in even remotely chronological order.  There was no inherent reason to understand the sonnets as being addressed largely to Southampton.  In fact, from textual evidence, the monument sonnets appeared far more likely to have been written to Queen Elizabeth.  There was no inherent reason to understand the sonnets to have been solely written to three persons.  There is no inherent reason to understand that the sonnets were all written between 1590 and 1616.

    If one reads the more effeminate procreation sonnets as if they might have been written to encourage Queen Elizabeth I to marry and produce an heir, the greatest procreation issue by far of the time, the sonnets look very different indeed.  Their tone suggests that they had to have been written by an intimate friend and a nobleman.  The time period across which the entire Sonnets was written then becomes from the late 1570s to 1603 (the year of Elizabeth’s death) or (depending upon the identity of the nobleman) later.

    Understanding the author to have been Edward de Vere, in fact, the sonnets astonishingly reveal themselves to fit the autobiography of Vere very closely (more closely than any other figure of the time for whom we have a biography) and to have been written to at least six recipients and probably more.  The sonnets are grouped by theme, not by chronology, as might be expected to be the case if the author had died without thought of preparing the sonnets for the press.  W. H., then, would likely (but not certainly) be William Herbert, a close friend of Vere, who also would be intimately involved in preparing the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays.  Not only is there no need to develop ornate theories about how the initials are intentionally reversed on the page, but the question ceases to matter so much because W.H. is unlikely to be the recipient of any of the sonnets.

    With this, the highly controversial “fact” that Shakespeare addressed young Southampton in notably
    effeminate terms, in the first 126 sonnets, simply ceases to be a fact anymore.  The effeminate procreation sonnets, then, reveal themselves more likely to have been written circa 1580 (the widest likely window being 1573-81), in order to convince Queen Elizabeth to marry the Duke of Alençon.  History tells us that all her nobility and subjects were calling upon her in sermon, tract and poem to give the kingdom an heir while it still might be possible to do so.  The prospect of a return to dynastic wars, like the War of the Roses, was terrifying.  For the Howard-Vere faction, at Court, this was as much a plea to remove the possibility that their arch-enemy Leicester might be called upon to marry her in that desperate attempt, should Alençon failed to close the deal, there being no other viable candidate.

    In my book Was Shakespeare Gay? Straight Male Scholarly Angst and Shake-speare's Sonnets. I present a range of supporting evidence for this position.  I’ve tested my findings at great length and feel confident that they fit together into a far stronger theory than any other, be it based upon traditional or alternative-author.

    All of this said, I still return to Hank Whittemore’s exceptional online materials in order to check my detail work against his detail work, and, often, to be reminded that there are possibly other factors that I am not sufficiently considering. For example, in sampling Hank’s blog before I wrote this, I was reminded that the first trip by the Court to Bath was in 1574: a fact the details of which I probably should have more thoroughly reviewed before I wrote a certain passage in Discovered: A New Shakespeare Sonnet.  Who knows?  It may result in a minor revision.

    As a matter of scholarship, however, we are all called upon to present our best, most unbiased analysis in spite of the fact that it contradicts the established theories of one or another popular member of the community — a person, in this instance, who I, too, greatly respect.  I have every confidence that H.W. himself wholeheartedly agrees with this as an absolutely fundamental requirement of scholarship.  A different analysis, arriving at quite a different result, is not on any level an attack or a “rejection”.  Nor is a polite but direct assertion/defense of that result. 

    As for the question as to whether I’ve read Hank Whittemore’s The Monument.  No.  Not only am I not financially able to buy more than the rare occasional book, at present, but the method I follow strictly  limits what I can accept on anyone else’s authority. 

    As I have the opportunity to read Hank’s book, or anyone else’s from among the books that seem to show promise, I will accept nothing on the author's word.  If I do not already see one or more flaws that disqualify it as a viable source of information, I will spend every bit as much time in its bibliography and footnotes, evaluating and plundering its sources, as I will in its text.  If I am not already aware of the quality of one claim or another from extensive past reading, I will evaluate it first by whether or not I can trace it to the same period texts and sources as I have always depended upon for my only (not always 100%) certain information.  I could never use a contemporary treatment as my final source.  At most it could be a placeholder (based upon my confidence in the author) until I could gain access to the sources in question.

    To adopt a position because it is held by a good friend who you wish to defend against hurt is a laudable social behavior indicating strong group bonds.  One should see that as a positive.  In relation to our work, on the other hand, it is the destruction of valid scholarly method.  To source one’s work from popular books by those who have worked their way to the top of a social network is mortally flawed.  But it does look an awful lot like the dominant method among and many amateur and professional scholarly groups at present.  Perhaps this indicates an inevitable struggle, especially in a world that has become so dependent upon social media.

    So then, more than one circumstance demands that I proceed in my infinitely boring trek through hundreds of thousands of words in tiny print, no short cuts available.  I am not at liberty to assess what I may find through the lens of our group esprit de’ corps.  Having strictly stayed within the bounds I set out for my work (and my budget) I am pleased to report that I have found the strongest theory concerning a number of the 1609 procreation sonnets: they likely were written to Queen Elizabeth between 1573-81.  Most recently, I am thrilled to report, in my latest monograph, Discovered: a New Shakespeare Sonnet (or three, actually), that my impossibly boring travels have revealed to me a hitherto unattributed sonnet by William Shakespeare.  I do suggest that reading through such small print, for seemingly endless hours, has been my single most effective scholarly trait: the source of a number of remarkable finds.  At the same time, I enjoy talking shop with everyone in the Oxfordian community, scholar and interested general reader.

    You quite understandably indicated some slight confusion, G.G., when I mentioned that I intended to write a blog post on your question:  “I meant only to ask a simple straight forward question.”  But I have actually been challenged quite some number of times to explain how I can consider myself a legitimate scholar and/or a proper “team player” — my books in the least legitimate — without having read the several dozen “core works,” H.W.’s included, written by the dominant members of Shakespeare Authorship Oxfordian effort thoroughly and incorporating their findings.  Unbeknownst to you, your query could not be simple.

    No, I have not read H.W.’s book.  Yes, I understand my findings to contradict his at considerable length.  I cannot say that I do or don’t agree with him on many of the details of his thesis because I have not read his book.  This is just one of several reasons I do not refer to the relationship between his work and my own.  I obviously join with many in congratulating him for exceptional scholarly integrity and a lifetime of admirable production which only seems poised to continue.

    Monday, July 20, 2015

    A Review of Opus Arte / Shakespeare’s Globe As You Like It.

    As You Like It by William Shakespeare.  Opus Arte (2010) DVD format. Color.  Stereo. 149 minutes.  Amazon Price $18.72

    Yes, it is true that the line “it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room,” from Act 3, Scene 3, of As You Like It likely refers to the 1593 murder of fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe.  And, yes, the play bears a clear relation to Thomas Lodge’s now tedious novel Rosalynde, Euphues Golden Legacie.  Among such facts, about which scholars (myself included) debate, are also tidbits that can be much more helpful to the general reader (or even the spectator) such as Shakespeare’s pun upon Touchstone (the jester or “fool”) describing himself as “capricious”.  The line is addressed to the goatherd Audrey who he is wooing among her goats.  The word “capricious,” as the playwright was obviously well aware, means “goat-like in behavior”.  Actually, he may have been the writer (and this the play) that first coined the term from Latin into English.

    The full line goes “I am here with thee, and thy Goats, as the most capricious Poet honest Ovid among the Goths.”  Shakespeare’s works are shot through with Ovid like no other poet.  Even the French poet Ronsard, from whom he also borrowed liberally, did not begin to compare to Ovid in the playwright’s estimation.  You may think you know nothing of Ronsard but you do in Jacques’ famous lines from Act 2, Scene 7:

    All the world's a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances,…

    They are a translation from the French poet.  The lines that follow these are an overview borrowed from the Greeks.

    Historically, the poet Ovid was exiled to Romania by Caesar Augustus for licentiousness.  The country was then a Roman province granted to a domesticated tribe of Goths.  Shakespeare’s plays are rife with exile and exiles; also with jesters/fools.  For centuries, traditional scholars have generally agreed that the playwright identified with Touchstone and felt out of place in the humble station into which he had been born.  Other reasons for these themes and identifications suggest themselves to scholars who support the Earl of Oxford for the author of the plays and poems.

    But as fascinating as all of this can be to some of us, it does not in the least change the fact that the plays and poems are the reason that all the English speaking world, scholar and general audience alike, know that William Shakespeare (whoever he might have been) existed.  It is essential to punctuate our various Shakespeare studies and debates with performance of the plays.  For all of our glosses, they were made to be played, after all.  Without that the rest is worse than useless.

    The Opus Arte / Shakespeare’s Globe DVD of As You Like It comes with no footnotes.  It is a production well-conceived and played with spirit.  Like the original productions of the play, Thea Sharrock, the director, has supplied the lack of stage directions in the text of Elizabethan plays — As You Like It included — with her own inventions.  She has also added a brief opening scene not in the original play in order to impress upon the audience the stature of the evil Duke Frederick.  In the second half of the play a brief scene, originally intended as an interlude, not directly essential to the play, is dropped.

    Film director Kriss Russman also made a few minor additions. The DVD of As You Like It begins outside The Globe, giving the viewer a sense of the place and a way themselves to enter inside.  It is the first of many scenes that form close corollaries to the original Shakespeare experience.  If the concession stands, which were not open on this occasion, had been bustling, it would at least have hinted at the chaos and din through which the original Globe playgoer would have had to make his or her way in order to enter and take their place inside.

    Within the theater, the camera makes the first of many sweeps of the place and the audience.  We get a sense of the open roof and the old fashioned exposed beam construction.  The pit below and before the stage is filled almost exclusively with bustling teenagers presumably invited by way of a class trip.  As the play starts, all bustling will cease and they will stand in rapt attention.  The ground-level seating circling the stage and pit and the double balcony are full of adults on benches.

    This production being done at a reconstructed Globe, there is no thought of making the thing contemporary.  The most that will be done in this way is the occasional bit of body language to illustrate the meaning of a phrase that might otherwise be lost on a 21st century audience and a speech by Touchstone delightfully delivered with a hip-hop beat.  The songs Shakespeare included are played on a guitar, a lute-player presumably being beyond the budget.  With these minor exceptions, the entire idea is to experience the play as it was written to be performed.

    At the time that Shakespeare wrote As You Like It, stage scenery was still some one hundred years in the future (Court masques excepted).  The present Globe consists of a broad plank stage and structural columns holding up a canopy and three levels of "tiring-house" (the second of which serves for balcony scenes) .  These combine with players’ descriptions and viewers’ imaginations to portray palace, pasture and forest.  The holes in the walls, were the plaster has fallen away from the lathe, and the fire extinguisher stations may each be supplied interpretations as the viewer chooses.  The former are certainly consistent with the Elizabethan theater going experience, and the latter, perhaps, a reminder that the original Globe came to its end by burning rapidly to the ground while the audience rushed for the exits.

    There being no scenery and no special effects, then, all comes down to the quality of the performances.  The uniformly high level of the acting, that being the case, is especially gratifying.

    Still, Touchstone, the clown, steals the show.  As You Like It is a comedy, and however much the designation meant only that a happy ending was promised, Shakespeare liked to include all the comedy in the modern sense that his plays would bear (sometimes a bit more).  In this production, the clown is provided with a scepter bearing his own likeness at the top.  This affords a number of hilarious sight gags on top of the lines he is provided to speak.  It is difficult to imagine a funnier clown than Dominic Rowan gives his audience.

    Humor, it turns out, is all the best of the show.  In the case of Tim McMullan’s character, Jacques,
    this required unusual talent to bring the character and his dry, melancholic humor to the audience across some 400 years.  McMullan’s physical features were of more than a little help.  His smile oozes amicable disdain even if one might not always quite understand the jokes that are accompanied by it.  It hardly matters, though, as his moaning delivery and rolling eyes always put them over the top.

    In the 16th century, Orlando would certainly have been character upon whom all eyes settled but in the 21st Jack Laskey has to work hard to keep up with Naomi Frederick’s Rosalind.  Laskey’s fight scenes could not be realistically done (as they would have been in the original play) with safety.  They were originally supposed to establish a bond between him and a male audience that themselves likely wrestled with all the investment given to a life and death affair.  Here, during Orlando’s fight with his brother the schoolboys laughed in vague recognition at a pretend schoolyard fight.  The great wrestling match that followed was met with near silence.  It had to wait until Orlando’s comical first meeting with Rosalind that he first found sympathy with the audience.

    To make his job still more challenging, Frederick plays her role superbly.  With her shag hair-cut and sharp jaw-line, she makes both an attractive, sympathetic Rosalind and a decidedly boyish Ganymede.  As soon as she and Aliena are off to the forest, the play gains focus.  Orlando becomes handsome and heroic.  Rosalind disguised as Ganymede becomes pretty much everything else.  Laura Rogers’ Celia-turned-Aliena plays the foil to Ganymede with comical body language for emphasis.  As all of this unfolds, Peter Gale plays several of the secondary roles and sings the songs with which Shakespeare graced the work.

    The audience also plays its part well.  They point out stage antics to each other and laugh.  A few respond to a caress from Jacques.  A good many more laugh as he capers among them shouting his lines back toward the other characters on the stage.  They smile and sway and clap with the music at the end of the play, not an Elizabethan cell-phone to be seen.

    It is worth mentioning a second time that each character is well acted.  The Opus Arte / Shakespeare’s Globe DVD of As You Like It is well worth the price of admission.

    More from Virtual Grub Street on Shake-speare and Edward de Vere:

    Monday, July 13, 2015

    Fencing alla De Vere

    When Edward de Vere did combat with the Knevets and their retainers it would have been with these weapons and in a similar style. The old Medieval long swords and such survived only in field combat and tournament. This is also how the sword battle in *Romeo and Juliet*, almost certainly based upon the Knevet duel, would have been choreographed, as well as the contest in *Hamlet*.


    • Let the sky rain potatoes! December 16, 2017. "In fact, the sweet potato had only just begun to be a delicacy within the reach of splurging poets and playwrights and members of the middle classes at the time that The Merry Wives of Windsor (the play from which Falstaff is quoted) was written.  The old soldier liked to keep abreast of the new fads."
    • Check out the English Renaissance Article Index for many more articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.