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Shallow thinking on “deep England” – Part III

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To conclude our commentary on John Guy’s review of Jonathan Bate’s Soul of England, I want to take a look at how Bate treats Shakespeare’s apparent involvement (through his Richard II) in the Essex Rebellion of 1601.

Guy writes that

“Bate’s chapter on the Earl of Essex’s revolt in 1601 shows his strengths [emphasis added]  … Bate corrects the common misapprehension that Essex wanted to plant the idea of a successful coup d’etat in the minds of the London crowd … Bate proves that Shakespeare’s play was staged [i.e. not Hayward’s Henry IV, as some scholars have suggested]. Richard II had for some years been the Essex faction’s ‘signature’ text, since its ‘conceit’ was ideally suited to their code of martial valour … Bate is right to say that the bespoke performance of Richard II was not meant to trigger a revolt, which is why Shakespeare escaped interrogation and a possible treason trial   … Bate, less plausibly, doubts Lambarde’s report that Elizabeth famously compared herself to Richard II and complained of plays openly performed in the streets and houses of London.”


These selected quotes (from several paragraphs in Guy’s review) are important for their insight on how Stratfordians (both author Bate, reviewer Guy, and all the rest of them) just love to have it both ways when it comes to analyzing documented history *and* keeping their Stratman story straight (or at least keeping it breathing). Much has been written about the connections between Richard II and the Essex Rebellion over the years, and as it happens there have been several major articles and book chapters in recent years that can shed some light on Bate’s “strengths” in explaining Shakespeare and Essex.

The key question here revolves around the historical fact of the Rebellion itself, the fact of Shakespeare’s involvement through his Richard II, and the fact that Shakespeare was not only not punished in any way, he was never even summoned to appear before anyone or to be questioned. How can this be?

As Guy reports it, Bate apparently dances around some key points about this whole episode on his way to *explaining* “why Shakespeare escaped interrogation and a possible treason trial.” Several recent examples of how other scholars are viewing this matter of Shakespeare, Richard II and Essex can be found here (Chris Fitter’s 2005 EMLS article “Historicising Shakespeare’s Richard II: Current Events, Dating and the Sabotage of Essex”) and here (Paul E. J. Hammer’s 2008 Shakespeare Quarterly article (“Shakespeare’s Richard II, the Play of 7 February 1601, and the Essex Rising,” which is available to subscribers through Project Muse). But, in fairness, both Fitter and Hammer also manage to not ask how Shakespeare could emerge untouched from one of the most infamous episodes in Elizabethan history.

There is much more to all this than can be covered in a brief blog post, so I’ll just touch on a couple of highlights, as gleaned from Guy’s review of Bate:

1) The passing reference to Hayward’s Henry IV in 1599 glosses over the fact that Hayward got in BIG trouble (straight to the Tower) for his apparent comparison of Elizabeth to Richard II, coupled with the book’s dedication that seemed to acknowledge that Essex was a (or “the”?) “Bolingbroke.” Hayward’s fate stands in stark comparison to Shakespeare’s. But this leads directly to how Bate apparently handles this problem (it was, in fact, something of a “commonplace” to suggest that Elizabeth could be compared to Richard II —see Lily B. Campbell’s 1947 Shakespeare’s Histories: Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy). So Bate deals with this problem by apparently suggesting that the famous quote from Elizabeth to historian Lambarde (“Know you not, I am Richard?”) NEVER HAPPENED. Even Guy can’t take this, and so he mildly rebukes and corrects Bate. Some strength!

2) So, what was Shakespeare’s intention in writing Richard II? Simple question, right? Surely, after centuries of scholarship, it’s been answered, right? Guess what? It hasn’t. This is why this writer firmly believes that the intersection of Shakespeare and the documented history of Richard II and the Essex Rebellion is the real ground zero of the authorship debate. When Bate suggests that Shakespeare’s intention was NOT to plant the idea of a successful coup d’etat in the populace he is —IMHO— partially right. But, as Hammer discusses in his 2008 SQ article, a coup d’etat of some sort was on Essex’s (and his men’s) mind, and watching RII over and over played into this. For what they envisioned was a “bloodless” coup d’etat, and watching Shakespeare’s play figured into this. So it was NOT “martial arts” that was on their mind, I would suggest, but rather the carefully crafted legal and philosophical arguments that lead up to the climactic deposition scene and its striking out against “God’s anointed King.” Shakespeare’s play could be viewed almost as a “how to do it” guidebook that had the added bonus of presenting exquisite speeches on England and patriotism, careful thinking on rights and succession, AND had events unfold in a way that varied from the true history and seemingly made the coup LEGITIMATE! What more could a rebellious faction ask? And this crafting of the play can be no accident, I believe, which then leads us back to what was Shakespeare up to. And how in the world did he get away with it?

I will close here, even though there is so much more to be said. But it is Oxfordians who have the upper hand here, because we have the right author, and therefore we can clearly see what’s going on. I suggest that readers visit Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog for an education in how Shakespeare’s writing is intimately involved in Elizabethan history, and especially the Essex Rebellion, and I do mean intimately!

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Shallow thinking on “deep England” – Part II

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Continuing with John Guy’s recent review of Jonathan Bate’s Soul of England, there are several other key points that Guy reports Bate making, all of which can be viewed with a critical eye from the point of view of the authorship debate (or … at least among those who are following the debate closely).

First, we learn that “Shakespeare had access to a Geneva Bible” when writing parts of MSD. This salient point immediately brings to mind Oxfordian Dr. Roger Stritmatter’s 2001 doctoral dissertation on Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible and Shakespeare. Oxfordians know all about Shakespeare’s having had “access” to a Geneva Bible. In fact, he bought one at age 20 and we still have the receipt! Bate undoubtedly —IMHO— knows this too.

Another point of interest is Bate citing Touchstone’ line in AYLI, “The truest poetry is the most feigning.” This is of interest to this writer, since I have cited the line myself in a presentation at Concordia University last spring, but not in the sense that Bate uses. As Guy writes, Bate has Shakespeare [as a student of the ancients} an expert in the art of “moulding” language like wax, and thus “moving” an audience by “silver tounges.” Or [using Guy’s words, citing Bate], “As Quintilian, the prince or orators, had explained, rhetoric ‘is an art which relies on moving the emotions by saying that which is false.’ Or as Touchstone puts in in As You Like It, ‘The truest poetry is the most feigning.'” Well, just a moment. Touchstone’s line seems to say pretty directly that “feigning poetry” ultimately *leads to truth* ; emotion may reveal truth, but the more important point here is the truth, not the emotion.

Look at Shakespeare contemporary, Philip Sidney, explaining it in his Defense of Poesy (1595):

For, that a feigned example hath as much force to teach as a true example (for as for to move, it is clear, since the feigned may be tuned to the highest key of passion) …

And do they not know, that a tragedy is tied to the laws of poesy, and not of history; not bound to follow the story, but having liberty either to feign a quite new matter, or to frame the history to the most tragical convenience? …

But even in the most excellent determination of goodness, what philosopher’s counsel can so readily direct a prince as the feigned Cyrus in Xenophon?  Or a virtuous man in all fortunes, as AEneas in Virgil?  Or a whole commonwealth, as the way of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia?  I say the way, because where Sir Thomas More erred, it was the fault of the man, and not of the poet; for that way of patterning a commonwealth was most absolute, though he, perchance, hath not so absolutely performed it.  For the question is, whether the feigned image of poetry, or the regular instruction of philosophy, hath the more force in teaching.  Wherein, if the philosophers have more rightly showed themselves philosophers, than the poets have attained to the high top of their profession, (as in truth, it is, I say again, not the fault of the art, but that by few men that art can be accomplished.

The emphasis is on the importance of using feigning to teach, and what else should the poet be trying to teach than the “truth” (or at least the “truth” as the poet sees it). And note also who Sidney describes as a likely recipient of this poetic teaching …the prince.

Throughout the history of the authorship debate it is little moments like this that are most revealing. Stratfordians and Shakespeare lovers of all sorts always ask, “What does the authorship matter? We have the plays.” Little thought is ever given to how —even in a comedy such as AYLI— there is an ENOMOROUS difference in how the play can be read and understood based upon the truth of who authored it and why he authored it. For anyone interested in how the Oxfordian reading of Touchstone in AYLI is vastly different (and much more revealing) than any traditional reading, check out this article by Oxfordian Alex McNeil on the Shakespeare Fellowship website.

And speaking of poetry that has “liberty either to feign a quite new matter, or to frame the history to the most tragical convenience” we now come to what Bate has to say about Shakespeare, Richard II, and the Essex Rebellion, a topic which is merely one of the most significant (in this writer’s opinion) in all of Shakespeare studies, no matter which side you’re on in the authorship debate.

I will post more on this in the coming days. Meanwhile, readers should check out Oxfordian Hank Whittemore’s blog where his analysis of the Sonnets is all about Shakespeare and the Essex Rebellion. His most recent post today puts Bate’s ahistorical “deep England”  to shame. How Bate handles Shakespeare’s involvement (or, as he would put it,
non-involvement) in the Essex Rebellion is significant in understanding why the authorship debate matters, and why getting the right author matters. Without having the right author in place Shakespeare can never be fully understood.

Shallow thinking on “deep England.”

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One of the continuing phenomenons of the Shakespeare authorship debate is how mainstream scholarship continually reworks the Stratford story in response to anti-Stratfordian pressure, while at the same time dismissing those who they are busily co-opting.

The latest version of this old tale comes from English scholar Jonathan Bate in his new book Soul of the Age: the life, mind and world of William Shakespeare. In a review of this book last week in Times online Bate’s fellow Stratfordian John Guy gives us a sampling from a book he describes as “the most eloquent evocation of Shakespeare that one is ever likely to encounter.” Guy informs us straight up that Bate “selects only the material that, he believes, will help to reveal Shakespeare’s cultural DNA” while “blind alleys such as the identities of the Dark Lady or Mr. W. H. are sidestepped, as is speculation about Shakespeare’s sexuality, religion or political beliefs.” In other words, let’s make our boy more real, but let’s sidestep the real world in which he lived, and God forbid that we really try to get inside his head. Well, not entirely sidestep. Guy continues that “Bate argues that the ‘lovely boy” sequences … reflect the bisexual, homoerotic milieu of the early Jacobean court, and have nothing to do with Shakespeare’s own encounters.”

At this point any fair minded reader of this review may say out loud, “Yikes!!” For what Guy is now saying about his fellow traveler Bate is that he is doing something that mainstream scholarship has made a cornerstone of their Stratfordian belief-is-biography system for centuries, namely describing a “Shakespeare” who absorbed everything he needed from the world around him … the “milieu.” Stratman was SpongeWill, the great absorber of his time.

But what makes this latest version of “SpongeWill” most interesting is where Bate apparently goes with it. As Guy explains, “Bate believes that Shakespeare invented ‘deep England’, a rustic idyll centred on the Midlands that delights in mingling morris men and royal spectacle … An idea of ‘deep England’ first appears in Justice Shallow’s scenes in Henry IV, Part 2, and is increasingly voiced in the History plays, until in King John Shakespeare asks who will speak for England during a bloody war of succession, when power hungry leaders cannot agree.”

“Mingling morris men and royal spectacle?” And yet, a moment later, “a bloody war of succession when power hungry leaders cannot agree?” There is much more to say about Guy’s review, Bate’s book and what both tell us about the current state of the authorship debate, circa 2009. Stay tuned.

Visions and revisions in the writing of history and literature

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The Shakespeare Adventure is a site managed by supporters of the Oxfordian theory of the Shakespeare authorship — i.e. that the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, was the true author of the Shakespeare Canon. In the coming months we will be providing content about the Shakespeare authorship debate as an on-going story with its own history, dating from Elizabethan England right up to today, a story about history and politics, true stories and official stories.

Over the past 25 years the authorship debate has gained many new adherents (advocates and agnostics), in part because of Charlton Ogburn’s 1984 The Mysterious William Shakespeare (a book that promoted Oxford as the true Shakespeare) and in part because of the awesome power of the Internet to disseminate information.

But while much progress has been made over these years, there is still a long way to go before the mainstream powers that be even acknowledge that there is an authorship problem, let alone seriously consider alternate theories of the authorship.

This site will be surveying the common ground among all those who have read and studied Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era —Stratfordian and anti-Sratfordian alike. The authorship debate involves everyone, whether they know it or not, or acknowledge it or not. Just ask Brian Vickers (the mainstream scholar who decided last year that  Shakespeare didn’t write A Lover’s Complaint — so much for the name on the title page meaning anything … thanks, Brian!).

We will be viewing this era through the lens of Oxford’s “being Shakespeare,” but we will also be viewing all the politics of the era, and the ways in which Shakespeare (whoever he was) was apparently up to his eyeballs in a political hothouse of power politics (and conspiracy) revolving around the Elizabethan endgame over the struggle for the succession following Elizabeth. It is a story with many related sub-stories under both Elizabeth I and her successor James I, and it is a story much written about over the centuries, but always from the point of view that Shakespeare was an “outsider” from Stratford who was observing it, not an “insider” who was living it (let alone even considering that the insider may have believed that he had a stake in it).

So, if you’d like some new adventures in your life, check out the search for the true Shakespeare and true story of how he did it and why he hid it (or rather, we should say, why he was forced to hide it). Join us in revisting and rethinking
centuries of history. We’re pretty sure that you’ll love it.

For openers, we have several essays available that demonstrate how history can be viewed when the “Shakespeare” piece of the puzzle is changed. Hank Whittemore’s essay “The politics of massacres, the need for intelligence” (which appeared in the premier issue (Fall 2001) of Shakespeare Matters (newsletter of The Shakespeare Fellowship), draws on some parallels between the 20th century and the 16th century. With a taking-off point of the September 11th World Trade Center attacks in NYC, Whittemore makes an intriguing case for how little things have changed in four centuries as he reviews the young Shakespeare’s reaction to similar religious/political turmoil in the 1570s.

Charles Boyle’s essay on the political nature of Twelfth Night (“Allowed Fools: Notes on an Elizabethan Twelfth Night (available on the archived copy of The Ever Reader hosted at the Internet Archive), presents this popular play as an insider’s “Saturday Night Live” view of Elizabeth’s court. William Boyle’s 1998 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter article on the Jacobean politics surrounding the publication of the First Folio in 1623 (“Shakespeare’s Son on Death Row?” —available on The Ever Reader section of The Shakespeare Oxford Society Home Page) demonstrates how those involved in the Oxfordian theory of the Shakespeare authorship debate are answering questions Stratfordian scholars dare not ask.