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.