2009 Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference – Reporting from Portland (Part IV)

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With this post I will conclude my brief reports (plus pix) on papers and presenters at the 2009 SASC in Portland, Oregon, last week.

In the year of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s Sonnets there were several sonnet papers. Hank Whittemore, who led off the conference Thursday night performing his one-man show Shakespeare’s Treason (based on the sonnets) was also on hand Saturday afternoon to talk about Sonnets 40-42. As Whittemore explained at the start of his presentation, his intention was to respond to what Mark Anderson had said about these same sonnets in his 2005 book Shakespeare By Another Name.  In his book, while adopting some of what Whittemore had postulated about all the sonnets in his own 2005 book The  Monument, Anderson took exception to these three sonnets and said they were clearly about a love triangle; Whittemore had included them among the middle 100 sonnets (26-125) as being all about a family triangle. In his talk he made the case for the middle 100 sonnets being all about the same three people, with no room for either “additional” characters and/or “additional” stories.

Hank Whittemore explicates Sonnets 40-42

Also speaking on the Sonnets was Alex McNeil, who focused on Sonnets 153 and 154, the strange pair that concludes the entire sequence and have always seemed to many commentators to be tacked on at the end for some reason other than a logical conclusion to what immediately proceeds. McNeil noted how the two sonnets are really variations on the same theme, and how one (154) seems to be a later version of the first (153). McNeil, who was the editor of Whittemore’s The Monument, agrees that in the Oxfordian view of things these sonnets do make sense coming at the end, and that they most likely are meant to recall and then echo a much earlier time than the 1590s.

Alex McNeil speaking on sonnets 153 and 154.

While not directly about the sonnets themselves, presentations by William Boyle and Prof. Maurice Holland (both following Whittemore’s) were meant to expand on the basic premise of Whittemore’s “Monument” theory of what the Sonnets are all about, namely: The Essex Rebellion and its aftermath. Boyle (full disclosure: that’s me) continued on a theme he has covered over the past two years, that the succession crisis of the 1590s, Richard II, Essex, Southampton, and Shakespeare are all tightly interconnected, which explains much about how and why both the Essex Rebellion and the authorship problem came to be. Prof. Holland was on hand to talk specifically about the legal concept of “misprision of treason,” which is an integral part of the Monument Theory’s view of both the Rebellion and how the Sonnets are a record of the Rebellion (e.g., Sonnet 87 and line 12 “misprision”). Prof. Holland did not agree that Southampton had received misprision of treason as a plea bargain to save his life, saying there was no such thing as “plea bargains” in those days. He sided with those who said it was simply compassion that saved Southampton. All this is explained in much more detail on Whittemore’s Shakespeare’s Monument page.

For another view of the Sonnets we can turn to Prof. Sam Saunders (Washington State University, Kirkland WA), who used his mathematical expertise to ask, “Do Shake-speare’s Sonnets Exhibit Harmonic Balance?” His answer was yes, but it may be a bit complicated to try to explain it here. In brief, he demonstrated how some studies of word use can reveal “harmonic balance” for any particular author and his works by calculating the total number of words used, and then breaking that total down into the most-used single word as a percentage of the total and the least-used single word as a percentage of the total. If the percentages align in a more or less straight line slope on an X-Y axis, then there is a “harmonic balance” in the work. And the sonnets examined by Saunders did just that.

Professor of Mathematics Sam Saunders on the Sonnets

Award-winning author Lynne Kositsky (Toronto, Canada) was on hand to present a brief (15 minute) bit of satire in the form of a story called, “The Mouse and the Lion: Responses from an Orthodox Source.” A bit of background is needed here first to appreciate the story: Lynne and Prof. Roger Stritmatter have in recent years done research on The Tempest (e.g., Shakespeare and the Voyagers Revisited,” Review of English Studies, 2007) that has resulted in responses from such “Orthodoxy” as the Shakespeare Quarterly. Lynne’s story was a hit that hit home, and enjoyed by all. And furthermore, with this audience, all agreed with it wholeheartedly.

Finally, as is always the case at the SASC, proponents of other authorship theories were welcome to present their cases. This year attendees heard from three presenters arguing for three alternative claimants to both the Stratford actor and the Earl of Oxford: Lamberto Tassinari, an editor and author from Montreal, made the case for John Florio (“Shakespeare’s Poetry in the Words of John Florio”); Dr. Peter McIntosh, a senior scientist from the Forest Practice Services in Hobart, Tasmania, used the sonnets to make a case for Queen Elizabeth (“A Scientist Looks at Shakespeare’s Sonnets”); and Robin Williams, author of Mary Sidney: The Swan of Avon, gave a presentation based on her book.

We should note right off the bat that just a day after Tassinari made his case for Florio, his name appeared in the Wall St. Journal article about Oxford, with Justice Ruth Ginsberg citing Florio as her choice. Florio is certainly a minority position, but you’ve got to tip your hat to Tassinari for his timing! Meanwhile, Dr. Peter McIntosh traveled all the way from Australia to present his analysis of the sonnets, which concentrated on systematically identifying persons talked of within the verses and then trying like a detective to find the best fit among those most likely in London and the Court to be in “Shakespeare’s” circle. He comes down to the Queen herself as the most likely author, which like Florio (above) is definitely a minority position. Depending on one’s point of view, a case can certainly be made for both Florio and the Queen (along with others) being involved somehow in the Shakespeare works as ones who knew the author, knew the work, may have even been able to get their two pence worth in, etc. But when it comes to arguing the “fit” with Hamlet and Lear, the fit is demanding (IMHO).

Robin Williams, who also received the 2009 conference’s award for Excellence in Scholarship for her book Mary Sidney: Sweet Swan of Avon, gave an excellent PowerPoint presentation of her work. Of the three alternative candidates presented this year, Mary Sidney is probably the most interesting and probable candidate given her family history (sister of Sir Philip Sidney, mother of William Herbert —maybe the W.H. in the Sonnets— etc.), well-known literary traits, and various Shakespeare connections,
The SASC audience (overwhelmingly Oxfordian) foun
d her presentation quite informative, especially some of the more obscure biographical facts about Mary Sidney and her rich, literary life.

Robin Williams makes the case for Mary Sidney as Shakespeare

With this post we conclude our report on the 2009 SASC. These have been very brief notes, and given all that has been happening this year on the Shakespeare authorship front, we will return to some of these topics in more detail in the coming months.

2009 Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference – Reporting from Portland (Part III)

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Well, in truth, I’m no longer reporting from Portland, ’cause I’m back home in Boston (and recovering from jet lag … we got in after midnite).

Anyway, to continue with brief reports and accompanying pix about each presentation, let’s look at some poetry and songs. Prof. Michael Delahoyde of Washington State University (Pullman, WA) and one of his graduate students there, Jacob Hughes, both gave presentations on Shakespeare and Chaucer Saturday morning. There are a number of instances of parallels between Shakespeare and Chaucer (anyone surprised?), but what caught my eye during these presentations was the instances of “pilgrims” and “pilgrimages” in Chaucer (and especially how one of these instances matched up with Richard II). In working on my own presentation for Saturday afternoon I had decided to bring The Passionate Pilgrim (1599) into a discussion about the politics of the succession crisis (which includes Richard II) and had just been wondering why the title “The Passionate Pilgrim.” These presentations got me thinking, and I’ll have more on that next week.

Prof. Michael Delahoyde (center) and graduate student Jacob Hughes (right) after answering questions on their presentations Saturday morning (Conference Director Daniel Wright is on the left).

Dr. Earl Showerman’s presentation (“Bottom’s Dream: Herculean Farce as Political Allegory”) continued in the tradition of his presentations over the past several years at the SASC, concentrating on Shakespeare’s use of ancient Greek and Roman myths, legends, stories and plays. There is fertile ground for finding such connnections (since they are merely all over the place, and other scholars have written about them also). But the wealth of detail in Shakespeare’s use does raise that troubling question again …you know, the one about Shakespeare’s education and how he gained (and apparently became obsessed with) such knowledge. And for this blogger, it is interesting to see how often such use had a political agenda in it.

Dr. Earl Showerman presenting “Bottom’s Dream”

Prof. Ren Draya (Blackburn College, Calinville, IL) is another presenter who has become a regular at the SASC in recent years. She has done joint presentations with Prof. Delahoyde several times, focusing on Othello. This year Prof. Draya gave a talk on “Shakespeare’s Songs, with Special Attention to Othello.” Her talk focused on another well-know attribute of Shakespeare, i.e. that some of his poetry was meant to be song lyrics, and that those lyrics can sometimes be poetry just as pointed as any play dialogue.

Prof. Ren Draya of Blackburn College

I will continue with this report later today or tomorrow.

2009 Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference – Reporting from Portland (Part II)

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Picking up where I left off yesterday, here are several pix and brief notes on other presentations from the 2009 SASC in Portland.

Prof. Roger Stritmatter (Coppin State College, Baltimore, Maryland) presented the case for the island in The Tempest being an obscure little island in the Mediterranean (“Where in the World? Geogrpahy and Irony in The Tempest”). But even though obscure in one sense of the word, the island was well-documented in ancient days as a way station for sailors and pirates of the day. Stritmatter also made his case for this island based on parallels between Orlando Furioso and The Tempest.

Prof. Roger Stritmatter giving his presentation

Continuing on the theme of geography, Oxfordian author Richard Whalen presented a paper on connections between Othello and Cyprus (“Othello’s Harbingers on Cyprus Suggest in Their Dramatic Poetry that The Dramatist Had Been There.”). Whalen compared details from the play with maps of sections of Cyprus to make his case.

Richard Whalen on Othello and Cyprus

That’s all for today (got to get to the airport soon and back to Boston). I will pick up with my conference report in a few more days.

2009 Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference – Reporting from Portland

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It’s been a hectic —but also exciting and satisfying— four days for everyone here in Portland, Oregon, attending the 13th annual Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference on the campus of Concordia University. Of course the big news of the weekend turned out to be the front page story in the Wall Street Journal about the authorship debate and the US Supreme Court. Professor Daniel Wright (Conference Chair and Director of the Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre at Concordia) read the story in full to start the Saturday afternoon session, and in the end had to be the one to sacrifice presenting a paper in order to keep everything on schedule. The sacrifice was, he said proudly, worth it.

There will undoubtedly be more to come, re: Justice Stevens and the Supreme Court. For now I want to report on the conference, beginning with this short post, and continuing later today and tomorrow; even with the conference over I have a meeting to get to by noon today about the formal opening of the brand new Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre which will take place in August as part of the dedication of the new George R. White Library on campus. Tours of the new facility were given on Sunday afternoon.

Here is one pix of some conference attendees touring the 3rd floor room that will be part of the new home of the Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre come this August, 2009.

Touring the new Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre

Among presenters at this year’s conference were keynote speaker Ramon Jimenez of Berkeley, California, long-time Oxfordian researcher and author. Ramon spoke on the so-called “ur-texts” of Shakespeare (“The Ur-Hamlet and its Seven Siblings; Explorations in Shakespeare’s Dramatic Juvenilia”), by which is meant not only the “Ur-Hamlet” but other early play manuscripts and quartos that could be considered first drafts of Shakespeare plays, but must —to remain politically correct and all that in Strat-think— be considered stand alone early versions by someone else that Shakespeare merely “borrowed” from (i.e, stole from, or plagiarized):

Ramon Jimenez answers questions

Another featured speaker over the weekend was Prof. Michael Egan, author of the multi-volume Richard II, Part I (a study of the so-called Thomas of Woodstock play manuscript). Prof. Egan, who is also now the new editor of The Oxfordian (even though he remains —at this point at least— a Stratfordian!) presented a most interesting commentary (“Shakespeare’s authorship of The Tragedy of Richard II, Part One: Evidence and its Interpretation”) on how his fellow Stratfordians have received his work on Richard II, Part I. In short, they have not treated his Mellon-award winning work well, which is more shame on them than on Prof. Egan. But more to the point, some have been undoubtedly “unscholarly” in their own work and methodology on this subject, as Prof. Egan made abundantly clear:

Prof. Michael Egan’s presentation was a response to his Stratfordian colleagues

We will continue with our report later today.

Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference in Portland, Oregon, April 16-19.

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An update from Conference Chair Prof. Daniel Wright of Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, on the upcoming 13th Annual Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference. The complete agenda of papers, presenters and schedule, along with online registration forms, can be found on the Conference page of the Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre website. Following are some highlights of added events for each day:


Thursday: On Thursday evening, instead of the usual opening night of papers, attendees will be treated to a performance of Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare’s Treason, an astonishing dramatic work of revelation and creativity by Hank Whittemore and Ted Story. The show premiered in Portland last August, and has also been performed at Cambridge University and the Globe Theatre in London last fall. You won’t want to miss this “Monumental” performance on the CU stage. Bring friends. Admission for the night is $50 for non-conference registrants, and the play will be followed by a Q&A session with the playwright. Refreshments will be served. What are you doing on Thursday that could be more worth your while?

Friday: After the close of the day’s proceedings, Hank Whittemore, Bill Boyle and Dan Wright will, at 7:30pm, convene a panel at the world’s largest bookstore – Powell’s City of Books (at 10th and Burnside in Portland) where Hank will be presenting his revolutionary study of the Sonnets – The Monument – to the general public (always huge at Powell’s!) and Bill Boyle and  Dan Wright will be commenting on its significance. Hank’s presentation will be followed by Q&A and the opportunity for the public to purchase copies of The Monument. Hank will be signing copies of his book afterwards, too.

Saturday:  At the Awards Banquet (University Club, 1225 SW 6th Avenue, Portland) awards will be conferred on Renee Montagne of
National Public Radio, librarian Bill Boyle and author Robin Williams.
There is still time to sign up for this banquet, but it needs to be
done right away! The cash bar opens at 6:30pm; the dinner (with a choice of prime rib, cedar-smoked salmon, or a vegetarian dish) will follow at

Sunday: From 3:00 – 5:00pm, there will be hardhat tours of the now nearly-complete 78,000+ square-foot, three-story George White
Library and Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre.

Prof. Wright also reminds us about the annual summer seminars on campus (this summer will be the 11th!), which this year will be held on August 16th to 21st.
This will be the first seminar to be held in the new space for the Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre, located on the 3rd floor of the brand new George White Library building. The theme for
the seminar (to be lead by Prof. Wright) is Shakespeare and
Religion. Registration for the week (on-campus breakfasts and lunches included!) is a mere four hundred and ninety-five dollars. For more
details, go to

Did Hamlet sleep with Ophelia?

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Ron Rosenbaum over at Slate weighs in on the Cobbe portrait today (“Should We Care What Shakespeare Did in Bed?”), and winds up talking about Hamlet and Ophelia. His segue is sex, going from some recent commentaries about how great it is that the Cobbe portrait gives us a “sexy” looking Shakespeare right into the very heart of Shakespeare —Hamlet.

First, he handles Portrait-gate in short order:

What is remarkable about the fight over this “new” portrait—and it is,
indeed, developing into a scholarly shootout—is that one of the leading
eminences of British academic Shakespeare, Stanley Wells, general
editor of the Oxford Shakespeare series, has lent his name to the
venture. It was Wells who spearheaded a press conference unveiling the
“Cobbe portrait” as the centerpiece of the upcoming exhibition, which
is somewhat grandly called “Shakespeare Found.” His support is
especially surprising given how quickly and credibly other scholars,
such as Oxford’s Katherine Duncan-Jones, have presented evidence that
the portrait isn’t of Shakespeare at all but rather of a Jacobean
contemporary, Sir Thomas Overbury. (Duncan-Jones’ piece on this subject in the Times Literary Supplement
is worth clicking on because it presents a portrait that is indubitably
Overbury and it looks exactly like the one Wells claims to be of

He then goes on to note:

The whole contretemps reminds me of the recent debate about whether
Shakespeare wrote the “Funeral Elegy,” a wretched, mind-numbingly
sententious, and witless 600-line poem found in a manuscript that had
long been gathering dust in an Oxford library. As I recounted in my
book The Shakespeare Wars,
the false (and eventually discredited) claim about the ludicrous elegy
was nonetheless a serious matter: If that dreadful work had survived
persistent jeers from outsiders such as myself, and definitive
debunking by scholars such as Gilles Monsarrat and Brian Vickers, and
been taken for authentic, it might have forced us to re-evaluate,
through the prism of its rebarbative verse, everything we thought we
knew about Shakespeare’s attitudes toward life, death, and mortality.
We would have had to take the text especially seriously, in fact,
because the claim was that it had been written by Shakespeare in 1612,
four years before his death, and that he was writing in his own
voice—eulogizing a friend—and thus not speaking through a character
whose clumsy words could be excused or explained by dramatic irony or
some other literary device.

Hear, hear, we say! Funeral Elegy was an authorship-driven story of about ten years ago, and as Brian Vickers noted in taking it down —as he had to note, by the way— it was an Oxfordian (RIchard Kennedy of Oregon) who played a key role in demonstrating that Elegy was most likely by John Ford.

Then Ron goes on to the big issue:

There is so little established certainty about Shakespeare’s personal
traits that it is almost always a reductive and foolish thing to try to
read his work through urban legends about his life, or his life through
his work.

Right. Tell that to all the recent biographers/commentators (Greenblatt, Holden, Shapiro, Bate, et al.) who are doing just that —discussing his life through his works— as, of course, they must. Got to head off that incredibly interesting and downright seductive Oxford story … somehow, someway. And what else is there but the works if one is going to talk about “Shakespeare” this or “Shakespeare” that?

It is when he gets to Hamlet that Rosenbaum opens wide
the door to some authorship commentary, whether he knows it or not
(and, for the record, Rosenbaum is one of those who has nothing but
contempt for anti-Stratfordians). He quotes a passage from Stanley Wells (of portrait fame), asking whether we know if Hamlet slept with Ophelia, and whether knowing it matters:

But look at the different Hamlets one gets—the different
Shakespeares one gets—depending on how one understands the
relationships between Gertrude and Claudius, and Hamlet and Ophelia.
Was Shakespeare’s vision in his plays misogynist, one that saw women as
weak and unprincipled, subject to the whims of desire, abandoning
fidelity for the lure of a hottie or someone royally powerful?

He continues:

And why is it so difficult to find any certainty about these questions
in the text? Is the ambiguity part of a deliberate design in which
Shakespeare prompts us to ask these questions while deliberately
withholding the answers? The play, after all, begins with an
unanswerable question: “Who’s there?” Who indeed is out there in the
darkness of the universe that surrounds the battlements of Elsinore
castle? All the questions of the play can be seen as variations on that
initial question. Who are these women actually, who’s there beneath the
artifice and costume that Hamlet denounces in that misogynist attack on
Ophelia—and women in general—for using makeup and (my favorite sign
that Hamlet’s view of women is a bit deranged) giving nicknames to pets?

But how Hamlet judges the queen, his mother, and how we judge Hamlet’s
judgment of her (and women in general) may depend on how we answer
Stanley Wells’ question: Did Hamlet sleep with Ophelia? 

Then, finally, Rosenbaum manages both to make and to miss the point in one breath:

I think the important thing here is that—after centuries of
argument and pettifoggery—there is no “correct” answer to these
questions about who slept with whom and when.
And why is that? Because
Shakespeare either couldn’t make up his mind himself or—more likely—had
a preference for indeterminacy, for open-endedness (no pun, etc.), for
the possibility of both answers being true or at least intriguing, in
which the conclusion one comes to says more about the observer than
about the indeterminable “facts” of the case.

Now, what really interests me at this point is that Ron has hit on two arguments that I have been making for years whenever I discuss the authorship with anyone —namely, 1) that there is a correct answer out there somewhere to many of these Shakespeare questions (but you need the right author!), and 2) that in this instance of the Hamlet-Ophelia situation in Hamlet, that answer turns out to be exactly what Ron posits ….that Shakespeare couldn’t make up his mind —but for very good (and well documented) reasons,

I will continue this point in a few days, and I hope visitors here will return to see what I mean about a “correct” answer and how such unwitting Stratfordian diehards as Ron Rosenbaum continue to mislead so many readers with their own certainities.