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.