• Abstract:

       

      The new century has seen some outstanding controversial research in Shakespearean studies. These current discoveries and inferences now invite a reconsideration of both authorship and inspiration. This paper summarises the latest research (Anderson, Stritmatter, Whittemore, Beauclerk), discusses the perceptions of poets and creative writers, who do not cease to be poets when writing criticism (Blake, Keats, James Joyce, Charles Williams, Ted Hughes) and follows up two insights of Rudolf Steiner on the authorship question concerning the figure of Hamlet and the role of James I.

    • That the Shadow of Shakespeare has evolved is undeniable, passing through 18th-century pantomimes, critical revaluation – especially through S.T. Coleridge [1] –, Victorian music-hall and rebirth at the hands of literary critic A.C. Bradley in 1904. [2] Whereas the period 1904-1920 was witnessing a staggering rediscovery of the works, J. Thomas Looney [3] in 1920 initiated the research that identified “Shakespeare” as real-life Edward de Vere; James Joyce reopened the debate regarding the relationship between Hamlet and Shakespeare; Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), I submit, offered assistance regarding both the authorship question and the figure of Hamlet. [4]
    • A full-length biography of Edward de Vere by Mark Anderson (2005) [9] points out the plentiful connections to the Shakespearean canon.
    • But now, Hank Whittemore (2008), [12] incorporating the three year-parts and other temporal references and deciphering the imagery, reveals line-by-line that, running parallel to the overt literary meaning, there is a hidden personal story of national, indeed international interest. Far from indulging the “biographical fallacy” in our reading, Whittemore shows that the Sonnets were intended to transmute a tortuous life-story into a work of art.
    • Roger Stritmatter, [15] moreover, provides evidence that Edward de Vere was a hidden writer in a scrupulously researched Ph.D. thesis on the markings of the latter’s Geneva Bible (2001). Some underscored verses refer to secret authorship – the life-style of irony of God’s fools and prophets: “the prophet is a foole; the spiritual man is mad” (Hosea 9:7); Matthew, chapter 6:4 advises giving “almes… in secret, & thy Father that seeth in secret, he wil rewarde thee openly”. Recall Hamlet’s feigned “madness”, Lear’s Fool who speaks the truth, Edgar as “poor Tom” – not to mention, too, such themes as disguise, mistaken identity, twins and the sequence of bastard characters. A significant number of underscored verses in this Bible relate to the canon itself and its relationship to the inner life of Edward de Vere.
    • We encounter more controversial areas with Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom (2010). Charles Beauclerk, concentrating on the Bard’s relationship to Elizabeth, explores further both the mythology and the scandalising circumstances that led to the increasingly urgent question of the succession. It is certainly possible that Elizabeth (1533–1603) – the “Virgin Queen” of accepted myth, married to her subjects, was the mother of several children
    • If the “Shadow” of Shakespeare has emerged from a concrete historical figure whose strongest self-expression is Hamlet, then it is time to address Steiner, who takes up the theme of the search for identity at the deepest level in the introductory lecture of his course on Mark’s gospel (1912). [23] His remarks on Hamlet, seen in the light of recent research, throw a bright light on the authorship question. The lecturer sketches the East-West situation, mentioning the ancient spirituality of the East, but also five writers who profoundly influenced Western culture – David, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe. Steiner emphasises that the five mentioned writers present a truer picture of events than outer historical accounts alone can.
    • To be clear about this, contemporary research unavoidably points to the historical figure, Edward de Vere, as author, while at the same time there is what could be called a meta-historical figure lying behind and informing the Shadow Hamlet. Empedocles “stands behind” Faust. Hector and Empedocles represent “a conclusion”; in their subsequent lives “great souls appear small”. In bypassing William Shakespeare, about whose life little substantial is really known, is Steiner’s purpose necessarily concealed? In 1912 the authorship question only occupied the attention of an “eccentric fringe”. Instead, Steiner reveals “the real figure underlying Hamlet, as presented by Shakespeare, is Hector”.
    • Though he claimed the Shakespeare authorship question is not an issue, Northrop Frye – perhaps the most influential literary critic of the twentieth century – in his life’s work on the whole “order of words” (Coleridge’s phrase) has accounted for the origins of literature in myth, that is, stories about “what is”. Oxfordians claim the Bard both lived his myth and re-expressed it in the canon. He develops all four of Frye’s “modes”: comedy, romance, tragedy, and irony/satire. [39] Adonis-Oberon/Bottom-Hamlet-Troilus/Hector-Anthony and Venus-Titania-Gertrude-Cressida-Cleopatra are artistic creations based on a real-life relationship. The perspective of the poets – that the Bard’s life was “an allegory” (Keats), a unique relationship of Spectre and Shadow (Blake); that his imagination was drawn to solve the deepest tragic issues (Williams), through the interior demands incumbent on a working-out of the “mythic equation” (Hughes) – appear to me to provide clinching concepts to reconcile apparently exclusive views arising from biographical and historical knowledge.
    • The present article is one reader’s response to a unique scenario. Broadly speaking, early in life I met a rather sentimental view of a chameleon, instinctive playwright, but now I have been shown the disaffected pariah, bastard, prodigy and nameless man who suffered an acute identity crisis – all for love. It cannot be gainsaid that the search for the human being behind the literary creations comes into sharp focus when, in the case of Hamlet, creation and creator unite.
    • If the historical records of the makings of our modern world have been manipulated, history needs re-writing, its implications for our age re-assessed. But this does not reduce art to biography and history. Do we really imagine the Shakespearean authorship question is superfluous, since we “have the plays”? Yet do we have them? For one lover of the Bard at least, the work of scholars to reveal the mythical and satirical inspirations of the flesh-and-blood author opens a deeper appreciation and renewed respect for that human being whose sacrifices led to sovereign art. Sitting at his feet, I learn even more about the creative process sustained against the heaviest odds. The Bard now emerges as probably the foremost subversive, dissident author – he is our contemporary.

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