Former Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship president John Hamill attended the Shakespearean Authorship Trust Conference November 22 in London. He, with assistance from others, sent the following report.
O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Mark Rylance delivered this invocation from Henry V to over 100 attendees at the Shakespearean Authorship Trust conference on November 22, 2015 at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
Stratfordians mingled with Marlovians, and Nevillians with Oxfordians in the cozy Nancy Knowles Lecture Theatre to hear six speakers address this year’s subject—Shakespeare’s Histories: Whose Agenda Do They Serve?
Although the SAT prefers to avoid discussions of individual authorship candidates, some speakers (not the compliant Oxfordians) mentioned their candidate.
To that point, SAT trustee Ros Barber said:
The SAT makes it clear to presenters that though we recognise everyone will be coming from the perspective of their preferred candidate, they are not to directly advocate for that candidate. We make speakers aware of this both in the call for papers and in the e-mails exchanged in the run-up to the conference. Unfortunately we did have one presenter this year who entirely ignored that instruction.
The SAT trustees believe that the best way to progress towards the authorship question becoming accepted as a valid question in academia and the mainstream media is for non-Stratfordians to work together in that common cause, and the guidelines for our conference presenters reflect that aim.
Donna Murphy — a Marlovian from Washington, DC — explored the favorable treatment of the earls of Northumberland in Shakespeare’s histories. Her main point of evidence was that Marlowe, unlike the man from Stratford, would have known the Earl of Northumberland, and that Northumberland had in his possession most of the books that Shakespeare used as sources for his plays. Murphy raised the issue that the library of the Earl of Northumberland in Alnwick Castle needs to be researched.
Gerit Quealy, without mentioning Oxford, had fun with Shakespeare’s ridicule of Philip Sidney in Henry V. She made the point that if the play ridicules Sidney, it had to be written prior to Sidney’s death in 1586. Quealy postulated that the play was partly in response to Sidney’s 1582 criticism of English playwrights at the time. Her talk was greatly enlivened by recitations from Henry V and Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella by several of Britain’s finest actors — Richard Clifford, Derek Jacobi, Annabel Leventon and Mark Rylance.
Ramon Jiménez, brilliantly and in great detail, challenged Sir Brian Vickers’ attribution of the anonymous Troublesome Reign of King John to George Peele. Jiménez presented evidence that the author was William Shakespeare and asserted that Troublesome Reign, published in 1591, was the first Shakespeare play in print, though written much earlier.
Andrew Hadfield, a Stratfordian professor at the University of Sussex, spoke on Shakespeare’s political world. Hadfield made the point that the plays were mainly designed for the public stage, not for the court. He claimed that the author did not need to know the details of the monarchy, or be an intimate of the court to know of the intrigues. He stated that these facts were widely known to the populace. For instance, he claimed that King Lear was about King James, and that Julius Caesar was about the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and that the audience would know this.
Manchester psychotherapist John Casson advanced a vigorous case for Sir Henry Neville as the real Shakespeare. He argued that Troublesome Reign of King John was co-written by Neville and Peele, and that King John was written by Neville. He claimed, as evidence, that some of the words in the plays had been used by Neville and that “Falconbridge” is a Neville family name. He also claimed that the anonymous play Look About You is a prequel to both plays, written by Neville, and it is also about Falconbridge and King John.
Director Greg Thompson, though a Nevillian, did not discuss any particular play or its relevance to any author, but instead asked the audience to read passages of plays without punctuation to see if anyone could read them correctly. He then asked the audience to guess if the passage read was from Shakespeare or not. It was not clear to many how this exercise in reading and guessing had anything to do with the subject of this year’s conference.
At the end of the conference, Ros Barber — a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London and SAT trustee — discussed some positive updates of Stratfordian/non-Strafordian collaboration. As examples she brought up her book Shakespeare: The Evidence, and a new book she edited, 30-Second Shakespeare, that has a foreword by Mark Rylance.
William Leahy — deputy vice chancellor at Brunel University London, and SAT trustee — led a brief panel forum and question session.
A conference program contained short essays in support of four authorship candidates by the late John Rollett on William Stanley, Simon Miles on Francis Bacon, Donna Murphy on Christopher Marlowe, and Kevin Gilvary on Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.
SAT trustee Ros Barber said that the conference program is not currently available online, but she will ask the SAT board if they would consider posting the program on their website. Barber said that the conference was videotaped and will be available on the SAT YouTube channel within a month or so. Those who subscribe to the SAT channel on YouTube will be notified when the videos are available for viewing.
Ros Barber said that advances in the authorship question this year also included: Alexander Waugh’s Shakespeare in Court and the subsequent positive press coverage in Newsweek; Bill Leahy’s leading article in The Conversation; and the forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Early Modern Studies, edited by Bill Leahy and Paola Pugliatti, to which both Stratfordian and non-Stratfordian contributors have contributed.