We had been creating original work for our Company since its founding in 1975. Now in 1998 we deviated from that course to undertake an experiment: tackling the most performed, interpreted and translated English play under the sun: The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, adapting it in our dynamic physical-theatre style, exploring audience participation.
Little did we know our deviation would lead to an even greater adventure: the discovery of the Shakespeare Authorship Question.
We came across the idea that Shakespeare from Stratford might not have been Shakespeare the writer from actors Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi, who planted the notion that whoever wrote Hamlet was writing his autobiography. They spoke of being connected to a kind of power current, as if an alchemical process was taking place in their blood and fiber, where the intermingled story of Hamlet and his author was being communicated from a world beyond the physical.
As we started to embody the play’s central characters, and particularly Hamlet himself, we could not stop wondering whose story was being told. The play now felt utterly personal, and that controversial idea kept echoing back: who is speaking from behind these words?
We became avid readers of everything we could find on the topic, considering all candidates. We read Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare. We read the excellent Oxfordian literature available, by researchers like Looney, Ward, Ogburn, Ruth Loyd Miller, Eva Turner Clarke, Barrell, Anderson, Stritmatter and many other contemporary ‘Reasonable Doubters’ whose boundary-breaking work we discovered via Shakespeare Matters. The deeper we delved, the more rigid we perceived the attitude of the establishment to be, and the more oppressive the status quo.
The needle of our compass kept being drawn to the man whose life and make-up seemed to fit the persona and complexities of Prince Hamlet like a kidskin glove, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Oxford as the hidden author made sense socially, historically, politically, and psychologically.
Once convinced of Oxford’s voice behind Prince Hamlet, we felt inspired to take on the role of Horatio, heeding his friend’s last wish that his story be told. Our Shake-speare X-files project began: the crafting of a play that would show how Shakespeare’s work reflects the life of Edward de Vere in stunning detail: the turmoils, the adventures, the politics, the emotional highs & lows, with the author as the central figure amidst a cast of historical personages. Taking Hamlet’s words at heart, when he talks of plays as “abstract and brief chronicles of the time”, we wanted to lift out passages that together would form an arc of autobiographical detail spanning across the entire canon, thus showing the subjective source of Shakespeare’s genius.
The first version of our ‘de-masquerade’ premiered in Sydney in 2001 and provoked a short outburst of debate in the main paper. The play eventually became a diptych, SHAKE-SPEARE Part 1 & 2, which stayed in the Company’s repertoire until 2009. It was important to work with actors who were open minded, if not in full agreement, about the ideas put forward in our diptych. How exciting to see a new world opening for them, too, particularly for one cast member who had acted in just about every Shakespeare play, and who was now falling even more in love with the ‘hidden’ writer.
When we opened in 2001 a damning review * appeared in the paper. It was not so much of our play but rather of our audacious proposition that Edward de Vere was Shakespeare. Several members of our audience complained to the editor. The editor then invited both of us and the reviewer to write an article ** arguing our different viewpoints. This double feature was published under the title: To be or not to be – will the real Shakespeare please take a bow. In response, Australia’s foremost director of Shakespeare plays penned a piece in support of the Stratford man, which was published in the paper’s Heckler column***. We were ready with a response, but the editor unfortunately pulled the plug on it. We strongly believe that making the authorship question known to a wider audience, particularly to students of English and drama in schools and universities, will enrich the enjoyment and appreciation of Shakespeare’s work, and will be quite a life-education.
–Jepke Goudsmit & Graham Jones
* review : The Sydney Morning Herald, Metropolitan, page 20, 8th October 2001
** article : The Sydney Morning Herald, Metropolitan, page 17, 17th October 2001
*** column : The Sydney Morning Herald, The Heckler, page 18, 22nd October 2001
“How I Became an Oxfordian” is edited by Bob Meyers. You may submit your essay on this topic (500 words or less in an editable format such as MS Word), along with a digital photo of yourself, to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also include a sentence about yourself (e.g., “John J. Smith is a businessman in San Francisco.”)
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