When I was ten, my father purchased a set of classics bound in rich green leather with gold leaf edges. The volumes included works by Voltaire, Cervantes, Twain, and many others. Shakespeare’s works, in four volumes, were included too. As a youth, these books were bound intellectualism and I was a sponge.
Thus, I leafed through Romeo and Juliet, but failed to understand the beginning scene of dispute between the Capulets and Montagues. Eventually, I reached for the volume of sonnets and poems that seemed more approachable, but again, I failed to understand what I was reading. In frustration, I skipped to the back of the volume and found The Phoenix and the Turtle. This was perfect for my youthful brain. I read it. And I read it again and again until it became memorized. My brain exploded with questions: Why is the writer talking about birds? Whose funeral is this? What does “truth and beauty buried be” mean? I knew that this poem most certainly had to be about Queen Elizabeth I. But how?
A year later, I chose The Phoenix and the Turtle for a sixth grade assignment. My dad took me to the library and together we read books about Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare. Fortunately, my father, a manufacturing worker and history buff, helped me comprehend the research. Shakespeare’s biography, however, was a complete letdown to me. How could every book say the same exact story about the man who penned some of the most mouthwatering phrases I had ever heard?
After I became a theatre professor, I struggled teaching Elizabethan theatre and Shakespeare’s contribution. I had heard about the Authorship Question, but who was I to challenge a literary legend in leather bound volumes? Then, a student in my Theatre History course, Tim, asked if he could research the Authorship Debate. He seemed hesitant, nervous even, that I might deny him an opportunity to research the Authorship. I encouraged him; to me, having a student wanting to deliberately research is a prized moment.
Tim visited me one afternoon excited about discovering the book “Shakespeare” by Another Name by Mark Anderson. In my hands was information I had wished for for twenty-three years. Within Mr. Anderson’s pages, I was meeting, for the first time, the writer of The Phoenix and the Turtle; how he displayed his love for his Queen and, perhaps, lamented her death in eulogy. It was a stunning moment; I believe I cried. I felt again the fervor of scholarship I had when I was eleven and I think I still hold that same excitement today reading about Edward de Vere.
Since Tim introduced me to the 17th Earl of Oxford, I now include a lesson about the Authorship Debate in my Theatre Appreciation course. Students are intrigued by the debate and, best of all, appreciate Shakespeare’s works in a new light.
— Theresa Lauricella
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