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Fall Issue of Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter Now Available

The Fall 2015 issue of The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter has been published, and is available online.

“My ‘From the Editor’ column usually goes inside the issue,” said Newsletter editor Alex McNeil. “But there wasn’t room for it this time. That’s because the principal article—the report of this year’s Conference in Ashland, Oregon—is longer than most articles, and we decided to include several photos from the well attended event.” The issue also includes a separate report by Earl Showerman on authorship-related activities that took place in Ashland on the day before the Conference; the first of a two-part article by C.V. Berney on Cymbeline; three book reviews; Tom Regnier’s “From the President” column; and several news items and letters.

SOF members who subscribe to the printed newsletter will soon be receiving it in the mail. All 2015 SOF members may download the newsletter in pdf format at https://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/shakespeare-oxford-newsletter using the same password that they have been using this year for newsletters and journals. Members who are unsure of the password may email newsletter@shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org for assistance.

You can join the SOF or renew your membership for 2016 at our membership page.

To give you a taste of the Fall newsletter, below is Earl Showerman’s report of the events that took place in Ashland the day before the conference when our contingent of visiting Oxfordian scholars from England appeared on Jefferson Public Radio and then spoke at a two-hour forum at Southern Oregon University called, “Did Shakespeare Really Write Those Plays? How Credible Is the Evidence?”

Shakespeare Authorship Discourse at Southern Oregon University

By Earl Showerman

Eddi Jolly, Kevin Gilvary, Alexander Waugh, Wally Hurst, Ros Barber, and Earl Showerman (l. to r.)

Eddi Jolly, Kevin Gilvary, Alexander Waugh, Wally Hurst, Ros Barber, and Earl Showerman (l. to r.)

Although the SOF annual conference did not begin until Thursday, September 24, two important events took place in Ashland on the previous day. Both featured several of the distinguished scholars who came all the way from England to Oregon. The first event was an hour interview on “The Jefferson Exchange,” broadcast on Jefferson Public Radio, Southern Oregon University’s internet radio outlet. Hosted by Geoffrey Riley, the program featured Ros Barber, Kevin Gilvary and Alexander Waugh. [The interview was still available at press time on the Jefferson Exchange archive for September 22: http://ijpr.org/post/true-shakespeare-believers-descend-upon-ashland#stream/0.]

Gilvary stated that he became curious about the Shakespeare authorship question through the history plays, which he recognized as Elizabethan propaganda. Shakspere of Stratford did not get rich writing plays, he argued, and his fortune (over £1,000 equity in Warwickshire properties) had to have been gained by other means, perhaps by being a front man for an anonymous author. Barber noted that the documentary record proves Shakspere was a businessman, and a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the King’s Men, and the Globe, suggesting the possibility that he was also a broker of plays. Henslowe’s diary lists the majority of plays as written collaboratively. However, printed editions—those intended to be read as literature—were almost exclusively listed under the name of a single author.

Gilvary summarized his doctoral thesis, “Shakespearean Biogra-fiction: How modern biographers rely on context, conjecture and inference to construct a life of the Bard,” in which he found that almost all claims made by modern Shakespeare biographers have no foundation in documentary evidence. He and Barber asserted that writing about the Shakespeare authorship challenge is still a taboo subject in academia. Both obtained their doctorates by writing theses that did not directly address the authorship question: Barber’s thesis, “The Marlowe Papers,” was written as imaginative, lyrical fiction.

Waugh challenged the traditional interpretation of the First Folio dedicatory epistles, noting that the “sweet swan of Avon” may not refer to Stratford-upon-Avon. “Avon” was commonly used to refer to Hampton Court on the Thames, the royal palace where many dramatic productions were staged (“Hampton” is a corruption of “Avon dunum,” the ancient name for the fort constructed along the Thames). He also noted that many cryptic allusions to “Shakespeare” in 16th and 17th century texts suggest that the name is a pseudonym, and that most traditional scholars have ignored or misinterpreted them.

Gilvary added that it was not until 1843 that a serious attempt at a biography of Shakespeare was written, and that it established a pattern of romanticized, imaginative speculation about the poet’s life that continues to this day. And, at about the same time, authorship doubt became a popular concern. He stated that documentary evidence that might support Oxford’s authorship was probably lost in fires, one at Hedingham Castle and another at Wentworth Library, which held the papers of Susan Vere.

Concluding the interview, Barber noted that Christopher Marlowe invented blank verse drama and the English history play, that “most scholars” doubt the inquest testimony of the witnesses to his death in 1593, and that he possessed the “means, motive and opportunity” to avoid being killed and to change his identity. Waugh stated that there are “thousands” of reasons to believe Oxford was Shakespeare, with 300 books and 600 articles supporting this theory, and that Oxford maintained a “scriptorium” of writers. Further, of the hundreds of literary sources identified in Shakespeare, none were published after 1604, the year Oxford died. Gilvary stressed the singular importance of biography in the interpretation of literary works.

The second event of the day was a two-hour forum at SOU, “Did Shakespeare Really Write those Plays? How Credible Is the Evidence?” sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a national organization with over 1,500 retiree members in southern Oregon. Interest in the Shakespeare authorship question among OLLI members was established in 2012, when over 100 attended a screening of Last Will. & Testament with Lisa Wilson and Laura Wilson Matthias. This time, more than 140 persons attended the program, the largest turnout ever for an OLLI community lecture or panel. Barber, Gilvary and Waugh were joined by Julia Cleave and Eddi Jolly.

Posing the question, “Why Is Shakespeare’s Authorship Doubted?” Ros Barber amused her audience by reminding them that authorship skeptics are often accused of being “ignorant snobs,” “anti-Shakespearean” or conspiracy theorists. However, she pointed out the extant records pertaining to Shakspere of Stratford all concern legal and business matters, and that none of them suggest a literary life. She compared the elegant italic signatures of other writers to the six extant scrawls of Shakspere. She challenged the traditional interpretation of Ben Jonson’s effusive praise of Shakespeare in the dedication of the First Folio, citing Jonson’s disparaging reference elsewhere to the “poet-ape” who “wanted art,” and Jonson’s mocking Shakspere’s family motto, “Not without right,” as “Not without mustard” in Everyman Out of his Humor (1599). Reproducing Diana Price’s table for a “literary paper trail,” she demonstrated how Shakespeare’s literary contemporaries all had numerous points of proof, while Shakspere met virtually none of Price’s criteria.

Julia Cleave challenged the claims made by traditional scholars that no one doubted Shakspere’s authorship for more than 200 years after his death, and that Delia Bacon was the first to do so in the 1850s. To the contrary, she noted, literary evidence exists for a much earlier tradition of doubt about the attribution. Among the examples she cited were:

  • “A mere factotum of the theatre – a vulgar and unlettered man.” The Romance of Yachting by Joseph C. Hart (1848)
  • “I dreamt of nothing but a black gentleman, at full length, in plaster-of-Paris…he said it was Shakespeare just as he had been when he was alive, which was very curious indeed….” Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (1839)
  • Lord Carducis (a character based on Byron) expresses doubts about Shakespeare’s authorship. Venetia by Benjamin Disraeli (1837)
  • “With equal falsehood has he been father’d with many spurious dramatic pieces. ‘Hamlet, Othello, As You Like It, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, for five, of all which I confess myself to be the author. …” The Story of the Learned Pig (1786)
  • “Shakespeare’s a Mimicke.” The Great Assises Holden in Parnassus (1645)

Cleave further noted that Shakespeare’s contemporaries tell a story of pseudonyms, impostures, plagiarizing, proxy and concealed authorship. They seem to drop heavy hints about what Greene called an “underhand broker” of plays.

Kevin Gilvary recounted his initial disillusionment on discovering that there was no evidence William Shakespeare had served as a tutor to the 3rd Earl of Southampton, whose family seat was the village of Titchfield where Kevin resided; he then cited other examples of fictional and unsubstantiated claims by Shakespeare biographers for the past 150 years. Alexander Waugh continued his commentaries on the cryptic nature of 16th and 17th century allusions to the man from Stratford being a front man and the Earl of Oxford being the true author.

Eddi Jolly concluded the forum with “The Mystery of the First Quarto of Hamlet” (Q1), a text which was only discovered in 1825. Reviewing the history of scholarship on the dating of the very different versions of Hamlet and the invention of an “ur-Hamlet” by Thomas Kyd to explain the references to a “Hamlet” play between 1589 and 1596, she noted that the early scholars considered Q1 to be a “corrupt,” “mutilated,” “mangled” or “marred” text. More recently, it has been proposed that Q1 represented an abridgement or a faulty memorial reconstruction. She identified many similarities between Q1 and Shakespeare’s primary source, Francois Belleforest’s Les Histoires Tragique (1576), analogues that are not present in Q2 or the Folio Hamlet. “The evidence supports the hypothesis that Q1 was written first, suggesting a playwright who pursued a deliberate and extensive process of revision, working from the source to Q1, and then to Q2. It suggests that Q1 may be an example of what some would see as the missing ‘juvenilia,’ and that the date for Hamlet needs reviewing.”

On Thursday, a number of OLLI members attended the screening of Nothing Is Truer Than Truth at the Ashland Springs Hotel and joined our group at the special exhibit of Folio editions in the Bailey Collection at SOU’s Hannon Library. In recent years, Southern Oregon University programs and facilities have proven to be valuable resources for Shakespeare authorship studies, and I expect that future endeavors involving SOU, OSF and the SOF are also likely to be highly educational, entertaining and just as successful.

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