Saturday, February 08, 2014

measure for measure | shakespeare authorship | shakespeare

Tonight we close MEASURE FOR MEASURE, and with it, our mini-series on Shakespearean authorship.  You can read Diana Keng's argument for Mary, or Hank Wittemore's statement in favour of Vere on the blog, and if you're interested, check out other theories here.  To round out the argument and the run of MEASURE FOR MEASURE, we present David Prosser's argument in favour of Shakespeare, the man himself.  Disclaimer: David works at the Stratford Festival, but makes it clear that his views are his alone, and not meant to represent those of the Festival - although he does point out that they do hold the opinion that Shakespeare's works were written by the man himself.

Shakespeare was.... Shakespeare
by David Prosser

Not a single shred of evidence supports the bizarre notion that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon did not write the works attributed to him. No manuscript, no letter, no journal, no credible contemporary reference bestows the quill instead upon Edward de Vere, or Francis Bacon, or anyone other than the theatre professional whose authorship was recorded in the Stationers’ Register, whose name was printed on the title pages of first editions during his lifetime, and who was celebrated by his friends and fellow artists in the First Folio seven years after his death. We have no more reason to suppose that Shakespeare didn’t write Measure for Measure than we do to suppose that Marlowe didn’t write Edward II or that Jonson didn’t write Volpone.

Claims to the contrary first arose in the 19th century, when artistic creation was often considered essentially autobiographical – a quite un-Elizabethan idea. All are based on the logical fallacy known as the argument from incredulity: “I cannot believe a mere glover’s son could have written so convincingly about kings, queens, duke and earls; therefore it must have been somebody else.” Scores of proposals have been put forward for that mysterious “somebody else,” each with their own passionate adherents. Lacking any actual documentary evidence, these conspiracy theorists – for it would have required a conspiracy, and a massive one, to cover up the “truth” – fall back on supposed parallels between the events in the plays and their candidates’ lives.

In extreme cases, Shakespeare deniers divine ciphers, anagrams and other codes in the texts that supposedly hint at the “true” authorship – which seems self-defeating, when you think about it. If it was so vital for the author to conceal his (or, in some versions of the theory, her) identity, then why risk such elaborate nudge-nudge, wink-wink giveaways? Such “clues” are as meaningless as they are delusional. I myself, in an idle moment, stumbled upon the mind-blowing fact that the name “William Shakespeare” yields the anagram “I, his wee pal, mask earl.” Were I so inclined, I might see that as incontrovertible evidence that Shakespeare was not only a “mask,” or front man, for the Earl of Oxford but a closet Scot as well.

And if that seems credible to you, can I invite you to help me smuggle a fortune out of Nigeria in return for a handsome percentage?

David Prosser
Director of Communications
Stratford Festival

1 comment:

Unknown said...

David Prosser states that "Not a single shred of evidence supports the bizarre notion that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon did not write the works attributed to him." However, the standard authorship theory discounts title page evidence that William Shakespeare wrote (or adapted) many plays now assigned to the Shakespeare Apocrypha, or designated as "bad quartos." The standard theory doesn’t provide a satisfying explanation for why Robert Greene attacked William Shakespeare from his deathbed as an incompetent playwright and wholesale plagiarist. It ignores the existence of mediocre plays containing wholesale plagiarism from the works of Christopher Marlowe, Greene, and others that were attributed to William Shakespeare, either directly or indirectly, while he was still alive or soon after he died. It overlooks stylistic similarities among the apocryphal works which suggest they shared a common author or co-author, and fails to explain why the Stratford actor was satirized by some of his contemporaries as an ignorant or incompetent writer. It ignores the certain existence of a major hidden poet at court who was revered by members of the Elizabethan literati (Edwards 1593, Davies 1596, Marston 1598). Finally, it fails to meaningfully connect William Shakespeare’s life with the Bard’s writings, or explain the Bard's specialized knowledge of the law, Italian culture and geography, the Italian language, aristocratic sports, and other topics. For instance, how was the Bard able to craft a detailed parody of the 1561 legal case Hales v. Petit in the gravediggers' scene in Hamlet some four decades later, when the case was only documented in Norman French (a language known only to law students and members of the legal profession)? These are real questions, long ignored by traditional Shakespeare scholars, that deserve thoughtful answers. --Sabrina Feldman, author of The Apocryphal William Shakespeare (