23 April 2013: More on the “Shakespeare authorship question”.

I apologize for the extensive revisions that this piece is undergoing online as you watch. I think its thesis, that there exists an unaltered Shakespeare text if we take out plays before about 1595 and after about 1600 except for the “big” tragedies (except for the Scottish play), and that we best draw conclusions from this distilled text, is unheard, and important.

Here’s a BBC story for St George’s day which rather sadly continues to waste time on “Shakespeare authorship” where we know that half educated Philistines who swotted A-levels with a tutor and hate Shakespeare, not ever, not once, hearing his music like to vent their destructive, animalistic, Troglodyte hatred by claiming that “Shakespeare” did not write “Shakespeare”.

William Leahy is the chair of “Shakespeare authorship studies” at Brunel University in the UK. As in Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Great Eastern, etc. Oh dear.

Snobbery? Moi? Well, it’s like this. As a graduate of Roosevelt University, a fifth rate nonetheless genuine university in Chicago charter’d in 1945 to not exclude any racial or gender group, and a quondam perfesser at DeVry, a time-honored if for-profit institution in Chicago, I have trusted academic fraud once too often, fraud I do not regard myself as participating in, and one form of academic fraud I find is the exaltation of engineers such as Isambard “Kingdom” Brunel.

The devil of it that that a part or subset of his “authorship studies” is a legitimate pursuit. We’d like to know more about what lines in what plays were penned, as we know most were penned, by an inspired actor-businessman. Of course, Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor have already done much of this research but you lot could go look for Cardenio, I suppose.

Leahy, while being a responsible academic, “questions authorship” not in the sense of advancing a different candidate for the author of the Shakespeare corpus but by trying to show that Shakespeare was a co-author and broker and not a single “author”. Well, guess what. He was, but only for a part of his career. He seems to have preferred single authorship to arbitrage until a distinct shock of the early 17th century, possibly the death of his son experienced as a delayed reaction (as these things often are: as I may experience the death of my son). Other speculations include the fear of having acquired syphilis (cf. Measure for Measure).

Our favorite plays are to all appearances written by a non-depressed, rather jocund single author who sounds like a kind and decent man as opposed, say, to the author of Edward II (the very likely self-hating closet fairy Christopher Marlowe). Our favorite plays are in a “Shakespearean” style, earmarks of which include an architectonic sense that would be violated by co-authorship. Measure for Measure is harder to like because even in S’s time, most folks could not find it in themselves to condemn “fornication”, but for social cohesion, and the maintenance of a brutal class system and property ownership, even the more liberal authorities, like Duke in Measure for Measure, had to act a necessary charade of propriety at variance at least with human instincts until those instincts wither with age.

What’s an “architectonic sense”? Well, we find a clear analysis of Romeo and Juliet in Wells’ and Taylor’s Oxford Works. The ground of the plot is laid in a sonnet by Prologue. Escalus’ interventions divide the action into blocks above the level of the scene so we always know where we stand, whereas we are dazzled and confused in Henry VI part 1, less so in 2, and still less in Part 3: High School students can understand Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet is a crowd pleaser and Love’s Labour’s Lost a cult favorite only. Working unbothered because at the time of Romeo and Juliet Henslowe et al. knew best to stand back, and Shakespeare’s concentration was unbroken and the initial fight, a skylark darkened with Tybalt’s introduction of killing, is balanced by the later fight for much more serious stakes after Tybalt accidentally kills Mercutio.

It was not until the Romantic era that it was thought that a novel or play might be best written either by a single author or at most two chaps more or less engaged in a Vulcan mind-meld. This held sway and by the 1960s was the ruling ideology: the “New” Criticism actually was a conservative backlash to this, which insisted that the author, not the text, had the intentions we must find. Then deconstruction and feminism focused our attention on the text, for as Derrida had said, there’s nothing BUT the text.

But before that and at a very late date in the American midwest, we all wanted to be Dead White Males.

Hacks, thought Orson Welles and Scott Fitzgerald, in all probability, work cheerfully as script doctors in a “team”, and Welles and Fitzgerald paid a heavy price for having Romantic desires in the twentieth century.

Welles destroyed RKO Radio Pictures and went on to a life of failure, intoning “we will sell no wine before its time” in the 1970s to pay the rent; he beggared himself to make pictures such as Chimes at Midnight whose worth is only now evident.

Fitz, more subject than Welles to the rigors of alcoholism, just couldn’t find the money or hours in the alcoholic’s foreshortened day to do much more than fragments save where his payment depended on finishing, for example the Pat Hobby stories about a painfully self-destructive screen writer.

To return to the main topic, by “our favorite plays” I mean the set of plays derived using this algorithm:

* Take the Collected Works

* Remove the early plays, roughly, those written before 1595

* Remove the later plays except for the big tragedies, except for the Scottish play (remove it): the big tragedies are the quartet Hamlet, Othello, Lear and the Scottish Play (sigh, Macbeth) but of Macbeth we have no uncorrupted text according to Wells, Taylor et al. A collaborator in Macbeth enters clearly when Hecate enters to scold the three Shakespearean witches and lead them in a dance. Shakespeare generally subcontracted the masque and dancing save when he had complete artistic control, in the Tempest and perhaps the Winter’s Tale, where the magic and masque is integrated with the plot seamlessly (“our revels now are ended”)

* Of the “late Roman” plays Antony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens and Coriolanus retain Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, discard Timon (Wells and Taylor of the Oxford Complete Works demonstrate that Timon was a collaboration

Bingo, this is core Shakespeare from which we can draw the best and most distilled conclusions; and this is no broker, this is no actor manager. It’s a Romantic artist struggling towards Bethlehem in the unimaginably brutal conditions of a proto Stalinist police state.

Let’s look closer.

The plays writ approximately before 1595 (before Richard II and Romeo and Juliet) have for us the markers of a journeyman and not a Shakespeare in full mastership: these plays are the Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, the “Henrician Trilogy”, Titus Andronicus, Richard III, A Comedy of Errors. In most of them there are signs of at least editorial supervision and at most co-authorship

Of course, it is itself “lamentable” that Richard III must be squeezed

“Deform’d, unfinished, scarce half made up
And that so lamely and unfashionable…”

into the one-dimensional, Procrustean bed of our model as that same poor chap was found deformed for centuries in Leicester until this year but in general all these plays, while not except for the Henrician Trilogy being co-authored, bear the marks of an incredible, almost exponential learning process, culminating in Richard III. This still has the one thought per one or two lines and avoidance of enjambement of the Henrician trilogy but it’s clear that by Richard III, having learned history play writing sitting possibly with Marlowe and writing the Henrician Trilogy, Shakespeare was set free on Richard III. He might make mistakes in romantic comedy (something he’d disprove shortly in Romeo and Juliet) but not in history.

We include the zenith of the comedic Shakespeare between, roughly, 1595 and 1600 with the apogee being 1599: Richard II, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King John, The Merchant of Venice, the “second” Henrician trilogy (Henry IV 1/2, Henry V), the Merry Wives, Much Ado, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, the golden Rosalinde almost destroying her creator, almost dazzling the poor chap.

Our assay forces us to consider whether S’s greatest work was As You Like It, whether his greatest character was Rosalinde and whether his genius was comedic and not tragic in the solution of what Ted Hughes calls “the tragic equation”. But Hamlet like Rosalinde is unflawed.

So we keep the “great” tragedies excluding the Scottish play (Macbeth if you’re not superstitious) for which we have no reliable text, and I’d guess that the Hecate scenes, so clearly not Shakespeare, are the result of this aporia independent of Shakespeare’s will: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra. Note that per Wells and Taylor there are two bona-fide versions of Lear, the 1608 Lear with its marvelous remedies for the eye gouge and the more compact 1623 Lear.

Coriolanus is an anomaly since it echoes the intensity, and single authorship, of Julius Caesar. Timon on the other hand might’ve been partly co-authored although not clearly in response to popular demand: almost in defiance. This is why I say we add these “to taste”, like eye of newt or toe of dog.

Our method may be unfamiliar to the literary scholar who’s more like to add “eye of newt”, but it’s perhaps more familiar in its reductionism to a mathematical procedure. Just because S was perforce an actor-manager didn’t mean that was his essence…what he wanted to be.

The Tempest, which among the late, co-authored romances and All is True (Henry VIII) stands alone, as if after some years after the apogee tragedies, Shakespeare had one more play in him and was able, as an actor-manager with equity, to write as a farewell to authorship as opposed to script doctoring and arbitrage…which would explain Cardenio, the Two Noble Kinsmen and Henry VIII; they are collaborations which follow The Tempest, where S’s architectonic expertise and facility with the verse of critical passages was needed.

If I wax poetic, too goddamn bad: all except pomo turds (but not all pomos) fail to recognize that to write about the history of philosophy is to philosophize: this is why Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy is still in print: Bertie unlike modern midgets was self-confident enough to be the single author of a History. Literary criticism is itself literature because it ain’t science, for sure, and it violates Occam’s Razor to give it its own territory outside of either literature or science.

OK. We’ve nailed the set of “great” Shakespeare at the expense, of course, of violating the “deconstructive” rule, that we may not create a male/female, major/minor “binary opposition” because the “major” feeds off the minor. This is, as Fluellen would say, an excellent moral, but denies what to me is a pretty obvious narrative line concerning Shakespeare’s life: he hit a wall in the early 16th century and thereafter preferred to arbitrage and co-author.

Owing to the failed harvests of the onset of what we now know was a bit of an Ice Age lasting until the mid 19th century, Shakespeare may have been under a lot of financial pressure, his colleagues now less willing to risk full plays on the more keenly critical upper-class audience of the Jacobean onset, his wife needing money. Just as I’m still numbed by the loss of my eldest son last year (damn? You mean I cannot email my son? WTF?) Shakespeare may have been undergoing a delayed reaction to Hamnet’s death in 1596.

But characteristic of our so-called “favorite plays”, something that to me exhibits a remarkable uniformity, is that none of these plays bear any mark of collaboration and despite the groaned warnings of deconstruction, their speaker is a unitary, kind male voice epitomized by Duke Senior in As You Like It…even in the abominable Titus: watch Sir Anthony Hopkins in Julie Taymor’s straight up traditional version: Shakespeare, like Titus, is trying to find a way out of the “revenge” formula. Perhaps because he could not in Titus, we get no more Guignol or buckets of blood from Shakespeare.

Literary criticism as practiced today, in the schools only, of course would probably exclude my efforts, so it’s not the case that one can in an institutionalized setting write anything considered valuable except as vetted by a fairly brutal process which I don’t, owing the First Amendment, have to agree to endure. Theses advisers in English departments feel that there should be some rather strict criteria precisely to avoid questioning of more than minimal funding in all but first-tier places such as Princeton. This essay meets none of them in order to theorize why focusing on collaborative Shakespeare, while not as bad as what is usually written under the heading “The Shakespeare Authorship Question”, misses the point and fails to add to the layperson’s understanding of Shakespeare.

Change Record (Dates in international style)
01052013 Added this change record
01052013 Timon of Athens NOT a single-author play
01052013 Added an extended discussion of architectonics


2 Responses to “23 April 2013: More on the “Shakespeare authorship question”.”

  1. I read this article, ‘Shakespeare Saved My Life’: A Tale Of How The Bard Helped A Solitary Confinement Prisoner ‘ http://t.co/ayaczH1OLT recently and loved the prisoner’s response to and analysis of the plays – so much more from the heart and insightful than all the academic in-fighting.

  2. spinoza1111 Says:

    I saw that too, Michele, and although I worked at Princeton, I feel much closer to the men in the article than to an academic.

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