Saturday, November 27, 2010

Allusion or Illusion? William Covell's Gaveston by Ros Barber

A Shakespeare allusion containing what has widely been considered an error, if read as correct, suggests that a Cambridge University contemporary of Christopher Marlowe understood "William Shakespeare" to be Marlowe’s pseudonym.

A belief is a perceptual framework. The nature of human neurology is such that our perceptions are filtered through our beliefs, and where we meet data which conflicts with a strongly held belief we will either not register the existence of the anomalous data at all, or will consider it to be an error and discard it as insignificant.

An experiment by Bruner and Postman in 1949 demonstrated that subjects exposed to a pack of playing cards that included anomalous cards (a black four of hearts, for example) repeatedly failed to identify any problems with the pack. Only with longer and repeated exposures did certain individuals begin to register the anomalous cards, and even then, they often couldn’t identify what exactly was wrong with them. Some did not register the anomalies no matter how long or how often they were exposed to them.1

It is important to our general functioning in the world that we keep our perceptual frameworks fairly rigid; thus even when the brain does identify a piece of data as anomalous, we tend to simply explain it away as an error or fluke. Fugelsang, Stein, Green and Dunbar, studying scientists at work in their laboratories, discovered that in over half of the scientific experiments they studied, the results were inconsistent with the scientists’ predictions, and that scientists were reluctant to consider that data as "real."2 The surprising finding was usually classified as a mistake: "perhaps a machine malfunctioned or an enzyme had gone stale."3 "The scientists were trying to explain away what they didn’t understand," said Kevin Dunbar, one of the neuroscientists involved. "It’s as if they didn’t want to believe it." Even after scientists had produced the anomaly consistently, they would often choose not to follow it up. The research of Fuselang, Dunbar and others demonstrates that despite their discipline’s reputation for impartiality, scientists are not immune from confirmation bias: the human tendency to seek out and give attention to data consistent with one’s initial theory.

Confirmation bias is probably the greatest danger to those of us with an interest in the Shakespeare authorship question. Non-Stratfordians are accused of it more than most – and often quite rightly – but as you would expect of a basic function of human neurology, it affects orthodox Shakespeareans too. Indeed, I would contend it is the orthodox scholars’ lack of engagement with significant quantities of anomalous data – that is, data inconsistent with the orthodox theory of authorship – that spawned the authorship question in the first place. Here, I will look at just one of the numerous anomalies that are no longer anomalous when viewed from a Marlovian perspective.

One of the earliest allusions to Shakespeare as an author is a marginal note in William Covell’s Polimanteia (1595). The note reads:
All praise
Sweet Shak-

Katherine Duncan-Jones and H.R.Woudhuysen explain his apparent error thus:
Carried away with enthusiasm, Covell appears to have added Piers Gaveston (1594?) – strongly influenced by Shakespeare but written by Michael Drayton – to Shakespeare’s authentic poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594).4
It seems odd that Covell would make such a mistake given the prominence of Michael Drayton’s name on the dedicatory epistle accompanying Piers Gaveston, but an error must necessarily be assumed under the orthodox narrative.

However, it is perfectly possible that Covell was not making a mistake, but rather recognised that Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were written by the same author who had depicted Piers Gaveston in Edward II, a play which preceded Drayton’s poem both in performance and publication. Gaveston in Marlowe’s play is at least as eloquent as Drayton’s narrator, and the play opens with Gaveston speaking for two dozen lines before anyone else says a word. It is worth noting that Covell is connected to Marlowe’s Cambridge years, being a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge – whose alumni included Marlowe’s "nemesis" Richard Baines - at the same time that Marlowe was a student at Corpus Christi. Covell gained his BA in 1585 (the same year as Marlowe) and his MA in 1588 (the year after Marlowe).

The idea that Covell believes Shakespeare to be a pseudonym for Marlowe is strengthened by his observation that the author is "Watson’s heyre." It is well-documented that Marlowe was a friend of Thomas Watson (nine years his senior), both from the legal accounts of the Hog Lane incident,5 and from the published dialogue between Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey. There is no evidence whatsoever that Thomas Watson was connected with Shakespeare of Stratford, though it has long been recognised that the author of Shake-speares Sonnets was familiar with Watson’s work.6 If we allow ourselves to read Covell’s comment from a Marlovian perspective, no error exists – Covell is saying that Marlowe, the man who put eloquence in the mouth of Piers Gaveston and was the natural heir to Thomas Watson, was the author (as "Shak-speare") of Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece.7

This does not in any way count as proof of Marlowe’s authorship of Shakespeare’s narrative poems. It is, however, one of many examples of how the historical data reads differently when viewed through different interpretive frameworks, and demonstrates clearly how an "error" according to orthodox scholarship can be read at face value and treated as correct when viewed through a Marlovian lens.

© Ros Barber, November 2010

Ros Barber ( is the first person in the world to complete a PhD in Marlovian authorship theory. Her PhD was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK). Her first degree was in Biological Sciences. A founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, she has published articles challenging the orthodox biography of Marlowe in academic books and journals, including the peer-reviewed Routledge journal Rethinking History. Her essay "Was Marlowe a Violent Man?," which was presented at the Marlowe Society of America conference in 2008, is featured in Christopher Marlowe the Craftsman (Ashgate 2010). A published poet, her latest poetry collection, Material (Anvil 2008), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was funded by Arts Council England.

1Bruner, J. S., and Postman, Leo (1949). "On the Perception of Incongruity: A Paradigm." Journal of Personality, XVIII, 206-23.
2Fugelsand, J. A., Stein, C. B., Green, A. E. and Dunbar, K. N. (2004). "Theory and Data Interactions of the Scientific Mind: Evidence from the Molecular and the Cognitive Laboratory." Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 58, 86-95.
3Lehrer, J. (2009). "Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up." Wired Magazine.
4Duncan-Jones, K. and Woudhuysen, H. R. (Eds.) (2007). Shakespeare's Poems, Arden Shakespeare, 5.
5Details of the Hog Lane affray can be found in any Marlowe biography, but the definitive account remains Eccles, M. (1934) Christopher Marlowe in London, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.
6According to The Oxford Companion to English Literature, Watson's sonnets "appear to have been studied by Shakespeare." Harvey, P. S. (1969). The Oxford Companion to English Literature, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 874.Emmerich Anonymous
7Unlike Shake-speares Sonnets, the hyphen here is accounted for by the requirements of the text’s layout.Shakespeare Anonymous

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book Collecting and the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy by Samuel Blumenfeld

(this article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 newsletter of The Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies)

Anyone embarking on writing a book about the Shakespeare authorship question cannot know in advance what he or she will find in that solitary but wonderful search through the hundreds, if not thousands, of books already written about the Elizabethan era and its writers. And so I began my own journey at the age of 73 in 1999 and wrote the final chapter eight years later in 2007. In the interim I had gained a literary education equivalent to a Ph.D.

Writing on such a subject automatically turns one into a book collector, a haunter of antiquarian bookshops and internet sources. There is no greater delight than coming across a book which has that single bit of vital information you are looking for. At first I thought I would have to go to England for research, but I was amazed at how much information was available in books already published. But it also became clear that there were still many books that needed to be written about the events and people in the Elizabethan era. There is still a lot more to know.

Once the manuscript was completed, I was anxious to get it read and published. I had already sent out sample chapters to the usual trade publishers hoping to find an enthusiastic editor anxious to offer a contract. My old contacts in the New York book publishing business were gone, and the younger generation of editors were not interested in what I had written.

I then tried university presses and found a delightful editor at the University of Virginia Press who was intrigued by the subject. I sent her the manuscript of over a thousand pages, which she asked me to cut down. Which I did. She then sent copies to two scholarly reviewers who complimented me on my writing style, but did not think the book should be published. I could never understand why they came to such a negative conclusion. One of the reviewers never returned his copy.

In any case, after sitting on the book for almost a year, the Virginians turned it down. Fortunately, I found a publisher in North Carolina, McFarland, who specialized in publishing well-researched books for the library and academic market. Which meant that I would never be able to retire on the proceeds from the sales of the book, but at least I had a handsome looking tome I could hold in my hand and perhaps sell at lectures. Its final title was The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection.

I had actually become interested in the authorship controversy back in my days at Grosset & Dunlap, where I was editor of The Universal Library, their quality paperback line. One day, back in 1956, a man by the name of Calvin Hoffman came to my office to urge me to publish a paperback edition of his book, The Murder of the Man Who Was Shakespeare. Hoffman had studied the works of Marlowe and Shakespeare and came to the conclusion that they were all written by one man, Marlowe.

But hadn’t Marlowe been killed in a barroom brawl at the age of 29? Hoffman said he was not, and that the so-called murder was a faked death staged by his employers in the Secret Service to save him from Archbishop Whitgift’s inquisition. I read the book and became convinced that Hoffman was right. We published his book, and I’ve remained a Marlovian ever since.

Forty years later I decided to write my own book on the subject, using the methods of a detective to prove beyond any doubt that Christopher Marlowe was the true author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. That meant reading all of Marlowe and all of Shakespeare, which I did, and which proved to my satisfaction that Christopher Marlowe was indeed the author of the thirty-six plays in the First Folio, most of which were written in exile. Shakespeare, a good businessman, was the perfect front for the hidden author.

In retrospect, I doubt that I would have embarked on this journey had I known in advance how difficult it would be to get such a book published. In those eight years I could have written perhaps a half-dozen books on subjects I already knew a lot about. My first ten books were on education and literacy. Again, my interest in literacy also began at Grosset & Dunlap where we published all of those series books for young readers.

An attorney friend, Watson Washburn, came to my office one day to enlist me as an advisor for his newly created Reading Reform Foundation. I asked him what the purpose of the Foundation was, and he told me that it was to get phonics back in the schools. Get phonics back in schools? Since when was it taken out? And how could you teach reading without it? He advised me to read Rudolf Flesch’s Why Johnny Can’t Read, which I did. That’s what turned me into a critic of our public schools, and that is why years later I wrote The New Illiterates.

We book lovers deplore the decline of literacy not only in America but throughout the English-speaking world. Despite computers, the Internet, cable television and other forms of entertainment and distraction, there is no substitute for the actual book that one can hold in one’s hands and revere as a source of ageless wisdom. Book collecting speaks of a rational civilization which values ideas, lives, and history. And for that reason, as long as there is a humane civilization, there will be writers, publishers, readers and book collectors.

© Samuel Blumenfeld, 2010

Samuel Blumenfeld, a regular contibutor to MSC, has authored more than ten books. His latest, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, was published by McFarland. His writings have appeared in such diverse publications as Esquire, Reason, Education Digest, Vital Speeches of the Day, Boston, and many others. His Alpha-Phonics reading system has taught thousands of beginning and struggling readers.Emmerich Shakespeare

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Under an Old Oak by Isabel Gortázar

Following Mike Frohnsdorff’s suggestion1 and Peter Farey’s further elaboration on the subject,2 here are my own thoughts about Oliver’s speech in As You Like It, below.

For those of us who believe that Christopher Marlowe did not die in Deptford in 1593, but lived on to write the works that have been attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford, it is imperative to try and read in those works the information that any author, but particularly one in Marlowe’s circumstances, would have included about himself, his life in exile, his friends and his enemies, in the various texts.

As You Like It is one of the Shakespeare plays in which scholars and academics have recognized references to Marlowe, including his unclear relationship with “William of Arden," although all orthodox explanations of such references remain so far unconvincing. In this respect, I agree with Farey that Oliver’s speech may be providing us with significant information. Here is the speech again:

Under an old oak, whose boughs were mossed with age
And high top bald with dry antiquity,
A wretched, ragged man, o'ergrown with hair,
Lay sleeping on his back. About his neck
A green and gilded snake had wreathed itself,
Who with her head, nimble in threats, approached
The opening of his mouth. But suddenly
Seeing Orlando, it unlinked itself,
And with indented glides did slip away
Into a bush, under which bush's shade
A lioness, with udders all drawn dry,
Lay couching, head on ground, with catlike watch
When that the sleeping man should stir. For 'tis
The royal disposition of that beast
To prey on nothing that doth seem as dead.

Let me comment on these lines separately:

Under an old oak, whose boughs were mossed with age
And high top bald with dry antiquity,

There seems to be here an unnecessary emphasis on the fact that the oak is very old; in fact, its high top is bald with dry antiquity. The word “antiquity” evokes a mythical scene: According to one of the Arthurian legends, Merlin the magician was trapped in an oak tree by a sorceress; the magician was not dead but due to re-appear some day. Merlin was one of Marlowe’s nicknames, not only on account of the etymology of the name: Marl, Marlin, etc., but also because of Marlowe's identification with his creation, Dr. Faustus. About ten years later, yet another magician, Prospero (a Spanish name synonymous to Fausto), will find his spirit, Ariel, also trapped in a tree by a witch in The Tempest.

These possible references to the Merlin story, steeped in antiquity like Oliver’s tree, might be confirming the identity of our runaway friend. Also, the fact that he is asleep: in the induction of The Taming of the Shrew,3 Marlowe's absence of fifteen years is referred to as "a goodly nap."

Second Servingman
These fifteen years you have been in a dream;
Or when you waked, so waked as if you slept.

These fifteen years! by my fay, a goodly nap.

Back to As You Like It:

A wretched, ragged man, o'ergrown with hair,
Lay sleeping on his back.

These lines are describing a man that has been on the run, probably in these same woods, long enough for his hair to be o'ergrown, and his clothes in rags. Considering that in As You Like It, the woods are the hiding habitat of the outlawed Duke and his followers, the fact that Oliver seems to be hiding/living in a wood would be another pointer to his being an outlaw.

(…). About his neck
A green and gilded snake had wreathed itself,
Who with her head, nimble in threats, approached
The opening of his mouth. But suddenly
Seeing Orlando, it unlinked itself,
And with indented glides did slip away
Into a bush,

Given Frohnsdorff’s suggestion that the basic colour of ecclesiastical vestments changes to green at Pentecost (about the time of the Deptford episode), I agree with Farey that this green and gilded snake may well be a reference to Archbishop Whitgift, attempting to stop Marlowe’s heretical and seditious mouth. Apparently, the snake does not let go off his intended prey until this moment, when Oliver seems to be already an outlaw in the woods, and has obviously been on the run long enough to explain his wretched appearance.

(…) under which bush's shade
A lioness, with udders all drawn dry,
Lay couching, head on ground, with catlike watch
When that the sleeping man should stir. For 'tis
The royal disposition of that beast
To prey on nothing that doth seem as dead

Again, I agree with Farey that this lioness may be Queen Elizabeth; as we know she died in 1603 but she would certainly have been considered an old woman in 1593. However, I personally would feel much more comfortable imagining this lioness/Queen years later, allowing for the time necessary to justify the sleeping man's appearance.

While I personally cannot accept Farey’s theory that Whitgift would have agreed to Marlowe’s banishment, I can easily believe that, given the amount of people that seems to have been in the know as to Kit’s fate, Whitgift would have found out the truth within the next few years. Banishment does not stop anybody’s mouth, only death does that, and silencing heretics was as important as punishing them.

When Richard II banished Bolingbroke, that was perceived as punishment. When Romeo was banished, that was also perceived as punishment; it was Juliet who faked her death while Romeo was punished by exile. From a politico-religious point of view the accidental death staged at Deptford was no punishment in any practical sense, since it was not exemplary. In any case, the exiled life did not silence Marlowe as we know, and stopping Oliver’s mouth is what the snake seems to be intent on, until he leaves the job to the lioness.

Putting all these thoughts together, my personal reading of the speech in question is that Whitgift, having found out over the next few years that Marlowe was still alive, made sure the Queen would never allow him to come back to life, like Merlin.

The scene depicted in this metaphorical manner is covering a period between 1594 (let’s give at least a year for Oliver’s hair to overgrow and his clothes to become rags) and the first months of 1603, when both the “snake” and the “lioness” were still alive. However, the play was entered into the SR on August 4th 1600, although its publication was stayed. This suggests two possibilities: a) That Marlowe had lost his head and was cutting his own throat by writing this speech in 1599, or, b) That precisely in 1599, given Essex’s departure for, and expected failure in, Ireland, Marlowe’s situation was anyway hopeless, and he knew it, so he no longer cared which snake or lioness he might offend. (As I have said before, I believe it was the Earl of Essex who persuaded the Queen to save Marlowe’s life in 1593 and the man who gave him employment and financial support as an agent until 1599.)

A third possibility, and the one I prefer, is that this scene was revised after the Queen’s death, perhaps for that famous performance in the autumn of 1603, tantalizingly announced in Mary Sidney’s lost letter to her son, William, by then Earl of Pembroke.

I personally have no problem with that. Oliver’s is not the only speech and/or scene in As You Like It that seems to have been added after 1600 - the surmise that Marlowe, as most creative writers, may have revised his plays, adding information over the years, seems very reasonable to me.

In any case, this clue, picked up by Frohnsdorff and Farey, suggests to me that Whitgift may have been actively instrumental in preventing the Queen from “resurrecting” Marlowe before she herself died. If, as it appears by the involvement of her Coroner, William Danby, Queen Elizabeth had agreed to the Deptford scam, she must have had some plan for a future “happy ending."

Although, of course, it would not be as simple as that. I can imagine a changing scenario, with Marlowe’s release on the balance, as influence over the Queen shifted slowly, over the next five years, from Essex to Whitgift, with the Cecils swimming with the tide, as Essex insistently blotted his political copybook.

© Isabel Gortázar, October 2010

Isabel Gortázar is an independent scholar, specializing in Shakespeare and Marlowe studies. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Marlowe Society (UK) and a founding member of the International Marlowe Society. She divides her time between London and Bilbao, Spain.
Roland Emmerich Shakespeare Anonymous
1Frohnsdorff, Mike. The Marlowe Society Newsletter 18, Spring 2002, pp.31-33.
2Farey, Peter. 2010. "Christopher Marlowe: Flight or Banishment."
3See Gortázar, Isabel: The Clue in the Shrew (Revised): A Tumbling Trick.

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