Sunday, December 28, 2008

On de Vere: a question for Daryl Pinksen, author of Marlowe's Ghost

Q: Daryl, in your extensive research that went into writing Marlowe's Ghost, certainly you formulated some opinions regarding Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. What do you make of the theory that de Vere authored the works we attribute to Shakespeare, clearly the most popular of the alternate authorship theories?

Daryl: You're right, Carlo, Edward de Vere is by far the most popular of the alternative Shakespeare candidates, but he wasn't the first. In the 19th century Francis Bacon was the go-to-guy, but that movement seems to have exhausted itself due to its heavy reliance on cryptography, an approach that's been largely discredited. The mantle then settled on the Oxford movement, which gained prominence in the first half of the 20th century and still holds sway. The Marlowe movement, latecomers to the party, didn't get off the ground until Calvin Hoffman's 1955 The Murder of the Man Who was "Shakespeare", so we had some catching up to do. As you would expect, I believe that Marlowe will eventually replace Oxford as the focal point of Shakespeare skepticism. Here's why.

The Oxford claim is based on his education, extensive travel, access to (and participation in) court intrigue - all weaknesses in the Stratford case. Add to this the fact that he was spoken of as a poet and playwright in contemporary documents, who, like many other aristocrats, kept some of his work hidden from the braying masses. He was also credited with having a countenance that "shakes speares," a military metaphor stretching back to Greek hoplite warfare. To their credit, the Oxford case relies much less on cryptography than the Bacon claim. Instead, books about Oxford's claim to Shakespeare's works point to a vast number of similarities between Oxford's biography and events in the Shakespeare plays and sonnets.

But the problem with mining the Shakespeare canon for biographical linkages to Oxford, or any other candidate for that matter, is the extraordinary breadth of the author's creation. The complete works of Shakespeare comprise an entire world of experience. Stephen Greenblatt and Michael Wood have written exhaustively about the biographical connections in the works to the Stratford man: the many instances of Warwickshire words, family and place names, the references to gloves, leather goods and epaulettes, references to grain and harvesting, loans and debt, the actor's life, the agony of separation from family, the death of Hamnet, the complex relationship with Anne, etc. It all sounds incontrovertible. But read Brenda James's book on Sir Henry Neville, or any of the various books promoting de Vere, and you are presented with equally compelling cases employing the same general argument.

Rodney Bolt's tongue-in-cheek biography of Christopher Marlowe, History Play, brilliantly illustrated the folly of relying solely on this approach. Bolt lists Canterbury references in the Shakespeare canon - names, words, family names, places - as evidence of Marlowe's authorship of the plays. He applies the loose rules of Shakespearean (and Oxfordian) biography instead to Marlowe and constructs an equally convincing case. But Bolt never lets his reader forget where he stands - he's playing with the Shakespeare canon. It's a devastating indictment of New Historicism-based biographical reaching.

The case for Shakespeare is weak, but the case for Oxford is even weaker. Oxford made no attempt to hide the fact that he wrote poetry and plays from his peers. Accounts make him seem quite proud, and yet the writing that has survived in his name (the work of a mature, educated man) is clearly that of an amateur. Yet Oxfordians would have us believe that at the same time he allowed middling poesy to circulate in his name, he deliberately withheld his name from benign works of pure genius. To what end? This is a “dead in its tracks” argument. There is no getting past it.

Marlowe, on the other hand, wrote plays and poetry in the years preceding the 1593 Deptford incident which are indistinguishable from the early Shakespeare works. This is the consensus of more than a century of mainstream scholarship. If William Shakespeare did act as a front for some writer who needed to hide, and this is a big if, there really is only one credible candidate - Christopher Marlowe.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, December 2008  Emmerich Shakespeare
Click here to reach Daryl Pinksen's website.

Click here for "The Case Against Oxford as Shakespeare," a compilation of some of this blog's articles on the Oxford theory. Emmerich Anonymous film trailer
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

On de Vere: a question for Samuel Blumenfeld, author of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection

Q: Sam, in your extensive research that went into writing The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, certainly you formulated some opinions regarding Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. Oxfordians, those who promote the theory that de Vere authored the works we attribute to Shakespeare, are a rather large bunch. What's your take on all this?

Sam: It does not take much analysis of the historical data to show that the Oxfordian thesis is quite untenable.

First, the dates are against them. De Vere was born in 1550, which means that if he started writing the plays and poems at age 18, he would have produced his first work in 1568. No scholar believes that anything in the First Folio was written that far back.

Both Marlowe and Shakespeare were born in 1564, and we know that Marlowe started writing while at Cambridge University, late 1580 to 1587. He may have even started writing his translations of Ovid and his play, Dido, Queen of Carthage, while still at the King’s School in Canterbury. In addition, de Vere died in 1604 and his last years were lived in illness and seclusion, before many of the great plays are believed to have been written. Shakespeare died in 1616 saying nothing about plays or poems in his will, and we believe that Marlowe died after 1623 when the First Folio was published. There is good reason to believe that Marlowe did some of the editing of the plays chosen to be in the Folio painstakingly gathered by his executor and friend Edward Blount.

Second, there is the problem of de Vere the person. He was not a literary genius by a long shot. Twenty poems that he wrote in his youth are the only examples we have of the man’s literary talent. C. S. Lewis said of Oxford’s poetry: “Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, shows here and there, a faint talent, but is for the most part undistinguished and verbose.” So there is no evidence that he had that supreme literary genius that we recognize in the works under the name Shakespeare. He left no indication of any kind that he was capable of writing the 36 plays in the First Folio or that he had the time or inclination to do so. He was a dilettante.

I think the lack of genius is the most important critique we can make of the man. Such genius is not common, and when it appears it makes waves. That is why the plays are still produced today and characters like Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, etc. seem to have as much reality as living historical figures. The plays are a product of an extraordinary mind, and we know Marlowe was an extraordinary talent. No one can dispute that.

Finally, Oxford had no compelling reason to deny that he wrote the greatest dramas in English literary history. Marlowe, however, had the most compelling reason of all to hide his identity: he was supposed to be dead!

Why are there so many Oxfordians? It has a lot to do with the influence of Looney’s book published in 1920 and subsequent books on Oxford, the latest written as recently as 2005. Also, they all believed that Marlowe had been killed at Deptford in 1593, so that left only Oxford and Bacon in the running. Hoffman’s book, published in 1955, was the first to advance the thesis that Marlowe was not killed at Deptford and was the subject of a faked death. It initiated the development of a Marlovian movement which has grown somewhat slowly since then. Mike Rubbo’s film documented the movement right up to the present.

I’ve spoken to Oxfordians, and there is a cult-like groupthink among them. They have lived so long with Oxford, that to change their minds will require the kind of evidence they can’t deny. But I think it will take time for my book and Pinksen’s book to make their full impact on the authorship field of contention.

But what both Marlovians and Oxfordians have in common is an unshakable belief that the actor-businessman William Shakespeare was not the author of the works attributed to him.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, December 2008

Samuel Blumenfeld, a World War II veteran of the Italian campaign, has authored more than ten books. His latest, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, was published by McFarland. He is a former editor in the New York book publishing industry and has lectured widely. His writings have appeared in such diverse publications as Esquire, Reason, Education Digest, Vital Speeches of the Day, Boston, and many others. He is a regular contributor to MSC.  Emmerich

See Sam on YouTube addressing the authorship controversy.

Click here for Daryl Pinksen's December 28, 2008, posting on de Vere.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Marlowe in Munich: a question for Bastian Conrad

We caught up with Bastian Conrad,who runs an excellent Marlovian site based in Munich, Germany. He is a retired professor of neurology and former chair of the Clinical Department of Neurology of the Technical University of Munich, Bavaria. Prior to this, he served as head of the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology at the Univesity of Göttingen. Bastian is the author of several books on neurological topics.

Q: Bastian, thanks for joining us. What prompted you to create a Marlovian website?

Bastian: Well, I've been interested in the authorship question since I was fourteen, when my father read out of Calvin Hoffman's book to me and my sisters. During my career, there was not enough time to cultivate this hobby, but now in my retirement I enjoy studying, writing, and reflecting about unsolved questions.

I created the website for many reasons. One, the Marlowe theory is an absolutely exciting and fascinating story. Two, there is almost no knowledge in German-speaking countries about Marlowe, and I estimate one percent has ever heard of his name. Compare this to Shakespeare! Three, the reason why people cannot accept a real conspiracy theory is that they have not the time to deal with so many facts, arguments, and plausibilities; and hopefully I could facilitate the gathering of information for people. Four, today's altered possibilities of getting access to all existing sources via the new media (especially the Internet) will change the attitude and approaches toward the authorship problem in younger generations; they will see the problem with a fresh, unprejudiced eye, and it's thrilling that my website could be a conduit of data for them. And five, I did not want to write more books on brains and brain research, but figured it would be exciting to learn how to handle a website by myself, having some fun with computers, etc.

Q: And so it's been a long time since your father first read to you from Calvin Hoffman's The Murder of the Man Who Was "Shakespeare." Where do you stand on Calvin Hoffman's theory today?

Bastian: As you know, Carlo, Calvin Hoffman wasn't the first to argue for Marlowe. In 1819/20, William Taylor of Norwich (later identified) wrote anonymously in Monthly Review the idea that Shakespeare was a nom de guerre for Marlowe. And there were others before Hoffman, like Ziegler, Watterson, Webster, and Eagle. But Calvin Hoffman provided the first complete monograph which really brought it all to a head. For me, his is by far the most valuable and plausible hypothesis on the authorship issue. It is painful to learn how Calvin Hoffman and his book have been ridiculed by so-called experts.

In science, you regularly have to work with assumptions and hypotheses. To prove the first hypothesis of the anti-Stratfordians is to give arguments that the Stratford man could not have been the poet and playwright. Having studied the poems and plays of Shakespeare and having created a mental profile of its author, for me the written will of the Stratford man alone would be enough to exclude him forever from the authorship debate. But there is today, as you know, an additional wealth of cumulative negative evidence that works against Shakespeare, even much more than Calvin Hoffman knew at his time. Yet, as I tell my friends, if you choose to stay with Shakespeare after having studied this evidence, you have to leave your mind in the cloakroom. Let's face it, what we know of Shakespeare's private life does not fit with this notion of a highly distinguished and intellectual playwright/poet.

And so it was very important that Samuel Blumenfeld and Daryl Pinksen each published excellent books on the Marlowe theory this year, and they make a highly convincing case as to how a faked death could have been pulled off and how Marlowe's footprints are all over the Shakespeare canon.

I am very interested in scientific methods of how to prove or disprove a highly valuable hypothesis that Marlowe's death had to be faked, and how to demonstrate it on an academic level. Even if we were never to discover any new evidence, already today the positive cumulative evidence - the amount of facts and arguments that exist for a contemporary authorship debate - is so overwhelming that we are forced to take the hypothesis of Marlowe's staged death very seriously. Science often has to work with plausibilities.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, December 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Marlowe Papers: a question for British poet Ros Barber

We caught up with British poet Ros Barber, whose latest collection of poems, Material, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, is available for pre-order on Amazon. Her poetry has been published widely in newspapers and poetry journals, including The Daily Telegraph, The Independent on Sunday, London Magazine, and The Forward Book of Poetry. She is presently working on The Marlowe Papers, a novel which supports the Marlovian theory.

Q: Ros, thanks for joining us. The Marlowe Papers sounds fascinating. When and how did the idea first germinate?

Ros: The Mike Rubbo documentary, Much Ado About Something, was shown on BBC4 in November 2005. At the time I was looking for an idea big enough and interesting enough for a Creative Writing PhD; something that required some serious academic research so I'd have a chance of getting it funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The Rubbo film was my first real contact with the idea that anyone other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare - and I was intrigued by how it would feel to be this genius writer who is forced by impossible circumstances into letting someone else take credit for his work. In the documentary, Jonathan Bate says something like "it's a ludicrous idea, but it would make a great work of fiction." That was my lightbulb moment. I spent four months putting the proposal together (including finding a supervisor who was happy to support my research of such an academically unpopular theory), and five more months waiting for the outcome of the funding application. Happily it was positive, and I've been researching and writing The Marlowe Papers on an AHRC grant since autumn 2006.

Q: That's wonderful. Care to share some of your thoughts on the research you've come across that really resonates with you? Anything specifically that jumped out at you?

Ros: I was really surprised to find evidence that doubt about Shakespeare's authorship began in the very year that the name "William Shakespeare" first appeared on a publication (1593), and that rather a large body of evidence of early authorship doubt is currently unacknowledged in the academic establishment. There is a lot of interesting evidence that has been overlooked by orthodox Shakespeareans - not because there's any kind of "conspiracy" but simply because that is how the human brain is wired up: we don't tend to see things that fall outside our belief systems, since cognitive dissonance leads our brains to filter out perceptions that conflict with what we already believe we "know." The fact that authorship doubts arose amongst some of Shakespeare's most knowledgeable contemporaries is, in my view, the strongest argument that the authorship question should be admitted as a viable subject for academic research and debate.

Q: Is it true you're writing a lot of this novel in blank verse?

Ros: So far, all of it is in iambic pentameter, with the majority being blank verse and the occasional lyrical rhyming piece or sonnet thrown in. Blank verse seemed the most appropriate form for a novel about Marlowe and Shakespeare, given that I'm very comfortable writing that way. Shakespeare's later plays weren't entirely in blank verse, of course, and I've given myself permission to break into prose if the situation seems to require it. But so far it hasn't. My biggest challenge to the blank verse form was writing a duel scene, but I tried prose and it didn't work. In the end I found the energy of the scene sprang directly out of the tension created by attempting to contain high emotion in a regular five-foot line. You'd think prose or free verse would be easier - but for me, it isn't.

Q: Ros, we really appreciate your taking the time. We wish you luck with The Marlowe Papers. Please come back again?

Ros: I'd be very happy to. Thanks, Carlo.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, December 2008

Click here to learn more about Ms. Barber. Emmerich Rylance

Click here for Ms. Barber's video interview on the Marlowe-Shakespeare theory.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Marlowe, Shakespeare, and the style issue: a question for Daryl Pinksen, author of Marlowe's Ghost

Q: Daryl, what do you say to those who argue that Marlowe's style differs from Shakespeare's? Thus, the argument goes, Marlowe could not have authored the plays we attribute to Shakespeare.

Daryl: Thanks, Carlo. They do have a point, the mature Shakespeare style does differ substantially from Marlowe's, but here's the rub: the early Shakespeare style also differs substantially from the mature Shakespeare style. As a result, comparing Marlowe's style to the mature Shakespeare tells us little. Here is what we need to ask: are the styles of late Marlowe plays and early Shakespeare plays similar enough to suggest that they could have been written by the same person?

Many people don't realize that until the 1960's, it was common for scholars to argue that Marlowe co-authored early Shakespeare plays. As far back as 1886, scholar A.W. Verity said, "Among the plays assigned to Shakespeare there are four of which it is practically certain that Marlowe was a part author; they are of course, Henry VI, parts I, II and III, and Titus Andronicus." To many scholars' ears, early Shakespeare simply sounded too much like Marlowe to ignore. Assigning early Shakespeare plays wholesale to Marlowe was unacceptable, so they compromised by speculating that the early plays had been co-written by the two men. But things have changed since then. In the last several decades, these claims have nearly vanished from the literature.

Nonetheless, a survey of scholarship on Shakespeare and Marlowe dating back over a century confirms that the styles of the two bodies of work are closely related. Take this 2002 quote from a giant of Shakespearean scholarship, Harold Bloom, who said, "Marlowe . . . was Shakespeare's starting point, curiously difficult for the young Shakespeare to exorcise completely," adding, "that means the strongest writer known to us served a seven-year apprenticeship to Christopher Marlowe." So why is it that we continue to hear how different their styles are? I have a theory. . .

In undergraduate English programs, students read Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth -- the mature Shakespeare masterpieces. If they are required to read a Marlowe play, it will likely be Dr. Faustus, the play most associated with Marlowe. Marlowe does not fare well in the comparison. The instructor will then guide students through a "compare and contrast" of the two playwrights' styles. Even the dullest student will easily see the differences between Shakespeare masterpieces and early Marlowe. For many students of English literature this will end their study of Shakespeare's contemporaries, and they will depart with the firm, albeit superficial, conviction that the styles of Marlowe and Shakespeare are markedly different, and proceed to ridicule anyone so blind as to suggest otherwise.

A more honest approach would lead to a very different conclusion. Dr. Faustus was written before 1588, when Marlowe was in his early 20's. Hamlet and Lear were written after 1600, when Marlowe (and Shakespeare) were in their mid to late 30's. A fair comparison would examine plays written closer to the same time. If students were to begin their studies with an early Shakespeare play, like Richard II, and then read a late Marlowe play, like Edward II, plays separated by only a handful of years, they would find it hard to believe that they were written by different playwrights. Or imagine instead if students were to begin their Shakespeare studies by reading Hamlet (1600) followed immediately by Titus Andronicus (pre-1594). They might find it hard to reconcile the two plays as the product of a single author. Yet most accept that these two plays were written by the same person because we quite reasonably make allowances for writers to grow over a long career.

When we eliminate the variable of time, the styles of the Marlowe and Shakespeare plays are indistinguishable. Placed in chronological order, the plays reveal the continuous evolution of a single writer, the blacklisted accused heretic, Christopher Marlowe.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, December 2008

Click here to purchase Daryl Pinksen's Marlowe's Ghost.

Click here to reach Daryl Pinksen's website.

Click here for another piece by Daryl Pinksen on style similarities.

From the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, what the scholars say about the similarities between Marlowe and Shakespeare.

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