Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stratfordian Absurdities by Samuel Blumenfeld

Robert A. Logan, professor at Hartford University and former president of the Marlowe Society of America, is a Stratfordian in that he accepts the orthodox version of Marlowe’s demise at Deptford and believes that Shakespeare was the great literary genius who wrote the 36 plays in the First Folio.

Like Marlowe biographers David Riggs and Constance Brown Kuriyama, Logan accepts the Coroner’s Inquest of Marlowe's alleged death as gospel truth and expresses no skepticism about any of its “facts.” But he has written an interesting book, Shakespeare’s Marlowe: The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare’s Artistry (Ashgate, 2007).

Apparently, Professor Logan has found so much of Marlowe in Shakespeare, that he felt compelled to put all of his findings in a book. And an interesting read it is, not so much for what he actually found of Marlowe in Shakespeare, but of the highly dubious scenario he creates to give credence to the idea that Shakespeare was actually a famous playwright as early as 1590 and collaborated with Marlowe in writing Titus Andronicus.

Logan’s first error is in accepting Robert Greene’s “Shake-scene” as a reference to William Shakespeare instead of the actor Edward Alleyn (this blog has addressed "Shake-scene" in significant detail already). It should be noted that it was a scholar by the name of Thomas Tyrwhitt who happened to read Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit (1592) in 1766 and decided that "Shake-scene" was a reference to Shakespeare. Obviously, Tyrwhitt did not have the information we have today about Shakespeare, Marlowe, or Alleyn. But because Greene also mimics a line from Henry VI, Part III, Stratfordians, including Logan, assume that Shakespeare was already in 1592 capable of writing the highly complex Henry VI trilogy about the War of the Roses. Anyone who reads these three remarkable historical plays knows that they could not have been written by anyone without a profound knowledge of history and, most likely, a university education, and there is no documentary evidence that William Shakespeare ever attended any school, let alone a university.

What’s more, Anthony Kellett, in his eye-opening article on this blog, describes what it took for Shakespeare to become wealthy in difficult Elizabethan times. William did not want to suffer the economic woes and humiliation of his father, and so, the last thing he probably would have done is write plays. But he found he could make a lot of money fronting them. He also could earn money doing a bit of acting and owning a piece of the Globe Theatre. William Shakespeare clearly spent most of his time learning the ins and outs of commodity trading, real estate, money lending, litigation, and whatever else it took to become a successful businessman and an affluent country gentleman. It is a real stretch of the imagination, therefore, to believe that he would have spent several years of hard intellectual labor writing plays about the War of the Roses.

But Logan simply reflects stultifying academic orthodoxy when he writes: “Scholarly consensus holds that, with the possible exception of the influence of the Henry VI trilogy on Edward II, the flow of influence has gone in one direction, from Marlowe to Shakespeare.”

In other words, orthodox scholars now believe that Shakespeare - and let me be clear, between 1585 to 1593, we know nothing about Shakespeare - wrote the Henry VI trilogy before Marlowe wrote Edward II around 1592. But, as I explain in my book, Marlowe wrote the Henry VI trilogy probably because the Countess of Pembroke suggested that he write historical dramas based on English history, and it is most likely that she paid him to do so. Otherwise, why would any writer take on a project of that magnitude and complexity without support from some source? Also, prior to the publication of the trilogy in the First Folio, no author’s name was originally applied to any of the three plays – and so why should we assume that these highly intricate works were written by the "green" (if we accept the Stratfordian premise that he was a writer in the early 1590s), poorly educated playwright Shakespeare, who had to be devoting significant time, as Kellett so finely argues, to his business endeavors?

Logan promotes the standard Stratfordian belief that Marlowe's work influenced Shakespeare, echoed by scholars since the late 1800s (with A.W. Verity) up till today (via Stephen Greenblatt): “Shakespeare’s engagement with Marlowe’s plays after he died only expanded the opportunities for influence." And Logan wouldn't be the first to suggest that the two actually worked together: “If in fact there was dual authorship in the writing of Titus Andronicus, then it would suggest that, during the period that Marlowe and Shakespeare were in London together working side by side (1590-93), Shakespeare was receptive to collaboration.” What a delightful and tantalizing fairy tale. How else would a Stratfordian explain the close similarities between the two?

Logan makes no reference to the lack in Shakespeare’s biography of any documentary evidence proving that he was a writer or had the education to write the highly sophisticated plays attributed to him. Yet, the assumptions abound: “The catalogue of works that may be considered as possibly bearing the marks of Marlowe’s influence number a remarkable twenty. Eight…actually quote lines from Marlowe’s works.…Marlowe had the strongest continuing impact on Shakespeare’s psychology as he composed his works.” Again, where's the hard evidence that Shakespeare led a literary life? I'm amazed at how much Shakespeare scholarship also seems to focus on the psychology of the "writer" Shakespeare - heavy doses of speculation, so much of it emotive, to fill in the glaring blanks of a life seemingly devoid of a passion for literature.

Would it surprise Professor Logan to know that the reason why there is so much of Marlowe in the works of Shakespeare is because Marlowe probably wrote them? The notion that Shakespeare was a front man for the true author who lived in exile and could not reveal his identity is beyond the professor’s imagination. Yet similar circumstances have occurred in America in recent times. During the Red Scare in Hollywood in the 1950s, as Daryl Pinksen has demonstrated, several screen writers were forced into exile but continued to send scripts back to Hollywood fronted by other colleagues. Those who fronted for the exiled were actually given awards for scripts they did not write. Yet, no one was the wiser, and it is only recently that the truth has come out.

Logan, of course, does not dare entertain the notion that Marlowe survived a faked death in 1593 and continued to write plays which in 1623 were collected by his faithful friend and executor Edward Blount and published in the First Folio. All of which has led the good professor and other Stratfordians to invent all kinds of absurd scenarios to explain the inexplicable.

© Samuel Blumenfeld, July 2009

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.

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.


VallecitoCopy said...

here's the best part of the article, I think:questioning how a relatively new writer like Shakespeare could have written any of the Henry pieces "early on." These are very complicated plays. I also think the case for Marlowe is strongest, more so than let's say a Bacon or Oxford, in that the "influence" of Marlowe on Shakespeare plays is overwhelming.

Unknown said...

can someone answer this: I know of the "shake-scene" issue; is there any other evidence Shakespeare was a writer before 1592?

Daryl Pinksen said...


No, there's no evidence of Shakespeare as a writer before 1592.

Speaking of "Shake-scene", I just finished work on an in-depth article which, I think, will prove once-and-for-all that Greene's 1592 reference was directed towards Edward Alleyn.(It should be available online at the Marlowe Society Research Journal soon.)

This means that the first mention of Shakespeare as a writer occurred sometime in June of 1593 (it had been registered anonymously two months earlier), with the publication of the poem Venus and Adonis, a few weeks after Marlowe was declared dead.

CincyMags said...

Congrats to all of you on a great blog.

Pennyman said...

A big fan, from Alpha-Phonics way back when to your Marlowe book.

Sothis said...

I am puzzled. Robert Logan is one of many highly learned academics in the field English Literature, and his book is the product of meticulous research.

Why and how are you so sure he's wrong?

His arguments seem perfectly sound to me.

Sam Blumenfeld said...

Dear Sothis,

Your comment is much appreciated. There is no doubt that Professor Logan has high standing as an academic and that his book is the result of meticulous research.

But unfortunately, his speculations about Shakespeare’s early years as a “writer” are based not only on erroneous premises but on no documentary evidence whatsoever. Like so many academics, Professor Logan put himself in the Stratfordian straitjacket for his own professional reasons. He became president of the Marlowe Society and knew of Calvin Hoffman’s assertion that Marlowe was not killed at Deptford in 1593 as reported. But Logan rejected Hoffman’s thesis, and chose to believe that Marlowe’s life ended on May 30, 1593.

But there are many of us who strongly believe, with very good and palpable evidence, that Marlowe did not die in 1593, and therefore see events in a different light. As Wayne Dyer wisely noted in his book, The Power of Intention, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

When you believe that Marlowe continued writing plays after the events at Deptford, you see his and Shakespeare’s biographies in an entirely new light, and you see the plays from a completely new and fascinating point of view. Of course, I am sure you know that Marlovians are not the only ones who reject Shakespeare’s authorship. There is a whole library of books on the subject.

I suggest you start your investigations by reading my book, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, Daryl Pinksen’s book, Marlowe’s Ghost, and viewing Mike Rubbo’s highly entertaining video, Much Ado About Something.

I have no reason to doubt Professor Logan’s academic integrity or his sincere adherence to views which I believe are wrong. But if you accept the premise that there is no authorship problem, and that Shakespeare was a writer, despite the lack of evidence to support that view, then, of course, you will accept Logan’s arguments. (I suggest you read Anthony Kellett's article on William Shakespeare, Businessman, on this blog for starters.) As a Marlovian, I not only believe that Stratfordians are wrong, but also Oxfordians and Baconians are wrong. So there you have it.

LibertyMaxine said...

Sam, saw you speak in St. Louis years back. Thanks for all your work with the phonics movement.

Sam Blumenfeld said...

Thanks LibertyMaxine for remembering my other passion: helping children learn to read in the proper phonetic way. How else would they be able to read the works of Marlowe-Shakespeare?
Sam Blumenfeld