The very belated second half round up of 2013 may have to wait.  2014 has begun with a flurry of activity around the release of the US paperback, including my first articles for the Huffington Post.  The first, 7 Brilliant Writers Who Were Overshadowed by a Contemporary was quite a hit, with over 900 social media shares to date, and the usual flurry of comments from people who would have written it differently.  This week, a post dearer to my heart: the question of whether Christopher Marlowe might have faked his death.  I mention in that article about Shakespeare’s obsession with false death and resurrection:  thirty-three characters in eighteen Shakespeare plays are wrongly thought dead for anything from a few seconds to almost the whole of the action, and seven of those deaths are deliberately faked.  I thought I’d put the full list up here for anyone who is interested.

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Ros Barber wins the Desmond Elliott Prize 2013No question about it, I had an extraordinary year.

On my birthday in January I was given one of the best presents I have ever had: I was asked to step in and teach a week at Arvon Lumb Bank, Yorkshire, at short notice. Coincidentally I was just setting off that morning to spend my birthday weekend in York, so I grabbed a few extra jumpers and some teaching materials, and drove Northwards in the snow.  The week was amazing, and I could not have asked for a kinder or more-experienced co-tutor than Chris Wakling, who (with more than fifty Arvons under his belt) rapidly brought me up to speed. The week held some interesting challenges but I loved pretty much every minute of it and returned on a high…

Only to fracture my coccyx the very next day in a seesaw accident.  Thanks husband!  (Always good at bringing me down to earth). One thing I won’t miss about 2013 has been twelve months of sore sitting.  It still gives me gyp now. And for a while there, it was real pain in the arse.

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Much Ado About ItalyThe Shakespearean Authorship Trust’s annual conference is a one day event aimed at a general audience.  Just as last year, this year’s event at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London was a sell-out. Although many of the attendees are involved in researching the authorship question there are also those who are simply lovers of Shakespeare who come out of curiosity.  The SAT supports no individual candidate to the authorship and all are welcome, including those who favour William Shakespeare of Stratford as chief author.   A friendly, collegial atmosphere is encouraged.

It was, therefore, slightly ‘off-message’ to open with an entertaining but combative presentation from Alexander Waugh,[1] whose article in the Spectator has recently inflamed such ire.  An attendee who declared himself a ‘sceptical Stratfordian’ later said he had attended the SAT conference several times and it was the first time he had felt unwelcome; this was regrettable.  Despite the tone of Alexander’s talk, which will do nothing to soften the general air of mudslinging that unfortunately surrounds this topic, he raised some excellent points about the sloppiness of Stratfordian scholarship on the subject of Shakespeare and Italy.   Based on his chapter in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?, it was a challenging beginning to one of the strongest conferences for years.

Following Alexander Waugh, Hank Whittemore gave a talk on the work of the late Richard Paul Roe, whose landmark book The Shakespeare Guide To Italy was the inspiration behind the theme of the 2013 conference.  A full transcript of Hank’s talk can be found, in three parts, on his blog.   Roe’s work has been an inspiration to all lovers of Shakespeare who have read it, and non-Stratfordians in particular, as it puts paid to the numerous orthodox assertions that insist Shakespeare was utterly ignorant on the subject of Italy.  Hank knew Dick Roe personally, and accompanied his talk with numerous photographs both of the man and of his Italian research trips, some kindly provided by Roe’s daughter Hilary.

Next, Kevin Gilvary shed light on the relationship between various Shakespeare works and four categories of literary works: Roman comedy, Italian novellas, Commedia Erudita and Commedia dell Arte.  Details included how the much cited ‘sailmaker from Bergamo’ in Taming of the Shrew is not only an accurate topographical reference but a literary one: traditionally the servant in Italian comedies comes from Bergamo.  Most significantly, he identified for the first time Italian literary sources for The Tempest, always considered Shakespeare’s chief ‘sourceless’ play.  All three of the morning’s talks were filmed and will be available for viewing on the Shakespearean Authorship Trust’s website.

After lunch, we were treated to talk on Italian costumes and fashion from costume and stage designer Jenny Tiramani.  She focused on the (relatively few) references to Italian and French dress in Shakespeare’s works, and on the challenges and choices that must be faced in designing costumes for his Italian plays.

Julia Cleave of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust then presented the work of the late Roger Prior on the Bassano Fresco, and its relationship to Othello.  Prior’s work was published in 2008 in an extremely obscure (and hard to source) Italian journal, but it provides compelling evidence that the author of Othello visited Bassano, and indeed, sourced the protagonist’s name from the town, whose main square contained two apothecary shops, one owned by a man called ‘Otello’ and one, operating under the sign of a Moor’s head, known as ‘The Moor’.  Like Jenny Tiramani’s presentation, this presentation wasn’t filmed due to copyrighted images, but an article on the Bassano Fresco which contains much of the information in Julia’s presentation can be found here.

My own presentation, ‘A New Approach to the Authorship Question’ was a plea to end the name-calling and antagonism that bedevils the authorship debate and approach it calmly and rationally on the evidence alone.  Stratfordians are no more liars and fools (as I have seen them called on internet forums) than non-Stratfordians are snobs and conspiracy theorists: each side believes they are either defending, or seeking, The Truth.  This led into an introduction to Shakespeare: The Evidence, a new authorship question resource which is sponsored by the SAT.   A technical glitch means a film of this presentation is not available, but details of the project are here.

After tea and the traditional SAT cake, we had brief (5 minute) presentations on the Italian connections of a number of key authorship candidates. This was followed by the Q&A/Forum which tackled a number of audience questions, including co-authorship and stylometry.  A film of the Q&A is also available on the SAT website.

All in all, one of the most stimulating conferences yet, and a great tribute to the work of the late Richard Paul Roe and the late Professor Roger Prior .  See some of the talks, and the Q&A, on the Shakesperean Authorship Trust’s website.



[1] Alexander Waugh is aligned with the US-based Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, who are decidedly anti-Stratfordian and combative in approach.  The UK-based Shakespearean Authorship Trust, by contrast, is non-Stratfordian (as opposed to anti-) and welcomes Stratfordians too, being inclusive of all authorship candidates (including the man generally attributed with the works).

3 Comments, Written on December 6th, 2013 , Shakespeare authorship question

On Tuesday 26th November 2013, I’ll be releasing the first chunk of Shakespeare: The Evidence, the first book on the Shakespeare authorship question to gather together all the evidence, arguments and counter-arguments for and against Shakespeare’s authorship.  It will be in the form of a (searchable, hyperlinked) e-book, available in all e-book formats, and published in instalments via the Leanpub platform (motto: Publish Early, Publish Often).

It will build month on month to become a comprehensive compendium of all the relevant evidence and arguments used by both sides, allowing those already involved in the debate to better understand and answer their opponents, to tell weak arguments from strong ones, and to have a huge amount of complex information at their fingertips.  It will be both searchable and hyperlinked, with (at the current count) five appendices supplying source texts.    I hope it will be of interest not just those already involved in the Question, but of those who would like to understand better exactly why Shakespeare’s authorship of the works attributed to him has been challenged openly for over 150 years.

This project is generously supported by the Shakespearean Authorship Trust, and 50% of all royalties will be donated to them.

Leave A Comment, Written on November 17th, 2013 , Uncategorized

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt ?If the distinguished contributors to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt hope their book will place the traditional author of Shakespeare’s canon where the title claims and settle the Shakespeare authorship question for once and for all, they are likely to be disappointed. In the hands of twenty-one eminent Shakespeare scholars, the case for William Shakespeare of Stratford sounds plausible enough, and will reassure the already convinced as well as those who would like to be. But anyone versed in the primary material of the authorship question will emerge essentially unsatisfied. Although a well-written, accessible and interesting read, it is riddled with the common misunderstandings that characterise this ‘dialogue of the deaf’ and contains factual errors that suggest certain contributors haven’t done their homework. Nevertheless it is full of fascinating information for initiate and expert alike, and (with the exception of Paul Edmondson’s final chapter), reasonable in tone.

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‘Proving Shakespeare’ Webinar, Friday 26 April 2013, 6.30-7.30 BST.

Recorded in Stratford-upon-Avon by Misfits Inc for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Sponsored by Cambridge University Press.
Speakers: Professor Stanley Wells CBE, Dr Paul Edmondson, Dr Ros Barber
Also present: Melissa Leon and AJ Leon of Misfits Inc.

For a printable/downloadable PDF of this transcript, click here

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt Webinar 26 April 2013

[Slide: Text ‘Proving Shakespeare.‘ Images: Paul Edmondson, Stanley Wells, Ros Barber]

PE: Well it’s a lovely day in Stratford-upon-Avon, my name’s Paul Edmondson of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. We’re going to be starting the webinar very soon. About another minute or two. I’m joined by Ros Barber, who’s just published a marvellous book called The Marlowe Papers, and Stanley Wells CBE, our new president for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Okay. So welcome to Proving Shakespeare, this is a webinar about Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, and it’s been sponsored by Cambridge University Press. My name is Paul Edmondson and I’m joined by Stanley Wells and Ros Barber. Thank you very much to Cambridge who published Shakespeare Beyond Doubt last week, and there was a launch for it as part of the Shakespeare Birthplace celebrations here in Stratford.

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ShakespeareBeyondDoubtCoverSUBcover1This month sees the publication of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (Cambridge University Press), edited by Professor Stanley Wells and Dr Paul Edmondson of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the second book published by an academic press to address the Shakespeare authorship question.   The first was Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography (Greenwood Press, 2001), recently re-published in an affordable paperback edition.  Twelve years on, and following James Shapiro’s Contested Will, orthodox Shakespearean scholars have written an accessible academic text putting forward their side of the argument.

On April 26th at 6.30 BST, I’ll be discussing Shakespeare Beyond Doubt with Professor Wells and Dr Edmondson in a free global webcast organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  If you’d like to know what we have to say to each other, you can register by clicking here   (you’ll be sent a link to the webcast).      This is separate from my live event at Stratford Literary Festival earlier in the afternoon. In this event, at 4.30,  Professor Wells and Dr Edmondson will be discussing my book, The Marlowe Papers, with reference to the lives and works of Marlowe and Shakespeare.  Both events promise to be very interesting indeed.

1 Comment, Written on April 17th, 2013 , Shakespeare authorship question

prosoRecently someone came here looking for ‘ros barber prosopagnosia poem’.  Although it wasn’t called that, I know exactly what they were looking for – an unpublished poem I wrote at the end of the last millennium about the embarrassing affliction of face-blindness.  I wasn’t aware there was a scientific name for my condition in those days, so it was simply called ‘Who Are You?’  Having renamed it,  and to help fellow sufferers locate said thing in the future, I am publishing it here for the first time.

Nowadays I’m pretty open about my ridiculous inability to recognise/remember people, but I did once invite a visitor into my house (who clearly expected me to know who he was), make him a cup of tea, and chat with him for half an hour, before making an excuse that I had to go out (I didn’t) in order to rid myself of this unplaceable person who seemed to know all about me and my family, but wasn’t helping me out with any clues as to his identity.  He decided to walk up the road with me (perpetuating my agony), and as we parted ways, said ‘I’ll go and see Kay then’.  Huge relief  as I made the connection – friend of Kay’s! The guitarist whose gig we had attended a couple of months previously and put up for the night! (Still couldn’t recall his name.)  I very much doubt he missed the blossoming of comprehension across my face.  He hasn’t been back.

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Leave A Comment, Written on April 15th, 2013 , learning experiences, poem Tags:

RosB&W

Yesterday I watched some footage of myself from fifteen years ago. We are not who we were.

The surface impression was disturbing. A face and a body I’d now love to inhabit. Yet I remember the agony of doing so. Looking good was my only compensation for a life more miserable than I could communicate. There’s no sign of the misery. She’s the party girl, full of talk, full of herself. And at every opportunity, full of drink. A person seemingly strong, even forceful, yet incredibly unstable. Little wonder she had so much trouble holding onto friendship, finding love. No wonder she provoked dislike; even hatred. No wonder she experienced men largely as predators.

Around this time, I read poetry in public for the first time. Just before I went up a man said to me ‘How can you write poetry when you’ve got no soul?’ At the time, I felt eviscerated. Watching this footage, I can understand his mistake.

She is not me. She is heading for a catastrophic breakdown. You wouldn’t know, to look at her, how much she cries in private. Three small children she cannot cope with, no help. She drops them off at school and nursery and cries the whole drive home. Drinking used to begin when she put them to bed. Then it began at bath-time. Now six on the dot. Sometimes lunchtime. The tension between how she appears to be, and how she feels inside, will break her. Appearing to be okay takes a huge amount of energy, but is necessary, to prevent the unwelcome attention of strangers. She has seen her friend sectioned, Largactyled, subjected to Electro Convulsive Therapy. So no trip to the doctors. Medication would only be a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. Talk therapy: did that in her twenties. It taught her *why* she was messed up. But after a year she was still messed up. In some ways, worse. Picking a scab doesn’t heal it.

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3 Comments, Written on April 10th, 2013 , learning experiences

how to leave the world that worships shouldI want to say a little something about the poem ‘How to Leave the World that Worships Should because so many people have been coming here looking for it since it appeared on the English Literature GCSE syllabus last year. I’ll leave the analysis to others because my days of doing other people’s homework are over. Unless you’re going to threaten to flush my head down the toilet, obviously. I will, however, give you a small hint about the title, which I know flummoxes some people. The word ‘should’ should be in italics, or inverted commas. How to leave the world that worships (the word/concept of) ‘should’. Simple enough, once that’s clear, although I know when the poem reproduces itself on websites the italics or quote marks can disappear, making the title utterly nonsensical.

No, no analysis, because I would hope – outside the demands of exams etc – that it doesn’t need one. But I will give a little background.

First off, I should tell you this poem owes its existence to the generous funding of Arts Council England and two lovely people who worked at Canterbury City council nearly a decade ago. So if you like this poem, support the funding of the arts! The two lovely people had seen me speak about my public art commissions at a conference and approached me to write a number of poems about Herne Bay, on the coast of Kent. We ended up agreeing on eight sonnets (which became known as the Seaside Sonnets), and this was the first. The day I wrote it, I knew it was something a little bit special. Since then it has proved to be so: popular in postcard form with people working in cubicles, it has proliferated itself all over the internet. Someone even posted it on the Bolton Wanderers fan forum, at which point I realised it was really going mainstream. Read the rest of this entry »

3 Comments, Written on January 22nd, 2013 , poem, public art, public art projects

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Ros Barber

Novelist, poet, scholar