A Curiosity in the Bodleian First Folio Shakespeare

A Curiosity in the Bodleian First Folio Shakespeare

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One of the finest results of the 400th anniversary of the death of a certain man from Stratford has been the increased availability of digitised original texts connected to Shakespeare.  The Folger’s Shakespeare Documented project is a treasure trove, though in many cases one should take the write-ups with a pinch of salt.  It is quite a stretch, for example, to claim that a report from 1633-43 that the name “Shakespear” was carved into the panels of tavern alongside those of other famous people of the day is ‘a unique record of Shakespeare, at the peak of his career, gathering with friends and colleagues at the Tabard inn in Southwark’. Unless someone can furnish us with evidence the people in question did their own carving, it sounds more like the landlord paying homage to some local celebrities and trying to increase the cachet of his hostelry by association. But I digress.

As a scholar whose specialist subject is the authorship question, my eye tends to fall on those offerings that orthodox scholars miss: items that so strongly resist fitting in with the traditional story that they will be passed by as nonsensical or unimportant. This week, a fresh oddity was brought to my attention, and if you’re at all interested in the idea that Christopher Marlowe might have authored the Shakespeare canon (the premise of my first novel), I think you’ll like it too.(1)  You will find it opposite the title page of the newly digitised Bodleian First Folio.  Follow that link, flip forward two pages, and see it for yourself.

A new First Folio find

The usual page containing Ben Jonson’s 10-line poem facing the Droeshout engraving, and telling the reader seeking the author to ‘looke/Not on his Picture, but his Booke’, has been removed. On the blank page that remains, someone has written a replacement 10-line poem that reads as follows.

An Active Swain to make a Leap was seen
which sham’d his Fellow Shepherds on the Green,
And growing Vain, he would Essay once more,
But left the Fame, which he had gained before;
Oft did he try, at length was forc’d to yeild
He st[r]ove in Vain, – he had himself Excell’d:
So Nature once in her Essays of Wit,
In Shakespear took the Shepherd’s Lucky Leap
But over-straining in the great Effort,
in Dryden, and the rest, has since fell Short.

[I have tried to reproduce it as the author intended, including those words and phrases in italics; I have left the spelling of ‘yeild’ alone, though it is wrong to modern eyes. I think it fair to assume from the context that ‘strove’ rather than ‘stove’ was intended.]

I imagine the title of this poem might have been instructive, but it has been removed. Presumably it was offensive to someone; perhaps the same person who wrote ‘Honest [Will? Shake]peare’under the portrait, or the person who copied back in, by hand, the poem that should have been on this facing page. We are fortunate the poem itself survived.

The Dryden reference helps date the poem: John Dryden was made Poet Laureate in 1668. The Bodleian First Folio is a rarity for not having been re-bound since it was first donated to the library in 1623.  The library ‘appears to have sold it at some point in the late 1660s, perhaps having replaced it with the new, improved, edition, the Third Folio, with its additional plays, which was published in 1663/4.’  So it seems likely that ‘An Active Swain’ was written into the Bodleian First Folio not long after this: during Dryden’s dominance: 1668-1700. The anonymous author need only be one or two generations removed from Shakespeare’s generation: in a position to have had information directly from their father or grandfather.

Like many of the anomalous writings connected to the Shakespeare canon, this poem is written in such a way that its meaning is deliberately veiled. To someone convinced of the traditional narrative, it will look like nonsense (essential for preservation: not worth destroying, though the title clearly was). But if you look at the words through a particular lens, you may get a little more clarity. I am choosing to look at it through a Marlowe-shaped lens because there seem to be some strong points of connection with that theory.

Shakespeare and another poet

This is a poem about the author known as Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s name is mentioned in the 8th line, and the poem has been deliberately placed opposite the Droeshout engraving, replacing Ben Jonson’s instructions about how to approach the First Folio. It speaks of a separate poet, an ‘active swain’, later referred to as a shepherd. Swain or shepherd was a common pastoral term for poet. Christopher Marlowe was referred to as a shepherd in As You Like It when Rosalind quoted a line from Marlowe’s Hero and Leander:

Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
Whoever loved, who loved not at first sight?

But the term does not identify an individual. So the poem begins by saying there was ‘an active poet’. The poet cannot be equated with Shakespeare because line 8 makes it clear they are separate: that Nature, ‘in Shakespear took the Shepherd’s Lucky Leap.’  What is this ‘leap’? We’ll come back to that, through a Marlowe-shaped lens.

This poet made a ‘leap’.

Lines 1 and 2 tell us:

An Active Swain to make a Leap was seen
which sham’d his Fellow Shepherds on the Green

The poet made a leap which shamed his fellow poets (who are on ‘the green’ because this is what pastoral poets do, of course, sit about on the grass). What kind of leap could that be? With Marlowe, take your pick.

  • An artistic leap. Only in his twenties, he took blank verse drama to a level it had never been before.  The two-part Tamburlaine was a huge hit, as was Doctor Faustus. Jonson refers to ‘Marlowe’s mighty line’ in the preface of the First Folio. Most orthodox scholars accept that Marlowe was a genius who paved the way for Shakespeare. Swinburne said

    ‘He first, and he alone, guided Shakespeare into the right way of work… Before him there was neither genuine blank verse, nor genuine tragedy in our language. After his arrival, the way was prepared; the paths were made straight, for Shakespeare.’

  • A social leap. A cobbler’s son, he won scholarships to grammar school and university, gaining an MA (then the highest qualification) and by so doing, officially gaining the social status of Gentleman. The most powerful men in the land (the Privy Council) wrote to Cambridge University in his support, saying he had ‘done her Majesty good service … in matters touching the benefit of his country’. He became ‘very well known’ to high ranking noblemen Lord Strange (5th Earl of Derby) and Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland. He dedicated a work to Mary Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke; new research (in press) consolidates his connection to her social circle. He was also part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s circle of free-thinkers and Raleigh wrote a response to Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to his Love. (And there’s that Marlowe/shepherd connection again).

Both artistically and socially, Marlowe outstripped his peers, putting them to ‘shame’ as the poem describes. According to the poem, this ‘leap’ led to the poet ‘growing Vain’. Gabriel Harvey’s ‘Gorgon’ poem, written in 1593 and mentioning ‘thy Tamburlaine’, contains a contemporary accusation of Marlowe’s vanity:

He that nor feared God, nor dreaded Div’ll,
Nor ought admired, but his wondrous selfe:
Like Junos gawdy Bird*, that prowdly stares
On glittring fan of his triumphant taile

* peacock

This poet ‘left the fame’.

Lines 3 and 4 tell us:

And growing Vain, he would Essay once more,
But left the Fame, which he had gained before;

These are very interesting lines, don’t you think?  Can you tell me of a famous poet (for the poem is explicit: he had ‘Fame’) – who ‘left the Fame, which he had gained before?’  Generally when poets become famous, they stay famous during their lifetimes. These lines are a fine fit for the Marlowe theory, which includes the reluctant abandonment of fame. The theory goes that he was forced to fake his death (which occurred while he was effectively ‘on bail’, having been arrested ten days earlier) to escape being executed for atheism, then considered treason.  A faked death of this kind would not be technically difficult, given Marlowe’s high-placed connections and his work for the Elizabethan secret service. Roy Kendall, biography of Marlowe’s nemesis, Richard Baines, has noted ‘deaths in the murky world of espionage can often be “blinds” for disapearances, and vice versa’. But a faked death would be emotionally very difficult indeed for a successful and vain young man, who ‘would Essay once more’ (‘would’ = ‘would like to’; best fit for the verb form of ‘Essay’ from the OED: try/accomplish).(2)

There was a struggle and the poet lost.

Lines 5 and 6 tell us:

Oft did he try, at length was forc’d to yeild
He st[r]ove in Vain, – he had himself Excell’d:

The poem doesn’t tell us what he tried ‘oft’.  One wonders if there is a link here with the previous verb, ‘essay’, which means both try and accomplish, and is linked (through its noun form) to writing. All we know is that no matter how much he tried, he tried in vain, and was ‘forced to yield’.  To whom or what?  And what does this have to do with Shakespeare’s First Folio, in which the poem is so deliberately written? If we read the reference as Marlowe’s struggle to be ‘resurrected’ or at least have his works attributed to his own name, the words directly opposite the poem: ‘Mr William SHAKESPEARES Comedies Histories & Tragedies‘ are the record of his defeat.  And why?  Because ‘he had himself Excell’d‘.

The poet excelled himself.

The first argument against Marlowe authoring the Shakespeare canon is “wasn’t he dead?”; the second is “Marlowe’s works aren’t as good as Shakespeare’s”.  But this is to compare the works of a (brilliant but inexperienced) twenty-something (everything in the Marlowe canon was written by the time he was 29) with a writer allowed to reach his prime. Doctor Faustus and Edward II are accomplished plays but Lear, Othello, and Hamlet came twenty years later; twenty years extra reading, life experience, writing practice, and ‘striving’.  If you look at the combined Marlowe-Shakespeare canon in the order in which it was written, the transition is actually pretty smooth.  The early Shakespeare plays (e.g. the Henry VI trilogy, The Taming of the Shrew) were often attributed all or in part to Marlowe until the 1920s; Titus Andronicus (c.1594) is incredibly Marlovian. Late Marlowe and early Shakespeare segue one into the other without a hiccup.

‘He had himself Excell’d’ is clearly important: it is the only phrase in the poem that the author has emphasised by writing it in italics. The solitary dash clearly indicates that ‘excelling himself’ is the cause of the poet’s failure (to achieve what he was trying to achieve). Under what circumstances could a poet’s excellence lead to their failure? If Marlowe was the central author of the Shakespeare canon this line makes perfect sense. Having excelled himself, Marlowe could not be attributed with the surpassing genius of the Shakespeare canon.

The poet’s ‘lucky leap’ is ‘in Shakespear’.

Lines 7 and 8 tell us:

So Nature once in her Essays of Wit,
In Shakespear took the Shepherd’s Lucky Leap

We start with ‘So’: this is a solution to the problem that the poet couldn’t succeed at his striving (to be credited with his own works?) because ‘he had himself excell’d‘. The noun form of ‘essays’ in the 17th century most commonly meant ‘trials’ – so a modern translation of the phrase in line 7 could be ‘trials of wit’.(3) But since the modern meaning of the noun ‘essay’ was in use at this time, there may  also be an intended hint of ‘witty writing’.  It is the poet who has been trying, striving, and essaying, and perhaps here it is the poet’s ‘Nature’ that is implicated. ‘Nature‘ is being credited for something whose mechanism we do not understand.  You might think of it as something like the poetic muse, that mysterious creative force. But how to explain the next line?

‘Shakespear’ contains the poet’s ‘lucky leap’ – that leap, we remember, that set him apart from his ‘fellow [poets]’, put them to shame, and made him vain. But how might we account for that interesting adjective ‘lucky’?  So many other two-syllable adjectives might have been chosen to make the metre, and one might fairly ask how the poet’s ‘leap’ – the excellence that apparently led to failure, despite all his striving – could be described as ‘lucky’.  Again, Marlowe theory to the rescue. It would be fair to say that someone slated for a grisly execution (hanging, drawing and quartering being standard for treason) and whose secret service colleagues helped them escape into exile might said to be ‘lucky’ to be alive, even though they had lost control of their writings.  Under the Marlowe theory, Marlowe’s ‘lucky leap’ – the blessed escape which allowed him to continue writing and developing as a writer, and all the wisdom that such an experience would bring  – ends up ‘in Shakespear’ – in this book of plays that appear under the Shakespeare name.

The poem explains why ‘Shakespeare’ is unsurpassed.

Lines 9 and 10 tell us:

But over-straining in the great Effort,
in Dryden, and the rest, has since fell Short.

It is Nature, we remember, who has over-strained in this effort: the effort presumably being the same one referred to with the words ‘try’ and ‘st[r]ove’.  And the final lines explain that no writer since has come close to the brilliance we find in the canon called Shakespeare. The poet’s striving to overcome his circumstances (the circumstances that involved leaving his fame behind) led to him excelling himself with a genius (contained ‘In [the works of] Shakespear[e]’) that has never been surpassed or even equalled. Not at the time this poem was written, and not since.

‘Nature’ is shorthand. The excellence of Shakespeare, through the Marlowe-shaped lens, is due to the shaping force of an extraordinary experience on an already extraordinary creative mind. The genius found ‘In Shakespear’ is not equalled because the author’s experience of suffering has not been equalled.  It was suffering that brought wisdom, as suffering often does, giving this singular author a broad perspective, and profound human understanding.

Points to ponder

Consider Shakespeare’s obsession with name, with exile, with mistaken identity, with resurrection.

Consider some of the otherwise inexplicable lines of the Sonnets: ‘as victors of my silence cannot boast‘ (Shakespeare’s silence?) or ‘my name be buried where my body is‘ (though the name ‘Shakespeare’ was plastered across the top of every other page in the 1609 sonnets and on numerous title pages too).

Consider what Stephen Greenblatt perceived through his wide and deep reading of the Shakespeare canon:

‘Again and again in his plays, an unforeseen catastrophe … suddenly turns what had seemed like happy progress,  prosperity, smooth sailing into disaster, terror, and loss.   The loss is obviously and immediately material, but it is also, and more crushingly, a loss of identity. To wind up on an unknown shore, without one’s friends, habitual  associates, familiar network — this catastrophe is often epitomized by the deliberate alteration or disappearance of the name and, with it, the alteration or disappearance  of social status.’  (4)                   

Consider this quote from our former Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes:

‘The way to really develop as a writer is to make yourself a political outcast, so that you have to live in secret. This is how Marlowe developed into Shakespeare.’ (5)

Consider Hamlet’s dying words to his only friend:

‘O good Horatio, what a wounded name
(Things standing thus unknown) shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.’

Consider the torn out corner where the title of this poem would have been.

The rest is silence.

 

An Active Swain in situ Bodleian First Folio

(1) Many thanks to Gary Allen for bringing it to my attention.

(2) The poem uses ‘essay’ twice: once as verb and once as a noun. There is no verb form of ‘essay’ connected to writing. If we assume the poem was written in the mid 17th century, the OED offers 4a: To attempt; to try to do, effect, accomplish, or make (anything difficult) and a variation of 1a: Also to practice (an art etc.) by way of trial but this form would usually be transitive i.e. have an object – you would essay something. The verb in the poem has no object, but poets will often bend grammar to their own devices, so the practicing of an art may also be implied, perhaps as a secondary layer of meaning.

(3) Though ‘essay’ as a written composition had come into use by 1597 (Francis Bacon, following Montaigne’s 1580 Essais), the noun form of essay in this poem seems likely to accord with OED Essay (n) 1a: a trial or test, although it could be 5a: attempt.  However, if it was ‘attempt’, one would need to change ‘of’ to ‘at’ to make grammatical sense (attempts at wit). Therefore ‘trials of wit’ is the best fit.

(4) Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World (2004), p.85.

(5) Ted Hughes, Letters of Ted Hughes (2007), ed. Christopher Reid, p.120.

33 Shakespeare Characters Wrongly Believed To Be Dead

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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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SAT Conference 2013

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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).

Shakespeare: The Evidence

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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.

Review: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt

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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 Transcript

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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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Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?

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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.

The Marlowe Papers London Launch

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On 30 May 1593, celebrated young playwright Christopher Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl in London… or did he re-invent himself as one William Shakespeare?

Award-winning poet Ros Barber discusses her enthralling and hugely acclaimed new verse novel The Marlowe Papers with Shakespearean scholar Bill Leahy and writer Will Self.

When: Tue 29 May 2012, 18.30 – 20.00
Where: Staff Restaurant, British Library
Price: £6 / £4 concessions

Book tickets here:  http://www.bl.uk/whatson/events/event130838.html

To Ask or Not To Ask?

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Why does this woman waste her time on a 400-year-old dead bloke?

The photo?  I want to draw you in against your better nature.  Even though you fundamentally disagree with where I’m coming from, or can’t for the life of you understand why I’m spending my time on this rubbish.   Because I appreciate most of my friends, and the visitors to this website, are orthodox in their Shakespeare leanings, and I entirely respect that, so rather than frighten you off with a more conventional ‘Who is Shakespeare?’  kind of image I thought I’d give you a rather arty naked lady.

But it’s interesting, isn’t it?  The whole Shakespeare authorship controversy has been hotting up over the last month.   Read more

A Wider Audience

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After six months of stalling, I have finally gone public with the short interview I did on my PhD research. It was posted today on Carlo Dinota’s Marlowe Shakespeare Connection, and is now publicly listed on YouTube. I find the YouTube thing a little scary. I’ve seen YouTube comments. A lot of those people are very angry, and many of them can’t spell.

I’m not unaware of the emotive power of this issue, and how very upset some people get at the very thought one could seriously entertain the idea that our friend from Stratford didn’t write the plays attributed to him. I have taken four years to consider my approach to this, and several months to sit on this short video largely on the basis that that on the day in question I didn’t have professional hair or make-up. But since just before Christmas, I’ve had the video quietly embedded in my Research page to see if anything bad happened. Seems the sky didn’t fall in. So I have succumbed to private persuasion and released it into the wild.

I might as well; bigger things are on their way. In the next couple of months I will be the first of four Sussex postgraduates this year who will be filmed presenting their research as part of a University pilot scheme. The 20-30 minute film will, I’m told, be hosted on the University of Sussex website. It’s a complicated business, involving multiple cameras and all kinds of gadgetry. I’m currently re-designing my Globe presentation on Keynote (borrowing a Macbook on campus) and will need two days’ rehearsal before filming starts. Exciting, though. Looks like a lot of good things are kicking off in 2011. This time around, I’m definitely going to put a little more effort into the hair and make-up.