An Interview with Rambler

If the 17th Earl of Oxford was the creative force of the works of Shakespeare, how is it that no one let the cat out of the bag? Ok, he was an aristocrat and writing was beneath him – he couldn’t disparage his own reputation. But he didn’t live in isolation and certainly having his works publicly performed invited commentary. Where is it?

Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to buy Wit, is only the surface of commentary on the Earl, his relationship with other writers and William of Stratford. What lies beneath is a watery wonderland of allusions and in-jokes waiting to be explored. Rambler does just this on Quake-speare Shorterly blog. His blog is an eye-opener.

Plays of the time are full of insider jokes and references that he fastidiously unpacks in his posts. His blog demonstrates how well playwrights of the time knew each other, worked within each other’s circle of influence, and responded to Oxford/Shakespeare.

1. How did you first come to doubt that William of Stratford wrote the works?

I wasn’t interested in Shakespeare until my curiosity was aroused by reading a paragraph in a non-literary newsletter about J.T. Looney’s book. (“Shakespeare” Identified as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.)

2. Did you discover allusions to Oxford in the Elizabethan drama first, or did you have an idea that Oxford was the one and go looking for him?

Reading about Vere (as I prefer to call him) in Looney was my first exposure to early modern literature. So after reading Looney I was already intrigued. Only later, after I’d read an Oxfordian book by H.H. Holland, did the identification of Vere in certain Shakespeare plays set me on my present path.

The Earl of Oxford, clasping the hand of his lately deceased wife? By Nicholas Hilliard, with the kind permission of theVictoria and Albert Museum

Shakespeare/Vere aka “Unknown Man clasping a Hand” By Nicholas Hilliard, with the kind permission of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.(1)

3. What is the most painfully, obvious allusion to Oxford that has been overlooked by mainstream scholars?

In the world of literary allusion, nothing is obvious.To put it another way, with circumstantial evidence there’s no such thing as ‘too much’. My approach entails an accumulation of allusions, such that the sheer weight of numbers becomes as close to irrefutable as possible in this kind of investigation.

For example, one of the most powerful discrete observations was made in Holland’s book, Shakespeare Through Oxford Glasses, published in 1923. While studying, Romeo and Juliet, he noted certain lines which seemed to him to bear on Vere’s genealogy. Here’s a transcript from pages 71-2 of his book:

Turning to the Oxford allusions, we will first consider Romeo’s remark in Act 1, Scene 4: “For I am proverbed with a grandsire phrase. I’ll be a candleholder and look on.” It is admitted that this may be taken for a very ordinary remark to be used in the play. So far as the play is concerned, it presumably means that as the proverb – which is as old as the time of his grandparents – has it, he will be a candle-holder and look on. This is quite a natural thing to say, assuming that there were such a proverb in existence, and there is no reason to question it. When, however, a lookout is kept for personal allusions, there are points in the remark which are noticeable. If it is not a presumption to say so, it does appear a clumsy way of expressing the meaning, to say he is proverbed with a phrase; and if this clumsiness is admitted, and it is consequently accepted as not the real meaning, then it appears that Romeo had some family motto, or something of that nature, to which he is punningly alluding. There is nothing, however, in his name to cause such a remark. Now turn to the Earl of Oxford. His grandmother’s name was Elizabeth Trussell. “Trussell” is an old way of spelling, “trestle”. [OED: “16-17 trussell”, under the entry for “trestle”] and an old meaning for the word trestle is a stand or frame for candles or tapers burning in religious worship [OED:”Obs.”]. It can, therefore, be literally said that through his grandmother, the Earl was a candle-holder. In his grandmother’s name of Trussell, he is, in fact, proverbed with a grandsire phrase, and consequently he will be a candle-holder and look on. If it is merely a coincidence it is a most extraordinary one.

Quite some time – several years, probably – after reading Holland, I saw a remark by Gabriel Harvey: “I cannot stand nosing of candlesticks, or euphuing of similies, ala Savoica,” which seemed to refer somehow to Vere and his relationship with Lyly at the Savoy. I wondered whether the “candleholder” (Vere/Shakespeare) and the “candlesticks” (Harvey) might not be a kind of related literary argot for Vere, a marker for someone not to be named outright. I was faced with the daunting task of exploring large areas of early modern prose and poetry and drama in order to confirm or explode my suspicions. Naturally there are considerable areas that I’ve not touched, because the field is so vast. Nevertheless, there are very, very strong indications that the word, “candlelight” is an allusion to Vere. So there seems to be a constellation incorporating candleholder-candlestick-candlelight. As more ground was covered in my investigation, it emerged that contemporary writers expanded the circumference of this marker group to include other concepts associated with light when they wanted to allude to Vere.

So Holland’s claim that Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet was alluding to Vere by means of the word, candleholder, was compelling but not conclusive, and of course has been dismissed by orthodox scholars, because you can’t prove a one-off. So far I’ve seen about a half-dozen uses of the word, candlelight, by several different authors, which seem to indicate Vere. You can either interpret this as sheer coincidence or as deliberate strategy by Vere’s contemporaries. That’s the way it is with circumstantial (textual) evidence and inductive reasoning: you take your choice. The candle/light constellation isn’t the only one I’ve discovered.

4. Do you have a favourite allusion?

See question 3. I also have a favourite type of allusion. As we know, the orthodox, i.e., Stratfordian chronology of Shakespeare’s plays is sacrosanct, broadly speaking. Hamlet, 1599-1602. Twelfth Night, 1601-2. No real wiggle room. It’s particularly gratifying to uncover allusions to Shakespeare plays in works by other writers at a time when Shakespeare’s plays had, according to the scholarly consensus, yet to be written.

For example, the character of Dowsecer in George Chapman’s, A Humorous Day’s Mirth. This successful play was written in 1597 and published in 1599. There is one scene which is clearly derived from Hamlet; in fact much of Dowsecer’s manner and personality shadows that of Hamlet. Millar Maclure, preeminent Chapman critic in his day, wrote in his 1966 literary biography of Chapman that, “Premonitions of Hamlet abound in this scene”. A less challenging explanation than that some mysterious psychic powers were bestowed on Chapman is that Hamlet was already in the domain of Shakespeare’s fellow writers.

Another instance relates to Twelfth Night. In his 1599 play, Every Man Out of His Humour, Ben Jonson supplied a remarkably accurate precis of the plot of Twelfth Night, a play which, we are confidently told, wouldn’t be composed for another two years. Still, the presence of more, yet more, psychic phenomena amongst Shakespeare’s contemporaries has made some critics nervous – as it should. The late Anne Barton, one of the most respected critics of recent times in 1981 called Jonson’s summary an, “alarmingly prescient account of Twelfth Night, a play Shakespeare had not written”. Three years later she wrote her literary biography entitled, Ben Jonson, Dramatist, by which time she had somehow suppressed her anxiety. She substituted for the phrase, “alarmingly prescient account of Twelfth Night,” the more quaint, though almost equally fantastic, “wistful anticipation of Twelfth Night“. Trepidation alleviated by a sprinkling of magic dust.

5. In his day, Shakespeare was not the most popularly patronised playwright. In light of the allusions, on the whole, how do you think other playwrights/poets saw him?

Every other writer perceived Shakespeare differently, and their views must have changed over time. So there is no, “on the whole.” A repeated theme seems to imagine Vere as an ass-genius, idiot-savant, wise fool. As a man who squandered his birthright, and violated the traditions that accompanied it. When they discuss him at all, other writers see Shaxper(2) as an ambitious parvenu in London, an aspiring man-about-town, someone whom Vere had taken under his wing but who ultimately disappointed the earl.

6.“Exit pursued by a bear,” – what does it mean?

It means that he exits and a bear is chasing him. Or it might allude to the Earl of Leicester, whose family emblem was a bear and ragged staff. Or it might be a metaphor for something else entirely. That’s what I mean by an accumulation of evidence. If the same or a similar stage direction or text were found elsewhere, it might give you some indication of what the direction in Winter’s Tale means. As things stand, the Winter’s Tale phrase remains a singleton, a one-off, with no precedent and no subsequent (which is a noun I just invented). There are no referents available for corroboration, so any interpretation remains guesswork.

Thank you, Rambler, for your detailed responses throwing light on Vere and his peers and allowing me to interview you for my blog.

Image Credit

(1) Nicholas Hillard’s Unknown Man clasping a Hand, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

(2) One of the many variations of the name used by the family of the countryman from Stratford who went to London and donned the mantle, William Shakespeare. (Crafty Theatre)

 

W.S. Veritatis – Elizabethan Lyricist

Who was this W.S. who mocked the countryman who came to London to make commerce with comedy? Who was he, who claimed to be the greatest wit in London? Who was this pamphleteer behind, Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit? Whose were the plays printed besides Shakespeare’s in the 3rd and 4th Folios? Who else’s plays were published in quarto editions bearing William Shakespeare’s name during the Stratford man’s lifetime?

Looking for works published with the initials, W.S. from the middle of the 16th Century until the publication of the Third Folio in 1664(1) I hoped to find an answer. Above the earliest instance of his initials, that I found, was a couple of songs by W.S.: A New Balade or Songe of the Lamb’s Feast and ANother out of Goodwill. They were published together in a pamphlet in Cologne in 1574. At the bottom of ANother out of Goodwill, W.S. signed the pamphlet  “PER W.S. VERITATIS”. The songs are printed with dense side references expressed with archaic Biblical abbreviations e.g., Math.22.a., Esa.2a.25b., and 2Tess.1.a.2.b..

Questions arise: why was the pamphlet printed in English and in Cologne; for whom was it intended; why does a song need textual notes; how are the biblical abbreviations to be deciphered; and who was W.S. Veritatis? With the kind permission of EEBO, I present this vernacular translation of the first of the two songs.

A New Ballad or Song of the Lamb’s Feast (1574)

I heard one say:

Come now away

Make no delay:

Alack, why stand ye then?

All is doubtless

 in readiness

There wants but Gesse,

To the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest in very deed (refrain)

That’s found a Guest in the Marriage-weed. (refrain)

Continue reading

WS- Pamphleteer, Playwright, Poet…Persona Incognitus

Scaramouche, Scaramouche! But who is Mufario, and why does he hide his face behind a mask?

Musario, Musario! But who is Mufario, and why does he hide his face behind a mask?

oxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

oxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

“Musario, Musario! But who is Musario? And why does he hide his face behind a mask? You don’t know? Well, I’ll tell you . . . ” – misquoted from Scaramouche, MGM, 1952.

oxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

oxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

In my recent post, 3.What Authorship Question: Shakespeare? Who? Homer? I toyed with the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were written by several hands. Why? His universal view of women changes between the genres of his plays, and does so in a stratified way i.e., his comedies show a greater understanding than his histories.

Group Theory is not a new concept in terms of the discussion of the Bard’s immortal plays. It dates back to at least Delia Bacon’s, The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded, 1857. Despite the vaccuous, vapid logic of people who haven’t actually read her manifesto, and who will tell you otherwise, she was not a Baconian but a Groupist. She proposed a group of writers working together with the aim of bringing enlightenment to their audiences using that great educator of the soul, storytelling. Her group included Walter Raleigh, Francis Bacon, and the Earl of Oxford, among others.

The idea that more than one hand created the works, is popular today also among orthodox Shakespearean scholars who concede collaboration. A book that I have found very persuasive on the topic is John Mitchell’s, Who Wrote Shakespeare? (1996). In it he goes through the candidates, popular to his day, and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of their cases beginning with William of Stratford. If he had to choose a single candidate, he leans towards Bacon because he sees in the workings of Bacon, “(a) subtle, devious mind and (a) practical idealistic purpose.” (1). However, a single author doesn’t satisfy him and he at one point proposes a group headed by Oxford (2), that included the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland, Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe, and of course, Bacon was an integral member .

The problem with Group Theory is talk. If such a Group existed and were sworn to secrecy, wouldn’t someone let the cat out of the bag? And what of the theatre shareholder who bore their label, William Shakespeare, wouldn’t he talk? Where is the evidence of this talk? Can it all be restricted to euphemistic and oblique references in plays whose meaning has now exited, pursued by a bear?

Well, it’s not all obscure. Sonnet 81 is the author’s paeanful dirge to his unacknowledged authorship. I am not the first, nor the last, to proclaim its importance to the SAQ. It’s the alpha and the omega of why William Shakspere was not the author, William Shakespeare. However, it isn’t the only published slight.

Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit, by the anonymous pamphleteer, W.S., is very telling. The pamphlet is a parody of Theophrastus’ ancient parody on human character, Characters. Tom Long is a countryman who comes from the town of Gotham(3) where the citizens have the reputation of being witless. He has been sent to London by the aldermen because the town has been prevailed upon to stage a comedy or masque for the entertainment of its lord. The problem is that there is no one in the town with the wit to write it, so they have sent Tom off to procure wit by the horse-load. Unfortunately, Tom can’t read. If he is to learn wit, it has to be spoken to him. He hears tell of a marvellously witty scholar, Musario, who he presently encounters.

Musario proceeds to satirise all different kinds of scholars that he sees in society. Because life is a School of Repentance, his witty scholars are just people who have had to learn wisdom from their experiences. His advice to these people is that rather than suffer the consequences of experience, buying their wit would be preferable. Conversely, he also promotes the idea that by their suffering and repentence they have paid for their wit, or wisdom if you like.

Mufario has a broader understanding of wit than we commonly use today. For Mufario wit is wisdom, experience, understanding, and the ability to laugh at our own foibles. Thus he associates having wit with the capability to write comedies.

Mufario is presented, and then presents himself, as a doyen of wit. The point of view of the author quickly moves from a god’s eye perspective to Mufario’s perspective. Tom Long is presented as a country bumpkin. Coming from a place of no wit, he stays in London at least another five years after which time he has Musario’s words of wisdom published. Why? “So by mingling wit and mirth together, he might please those that desire to be merry.”

John Dee Seal

John Dee’s alchemical seal

The question to be asked of the pamphlet is whether Musario had in mind certain people who he was satirising? One of the scholars, Mr Phantastes bears a great resemblance to the polymath, John Dee. Musario describes a humoursome man with too many professions to spend his estate on, who cannot focus on one. He dabbles in alchemy to the point that he changes his own form until he looks, “a page of Saturn … melancholy black, looking so pale and wan.” Is he having a bit of fun at specific wits of London? Were they contributors of Shakespeare’s canon?

To tackle this question the first thing that has to be determined is when the pamphlet was written as opposed to when it was published. Musario tells us that it was first published 5 years after he wrote it. The copy that I have read was published in 1634. Nowhere on the front cover does it state whether it is a first or subsequent printing. By this reckoning the latest it could have been written is 1629. But when is the earliest? To ascertain this we may look at the names Musario gives his Wits. One of them is Pierce Pennilesse the Ploughman. Pierce Penniless first appeared in print in a pamphlet by Tom Nashe in 1592. It was an incredibly successful pamphlet of the early 1590’s going into three print runs and being translated into French.  It stands to reason that Bought Wit is Best was first published after Pierce Penniless, His Supplication to the Divell but soon enough in memory for the reference to have meaning.

 A probable date of composition for Bought Wit is Best is in the 1590s. Shakespeare’s greatest period of writing in London. Shakespeare, like Tom Long, was from the country and came to London to do commerce in wit. But if Tom Long is supposed to be Shakespeare, why is it that he can’t read? Mufario couldn’t mean William Shakespeare? Was he of the opinion that it pained Shakespeare to write, too?

Who was Musario anyway? Was Musario a construct of the author W.S., or was he W.S.? Who is Tom Long supposed to be? Is Gotham really the historic town in Lancashire? Is London meant to be London?

Who was the pamphleteer, playwright, poet and lyricist, W.S.? In the 1600s the publishers of the third and fourth folios knew him to be William Shakespeare. They published three of W.S.’s plays in the Third (1663) and Fourth (1685) Folios of the Collected Works of William Shakespeare: The History of Thomas Lord Cromwell, The Puritan Widow and The Tragedy of Locrine. All of these plays had been printed in quarto editions during the lifetime of William of Stratford with the initials, W.S.. According to Wikipedia, The Puritan Widow has now been reattributed to Thomas Middleton on stylistic comparison; the Tragedy of Locrine is still of unknown authorship, but it’s stiff verse excludes it from Shakespeare’s hand although he may have edited it; and the penmanship of The History of Thomas, Lord Cromwell, has also eluded scholars and baffled them with the strange way the first half of the play is more polished than the second.

For scholars, the three plays in question just don’t live up to their expectations of Shakespeare. But what of his juvenilia? Did he not cut his teeth somewhere? Was he born with a full set of teeth? Why were these plays excluded from the first and second Folios? Was there an induction process whereby only the best plays were included? These plays by W.S. were added to the canon alongside 4 others. Of the seven, only Pericles, Prince of Tyre has been acknowledged a genuine Shakespeare original. However, even Pericles is said to have been a collaborative effort.

Interestingly enough, when reading through the Wits satirised by W.S., a few bring to mind characters in Shakespeare’s plays.  Antonio from the Merchant of Venice can be though as having bought his wit thus:

There is a third way of buying wit, and that is by suretyship, when some young man or any other (being of a good nature, and so more easily deceived) is willing to pleasure his friend, and to stand between him and harm by being bound for him and by setting his hand and seal to it, makes so fair a hand, that in short time his friend shrinks away and he is left to the mercy of the creditor… (4)

Shakespeare’s fascination with the cuckholded husband also runs through a few of the characters as a consequence of their actions. Is this enough to pin the Shakespeare name on the pamphlet? Would he lampoon himself as being from the country, unable to read, unable to write comedy, and from a society whose greatest foible was its propensity to go to court over petty concerns eg a trespassing goose?

W.S. holds Tom Long apart from Musario. In fact, Musario’s wits are almost all Londoners. Be they men or women, they are from the merchant class or above. They are educated and have money to spend. He doesn’t understand the countryman’s concerns and can only poke fun at his antics involving lawyers in the city.

From Musario’s judgements we can infer certain things about him. He is a man-about-London-Town, a scholar and a wit. He has knowledge enough of English folklore, Old Testament stories and Greek mythology but not the confidence to quote in Greek, though he bandies about his Latin. He hints at his once having been wealthy when he talks of prodigal youth waxing philosophically. His advice to women on choosing a husband brand him an aristocrat. In marriage to choose money over birth/social rank is folly. As is choosing money over wit. In fact his advice is best kept by those with money and/or rank. In this pamphlet he presupposes that living in the country, in an agricultural profession precludes having wit.

The exhibited knowledge in this pamphlet overlaps with that of Shakespeare the writer down to Ben Jonson’s claim that his Latin was better than his Greek. But why would he lampoon countrymen, his own? And if he did, why doesn’t the satire encompass the various issues of countrymen and their character stock types? For Musario, countrymen are litigious, petty, uneducated “Goodmen Clodpoles” who in coming to the city can best hope for local preferment on their return having gained city wit.

We aren’t told whether Tom Long learns enough wit from Mufario to write his own comedies. From the little factual information that has come down to us about William of Stratford, the evidence of his life resonates with Tom Long and the Goodmen “Halfpenny” and “Clodpole” of Bought Wit is Best: a litigious nature, an extended stay in London, a return home a success, an interest in civic advancement (the attainment of the coat of arms for his father) a delving into the production of comedies, and a questionable education (the only evidence of his handwriting are the near illegible signatures and the story that it pained him to write.)

Was Tom Long meant for William Shakspere of Stratford? Are the Wits satirised in the pamphlet Shakespeare’s collaborators? Who was W.S.?

Further Reading

For references to the greatest poets in the Elizabethan Age, that omit Shakespeare and pre-date the publication of the first folio see: http://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/peacham-on-oxford/

On Pierce Penniless https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierce_Penniless

References

  • Mitchell, John, Who Wrote Shakespeare, Thames and Hudson, London, 1996, Chapter IX: A Last Look Round, 259.
  • ibid, p.244.
  • During the reign of King John the citizens of Gotham did not want the upkeep of a new highway by their town so they feigned madness to dissuade the powers that were from building the King’s road through there. The legend of the madness of their citizens stuck.
  • S., W, Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit or Bought Wit is Best, E.A. for Francis Smith, London,1634. From EEBO.

Photo Credit

John Dee’s seal

Photo credit: Arenamontanus / Foter / CC BY

Theatre Review: Love and Information

Love and Information by Caryl Churchill; A Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre Company Production. Directed by Kip Williams.

I had the pleasure of attending the Australian Premiere season of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information at the Wharf Theatre last night. Being at the Wharf, I never questioned that the production would be an entertaining one. In fact, when the subject of Australian theatre-going came up at soccer practice, I found myself promoting the lively culture we have and variety of the local pickings. I was selling our local scene to a seasoned London and European theatre-goer. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I may have been adding a little bit of spice. Would the production measure up in delivery? Would the play connect, seem real? It was written by Caryl Churchill.

I can’t remember having seen another play by Caryl Churchill since I studied Cloud Nine at Uni, too many years ago. As a sheltered 18 year old, Cloud Nine had shocked me. I couldn’t connect to it. It was too arty. By the measure of my limited life experience, it was too contrived. Why Churchill now? I’ve since experienced the rain. And besides, can this sort of spin be resisted:

A child cannot feel pain. A man has a secret. A woman wants an affair. A scientist dissects a brain. Someone tells the police. Another puts an elephant on the stairs.

In a series of tantalising vignettes, over 100 vibrant characters search for meaning in their lives. Through sex, death, feeling, thinking, taxidermy and karaoke they discover each other. . . ?

Not realising how much science is referred to in the play, I attended with my fellow soccer-mum who also happens to be a geneticist and sci-fi enthusiast. When the ins and outs of genetic research were described in minutiae, I was looking beside me and not towards the stage. How accurate was all of the information and if it wasn’t, would it matter to her? Apparently, it’s accurate. Not only this, it’s entertaining. If you were a geneticist, in how much detail would you describe what you did to the bloke you just met at a party?

Many stories are told through the sparkling performances of an ensemble cast of 8: Marco Chiappi, Harry Greenwood, Glenn Hazeldine, Anita Hegh, Zahra Newman, Anthony Taufa, Ursula Yovich and Alison Whyte.  The fragmentary nature of the writing draws the audience into Churchill’s message with many different emotional hooks. The cast show off their versatility and the way they gel on stage is exactly what’s called for to make this dense offering of scenes fresh. The scenes are short and pithy, sometimes too short. In some instances the brevity of the scenes didn’t quite get their message through. At other points, it was hard to tell if earlier stories were being expanded on by different performers or similar tales were being told with a slightly skewed take from the original, later in the progression.  I found that I just wanted that little bit more in the story-telling or a slower delivery to be able to properly absorb these quick-as-a-flash scenes. Other times, they delivered a poignant punch.

The Production Design by David Fleischer is dynamic, literally.The stark, white stage is anything but bare or static. The cast are carefully choreographed in their movement of a dozen or so knee-high, rectangular prisms that help define the setting whether they are on a train, in the museum, on the moon, or in a living room. Needless to say, the scene changes underpinned by the music of the Sweats, were engaging. The overwhelming whiteness of the setting seems a reflection on white noise that is superfluous information. The stark-white was also was crucial to the creation of visual messages that were wordless and strong e.g., the Astronaut’s walk through the unknown, through space, through the informationless void.

Apollo 16 (Archive: NASA, Marshall, 4/16/72)

I really enjoyed the play.The beauty in the playwriting is that it’s not preachy but builds its meaning through the shifting grains of a kaleidoscope. Caryl Churchill’s message is relevant and told in such a way that you come to the realisation gradually through a bombardment of scenes that function like the bombardment of information she sees around us. Important information – emotional sharing and truth in society-are trivialized and almost lost in the assault on our attention.

Do words share love? Be attentive or the words you most want to hear will be lost in the stream.

We left the theatre, two very satisfied soccer-mums.

Love and Information is playing at the Wharf Theatre until 15 August, 2015. Tickets can be purchased at sydneytheatre.com.au, ph: 9250 1777. It’s a good night out.

Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center / Foter / CC BY-NC

3. What Authorship Question: Shakespeare? Who? Homer?

Stylometry: using maths to interpret English! No, this is not science fiction. Sacrilege? They’re doing it to Shakespeare. It’s been done to his works for a while. It’s being taken seriously. No, this is not horror. Pythagoras reduced music to numbers you might say, but I would contend that Pythagoras rose numbers to art.

So, what’s my issue? Even before statistics became involved the works of Shakespeare were being questioned as the product of one mind, one pen. These different minds were recognized for their differences in style of writing.

“Oh, this bit isn’t by Shakespeare, it’s too droll.”

“Droll? It’s doggerel!”

“He only helped out with that bit and that bit.”

Computers can only prognosticate when data and calculations are given to them. So how do the Stylometricians discern which part is by Shakespeare and which parts are there for the ride? It’s subjective.

“Only the best bits are by the Bard!”

“He was a genius after all.”

I have a problem with that too. Over the course of your writing career, your style will change. You will experiment with different voices as you are exposed to them. You will change your voice depending on the form of writing you are communicating with e.g., letter writing, poetry, playwriting, short story or novel writing. With practice you will hone your own style and you will improve. So if the completed works of Shakespeare are actually complete, then his juvenilia must be represented.

How do stylometricians choose their standard, “true” extract with which to compare all other sections of his works? How do they discern between his evolving style and that of the works of other playwrights with whom he is said to have collaborated? Can an entire play be chosen as a touchstone? Is there a certain world-view or mindset that runs through his works that underpins them as the work of one writer? I think there is.

Here’s an hypothetical experiment. Like all experiments it has limiting parameters. Imagine that Shakespeare wrote only plays. Imagine that you have only read his comedies. How would you sum up his women? Witty, intelligent, feisty and living within the framework of their patriarchal society. Portia (Merchant of Venice) and Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing) are brighter than the men around them but they subject themselves to the social mores of patriarchy. Shakespeare could then be said to believe that women were men’s equal in intelligence and wit but perhaps not interested in assuming the authoritarian role of men in society. Just to look at the comedies it could be said that for Shakespeare, women’s chief concerns were falling in love and getting married.

Now imagine that your Shakespeare-loving friend had read none of his plays outside of the English Histories. Your friend could be forgiven for understanding Shakespeare to have had a much shallower understanding of women. The women of the English History plays are presented two-dimensionally as prizes and ornaments e.g., Katherine (Henry V); foils, Lady Anne (Richard III) and Blanch (King John); and adjititors e.g., Constance and Elinor (King John). His women rarely portray more than one emotion or have more than one drive. In the case of Anne, in Richard III, her transition from hate to love is a showcase of Richard’s ability to persuade, but forces any actress attempting the role to scour her personal emotion memory for the triggers to making the transformation real. Your friend may say that Shakespeare just didn’t understand nor value women. Had he been able to, wouldn’t he have done something more with Eleanor of Acquitaine (King John) and Joan of Arc (Henry VI part 1)? He treats the first as a shrew and the second as a fighting machine.Place Saint-Augustin (Portrait)

Now your other friend has read nothing but his tragedies. Now s/he would be the silent one in the interrogation. The first observation would be that, generally speaking, Shakespeare doesn’t take us on emotional journeys and soul-searching with his female characters. In fact, at best he offers us their crisis e.g., Ophelia (Hamlet) and leaves us to question. Whereas, Hamlet, reveals to us every inch of his labyrinthine emotional landscape. Lady Macbeth goes from Femme Fatale to psychologically unhinged without a spoken process. But then there is Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) and Cordelia (King Lear) who are more well-rounded, more self-aware. For a female to read the tragedies, she has to treat the lead as an every-person because Shakespeare of the tragedies rarely sees women as persons.15_Verona.jpg

There are of course exceptions to all of these sweeping generalisations. It is these exceptions that I would look closely at to find a different mind or different form of theatre being presented e.g., The Taming of the Shrew, Kate is outwitted by Petruchio but the shallow rendering of the characters begs to question whether this play was written as an English attempt at Commedia Dell’arte.

To compare The Taming of the Shrew with Twelfth Night is a real eye-opener. How differently they deal with female identity and human relationships! Here he tackles sexual identity and personhood head on. Could the same writer have written Joan de Pucelle?

My argument over the last two posts has been that an author exposes his/herself by her/his mind-set. For Homer, the problem lies in the humanity he treats his soldiers with, in his almost personal account of the Trojan War, in The Iliad, as compared with the almost, nonchalance he treats the sailors with in The Odyssey. In Dr Who we have an interesting collaborative environment that follows the world view prescribed by a shepherding producer. Interestingly enough, when the previous shepherd, Russell T. Davies, was replaced with the current, Steven Moffat, his replacement was from within the flock. However the stories changed in atmosphere and preoccupation. For Shakespeare, I argue that there is a different mindset that characterises most of the comedies from most of the histories, particularly the English Histories, and perhaps the tragedies have a third or fourth mind in tow. The crux of my arguement is that Stylometry isn’t able to detect a different mindset nor the nuances of a developing mind expressed in finished works on paper. Could more than one person have written the plays of Shakespeare? How were they created if collaboratively? And if they were created in a group environment, how is it that no one spilt the beans?

Photo Credits

Joan de Pucelle (Joan of Arc)

Photo credit: Djof / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Juliet

Photo credit: Tomato Geezer / Foter / CC BY-ND

2. What Authorship Question: Dr Who? Homer? Shakespeare?

Can stylometry pick the difference between Dr Who, ala Team Davies vs Dr Who ala  Team Moffat?

Spolier Alert: 2005 –The End of the World; Dalek; The Parting of the Ways

2006 – The Impossible Planet; The Satan Pit

2007 – Last of the Time Lords

2008 – Journey’s End

2010 – Vincent and the Doctor

2013 – The Time of the Doctor

Stylometry is the recognition and quantification of patterns of building techniques in the creation of art. The frequency of use of a technique, or groups of them, is thought to be unique to an artist. Armed with the resulting statistics authorship of pseudonymous works or disputed authorship is able to be clarified. In theory at least.

If we take writing for an example, what a stylometric study can focus on is the frequency of use of a particular word over its synonyms; the frequency of coupled words; a favouring of a particular phrase; or the use of archaic or obscure words over more common ones. Apparently the author leaves his/her unique signature in their technique. The same principles are used in music and the plastic arts. But what about TV?

Stylometry threats, slide, Deceiving Authorship Detection talk, 28C3, Berlin, Germany.jpg

Stylometry

Dr Who has been screening on and off TV for over 50 years. In that time there have been 13 Doctors (including the one with no number). If a sample of screenplays were to be picked up for any season over those years there would be a recurrence of words that could be used for a stylometric analysis. This recurrence has a ratio, an operand, in the larger canon of Dr Who screenplays. Because TV is a visual storyteller, I would also employ other operands: visual elements and props. My computer program would search for an enigmatic alien, a sonic screwdriver, the Tardis, an earthling companion, villanous Daleks and Cybermen.

DR.Who. Sand Sculpture.NikonD300s. DSC_1867-1874

Dr Who sand sculpture, featuring from left to right: The 11th Doctor (Matt Smith); Daleks; the Tardis; Cybermen; and the Angels from the terrifying “Blink” episode.

As separate operands I would have themes. My program would: chase time travel throughout British history and the development of the British consciousness; feature an earth coveted by ferocious aliens; return to the alienation/separateness of the well-meaning, travelling Time Lord; have a sense of wonder at the unknown possibilities of the Universe; and espouse the power of the mind for pacifism over physical aggression.

On paper there appears to be a homogeneity of storytelling elements. A stylometric computer program could be forgiven for not being able to recognize what the fans do, it’s changed a lot over the years. A die-hard Whovian for the early episodes may serve you an earful of deficiencies: the new ones move too fast; there’s too much lovey-dovey going on; too much soap-opera with the families of the companions; there are consequences to the adventure that weren’t dealt with before – do they really need to be dealt with??

You may want to fob it off as old-fogey talk complaining about anything new, but then again fans of the 2005 reboot will tell you the 21st century Doctor has undergone a transformation bigger than a few regenerations. A die-hard Whovian will tell you that something changed when creative supervision passed from Russell T. Davies to Steven Moffat. Not that one approach is better than the other, but that they’re different.

The Tardis in the background

The Tardis (disguised spaceship) in the background

The Davies’ episodes tend to be darker. The Moffat ones, more optimistic. I see an underlying thread that binds the Davies episodes that is missing from the Moffat. That thread is Christianity, specifically Davies’ excursions into turning upside-down and inside-out the basic trappings of Christianity, its Jesus story. He questions the need for the story when it’s message, love-acceptance-pacifism, can exist without it. Again and again the belief that God is male, that Jesus is a man, that the creator of an entire race can be the omnipotent creator of all things, races, universes, is questioned. Religious inspired imagery is worked into the futuristic storylines. E.g., In the episode, The End of the World (2005), the Ninth Doctor takes his new companion Rose Tyler to the year 5 Billion where they will watch the explosion of our Sun. The Sun, the source of all earthly life, is coming to an end. To its end of days. To its Apocalypse. The only place to survive from the explosion is on a space station. It’s shape, a gothic-proportioned cross.

In the Dalek episode of the same season, Rose is most obviously set up to assume a divine role, not like the Virgin Mary, but akin to the triune godhead. The imprisoned Dalek is a souless, metallic robot, born to sin, from sin, and is predestined for mass genocide. It maintains within it a spark of life but no higher faculties. The camera focuses in on Rose’s hand as she approaches it. We see her fingers, stretched out to touch it. It’s a very famous sort of stretch, Michelangelo painted its prototype in his masterpiece, the Creation of Adam. After God touched the earthen Adam, after He had given him His image, He gave him life. When Rose touches the metal skin of the Dalek, she passes to it her DNA and gives it sentient life.

The Davies team are not through with Rose yet. In the final episode of the season, The Parting of the Ways, Rose assumes the role of Messiah, Holy Spirit and God. After the Daleks invade a Game Station where Rose and the Doctor have been trapped, Rose is tricked into the Tardis by the Doctor in order to save her life. He believes that he will die. She is returned to her own time and told via hologram to have a good life. Instead, Rose opens the heart of the Tardis and allows its power to permeate her being. She becomes both omniscient and omnipotent. Travelling back through her experiences with the Doctor, she leaves cryptic warnings for him everywhere. She doesn’t do this physically but using the power of the vortex within her. Her words, her Logoi, are imprinted on the environment they shared. In the same way God is the Word (Logos) and by his word all things are possible. It echos Psalm 19:2-4

“Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world…”

While this consuming power rages within her she has the ability to destroy the Daleks and raise the worthy dead. This consuming fire, so reminiscent of the Holy Spirit, will destroy her meager human self as she cannot contain it. Pure of heart, like Jesus, she has come as a Messiah and is a willing sacrifice for the greater good. The Doctor by kissing her, draws the vortex/spirit within himself, saving her life but losing one of his own.

The role of Messiah is alluded to visually and thematically in the third season’s, Last of the Time Lords (2007).The Doctor, being left powerless under the Master’s control is humiliated and impotent. It takes the faith of the world in him, stirred up by his companion Martha Jones, to resurrect his verve and ability to overcome the machinations of the Master. When the Doctor realizes the power of this faith, he levitates towards the Master, assuming the pose of Jesus. After the Master is shot, the Doctor cradles him and urges him to regenerate, to save himself. This kind of love and forgiveness is beyond the understanding of the Master, who allows himself to die, to spite the Doctor. The Doctor who was twice the capacity to love and forgive is Christ-like. The faith of humanity in the Doctor empowers the god/Doctor. Human belief makes him vital and viable. Without human belief the god doesn’t exist.

Davies’ team work the idea that Satan, and via association God, are entities that our belief has created and maintain in a couple of very clever episodes written by Matt Jones, The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit (2006). A planet orbits around a Black Hole without being sucked in. It’s an anomaly. How? Why? If nothing can exist in or escape from a Black Hole, something very powerful, yet unseen, is at play. Chained down a seemingly bottomless shaft, Satan awaits a body that his soul can possess so that he can be freed. While his soul is in the chained body of the beast, the planet encircles the Black Hole. Once he possesses the free body of a humanoid, he can leave the planet severing its orbit, allowing it to be pulled into non-existence. You see, while people believe in the existence of Satan he cannot be sucked into the nothingness of the Black Hole and so the planet was locked in impossible orbit.

Between Moffat and Davies there is another great difference. There is a darkness over Davies’ Doctor, in his view of the Dr’s personal life but also as a reflection of his world. This is best illustrated when comparing, Moffat’s (2010) Vincent and the Doctor episode written by Richard Curtis, with Journey’s End (2008) written by Davies. In Vincent and the Doctor, the Dr and his companions go back in time and meet Vincent Van Gogh. The encounter touches the Doctor’s companion Amy Pond as much as Amy pond touches the artist. When they return to present time, we hope that Van Gogh’s fate has been changed. That he doesn’t commit suicide. But he has. Is the episode depressing? A little, but it is also uplifting. Moffat’s team deliver a sad ending with a silver lining.

Journey’s End, on the other hand, proposes a “happily ever after” ending for Rose, the Doctor’s true love, that is ulcerous at worst. Rose must be irrevocably returned to her alternative-reality universe or the fabric of the cosmos will collapse. She may no longer participate in the adventures she has enjoyed with her Time Lord boyfriend. To compensate, the Doctor banishes with her, his human self that was accidentally begotten in the Tardis. The Human Doctor has all of the Doctor’s memories, intellect, values and emotion attachments. We must now look at the Human Doctor as the Son. He is best described in the words of the Apostles Creed:

“I believe in… one Lord Jesus Christ (New Doctor)

the only begotten Son of God (Time Lord Doctor)

begotten of the Father before all ages.

Light of Light, true God of true God,

begotten not created, of one essence with the Father…

For us (Rose) and our (her) salvation he came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit (Heart of the Tardis) and the Virgin Mary (companion Donna Noble facilitated the process) and became Human…”

The Human Doctor lacks his “father’s” immortality and ability to time travel. Rose is confused. Now they can grow old together and play house but without the Tardis, without the quest, is this Human Doctor the same person? Has he been emasculated? Can so much knowledge, verve, experience, be satisfactorily contained in a human existence?The Time Doctor returns to his universe, bereft of all companions, alone.

Darkness is expected before the regeneration of Doctors but not so in the transition from the 11th incarnation to the 12th. Under the watchful eye of Moffat, the 11th Doctor is allowed to age. He spends three hundred years in a place called Christmas, a beloved member of the town. He is on duty of course, safeguarding a wound in the fabric of the cosmos, however, he is not alone.

Could Stylometry really tell apart, episodes under Davies’ team from those of Moffat’s? I doubt it.

With heartfelt appreciation, I dedicate this post to my favourite Whovian, Stella Tarakson.

Photo Credits

Stylometry

Photo credit: gruntzooki / Foter / CC BY-SA

Dr Who Series Sand Sculpture

Photo credit: bobchin1941 / Foter / CC BY-ND

Tardis and Time Traveller

Photo credit: guzzphoto / Foter / CC BY-ND

1. What Authorship Question: Homer, Who, Shakespeare?

In my previous post I posed the question, could a computer differentiate between episodes of Dr Who that were under the artisitic guidance of Russell T. Davies and those of his successor, Steven Moffat. Supposedly a computer can recognize the hand of Shakepeare in Early Modern Literature. Actually, faith in such programs is so fervent that they are being used to pinpoint exactly which bits of Shakespeare, Shakespeare actually wrote and which bits belong in the chops of a horse.

Now, if you were writing this post and I was reading it, my immediate reaction would be that TV and Early Modern Playscripts use different storytelling techniques. That TV guides the majority of the viewer’s responses to a text through its clever use of mise-en-scene, editing, casting, and special effects. A playscript is a raw thing, yet to be basted and baked on a stage. The theatre’s audience, more difficult to lead. Computers can count words, their forms and usage in early modern texts: what are they to measure in an episode of Dr Who? An impossible comparison.

What if the arena were to be circumscribed? Could an essential parameter box in the ring? Could we take this parameter to be the writer’s underlying world view? To my mind there is an issue with counting words and their usage: the writer as an artist. The writer may have a preferred style, but doesn’t it change at all over the course of their writing careers? Doesn’t style develop over time? over experimentation? over admiration of others’ works? over response to their own? What of vaulting a mindblock or orchestrating a conceit?

Shakespeare isn’t the earliest writer to have his penmanship questioned. Homer shares the stigma with him. Homer has left two great epics, The Illiad and The Odyssey. Like Shakespeare, there is little of his life on historical record. We dont know the year or circumstances of the creation of either of his works. They are so different in style and content that it is believed that they must have been written at the beginning and the end of his career if he were to have written both of them. This begs the question, where are his transitional works?

Statue of Homer in Munich

Statue of Homer in Munich

While The Illiad is a concentrated recount of the skirmishes of the last battle of the Trojan War, the Odyssey is a narrative of Oysseas (Ulysses) ten year-long journey home. Immediately we see a different approach to the treatment of the passage of time between the texts – one is broad ranging the other, very particular. In The Illiad, Homer identifies the players in the war through their families, allegiances, achievements and relationships to a particular god. The gods themselves are part of his narrative. No warrior is a statistic. No warrior fights alone. There is a sense that this history is told to honour the generals, the soldiers, their families, their communities and their gods. A pious reverence pervades the text. Those who will read him, will honour his gods and the gods will hear them.

The Odyssey is a different kind of yarn, spun and pulled out over the course of ten years. It could easily be retitled, Odysseas’ Seafaring Advenures. Unlike The Illiad, it focusses on one protagonist. This is Odysseas tale. It’s an ancient melodrama, romance, and thriller. But not a history. Odysseas is clearly the hero. The goddess Athena takes a personal interest in his domestic situation and his return home. She serves him. The goddess serves the mortal! Not to say she was a serving woman but this is not a war of nations.

There is a more light-hearted approach to The Odyssey. The family histories and relationships of the characters sailing with Odysseas are not given. The story is meant to move forward sprightly, and it does. It can be suspenceful and is engaging.The story of Odysseas’ journey is almost a story within a story. Yes, Calypso tells the tale but within the story of Telemachus and Penelope (his son and his wife respectively), the wanderings of our hero are a play within a play. There is a huge leap in innovation where storytelling is concerned.

Most importantly, the mindset, the attitude of the writer of The Illiad is very different to the attitude of the writer of The Odyssey, when it comes to the sanctity of life. There is a concern for the soldiers and a weight over their loss in one and a feeling that the sailors are mere pawns in the world of a good story in the other. In one, there is a sense of a battle veteran writing, in the other a good imagination. Were they from the same pen?

Statue of Homer, Munich

Photo credit: Source / CC BY-SA

The Nightmare : Where? What? When? . . . Homer, Shakespeare, Dr. Who

The glare. In front. Above. In your ears; on your skin. Radiation. Run! Run outside! Where? The corridor is here, it paces with each of your strides, just ahead of you. Run! It will come into view. That’s all you know. Run, it will meet you. Matter:you create it. Look back: the corridor is long, white, dim. Lockers on either side. Forward: it’s still there, a void. Stop here. Lockers: overburdened, over hanging, over your line…falling. Get up! The weight: white, above. Red trickles down. Cold metal, bare skin, gash. Push up, hard! The hinges pop. Out falls a tee. Clothe yourself. Walk. Don’t look back.

Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/drurydrama/5203232967/

Doors separate blocks of lockers. With each footfall, another room comes into view. And another block of lockers. There’s more with each step, canter, jog, run. Where is an exit sign? Don’t slow. The white begins to fall. Dash! Grab, turn, yank . . . bang! Silence. The speaker stops. Homer is projected, enormous behind him. The auditors turn to face you. They’re bearded, like Homer.

“Sorry. Late. I’ll just take a seat.”

They rise, all of them. No one smiles. They scowl. They glare. They lift their chairs, each with one hand. The free hand drags across a collapsing trench through their foreheads. They approach. They don’t look at your eyes, just your t-shirt. Homer’s face is written over: Odyssey into Authorship Fraud. You back away from them, a foot at a time with your chair in arms until you reach the door. Turn the knob and push back. Move back and back and back until you feel another door knob to turn.

Cheese, crackers, wine and goatees. English-Lit. Tap-tap on your shoulder.

“When did they start letting your ilk in?”

“I don’t know what you mean. Please?”

A poke is drawn out long, over your shoulder blades while the accompanying voice, louder than polite conversation allows, enjoins, “I Swear, Shaxpere, was wearing red herring!” You run your fingertips over your back. You can discern the rise and fall of paint and cotton. A decanter, shatters. You feel the stares as the silence spills and runs towards you once more.

“I must be in the wrong room.”

“Stay. It’s been a while since they served the meat here, raw.”

Run to the corridor. Close your fingers over the hem of your tee. Shut your eyes. Blue rectangles emerge in the blackness. Yellow rectangles make towers in the blue. Pixels of neon lights organize themselves into a recognizable shape. Pull over and off the tee. Flutter up your lids. Close them again. The blue box! A blink and it’s gone. Pull the tee back down, inside-out. Run. The hall is creating itself once more with your every stride.
You hear a commotion. There is a break in the wall on the right. The echo of feet drumming the floor in measured, robotic pounds, broadens the opening. Another corridor emerges in the wall opposite. It’s the Chinese state army. You stop to allow them to parade by. They may have just created an exit. Will they be your saving grace? A command is called. They stop and turn towards you. The commander picks you with his eyes. Guns are raised. You look down at your t-shirt. “Falun Dafa is Good!” is printed around the wan symbol. You dive into an open doorway. More bearded men. Ringlets escaping their black hats and murmurs fibrillating history and religion in a foreign tongue. One, only needs to see your t-shirt. Revulsion, pain, anger and fear transform the air. It is a different kind of radiation, one of darkness. So black that only sound can warp its way through.

“Hahhhhh-uh. Hahhhhh-uh” The blue box emerges. Run. He is here, the alien-man with the screwdriver. He will fix it. He has to. He’s the Doctor. Who?*

Tardis in the Dark/in black

Nightmare, parable – is there a difference? Ask Jung. When we speak or write we censor our content depending on our audience. Why? For many reasons. Inevitably, individuals outgrow the institutions and social constructs that previous generations have built to deliver needs like education and social harmony and etiquette. Plain speaking in the open isn’t always possible, from reasons of the personality of the speaker to the fear of the government one may be speaking out against. To bring about change and growth there has to be an acceptance of the need for change. How is it managed?

Pseudonyms, allonyms, disguise and deception are the tools of many writers, not just for revolutionary purposes. Could you pick a fraud? Computational text analysis has been used to delve with the mathematical ability of a computer into the Shakespeare Authorship Question. Apparently by counting instances of words, their forms, spelling and usage a computer can determine the authorship of a work purported to be by Shakespeare. But isn’t there more to writing than the words themselves? In my next post I’ll be looking at Homer, Shakespeare and the Doctor as interpreted by Russell T Davies vs Steven Moffat.
Could a computer tell a script by Moffat from a script by Davies?

• For any Whovians among you, in the Nightmare sequence the disguises of the hordes once doffed would reveal in order of appearance: The Slitheen (you guessed it); the Sycorax (Shakespeare actually did get there first – see The Tempest); the Cybermen; and the Ood.

High School Lockers

Photo credit: Len Radin / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/drurydrama/5203232967/
Tardis in the Dark

Photo credit: Boyce Duprey / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Pascal Pageantry & the Green Man

Paschal services (Christian Passover, Easter in the West) have a very long tradition. Some date back to the catacombs. In the early days of the Byzantine Empire church services were celebrated out and around the city. For the service of the Twelve Gospel Readings I imagine that there was twelve stops, “stations” if you like, within the city walls of Constantinople. I imagine the faithful walking reverently through the polis marking God’s earthly domain, the bishops blessing the city. I am reminded of the English practice of walking the boundaries of one’s property, thereby affirming its ownership.  In Jerusalem, we are told by an early witness that during Pentecost worship was made on the Mount of Olives where the Ascension had taken place, as well as the gates and on Mount Zion. (1) The early church in a similar way marked the boundaries of God’s Kingdom on Earth. Constantinople was considered the New Jerusalem, an earthly reflection through the watery sky above of that other Jerusalem, the one that always was.

The Epitaph, Christ's Tomb, in procession through the streets of Adeliade on Good Friday

The Epitaph, Christ’s Tomb, in procession through the streets of Adeliade on Good Friday

Christianity was not the first religion to use religious processions as part of their celebrations. The worship of the Olympian gods had processions too e.g., the Dionysia. Can we equate liturgical procession with the pageantry of the Festival of Dionysius? Did one replace the other? Early Christian witness attests to the taking down of a statue of Aphrodite from over the site of the exhumation of Christ’s cross.(2) A kind of juxtaposition of religious iconography was at play, if you allow, a kind of iconclasm. In Western Europe, the curious face of the Green Man stares out from the architecture of many Medieval Churches. Theirs was a more symbiotic relationship.

But who was he, this Green man, this man made of leaves who shared a coiffure with Dionysius, the ancient god of theatre? He makes me question what came first, the processions and supplication ceremonies or the characters that filled them? Did liturgical dramas of the Middle Ages evolve into the Mystery Cycle / Pageant Plays and onto cleared fields and marketplaces for the first time? Could the opposite be true? Could Medieval / Byzantine drama have grown from pagan practices and festivals and infiltrated the acceptable Christian Drama?

The Green Man,from Ludlow

The Green Man, from Ludlow

When Christianity became the recognized religion of the Late Roman Empire, theatre practice changed drastically. Pagan theatrical practices were not tolerated and so drama disappeared. Gone were the pageants, the festivals, the Baccanalia and many, many plays. Others were just read and no longer enacted. Drama was to reemerge in churches at Easter. Through liturgical singing the three Marys visited the empty tomb while the priest represented the Archangel.(3) The purpose of liturgical dramas to follow was to teach the illiterate bible stories and their faith through parables. As time progressed the stories became more detailed. Stations for different scenes were performed around the inside of churches/cathedrals. Craft guilds were involved. They were each given a different station to build as a scene. They built literally, with hammer and nails. Guilds vied with each other for the best scene. Tumbling and horseplay infiltrated through the guise of larger than life characters e.g., Noah’s nagging wife and devils sent to taunt the protagonists. Finally these plays moved outside of the Church, onto wagons. They were stationary and their audiences moved to them. And they were mobile, moving to their audiences depending on the town that presented them. Once out of the Church, with the aid of the Commedia Dell’arte and the Renaissance, a new secular theatre arose. End of story. But is this the whole story?
Passion Play 1

Passion Play

What about the tradition of Mumming? The Green Man? Puppetry? Tumblers? Bards and Bears and dancers?
Disguise and re-birth/re-generation are apart of the traditions of the Mummers and the Green Man. They are also associated with carnival and pageantry of Medieval Europe. The mummers moved from house to house at Christmas in their festive disguises. The devils moved between stations and carts. In the same way that a very old figure like the Green Man could survive the Christian juggernaut, could these pagan characters have survived in the form of these devils? I believe that the Greek Karagiozis shadow puppet survived Islam through a name change and a change of form from Silenus in the flesh to Karagiozis in the shadow. Could this survival technique have also been employed in the West, preserving pagan entertainments in the form of puppets and the buffoonery of tumbling devils?
In France, glove puppets are seen in the illustrations in the Roman du bon roi Alexandre Manuscript by Jehan de Grise? These illustrations were made in 1344. Is the much loved French cudgel-bearing puppet Guignol present? Guignol is said to have evolved from from the Commedia Dell’arte’s Pulcinella, but could he have existed before? Their names are very different. The English character, Punch from Punch and Judy is also said to have evolved from Pulcinella, aka Punchinella. At least their names are similar and they carry a cudgel. Austria / Germany’s cudgel-bearer, Kaspar/Kasperle is also said to have evolved from Pulcinella. However there is a catch. Kaspar is believed to have been a character in the Medieval Mystery Cycles. He is believed to have represented one of the Three Wise Men.(4)
Could pagan characters like the Mummers and even the Green Man have survived the Christian white-wash over bawdy buffoonery in the guise of puppets like Guignol and Kasper?
Pulchinella

Pulchinella

Have you seen the Crafty Theatre Medieval Theatre and Spectacle Board?
Or Marionettes and Glove Puppets?
References
(1) Egeria’s (fl c.381 CE) description of the Pentecost rituals in Jerusalem, from:
Clark, Elizabeth A.,  Women in the Early Church, Michael Glazier, Inc, Chapter 4:Women in the Wider World, pp192-195.
(2) From Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastica Historia, quoted in:
Clark, Elizabeth A.,  Women in the Early Church, Michael Glazier, Inc, Chapter 4:Women in the Wider World, p184.
(3)Hartnoll, Phyllis, The Theatre: A Concise History, Thames and Hudson, 1985, p.36.
Puppetry in the Middle Ages
The Epitaph
Photo credit: Foter / CC BY
Passion Play
The Green Man
Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA
Punchinella / Pulcinella
Photo credit: deadmanjones / Foter / CC BY-NC

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