Theatre Review: Twelfth Night

Belvoir St Theatre until 4th September
Directed by Eamon Flack

Twelfth Night

Shakespeare: boring; archaic; staid; difficult; artsy-fartsy; a chore. Not this production of Twelfth Night! Pacey. Clever. Colourful. Hilarious. A wealth of comic timing and techniques delivered expertly by well-training, long-practised artists. Jokes and wordplay written 400-plus years ago made clearer and extended by a physicality of performance and stage business that milks visual comedy. The cast is having a ball and the audience is invited. This is the Shakespeare production you drag your friends to so they can experience exactly why you like Shakespeare. They’ll love him too.
It’s so much fun, it’s easy to forget that Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, that it’s questioned as to whether it’s a comedy at all. There is a depth in the play that this performance doesn’t touch. It’s a director’s quandary that to go the full distance with the questions that Shakespeare asks will destroy its happy ending. What’s a comedy without a happy ending? You see, Shakespeare questions who we love, why we love and can we love on demand? By tying up most of the loose ends at the end, the reader of the text can feel deflated. Antonio who bares so much love and risks his life for the young Sebastian is cast off in the slacking of Sebastian’s new-found lust in Olivia. Olivia, mistaking Sebastian for Cesario, spirits him off to a church. When Sebastian’s identity is revealed she accepts that he is not the person whose proxy-wooing captivated her and accepts him because he is male and looks like Cesario/Viola and they are now married. The purity and passion in these same-sex relationships is cast aside for a facile heterosexual denouement.
Is there satisfying elements to the ending of the text? Yes. Orsino, who has been denying his attraction to Cesario/Viola can safely love the female Cesario/Viola and Sir Toby Belch marries his match in hijinx, Maria. In reading the text one wonders whether in a freer society if Viola would pursue the bond she makes with Olivia or Orsino. This production doesn’t go that deep. Eamon Flack’s interpretation stays on the surface of the text. It’s the right decision for a satisfied audience at the end of the show. Not that he doesn’t touch on same-sex love at all. Casting a female, Amber McMahon, to play Sebastian may incite questioning along that line as much as it gets a laugh when Olivia, Anita Hegh, kisses him/her. It does create challenges for the actor playing Cesario/Viola, Nikki Shiels.
Cesario/Viola spends a large chunk of the play onstage. It is her journey that we follow and that drives the play forward. By choosing to keep the interpretation on the surface she spends a long time in bemusement at Olivia’s advances. It’s a really hard intension to maintain and maintain interest in. A subtlety in response to Olivia’s poetry is lacking that would have enriched the performance for the actor and the audience. Similarly, Sebastian could have been more fleshed out. But how far do you go before a comedy in performance becomes the tragi-comedy of the text?
It’s often asked, does it really matter who wrote Shakespeare’s plays? Would it change our enjoyment of them? Would it change their interpretation? In the case of Twelfth Night, William of Stratford is such an unknown creature that we can make of the play what we will. However, if the bisexual Earl of Oxford were believed to be the author then it would be harder to keep the interpretation on the surface. It would be seen as part of a tradition of plays that are homosexual in theme and openly questioning sexuality. But I digress.
While all of the performances were really good and the comedy well timed I have to make special mention of Keith Robinson as Feste. He entertained the audience as the court jester as much as the court of the play. In coming back from the intermission he opened the second act in a sit-down – stand-up of jokes of a contemporary nature that then blended back into the text really well. His facial expressions, his timing – he had the audience. Anita Hegh as Olivia made great contrast of austerity and unbridled passion that resulted in many laughs. Movement Director Scott Witt had the ensemble cast moving in a choreography that was always purposeful and visually effective. The cast dressed as clowns in a sanatorium and moving in a colourful but starkly bare stage reminded me of an ancient chorus. Their movement physicalized the inner life/turmoil of the shipwrecked Viola and compensated for the lack of props and setting elements a more realistic set could have offered. Witt’s movement direction completed Michael Hankin’s set.
Any production can be knit picked but this one is just too engaging. It’s just wonderful.

Thank you to Elly Baxter from Belvior Publicity and Public Affairs for permission to use their photos.

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If the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare, where is his paper trail? He had to have let the cat out of the bag to someone. He liked to brag. He talked over-the-top – especially in Europe – Duke of Oxford. He dressed over-the-top, an Italianate fop, apparently. He lived over-the-top, over-the-top of his income. His was an expansive personality. Why wouldn’t he have written letters speaking of his literary output? Not to have seems contrary to the vanity of his ego. So where is it? Where is the letter regarding his background reading? The personal response to the reception of his plays and poetry? The whine over his enforced anonymity?

Has history overlooked him? Has something more sinister been enacted? Was it a case of damnatio memoriae in the New Rome, London? A government conspiracy to silence him? Was it compounded by the involvement of acrimonious in-laws (the Cecils)? It wouldn’t be the first time in history that such a white-wash was enacted – think of Ancient Egypt, of King Tut.

King Tut, Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt

King Tut, Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt

Photo credit: Rob DeGraff via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 Or is the lack of evidence due to something a little more mundane? Could it be that his history is mouldering away in a provincial attic because his name and signature are obscure? When the family tree is being drawn up, the document with his signature may be put aside as his name doesn’t belong on the family branches.

He signed his name ‘Edward Oxenford’ or ‘Oxenforde’, or used his title, the Earl of Oxford, but doesn’t seem to have used his family name, Vere, outside of his acrostic poems or perhaps to thinly veil his identity. ‘De Vere’in signature form doesn’t seem to figure at all during his lifetime. Yet today, he is most commonly referred to as ‘Edward de Vere’.

Does a rose by any other name still smell as sweet? In this case it may wreak of damp or be riddled by bookworms (literally). You see, if he wrote about his creative output in letters they may have been addressed to any part of the English, French, Italian, German, Latin or Greek speaking world of his day. Potentially these letters are not restricted to Great Britain but an extensive part of Europe as well. Perhaps they have been thumbed through and pushed aside as a curiosity because his signed name, Edward Oxenford, is not recognizable. A mild curiosity may persist – what was he to the family? the local school teacher, curate, scribe? Eventually the weight of constructing that family tree relegates his name to obscurity once more.

If the name, Edward Oxenford, were to be promoted in the same way that Edward De Vere is, could more of his story come to light? Could that irrefutable piece of elusive evidence finally emerge to elucidate Edward’s enigma?

Happy 466th Birthday, Edward Oxenford(e)!

The Mask, the Monument, the Antiquarian & the Antipodean SF

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”

George Vertue, c.1737.

Writing an, “about me” page or biog is daunting. Attached to my blog, I inevitably feel that I have to somehow justify why I would have the knowledge or know-how to interest you. The other question that it confronts me with is, why blog? And then, why WordPress? The simple answer is that I’ve been told to. Along with, ” If you want to write you must read a lot, and write every day.” As well as the idea that when you blog you put yourself on the line. You have to push yourself to be clear in your thoughts and focus on communicating your ideas. Because WordPress was the buzzword at writer’s festivals, I chose this platform. I think it was a good choice as we who blog here are a part of a writer-reader community. I think it’s paid off. Why?

I’ve just had my first short story published in the Anitpodean SF – issue 206. My story is Regene-eration and, yes, there is a theatrical element to it. If you are interested in reading it – GO AWAY NOW!!!!! Because I’m going to write about the inspiration behind it before my thoughts trail off.

AntipodeanSF Issue 206

AntipodeanSF Issue 206

We write about what we know, what we think we know or what we can imagine. In my case I had recently read Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s, The True Face of William Shakespeare and was inspired.  I read the coffee table version of her thesis that used forensics, professional criminology techniques, old fashioned reading and archival research to find the true likeness of William Shakespeare and in the process test the authenticity of the Darmstadt Death Mask. What is the Darmstadt Death mask? Why, it’s an authentic plaster cast of the face of the man from Stratford, complete with an inscription date of its execution, 1616, and with the down turned moustache and gaunter face of the first sketch-picture of the Stratford monument by antiquarian William Dugdale! So we are told. Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s thesis is an impressive case study.

Her extraordinary research techniques are fun and fascinating, if not convincing. (I can’t have faith in the results of a study that seriously considers images painted with the subjective eye of another human being as being true and precise testimonies of the appearance of their sitter. One of the first pitfalls I was warned against in studying life drawing is that we who draw/paint portraits will err with our judgement primordially making our sitter look a little like ourselves.) Where I admire Hammershimidt-Hummel’s work is in her archival research. The Darmstadt Death Mask turned up in the 19th Century with the claim that it was Shakespeare’s Death Mask but its provenance was incomplete. How did it come to be in Germany?

Hummel tells us that it first appeared in 1842 in an auction catalogue for the possessions of Count Franz Ludwig von Kesselstatt, former Canon at the Cathedral in Mainz. It was displayed in the British Museum in 1864 as Shakespeare’s Death Mask, despite the lack of explanation of how it came to be in Germany. Hammerschmidt-Hummel came across the following quote in her archival searches:

“After his return from Vienna, he (Franz Ludwig von Kesselstatt) went to Strasbourg and Nancy to improve himself, stayed there until March 1775, and then set off on his Journey to London.” (1)

So he went to London. She presents no evidence for his having purchased the mask and indeed whose mask it may have been. Many men died in England in 1616. It could be anyone’s death mask. Where is the evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford had a plaster death mask made?

When I read The True Face of William Shakespeare, I got sooooooo excited. You see I had gone through the Walpole Society’s compilation and publication of the 18th Century English antiquarian, George Vertue’s (1684-1756) Notebooks, and read this:

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”(2)

Vertue I [v.106, BM 586],The Volume of the Walpole Society, XVIII (1929–1930)

And then he repeats this in a different notebook:

“. . . to Stratford on Avon – W(m) Shakespear Poet his monument in the Church his bust got a cast of it in plaister”

Vertue [v.47 BM 30] (3)

Vertue furnishes us with two mysteries here.

The First Mystery

Could Kesselstatt’s mask be the plaster cast John Anstis made from a monument to Shakespeare residing in a room adjacent to the Church in Stratford? The Charnel House perhaps? George Vertue’s notes are intriguing. He was compiling information about all the painters, limner’s and engravers who were active in England to his day. Like many early antiquarians, he gathered a lot of information that he never edited into a history. His Notebooks were not kept for the use of anyone outside of himself. They are lists of art and in whose household he had seen them or where one of his antiquarian buddies had. Entries are not dated nor in chronological order and he seems to have filled some of them simultaneously.

Just before Vertue’s death, Horace Walpole (1717-1797) purchased his Notebooks and compiled the first history of artists working in England. Walpole, a connoisseur in his own right, edited the Notebooks and presented the history from his own understanding.Could he have also purchased the plaster cast? The plaster cast is not listed in the auction catalogue for the sale of Vertue’s books. He may have sold it privately before his death. Walpole being a connoisseur with a taste for the macabre would have been a candidate to purchase it.

Walpole is credited with writing the first English Gothic novel, The Castle of Ortranto (1764). Shakespearean scholar, Samuel Schoenbaum, in his Shakespeare’s Lives(4) reports his more macabre interest in Shakespeare. Apparently in 1769, Walpole offered a challenge to anyone who could furnish him with the skull of Shakespeare.  When it was presented to him in 1794, he declined to pay. If we entertain the idea that Walpole purchased the mask along with the Notebooks in the 1750s, he may have offered the challenge so that he could validate the authenticity of the mask. By the time he was offered the skull, he may have already on-sold the mask and therefore had no need of its authentication. Why would he sell the mask you may ask? In building his dream manor, Strawberry Hill, he was conscious always of his available funds.

Walpole is remembered today as a letter writer as well as an art historian and connoisseur. His letters are an important source of information for his times. He wrote them with his eye on posterity. He is said to have asked them all back and edited them and so they survive in a form that he would have approved for print. Did he mention the mask or Kesselstatt in any of his letters for 1775-6? Not that I could pick up. Would he have wanted posterity to know of such a deal if he did?

Thus the mystery of the provenance remains. But then there is the other mystery. George Vertue makes reference to there being TWO monuments in the 1730s – one in the Chancel and one in the room beside it! Are these the two he meant. . .?

File:Dugdale sketch 1634 Detail.jpg

A thumbnail sketch, from life, of the monument before by William Dugdale (1636). Notice the sack of grain?wool?agriculture! See the differences in the top of the monuments.

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since about the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

References

(1) Hammerschmidt-Hummel, Hildegard, The True Face of William Shakespeare, Chaucer Press, London, 2006, p.117.

(2)George Vertue, “Notebooks”, The Volume of the Walpole Society, XVIII (1929–1930), XX (1931–1932), XXII (1933–1934), XXIV (1935–1936), XXVI (1937–1938), XXIV (1947; Index), XXX (1951–1952; Index).

(3) ibid.

(4)Schoenbaum references Argosy and C.C.Langton, A Warwickshire Man, How Shakespeare’s Skull was Stolen and Found, (1879) in:

Schoenbaum, Samuel, Shakespeare’s Lives, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991.

photo credits

The cover of Antipodean SF issue 206 features the cover art  – Who wins? (credit – Photovision, Pixabay)

1636 thumbnail sketch by Dugdale (1605-1686) of the Stratford Monument, from Wikimedia Commons

Stratford Monument as we know it:

Image from page 183 of “Shakespeare’s England” (1895)

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images /Foter / No known copyright restrictions

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.

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)

 

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

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

2.To Thasos with Shakespeare to guide us!

Could Shakespeare have understood John Gower’s, “Tharse” to mean Thasos when he wrote, “Tharsus” into Pericles? In my previous posts, beginning with, Shakespeare’s Tharsus: Thasos or Tarsusthrough to my last post, I have reasoned why I think that Shakespeare had a particular time period (the Graeco-Roman world), Empire (the Seleucid) and settings in mind when he retold this much loved Medieval-Byzantine tale. Gower, in his translation of an earlier re-telling, perhaps French, uses different suffixes in his place settings than Shakespeare does e.g., ‘Pentapolis,’ in Shakespeare, is “Pentapolim,” in Gower. Shakespeare chose the Greek suffix over the Latin. Was he deliberately hellenising “Tharse?” With Shakespeare’s renowned biblical knowledge, he would have recognised the difference between biblical, “Tarsus” and Gower’s, “Tharse”.

If he meant, “Thasos,” how well did he know the island? Well enough to have gone there? Following Richard Roe’s lead, I looked for the details specific to the island that would answer this question. Richard Roe also provided a logical explanation for the presence of any Englishman in the North Aegean from the late 16th Century – there was an English Embassy and merchant – trading company in Constatinople from this time.(1)

Having previously compared Cleon’s description of the island, its wealth, the ancient marina and his imagined residence, with the present archaeological site on Thasos, I will now focus on Marina. After Dionyza has Marina’s maid killed, Marina goes to her grave with flowers.

“No. I will rob Tellus(2) of her weed.

To strew thy green with flowers: the yellows, blues,

The purple violets, and marigolds,

Shall as a carpet hang upon thy grave,

While Summer-days do last.”

Act IV Scene I, lines 13-17

Thasos - violets growing wildly in the archaeological site.

Thasos – violets growing wildly in the archaeological site.

Photographing violets in the archaeological site was easy, they were growing wildly in abundance. Being so small, I thought I’d include larger, wildly-growing violets from the neighbouring mainland, Macedonia, in Northern Greece. The island shares its geographical features.(3) Marigolds are a common feature in Aegean gardens.

Wild Violets of Macedonia

Violets growing wildly in Macedonia, Northern Greece

Although I didn't see any marigolds growing wildy on Thasos, they are a very popular flower in Greek gardens. These are Maro's marigolds, grown not too far away from Mytilene.

Marigolds growing in the garden of another North Aegean Island, Lesvos. Today, marigolds are a common feature in many Greek gardens.

 After Dionyza has ordered the death of Marina, she taunts her husband, Cleon, for his disapproval of her actions thus:

“…Be one of those, that think

The pretty wrens of Tharsus will fly hence,

And open this to Pericles. I do shame

To think of what a noble strain you are,

And of how coward a spirit.”

Act IV Scene IV, lines 21-25

From Wikipedia, we may guess that the type of wren that is being referred to is the eurasian wren. This rings true as the eurasian wren nests in coniferous forests and Thasos was named for just forests (4).Wrens are also mentioned by ancient writers such as Plutarch and Aesop. Shakespeare may be referring to Suetonius here in using the wren to forewarn Pericles of his daughter’s supposed death. Suetonius used a wren to forewarn Julius Caesar of his own. Shakespeare thus knits his work closer to the Graeco-Roman world.

Troglodyte mignon Troglodytes troglodytes - Eurasian Wren

Eurasian Wren

Although the specific details relating to Tharsus are few, they have a resonance with the island of Thasos. Noteably, they don’t exclude Thasos from being, “Tharsus.” There are probably wrens in Tarsus, and yes, there is an archaeolgical site there, and it is hard to imagine Thasos, or any ancient Graeco-Roman site, to have had towers, but the geography of Pericles’ voyage better fits Thasos. Shakespeare was accurate in his foreign details, just as Richard Roe said he was. Did he go there? The historical record has many gaps. Pericles is regarded by many as a collaborative text. Did his collaborator visit the island or the North Aegean? By looking closely at Shakespeare’s texts and regarding them from the point of view that the author(s) had travelled abroad, we may get a clearer picture as to whose hand(s) held his quill.

Photo Credits

Eurasian Wren

Footnotes

1. According to Wikipedia, the first English Ambassador to Turkey was William Harborne (c1542-1617). He served as Ambassador from 1583-1588. He was serving the interests of the Levant Company.

2. Tellus was an Ancient Roman earth-mother goddess.

3.”Something of the greenness and spaciousness of Macedonia is distilled in Thasos. Its effect is more intense for being concentrated within the circumference of an island.”

Mc Gilchrist, Nigel, McGilchrist’s Greek Islands: 11. Thasos,Genius Loci Publications, London, 2010, p.9.

4.Grandjean, Yves and Salviat, Francois, Odigos tis Thasou, Ecole Francaise D’Athenes, 3:Sites et Monuments, Sanidas, Yiorgos and Argyri Artemis (trans.), 2012, p.19.

Shakespeare’s Tharsus: Pericles’ Voyage -Pt 3

To retrace Pericles voyage today would be like doing an archaeological tour of the Mediterranean. From the previous post in this series, we can assume that Shakespeare kept the historical pretext for the play accurate, despite changing the name of the main protagonist. There was a historic Tyre, Tharsus, Pentapolis, Ephesus and Mytilene. Although he makes contemporary references e.g., the Spanish naval commander, Pedro de Valdes, who was imprisoned in London from 1588-1593; the Antiochan, Thaliard, having a pistol; and the existance of a Transylvanian in the market town of Mytilene, the world of the play is firmly set in the Graeco-Roman world in the time of the Seleucid Empire. Looking at how probable the journey he embarked on was, we can judge whether Shakespeare indeed meant the Aegean island, Thasos, when Tharsus was printed

I must apologize in advance for the crudeness of my map. Making it was an excursion into my school days, before computer graphics and scanners. Something, necessity forced me into, and a little curiosity as to whether it was do-able. Probably unwise, but I couldn’t find the necessary map in cyber-space. I hope it gives the idea of the journey in its jalopy way.

hippodrome from distance 1

The Hippodrome, Tyre (Sour), Lebanon

When Pericles flees from Antioch he is persued by Thaliard, an Antiochean lord entrusted with poison to kill him. Immediately, he returns home to Tyre. He loads his vessels with ample provisions and leaves quickly. Thaliard, not finding his wake, returns to Antioch.

Map of the journey of Pericles after fleeing Antioch

Pericles’ Journey, with apologies for the naivete of the map

Reason 1 – Why Tharsus was Thasos and not Tarsus – Distance

Looking at my crudely drawn map above, Tyre and Antioch are situated on the banks of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Tarsus is situated, north-west of Antioch, in modern-day Turkey. Tarsus is built about 20km inland from the Mediterranean Sea along the Berdan River. In trying to escape Thaliard, Pericles’ fleet would more likely have sailed in a direction away from Antioch and the local coast. He was particularly concerned not to embroil his people in a military conflagration with imperial Antioch. Sailing deep into the Mediterranean and up into the Aegean he had many islands to hide on. From Thasos, in the North Aegean, he could head up the Dardenelles (ancient Hellespont), through the Marmara Sea and into the Black Sea.

Reason 2 – Proximity to Troy

When Pericles arrives on Tharsus, he offers the provisions of his ships to the Governor of Tharsus. News of their famine had reached faraway Tyre, so Pericles had come prepared. He allays their suspicion over his intent by saying,

“And these our ships, you happily may think

Are like the Trojan Horse, was stuff’d within

With bloody veins, expecting overthrow,

Are stor’d with corn to make your needy bread,

And give them life whom hunger starv’d half dead.”

(Act I Scene IV lines 92-96)

Troy was situated in the Dardenelles, just off the Aegean Sea on what is today,Turkey’s west, mainland coast. On my map, it is north of Mytilene on the southern shore of the strait of water heading into the bodies of water to the top right (Marmara Sea.) Troy was a neighbouring power. The inhabitants of Thasos would have heard the stories from Troy before Homer would have finished writing them down. In Pericles time, Trojan history was local lore. Pericles words then, are not merely allegorical but straight-forward.

After news from Tyre, Pericles sets off for home. His ships are caught in a storm from which only he survives. He is washed ashore in Pentapolis.

Pentapolis, in modern day Libya

Pentapolis in modern day Libya

Pentapolis in ancient times could mean a group of five cities. I have taken it to mean those of the north African coast, Cyrenaica, now in Libya. These cities  were Cyrene, Berenice, Apollonia, Ptolemais and Taucheira. In keeping with the idea that Antiochus referred to a monarch descended from Alexander the Great’s generals, I believe that the story is probably referring to a kingdom once ruled by descendants of another of them, Ptolemy in Egypt.

Reason Three – Thasos is closer to ancient Pentapolis than Tarsus is. From Thasos, Pentapolis is a detour on the way to Tyre. It is more likely that the fleet was misdirected descending out of the Aegean from Thasos than being blown there from Tarsus.

In Pentapolis, Pericles wins the hand of the daughter of the King in a tournament. They then set sail for Tyre. Another storm causes calamity.Thaisa, Pericles pregnant wife, delivers their daughter on board. She is believed to have died in child-birth. She is placed in a sealed container and thrown overboard. Her make-shift coffin lands off the coast of Ephesus where she is miraculously brought back to life by Cerimon. She enters the Temple of Diana (Artemis) there as a proselyte.

a temple in the Ruins of Ephesus, Turkey

A Temple in the Ruins of Ephesus – The ancient Temple of Artemis/Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world has not survived.

Reason Four – The Proximity of Ephesus to Thasos.

The make-shift coffin would have had to float up into the Aegean, passing by Crete, the Cyclades Islands, as well as several others to reach Ephesus from Pentapolis. At the same time Pericles ship had to be close enough to Tharsus to harbour there. The ship was more likely to have been near or in the Aegean when this storm commandeered it. Being in the vicinity of Thasos, floating to Ephesus, is a more direct route for the coffin, and quicker for Pericles to obtain aid for his newly born daughter.

Thassos - Limenas

Aerial shot of Thasos. The ancient theatre is visible up on the hillside on the left. The ancient marina is submerged off the coast on the right of the shore. The ancient and modern city co-exist in the same locality

Coming into shore at Tharsus, Pericles leaves his daughter, Marina, in the care of the Governor. He returns home, abandoning her for years. In the interim she grows to be a pious beauty. She excels at all she does, be it needlework or philosophy. Her stepmother, envious that her own daughter is not similarly graced, arranges for an assassin in kill her. Before Leonine has the chance to perform his duty, Marina is kidnapped by pirates bound for Mytilene.

Moria - Late Roman Architecture - Aqueduct

The Late Roman aqueduct that took fresh water from Mt Olymbos to Mytilene in late antiquity. Moria, Lesvos

Reason Five – the Renaissance association of Mytilene and Thasos and their geographic proximity.

Why Mytilene? Mytilene is the port and capital of the ancient island of Lesbos. During the Renaissance it was the seat of a Genosese dynasty who governed the islands of the north Aegean, including Thasos. The founder, Francesco Gatteliusi (1355-1384), was a pirate. He earned the governorship of the island by aiding a future Byzantine Emperor attack Constantinople.

Eventually Pericles is reunited with his daughter in Mytilene. He then sees a vision of the goddess Diana. She sends him to Ephesus where he is reunited with his wife, Thaisa.

The strongest reason why Thasos was meant for Tharsus is geography. It is more plausible than Tarsus.

 

The Hippodrome, Tyre

Photo credit: stevendamron / Foter / CC BY

Pentapolis

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

Ephesus

Photo credit: neilalderney123 / Foter / CC BY-NC

Thasos – Limenas

Photo credit: Visit Greece / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Late Roman Aqueduct supplying Mytilene with fresh water

 

 

Double, double toil and trouble…

JustUs Society

Macbeth
Act 4, SCENE I. A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron.
Thunder. Enter the three Witches

witches_640x478
First Witch
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.

Second Witch
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

Third Witch
Harpier cries ‘Tis time, ’tis time.
First Witch
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

witches1

ALL
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

eye of newt

ALL
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch
Scale of…

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