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The Man from Avon

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A former member
Post #: 9
Below my response to Michael's email to the group today, is Michael's email to the group. he doesn't allow group email responses, which is cool, but i thought I'd sneak this one into the discussion area. I know Michael tires of the same boring topic of authorship, but nevertheless:

Michael, nice to receive your detailed mail. I admire your great Shakespeare scholarship. I, for one, have been moving the other way from Shakespeare from Avon as author of, say, Hamlet. I also think Bloom tends to exaggerate things for his own benefit, wanting to be the Great Scholar of Humanities, but I can agree with him to an extent on issues like Shakespeare giving us our notion of selfness.

While I started out, after joining your meetup and reading up on who else might have written Shakespeare, coming to be certain it was not the man from Avon, because, mainly, the writer of those plays and poems was immensly learned, way more so than what was available in Avon. I believe that the actor from Avon was probably a boozed carouser, but only of women. I believe that the man who wrote the plays was not a boozer, and probably greatly prefered men.

But these days, after reading immensely learned texts such as Hamlet's Mill (which I did not read for the Shakespeare part), I'm coming to believe that the write of the plays was at least initiated into the great mystery schools of antiquity, if not having even more direct knowledge and understanding. Things that the man from Avon certainly had no access to. michael

On Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 8:35 PM, Michael <> wrote:

I don't know about you but high school English class nearly killed Shakespeare for me. They took this incredibly rich, challenging, sometimes merry, sometimes sad literature, bawdy, brainy and wonderfully alive, and turned it into a cold, stone monument.

Luckily as a teenager one day I caught Olivier on TV playing Richard III and later the electrifying Marlon Brando doing "Friends, Romans and Countrymen" in Julius Caesar. Not long after I went to see a film of Hamlet on Broadway starring Richard Burton and directed by the great Sir John Gielgud. It floored me. In college I was lucky enough to take a couple Shakespeare courses with eminent scholars like Leslie Fiedler.

Shakespeare is many things: a poetic & dramatic genius, a brilliant student of human nature, an expert entertainer, a lover of bawdy jokes as only an earthy Elizabethan could tell them, and a successful owner-producer.

I suspect Shakespeare drank heavily and caroused a bit, as so many of his theater colleagues did. Playwrights like Kit Marlowe and Ben Jonson tended to get into drunken escapades and Will was probably no different. He got married young to an older woman who stayed in Stratford and I doubt that he remained faithful to her in London. I doubt that anyone remained faithful to anyone in his milieu. He may have been bisexual given his close relationship to his young patron and beneficiary of his many love poems, the Earl of Southhampton.

The wild hilarity he achieves in his comedies and the deep, brooding melancholy of his tragedies suggests a condition that today might be diagnosed as bipolar depression. Some think that his retirement from the theater was due to syphilis; his signature became symptomatically shaky in his later years. These are of course theories.

Scholars make their living generating theories about Shakespeare. But given the adequate historical documents available, there is really little doubt but that Shakespeare is the true author of his plays. His grammar school education was the perfect preparation for a writing career, and his diversified work in the theater allowed him to fine tune his natural genius.

He was, all in all, just a man with the usual faults and frailties, but with a remarkable talent. It's what we can sense of his vulnerable humanity that makes his achievement so meaningful for us, and which saves him from cold monumentalism.

The great Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom claims that Shakespeare in fact created our modern sense of personhood. Like the Renaissance painters in visual art, Shakespeare developed perspective, dimension and realistic coloration in literary rendition and gave to us accurate portraits of human love, courage, hate and despair. Like the period's anatomists and vivisectionists he opened up the human psyche and showed us the workings of our intellect and emotions.

I apologize if I have gone on too long. My intention is to encourage greater participation in this group. You see, you simply can't lose by reading/watching Shakespeare. He offers treasures one can never find elsewhere, gems you can never misplace. And discussing Shakespeare at our meetings in a friendly and casual atmosphere is a great way to enhance your pleasure and understanding.

Michael Z.
A former member
Post #: 403
I consider the anti-Stratfordian argument to be a kind of conspiracy theory, speciously presented by a minority of scholars. I believe in Darwinian evolution & the Theory of Relativity not because I am sufficiently informed about biology & physics to judge for myself, but rather because the majority of respected scientists favor these theories. The majority of Shakespeare scholars who do hard-nosed, no-nonsense research support Shakespeare of Stratford as author of the plays. So I depend on their expert judgment.

The grammar schools of Shakespeare's time concentrated on writing skill, Latin, memorizing poetry & history. For a possibly brilliant student this was good preparation for writing drama. Ben Jonson, the second best playwright of the time, had a similar background: no university education. Yet Jonson is renowned for his erudition; he translated many Latin works into English, for example. How did he accomplish this? Self-study, of course. In our own time Gore Vidal went to a fine prep school but never had a college education. When people are very bright and they read intensely, they often profit from avoiding the sometimes numbing experience of higher ed. Mark Twain, Melville, Dickens, and countless others never went to college.

In addition the hard evidence of documents all point to Shakespeare as author. For example, Jonson's dedication:

To the memory of my beloved,
The Author
MR. W I L L I A M S H A K E S P E A R E :
what he hath left us.

From Wikipedia: The historical record is unequivocal in assigning the authorship of the Shakespeare canon to William Shakespeare.[71] In addition to the name appearing on the title pages of poems and plays, his name was given as that of a well-known writer at least 23 times during his lifetime.[72] Several contemporaries corroborate the identity of the playwright as the actor,[73] and explicit contemporary documentary evidence attests that the actor was the Stratford citizen.[74]

And we all should be thankful that some dilettante of an aristocrat didn't write the plays. Because Shakespeare, unlike some academically oriented writers, ignored much of the Senecan tradition. Seneca was the Roman playwright who many in Shakespeare's time unfortunately took as a model. His plays are bombastic and static; he didn't even actually write for the stage, according to some scholars. But he was hot stuff for Elizabethan playwrights and Ben Jonson complained that Shake's stuff diverged from the accepted norms of Senecan drama. You would find much of Shakespeare unreadable, just as Seneca is, if a university-educated person had written the plays.

Then there is Shake's sure touch in portraying common men & women. He knew how they spoke and how they acted. Certainly an aristocratic author would not have had this depth of insight. The comic scenes in many plays also indicate a writer well-versed in practical stagecraft; he knew his main actors needed a rest and a chance to change costumes. He got them off stage and had comic characters keep things going. I doubt that someone other than a guy working daily in the theater would understand these very unSenecan practicalities.

Then we have his sonnets & long poems. Surely he couldn't have fooled his patron about authoring them. During plague times & when riots shut down the theaters, he probably spent time at his patron's residence. Perhaps in his bed. They are among the greatest poems ever written. The man who could write them could write the plays, I'm sure.

I wonder too if his work shows such "immense learning" as you say. Isn't it rather that the learning displayed in Elizabethan times by all its authors is of a kind we no longer have much familiarity with? They didn't study psychology, science, poli science, computer logic, etc. etc. They studied matters which are now largely gone from our schooling, matters which may seem esoteric or impressive because we just don't have a handle of it anymore. It may seem "immense" but it was no doubt common to any reader of that period.

Shakespeare, of course, collaborated with other writers, but the bulk of his plays are, I'm fairly sure, his own work. We actually have more documentation about Shakespeare than about any other Elizabethan playwright other than Jonson. Why wasn't there more? Because writing plays was not considered a big deal, outside of the theater circles. You certainly couldn't make a living writing plays; you'd get paid only about enough to buy a new suit of clothing. The money was in the production of the plays; that's why Shakespeare was so involved in his theater company. Most playwrights didn't even get their names on their published plays, though we see Shakespeare's on most of his. He was praised as a great playwright by Jonson and other people in his theater milieu, in writing, but writing plays was considered something like hack work during most of Shakespeare's era. Writing poetry was the thing. Poetry was high art, writing plays low. Another reason why it was unlikely that any sort of educated aristocrat or scholar would not have been involved in such a lowly profession.

The most unfortunate aspect of the anti-Stratfordian nonsense is that it detracts from what really matters: the plays themselves.

PS: He's the man from Stratford, the town. Not Avon, the river. He was not a fish.

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