Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare

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Irish1975
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Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare

Post by Irish1975 »

I am about 80% through this fascinating book—

Elizabeth Winkler
Shakespeare Was a Woman & Other Heresies
Simon and Schuster, 2023

The blurb—
The theory that Shakespeare may not have written the works that bear his name is the most horrible, unspeakable subject in the history of English literature. Scholars admit that the Bard’s biography is a “black hole,” yet to publicly question the identity of the god of English literature is unacceptable, even (some say) “immoral.”

In Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies, journalist and literary critic Elizabeth Winkler sets out to probe the origins of this literary taboo. Whisking you from London to Stratford-Upon-Avon to Washington, DC, she pulls back the curtain to show how the forces of nationalism and empire, religion and mythmaking, gender and class have shaped our admiration for Shakespeare across the centuries. As she considers the writers and thinkers—from Walt Whitman to Sigmund Freud to Supreme Court justices—who have grappled with the riddle of the plays’ origins, she explores who may perhaps have been hiding behind his name. A forgotten woman? A disgraced aristocrat? A government spy? Hovering over the mystery are Shakespeare’s plays themselves, with their love for mistaken identities, disguises, and things never quite being what they seem.

As she interviews scholars and skeptics, Winkler’s interest turns to the larger problem of historical truth—and of how human imperfections (bias, blindness, subjectivity) shape our construction of the past. History is a story, and the story we find may depend on the story we’re looking for.

“Lively” (The Washington Post), “fascinating” (Amanda Foreman), and “intrepid” (Stacy Schiff), Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies will forever change how you think of Shakespeare…and of how we as a society decide what’s up for debate and what’s just nonsense, just heresy.

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billd89
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Re: Mystery

Post by billd89 »


Hovering over the mystery are Shakespeare’s plays themselves, with their love for mistaken identities, disguises, and things never quite being what they seem.

Who doesn't love a good mystery, tho? When things don't add up, things are not what they might seem.
StephenGoranson
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Re: Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare

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Irish1975
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Re: Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare

Post by Irish1975 »

StephenGoranson wrote: Thu Aug 17, 2023 9:43 am Here is one of the book reviews:
https://slate.com/culture/2023/05/shake ... thers.html
The reviewer’s hostility, distortions, and arrogance speaks for itself. He starts with a bang: « here’s what we KNOW about Shakespeare… » which instantly demonstrates that we don’t know much of anything. But the primary argument for doubt about the Stratfordian consist of questions about the plays that the reviewer doesn’t even mention: eg, the fact that they betray an intricate knowledge of French history, Italian culture and geography, Greek tragic literature including Aeschylus, the subtleties of English law, the psychology of monarchy and Elizabethan court life, sophisticated philosophical themes, etc. None of which a bumpkin nobody actor in Stratford, who never travelled to the continent, who left zero traces of having been a writer, such as a library, or a literary correspondence, or a will that had to do with his literary career, or even an obituary BY ANYONE. Much lesser poets and playwrights of the time were celebrated and lamented and interred at Westminister Abbey with great notoriety, while English society utterly failed to notice Shakesepeare’s death. That’s weird.

But anyone who doubts The Shakespeare Gravy Train is a « truther , » and thus on par with those who claim that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by the US Government.

Whereas Winkler tells a long history of respectable skepticism about the man Shakespeare, from Samuel Johnson to Emerson to Mark Twain to Henry James and a Supreme Court justice (can’t remember the name), the reviewer compares Winkler’s « trutherism » to the usual punching bags:

And this is why trutherism is so pernicious. While doubting Shakespeare’s authorship isn’t nearly as dangerous as climate change denial, or anti-vax beliefs, or questioning Obama’s citizenship, the rhetoric and strategies of all of these forms of trutherism are quite similar: Question the qualifications of the authorities. State some assertions we can all agree with, like “We don’t know much about the life of Shakespeare,” or “Some people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 die from the disease.” Ask an escalating series of questions about the consensus view, shifting ground whenever you would lose the point being debated. Deploy shaky evidence that requires tendentious interpretation. Claim that evidence that disproves your theory in fact supports it. Needle those in power who refuse to engage with you. Use the contempt with which your position is treated as evidence that you must be on to something. Whenever possible, fall back on saying you’re just asking questions.

Pernicious. Dangerous. Rhetoric. Contempt.

But he gives the game away by accusing Winkler of having a « theory, » when in fact the whole point of the book is simply to question the dominant theory that the plays were written by the uneducated, unaccomplished, unknown, untraveled nobody from Stratford.

For the reviewer, it’s wrong to « needle those in power who refuse to engage with you. » And a rational person should respect and honor the « contempt » with which they are treated when they ask the wrong questions. Winkler must be doing something far more « pernicious » than « just asking questions. » Curiosity is dangerous.

Trutherism abuses the liberal public sphere by using the values of liberal discourse—rational hearing of evidence, open-mindedness, fair-minded skepticism about one’s own certainties, etc.—against it. Once the opposition tires of this treatment and refuses to engage in debate any longer, the truther can then declare victory, and paint the opposition as religious fanatics who are closed-minded and scared of facing the truth.

Spare me.

This is the kind of garbage we hear from a Bart Ehrman, who compares doubters of the utterly unknown and unproven JESUS OF HISTORY to Nazis. These fucking people are a tenured elite of experts who exchange flattery with the media, publish bestsellers, go on all the documentaries, etc. and then have the nerve to cloak themselves in the sanctimonious mantle of « the liberal public sphere .»

The Stratfordian absolutists that Winkler interviews—far from « refusing to engage in debate any longer » with trolls and cretins like Henry James— never even condescend to begin a debate, because they know that their « evidence » is for shit. This dude — who apparently has a Slate Podcast about The Bard — would not have written such a vituperative review of a calm book about the history of literature, unless he had an axe to grind. But the only dirt on Winkler, a journalist, he can come up with is that she must be like those damn pernicious trolls online who want to destroy the values of liberalism.

The review ends tellingly, by changing the subject in such a way as to show that his own conservative dogma isn’t even something he, or anyone, particularly cares to defend anymore—

Winkler is flummoxed to meet a Shakespeare scholar [Marjorie Garbor] who does not care about authorship, but most Shakespeare scholars are not particularly focused on the authorship question. It has been asked and answered. Sure, the most famous authorities love churning out their biographies, but most of the field remains focused on the far richer subject of Shakespeare’s work and its relationship to the world in which he lived. That area of study is nearly infinite in depth, and boundless in its rewards. The plays remain complex, confounding, impossible achievements (and, let’s be honest, some clunkers). They are a great gift to the world, waiting for each generation to receive it. Their author has, whether by design or by accident, been reduced to a shadow lurking behind the work. Unless some new evidence arises, let us leave him there, offstage in the dark, and focus on what really matters.

The doubters aren’t wrong; they’re just irritating as hell. (But also dangerous and pernicious? To whose interests?) We should all just focus on the plays. (Of course Winkler loves the plays just like every skeptic who ever raised the topic.)
StephenGoranson
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Re: Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare

Post by StephenGoranson »

Unless I am mistaken, Ben Jonson (1572-1637), a poet and playwright, knew Shakespeare and wrote about him.
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Irish1975
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Re: Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare

Post by Irish1975 »

StephenGoranson wrote: Sat Aug 19, 2023 8:16 am Unless I am mistaken, Ben Jonson (1572-1637), a poet and playwright, knew Shakespeare and wrote about him.
Well that settles it!

What a pity that Simon & Schuster published this absurdity, and that I wasted an Audible credit and many hours.
StephenGoranson
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Re: Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare

Post by StephenGoranson »

I certainly do not object to Simon & Schuster for publishing the book.
It has been years since I looked into the Shakespeare authorship question and concluded that Shakespeare was Shakespeare.
Who, Irish1975, do you think wrote Shakespeare?
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Irish1975
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Re: Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare

Post by Irish1975 »

I am a committed skeptic on this topic and on similar problems of historical fact. When the evidence is chaotic, suspicious, mixed, or inconclusive, and especially when there are weighty ideological interests and « identities » hanging in the balance (usually of a religious or political nature), I think that the only right attitude is skepticism. For some reason, a majority of human beings find it impossible to admit ignorance on a matter about which they ought to know that they are ignorant.

I don’t have to know who killed JFK, or even have a theory or a suspicion, in order to know that it remains an unsolved murder. The Warren Commission Report is garbage and propaganda.

Similarly, I don’t have a theory about « the » author of the works of Shakespeare—there could have been a team of authors. Political persecution and other factors made anonymity an attractive option for various writers of the time. In our time we have « Thomas Pynchon » and « Elena Ferrante. »

The exact nature of William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon’s relationship with any potential true authors could have been this or that, I have no idea.
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Leucius Charinus
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Re: Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare

Post by Leucius Charinus »

Irish1975 wrote: Mon Aug 21, 2023 3:48 pm I am a committed skeptic on this topic and on similar problems of historical fact.
That's commendable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejx1OKVqvJI

Transcript

I studied Shakespeare a lot as a student
I loved Shakespeare took tons of
Shakespeare courses
wrote a lot about the plays didn't pay
any attention to the authorship or the
biography as a student I sort of had
heard there was an authorship question
as you do you know you hear that oh some
people say it was Christopher Marlowe or
the Earl of Oxford or whatever but I
really honestly didn't care you know who
cares that's sort of the attitude a lot
of people take towards it
um and then later I was I came back I
was really fascinated by Shakespeare's
women as a young college student as a
you know feminist Shakespeare's feminist
heroines were really interesting to me
and the way he deals with gender and
sexuality generally in the pit in the
plays is uh so modern It Feels So
relevant to the conversations we still
have about gender today
um
and so I had this question in my head
how did Shakespeare come to write these
women The Scholar the Cambridge scholar
Juliet deussenberry says Shakespeare's
drama deserves the name feminist because
in his plays the struggle is for women
to be human in a world that declares
them only female
how did this male 16th century
playwright come to write feminist drama
another scholar Ann Barton says um
Shakespeare has an uncanny understanding
of women that's sort of missing in the
work of his fellow playwrights so where
did this uncanny understanding come from
and if you and so I started looking at
the biography and I remembered that
there was this question around the
authorship I was fascinated by the fact
that some of our you know the pillars of
the literary World Henry James Mark
Twain Walt Whitman nabakov
Hemingway Joyce have all been
fascinated by the authorship question
and some of them many of them have been
quite convinced that the name was a
pseudonym for a concealed author Henry
James wrote I'm sort of haunted by the
conviction that the Divine William is
the biggest and most successful fraud
ever practiced on a patient world uh
Whitman was convinced there was another
mind behind the plays Twain wrote an
absolutely hilarious essay that I wish
more people read today
um just completely making fun of the
Shakespeare Scholars and biographers for
their essentially religious
um
you know idolatry of Shakespeare and and
their their absolute refusal to
countenance any questions
um and they're angry you know they get
so angry really makes fun of how how uh
Angry they get about it so
I wanted to know why they doubted you
know it's one thing a lot of people like
to say oh it's a conspiracy theory but a
lot of really smart people
have questioned the Supreme Court
Justices historians philosophers uh you
know a noble winning
um physicists you know smart people are
are interested in this subject so there
you have to understand that there is uh
there's something to it and I wanted to
understand what that was and so I just
started digging into
um you look first at the biography of
Shakespeare the biographies that have
been written
um a famous one for example is Stephen
griebless will in the world how
Shakespeare became Shakespeare there
there are tons of these since the 1998
film Shakespeare in Love there have been
I think 25
biographies of Shakespeare they just
churned them out and the reason they
churn them out is because
they have no idea how he came to write
these works and the vacuum is actually
incredibly productive for Scholars
because they can just keep writing more
biographies and keep creating their own
sort of fictional imagining of how
Shakespeare came to write these works
one um critic in the London review of
books called Stephen greenblatt's
biography biographical fiction and
that's what all these are essentially
they in order to fill in the void the
gaps they have to speculate and so they
imagine well maybe he did this maybe he
did that
um he could have should have must have
there's it's just there's there's
nothing there when you start tearing it
apart you realize there's no there's not
much substance there so and then I and
then you know after the biographies you
start seeing all the reasons for
questioning the authorship and the
evidence there is for either other
authors or for believing that it was
someone
um you know using this name
um
so you know okay you asked about the
Atlantic article I was initially
intrigued by
the fact that there were female
candidates most people don't talk about
the female candidates so there have been
two women proposed over the years Mary
Sydney was first proposed in 1931.
um and as part of a kind of a group
authorship Theory
the the man who proposed her an English
Economist named Gilbert Slater suggested
that she contributed to the plays as
part of a group of writers working on
them and that she might help account for
their feminine intuition uh as he put it
and then more recently Amelia bassano
um was put forward because of some of
the play's connections to uh belsano Del
Grappa which is where her family was
from in Italy so
I initially wrote the Atlantic article
to just look at the idea of of female
um authorship you know the
the Shakespeare scholar Phyllis racket
has said that she's convinced that women
were involved in the plays produced in
the Renaissance theaters but that their
authorship may be impossible you know to
prove because there were so many reasons
in that period for concealing the fact
that a woman had a hand in writing a
play but women you know women of the
upper classes were highly educated
and they were interested in drama and
literature and writing and it's I think
it's actually pretty hard to believe
that they weren't involved
um I think that's a little naive to
think that they weren't involved in the
in the
production of drama in that period
especially
um under the rule of a very strong
female Monarch you know who was herself
um a great devotee of the theater
so that that initial article um you know
I read to look at Mary Sydney and Amelia
basana it was sort of edited to look
more at to focus more on Amelia bassano
and you know it was fairly explosive
went viral very quickly people loved it
or hated it I was castigated as
um you know a Shakespeare denier uh for
questioning the authorship you know
pejorative term it's important to know
they're they're sort of you using the
language of
um climate change denier or Holocaust
denier but you know suggesting that
there's something like deeply immoral
here about questioning the authorship
and I found that to be quite uh amusing
and intriguing I mean I should say it
was shocking at first when all these
attacks started coming in I had never
experienced that as a writer it was you
know as a young journalist still
building your reputation
it's a little bit terrifying honestly to
be attacked that way but on the internet
um you know there's a real fear for your
career for your reputation
um when the initial shock subsided I
realized these attacks have given me
something very interesting because why
are they comparing
um a question about the authorship of
400 year old plays to a Moral Moral
conundrums like authorship like
Holocaust denial or climate change
denial these are ethical issues and so
they're trying to in making those
comparisons they're trying to elevate
what is purely a literary historical
question into somehow an ethical problem
and that was interesting to me why is it
immoral to question Shakespeare and some
Scholars have said it is inquiry is the
very basis of the historical discipline
so all of this was a sort of red flag to
me that there is something quite
fascinating to dig into here and you
know I'm a little bit of a contrarian to
be honest and the more people were sort
of telling me
you know essentially don't go there
naturally the more I wanted to go there
the more I wanted to investigate this
the authorship those gaps okay well to
start with the women one is the fact
that um his own daughters appear to have
been uh functionally illiterate
according to paleographers one signed
her name with an X which is what you did
back then if you couldn't you know sign
your name at one signed with a signature
described as painfully formed and
probably the most you could do with the
pen so the women in Shakespeare plays
and Shakespeare's plays are
extraordinarily intelligent they write
letters they compose sonnets they read
of it they're very witty they're very
sharp they pretend to be lawyers you
know they're constantly outwitting the
men in the plays um
that's a huge huge discrepancy there
it's it's that's just one example but
it's the sense in which the glass
slipper does not fit somehow the play is
what we know of these plays don't fit
what we know of this person who you know
let his own children
um go illiterate you know what kind of
writer let alone the greatest writer in
the English language doesn't care to
educate
um their own children so
very bizarre right there doesn't make
any sense
um
when you start to dig into the biography
the problems you realize are
you know one is that there's no uh he
has no recorded education you know
there's an assumption that he attended
the local grammar school maybe he did
but the grammar school was pretty
limited it was you know those were
provincial one-room schoolhouses that
taught Latin grammar and arithmetic the
plays on the other hand are absolutely
brimming with sort of The Cutting
knowledge of Renaissance humanism
philosophy knowledge of Classics
astronomy theology history Court
politics
um European like what's going on in
Europe uh French Italian the author in
the play the play is drawn lots of
source text many of them hadn't been
translated into English so this author
can read French and Italian and Greek
and is is you know using uh sources from
those languages and often using French
and Italian in the plays someone who is
seems to have traveled in Europe
particularly in Italy so again this
discrepancy between
sort of the knowledge profile the man
and the knowledge and the plays and
that's where Scholars they have no idea
you know how to bridge that Gap there
was a hilarious conference here in in DC
at the Folger Shakespeare Library a few
years ago
um called Shakespeare and the problem of
biography and all these Scholars
convened to sort of ring their hands
about how difficult it was to
reconstruct Shakespeare's biography and
in the opening remarks one of them said
the lar the biggest Lacuna of all is the
mystery of how he ever became a writer
in the first place
they don't know
um and the the real
um contradiction for me in this whole
thing was if they don't know and they
admit that they don't know how can they
profess such certainty on this subject
they don't have the grounds for
certainty that they that they like to
claim they have
um and the hilarious thing about that
conference of course Shakespeare in the
problem of biography is that they didn't
even though they were a big discussion
about the problem of biography they
didn't want to consider didn't stop to
consider that the problem could be that
they have the wrong biography right
that's
not not up for discussion
um
so you know there are a lot of other
little issues you look at Shakespeare's
will meticulously bequeaths all of his
assets he was quite wealthy when he died
landowner businessman uh when he dies in
1616 there is no mention of books plays
poems manuscripts a literary life of any
kind nothing
um doesn't seem concerned about the
preservation of his life's work is not
bequeathing and you know he he had to
have owned hundreds of books in order to
write those plays and and was deeply
interested in uh you know in music in
other lands you know must have had Maps
must have you know nothing but speaking
in intellectual life you know so it's
it's these things that are very odd
um
there is no mention when he died that
the great writer Shakespeare had passed
this was an age of eulogies
um in which when when other poets died
Edmund Spencer or Christopher Marlowe
um Francis Beaumont you know it's
discussed there was a kind of hugely
gossipy world of literary London at the
time so you can find letters where
people say our poet Edmund Spencer died
last Saturday and was buried at
Westminster or Mourning the murder of
Christopher Marlowe in 1593.
um Ben Johnson when he dies there's a
huge funeral in at Westminster and
anyone who's anyone in London is at the
funeral and he's buried you know
um first of all burial and Westminster
sort of recognition of you know your
contribution to the nation as a poet you
know to be buried there so when
Shakespeare dies there's just silence
this is bizarre The Works are famous
they're widely read and commented upon
in his lifetime so the fact that there's
total silence that has done I mean it's
just strange there's no good explanation
for it he was a businessman he was a
shareholder in the theater company he
seems to have been an actor at least
early on but mostly a businessman
involved in the theater uh so you can
certainly tie him to the theater world
there's no evidence of a writing life in
his records so other writers leave
letters in which they refer to their
writing or um there's payment records
paying them for writing or there's
eulogies at their death discussing their
writing uh all manuscripts sometimes uh
Diaries or journals you know there's
there's
obviously lots of things have been lost
over the centuries but for other writers
you can find those pieces of evidence
sometimes it's even just you know you
know evidence of education at Oxford or
Cambridge whatever you can find those
bits of evidence that allow you to trace
however faintly the course of their
literary career what you can't find for
Shakespeare is that kind of evidence
testifying to a life dedicated to
writing
there are lots of references in the
period to the works of Shakespeare and
to this person writing under the name
Shakespeare but it's like praising um
you know Mark Twain Mark Twain's works
it doesn't tell you really anything
personal about who who that person was
who's using that name
um so you know I don't think everyone
has their you know Skeptics have their
own theories for why the name might have
been used
um why someone might have wanted to
conceal their authorship it's hard for
us to of course put ourselves in the
mind of a writer and explain
psychologically why they did that I
don't I don't think you can pretend to
do that you can suggest various reasons
it was a great age of sort of
um pseudonyms and and and and anonymity
there's a whole book called The the
anonymous Renaissance about
um sort of the culture of using
pseudonyms and you know there are
various reasons one of course is uh just
sort of freedom of speech this was not a
free Society so if you wanted to be
critical of the government or of the
church
um and you wanted to avoid punishment
like getting your hand chopped off or
getting your nose slitter being thrown
in jail you might use a pseudonym
um
women obviously had good reason for
concealing their authorship it was
considered essentially immodest for
women to publish under their own name
there's a a wonderful little poem from
the period in which a writer refers to a
woman who is
um powdering a sonnet as she does her
hair and then prostitutes them both to
public air and it's this idea that to
to Market yourself to put your words out
in in the public sphere as a woman is
some as a kind of prostitution you know
it's immodest and and so you know it was
not um
it's not something women were really
meant to do some women sort of got
around that taboo by writing mostly
religious verse that was if you're
writing for God or in you know sort of a
holy vein that's somehow more acceptable
um but it was it was not proper for
women to to be writing um
and well not to be publishing when the
Folger Shakespeare Library was opened um
in DC
Shakespeare was praised as an honorary
American Immortal alongside Lincoln and
Washington so
Shakespeare is so important to to
Western culture generally but and I
needed to understand how he became a
kind of God because that's what happens
he he becomes a God over the course of
the 18th and 19th centuries to the point
where it becomes truly heresy to
question Shakespeare and that's you know
that's how people are treated you're a
heretic if you doubt
um if you doubt the author so the book
goes through that history and in the
process of examining that history it
also looks at how doubts how doubts
began to develop and the different
theories that cropped up over the years
it's very stressful to dwell on a state
of uncertainty about things so people
want to be certain they want to believe
it was this person or that person and
it's really hard to Simply admit
actually we might not know and let's
instead just keep exploring and that's
really the note I tried to end on and I
I think readers will all sort of have
their own theories about who it was but
I
I didn't want to make the book isn't
actually about arguing that it was a
woman or was Oxford or Marlow it's and
other heresies let's look at these
different theories I mean if it comes
down on any side it comes down on the
side of skepticism and uncertainty and
having a little bit of humility actually
because a lot of this is about human
arrogance and hubris and our our desire
to assert that we know things

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Irish1975
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Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:01 am

Re: Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare

Post by Irish1975 »

Thanks for posting that vid 👍.

Winkler is no dummy.
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