ANONYMOUS: See it twice

So now we come to ANONYMOUS, with perhaps a better idea of where it fits in the Shakespeare authorship controversy.

I liked this movie a lot.  It's a beautiful and splendidly acted film, and considerably more intelligent than it is likely to be given credit for.

How much does it prove about the authorship?  It proves nothing.  It's fiction; it wants to tell a story, and it tells a ripping good one.

Roland Emmerich knows how to create spectacle and outdoes himself here.  Every single frame has something for fans of the Elizabethan period.  The tennis court! The bear baiting! The Globe!  The burning of the Globe!  London!  If you liked Titanic or Shakespeare in Love, you’re going to thrill at what Emmerich has done.  

But it's no more factual than Shakespeare in Love, and doesn't mean to be.

One of the most beautiful shots in the film, heart-stoppingly lovely, is the panorama of Queen Elizabeth's funeral on a frozen Thames, thousands of people all in black following an enormous black-draped carriage.  It perfectly captures the stunned bereavement of a nation, the jagged white void at the center of Shakespeare's London.  

And it's a complete fabrication.  Queen Elizabeth’s funeral was in April.  ANONYMOUS is factually, egregiously dead wrong, consciously dead wrong, dog-rolling-in-awful-stuff wrong, in ways that a mere child can spot.  And that's OK. The action of the story starts around 1599, but Kit Marlowe is still alive, well past his sell-by date.  (Zombie Marlowe?  If only.)  He is killed in a mugging in London, not in a tavern in Deptford.  Anne Cecil lives to draw the sheet over Oxford’s dead face, embodying the Cecils’ scorn of him.  Robert Cecil is already alive to be jealous of the golden Oxford boy arriving in the Cecil house. 

In other words, this isn't history.

Surprise. It's a movie.

Even if you think Oxford wrote Shakespeare's works, it isn't history.  It's Amadeus.  Think an emotion-frozen Mozart with an unexpected Salieri--a Mozart who has not only been told, but believes, that the one thing he wants to do is the thing that will most disgrace him. This is a history of emotions, a life “as ‘twere”. Draw the line between truth and fiction wherever you want to:  The Living Dead, Queen Elizabeth's bastards, Edward de Vere as Shakespeare.

But the characters ring true.

As far as Emmerich's concerned, get over it, Edward de Vere wrote the plays.  Rhys Ifans plays de Vere as a real piece of work, held-back, snobbish, caught in his social place.  “Plays are not written by people like me.  They are written by people like you," he tells Ben Jonson, and follows it up with remarking dismissively that he chose Jonson as a front man because "You have no voice."  He is a man who believes that he will ruin himself by being himself, and in the snake pit of London, he's probably right.  He allows only two things to touch him, a son he cannot claim and works he cannot put his name to.  Ifans shows a whole new side of his acting, revealing Oxford charily, in momentary distrustful flickers. Oxford, at the theater, realizes that here is raw political power waiting to be grasped; he leans forward for a single moment before catching himself.  Having rescued Henry from death, he allows himself to embrace him once.  His fingers are always inky, but only once do we actually see him writing: stripped of his caution, listening.
Who knew Emmerich could direct actors so well?  The unexpected central character is Ben Jonson, the stand-in for our democratic indignation.  A poet to his bones, Jonson knows absolutely that the elitist de Vere is only playing.  Sebastian Armesto, as Jonson, moves from disdain to stricken dismay to narrow-eyed professional jealousy, and finally to an unexpectedly moving encounter with a fellow poet.  Edward Hogg plays Robert Cecil like the smartest snake in the pit, a Puritan Richard III.  Mark Rylance, billed as Condell, combines all the immortal actors who spoke Shakespeare's lines, an embodied play-spirit made flesh.  Sir Derek Jacobi, a fussy hurried Prologue with an umbrella, rises into greatness on his own voice.

It would be a spoiler to talk about all the things the characters accuse each other of (and look who does the accusing).  The central story is the succession--who will reign after Elizabeth?--and children and parenthood are as central to this movie as poetry.  Who is the father of a child, who is the father of Shakespeare’s poetry, and who can lay claim to their children?  The great child is England, acted by the eager faces of the people of London, a reluctantly enchanted handful of poets, the tragically young conspirators Essex and Southampton, a delusional queen.

A story that flips around over half a century takes a lot of setting up, and the first few minutes are as confusing as a Shakespeare play.  Fitting characters into this Procrustean plot, Emmerich happily gives some less than their due.  Queen Elizabeth is raddled rather than regal and Sir William Cecil is a one-note Puritan.  

And what about Shakespeare?  Rafe Spall of Shaun of the Dead does a neat turn as cocksure, clueless W.S. of Stratford.  His Shakespeare knows he’s born to be the hero—writer John Orloff gives him a wonderful early scene, “I’m an actor.  I crave to act”—but the real joke is his striking physical resemblance to W.S.  How can the spitting image of the Bard be such a con man?

It's a big, overstuffed, sometimes untidy movie, and you may be infuriated by it.  But you’ll want to see it.

I want to see it twice.


How Shakespeare Could Be Shakespeare After All

Last time we talked about small details as evidence.  Embedded in plays like fossils in shale, they testify that these quintessentially English productions were once bathed in Italian seas.  They carbon-date the plays with references from as far back as the 1570s.

These references act just like similar magpie-details in the work of contemporary writers I know.  They testify that the work was being thought out and planned, if not written, at a particular time and place.

I can't ignore them.

Personally, I'd much rather have William Shakespeare of Stratford.  It's appalling to think that your greatest literary hero embodies your worst fear about society:  that, just as it takes money to make money, it takes money to make literature.  It would be terrible if Shakespeare meant only that.

But if you accept the unthinkable, that Shakespeare came from a background of power and position, then a multiplicity of nagging biographical questions become easier to answer.  How did Shakespeare know French well enough to write in it?  The Stratford grammar school didn't teach French.  How did Shakespeare read books of Renaissance humanism frequently enough to quote about 200 of the approximately 800 humanist books published in England during Elizabeth's reign?  Richard Field and the Vautrolliers didn't publish that sort of books.  How did Shakespeare know lawyers' terminology and  hawking terms well enough to have them imbue his thinking and his language?  Surface knowledge, no matter how skillfully acquired, seldom dyes the writer's mind so deeply with metaphor.

Ingenuity can explain each of these.  But simplicity can explain them too.  Perhaps Shakespeare got someone to write his French scene for him, perhaps he somehow had the leisure and the connections to get and read those books.  But perhaps he had been taught French, perhaps he had a library and had friends who did, perhaps he studied under a lawyer, perhaps he owned hawks whose long-dead wings still rustle in the plays.

I have a small horse in this race, a Shetland pony or perhaps a large dog with a mullet:  While writing Chasing Shakespeares, I discovered a poem.  If you've read the novel, you know all about it. While reading an ancient book in the British Library, my hero Joe Roper finds an obscure poem that seems to him to sound like Shakespeare.  It is in iambic pentameter and in the rhyme scheme of Venus and Adonis; it has run-on lines, very early; it uses rare and new words, particularly words taken from sports; it uses dramatic voices; and, as Robert Lowell used to say about Shakespeare, every once in a while there is a good line, a very good line indeed.  I've published the whole thing where you can decide for yourself.  99c until November 5, 2011, $1.99 thereafter, in a variety of eBook formats:

In a recent post
the Shakespeare scholar Holger Syme calls for less Bardolatry and more real scholarly work.  Now is the time to do that work.  Once upon a time scholarship was restricted to a small elite.  Once upon a time, and not long ago, the only way to read Anthony Munday or Nicholas Breton was to travel to a library that owned the books, talk yourself into the library, and read them on site.  That costs money.  Either one had one's way paid by fellowships, or one paid one's way oneself.  I was lucky enough to get a Fulbright, or I'd never have been able to discover England.

Now we have the Internet and Google Books.  It still pays to check your sources--it always pays to check your sources--but it doesn't take a Fulbright or Mellon, or access to a great library, to do most of a piece of significant work.  It is possible to read online a large proportion of the books published in Elizabeth's time, and one person could do it.

Online it's also possible to learn a lot of what it once took graduate school to do.  For instance, you can learn the basics of reading secretary hand
or read Renaissance classics in Renaissance printings. Google Books has a 1506 edition of Il Cortegiano that looks lovely on an iPad, and to understand it, you can consult several Renaissance Italian dictionaries

Major work cab be done online on data-mining the archives.  The National Archives has major online efforts going; see for instance
and other major initiatives are working on data-mining Elizabethan online sources, looking at this wealth of newly accessible material.

This is a tremendously exciting time for Shakespeare studies.  Scholars with a passion for Shakespeare have more ways to hone their skills than ever before.  Information can be shaped more readily into knowledge.  Scholars can communicate with each other, build on each other's work, and save each other from mistakes.

What could dethrone every other claimant to Shakespeare's throne?  Knowledge.  Mark Anderson's Shakespeare by Another Name has convinced many people, including me, by its painstaking work in using known facts to create a life.  I would be happy to be convinced otherwise, but Bardolatry will not do it.  There's a lot of newly available sixteenth-century material out there, and somewhere in it is more about Shakespeare.  This is the time to find it.

In 1623, Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare "He was not of an age, but for all time."

Let's see what our time can do for him.

Why Shakespeare Isn't Shakespeare: Evidence 2

The locus classicus to find these mismatches is a book called Shakespeare by Another Name, by Mark Anderson.  (Full disclosure:  I read the book pre-publication and am mentioned in it.)  Ten years in the writing, Shakespeare by Another Name is almost 600 pages long, and a full third of those pages are footnotes.  To take only a few of the shiny little details that appear in Shakespeare's Italian plays, Anderson mentions:
  • Sailmaking in Bergamo, an inland city; long considered a gaffe, but this is correct
  • Ttraveling from Verona to Milan, both inland cities, by boat; another "proof" that Shakespeare did not know Italy in detail, but this is also correct
  • The nasal dialect of Padua
  • Specific Italian phrases, such as "sound as a fish" and "by the ear"
  • Features of Italian politics (e.g., Padua is under the protection of Venice, but Mantua is not) and of Italian law (e.g., the form of marriage between Katharine and Petruchio, which is Italian and not English)
  • The seacoast of Bohemia, which did have a seacoast from 1575 to 1609
  • The detailed geographic features of Ragusa (modern-day Dubrovnik), which is the "imaginary" city ofTwelfth Night (SBAN 85-87). Ragusa was the watering-stop for Venetian galleys; Oxford was reported to have injured his knee on a Venetian galley in the summer of 1575
  • Giulio Romano's sculpture, which Shakespeare compares to Hermione's memorial statue; Romano's memorial statue to Castiglione's wife existed in Mantua (SBAN 97)
  • A mural (also by Romano) in the main guest room of the Gonzagas' palace in Mantua (SBAN 97-98), similar to a mural described in The Rape of Lucrece
  • A painting of the history of Venus and Adonis, in Titian's studio in Venice (SBAN 96), which shares elements with Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis
  • References to the Jubilee of 1575; disguising herself as a Jubilee pilgrim, Helena's destination in Italy is "St. Jacques le Grand," Tuscan shrines to St. James the Great in Pistoia and Prato, used as overflow shrines during that Jubilee. (SBAN 100-101)
  • "Friar Patrick's Cell," in Two Gentlemen of Verona, a real location in Milan where Friar Patrick O'Hely stayed in 1576 (SBAN 106)
This sounds like someone who was in Italy, and whose magpie mind collected shiny things, and put them in because they were fun.  Almost none of them are necessary to the plays they're in.  But there they are.

Other little shiny details date the action of plays.  In All's Well that Ends Well, for instance, it is casually mentioned that Don John of Austria is dead but William the Black Prince of Orange is still alive.  That dates the action of the play between 1578 and 1584.  The action of Hamlet takes place around November-December 1572--the star in the first scene, "that yond star that's westward from the pole" is Copernicus's nova, embodying the almost sacrilegious upheaval that forms the emotional core of the play.  "The times are out of joint."

These details don't indicate the time of the writing of the plays.  But they do indicate that, in the 1570s and probably in Italy, Shakespeare's immense creative imagination was gathering material, and picking up with that material the magpie facts that stud his plays.

And by "Shakespeare" I mean the man who wrote the plays.  If he was gathering creative material in Italy in 1575-76, there does not seem to be a way that he could be William Shakespeare of Stratford.


Why Shakespeare Isn't Shakespeare: Shinies as Evidence

Last time we talked about shinies, little goodies that are not necessary to the plot.  They may add a little to the story, but not much; some other detail could do as well. The writer just likes them, and they're there in the "Spare Art Parts" closet, so in they go.

Here's an example I happened to be involved in.

In Louis Auchincloss's The Rector of Justin, the rather conservative hero owns a treasure, a portrait of the first modern novelist, Samuel Richardson.  In the book, Auchincloss describes it.  It's small, it shows Richardson writing on a lap desk, and it is painted on copper.  

When I read that, I had a Sherlockian moment and immediately wrote to Louis Auchincloss, care of his publisher.  Had he ever seen it and where was it now?

No one knew where that portrait was.   It had been lost.  But "on copper."  Where had that detail come from?

Auchincloss had described it that way because he had seen it.

It was in his living room.

(Auchincloss wrote on a lap desk.  His son had found the portrait of Richardson writing on a lap desk and given it to him, and he liked it so much he used it in the book.  I got to have tea with Louis Auchincloss, a lovely and gracious man, and see Richardson and some of his other goodies.)

The writer's magpie mind picks up these shiny things in the process of doing more substantial research.  They're fun, so you slide them in somewhere.  Details of places you've been and most people haven't.  The ads in a particular Tube car in London in the Millennium Year.  An interesting couple of names you came across.

Everybody has their shinies.  Shakespeare is full of them.  He likes to tell you things about geography, particularly in Italy and France.  He drops in references to contemporary events.     

And here’s where the whole thing gets a little suspicious. 

Because most of them are real details, most of them can be dated.  Located.  Traced to a particular source, or a particular city and time.  Given a local habitation and a name.

That's why there is an authorship question.  Not because of Shakespeare's background; remember Mark Twain and Machado de Assis.  Not because of his education; creative people make their own education, following their inspiration where they need to go.
Because what Shakespeare the playwright chooses for his shiny little details, and what appears through them, doesn't match the life of William Shakespeare of Stratford.


Why Shakespeare is Shakespeare: Shiny!

Every writer I know is a magpie at heart.  Magpies find shiny things everywhere.  They pick up phrases, new words, memes and T-shirt slogans.  They know how medieval beer is brewed.  They can tell you forty-five really interesting things about rats.  They pick up names, and interesting geographical facts, and local info from places they’ve been.  And sometimes they use them just because they’re there, or because they like to boast, just a little, that they know more about rats, or Martini-mixing, or recreational bomb-making than you do.

In the inexperienced writer, this is called data dumping, or “I’ve suffered for my art, now it’s your turn.”  They spent a whole afternoon finding out how a corset-maker made corsets, and now they’re going to tell you.  Everything.   

In the good writer, or the great writer, most of the magpies' shiny things end up in the closet marked “Spare Art Parts,” but occasionally the writer will give you something just because he has it and it’s shiny and it works in the scene.

An example.  I researched a book called Chasing Shakespeares during the Millennium Year in London.  I was writing from the point of view of Joe Roper, who had never been to London before.  Joe was coming into London from Heathrow via the Tube—Joe was poor, the Tube is the cheapest way in--so I came in by Tube too.  This was Joe’s first sight of London and I took notes.  I took pictures of the upholstery; I wrote down the ads he saw.  Some of them were funny—eatyourhandbagbitch.com, sminting, a bizarre ad for Asahi Beer—and they fed into a moment that would appear much later in the book, when Joe sees a phone advertisement quoting Shakespeare and realizes that for the rest of his life, even if he chooses to ignore Shakespeare, he’ll be haunted by Shakespeare’s words. 

Shakespeare is full of shinies.

Shinies are little goodies that are not necessary to the plot.  They may add a little, but not much; some other detail could do as well. 

And that’s the trouble.  It’s not that Shakespeare has to be educated; we know he was, though he may have got it mostly because he hunted it down.  It's not that he had to be educated as a lawyer to know how a lawyer speaks and thinks.  It's certainly not that he had to come from a particular social class.  

It’s the shinies.

Why Shakespeare Is Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Education

Many of the people who have doubts about Shakespeare say that he couldn’t have written about some of the things he’s written about without having done them.  Simon Schama says that they’re underestimating the creative imagination.

Schama may be right.  To some degree at least--and to a bigger degree if you're Shakespeare--you can sound like a lawyer or a doctor, or a concert pianist or a cop, without being one.

Here’s how.

Many lovely middle-aged men and women in the mystery writing field have to write about police, private detectives, forensic chemists, or lawyers.  If you’re lucky, your sister-in-law is on the job and your hairdresser’s husband reconstructs faces from skulls.  If not, you go out and find someone.  You take them to lunch, you ask them if you can come on a ride-along, you get them to read your books in draft.  

And every moment you are talking to them, you are looking at the way they hold themselves, the kinds of words they use, the assumptions they make about the world.  

And if you are the kind of person who is able, just a touch, to "be no one and everyone," that negative capability to set yourself aside, then when you come to write your character, you can do a pretty convincing job of inhabiting their skin.

Shakespeare must have been superlatively good at this kind of self-education.  Shakespeare probably never walked into a bar without noticing the guy down at the end of the bar, the one with the perpetually not-quite-finished beer and the shabby cuffs, or the laughing man on his second six-pack with the minnows of uncertainty and desperation in his eyes.  Shakespeare sued lots of people; he knew lawyers.  Shakespeare had a friend who married a woman in the book trade.  Shakespeare knew lots of people, right down to their bones.

There are limitations to how well you can do this—maybe not if you’re Shakespeare.  We’ll get to them later. 

But now, let's talk about magpies and shiny things.


Why Shakespeare Is Shakespeare: Imagination and the Stuff on Your Shelves

Last time I threatened to talk about Shakespeare's imagination and the imagination of creative people I know.  I'm making an assumption you may disagree with.  The assumption is that Shakespeare isn't an alien.  He was better at what he did, enormously better, than other playwrights or poets.  But he wasn't entirely different.  When I start talking in a minute about modern popular writers and using them to talk about Shakespeare, I don't mean they are equal to Shakespeare--nobody is.  I'm using what they do to talk about forms of creative process.

"He was no one and everyone," Hazlitt said.  John Keats talked about the poet's "negative capability," the capacity of the poet to stand aside from himself, from all the personality and fear and limitation that trammel the individual person.   Or, as an expert on the subject put it, the poet puts flesh on "the form of things unknown":

The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination...

Imagination is the center; imagination runs the show. 

So all Shakespeare has to do is to call on his imagination, right?

Maybe.  He's Shakespeare.

But, for the people I know who do creative work that way, there's more to it.

The creative imagination is hungry and it wants to be fed.  It doesn't require an education, but it shapes one.  It takes over your bookshelves and your hobbies.  It decides how your house looks, where you go on vacation, what you wear.  It wants you to go and find out about things, everything from "how to write better dialog" to "in what order did the social services get destroyed during the Paris flood of 1912."  It picks up magpie things on the street, quorking over them and muttering shiny.  

Let's have examples.  

I write fiction set around the turn of the last century.  I'm writing this in my living room.  Without even going out of this room, I see a typewriter from 1890, a toaster from 1920, two Victorian irons, a clock from around 1880, a gasogene, an apothecary jar.  I'm planning a book about Brazil, and in this same room are a couple of elegant wood statues, a bumba-meu-boi, a Brazilian hobby horse, a trickster-dancer's-head statue carved out of a coconut.  Ellen Klages, a prizewinning historical novelist, has a series set in the 1950s; her house has rooms of cool 1950s stuff.  Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman (fantasy, music, folklore, historicals) have musical instruments, thousands of CDs, Victoriana, artists' interpretations of folktales.  George R.R. Martin has historical dioramas, books about the Wars of the Roses, and medieval cookbooks.  Laurie King has busts of Holmes, magnifying glasses, and loads of other writers' interpretations of Sherlock Holmes.  

(And this seems to be true not only of writerly and poetic imagination, but of any kind of work pursued with passion.  If you're a carpenter, electrician, plumber, boat builder, and like your job, you may or may not get an official education, but you're always looking for new planes, Dremel bits, better boat design software.)

Part of your education is who you know, who among your contemporaries you read and talk to.  Look at most books and you'll see a list of acknowledgments, an interlocking grid of who knows who.  Laurie King knows all the Sherlockians.  Shakespeare apparently knew Marlowe--he quotes him and seems to refer to him in Sonnet 80.  Shakespeare (whoever he was) knew Burbage and Robert Armin and Edward Alleyn.

All these things are an education.  If your imagination tells you to write something, you go out and get that education.  It's not proper and blessed and academic.  It's the imagination feeding itself with whatever it can find.

So when Schama says “Shakespeare needed no education,” he means “he got his education at the theater, off the streets, through talking with friends.”  And that’s the way that most creative people work, no matter what other kinds of education they have.

Theoretically, at least, no problem there. 

In my next, I’ll explain how Shakespeare could have sounded educated in various fields without having had any sort of a formal training in them.

And then we’ll talk about magpies.


Why Shakespeare Is Shakespeare: Simon Schama

Simon Schama is a more interesting case.  He is really a major writer--certainly one I admire greatly and always try to take seriously.  And Schama says Shakespeare is Shakespeare too.  To doubt it is "snobbery" and "a fatal lack of imagination on the subject of the imagination."  

No question Shakespeare the poet had imagination; Shakespeare himself wrote some of the best descriptions of that visitor Muse.  "Such seething brains, / Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend / More than cool reason ever comprehends...."  Equally there's no question--or there shouldn't be--that imagination doesn't need an academic education.  Think of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman.  Think of Machado de Assis, the national novelist of Brazil, son of an illiterate slave.  Creative imagination needs academic education like a bird needs roller skates.

But creative imagination all by itself--?

This idea is not only true in its broad outlines, but has a pedigree as far back at least as the eighteenth century and Garrick.  "'Twas Nature taught him first to write."  Shakespeare didn't need travel; his imagination allowed him to comprehend more than other men.  Or, as Schama says, "He didn’t need to go to Italy because Rome had come to him at school and came again in the travels of his roaming mind. His capacity for imaginative extension was socially limitless too: reaching into the speech of tavern tarts as well as archbishops and kings." 

That's another assertion, and not so defensible.

Time to introduce my friends.

Start with me:  I have had the immense privilege of having students and readers come up to me and tell me that the books have changed their lives.  I have that academic education.  (B.A. and Ph.D. at Harvard; study at University of London and in Paris.  Fulbright, Mellon, other fellowships.  Studied Shakespeare with Harry Levin, Northrop Frye, William Alfred, and Robert Lowell.  For a number of years I taught English at Tufts.  As Kevin Kline says just after sniffing his armpits, "Don't ever call me stupid.")  

I've been telling stories since I was four, writing since I was eleven.  I have a few books out and some stories.  (They've been published in fourteen languages, made bestseller lists, made Best of the Year lists including the New York Times, twice, and the London Times.  I've won the Agatha and the Massachusetts Book Award.  Don't ever, etc.)  From time to time I teach writing, and I'm in two fairly high-powered writing groups.  

What this buys me is a lot of creative friends: writers, poets, actors, musicians.  Among them they have done a lot more than I have, and done it more intelligently and faster.

So next time, I'll talk about their imaginations, which they less grandiosely call "the writing process."


Why Shakespeare Is Shakespeare: James Shapiro

Roland Emmerich's ANONYMOUS opens Oct. 28.  It's a great entertainment (I'll post a review soon).  It's had some very good early reviews, and some really vitriolic ones.

Some of the vitriol comes from the basic premise of ANONYMOUS, a premise we've heard before:  Shakespeare didn't write the works.  In some sense, of course, this is nonsense:  Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's works, the way George Eliot wrote George Eliot's works and Currer and Ellis Bell wrote their works.  Pseudonyms are useful; Mary Anne Evans kept the George Eliot name all her life, though Charlotte and Emily Bronte discarded theirs.  The question is, was Shakespeare another useful pseudonym?  Was William Shakespeare the actor a front for, or a collaborator with, someone else?

The very thought is enough to infuriate some people.  "Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's works," they say crushingly.  "It's obvious.  And if he didn't, who cares?  We have the plays."

To quote Errol Morris, "Nothing is so obvious that it's obvious."  But it's fascinating to see why people think so--both the good reasons and the bad.

Let's look at a couple of these critics, and why they think Shakespeare is Shakespeare.

James Shapiro first.  He's a New York academic, specializing in Shakespeare.  He's written a creative imagining of Shakespeare's life in 1599, focusing on the Essex rebellion and the question of who would succeed Elizabeth, and, more recently, a book called Contested Will. 1599 is his year, and ANONYMOUS is using the same year and the same material.

So you'd imagine that James Shapiro would be the perfect person to say how completely fictional ANONYMOUS is.  (And it is fictional--flagrantly, intelligently, entertainingly fictional.)   Shapiro should be the perfect person to tell us the facts instead.

Not so much. 

In a New York Times op-ed piece,  Shapiro says "…Court records and much else… confirm that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him."  Let's look at these court records.  Google "Shakespeare court records", click on one of the sites that list documentary records, and find "court" on the page.
  • "William Wayte "swore before the Judge of Queen's Bench that he stood in danger of death, or bodily hurt," from "William Shakspere" and three others."  
  • ""Willelmus Shackspere" brought suit against John Clayton for a £7 debt."  (This may not be our William Shakespeare, the actor.)
  • "Shakspere sued the apothecary Philip Rogers for 35s.10d plus 10s damages, seeking to recover the unpaid balance on a sale of twenty bushels of malt and a small loan.'"
These prove that Shakespeare wrote the plays?  Really?

This is not to say Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare. 

It's a tactic Shapiro has used before.  In a debate with Roland Emmerich, Shapiro sneered at his opponents for not knowing that Shakespeare had left his books in his will to his son-in-law John Hall.  "On the second page," Shapiro specified.  Let's look at the will; the text is on the Net in several places.  Find one and search the will for "book."  Nothing.  Search for "paper."  Nada.  Search for "John Hall" and this is what you find, the only mention of anything given to John Hall anywhere in the will:

"All the rest of my goodes Chattels, Leases, plate, jewles and Household stuffe whatsoever after my dettes and Legasies paied and my funerall expences discharged, I gyve devise and bequeath to my Sonne in Lawe John Hall gent and my daughter Susanna his wief..."  <www.bardweb.net/will.html>

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion," Daniel Patrick Moynahan said, "but they are not entitled to their own facts."

Why should it be so important that we have "court records" proving Shakespeare wrote the plays and "books" mentioned in the will?  Why does Shapiro need these imaginary facts to exist?


Shakespeare monkeys hit all my geek buttons

Shakespeare, programming, data analysis, and MONKEYS.

Yes, monkeys can type all of Shakespeare's works.  But, as Jesse Anderson says, in what order?



Boston Authors' Club

Look at the Web sites of all the great people who belong.  And they made The Other Side of Dark a Julia Ward Howe Prize finalist!  Ceremony this afternoon at the Boston Public Library.  I'm going to be a complete fangirl.



Your favorite online collaboration site?

At my company, Pearson, we have a social media collaboration site, and someone recently asked what our favorite online collaboration sites are.  I liked my answer enough to post it here.  What are yours?

I'm liking Global Voices.  To quote from their site, they are  "a community of more than 300 bloggers and translators around the world who work together to bring you reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media.....Our international team of volunteer authors and part-time editors are active participants in the blogospheres they write about on Global Voices.....

Global Voices is translated into more than 30 languages by volunteer translators, who have formed the Lingua
 project. ...We also have an outreach project called Rising Voices to help marginalized communities use citizen media to be heard, with an emphasis on the developing world."


And, on a lighter note, the Harry Potter Alliance, working online to turn the energy of Harry Potter fans into fundraising for a multitude of good causes.

"Just as Dumbledore’s Army wakes the world up to Voldemort’s return, works for equal rights of house elves and werewolves, and empowers its members, we:Work with partner NGOs in alerting the world to the dangers of global warming, poverty, and genocide. Work with our partners for equal rights regardless of race, gender, and sexuality. Encourage our members to hone the magic of their creativity in endeavoring to make the world a better place. Join our army to make the world a safer, more magical place, and let your voice be heard!"  They're currently raising money and getting books donated for, among other causes, building a library in Brooklyn.



A BUTTERFLY IN FLAME by Nicholas Kilmer

Fred Taylor is a glorified gopher working for a secretive art collector, and where there are people willing to spend serious money for art, there's serious murder for Fred to solve.  This time Fred is working semi-undercover for Stillton Academy, a quiet little art college in a too-quiet little North Shore town, trying to investigate the disappearance of a teacher and student.  I thought I knew what Kilmer was doing on page 5--and then he turned it inside out, and inside out again, and then into origami, and...  The plot is unbreakable, and Stillton Academy is peopled with a grand variety of eccentrics, from Fred's downstairs neighbor the sculptor to the famous alumnus and the egotistic and talentless emeritus professor.  (The scene with the real estate agent made me laugh out loud--in the subway.)  A delight to read, with a perfectly right surprise ending and, as usual, a coup for Clay's collection.

Kilmer is a coup all in himself.  He works the semi-cozy field--amateur detective, art background--but he writes like the cynical love child of Dashiell Hammett and Edgar Box.  Annie Dillard says that if you're going to be a writer you have to love sentences.  Nicholas Kilmer loves sentences.  His are utterly distinctive: laconic hardboiled style and whiplash dialogue.  If you're a writer or aspiring writer, you want to read this man for his style alone.

And, my, doesn't he know art.  He's also a painter, a teacher, an art dealer; reading a Fred Taylor novel teaches you about art as reading a Lovejoy novel teaches you about antiques.  There are seven Fred Taylor novels so far, and the best news is that the eighth, A PARADISE FOR FOOLS, comes out in September 2011.


Voices 3: RIP Peter Gomes

For forty years, Peter Gomes was the pastor of Memorial Church at Harvard, and one of its leading African-American voices. He was a man unto himself: a conservative wearer of good suits and bow ties, a New Englander through and through, the son of a cranberry-bog worker two generations removed from slavery, a Harvard professor, a Republican (until he broke party to vote for Deval Patrick), a gay man, and a deeply believing member of the Christian community. "I am not a minority of any sort. I am a son of God." For forty years that lovely, rounded bass voice tucked it gently to the Harvard community and the wider world.

I loved not only the man, but that particular voice. Everyone else did too, and I thought Law and his father would.  I used Peter Gomes's verbal rhythms and his distinctive accent while I was thinking of what their voices would sound like.

Read Candace Chellew-Hodge's appreciation of him, then listen to a sermon by the man himself at the bottom of the page. It's a good long sermon. As he said, quoting from William Sloane Coffin, "Sermonettes make Christianettes."



THE OTHER SIDE OF DARK has been nominated for an Agatha!

The Agathas, the "people's choice" awards, in mystery fiction, named after Agatha Christie, recognize the best traditional mysteries published in the last year--and, gosh, The Other Side of Dark has been nominated!

Thanks to all the members of Malice Domestic who nominated The Other Side of Dark!

It's a wonderful list of nominees and I'm looking forward to meeting them all at Malice this year.  See you there!

Congratulations to all the nominees!


Hunting for information for the Titanic book, I've just discovered the wonderful blog Harlem + Bespoke, a historical/cultural blog for Harlem and the Morningside Heights area.  Good stuff!