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?

No comments:

Post a Comment