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Steven Brake
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Posted: December 23 2018 at 3:46pm | IP Logged | 1 post reply

Hasn't it been proven that the Will Shakespeare who was an actor with, and shareholder in, the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later the King's Men) was indeed Will of Stratford? And that these were the same companies that performed the plays credited to William Shakespeare, particularly the dangerous performance of Richard II that Essex tried to use to give support to his failed rebellion?

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John Byrne
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Posted: December 23 2018 at 4:20pm | IP Logged | 2 post reply

The problem with such “proof” is that none of it is truly contemporary. It shows up—usually with Jonson involved—posthumously.
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Steven Brake
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Posted: December 23 2018 at 4:43pm | IP Logged | 3 post reply

Palladis Tamia is contemporary, as is Greene's Groatsworth of Wit (although the latter isn't exactly laudatory of Shakespeare!).

Henry Willobie makes reference to Shakespeare as being the author of The Rape of Lucrece in Willobie his Avisa, published in 1594. Richard Barnfield praises Shakespeare in his poem 'A Remembrance of Some English Poets', published in 1598, and the year after, another poem called Epigrams in the Oldest Cut, and Newest Fashion, also praises Shakespeare, alongside other poets.

The Parnassus plays of 1598-1602 also play on Shakespeare's fame (and also tease Ben Jonson a bit!). In 1603, 'A Mournful Ditty, entitled Elizabeth's Love' chastises Shakespeare for not commemorating Elizabeth I in verse (and which he never did - unless you count the reference to the child Elizabeth in Henry VIII). John Webster, in 1612, praises Shakespeare in The White Devil.

These were all in the lifetime of Will of Stratford, and to them could be added the poem, and private comments, of Ben Jonson, and possibly the commendatory verse by John Milton (although these are all posthumous, and Milton never knew Shakespeare). There's also John Manningham's recording in 1601 (or thereabouts) of the famous incident in which William beats Richard Burbage to the bed of a female admirer, with the quip that "William The Conqueror came before Richard the Third". Admittedly, this isn't a reference to him being a writer, but it always makes me chuckle!

That's not a bad, and probably not exhaustive, list. Surely all these contemporaries can't all have been mistaken? And if they were, if Will of Stratford wasn't the greatest writer of all time, he must have been the most convincing actor who's ever lived!

Edited by Steven Brake on December 23 2018 at 4:55pm
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John Byrne
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Posted: December 23 2018 at 5:09pm | IP Logged | 4 post reply

Again, you’re jumping back and forth between Shakespeare and Stratford Will as if they are undeniably the same person. But where is the connection?

Look, I have experienced this in my own life. For years the IMDb attributed work by Tilda Swinton’s significant other to me, just because we had the same name. When I was growing up in Calgary there was an established painter with the same name. Several times I had to say “Nope, not me!”

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Steven Brake
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Posted: December 23 2018 at 5:52pm | IP Logged | 5 post reply

But the whole notion of a pseudonym being misattributed to another man presumes that a pseudonym was ever used - for which no evidence has been give. Some conjecture, but no evidence. If we discount names as evidence, we logically cannot accept the attribution of ANY works to any Elizabethan/Jacobean playwright, and perhaps up to the nineteenth century. Is it really probable that someone (let's say Oxford) created the unusual pseudonym William Shakespeare, and that there was also a William Shakespeare involved to some degree in the theatre (amongst other things) at the same time? That this same Will Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet, nearly identical to the name Hamlet?

But let's return to the plays themselves. If they are the product of a well-educated mind, why are they so riddled with historical and geographical errors, as Jonson rather snarkily pointed out? Why does Oxford forget the genealogies that assured him of his place in Elizabethan society? Why, in Richard III, doesn't he make more of the role played by his predecessor, John de Vere, the 13th Earl, in winning the crown for Henry Richmond, Elizabeth's grandfather? If the plays are meant to represent an aristocratic mind, why are so many nobles shown in an ignoble light? Why is Richard II, generally seen as the last undisputed king of England, with a line of descent going directly back to William The Conqueror, portrayed as such a spiteful, capricious brat? Surely a member of nobility such as Oxford would insist upon the worth bestowed upon him by his pedigree?

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John Byrne
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Posted: December 23 2018 at 7:25pm | IP Logged | 6 post reply

The first use of “Shakespeare” in connection to the work styled it “Shake-speare”. The hyphen followed by a lower case letter was a not uncommon way of indicating a made-up name. To an Elizabethan audience, it might well have read as a pseudonym—especially if the identity of the true author was an open secret.
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Steven Brake
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Posted: December 24 2018 at 12:36pm | IP Logged | 7 post reply

But if the author was an open secret, why was a pseudonym used, or even necessary? Why, when Meres praises Shakespeare and Oxford, does he regard them as two different people? Does this mean that he wasn't in on the secret, or that he was but was pretending to play along?
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Petter Myhr Ness
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Posted: December 24 2018 at 2:08pm | IP Logged | 8 post reply

In Elizabethan times it would have been unheard of for a gentleman to have his plays performed for the public. For a private circle, fine, but for public consumption? Hence the need for a pseudonym. 
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Steven Brake
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Posted: December 24 2018 at 3:10pm | IP Logged | 9 post reply

Meres publicly praised Oxford in Palladis Tamia, and he didn't suffer reprisals from Oxford, or his followers, for doing so. Similarly, Oxford doesn't seem to have lost the respect of Elizabeth I as a result of Mere's praise.

The whole pseudonym thing just doesn't make any sense. Oxford adopted a highly unusual name to cover his identity, and, by chance, a fellow of the same highly unusual name was also involved in theatre at the same time? I'm no statistician, but the odds for this must be extraordinary.
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Michael Penn
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Posted: December 26 2018 at 8:50am | IP Logged | 10 post reply

Sometimes I think the best way to begin to discover just how very much is speculated about Shakespeare is to look into how the plays have been dated. It's interesting that for purposes of dating a Stratfordian will happily examine the content of the plays in relation to outside events, but for purposes of challenging authorship doubts a Stratfordian absolutely rejects examining the content of the plays in relation to the author's own life.

For example, the connections between "Hamlet" and the courtly circle in and around Oxford is fairly remarkable. If Will Shaksper had indeed been the author... he would have had some 'splainin' t' do!

(I'm not an Oxfordian, and I'm not even really a doubter. But I am fascinated by the vehement resistance in many if not most Stratfordian quarters to acknowledge all that is fundamentally unknown and unknowable about the author.)
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Steven Brake
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Posted: December 26 2018 at 12:08pm | IP Logged | 11 post reply

Yes, I agree that the dating of the plays is really important, which, again, is one of the reasons that Palladis Tamia is so important in helping us understand what plays had been performed by 1598 and won Shakespeare his reputation.

The principle problem with arguments made by alternative authorship theorists over the dating of the plays is that they discount records of the plays first performance or registration as not proving when they were composed, and then offer any alternative date that suits their candidate with little or no support.

There's no consensus when the plays were written, and in what order - does King John precede Richard II, or vice versa? However, even without information about registration, it's possible to offer a reasonable estimation of their composition by reading the plays themselves and assessing how they reflect the concerns of their times.

Shakespeare's English history plays are a great example of this - they seem to be begun around the late 1580s/early 1590s when England is flush with pride having defeated the Spanish Armada, and are increasingly underlain with ominous parallels with the Wars Of The Roses that led to the accession of the Tudors, and the inevitable collapse of the Tudor dynasty, given Elizabeth's increasing age, lack of marriage and children, and, most damagingly of all, stubborn refusal to name an heir.

Could Oxford (again, to name him as one candidate) really have foreseen the political crisis of England in the 1590s/1600s in the 1580s (or whenever he is assumed to have written the plays)?

Out of curiosity, what are the connections between Oxford and Hamlet? The only ones I know about are Oxford's father dying and his mother remarrying, his capture by pirates, and an argument that Polonius is meant to represent William Cecil, Lord Burleigh. Are there any more on top of these?

I do again concede, as per my post above, that every line of every play credited to William Shakespeare wasn't written by him, and I am curious to see how the academic world comes to terms with the fact that some of the speeches by Shakespeare may not be anything of the sort!
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