Shakespearean Movies, Conspiracies, Pronunciation and Errata
I’m going to start with a digression. Which is pretty standard for this blog I think. Starting off topic is probably the norm here. I guess this isn’t EXACTLY off topic… but it isn’t exactly relevant. I’ve talked in the past about my bucket list. Well, since the opening of the Globe in London I’ve been dying to get in there for a play. (And here is the point I’m trying to make that will have to carry you through to the end of this entire blog post… you are just going to have to memorize it, because it isn’t going to logically follow at first.) I absolutely love Shakespeare. I proposed to my wife at a Shakespeare festival. Every password I use has a derivation of some sort of a Shakespearian character in one of his plays 07he7701603. Or Othello – 1603. (They’ve gotten much much more complex, so feel free to try your hand at hacking my blog with that info.) I try and read a couple of plays a year. I have seen Shakespearian plays in Manchester, London, New York, D.C., Denver, Boulder, etc. I’ve enjoyed them done in modern settings, and ancient ones. But am I strange there? Do you guys dig Shakespeare at all?
But what about movies? You guys dig movies – because you showed up here you HAVE to dig movies.
– The Lion King (Hamlet)
– Warm Bodies (Romeo & Juliet)
– She’s the Man (Twelfth Night)
– Get Over It (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
– Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Hamlet)
– West Side Story (Romeo & Juliet)
– O (Othello, duh)
– 10 Things I Hate About You (Kiss Me Kate or The Taming of the Shrew)
And that’s just off the top of my head. So yeah, we all love Shakespeare. Just some of us like a purer form of it than others. With that in mind here is an awesome discussion about the plays and their original pronunciation. Apparently the Globe is doing some versions of Shakespeare’s plays with the original dialogue (dialect?) in fully tact.
And while still on the vein of Shakespeare, but turning 90 degrees, I really do love a great conspiracy theory. A conspiracy theory of any variety works for me. My continuous exegetical work on various film based conspiracy theories is long and well documented here. For example my Memento piece continues to get hundreds of visitors a day trying to uncover the hidden meaning there. My personal favorite insight was the work I did on Christopher Nolan’s lesser known movie The Prestige. My insights there continue to enrage and baffle many even to this day.
In the realm of history I am no less intrigued. I have spent several years researching a woman Aquila as the author of the Biblical book of Hebrews. (To be fair, I thought her husband did get involved. But mainly for fetching ink. But I digress.) I also spent years investigating and cogitating over the inner workings of the grassy knoll with regard to passing Presidents in uncovered motorcades. Though I am less inclined these days to believe anyone was at the afore mentioned knoll – it was still a fantastic bit of fun investigating the ins and outs there. There are many more examples of historical conspiracy theories, but the odds of my spinning out of control and completely abandoning my original Shakespearian tact grows exponentially with each passing new reference.
But Shakespeare? Shakespeare is like a god! What is there to even intimate about Shakespeare? Shakespeare is, and therefore we have Literary bedrock upon which to base all of the English treasures and insight of the modern written word. Shakespeare is infallible. He must be unbreachable or all of the humanities fall!
We’ll get back to that position soon enough. But for now, let us digress a bit dear sir. This particular investigation and road began for me with a simple trip to Stratford. The home of the Bard. It was Easter break and my family flew out to England to take in London, Nottingham, Oxford, and the aforementioned Stratford on Avon. It was a simple enough visit. Over 4 million people do it a year. But for me it was a turning point. As we were touring the (exorbitantly priced) home where Shakespeare was born I noticed a paucity of details about the man from the historical record. I assumed I wasn’t looking hard enough through all of the ‘helpful’ touristy signs.
But then I came to a display case that showed all of the signatures of Shakespeare that we have still preserved. There were six. Take that in for a moment. The most widely read human being on all of the planet, only has SIX known signatures still preserved today. What’s worse though, is that each one is different. Each one spelled differently. I mean, doesn’t that just seem odd to you? Not only that, but Shakespeare was no one. Stratford is in the middle of nowhere.
Even better still, Shakespeare’s parents were illiterate.
Right? Sure, I genius is a muse that strikes anyone, anywhere. Who are we to presume that genius will strike only the well to do and the well-schooled? But doesn’t that seem a bit of a stretch? A farmer, who cannot read, has a son, who becomes the most widely read single human this side of the Biblical authors? This seems legit to you? But it’s the story we know, so it’s the story we run with. What’s worse though, is that this is one of the most widely contestable and vitriolic laden discussions known to man. Don’t believe me? Feel free to try this little conversation starter at your next party or small gathering. “Edith, could you pass me another slice of your amazing banana bread? And by the way, had any of you ever heard that Shakespeare never existed?” Pandemonium. I promise. It just ruins conversations.
So back to my visit to Stratford. Standing at the visitor sign showing the signatures. I began to ask the tour guide about his life. Nothing. I asked about his occupation. Nothing. I asked about how he funded his writing, kept the lights on while he spent hours and hours over the truly expensive parchment. Nothing. I shifted my tact. Are there theories on how the heck an illiterate farmer’s son could possibly achieve this level of greatness without some sort of alien intervention? Blink. Blink. Nothing. She really was done with me. And that was when I was CERTAIN that there was no way on God’s Beautiful Green ball we call earth that Shakespeare could have possibly written this enormous and beautiful oeuvre.
That was back in like 1995? And since then I have spent time thinking about possible individuals that may have actually pulled this feat off. Which brings me to an amazingly fantastic exchange that occurred on this front. Professor Waugaman, a clinical professor of psychiatry and “faculty expert on Shakespeare” at Georgetown University (which my wife and I just visited a couple weeks ago),
A clinical professor of psychiatry and “faculty expert on Shakespeare” at Georgetown University in Washington DC, Professor Waugaman is also an “Oxfordian”, believing there is evidence that the poems and plays were written not by “the man from Stratford” but by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Before I go further with this particular story involving our good Professor Waugaman… I must speak at more length about this Edward de Vere. Whether the Oxfordians are off their rocker or not, they should be allowed to opine that Ronald McDonald actually wrote all of Shakespeare’s works if they’d like. Do I believe that NASA went to the moon? Why yes, yes I do. But should people be allowed to opine otherwise? Of course they should. They would be wrong, but they could still believe it. Right? So that brings us back to Waugaman who wrote a really fantastic paper about the psychosomatics around arguing a position from a position of logic within the world of literature as opposed to a position of emotion. The paper (which can be read here, and I highly recommend that you do read it) was so good that it was accepted by the literary journal, Memoria di Shakespeare. Well, that is, until the editors of the Memoria di Shakespeare stepped down and new editors took over. Apparently Gary Taylor, one of the new editors, had decided that the previous publication of Professor Waugaman’s paper was wrong. More specifically they had “decided against publishing an article that has come out already.”
Does anyone else disagree of the verb tenses at used here? They are now deciding against the previously published article… that had come out already. Sans time machine, its impossible to unpublish a published article. Its just a physics, uni-directional time problem. Right? They published it. It is published. They can redact it all they’d like. But they can’t unpublish it. It was published. They can ridicule the previous editors for publishing said article. But unpublishing something in the past is a physical impossibility. Just saying.
Regardless of the limitations of time and its inability to traverse the universe omni-directionally… I think this episode proves Waugaman’s point. The literary world has gone a little insane when it comes to the man from Stratford and his authorship of the “Shakespearean Plays”. This would be like NASA coming down from on high, and heading over to Billy Bob’s Bar & Grill to tell the guy standing next to the jukebox that his loud protestations around NASA’s not going to the moon are unspeakable. Well, no, they aren’t. Billy Bob can posit (inebriatedly or not) all he’d like about NASA’s lunar accomplishments. And if NASA really did show up to Billy Bob’s to quiet him up, I would listen to the guy standing next to the jukebox all the more. “Good sir, please do go on… and if you don’t mind, do you think you could turn down Bruce Springstein for a moment? Thanks for that.” And I would ask him to begin again at the beginning.
So it is with Professor Waugaman, the Oxfordian, who believes that Shakespeare is one of the greatest single con-jobs the world has every known. Right? That it wasn’t actually William Shake-Speare (or Shak(e)spe(a)re as Waugaman is want to write it) from Stratford, but rather that it was the Earl of Oxford that was behind the plays. Why in heaven’s name would De Vere have hidden his authorship of the greatest literature in the English Language? Well, in rebuttal to a confused book on the topic entitled ‘Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?’ Waugaman goes on to posit
“One plausible theory is that he reached a compromise with Queen Elizabeth and others in power. His plays would have delighted court insiders with their veiled commentary on court intrigue, written by one of their own.”
Let’s take just one example of the “arguments” that are bandied about by the Stratfordians against the Oxfordians. They say that de Vere’s death was 10 years too early to have been possible. There are many possible explanations to support that Oxfordian’s claims. The easiest of which is that some of the plays were published posthumously. But better argued is the fact that we just don’t know when the plays were actually written and are generally dated by an assumption that two plays were written a year. Those aren’t dates, that’s a schema to fit the dates into the Stratfordian’s life. The Oxfordian’s response is that with the current dating schema for the plays Shakespeare could have only been a boy when many of his plays were written. Hearing this they cut loose the plays and assign them to someone else. The only point I want to make here is that “William Shakespeare” is a theory. Not a fact. And that the facts are not resolutely resounding for either side. And that a sound and sane argument to this end would only benefit everyone as opposed to further entrenching them.
I personally enjoy (with a giggle even) thinking about the fact that De Vere crafted Shakespeare out of thin air. (As depicted in the movie Anonymous). What is more enjoyable though is thinking about all the authoritarian Stratfordians that scream and die every time the theory is even considered.