Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Boar?

One of the major problems in getting the world to take Oxford seriously as Shakespeare is his bad reputation with historians.  Sure it came from his enemies, Henry Howard and Robert Cecil, who, no matter how notorious they were themselves, managed to make their character assassination stick, largely because, apart from their dirty deeds, their public roles haved tended to supercede the crimes they commited, while Oxford’s public role has remained hidden.  All his money, his imagination and his energy went into creating the London stage and the London periodical press, something he could not take the credit for at the time, something for which his worst enemy, Robert Cecil, made certain that he would never, ever, get the credit.  Even today, the academics who have (ironically) inherited his story, seem determined to hand his accomplishments over to his actors, co-authors, publishers and editors.

So were they wrong about Oxford?  Was he the ungrateful bastard that Alan Nelson loves to flog, or the saint that some would have Shakespeare, gentle, kind and good?  Have they never read the biographies of geniuses of the stage and press?  What about Diagliev or Balanchine, the manipulative obsessives who created the world’s greatest ballet companies, or the world’s greatest dancers, Nijinsky and Michael Jackson?  What about those brilliant bisexuals, Leonard Bernstein and Lord Byron, neither of whom made any effort to hide their sexual relationships with their sisters?  And how about the genius whose level of influence over the world we live in is the only one of any of these that reaches to the level of the man we call Shakespeare––what about Steve Jobs?

Here’s what Malcolm Gladwell says in his recent review in The New Yorker of the book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, who interviewed his friends and associates at length:

“Jobs, we learn, was a bully. ‘He had the uncanny capacity to know exactly what your weak point is, know what will make you feel small, to make you cringe,’ a friend of his tells Isaacson. Jobs gets his girlfriend pregnant, and then denies that the child is his.  He parks in handicapped spaces. He screams at subordinates.  He cries like a small child when he does not get his way.  He gets stopped for driving a hundred miles an hour, honks angrily at the officer for taking too long to write up the ticket, and then resumes his journey at a hundred miles an hour.  He sits in a restaurant and sends his food back three times.  He arrives at his hotel suite in New York for press interviews and decides, at 10 P.M., that the piano needs to be repositioned, the strawberries are inadequate, and the flowers are all wrong: he wanted calla lilies. (When his public-relations assistant returns, at midnight, with the right flowers, he tells her that her suit is “disgusting.”)

“‘Machines and robots were painted and repainted as he compulsively revised his color scheme,’ Isaacson writes, of the factory Jobs built, after founding NeXT, in the late nineteen-eighties. ‘The walls were museum white, as they had been at the Macintosh factory, and there were $20,000 black leather chairs and a custom-made staircase. . . . He insisted that the machinery on the 165-foot assembly line be configured to move the circuit boards from right to left as they got built, so that the process would look better to visitors who watched from the viewing gallery.’

“Isaacson begins with Jobs’s humble origins in Silicon Valley, the early triumph at Apple, and the humiliating ouster from the firm he created.  He then charts the even greater triumphs at Pixar and at a resurgent Apple, when Jobs returns, in the late nineteen-nineties, and our natural expectation is that Jobs will emerge wiser and gentler from his tumultuous journey.  He never does.  In the hospital at the end of his life, he runs through sixty-seven nurses before he finds three he likes.  ‘At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated,’ Isaacson writes: ‘Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it.  Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . .  He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex.’”

Now there’s the real McCoy, not the Santa Claus of childish dreams.  And who doesn’t love him?  As a Mac user since 1995 who used his technology to create The Oxfordian and who uses it every day to run this blog, I did, and do, and always will.  And my kids and grandchildren who are addicted to their ipods and iphones do too.  Just as you and I love Shakespeare.

No, Edward de Vere was not a saint.  He used people.  He complained (see his letters).  He was cruel to his wife and to Gabriel Harvey.  He wasted his patrimony on profitless theatrical projects (profitless to himself and his family, though immensely profitable to the Kings Men).  He ratted on his cousin and friends, sending them into confinement.  He created deathless stage portraits of his family members and associates as fools and villains.  That historians have followed his enemies in accusing him of pederasty, plotting to murder his Court rivals, and most foul, ingratitude to his in-laws, well, perhaps it’s no more than such a wretch deserved.

But it’s more than we deserve!  As humans we deserve to know the truth about ourselves.  Surely the geniuses who have given us our greatest art, our greatest advances in science, medicine, and technology, are just as important as all the other things we study.  “Know thyself,” said Socrates.  To know the truth about the great English humanist who, according to one of the academics who knows and loves him most, invented us, is to know ourselves.

Let’s get all this nonsense about other candidates and sick relationships with the Queen and others out of the way and find out all we can about the real human being who created the language we speak.  Surely it’s time.

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11 responses to “Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Boar?

  1. Applaus! Applaus! I wish I had written this. In contrast, the entire tradition of Stratfordian biography is nothing but the shallowest idyllic nonsense. There is, so far as I know, not a single mainstream work that seriously deals with this problem. Even in my search through works on psychology and creative development I turned up almost nothing on Shakespeare. Stratfordians have convinced the world (even experts in psychology) that Shakespeare is a paradox, different, unknowable and unexplainable, so that, with few exceptions, they detour around him. But we know that Shakespeare was a human being. I think that is the essential difference between Oxfordians and Stratfordians. Bravo Stephanie.

  2. You are a treasure. You always cut right to the point!
    I watched Charlie Rose slobbering over Hamlet with two Stratfordians – Greenblat from Harvard and somebody else from the National theater. It was painful, but I hung in there. What passes for scholarship is fraudulent.
    Why can’t the likes of these “scholars” acknowledge that there is an answer to there silly questions? DeVere? Who’s he? Too bad that “Anonymous” was so absorbed with the PT diversion. It is not at the heart of the matter and is an excuse to disparage the whole Oxfordian movement as absurd.

  3. Right on. As Steve says, psychoanalysts have been so busy “analyzing” Freud’s insight as to Shakespeare’s true identity that they haven’t bothered to consider the implications if Freud got it right. Freud had a cogent hunch as to our refusal to relinquish a flawed authorship hypothesis– we want our favorite writer to be as perfect a human being as are the literary works. De Vere wasn’t.

    I wonder if there’s any way to make publicly accessible Sidney Lee’s 1898 DNB biography of de Vere. It has the enormous advantage of having been written well before Looney, so it’s free of Alan Nelson’s compulsion to discredit de Vere at every opportunity. To paraphrase, one memorable line in Lee is “He would surpass all other [courtiers], if it were not for his fickle head.” That captures the balanced tone of Lee’s article.

    Readers of the new ODNB instead get Alan Nelson’s smear of de Vere. But if online readers click on “Archives” on the left side of the page, they’ll be taken to Lee’s much more objective article on de Vere.

  4. Stephanie, you write so well! I wanted to thank you for this article, but see that so many others have said what I thought, but I will add my voice of congratulations. Many thanks, L.

  5. Is it possible that perhaps Sidney Lee’s book might be on googlebooks? What is the title?

  6. This afternoon I watched the latter half of “Star” on TV, the story of Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward, “Gertie” played to the hilt by Julie Andrews. The scenes in which she shows her utter inability to grasp the idea of staying within a budget, the fact that she was bisexual (not shown in the movie) and that her true soul mate, Noel Coward, was gay (implied), left me thinking that it may simply be impossible for some people to understand theater folk. What irony that the academics and their henchmen on Wikipedia belong to this group. How can they claim knowledge about Shakespeare and know so little about the theater?

  7. I think that Oxford grew, too, becoming capable of King Lear’s insights on that rainy heath. Yes, he was probably an annoying pest to Burghley, Cecil, and Elizabeth, but in the Tin Mines Letters, at least, we see him attempting to cut through the corruption surrounding that industry, and aiming to see more people employed in mining, rather than on uncertain seasonal work such as fishing. We see him as the compulsive writer he was–he writes when his hand is cramping, he writes when he’s just been let blood and his hand is trembling–and there are almost surreally magic moments, as when he compares the “branches” of the suit to playacting children who need only to be “set afoot, masked, and vizored”: we’re carried straightaway to The Merry Wives of Windsor…

  8. Wise words, Stephanie. Yes, it does indeed seem that genius and crabbiness often (not always) go hand in hand: Picasso, Bob Dylan, Margaret Sanger, and deVere are all illustrative.

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