Those who have purchased, or who plan to purchase, Richard Beacham’s The Roman Theatre and its Audience so we can read it together, please begin reading if you haven’t already, and taking notes, if you wish. I’ve been remiss in keeping up with this and everything else in my life, due to a stream of events that has kept me on my feet for days, but I have been reading the book, and will be happy to respond to comments on the BOOK ROOM page. I hope this works out. If not we’ll try something else.
Having accepted the fact that Oxford had access to a number of the Latin works discussed by Beacham, we may find solid reasons for believing that these played a part in forming the London Stage in the mid to late 1570s. Could Oxford have been thinking about how to create such a theater as early as his childhood? What do you think? What other questions does the book raise for us?
Francis Bacon and the University Wits
It’s clear from the stats I get from WordPress that the pages here on the Wits have the most interest for readers. Years ago, when Ogburn’s Mysterious William first got me interested in the authorship question, I came away with two unanswered questions: first: what was Oxford’s education and does it fit the extraordinary knowledge revealed by Shakespeare in his works? Second: who were the other writers publishing when he began, and do any of them show the same anomalies in their biographies that we see in Shakespeare? Having done my best with the question about his education and childhood, I hope to do the same with regard to the other writers, who for the most part can be grouped under the scholar’s rubric of “University Wits.”
Dry runs for this will no doubt appear here as the work takes shape, but there is little room in a blog for outlining a particular chain of evidence, particularly one that has been so damaged by both time and the purposeful elimination of anything that might connect the Cecil family to the works of Shakespeare or the birth of the London Stage. Nevertheless, as (ironically) Polonius puts it, the truth is the truth “though it were hid indeed at the centre.” A perpetrator may wear gloves, but his fingerprints will always be found somewhere, that is, if one is looking for the right things and in the right places.
The major factor in our effort to revise history according to basic common sense is getting the authorities to accept the fact that during the period that Shakespeare and other writers were creating the English Literary Renaissance, they found it necessary to hide their identities. Because they will not accept this, we are stuck at the very gate, for every phase of this argument is determined by this fact, which is fairly easy to prove, and certainly far from unusual in human history, that is, of course, if attention is paid to enough historical facts, which sadly in the case of the Shakespeare authorship question has not been the case.
D Day 1588
The revisiting seen on television over the past few days of the invasion of Hitler’s Europe by the British and American forces in 1944, the true beginning of the end of the Second World War, brings to mind the situation England found itself in the mid-to-late 1580s as it faced the certainty of an invasion by Spain’s great Armada in its crusade to keep all of Europe contained by the Roman Catholic power structure . When we hear academics scoff at the idea that writers were able to keep their identities a secret, what about the fact that D Day, the greatest naval invasion in the history of the world, was kept a secret, not only from the enemy, but also from everyone else, including the international media.
In times of war and revolution, keeping certain matters a secret becomes a deadly serious necessity. By disdaining to reference history, the academics have ignored the fact that when the writers who later took names like Shakespeare, Spenser, Greene and Nashe first began writing, they were locked in deadly combat with the Calvinist Reformation, that held that such works were the tools of the Devil. It has also escaped them that Shakespeare was dealing, sometimes with passion, with the realpolitik of his time. This misapprehension, largely due to the misplacement in time forced on the academics by the Stratford biography, is the heart of our problem, and until we get it unravelled, and get the word out by publishing, online if not in print, we will continue to “perne in a gyre” for another 100 years of getting nowhere with the authorship question.
Tolkien and Beowulf
The article by Joan Acocella in a recent New Yorker on Tolkien and his immersion in Old English, written to acknowledge the publication, finally, of his translation of Beowulf (Houghton Mifflin), is one of the reasons why I continue to subscribe to this one magazine (the other major reason for an artist and page designer is the stylish and generally reader-friendly layout and their continued dedication to publishing the work of wonderful artists).
Thoughtfully Acocella recounts briefly the plots through which Beowulf defeats three monsters, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the Dragon. Like the Reformation ideologues of Oxford’s time, Grendel, monster #1, hates the music with which the ancient Geats would make merry into the night, though his technique for stopping them––tearing them into pieces which he then eats––is rather more ghoulish. Certain artists during Shakespeare’s time did have their heads removed by rope or axe, but nobody ate them.
By defining the prosody of the poem, what makes it distinctive as a style, for us this article raises the question of what Oxford may have taken from the opportunity he was given to study the Old English manuscript of Beowulf that Alexander Nowell had in his keeping during the period he was tutoring Oxford at Cecil House. There’s no indication that Nowell himself translated Beowulf into either Latin or English, but how likely is it that Oxford and his translator friends at Cecil House would have passed up the opportunity to do exactly this, or at least some sections of the manuscript?
I have pondered at some length the comment by Roger Ascham (pron. Ask’em) in his Scholemaster that he preferred the Greeks to the Gothians, wondering just what he meant by the latter:
But now, when men know the difference, and have the examples, both of the best, and of the worst, surely, to follow rather the Goths in Rhyming, than the Greeks in true versifying, were even to eat acorns with swine, when we may freely eat wheat bread among men. Indeed, Chaucer, Th. Norton, my L. of Surrey, M. Wyatt, Th. Phaer, and other gentlemen, in translating Ovid, Palingenius, and Seneca, have gone as far, to their great praise, as the copy they followed could carry them, but, if such good wits and forward diligence had been directed to follow the best examples, and not have been carried by time and custom to content themselves with that barbarous and rude rhyming, among their other worthy praises, which they have justly deserved, this had not been the least, to be counted among men of learning and skill, more like unto the Grecians than vnto the Gothians, in handling of their verse.
If by this, written in 1563, he was describing a current fascination with the forms discovered in Beowulf and other texts by Nowell, first modern scholar to recover the sounds and meanings of Old English, a fascination that has escaped the world of letters, this might resolve what it was that Ascham was condemning at the time that Nowell and his students were delving into the mysteries of Old English prosody. One would think the appropriate term would be alliteration, since these Anglo-Saxon poems did not depend upon rhyme, at least as we use the word, but on a particular kind of alliteration, as described by Acocella.
Hope to hear from some of you shortly in THE BOOK ROOM.