Hot off the press from the German Neues Shakespeare-speare Journal that has given us important books by Peter Moore, Noemi Magri, and Robin Fox comes a collection of essays by their editor, Gary Goldstein, Reflections on the True Shakespeare. Editor and creator of The Elizabethan Review, the first scholarly journal of authorship articles to be published in America (1993-2001), Goldstein has also had a hand in publishing or promoting a good many other important works over the years in The Oxfordian and the online journal Brief Chronicles, yet his own essays are among the very best our discipline has to offer. As a holiday gift for someone you think is ready to hear the argument for Oxford, his lead essay, “The epistemology of the Shakespeare Authorship Issue” lays it out in terms that make this very complicated issue as easy to understand as is humanly possible.
Beginning with the problem as we see it, no known education for William of Stratford, no letters from him to others, no time spent in Italy, no evidence of a connection to the Stage, Goldstein introduces the sort of responses we’ve become accustomed to from the “authorities”: the charge by one that our questions are the literary equivalent of “creationism,” by another, that we are holders of “a retrograde vision . . . dead set against the forces of democracy and modernity,” and by a third that we are “dangerous fools.”
As Gary explains, the reason for such “unscholarly” attacks is because “the authorship question remains unresolved after 150 years of public contention due to a lack of documentary proof on both sides of the debate.” As he puts it, neither William of Stratford nor the Earl of Oxford
possess any documentary evidence proving either wrote the Shakespeare plays and poems. Instead the traditional author’s case relies on bibliographical and testimonial evidence, while the claimant’s case rests on a body of circumstantial evidence using inference and inductive reasoning––one that attempts to show parallels that link his biography, poetry, and letters to the contents of the Shakespeare canon. (21)
While the latter is convincing to those who can “see with love’s true eyes,” it is simply not enough to move the academics, stuck behind the yawning gaps in the historical record, and incapable of the leap of faith required to let go of the creaky old scenario conjured up by the Lord Chamberlain’s men and their Privy Council patrons to protect the identity of their beloved (and greatly feared) author.
Without passion or innuendo, Gary addresses “the traditional case,” stating that
in fact, the traditional author’s bibliographical evidence is not as compelling as its advocates contend. Although 59 editions of Shakespeare’s plays and 5 editions of his poetry were published before the First Folio in 1623, no author is listed on 20 of the title pages . . . . (our emphasis)
a cold, hard fact that no Stratfordian ever bothers to address, at least not in anything like convincing terms. When Gary states flatly that “there is no documentary evidence connecting the private individual, William Shakspere of Stratford-on-Avon, to the public author, William Shakespeare,” he speaks not as a “dangerous fool,” a “crank” or a “snob,” but as one who simply states the cold, hard, plain, unvarnished, undeniable truth. It is absolutely the fact that
We have no letters or manuscripts in [William’s] hand, nor books from his library, nor legal documents from the period identifying him as a poet or playwright. All the documents that refer to the traditional author do so in non-literary roles––as a buyer of real estate or grain, as a witness or litigant in law cases, as a tax cheat in London, even as an investor in a theater, but never as poet or playwright. In sort, there is no connection to a literary life in all the extant documents, including his will . . . . (22).
How they spelled his name in Warwickshire
Gary doubles down on the anomalies attending the spelling of his name by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men:
The spelling on the works is very consistent––“Shakespeare” or “Shake-speare” over 95% of the time, and invariably with the medial “e” after the “k.” Shakspere never used that spelling in his life. Nor does it appear in any of 26 entries in Stratford parish records relating to him and to his family, from the birth of a sister in 1558 to the burial of a grandson in 1617. . . . (22)
Thus, while William’s own wobbly signatures on legal documents including his will, plus the twenty-six spellings in the Stratford parish register, give us the “thirty-six total occurrences which undoubtedly refer to Mr. Shakspere, or to close family members, in every case the name is spelled Shakspere or a close variant.” (23).
Gary follows this with the points in the front material in the First Folio that appear to connect William of Stratford with the works published within, adding a convincing bit of sleuthing from authorship scholar Alexander Waugh, that while Ben Jonson’s reference in his dedicatory Ode to “Sweet swan of Avon,” which has been taken for centuries to refer to the river that runs through Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, the rest of that verse suggests otherwise. By “what a sight it were to see thee . . . make those flights upon the banks of Thames, that so did take Eliza and our James,” refers, not to Stratford, but as they show, backed by solid evidence, “Avon” was a common nickname for the royal palace of Hampton Court, located on the Thames a few miles southwest of London, from whence the Queen and her retinue would set forth by royal barge, flags flying as music announced to the crowds watching along the shores that her Majesty was on her way to Whitehall or Greenwich.
Much that is pertinent to our inquiry follows, including a summary of the evidence, originally provided by authorship scholars Richard Whalen and Richard Kennedy, that the bland-faced Bust in Trinity Church that now, absurdly, appears to be writing on a pillow with a feather pen, began long before William’s death as a monument to a local wool dealer (most probably his father), the pillow originally a woolsack, that had been altered from time to time over the years to conform to whatever was the prevailing notion of what the great Shakespeare should look like.
Moving on to what we know about Oxford, of the original 18 characteristics of Shakespeare as listed by J. Thomas Looney in his introduction of Oxford to the authorship community in 1920, each is followed by a paragraph or two explaining how closely every one describes the Earl of Oxford. This he follows with a handful of the most obvious characters and scenes from the plays that correspond to what we know about Oxford’s own life.
The book begins with a short biography of Oxford, very useful for those who would like to tell his story to others. Later chapters include important insights into a range of issues, among them Hamlet’s reference to Oxford’s loss in the scheme to find the mythical Northwest Passage to China, that he’s “but mad north northwest, when the wind’s southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.” As others have noted, “handsaw” was a compositor’s error for “hernshaw,” a heron. That these two birds, quite different in appearance, are united by Plutarch when he explains how for the ancient Egyptians the two were represented by hieroglyphics, that of the hawk indicating the rising of the Nile, that of the heron its falling, a bit of literary history that demonstrates Shakespeare’s thoroughgoing knowledge of North’s translation (and for us––if sadly not for Gary––Oxford’s knowledge of Plutarch in its Greek original as listed in Sir Thomas Smith’s library list of 1566, and also of Shakespeare’s fascination with birds, acquired by Oxford during his boyhood years on the bank of the Thames where it faces the great Runnymede water meadow, still a nesting ground and waystation for migrating birds, including the hawk and the heron).
Important to anyone interested in the background to The Merchant of Venice is Gary’s identification of the name Shylock with Shelach or Shalach from Genesis 10 and 11 of the Old Testament (misspelled Selah and Salah in Greek and Latin versions) as also the names Chus and Tubal. He gives chapter and verse to this obvious use of what was then an unusual depth of knowledge of the Hebrew Bible by anyone other than a university scholar. (Sadly, however, he appears to be unaware that Oxford could easily have learned Hebrew from his tutor, whose library contained Sebastian Münster’s Hebrew version of the Old Testament, Münster’s Hebrew-Latin Grammar, and a Hebrew version of the Proverbs of Solomon.)
In his chapter on “Shakespeare’s Native Tongue,” Gary provides the important information that Shakespeare’s dialect was the Essex dialect, that, labeled the “East Midlands Dialect,” had, “by the end of the sixteenth century,” become what today we consider Standard English. While he provides many pages of fascinating evidence for this, he cautiously fails to proclaim the obvious, that surely it was Shakespeare who caused this particular dialect to be spread abroad by the travelling acting companies that performed his plays all over England, thus making it the favored dialect, not only of Londoners, but also folk of distinction in every market or university town throughout the nation. In making the point that Shakespeare’s dialect was the Essex dialect, Gary leaves it to the reader to grasp that it must also have been Oxford’s dialect since he was born in Essex, although that’s not the reason why Oxford spoke that dialect. Oxford’s dialect would have reflected that of the tutor with whom he’d lived throughout the absorbent years of his childhood. Sir Thomas Smith was a native of Saffron Walden in Essex where his family had lived for generations, half a day’s ride by horseback from Castle Hedingham and its manorial environs.
Other articles give information on the portraits of Oxford painted by Nicholas Hilliard; the references to him in James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake; reasons why the Royal Incest theory is nothing but smoke; and what the lines and dots around Oxford’s “crown” signature actually mean. His chapter on the striking correspondence between Shakespeare’s language and style and Oxford’s letters to his in-laws succeed in capsulizing what William Plumer Fowler went to such lengths to show in his great tome. These are but a few of his many essays, all containing convincing evidence.
Perhaps the most interesting information for those of us concerned with getting the truth past the defenses of the Academy is found in Gary’s final essay, his wrap-up of his long-ongoing and close watch over what books on the subject of Shakespeare’s authorship are available to readers in libraries around the world. Though still well behind James Shapiro’s Contested Will, Charlton Ogburn’s The Mysterious William is stocked in 770 libraries, Joseph Sobran’s Alias Shakespeare in 700, and Richard Whalen’s Shakespeare: Who Was He? in 625. It is pleasant to note that Mark Anderson’s Shakespeare by Another Name is found in 570 while Alan Nelson’s anti-Oxfordian diatribe lags behind at 510. Interesting too is the fact that the authorship book that’s sold the most widely around the world is Sobran’s Alias Shakespeare at an estimated 15,000 copies. Gary’s final assessment adds a note of cheer:
All this evidence should reassure those who think professors of English have intimidated university librarians into boycotting Oxfordian research. In the classroom, perhaps, but not in university libraries.
A great holiday gift for those relatives who love Shakespeare but know very little about the authorship question, this important book is available through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.