Report for the HWS event of the 9th of December, 2014

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt

The evening began with Her Grace Queen Elizabeth 1 (Barbara Large, most elegantly attired) greeting her subjects.  Her first assignment was to welcome the Titchfield Festival Theatre Group, under the stewardship of their chairman and artistic director, Kevin Fraser, who were to perform part of a new play ‘Our Cousin Will’ by Stewart Trotter.  Kevin then introduced the troupe, the performances that they carry out, and posited Titchfield as the location where Shakespeare wrote the play ‘Love Labour’s Lost’.  Stewart Trotter gave a brief outline as to why it was thought that Shakespeare could have spent a period in Titchfield as a teacher.

Several scenes from the play were performed, and this involved the Lady Mary, the mother of the Earl of Southampton, engaging Will Shakespeare to teach her son Harry the art of writing sonnets, which she hopes will turn his attentions to women; instead of his dressing like one. Will endeavours to do this, although his efforts with Harry appear futile.   Will is then drawn to Emilia, however, she resists his advances with a curt “Get lost, Baldy!” Will is then involved in an affair with Harry himself, much to Lady Mary’s disquiet. However, Will and she are eventually reconciled; and Harry’s own situation is accepted. The dialogue was witty, lively, and the performances of the actors were highly amusing.

The Titchfield Festival Theatre Group
The Titchfield Festival Theatre Group

Barbara then invited Di Castle to give the HWS an account of her journey to getting a book published. Di has been a member of the HWS and had also attended the Winchester Writers’ Conference.   She has written for years, often having a number of manuscripts on the go, but eventually, with fifty poems written on sixteen years of her life, decided to try to get them published. Eventually, after finding the ideal illustrator in Denise Horn, “Grandma’s Poetry Book” was published by Matador. The process had taken both time and money, but the book is now in its second print run, and shows that creativity and determination can win through.

Barbara then welcomed Professor Stanley Wells and the Reverend Dr Paul Edmondson, the main speakers for the evening. She also welcomed Professor Mick Jardine, Head of the Arts Department at the University of Winchester, who was to act as adjudicator of the monthly completion.

Professor Stanley Wells and the Reverend Dr Paul Edmondson were then introduced.

The Earl of Southampton, Prof Wells, the Rev Dr Paul Edmondson and Queen Elizabeth I
The Earl of Southampton, Prof Wells, the Rev Dr Paul Edmondson and Queen Elizabeth I

Professor Wells was Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham, and is now Emeritus Professor, and he is currently Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. He also received the 2010 Sam Wanamaker Award for services to increasing understanding of Shakespeare, and in 2009, after years of research, he was one of a group who put the case for confirming that the Cobbe Portrait was of Shakespeare, and was painted from life. The Reverend Dr Paul Edmondson is the Director of the Stratford-on-Avon Poetry Festival for the Shakespeare Birthplace trust. He is Trustee of the Rose Theatre Trust and is co-editor of the Palgrave Shakespeare series. Both scholars have, as individuals, published many books and have also collaborated on two.

Professor Wells and the Reverend Dr Edmondson used a screen presentation to emphasise the more important points of their proposition that it was “Shakespeare beyond doubt” who created the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. They began with the funerary monument to Shakespeare that resides in the Holy trinity Church, Stratford, and which must have been dedicated before 1623. There was a tremendous amount of reference to Shakespeare made by actors and playwrights, and many collaborations between Shakespeare and others. Thomas Middleton collaborated on “Timon of Athens” and John Fletcher collaborated with Shakespeare in the later years, making the proposition that Christopher Marlowe, who died in 1593 (his death verified by the coroner’s court), was the true author, most improbable. Moreover, an analysis of writing styles reveals that the authorship of the plays would have required a deep knowledge of stagecraft, which would also disallow a number of other candidates.

The Committee joined in the spirit of the evening by appearing in costume
The Committee joined in the spirit of the evening by appearing in costume

The fact that Shakespeare was not highly educated is often brought up, but it is quite likely that a youth of Shakespeare’s background would have attended a grammar school since, by the time he was a boy, these were becoming widespread. Attendance at the “Kynge’s new Scole” in Stratford is therefore a very strong probability. There, Shakespeare would have learnt Latin and literature, which would have given him the basic skills of a playwright. The subsequent evidence for his authorship of the plays is such that it would have required a conspiracy of a huge number of people to have succeeded in concealing this; none of whom ever gave the game away!

The Earl of Southampton and Queen Elizabeth I
The Earl of Southampton and Queen Elizabeth I

Scepticism comes from a number of sources. Simple snobbery is one; that Shakespeare was simply too lowly a figure to produce works of such genius. Some sceptics have made huge efforts to prove he was not the author, although these have often foundered spectacularly. One such person was Delia Bacon, an American woman, who in the 1850s went to huge lengths to prove that the plays were written by a circle of gifted authors. Despite her considerable efforts, her campaign eventually fizzled out.

More modern efforts have taken place. The 2011 film “Anonymous” told a complex tale of intrigue set during the reign of Elizabeth the First, with the Earl of Oxford being credited with being the true author of the plays, which were produced using Shakespeare merely as a frontman. The film was, ultimately, unconvincing.

It is even possible to attend college courses that specialise in presenting the evidence for Shakespeare not being the true author, but such courses have failed to shake the available evidence for authorship.

In summary, there is simply too much contemporary evidence for Shakespeare being the author for this to be defeated by the arguments against.

The Earl of Southampton (Gary Farnell, impressive in doublet and hose) then hosted the questions:

How did Shakespeare collaborate?

Paul pointed out:          “Two Noble Kinsmen” has been attributed to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Henry VIII” has been identified as collaboration on stylistic grounds. Fletcher used “ye” whereas Shakespeare used “thou”.

Stanley pointed out:          Thomas Middleton collaborated on “Timon of Athens”

Which of Shakespeare’s plays were the speakers’ favourites?

Stanley:          “King Lear” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Paul:          “A Winter’s Tale” (The final scene is especially touching.)

How much input of the collaborators is in Shakespeare’s plays?

Stanley:          It cannot be estimated precisely.

Any comment on any of Ros Barber’s arguments?

She made the point that one playwright had his hand cut off for a work that displeased the queen, and that Shakespeare might have been the ‘front man’ to protect others from punishment.

But her point that Marlowe may have escaped to Italy to write the plays is not probable since the coroner’s court had a full account of events; a huge deception would have been required.

Mick Jardine commented that although Ros Barber’s assertion that attacks on Shakespeare were not ‘classist’, many do appear to be. Is the furore over authorship a real problem? Perhaps, but at least it prompts discussion!

Paul:          Ultimately, the attacks cannot be ignored.

Stanley:          Young people are being fed untruths.

Shakespeare had a somewhat spasmodic married life: was there really a will?

Stanley:          Yes, he did, and the famous second-best bed to a wife was actually a routine bequest at the time!

Was Shakespeare a happy man?

Stanley:          I would rather just think of him as ‘the man’

What are the drivers for questioning his authorship?

Mick:          Snobbery, plus the opportunity for revealing a ‘new truth’, plus perhaps sheer mischief.

Paul:          The feeling that Shakespeare lacked the knowledge for much of what he wrote, and that such knowledge could only come from personal experience.

Stanley:          Ignorance, and a desire to topple a giant.

Paul:          A parasitical urge to negate his success.

Mick:          Disbelief that the quality and genius could belong to one man.

Paul:          The thought that not enough is known of Shakespeare’s life; it leads to frustration.

A point from Ant; many people believe that disability also ‘disqualifies’ a person from being able to write.

Paul:          Yes, people will say such things…

Barbara Large thanked Professor Stanley Wells and the Reverend Dr Paul Edmondson for having so kindly travelled to speak to us all this evening, and reminded members that the next meeting would be on the 13th of January 2015, when the distinguished journalist Luke Harding would be the speaker.   Finally, she wished everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

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