– fordi tiden kræver et MODSPIL

05. Oct 2005

Var Shakespeare Shakespeare, eller var Neville?

Forfatter eller stråmand?
Jeg faldt over en tilsyneladende meget fornuftig gennemgang af den nye teori om forfatterskabet til Shakespeares værker:
Oxenford has become very popular among those who refuse to believe that a middle class lad with only a grammar school education could possibly have been a great poet and playwright. His ascendancy is rather puzzling, as he doesn’t fit the chronology of the plays very well (he was born half a generation too early and died before the generally accepted dates of a third of the Shakespearean works), and his 70-plus surviving letters and memoranda display not an iota of interest in literature or the theater. There is in some circles, however, such a strong will to disbelieve in the “Stratford Man” that this dubious alternative has a vocal following, productive of a stream of usually thick and always incoherent books arguing his cause.

Now Oxenford has a rival. An Englishwoman named Brenda James spent a spell of illness “deciphering” the dedication to the first edition Shakespeare’s Sonnets and discovered a secret message revealing that the true author was Sir Henry Neville (1561/2–1615), a diplomat, courtier and member of Parliament, best known for his fierce anti-Catholicism and fruitless place seeking, who has never, to my knowledge, been suggested before. Next month Miss James and William Rubenstein, a modern historian who wrote a run-of-the-mill anti-Stratfordian article for History Today a few years back, will publish The Truth Will Out”: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare, which will lay out the case for Neville as the Bard. A “Media Pack” is already available. It coyly refrains from stating the pretender’s identity, but anyone with access to the DNB can figure it out in minutes. Judging by the advance propaganda, the tome is no more impressive than its Oxenfordian counterparts, though thin in comparison at a mere 352 pages.

A list of “The Reasons for Doubting Shakespeare as the Author”, included in the Media Pack, leads off with the Bardolatry that underlies most anti-Stratfordianism. Will Shakespeare of Stratford “was not the profoundly learned man, able to read many languages and having knowledge of the political, economic and Court environment, demonstrated in the plays”. What’s more, we don’t know whether he ever traveled abroad, “so how did he know all the details [emphasis added] of European cities used as settings for some of the plays?” Thence it proceeds to ordinary misunderstandings and falsehoods. Among the former: “Being a penniless actor for much of his early life, he would not have had the time, congenial surroundings, materials, etc. needed for writing the Plays.” (The authors evidently had no time to peruse Bentley’s The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare’s Time, which might have disabused them of their rosy picture of the life of an Elizabethan playwright.) As for falsehoods (though I’m sure that ignorance rather than intentional deception is to blame): “The contemporary documents which mention Shakespeare the actor make no reference to his writing.” To the contrary are, off the top of my head, John Davies of Hereford’s epigram, “To Our English Terence, Mr. Will. Shake-speare” (1610), which puns on the author’s roles with the King’s Men, and the anonymous academic play, The Return to Parnassus, Part III (c. 1601), in which the famous actor Will Kemp refers to Shakespeare the playwright as “our fellow”.
If Shakespeare’s plays were politically subversive, as this hypothesis assumes, it’s strange that the actor and theater proprietor, as their ostensible author, never got into trouble over them. (Contrast the arrest orders issued against Ben Jonson and Thomas Nashe for The Isle of Dogs and Thomas Middleton for A Game at Chess.) Henry Neville, never more than a minor figure at Court, certainly lacked the clout to protect his “front man”. Thus, as usually happens at this point in anti-Stratfordian reveries, the “solution” to one riddle casts up another, yet more perplexing. One also wonders, given the True Author’s quest for “absolute anonymity”, why the dedication to the Sonnets would disclose his name (or were contemporary readers assumed to be so much dumber than Brenda James?). Nor are we told, though perhaps this matter has been saved for the book, why the imposture was kept up in the First Folio, published when both Neville and Shakespeare were dead.

Assuming that the publisher isn’t holding back blockbuster evidence, this new candidate looks no better than the old ones. He will most likely migrate to the anti-Stratfordian minor leagues, with Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland, Sir Edward Dyer and the like. Nonetheless, let us welcome the new pretender.

Mon ikke han ender med at få ret, og luften går lige så grudigt ud af (folkene bag teorien om) Neville som af Marlowe, Oxenford og Sir Francis Bacon?