Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Stratford References in The Taming of the Shrew by Peter Farey

"The small, seemingly inconsequential details are what constitute the unique fingerprint. The plays ascribed to William Shakespeare were written by a man who knew of a fat alewife called Marian Hacket in the village of Wincot near Stratford-upon-Avon (she is mentioned in the induction to The Taming of the Shrew and parish records reveal the historical reality of the Hackets of Wincot)." - Jonathan Bate.

Thanks to Daryl Pinksen, we have seen that Jonathan Bate's arguments concerning the uniqueness of the eddies below Stratford's Clopton Bridge (in his essay from Shakespeare's Face, 2002) are without substance. Immediately after Bate refers to this, he moves on to dandelions: "In one of his loveliest songs, the dramatist writes,'Golden lads and girls all must,/ As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.' In Warwickshire vernacular dialect, a dandelion is a 'golden lad' when in flower, a 'chimney-sweeper' when ready to be blown to the wind. This is no lord's memory. It belongs to a local country boy in a Warwickshire field."

This is a very appealing idea. After all, the head of a dandelion does look rather like a chimney-sweep's brush, doesn't it? Think Mary Poppins! Unfortunately for this theory, however, the Oxford English Dictionary makes it clear that in Shakespeare's time a "chimney-sweeper" was the lad who climbed up inside the chimney to clean it, a practice which continued right up to their replacement by the sweep's brush in about 1805. The local country boy in a Warwickshire field (as elsewhere) may well have used this term for a dandelion head some time after that happened, but there is no way that Shakespeare could have.

When Jonathan Bate writes of the Warwickshire references in The Taming of the Shrew, however, he is probably right. There was a hamlet of Wincot (now marked only by Wincot Farm, apparently on the site of a former manor house) about four miles south of Stratford. Wincot was on the border of two parishes - Quinton and Clifford Chambers - and a "Sara, the daughter of Robert Hacket" was baptized in Quinton church on 21 November 1591. That the Hostess who starts off The Taming of the Shrew by throwing Sly out of her ale-house was based upon a Marian Hacket of Wincot, and that there was also a Cicely Hacket (her daughter?) working there as a maid at the time seems very likely.

In the same speech, Christopher Sly also says that he is "old Sly's son of Burton-heath," which most scholars take - not unreasonably - to be Barton-on-the-Heath, a village about 16 miles south of Stratford, where Shakespeare's aunt Joan Lambert lived. Later on he is said to have talked of Stephen Sly, and there was indeed a Stephen Sly living in Stratford in 1615. Sly's mention of a "thirdborough" is also interesting. According to Brian Morris, quoting in the Arden (2) edition of the play Dalton's Country Justice (1620), "There be officers of much like authority to our constables, as the borsholders in Kent, the thirdborow in Warwickshire, and the tythingman and burrowhead or headborow, or chief-pledge in other places." Sly also apparently mentioned a "John Naps of Greece," which it is thought might mean "Greete," not far from Stratford, but this may be taking the search for Stratfordisms a bit too far?

Nevertheless, the associations with the area around Stratford seem fairly clear, and we would be wrong to ignore them. So what about the character Christopher Sly himself? For me the description he gives of himself as "by education a cardmaker, by transmutation a bearherd" is conclusive. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a card-maker was "one who makes cards for combing wool" and a bearherd the "keeper of a bear, who leads him about for exhibition." What an extraordinary juxtaposition! Yet there is someone we know whose childhood was spent in the home of an occasional dealer in wool (his father, John) and who, after a complete change of circumstances, did some work for a man (Philip Henslowe) who owned and ran a bear-baiting arena. It was, of course, William Shakespeare. That he also describes himself as a pedlar (OED 2 fig. "A person who deals in an abstract commodity") and a tinker (also "applied to itinerant beggars, traders, and performers generally") does no harm to the identification either. An Act of 1597 referred to "All Juglers Tynkers Pedlers and Petty Chapmen wandring abroade." It therefore seems beyond doubt that, for whatever reason, Christopher Sly in some way represented the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare. Furthermore, the name "William" is even obliquely suggested by the fact that the real name of one of the most probable actors in The Taming of the Shrew was William Sly, and that Christopher Sly says that his family "came in with Richard Conqueror."

Some time between 1594 (when a play called The Taming of a Shrew was first published) and 1623 (when The Taming of the Shrew was), some interesting changes were made to what was in most of its essentials the same play. Amongst these was the addition of all the items mentioned above. When considering the possibility that the supposed death of Christopher Marlowe in 1593 was faked, but that whatever he wrote or said after that was strictly controlled (and using the "front" William Shakespeare), it is naturally of interest to see what other changes seem to have been made. Could any of them in some way represent what Shakespeare would have seen happening to Marlowe?

The first is, of course, the title. It does suggest that the play is now concerned with a specific and identifiable individual, rather than just a typical example of the shrewish type. (We tend to think of a shrew in this context as being female, incidentally, but this was not always so. The OED gives us "A wicked, evil-disposed, or malignant man; a mischievous or vexatious person; a rascal, villain" and quotes Dekker: "Such as were shrewes to their wiues.")

As in the earlier version, the Lord wonders if the "body" they have found is dead, and is told that it is not. In the later one, however, he says (rather unnecessarily): "Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image." It makes some sense, perhaps, if we know that Sly (Shakespeare) is about to be presented as the "image" of the supposedly dead Marlowe.

The location of the play Sly watches is changed from Athens to Padua which, according to the Marlovian version of events, may well have been one of Marlowe's first stopping-places in Italy. The names are also made more obviously Italian, of course, but one may nevertheless notice that the name "Kate Minola" is interestingly similar to that of "Kit Marlowe"(or "Morley" or "Marlin" as he was also called at times).

One of the first things offered to the new "Lord" Sly is a painting of: "Adonis painted by a running brook,/ And Cytherea (Venus) all in sedges hid," and according to Marlovians it was, of course, Venus and Adonis which was the very first piece of art given to Shakespeare to present as his own work.

In both versions of the story the "Shrew" is persuaded - by force majeure and initially against her will - to stop saying whatever she feels like saying, and to conform to whatever her husband requires of her. She will now say that what (to her) is obviously the sun is the moon, or whatever he wants it to be. Within the Marlovian context, we can see that Marlowe would, also because of irresistible pressure on him, no longer be able to say what he wanted to say in his works, but must (whether he agreed with it or not) now toe the party line.

There is an interesting change in what Kate tells us is the reason for her obedience, however. In The Taming of a Shrew it is because (she says) her husband must be obeyed because he is a sort of proxy God to her. She says:

The King of Kings the glorious God of heaven;
Who in six days did frame his heavenly work,
And made all things to stand in perfect course.
Then to his image he did make a man,
Old Adam, and, from his side asleep,
A rib was taken, of which the Lord did make,
The woe of man so term'd by Adam then,
Woman for that, by her came sin to us,
And for her sin was Adam doom'd to die,
As Sara to her husband, so should we,
Obey them, love them, keep, and nourish them,
If they by any means do want our helps,
Laying our hands under their feet to tread,
If that by that we might procure their ease,
And for a precedent I'll first begin,
And lay my hand under my husband's feet.

In The Taming of the Shrew, however, a new imperative has appeared. Instead, she speaks of "thy lord, thy king, thy governor." The precedence of the political over the divine is inescapable:

Thy husband is thy Lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign: one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance. Commits his body
To painful labour, both by sea and land:
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands,
But love, fair looks, and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the Prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband:
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving Lord?

It is hard for me not to see this as Marlowe insisting that he has now learned his lesson, is demonstrating how his works can be used to support the idea of an essential obedience to the monarchy, and that he has every intention of toeing the party line from now on!

One of the most puzzling things about the change from "a Shrew" to "the Shrew," however, is the loss of any conclusion to the Christopher Sly tale. It cries out for the resolution, which was there in every le dormeur éveillé story preceding it, where the subject awakes to find himself back in the "real" world in which the story started. May I suggest that this is being used (since nature hates a vacuum) to point out that the true story was indeed still unresolved at the time of the First Folio's printing, or at any time before that? This omission leaves an unsatisfactory void which I suspect is fully intentional, since Shakespeare's "return" could be achieved only by a pardon of Marlowe and the public acknowledgment of his role as the ghost-writer. The absence of such a scene in the First Folio could also in part be a comment on the fact that, with Shakespeare's death, such a return to things as they had been was no longer possible.

One may wonder, I suppose, why Shakespeare would have apparently portrayed himself, or allowed himself to be portrayed, as a drunken beggar. This leads me to think that while the other changes may have happened very much earlier, the Warwickshire references (of which as far as I know there is no evidence before the First Folio) may not have been included until after William's death in 1616. For example, is it possible that the alleged "merry meeting" of Shakespeare with Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton might have played a part?

© Peter Farey, June 2009

Peter Farey is the 2007 recipient of the Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize, administered annually by The King's School in Canterbury for a "distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe." Click here to reach Peter's website.

For more on the mysterious Induction in The Taming of the Shrew, click here for a piece by Isabel Gortázar in the Marlowe Society Research Journal (Vol. 6, 2009).

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Philip Yordan: A Modern-Day Shakespeare? by Daryl Pinksen

The authorship of Shakespeare’s plays has been questioned for well over a century. The cause of this skepticism depends on whom you ask: Stanley Wells attributes doubt to either snobbery or mental illness, while Jonathan Bate explains the phenomenon as a form of heresy against the worship of Shakespeare. Perhaps, but there are troubling facets of Shakespeare’s biography on which most scholars agree: while there is ample evidence of his business life, there is sparse evidence of any literary life. Filmmaker Mike Wood suggests Shakespeare’s remarkably low profile as a writer may have been the result of a "secret Catholicism" which forced him, out of fear, to keep his literary self hidden. Others speculate that the lack of evidence of a literary life tells us Shakespeare was not the writer of his plays, but instead acted as a "front" for some other writer.

In Marlowe’s Ghost, I argue that Shakespeare, as a shareholder in the theatre company that performed the plays attributed to him, used his position to act as a front for Christopher Marlowe, a writer I speculate had fled from prosecution and was in hiding. I also compare the political climate in the 1590s to Hollywood in the 1950s. Change the location and time, substitute "Atheist" for "Communist," and a close parallel becomes apparent. In the 1950s, with the Cold War ramping up, domestic Communists were branded as enemies of the state. In Marlowe’s day, with England under threat from continental Catholic Europe, those branded with Atheism – never an entirely safe position in any age – provoked the same kind of visceral hatred.

In the 1950s, dozens of writers fled Hollywood for Mexico, New York, London, Paris and Madrid, fearing imprisonment if they were subpoenaed. In 1593 London, a new law passed in Parliament – authorizing search, seizure, and torture – spurred Christopher Marlowe to warn his friend and fellow playwright Thomas Kyd to flee to Scotland. Marlowe was adamant that he would be leaving soon to go "unto the King of Scots," and he was busy making the rounds of his literary friends pressuring them to leave England as well. Of course, Hollywood Communists’ greatest fear was imprisonment; that was the least of Marlowe’s worries. He, and those of like mind, could be tortured and executed, and many were.

We now know that both Kyd and Marlowe were arrested before they had a chance to escape the repression. I argue in Marlowe’s Ghost that the May 1593 Deptford meeting between Marlowe and three associates in the English intelligence network, where it is reported that Marlowe was killed by one of these men, was actually a cover for Marlowe to escape to Scotland with the assistance of master spy Robert Poley, another of the men at the Deptford meeting. In exile, Marlowe would have continued to write – just as blacklisted Hollywood writers did in Mexico in the 1950s – but he would have needed a way to get his work into production.

Shakespeare, essentially a 16th-century producer, was perfectly positioned to bring playscripts to the company, claim them as his own, and share in the wealth from their production. The recognized anomalies of Shakespeare’s biography - plenty of evidence of a business life in the theatre, but no evidence of a literary life, save for his name on a collection of fine plays which echo the mind and work of Christopher Marlowe - could be explained with this scenario.

An interesting theory, but could Shakespeare actually have gotten away with this? I argue yes, and offer as a historical parallel the career of Oscar-winning1 screenwriter-producer Philip Yordan, active during the era of the Hollywood blacklist.

Much of our information about Yordan’s career as a screenwriter-producer comes from Bernard Gordon, a blacklisted writer employed and fronted by Yordan in the period following the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings. Despite working alongside Yordan for years, Gordon was never able to say for sure whether Yordan was a brilliant and prolific writer or a complete fraud. Studio executives had been suspicious of the origins of Yordan’s scripts during the blacklist years, and if the blacklist had not been broken, those suspicions would probably be familiar only to a small number of Hollywood insiders. In Gordon’s blacklist memoir Hollywood Exile he introduces Philip Yordan:
For many years, Philip Yordan was the talk of Hollywood. Regarded by some as a fraud, by others – including important stars and directors – as a genius, he amassed an improbable number of screen credits and seemed incredibly prolific.2
Yordan, whose name appears in the credits of a large and impressive body of films, was rumored to have employed uncredited writers. According to Bernard Gordon in Hollywood Exile (1999):
From 1944 until 1960 Yordan had a unique whirlwind career in Hollywood, principally as a writer, but also as a producer. He is credited officially with fifty to sixty screenplays and productions, an output that seems inordinate. For that reason, as well as others, he is widely said to have run a script factory. Of course, the same was said about the literary output of Zola and Dumas. Personally, I know of instances when Yordan put his own name on scripts that were written by blacklisted screenwriters (including my own), but there was real justification for that.3
Gordon was aware of the rumors, and while working for Yordan as a writer was able to observe him up close for many years, helping to develop script ideas, discussing production problems like funding, locations, and casting, but he was never able to come to a decision about Yordan. Was Yordan the great writer that his screen credits lead us to believe? Did he write some of the scripts he is credited with? Did he write anything?

In an interview with Patrick McGilligan for Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist (1997), McGilligan puts it to Gordon outright:
Do you think he was once a great writer who decided to channel his energies into business and promotion? Or is he one of Hollywood’s greatest hoaxes as a writer, someone who never actually wrote?4
Clearly uncomfortable answering the question (Yordan had employed Gordon while Gordon was blacklisted and had paid him well while other blacklistees’ careers were in ruins), Gordon answers:
Look, I can’t answer that question, and I don’t want to answer that question. I don’t want to make a judgment. I consider him a friend. It’s not possible for me to say what he did during his better days. When he was writing scripts for important directors and producers, I can’t believe he was incapable of writing a good scene or a good script. He must have been. But I didn’t see it.5
During years of working together on films, while Yordan sold many scripts to Hollywood studios with his name on them as writer, Bernard Gordon never saw Yordan write anything. Gordon did, though, see Yordan put his name on scripts which he did not write, including his own.

Suppose now for a moment that the Hollywood blacklist had never been broken, and the label “Communist” still induced a revulsion similar to that felt toward “Atheists” in the Elizabethan period. If Bernard Gordon had never been un-blacklisted, he would never have gotten Hollywood Exile published, and would never have been interviewed by Patrick McGilligan about his experience as a blacklisted writer. As the years passed, and the studio heads’ skepticism of Yordan faded with them from memory, all that would remain of Philip Yordan would be his name on dozens of films as writer and producer.6 Those credits would be cited as unassailable proof of Yordan’s contribution to 20th-century screenwriting.

Was Philip Yordan a fraud? Bernard Gordon does not want to believe it, but this may have more to do with Yordan’s impressive capacity for secrecy – and Gordon’s gratitude – than the truth.

If Philip Yordan could get away with a deception of this magnitude in the 1950s, William Shakespeare could have gotten away with a similar deception in the 1590s.

Daryl Pinksen

© Daryl Pinksen, June 2009

Daryl Pinksen, a regular MSC contributor, is the author of Marlowe's Ghost, Grand Prize Winner of the 17th Annual Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards.

1Yordan was nominated for an Oscar three times, and won the award in 1954 for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story for the film Broken Lance.
2Gordon, Bernard. Hollywood Exile: Or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1999. p. xiii.
3Gordon, 1999. p.106.
4McGilligan, Patrick and Paul Buhle. Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. p.277.
5McGilligan and Buhle, 1997. p.277.
6See Philip Yordan’s IMDB profile at Out of sixty-five writing credits, four are listed as “front for Ben Maddow," and two are listed as “front for Bernard Gordon." The rest are still attributed to Yordan, with no indication of any doubt.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

On Hamlet and reasonable doubt: a question for Alex Jack, pt. 2

Part two of our interview with Alex Jack, whose 2005 two-volume edition of Hamlet celebrates William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe as co-authors of the world's most famous play. Howard Zinn, author of the bestselling A People's History of the United States, hails Alex Jack's Hamlet as "remarkable" and "enormously impressive as a detective work in literature." Professor Jack has authored or edited more than 35 books on food and health, history, science, and the arts, including The Cancer-Prevention Diet (with Michio Kushi), The Mozart Effect (with Don Campbell), and Vegetarian Bride of Frankenstein. He is a macrobiotic teacher and counselor and divides his time between his home in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts and teaching in Europe. We're honored that he's taking the time with us.

Q: Alex, tell us a little about your amazing edition of Hamlet.

Alex: I’d long wanted to publish one of the Shakespearean plays under Marlowe’s name with annotations and complete commentary. I felt it was long overdo. Why wait another four centuries for the Shakespeare complex to come around or for more evidence to turn up? I’d literally grown up amid Marlovians, so I was pretty steeped in all the evidence from childhood. My grandfather, Rev. David Rhys Williams, was a pioneer American Marlovian, lecturer on Marlowe’s probable authorship of the Shakespearean works since the 1920s (when he met Thomas Mendenhall, whose pioneer stylometric study showed that the Marlovian and Shakespearean canons were written by the same hand), and close friend of Calvin Hoffman, whose book The Murder of the Man Who Was Shakespeare made the popular case for Kit and caused a worldwide sensation. (When I was a kid in the early 1960s, I met Hoffman at a family gathering.) My grandfather’s main interest, as a Unitarian minister, was the freedom of religion dimension to the subject, so I was almost destined to carry on the quest. However, unlike my grandfather, who was not very much interested in the actual plays or poems, I broadened it and was as consumed as much by the literary side of the subject as by the theological and political.

Yet I recognized maybe we were wrong. Perhaps de Vere, Mary Sidney, or Elizabeth herself was the real author. I’d read some Oxfordian literature over the years, and it too was highly convincing. I knew love is blind. Whatever we feel passionate about has another side that remains invisible to us. So in my meditations and prayers I asked for a sign that I was on the right path. One day, while still just toying with the idea of going ahead with a Marlovian edition of Hamlet, a project I knew would consume my life if I took it up, at least for a few years, I was scrolling through a 19th-century version of Hamlet on the Internet when a passage in the play literally jumped off the computer monitor. It was part of the famous scene in the opening act when the Ghost appears to Prince Hamlet and tells him that Claudius seduced his mother, Gertrude, and murdered him (Elder Hamlet) in the orchard to seize the throne:

GHOST. Ay that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wits, with traitorous gifts,
O wicked wit, and gifts that have the power
So to seduce; won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous Queen.

I intuitively recognized the passage as a punning reference to Archbishop Whitgift, Marlowe’s nemesis, the one who occasioned his arrest, and the one who set in motion the events of May 30. It was clear as day. Not only did the passage contain one pun, but it contained two, in case you didn’t get it the first time! The appearance of the ghostly passage sent shivers down my spine very much like the Ghost’s appearance to Prince Hamlet! Though in plain sight of every high school student and Shakespearean scholar, the witty puns had gone unnoticed until now - almost as if Hecate, the queen of Night invoked in Hamlet’s play-within-the-play, had scattered fairy dust over four centuries of viewers and readers. In the same passage in which the Ghost reveals the identity of his murderer to his son, the playwright discloses the identify of his tormentor to his witty reader/viewer. What could be cooler - or more Shakespearean - than that? I never looked back.

Over the next three years, I was totally consumed with researching and writing my edition of Hamlet. I developed an elegant literary interpretation that Hamlet’s overall theme of an incestuous marriage and usurpation of power had affinities with a poisonous union between the Church of England and the Crown. Throughout the text, at one level, in the characters of Claudius and Gertrude, the play satirizes wicked Whitgift, who lusted for temporal power and acquired absolute moral and spiritual sovereignty over Queen Elizabeth.

I found that the First Quarto of Hamlet contains a version of the revelatory passage, but the wordplay regarding Whitgift’s name did not appear until after the Archbishop’s death in 1603 and the publication of the Second Quarto in 1604. By this time, Queen Elizabeth - who referred to Whitgift as her “little black husband,” or spiritual spouse - had also passed away. The First Folio’s capitalization makes the pun even bolder: “Oh wicked Wit and Gifts.” Further, there are multiple hilarious references to Marlowe’s “death” and the events in Deptford of May 30 in Hamlet in the play-within-the-play and in the Gravediggers’ scene. One reference, for example, suggests that Prince Hamlet (who personifies Kit) was exactly the same age in years (29) and months (3) as Marlowe was at the time of the Deptford affair and his supposed murder! The autobiographical jests and allusions go on and on.

My reference above to Hecate, by the way, is not just an idle remark. Not only does she appear in more than half of the Marlovian and Shakespearean works (most notably Faustus, Dido, Hero and Leander, 1 Henry IV, Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, and many others), but May 30, the fateful day when Marlowe met his destiny, was the annual festival day of Hecate since ancient Greek and Roman times! The mythological correspondences are astonishing, but that’s another story and one I go into in depth in my commentary.

Q: How has your book been received?

Alex: Overall, my book was well received by Marlovians and a few independent and open-minded observers. For example, the poet Robert Bly wrote me several times how entranced he was with my thesis, and Howard Zinn, the historian and champion of a “people’s” approach to history, was enthralled. But generally it met the proverbial wall of silence by the scholarly world and book reviewers.

The one exception was the Times Literary Supplement in London, which included my book in a review of several others on the authorship. The reviewer, Brian Vickers, a prominent Shakespearean scholar, panned it completely saying anyone who seriously doubted the Shakespeare authorship was akin to a holocaust denier! Stephen Greenblatt, the doyen of American Shakespearean scholars and a professor at Harvard, has used the same metaphor in his comments on the subject. I take exception to remarks by him, Vickers, and other Stratfordians comparing those of us who question the received version of history to holocaust deniers! That’s pretty low-hitting, beneath the belt, in my view, and if anything it trivializes the Jewish holocaust. But more than anything else it shows how desperate the Shakespeare establishment is. Is it so afraid that a small, essentially self-published book like mine will rock its foundations that they have to engage in that kind of character assassination? Of course, what it reveals is that inside they know full well that the whole Shakespearean edifice (and I’m not referring to Shakespeare’s house in Stratford) is a house of cards. Their whole careers, reputations, and honors and awards are at stake. So naturally, like Grand Inquisitors, they silence all who express the slightest doubt, voice suspicion, and dare to speak out or question authority. Totally absurd and childish! The irony is that Vickers himself recently wrote a pioneering book, Shakespeare Co-Author, showing that many of the plays in the Canon had junior co-authors in the persons of Peele, Middleton, Wilkins, and Fletcher - an enormously valuable contribution to the riddle of the authorship question.

Fortunately, the climate for free inquiry is rapidly changing. Nearly 1500 people - including several hundred current or former college and university faculty, actors and other theater arts people, and other professionals, as well as just plain extraordinary readers and theatergoers - have signed a declaration circulated during the last year by the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition asking that the authorship be treated as a legitimate subject in academia. Already a few schools of higher learning are including Shakespearean authorship studies in their curricula. The edifice is cracking, and the Shakespearean scholars don’t have enough fingers to plug the leaks in this dike.

Another sign of the times is the hoopla over the recently identified Shakespeare portrait. It was unveiled at a news conference by Stanley Wells, the leading Stratfordian scholar (who referred contemptuously to my grandfather in one of his books!), as a done deal and swallowed wholesale by almost the entire global media. Only later did doubts surface. (The likeness may well be of Shakespeare, but we need more than just the assurances of Wells and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Like everything they pontificate on, it was presented as fact rather than a hypothesis!) Eventually, the New York Times, which had uncritically accepted Wells's preposterous claims in its original front page news story, ran a whimsical commentary a few weeks later on its editorial page by one of its top editorial commentators who observed there wasn’t a shred of evidence for the portrait’s attribution to Will. With evident amusement, he said the claim was conjecture piled on conjecture, like everything else in Shakespeare’s historical biography!

The whole effort by the Shakespeare literary-industrial complex to prop up a dying cause and defend the indefensible has many parallels with doomed scientific theories, ideological crusades, and contemporary wars. I suspect that if Marlowe were alive today, he would satirize it in a new comedy reminiscent of Errors or Twelfth Night. The distinguished scholars would be undone by their own folly and past pronouncements as new evidence turned up conclusively documenting Marlowe’s survival and literary afterlife.

While such evidence would be the proverbial holy grail to clinch the matter, I don’t think it’s necessary. There’s already enough historical, literary, political, theological, linguistic, and other compelling evidence to convince a jury of our peers - the 21st-century reading and viewing public - and commonsense gravediggers everywhere that Marlowe was the primary author and guiding spirit of the Shakespearean canon. I predict that by 2023, the 400th anniversary of the First Folio, if not before, there will be a literary tectonic plate shift, and Marlowe’s leading role will be universally recognized. And just as a Shakespearean comedy has a happy ending, I can foresee the collected plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare all being performed in 2023, beginning in Stratford, under both Marlowe and Shakespeare’s names. If they are still with us, I suspect by then the leading Stratfordians will have been reborn and morphed into Marlovians and take full credit for solving the greatest historical literary mystery of all time. Well, let them. As said in another place, all’s well that ends well!

Q: Professor, we’d love to have you come back again. Thanks for taking the time with us.

Alex: My pleasure.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2009

Copies of the 400th anniversary edition of Hamlet by Marlowe and Shakespeare, with annotation and commentary by Alex Jack, are available for $35 postpaid from Amberwaves, PO Box 487, Becket MA 01223.  to be or not to be james shapiro emmerich

Alex’s web site is, and he could be reached at

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