Shapiro at Stratford

The world-famous Stratford Festival is just a couple of hours away from me by car. So why don’t I go, and post about it here? First, I said “by car.” I not only don’t have a car, I don’t drive. (Since I’m amblyopic, that’s a good thing. I couldn’t even play right field in softball as a kid because the ball would fall three feet to the left of where I thought it was; do you really want me behind the wheel?) Yes, there are buses, but they are oriented toward daytripping tourists who’ll spend money in the town, not serious theater fans from Toronto who just want to get in and out.

Be that as it may, I’m sorry to have missed this lecture last weekend by James Shapiro. I’ll talk about Contested Will in some detail when the time comes, but this article gives a nice summary of Shapiro’s thesis, which is why I consider his book the most important written on Shakespeare at least since Bate’s The Genius of Shakespeare: reading the life from the work is wrong, whether you’re Thomas Looney making the case for Famous Farter the Earl of Oxford as real author or, with Stephen Greenblatt, conjuring a fantasy of Shakespeare splattered with blood from the martyr Edmund Campion. The same bad ideas about writing—that writers are mysteriously incapable of doing research, so that any kind of expertise their wirks show necessarily comes from their direct experience, and that they are mysteriously incapable of making stuff up, so that incidents in their works are necessarily reflections of incidents in their lives—underly both the Oxfordians (or Baconians, Marlovians, Elizabethans, or who have you) and the speculative biographers. Contested Will is the riposte I would have written if I were a first-rate Shakespeare scholar.

Oh, Shapiro’s historical research is wonderfully enlightening and sometimes hilarious, especially his account of the cryptological shenanigans some of the Baconians got up to in the nineteenth century. Just prepare to be disappointed if you are as much of a fan of Mark Twain as I am; it seems that he really was an anti-Stratfordian and now, as I had so long believed, taking the piss. Well, not exactly piss if you’ve read “1601.”


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