Sunday, November 25, 2007

Michael Moore and the true Shakespeare

Now who would you expect to run into leaving the book and crafts sale at the Community Center of tiny Alden, Michigan, on the southeast, currently snowy shores of Torch Lake?

This morning it was Michael Moore, holding a can of Vernor’s in his hand and telling us it was the best pop art in the place.

Rosey and I have extended an invitation, again, to Michael, who lives up the lake from us, for dinner when he is down south of Clam River with an extra hour or two on his hands. No telling, once he has solved the health care problems of the country, that he might want to turn his attention to the true author of the works which carry the name William Shakespeare on their cover.

Michael, we have a tale of intrigue, genius, power, murder, corruption, and cover up for you all encased in a tale of the fall into oblivion of perhaps western civilization’s most brilliant literary talent, whose works have taken on a name of their own which we continue to call Shakespeare. I can also promise you, Michael, a meal prepared by the culinary genius known as Rosey.

Shakespeare and food by Rosey. Michael, how can you resist?

Tom Hunter
Oberon Chair

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No turkey for Oberon

Oberon’s November meeting last week definitely was no turkey. As promised, Tom Townsend delivered a feast of evidence about Hamlet’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that knocks the stuffing out of Stratfordian pretensions that their boy Will Shaksper ever could have put pen to paper and produced anything like Hamlet. Of course, de Vere received his just desserts as Tom doled out one course after another of evidence including the following:

  • De Vere’s brother in law Lord Willoughby led a diplomatic mission to Denmark in 1582 and returned with information about the Danish court that shows up in Hamlet. A state reception was held for Willoughby which only Danish nobility attended. A Rosencrantz and two Guildensterns were on the list of attendees.
  • The dating of Hamlet, traditionally put at 1595-1600, could be the early to mid-1580s. A Guildenstern from Sweden visited Hedingham when de Vere was 12-years-old. By the way, de Vere was 12 when his father, the 16th Earl, died. Is there a connection?
  • Frederick Rosencrantz and Krud Guildenstern, similar in age to the characters in Hamlet and both of whom attended Wittenberg, visited England in 1592. They were sure to have met the top nobility there, as was the custom, including de Vere as among the highest rank of English nobles.
  • Shakespeare demonstrates familiarity with Thomas Digges’ heliocentric theories in imagery throughout the play. Diggs was a Copernican whom de Vere would likely have meet at court, so that de Vere would have personally known the English source of a cosmology which antedated Galileo by 40 years and which appears abundantly in Hamlet.
  • Ophelia means “the moon.” Op = opposite. Helio = the sun.
  • Leonard Diggs, Jr., who wrote the lines in the front matter to the First Folio which refer to “thy Stratford moniment” and which the Strats hold out as documentary evidence for their man Shaksper, was employed by the Earl of Montgomery, de Vere’s son-in-law who was married to his daughter Susan and one of the publishers of the First Folio

This last bit of information was the icing on the cake, the pumpkin in the pie, leading us to more evidence of indirection and purposeful ambiguity in the front matter to the First Folio, complementing the purpose of Jonson’s poem.

The rest was of Tom’s talk was, of course, just gravy. We are encouraging him to publish a condensed version of it on our blog, so please check it out in the coming weeks.

Circle Thursday, January 17 on your calendar for our next Oberon meeting. Our guest will be Charles Kelly of Ann Arbor who has just published his study of the quarto and folio editions of Hamlet. This could be another worthy contribution to our Hamlet project, so please plan to be at the Farmington Library, Room B, that evening. 2008 is already shaping up as another promising and fruitful year.

In the mean time, we wish you and your loved ones the best of holidays. There is, in this harsh world, much to be thankful for and much to celebrate, including each other.

Bless you all and warmest regards for this season and throughout the year,

Tom Hunter
Oberon Chair

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Did Shakespeare Anticipate Mad Cow Disease?

I just read an amusing article published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, a medical journal published by University of Chicago, in 2006. The article is titled "'Strange things I have in head': Evidence of Prion Disease in Shakespeare's Macbeth". You can access it (I hope) at

The article purports to show that Macbeth may have acted the way he did because he was suffering from a disease. Prion diseases (formerly known as slow-virus diseases) are a collection of neurologic diseases affecting humans and animals. The three human forms are Familial fatal insomnia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This last one is considered the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease.

The article in question uses multiple quotations from Macbeth to show that Macbeth may have been suffering from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease . The article is well written and contains a really good table (which can be accessed from the web page above-click on Table 1 in the text of the article) with all of the quotes and which of the prion diseases the quote fits best.

I really love this kind of fun with Shakespeare. It just shows how much there is to find in there.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Shakespeare NOW!

When I was browsing in Shaman Drum last month, I came upon a set of slim volumes with the series title, Shakespeare NOW! The series is published by Continuum Books, London and New York and is edited by Simon Palfrey and Ewan Fernie with the intention of offering “ . . . a series of intellectual adventure stories: animate with fresh and often exposed thinking, with ideas still heating in the mind.”

The book that caught my eye is Shakespeare Thinking by Philip Davis of the University of Liverpool School of English. This is a dense book in terms of ideas and thrilling to read – I believe Davis has met the challenge of talking about the work of Shakespeare in new and challenging ways. From what I understand, Davis argues that Shakespeare’s language accesses the actual creation of thought – that Shakespeare shows us reality coming into language, unfiltered by consciousness.
In this language, nothing is taken for granted and nothing is already known. With Shakespeare, whatever it is, it is always as though for the first time again. Mind, like character itself, is not there to begin with in Shakespeare; it is dramatically thought into being on the stage. It is that way round: the thought suddenly creating consciousness – the consciousness of what it is that is thinking it. It is not the old classical principle of operari sequitur esse – such that ‘being’ comes first and then ‘function’ follows from it. It is not that characters can enter fully-formed. Rather, the right order with Shakespeare is that of evolutionary theory and of process philosophy – that being follows from function and is itself created by what can be done. In a sort of mental loop, the mind of a Lear or a Macbeth is terrified to see what events show he has become. p. 39

Intriguing and exciting with lots to think about. My copy bristles with orange, yellow, blue and green flags – ridiculous! I must simply read it over and over again and not try to piece out the good parts.

The other books in the Shakespeare NOW! series that are already published are:
To Be Or Not To Be by Douglas Bruster
Shakespeare Inside by Amy Scott-Douglass
Godless Shakespeare by Eric S. Mallin

Coming out next year are:
Shakespeare’s Modern Collaborators by Lukas Erne Feb
Shakespeare’s Double Helix by Henry S. Turner Feb
Shakespearean Metaphysics by Michael Witmore June
Shakespeare & the Political Way
by Elizabeth Frazer Jul