Monday, August 31, 2009

Correction: Oct. meeting is Oct. 7

Correction: Our October meeting is not Oct. 14; the meeting will be held at 6:45 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Farmington Community Library. See information on sidebar.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Authorship cover story in Washington Post magazine today

Waiting for William: After four centuries, we may finally be seeing history's greatest writer for the first time By Sally Jenkins Washington Post, August 30, 2009 (with slideshow) 

Writer Sally Jenkins will be taking questions about this Cobbe portrait story on Monday, August 31 at 12 noon. 
Click here to submit comments or questions before or during the discussion.

This credulous article by Sally Jenkins is as much about authorship as the Cobbe portrait. She immediately -- in the second paragraph -- points out that Stanley Well’s favored Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare brings the authorship into question, but she dismisses an aristocratic connection with a flip of the wrist.

“The fellow is clearly no earl -- he lacks the arrogant jaw -- but he's someone. Maybe too much of a someone to be a mere playwright.” 

As if weak chins or arrogant jaws -- whatever they may be -- never occurred in the noble English genome. She then goes on to describe how very Shakespearean the sitter appears:
Then again, there’s a touch of Shakespearean mischief in his face. He wears a barely checked smile and a blush. He’s ardent, and Shakespeare was nothing if not a lover.
Well! Case closed – the Cobbe is definitely Shakespeare!

The author reports that Alec Cobbe is a descendant of Southampton 3 – the purported lovely boy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets – who also discovered a family-owned portrait of the youthful Southampton, assisted by a longtime friend and art-restorer, Alastair Laing.

The author again touches and veres from the authorship question when she refers to the 2006 “Searching for Shakespeare” exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in London: 
‘Searching for Shakespeare’ was a quixotic title for a show, given that it's hard to go searching for someone when you don't have much of an idea who he was. What Shakespeare looked like in his prime is just one of the many things disputed about him, along with how many plays he wrote and in what order, whether he was a nice guy or a jerk, how he treated his wife, if he was a bisexual, or a secret Catholic, and what killed him at age 53.
She then delivers a coup de gras to the authorship commenting about the Droeshout and the Stratford bust:
Both depictions are so unintelligent-looking that scholars blame them for instigating the Author Controversy, which is not really a controversy so much as a campaign by conspiracy-minded amateurs to prove that someone more visually appealing wrote the plays.
How’s that for intelligent commentary? Scholars blame the ugly looks of the author for the authorship question? OMG, DdUC dat nt cute guy? Would these be the scholars from Local Middle School? No! Jensen quotes two traditional Stratfordian scholars: Greenblatt and Garber, to support this view that she says is held by non-traditional anti-Strats.

Here is how she proceeds to demolish what she calls the Author Controversy:
The Author Controversy persists despite considerable documentary evidence. We have the man from Stratford's pay stubs for performing at court, his certificate of occupancy for the Globe Theatre, and his will, in which he left memorial rings to some London actors. Funny he would do that if he was just a country burgher who didn't write the plays.
Then she says something totally amazing: “Still, it would help to have a decent picture of the man in his prime to keep the conspiracy theorists at bay.”

How is it possible that after a century of authorship research, a statement like this can be made in one of the country’s most respected journals? I can’t imagine that any rational person could construe the authorship question in this abysmal light.

And she quotes Stratfordian Jonathan Bate to further support her thesis that the authorship question rests on the Bard’s appearance:
The problem with Shakespeare is that here is this work of phenomenal beauty and intelligence, endlessly rewarding, and yet there is this awful picture of this bald bloke," says Bate. "People are desperate to find an image that answers to more our idea of the sort of glamour of genius, the glamour of creativity.
She’s setting up a anti-Strat straw-man with Stratfordian quotes. This is why rhetoric should be taught in high school.

Besides asserting that geniuses must be glamorous, Jenkins makes other non-sensical statements and repeatedly makes the anti-Stratfordian case by quoting Stratfordians. For example: 
(Stratfordian Stanley) Wells acknowledges the patchwork nature of his reasoning. ‘You have to do a lot of stitching,’ he says. ‘Where you've only got a limited number of pieces, you've got to create the links.’
“Scholars” she says, do agree that Shakespeare “probably” sat for a portrait in his heyday. But, oops! No one can find this probable portrait!

She also says that one of the categories of evidence for Shakespeare’s identity is “ . . . what you can be pretty certain of based on the contextual evidence” and for this type of evidence she gives the example, “. . . he was exposed to great theater as a boy . . .” Maybe on one of his frequent visits to Kenilworth.

She even drags out the sad old “killing a calf in high style” story, and asserts the Stratford man “was educated” although there is no evidence for this assertion he was educated.
As a middle-class elite, he was educated at the local grammar school, where from age 7 to 15, six days a week, Stratford boys memorized Ovid, Terence and Plautus. It was an exquisite education taught by a succession of young Oxford scholars and would strain today's college student.
No evidence. In fact, counter-evidence based on his signatures and his lack of interest in educating his family would indicate the Stratford man was uneducated.

She follows with a short bio pitted with “perhaps”, “probably”, and more unsubstantiated statements and circular reasoning.
‘One of the biographical inferences you can make is that he took his craft seriously,’ says Folger director Gail Kern Paster. ‘The plays aren't good by accident. Someone is learning how to create stories and characters that will live in memory, how to create stories of human conflict that will resonate. He's trying really hard to do a really good job.’
Well, yes, that might be true of whoever wrote the plays, but says nothing about who that writer might be.
In about 1598, a series of satirical plays by an unknown author were performed for the entertainment of students at St. John's College, Cambridge (among them was the lovely young Southampton).
Southampton left Cambridge over a decade earlier.

She said, “By the mid- to late-1590s, he was so hugely popular that his name began appearing on quartos of his plays, the Tudor version of paperbacks -- the first time audiences ever cared who wrote their entertainments.”

This quarto/paperback pairing is a false analogy that gives the reader an inaccurate sense of familiarity with Shakespeare’s milieu, a breezy tactic the author uses repeatedly. A book in quarto cost about 9 shillings in Elizabethan England, a time when a master craftsman made about a shilling a day. That would make this purported Tudor paperback cost the equivalent of nine days pay. The only possible similarity with modern paperbacks is the fact that the quarto would have come from the printer unbound – requiring further outlay by the buyer to provide a cover for the book.

When reporting the “academic brawl” Wells ran into over his support of the Cobbe portrait, the author emphases Wells “eminence” and describes his appearance as an “elegant-voiced lecturer with a fine white beard” to support his authority along with his work as a Shakespeare editor and ex-governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company

Jenkins quoted Wells’ demur over what he called a circumstantial case for the Cobbe portrait as Shakespeare: “I've never declared myself absolutely finally certain."

She said the portrait was dated to 1610 when the Stratfordian would have been 46-years-old. Personally I think a viewer (See slide show that accompanies the article.) would have to be powerfully deluded to deduce the man in the Cobbe is middle-aged. Jenkins seems to address this issue later in the article when she asserts that portraits of the era did not include “. . . bad teeth, pockmarks, crow’s feet, graying hair, warts or moles.” Nor, one would suppose by that reasoning, did anyone see portraits of any sitters over the age of thirty.

What Jenkins called the “tortuous” process of authentication is reviewed in the Post article.
She appeals to a higher human power in her final analysis:
Faced with myriad images, the question becomes, "Which one do I think is him?" For that answer, the seeker has to employ something other than science or provenance, something described by a playwright with his own obsession with Shakespeare, who has arguably captured him better than any biographer.
"Gut instinct," Tom Stoppard writes in his play "Arcadia." "The part of you which doesn't reason. The certainty for which there is no back reference. Because time is reversed. Tock, tick goes the universe and then recovers itself, but it was enough, you were in there and you bloody know."
Her article continues with a long romantic story about Shakespeare and Southhampton ending with the Essex Rebellion and the staging of Richard II, moving onto Shakespeare’s 1603-04 “spree” of Othello, Lear, and Macbeth. She relates confined doom “Sonnet 107” to Southampton’s release by James I and concludes that “Of all the riddles of Shakespeare’s live, the will is the most puzzling.”

Yes, indeed, no mention of any manuscripts, books, or papers and by his signatures no indication that the man could actually write.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MSF Scoops Stratford?

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario has just announced its 2010 Season. In what may seem to some to be a copy-cat move and what might seem to others to be an instance of "great minds think alike", the flagship productions at Stratford in 2010 are the VERY SAME plays that were just put on in Jackson, Michigan at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, to great criticial acclaim. Kudos to John Neville-Andrews! We at Oberon are certainly sad to see him leaving the MSF (see previous blog entry for more).

Anyway, the two "big" productions of Shakespeare plays at the Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario in 2010 will be The Tempest (starring Christopher Plummer as Prospero) and As You Like It (with Brent Carver as Jacques). There will also be two other Shakespeare plays (The Winter's Tale at the small Tom Patterson theatre and The Two Gentleman of Verona at the even smaller Studio Theatre). I guess it's Shakespeare for all sizes next year!

Well, I think it's good that Stratford is doing some of "the Bard's" lesser known works again (even if they are in smaller theatres so the Festival can put on "money-makers" at the larger theatres) [Hint of cynicism there]. I may have to rethink my original opinion of new Artistic Director Des McAnuff.

To round off the theatrical banquet on tap in 2010 at Stratford will be the musicals Kiss Me Kate and Evita, Dangerous Liasons, Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris (also with Brent Carver), Peter Pan, and three new Canadian plays (which I don't know much about): For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, Do Not Go Gentle, and King of Thieves. All in all, it looks like a great time. I can't wait!

However, let's not forget that the 2009 Season is still going strong! I have already seen the productions of Macbeth and A Midsummers Night's Dream and I am planning to return (hopefully with some Oberoners) to see Julius Caesar. Also on tap is a rare opportunity to see Ben Jonson's Bartholmew Fair and compare his style with Shakespeare's (you will quickly see that the two playwrights come from completely different backgrounds and cultural viewpoints).

Isn't it great that we Oberoners have two such wonderful places to go to see Shakespeare (Jackson and Stratford), even if end up seeing the same plays over and over?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Neville-Andrews resigns from MSF

FROM Michigan Shakespeare Festival FOR RELEASE: August 18, 2009
CONTACT: Robert Duha, Managing Director 517-998-3673

Neville-Andrews to step down as MSF artistic director
JACKSON – After a dozen seasons helping build the Michigan Shakespeare Festival into a highly respected, regional classical theatre, John Neville-Andrews announced he will step down as the organization‟s Artistic producer when his current contract expires on September 30. Neville-Andrews‟ decision was accepted, with regret, by the Festival board of directors at their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday night.

“It has been a most joyful 12 years, and although a frequently challenging undertaking, providing the artistic leadership of guiding the Festival from a community-based theatre to a fully professional organization and becoming The Official Shakespeare Festival of the State of Michigan, is something I have cherished and been honored to be a part of,” Neville-Andrews said.

Neville-Andrews' announcement comes only two weeks after the curtain fell on a successful 15th anniversary season highlighted by a sell-out final performance of The Tempest, which he directed. The 2009 season also included the Shakespeare comedy As You Like It, the musical revue Side By Side By Sondheim, and the free family show Laffin  School.

Rick Davies, who, as president of the Festival board, hired Neville-Andrews prior to the 1998 season, said he was sad to see the talented producer leave.

“John will be sorely missed,” Davies said. “His artistic leadership has been key to bringing a talented cadre of Equity actors to Jackson year after year and, especially, in developing young men and women from the college and community theatre ranks into the accomplished professionals who have been the key to our success. Replacing John‟s leadership will be the key task of the board over the next several weeks.”

Under the leadership of Neville-Andrews, the Festival quickly transitioned from its beginnings as an offshoot of a local community theatre group to a fully professional, award-winning theatre company -- The Official Shakespeare Festival of the State of Michigan.

Highlights of his tenure included:
 The addition of Actors Equity (union) actors to the company and subsequent expansion of the Festival to three weeks in 1999;
 Designation as “The Official Shakespeare Festival of the State of Michigan,” by Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan State Senate in 2003;
 Moving the productions indoors to the state-of-the-art Baughman Theatre on the campus of Jackson Community College in 2004;
 Taking the Festival on the road for a weekend of performances in Grand Rapids in 2008;
 Adding non-Shakespeare productions to the schedule with “The Mikado” in 2008 and “Side By Side By Sondheim” this year.

This year, Neville-Andrews championed a new “Free Shakespeare for Children” program, which helped the Festival build on its traditional educational and community outreach programs, including the annual Michigan Shakespeare Festival High School Monologue Contest, which expanded to include regional and state competitions this season.

“I am proud of these past achievements,” said Neville-Andrews, who will celebrate his 66th birthday on Sunday. “However, I feel that as the Festival continues its growth toward other milestones, it warrants a fresh approach and a vision beyond mine. I look forward to witnessing the continued success and expansion of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival as it proceeds toward its mission of becoming a flagship theatre dedicated to the works of William Shakespeare and other worthy playwrights.”

Davies said the search for Neville-Andrews‟ replacement will begin immediately.

“Planning for the two Shakespeare plays for the 2010 season – Romeo and Juliet, and The Comedy of Errors – is already underway,” Davies said. “We need to ensure that the artistic transition is smooth and efficient.”

More information on the Michigan Shakespeare Festival is available on the organization‟s Web site,

The Official Shakespeare Festival of the State of Michigan
Michigan Shakespeare Festival
215 W. Michigan Ave.
Jackson, MI 49201

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hunter announces Wednesday Oberon meeting

Dear Oberon,

Our August meeting is coming up fast--this Wednesday, August 19 at the usual time 7 p.m. and the usual place, the Farmington Library on 12 Mile Rd.

This should be a relaxed meeting, looking back on our experience at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival and forward to the Stratford festival, the Sonnets meeting in October, Love's Labours Lost in October,and the annual SOS/Fellowship conference in November.  September is To Be Announced, so be sure to be there Wednesday to find out.

Also, we will be taking a look at the latest flap about Shakespeare authorship in the Scientific American (of all places) and the reissue of a great book about authorship studies to have in your library.

Finally, there is much to update each other about our own Shakespeare reading, research, plays and other good experiences.  You don't even have to twitter.  Just come to the meeting to tell us what you are doing.

Tom Hunter
Oberon Chair

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In spiders web a truth discerning . . .

Julia Moulden, author of The New Radicals shared this E.B. White poem on her Huffington Post blog today. It is lovely and made me think of how the work of authorship researchers is creating a web of reason that entangles Stratfordian flies.

A Natural History
E.B. White

The spider, dropping down from twig
Unwinds a thread of her devising,
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,
She builds a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spiders web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tom Hunter comments on Shahan/Shermer discussion on CHQR

Anyone who missed the interview with John Shahan and Michael Shermer last night on AM770 CHQR in Calgary can still download a podcast.

Mr Shermer generally came up with the same lame points he made in the the Scientific American. John Shahan did an admirable job of answering them with good detail. It is the same maddening exercise, I would venture, that most of us by now have experienced: the repetition of irrelevant if not outright inaccurate arguments by the traditionalists, the wandering focus of the moderator, and the detailed, substantive answers by the Oxfordian pretty much ignored.

John Shahan should be commended for having the courage to take this on and for the undoubted notice that I am sure at least some of his argument gave to careful, open-minded listeners who are invariably among such an audience. In this way by small steps we progress.

Tom Hunter

Sunday, August 2, 2009

John Neville Andrews says "Even the Oberon people like to be entertained."

Rosey Hunter, MSF Managing Director Robert Duha and Oberon Chair Tom Hunter at Knights in Jackson

Yes, indeed, the Oberon people do like to be entertained and we were richly rewarded at our annual Michigan Shakespeare Festival outing yesterday. Among our pleasures, was dinner at Knights with MSF Managing Director Robert Duha where we learned of a Jackson Citizen Patriot article featuring commentary from our own fearless leader, R. Thomas Hunter, PhD. The story -- in which MSF Artistic Director John Neville Andrews commented on Oberons' penchant for frivolity -- was published July 14, 2009, and is titled: "Did he or did he not? Questions exist over the authorship of Shakespeare's works" by John Sadowski. Read for yourself to find out which side Tom favored.