Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review of Friday's performance of Richard II by the Rude Mechanicals in Ann Arbor

Annette and I went to see a performance of Richard II yesterday by the Rude Mechanicals, a theatre group in Ann Arbor that casts mostly students as actors. There was a bit of excitement at the performance which I shall now relate.

The power went off a few minutes before the play was scheduled to start, it would have been amusing if this was the Power Center, but alas it was the Video Studio. Since they had to cancel the show and we had about 25 minutes before they had to clear the building out due to regulations, the cast decided to do as much of the play as they could as quickly as they could! That was a lot of fun with the actors perfectly enunciating the lines at double the speed. John of Gaunt assured the audience that the upcoming duel between Mowbray and Bolingbroke would unfortunately have to be stopped by King Richard as it was too dangerous to do in double time without adequate electric lighting. I was maliciously hoping that some people who did not know the play well enough would protest at this roughshod deviation from Shakespeare's immortal work, after all doesn't every history play have a decent swordfight or two? I am sure the madcap Duke and King from Huckleberry Finn would have been proud of this performance!

Fifteen minutes into this, someone came in and announced that they had found an alternate venue with power (surprisingly not the Power Center) and we all went to the other venue, some people helping to carry the props. Ultimately, we got treated to almost a street theatre performance of Richard II with the ensemble in their everyday clothes. A very fashionable lot I might add, which made me look at the regular fit jeans I had on with a little bit of chagrin.

The cast used a couple of chairs and came up with stage management ideas as they went along but the performance was very effective as the power of the words came to the fore. In changing the venue, they had also lost the University of Michigan musicians (violins, cello, piano) who were going to accompany the play with tastefully done music. Instead we had Henry IV and the Duke of York improvising a hodge-podge of jazz, show-tunes and classical music parts on a piano that happened to be on stage. If you were close enough to stage right near the piano, you might have heard mutterings about how being a versatile piano player fluent in many genres was more in line with who he really was than an usurper.

After the performance, we stumbled our way back to our cars using the light from a few solitary stars and the VA hospital.

Disclaimer: Most excellent Theophilus,the above is a faithful recording of what happened with the occasional stretcher. I'm not telling what's true and what's not and neither is my friend Falstaff.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

George Hunter essay

Oberon member George Hunter offers the following essay for readers' consideration.

Authorship as a University Discipline: Shakespeare vs The Earl of Oxford
The Question
     How can authorship become a university discipline?
The Solution
     Research must have a two-fold interest, one, to deal with matters of general interest to current university disciplines; and second, to also deal with matters of interest to the question of authorship.   Some of this research may already exist. 
Examples of Research with a Two-fold Interest.
     How does a current theatrical company respond to a new play?  Is the playwright present during rehearsals?  Does the cast offer new dialogue?  How often is there a major rewrite of the play?  Does someone else work the script rather than the playwright?  These are questions of interest to university disciplines but may also throw light on the question of authorship, that is, how could a play, written by Oxford,  be transformed into a theatrical performance ascribed to Shakespeare?
      Variety, a show business publication, has a wealth of information about the current and past theater.  Is there a record of a secret playwright?  How do theater people communicate with each other?  Does everybody know each other's business?  How difficult is it to keep a secret?  Again, these are questions of general interest which also deal with the question of how the Earl of Oxford's authorship was kept a secret.
     In the early British navy,  sailors could not speak out against an officer, but  they could express their feelings in song without fear of reprisal.  In Soviet Russia there were songs, jokes, and jingles expressing negative feelings about the government.  What evidence is there of songs, jokes, and jingles in general but also about the authorship question. 
     This approach will constitute a defacto recognition of the authorship question as a university discipline in which there is reasonable doubt about both Shakespeare and the Earl of Oxford as authors of the body of literature currently ascribed to William Shakespeare.  The goal is to develop a body of evidence both for and against both William Shakespeare and the Earl of Oxford.  
     About two months ago I emailed a gist of the above (I can't find a copy of the email) to ten acting companies associated with universities and ten to community or professional acting companies. I did not expect to, and did not, get a response but I hope that someone in the future will consider the issue and eventually respond in some way. This may be our best access to a university discipline.
 George Hunter, a.k.a. Tommy Mysliwiec
    Retired Social Worker
    Wayne State University, Detroit, MI

Monday, October 19, 2009

Richard II in A2 next weekend

Richard II
October 23 & 24
Friday at 7:00 p.m.
Saturday at 3:00 & 7:00 p.m.
Video Studio, Duderstadt Center on North Campus of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

The Rude Mechanicals present William Shakespeare's Richard II, directed by James Manganello and produced by Rebecca Penn Noble. The Rude Mechanicals are a theater troupe dedicated to bringing staged theater to the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor community and to providing the opportunity for any member of the student body to be involved, be it in performing or behind-the-scenes work. Tickets available at the Michigan Union Ticket Office or at the door; $3 for students and $6 for adults.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The tipping point

University of Michigan English Professor Ralph Williams, 67, is a specialist in Medieval and Renaissance literature. He has spent his life teaching Shakespeare, and was instrumental in creating and developing the Royal Shakespeare Company Residency program at the University of Michigan, according to university sources. A charmer in the lecture hall -- lithe and graceful in a mis-matched, gray suit -- Williams uses his body and voice like an actor. There can be no question that he loves the Bard.

“Shakespeare is so intimately wrought in the English language that he is on your breath every day of your life – you speak Shakespeare,” he said from the stage, his voice resonant and intent.

On October 12 in Rackham Auditorium, at the first in a series of “Who is . . .” lectures on playwrights whose work is being presented at the university this season, the first words out of Williams mouth are stunning.

“Shakespeare is the only one in this series whose historical identity has been called into question,” Williams said. “I shant spend a lot of time on that.”

And he didn’t. His account of the playwright was pure Stratford. His handout materials recommended Bate, Greenblatt, Schoenbaum, and Wells. Ogburn,  Sobran, Anderson, Price, and Stritmatter had no place in his story. And yet, those telling first words announced that the tipping point has come when no one – not even the most devout Stratfordian – can talk biography without acknowledging the questionable authorship.

Williams trotted out Stratfordian mythology:

“Will started school at 6 a.m. and attended continuously for eight years studying Latin grammar and rhetoric and he spoke only in Latin at the higher stages. He had three years of Greek. In short, he had as much Latin as a PhD student at the University of Michigan. The theory he was an uneducated bumpkin of the Midlands is overstated.”

“Henry VI was a barnstorming success – was said to have had 10,000 spectators which brought him considerable envy by those university playwrights who referred to him as a ‘. . . crow dressed in others feathers’.”

  • There is no evidence whatsoever that the Stratford man attended school – saying so is sheer speculation.
  • The “crow” quote from Groatsworth of Wit never mentions Shakespeare, let alone a playwright from Stratford. The actor named is a “shake-scene”. To assume that term could only refer to the man from Stratford is sheer speculation.
  • There is not a single word written in the Stratford man’s hand, only five painfully made signatures on legal documents. Assumptions that the Stratford man could write is sheer speculation.
Regarding the authorship controversy, Williams said:
“Although generated in 1920 -- that is very widespread now – by a person with the unfortunate name spelled L-o-o-n-e-y who said the work was by the Earl of Oxford. It has become a virtual industry.”

During the question period, authorship researcher Tom Hunter, gently chided Williams for this remark. “You said what we do has become an industry. On the contrary, Stratford is an endless $800-million a year industry.”

Hunter and Williams agreed to discussion, whereupon Williams pronounced the death knell of Stratfordianism:

“The part that really matters to me most profoundly about ‘Who is Shakespeare?’ -- Shakespeare is most profoundly his presence in our culture. It wouldn’t disturb me if it was discovered that Shakespeare was a name assumed – that would not upset me.”

. . . That love and pity are -- or ought to be -- at the heart of our humanity, he (Shakespeare) believed."

Love and pity from the litigious Stratfordian who disinherited his wife and never educated his children? No wonder Williams is willing to give him the boot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2007-08 Oberon yearbook available from

I hope you will be pleased to see that the 2007-08 Oberon yearbook is now available through The 120-page book features all the posts made on the Oberon blog since it's beginning in July 2007. Click on the book poster in the Oberon blog sidebar to see a preview, or go to: Anyone may order a copy at: The cost of a softcover edition is $29.95 plus shipping.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ralph Williams on the turbulent life of Shakespeare

The University Musical Society is holding several events preparatory to their Loves Labors Lost run Oct. 20-25 at the Power Center in Ann Arbor. One may presume the following will NOT be an Oxfordian event. Apparently Professor Williams finds Stratford life turbulent -- although the turbulence in Stratford doesn't seem to be reflected in the plays. I can't imagine this event will be anything but an exercise in imagination:

Who is William Shakespeare?
Monday, October 12, 7-8:30 pm
Rackham Auditorium, 915 East Washington, Ann Arbor

UMS’s Who Is…? Series aims to break down the barriers between performer and audience by demystifying the artists behind great work. To kick off the series, UM Professor Ralph Williams will explore the turbulent life and unparalleled work of William Shakespeare, whose legacy has continued to inspire some of the greatest artists of our own time.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Oberon meeting October 7

Dear Oberon,
Don't forget that we are meeting early this month, this coming Wednesday, Oct. 7, at the Farmington Library at 7 p.m.
We will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shake-speare's Sonnets in 1609.  Several Oberon members will explore different aspects of the Sonnets. When you leave the meeting, you may appreciate the sonnets as never before.
Come for a fascinating look into the most intimate and personal of all of Shakespeare's writing.  We will see how Shakespeare himself broods about the authorship issue and, in doing so, practically tells us who he is.
Tom Hunter, Oberon Chair

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hunter reports on ALI presentation

Dear Oberon,

It is my pleasure to report that approximately 40 members of the Adult Learning Institute graciously, many enthusiastically, attended our Oberon presentation Thursday, October 1, featuring Ron Destro’s “Who Really Wrote Shake-speare?”

The Adult Learning Institute is a remarkable organization of 180 senior citizens who attend an impressive, challenging series of lectures, performances, seminars, and other programs about historical, literary, cultural, social and other topics and issues.

ALI is affiliated with the Elderhostel Institute Network and sponsored by Oakland Community College which hosts the group’s activities at its Orchard Ridge Campus.

In brief opening remarks, I polled the audience. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance raised their hands when asked if they believed that William Shakspere of Stratford wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare as we have been taught. A small number of hands went up to indicate those who thought someone else might have written the plays under the name Shakespeare. In all truth, even that small number might have been skewed a bit since it included several Oberon members and others already acquainted with the issue.

Immediately after Destro’s DVD concluded, the same vote was taken. This time, only two of the original vast majority for Shakspere of Stratford remained. The rest of the audience now doubted that the Stratford man was the true author and saw the issue as a legitimate subject of further research.

These results are entirely consistent with Mr. Destro’s experience with audiences which he has acquainted with the authorship issue. He should know that this audience was quite appreciative of his presentation, and I would like to thank him once again for making it available to us.

Especially gratifying to me was the interest in authorship displayed by ALI members as evidenced by their perceptive questions, their open minds, their welcoming new ideas and willingness to accept challenge to established beliefs. It is a confirmation of the hunger of young and old alike to know more about authorship once they become aware of the details. It is a demonstration that once one understands the issues of authorship, one must admit and accept the reasonable doubt which results and pursue further investigation.

As I explained to the two ladies who voted for the Stratford man at the end, we have no intention of taking away anybody’s Shakespeare. But, for me and for so many others, the reading and research which I have done in pursuit of the issue have increased my enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare more than I can express. Then I added, we must pursue the issue if only to establish the truth. When I said the word “truth,” a man in the last row who had not taken part in the discussion nodded his head vigorously. It is such a simple thing. As one 16th century aristocrat wrote time and again, we must never forget about the truth. “For,” as he wrote, “truth is truth though never so old and time cannot make that false which once was true.” His name was Edward de Vere, and it is clear that he is speaking clearly across the centuries to us still.

Tom Hunter, Oberon Chair