Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Richard Joyrich speaks on Lanier claim to Shakespeare authorship

The cover article of Reform Judaism Magazine's summer 2010 issue, "Unmasking Shakespeare: Were the Greatest Works of Western Literature Written by a Woman?" by Michael Posner is a discussion of the Shakespearean authorship claim of Amelia Bassano Lanier. The following open letter from Richard Joyrich to readers of the RJM article addressing the Lanier claim and the Shakespeare authorship question.

Dear readers,

I would like to make some comments regarding the article which appears in the recent issue of Reform Judaism on the “true identity” of Shakespeare being Amelia Bassano Lanier.

As the article correctly states there is indeed a growing number of people who are dissatisfied with the “traditional” attribution of the plays and poems written under the name “William Shakespeare” (frequently “William Shake-Speare” perhaps indicating a pseudonym) to William Shaksper (this is the way it is always spelled on legal documents) of Stratford-upon-Avon for many reasons (some of which are given in the article).

I myself am one of these “heretics”, although I count myself with the vast majority of the “anti-Stratfordians” in believing that the true author is Edward deVere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. In fact I am currently First Vice-President of the Shakespeare Oxford Society, one of two national groups of persons interested in this attribution, the other being the Shakespeare Fellowship. There are in fact many reasons for believing that deVere was the true author, particularly having to do with his background, fund of knowledge, biographical elements in the plays, and his reputation among the members of the Court.

I can talk about this subject for hours in excruciating detail to anyone who is interested at any time. In the meantime, I will only refer you other entries in this blog as well as the following websites where you can read about things for yourself. They all have numerous links to helpful information. Links to these sites as well as many others are available in the links section on the right side of this blog.

www.shakespeare-oxford.com (The Shakespeare Oxford Society)

www.shakespearefellowship.org (The Shakespeare Fellowship)

www.doubtaboutwill.org (The Declaration of Reasonable Doubt which is referenced in the Reform Judaism article which was indeed signed by Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, although it was not written by them)

As to the claims made in the article currently in question, I myself take it with a grain of salt. I cannot really see that any kind of satisfactory case can be made for Amelia Lanier as the author (authoress?), although I CAN see her as being “part of it” as someone around the Court who could give some aid to deVere as he wrote the plays (I would put many people in this category such as Mary Sidney, Ben Jonson, the earls of Rutland and Derby, and Queen Elizabeth herself).

Regarding Amelia Lanier being Jewish, it is actually not true at all. Her father may have been a “converso”, but nothing in her life shows her to be anything but a very devout Christian (witness her great work, referenced in the article, Deus Rex Judaeorum, a thouroughly Christian [and anti-Jewish) work (as indeed ALL works published in England during this time had to be).

Many other points “in favor of” Amelia Lanier given in the article (such as court connections, knowledge of falconry, knowledge of Italy, etc) have some merit but, at least in my opinion, fit Edward deVere much better.

I do want to comment on the use of Hebrew and Jewish knowledge in the plays. It is definitely there. Some good examples are given in the article (although I would quibble with calling the words spoken in Act IV, scene 1 of All’s Well That Ends Well [actually be First Soldier, not Parolles as is said in the article] Hebrew). They are meant (as are many words spoken in this scene) as pure nonsense and these particular words, by coincidence, sound vaguely like Hebrew.

There are also Hebrew puns in the plays (although they are not mentioned in this article). My favorite one is in (of all plays) The Merchant of Venice. In Act III, scene 2 Bassanio (oh wait, does this refer to Amelia Bassano Lanier? No, I don’t think so) is about to chose one of the three caskets to try to find Portia’s picture. You’ll recall that the correct one is the one made of lead. In addition to “helping” Bassanio choose the right one by having a song sung in which all of the words at the ends of the lines rhyme with “lead”, Portia also offers a possible hint in the form of a Hebrew pun. She says “I am lock’d in one of them” To understand this pun you must recall that all Hebrew nouns are based on a three-letter “root” to which vowel sounds are added to make the particular word. I find it FASCINATING that if you take the letters PRT (in Hebrew peh, reish, tav) which would be the “root” of the name Portia, you have the root of the Hebrew word “oferet” (remember that the Hebrew letter peh can also be pronounced as an “F” sound). The Hebrew word “oferet” means “lead.”. So “Portia” IS in fact “lock’d in lead”

Now, does this knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish knowledge mean the writer had to be Jewish (or come from a Jewish background)? No, it does not. I myself have some doubts as to how much Hebrew and Jewish knowledge Amelia herself possessed just on the strength of having Jewish ancestors. On the other hand, it is known that Edward deVere, while he was a ward of Court in the house of Lord Burghley, was taught by both Thomas Smith and Lawrence Nowell, the two most famous Greek and Hebrew scholars of the age.

Anyway, as I said, I could go on and on about things of this kind (and I have done so in prior entries in this blog). Some people say that it doesn’t matter who the author really was. After all, as Hamlet says, “The plays the thing”. But I disagree completely. I think you can get a whole new insight into the plays and poems by knowing something about the author and the world he lived in. In fact, our local group, Oberon, is going to be doing two talks this July at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Jackson about the two plays they are doing this season, The Comedy of Errors and Romeo and Juliet, pointing out some interesting things you can see in the plays if you take the trouble to know the author and what he himself knew and thought about.

As Polonious says in Hamlet (Act II, scene 2):

“If circumstances led me, I will find
Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed
Within the centre.”

I wish you all a good journey on this quest.

Richard Joyrich

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