Sunday, August 1, 2010

Leslie Hotson redux

Bored and disgusted with the unsubstantiated maundering of many traditional Shakespearean scholars, I had never read the work of Canadian-born researcher Leslie Hotson (1897-1992) until this May when I picked up a used copy of his The First Night of Twelfth Night at West Side Books in Ann Arbor.

  • I was immediately enthralled by Hotson's clear-minded, lively prose and meticulous research. Although a traditional Shakespearean, Hotson indulges in no "would have", "could have", "may have", "might have", "surely must have" fol-de-rol. He follows primary sources wherever they lead; and, although his theses were reportedly attacked by his peers, his reasoning and support are impeccable -- and fascinating.

  • In my opinion, Hotson's research supports the anti-Stratfordian view that Shakespeare's plays were created by a court insider. His First Night of Twelfth Night brings the Elizabethan court to life with a view of the great play commissioned and presented as a holiday extravagance for visiting Italian nobleman, Don Virginio Orsino, Duke of Bracciano. His meticulous reportage extends to walking us through palace corridors using original architectural drawings and court records. But, I knew Hotson for a true Shakespeare-lover when I read this passage on page 65, at the beginning of his third chapter, titled "Shakespeare's Arena Stage":
In the attempt to bring Queen Elizabeth's Twelfth Night out of its centuries-old obscurity, Shakespeare's performance must stand as the prime object. Every slightest clue which might conceivably lead to light in that direction must be intently followed. We are all aware, however, of an ever-present danger: nothing is easier in any kind of investigation that to overlook a vital piece of evidence staring us in the face. For if that piece of evidence does not seem to corroborate or to fall in with our already-settled ideas, our minds either simply ignore it, or else wrest it by 'interpretation' to make it mean what we think it ought to mean. Such behavior is certainly very human, but it blocks the road to knowledge.
How can you not love a guy who talks like that? He had the mind and soul of a skeptic, witness Hotson's Dec. 3, 1992 obituary in The Independent, wherein Glynne Wickham said:
If the whole corpus of Hotson's published work in English Renaissance Drama, ranging as it does from the 1530s to 1660, seems idiosyncratic and eclectic, a unifying strain is detectable in an unwavering sense of mischief which, from the 1930s until the publication of Shakespeare by Hilliard (1977), underpinned his meticulous and exhaustive exhumations from dusty archives. Designed to shock, infuriate, stimulate and please, his narrative style ensured that all this work would be as widely scrutinised by critics and reviewers as it would command readers.
Hotson's book is available free online at Questia, Inc. --  First Night of Twelfth Night by Leslie Hotson  (Macmillan Co. 1954)

R. C. Bald's review of First Night of 'Twelfth Night' published in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring, 1956), pp. 246-248 is available at: Stable URL:

1 comment:

Linda Theil said...

Posted for Nick Drumbolis 12/31/10:

Agreed! Hotson's clarifications of Twelfth Night draw the modern reader closer to an experience of period playing than any other work I know. All his books KICK (Mr W.H. praps least). But if you want a real rush, check out (Hotson's) Shakespeare by Hilliard (1977), in which he identifies the miniature [of Edward de Vere] by Nicholas Hilliard, as a portrait of Shakespeare..! Nick Drumbolis

Note: See Hotson's Shakespeare by Hilliard at: