Sunday, December 12, 2010

Telegraph prints essay on authorship skeptic Sir Derek Jacobi

In yesterday's London Telegraph contributor William Langley wrote an interesting essay on Sir Derek Jacobi's decision to play Shakespeare's King Lear at long last. Langley's mini-bio is titled "Sir Derek Jacobi: Bard to the bone" with the subtitle: "Sir Derek Jacobi doesn't believe Shakespeare wrote King Lear -- but he's still given one of the greatest performances in the role, says William Langley."


Jacobi's anti-Stratfordian viewpoint is given some prominence in the article:
In recent years, Jacobi has emerged as a leading Shakespeare sceptic, taking the view that a semi-educated country boy from Stratford-upon-Avon couldn’t possibly have written the great works attributed to him. Three years ago, he co-launched the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition – a group dedicated to proving that the plays must have been penned by others, and later, in a speech to a like-minded American research organisation, declared: “The only evidence of Shakespeare’s literary life was produced after he died and is open to dispute. Nothing, apart from some shaky signatures, puts a pen in his hand. Legend, hearsay and myth have created this writer.”
John Shahan, chairman of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition  corrected the record regarding Jacobi's "launching" of SAC "three years ago" as reported in the Langley article. Shahan said:
What he (Jacobi) actually co-launched in the U.K. (it had its initial launch in the U.S. four months earlier, in April 2007), along with Mark Rylance, was the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt. Sir Derek, Mark Rylance and Michael York are SAC Patrons. The SAC itself was founded in California in March 2006.
Shahan also said the "speech to a like-minded American research organization" referenced in Langley's article was the 2002 Edward de Vere Studies Conference -- since renamed the Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference -- at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. The ". . . Nothing, apart from some shaky signatures, puts a pen in his hand. . . ." quote is from Jacobi's acceptance speech for the conference's Vero Nihil Verius Award. Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre director Dan Wright presented the speech at the 2002 conference because Jacobi was not able to attend. (The text of Jacobi's entire speech is included here, below, courtesy of John Shahan.)


In his Telegraph article, Langley acquits Jacobi of allowing his art to be diminished by his heretical authorship views:
None of which has diminished his ability to play the lead role in somebody-other-than-Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. “The finest and most searching Lear I have ever seen,” raved the Telegraph’s theatre critic Charles Spencer. “The miracle of Michael Grandage’s production,” enthused the Guardian’s reviewer Michael Billington, “is that it is fast, vivid, clear and, thanks to a performance that reminds us why Derek Jacobi is a great classical actor, overwhelmingly moving.”
All of which brings two issues to mind:
  • The first is the confusion caused by misunderstanding that questioning the authorship means questioning that "Shakespeare" wrote the plays, leading to the clunky "somebody-other-than-Shakespeare" locution. In fact, nobody doubts that a playwright used the name Shakespeare. The question in dispute is whether the man from Stratford was that playwright.
  • The second issue is a question -- why would anyone make the assumption that disputing the authorship would somehow diminish an artist's work? No data, real or imaginary, exists to support such a notion.
***
Address by Sir Derek Jacobi to the 6th Annual Edward de Vere Studies Conference at Concordia University, 13 April 2002
Dear Concordia University, dear Professor Wright, dear delegates, dear fellow sceptics:
Let me first thank you very much indeed for the honour you do me by conferring upon me the conference's Vero Nihil Verius Award for Artistic Excellence. My deep regret is that I cannot be with you to receive it in person. I must plead the peripatetic life of the strolling player, the vagabond, a life that keeps me traveling as a chronicler of the times, often to bournes from which I am only too eager to return. I wish I could be with you, but fate and the need to earn a living decree otherwise [Note: Sir Derek, on the night of the conference's Awards Banquet, was performing with Diana Rigg, Ian Richardson and the Royal Shakespeare Company in "The Hollow Crown" at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington, New Zealand].
Like a growing number of interested parties, I have had grave doubts for some time now of the validity of the Stratford man's claim to have written some of the greatest literature the world has produced. Indeed, I must admit that it still seems incredible to me that one mind could possibly have encompassed such a monumental feat -- but if so, that man is most likely to have been Edward de Vere -- possibly with a little collaboration.
Like you, I live in hope that an acceptable solution is possible and that this most fascinating riddle will finally be solved. My reactions are, of course, hardly academic, and I haven't the minutia of knowledge or arguments at my fingertips like your good selves -- I'm still studying and discovering -- but, as an actor, my instincts and antennae tell me that only someone connected with the vicissitudes of stage production could have created these complex dramas. Is there indeed any incontrovertible, unequivocal evidence that Stratford Will was even an actor? But, of course, with doubt comes not discussion but accusations. We are labeled eccentrics and loonies (oh, if only old Thomas had himself used a pseudonym!).
All these years of academic dedication lavished on the wrong man must be defended at all costs, it seems. Reputations tremble, an industry turns pale, and the weapons of't who constantly are told that 'less is more.' Our lifeblood as performers is constant questioning, research,
analysis, intellectual and emotional honesty: the play's the thing, not the player. Without the dramatist, we have no opportunity to strut whatever stuff we possess, and in this particular case above all, if we could find the true author of these exquisite dramas, the rewards for both actor and audience would be immense. A spotlight would be thrown on hitherto unfathomable passages, and centuries of delight would be highlighted by the knowledge of the real events, situations and characters that guided and informed the author's hand. Let there be vigorous and legitimate debate!

Once more, my heartfelt thanks and my sincerest regret that I cannot be with you this evening.

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