Saturday, July 9, 2011

Peter McIntosh -- Who Wrote Shakespeare's Sonnets?

Author Peter McIntosh, University of Tasmania professor of history Michael Bennett and Rodney Croome at Hobart Bookshop launch of McIntosh's Who Wrote Shakespeare's Sonnets? May 26, 2011 in Hobart, Tasmania.
Photo credit: Martin Fieldhouse, Madhouse Photography


Tasmanian Peter McIntosh, PhD, who spoke at the Shakespeare Authorship Conference at Concordia College in 2009 recently launched his book Who Wrote Shakespeare's Sonnets? published by Ginninderra Press, Port Adelaide, Australia. McIntosh's new book develops the ideas first presented in a 2003 book on the topic of Elizabeth I as author of Shakespeare's Sonnets titled Shakespeare’s Sonnets – An Elizabethan Love Story (Otakou Press). Speaking of his approach to this study, McIntosh said:
Like many people I was introduced to Shakespeare’s works at school, but became interested in the Sonnets much later after noting that although they are almost certainly biographical they bear no relationship at all to the known facts about Shakespeare’s life. From this starting point it is a logical step to speculate that the Sonnets may have been written by someone other than Shakespeare. To investigate this hypothesis I adopted the scientific approach of seeing whether it was possible to correlate the personal events and ‘happenings’ mentioned in the Sonnets with real-life events as documented in the lives of prominent Elizabethans. This correlation approach seemed to work, and I think it reveals the identity of the subject of Shakespeare’s poems, as well as telling us more about the author of the Sonnets. I wrote the book to let people know the results of my research.
At the May 26, 2011 launch party at The Hobart Book Shop in Hobart, Tasmania, social activist Rodney Croome praised McIntosh for his courage in a moving speech titled "On doubt and science . . . " posted in its entirety on the Walleah Press blog. Croome opens his speech with these words: 

Shakespeare is a god.
He is praised not only as the greatest writer in English but as “the greatest man who ever lived” by Lytton Strachey and as “the most influential man in history” by one of his contemporary biographers. For Thomas Carlyle Shakespeare was a “Saint of poetry”, for Henry Melville “a kind of deity”.
And like all gods, there is very little direct evidence that Shakespeare created the glittering works attributed to him. What we know of him is scant and inauspicious. His contemporaries hardly mention him. His acclaim was almost entirely posthumous.
This dearth of information about Shakespeare the man and author has opened the door to doubters and infidels of every stripe. Among Shakespeare’s defenders, nagging doubts about the Bard’s authorship have also generated a kind of fundamentalism, as doubt often does, that admits no inquiry into the issue and damns the inquirer.
Among the former group, the doubters of Shakespeare and believers in other gods like Bacon, Marlow or Oxford, we can count Henry James, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, Derek Jacobi and many others.
Among the latter group, the fundamentalists, we can count many of experts who feel the issue is resolved and who wouldn’t be seen dead at an event like this.
I probably fall in between these two groups. Like other Shakespeare agnostics, weary of the debate, I have been known to ask “what does it matter who wrote Shakespeare?”.
Into this ever-bitter war of faith against doubt, heresy and know-nothingness strides Peter McIntosh.
In his new book on the authorship of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Peter makes the point that his approach is about looking directly at the evidence without preconceptions, in line with his training and temperament as a scientist.
Professor Michael Bennett of the School of History and Classics at the University of Tasmania also spoke at the launch in support of McIntosh's work. Bennett has said, “McIntosh presents his startling case in a clearheaded, engaging and lively style. The book will delight, tease and provoke the many people who remain fascinated by the Shakespeare phenomenon.”


Who Wrote Shakespeare's Sonnets? by Peter McIntosh is available for purchase online from Ginninderra Press for $18.50 Australian minus the GST tax, plus $13 Australian for overseas shipping. For more information, contact stephen@ginninderrapress.com.au.


An excerpt from "Chapter One -- The Sonnets Enigma" is reproduced below with the permission of the author:

One of the most curious enigmas of literary history is how little Shakespeare’s contemporaries have told us about the great English writer.
A great and witty writer is usually good company – the sort of person who livens up a dinner party. Surely a man like Shakespeare, a professional actor who could write such original verbal exchanges, must have been an outstanding conversationalist and never at a loss for words. Shakespeare’s contemporaries must have noticed and remarked on the brilliance of the man who wrote the plays and the poems, displayed such unparalleled penetrating insights into human nature, loved bawdy jokes, created unforgettable humorous characters like Falstaff and Malvolio, wrote with such an extensive knowledge of history and the classics, and expressed (for the first time in the English language) such heartfelt personal feelings in his Sonnets? Wouldn’t a man with his wit, originality, personality and power of expression have sparkled at the very centre of every gathering, been idolised by literary London, and been a guest of honour at court occasions?
But although this generation regards Shakespeare as the most remarkable writer of the English renaissance and possibly of all time, we have no evidence that any of Shakespeare’s contemporaries ever made an appointment to see him, lent him a book, recorded a conversation with him, wrote him a letter on literary matters, congratulated him on writing a play, had a riotous party with him, invited him to give an after-dinner speech, or considered him to be in any way remarkable. Isn’t this very odd?
In fact, in the historical record, only one communication addressed to Shakespeare has survived. It concerns mundane monetary matters, and was never sent. We know far more about Geoffrey Chaucer, who lived two hundred years earlier, than we know about Shakespeare, and the Chaucer records reveal a literary life parallel to, and in harmony with, his rise in status from page to trusted court official, emissary and senior administrator.
There are several references to Shakespeare’s works by Elizabethans and Jacobeans: some writers of his time refer to his wit and praise his writings. But in Shakespeare’s lifetime there are only a couple of ambiguous references to the character of the man himself: a student play lampoons him as ‘sweet Mr Shakespeare’ and a faint sketch of the man himself is contained in an apology written by the publisher Henry Chettle, who describes him as honest by repute, as having a civil demeanour and a ‘facetious grace in writing’. Such terms tell us little about Shakespeare’s personality.
Of Shakespeare’s personal papers only his will and a few documents relating to property, land trading and legal proceedings have survived. He left behind no signed manuscripts, no letters, no notebooks in his own hand, and no book collection. Just as in his life no one seems to have noticed when he was around, so in death no one of significance in London or Stratford seems to have noticed his departure. His will is a prosaic business document. It contains no mention of books or manuscripts or anything pertaining to a literary career. The total verifiable (documented) facts about William Shakespeare are few and can be summarised in a few paragraphs.
Shakespeare did not, as far as we know, keep a diary. But he did write something similar – a book of one hundred and fifty-four sonnets, most of which are highly personal in nature. They appear to span several years of his life. The meaning of many sonnets is obscure or contentious. Although they can be collectively described as love poems, they do not follow the Elizabethan convention for the love poem genre. This is why they are immortal – for the first time in the English language a poet has broken with tradition and written from the heart, not the head, about complex nuances of intimate feelings. The great English biographer Lytton Strachey warned that the paths trodden by those in quest of the key to the mystery of Shakespeare’s Sonnets was ‘already white with the bones of innumerable commentators’ but added that the quest ‘seems to offer hopes of a prize of extraordinary value – nothing less than a true insight into the most secret recesses of the thoughts and feelings of perhaps the greatest man who ever lived’.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets undoubtedly describe very personal issues and also contain glimpses of his friends, references to relationships and rivals and comments about current events. However, despite analyses in hundreds of academic volumes and research papers, the world’s best literary minds have not yet reached a happy consensus concerning the friends, relationships, rivals and current events to which Shakespeare refers. The writer and editor Martin Seymour-Smith politely summed up the failure of the scholars: ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets have had much learned ink wasted upon them.’
The theory I develop in this book is radical and some readers will be surprised by the conclusions drawn. I ask these readers to judge the validity of the conclusions on the strength of the evidence presented, and on the rationality of the argument, not on any preconceptions about what they think the conclusions should be. 
Excerpted from "Chapter One: The Sonnets Enigma" from Who Wrote Shakespeare's Sonnets? by Peter McIntosh

Personal background: Dr Peter McIntosh has a PhD in Geology from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He has worked in publishing in Holland and New Zealand and as a geologist in New Zealand and Australia and has written over 50 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Apart from geology and Shakespeare his interests are sailing, bushwalking and social chess.