Monday, April 9, 2012

York University Tackles The Authorship Question

Lamberto Tassinari

Christopher Innes, David Prosser, Don Rubin, Michel Vais, Keir Cutler, Mark Anderson

This past weekend Linda Theil and I represented Oberon at an Authorship Conference at York University in Toronto. This conference was organized by Professor Donald Rubin of the Theatre Department at York University as a culmination of a semester long seminar he taught at that university over the winter (more on this course in a later post).

The conference was very enjoyable. Don Rubin was an excellent host and I was glad to meet him again (he had been at the Joint SOS/SF conferences in Houston and Washington).

The conference began at 11:00 on Saturday with some opening remarks by Professor Rubin, in which he described how he became interested in the Authorship Question after reading Mark Anderson’s Shakespeare By Another Name and how he was very happy to have taught a course on the subject (over some objections by fellow faculty members at the University). Many, if not all, of his students were present at the conference.

We then were treated to a rare performance of Mark Twain’s Is Shakespeare Dead, performed by Keir Cutler from Montreal. I saw him do this show live in Houston and Ashland at past Authorship Conferences and I enjoyed it as much as I did before. The rest of the audience loved it as well.

After a break , we heard the keynote address by Mark Anderson, “The Bard’s New Clothes: Shakespeare’s Autobiography and Why the Authorship Controversy Matters”. In this talk, Mark detailed many of the parallels between the works of Shakespeare and the life of Edward de Vere, particularly his travels in Italy and his relationship to his first wife, Anne Cecil.
Mark also pointed out how the “Shakespeare Industry” seemed to shut down in 1604 (the year of deVere’s death), as the Shakespeare works use no proven source material published after 1604 and the works do not mention or refer to important events which happened after that year.

Mark thinks that knowing how the Shakespeare works might be somewhat autobiographical can help readers and performers of the plays to understand what might otherwise be problematic scenes or plays, and to see more of how characters in different plays are related to each other thematically.

After a break for lunch, catered by Pickle Barrel of Toronto, we had a reading by Professor Patricia Keeney of the English Department (and Professor Rubin’s wife) of her poem Shakespeare in Space, which she wrote after attending her first Authorship conference in Houston and then we watched The Shakespeare Conspiracy, a video made in 2000 by a German filmmaker, starring Derek Jacobi. Both of these presentations were also well received by the audience.

It was now time for a Panel Discussion, moderated by Professor Rubin, featuring Lamberto Tassinari, from Montreal, author of the recently published John Florio, The Man Who Was Shakespeare; Christopher Innes, Professor in the English Department at York University; David Prosser, Theatre Critic and Director of Literary Services at the Stratford Festival (Ontario); Michel Vais, Editor of the Quebec theatre journal Jeu and Secretary-General of the International Association of Theatre Critics; Keir Cutler, actor and director; and Mark Anderson, author of Shakespeare By Another Name.

Lamberto Tassinari can be seen in the top picture above and the rest of the panel is seen in the second picture (in the same order left to right as I named them in the previous paragraph-except that Professor Rubin is third from the left between David Prosser and Michel Vais).
Each of the panel members initially did a 5-10 presentation and then there was discussion among the panel with questions from the audience.

Lamberto Tassinari presented a quick summary of the case for John Florio as the author of the Shakespeare works. Some important points made were that many of the plays display a knowledge of Italy and Italian ways, Florio’s vocabulary and literary style is a good match for Shakespeare’s, and Florio was the translator into English of Montaigne’s Essays and Boccaccio’s Decameron, two important source texts for Shakespeare. I may go into more detail on this topic in a future post, as I think that John Florio deserves more attention than he has gotten to this point , although I must say I still have difficulties with him being Shakespeare. For now, I offer this link to Lamberto Tassinari’s website:

Professor Innes, representing William of Stratford, began his remarks by criticizing the recent movie Anonymous for its historical errors. Of course, this is just a straw man argument, as this movie was never meant to be a documentary or an exposition of the case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare. It is a movie, and is historical fiction, meant to tell a story (much as Shakespeare did in his Histories). Professor Innes than questioned the conspiracy aspect of a hidden or secret author, wondering how many people would have known of it, how such a secret could be kept, and why did it need to be kept after the death of the true author? At the end of his presentation Professor Innes tried to make the case that the plays of Shakespeare are not particularly aristocratic in outlook, thereby flying in the face of most Shakespearean scholarship.

David Prosser, also representing the Stratfordian case, did make some good points regarding how a secret author would work in an acting company during rehearsals and preparation for a play. What if questions come up when the author is not around? Also, how would such a secret be maintained when the actors (known for their egos and tendency for gossip) would certainly know that their fellow actor William was not the real author? I think that Mr. Prosser is imposing his idea of how theater works today on the time of Shakespeare when things were quite different, but his points are valid in some sense. Unfortunately, Mr. Prosser completely lost the sympathy of the audience when he tried to compare the Authorship question to various more current conspiracy theories, including one that I will not dignify by mentioning it here.

Michel Vais was convinced by reading Lamberto Tassinari’s book on John Florio and added some of his own reasons for believing that there is a very good case for Florio as Shakespeare.
Keir Cutler decried the unwillingness of Universities to teach (or even mention) the Authorship Question and applauded Professor Rubin for doing what he has done. The Authorship Question is a legitimate one and deserves academic attention (even, as Keir says, if the final conclusion is that the traditional author turns out to be confirmed). This point was poignantly made during the audience participation portion of the Discussion when a student described her efforts to spread the word about this conference to other universities and solicit input. She was nearly universally shunned and told that she was not to bother with such stuff. The stunned student could only say, “I’m a student. I’m just asking someone to teach me!”

Mark Anderson then rebutted a few points made by some of the previous speakers and added some more interesting information on Edward de Vere, such as how de Vere could certainly have read Montaigne and Boccaccio in their original languages, both works being in the libraries of his tutors and father-in-law (where he spent much of his educational years) and did not have to wait for John Florio to translate them.

The question and answer period with the audience was very good, with much participation from Professor Rubin’s students.

The conference then ended, but Linda and I were invited to have dinner with the whole panel (except for the two Stratfordians, who for some reason declined to attend). Of course, there was much lively discussion around the table. After nearly three hours of this, we finally all called it a night (partly in response to the looks we were getting from the restaurant staff who thought we were never going to leave).

All in all, it was a very good experience and I hope Professor Rubin will be able and willing to put something like this on again. I think it would make a wonderful annual event. Professor Rubin is planning on attending (and maybe presenting) at the upcoming Joint Authorship Conference in Pasadena.