by Linda Theil
|Frank Lawler, author of Behind the Mask of William Shakespeare|
In September, Oberon Zoom member Frank Lawler released Behind the Mask of William Shakespeare, his new translation and annotation of Abel Lefranc's Sous le Masque de William Shakespeare under the imprint of James Warren's Veritas Publications, LLC. Lawler generously agreed to share his thoughts about the work with Oberon readers.
Oberon: What drew you to this enormous project?
Lawler: Abel Lefranc's two-volume Sous le Masque de William Shakespeare was published in 1918 and 1919. The man was a brilliant scholar of literary history who, as a Frenchman, wasn't burdened with the entrenched English hagiography of the man from Stratford. A world-renowned expert on Moliere and Rabelais, he had academic credentials rivaling those of the greatest of the orthodox bardologists of the early Twentieth Century. Lefranc, however, thought the Stratfordian myth was ludicrous. Having spent most of his career discovering the many links between biographies of great French writers and their works, he was convinced the grain-hoarding, illiterate skinflint from Warwickshire could never have penned the Shakespearean canon.
Lefranc believed the true author was William Stanley, the sixth earl of Derby. I don’t subscribe to his conclusions, but I’ve come to believe that Stanley -- and likely his brother Ferdinando -- are part of the whole authorship mystery. Stanley was married to Edward de Vere’s daughter, and he shared some of his father-in-law’s interests as well as some of his temperament. He had also travelled extensively in Europe and was closely tied to the courts of both Elizabeth I and James I.
When I first came across Lefranc’s research, I found that a fellow Canadian, Cecil Cragg, had translated the book into English in the 1980s; but, the work had been out of print for decades. Having grown up in a bilingual environment, I fortunately had a solid, though rusty, grounding in the French language. I was able to find a facsimile of the original edition and began reading it. I was soon engrossed in the material, but I also came across quite a few inaccuracies that needed to be addressed. About half of them were transcription errors and the other half were the results of early research that had been superseded in the intervening century since the work’s publication. I decided to embark on a new translation of the entire work. The pandemic was screaming for a project to fill quarantined hours, and this filled the bill.
Jim Warren approached me in October 2021, to see if I would be interested in having the work published by Veritas Press. I had designed a couple of book covers for him, and he had heard about my translation project through the grapevine.
Oberon: So the cover is your design?
Lawler: Yes. It’s a fairly simple design; I wanted to do something a little different. I considered yet another variation on the Droeshout engraving, but instead I went with a stylized version of the crest from the Stanley family coat of arms. The crest represents an eagle looming over a small, swaddled child. Lefranc makes much of the symbolism found in this heraldic element, so I thought it was appropriate. I then added the title on a pair of translucent panels, overlapping such that the word “William” is shared by both panels.
Oberon: Was Lefranc’s book in the public domain?
Lawler: Yes. Some of his later work, however, is not, due to changes in copyright law that occurred after the publication of Sous le Masque de William Shakespeare.
Oberon: Will you publish an e-book?
Lawler: Good question. Veritas press does not currently publish digital versions of its books, though that may change. It’s also a bigger time commitment than it may seem. I have learned from experience that a lot of reformatting and trial and error is needed to produce a quality Kindle or EPUB book. So many e-books out there are quick and dirty copies of print versions, and I wouldn’t want this to be one of them.
Oberon: Will there be a book tour or a zoom lecture?
Lawler: Alas, I fear that the Derbyite segment of the Shakespeare authorship niche is far too minuscule to warrant anything resembling a book tour. When I worked in the software industry, I recall a friend sarcastically enthusing about a product with a tiny market segment: “What a great idea! You’ll sell DOZENS!” As for a presentation, I could imagine doing something over zoom or live for the Shakespeare Oxford Society or the DeVere Society. No plans at the moment, though.
Oberon: Have you had any interesting feedback yet?
Lawler: I know of at least two authorship scholars who are writing reviews of the book, but in terms of individual comments, they have almost uniformly been along the lines of “I’ve got your book, but haven’t yet plunged in,” which is entirely understandable, given that it’s almost 600 pages of small print on a rather esoteric subject. I am reminded of Winston Churchill: "This Treasury paper, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read."
Oberon: Can you tell us more about your life?
Lawler: I’m originally from the Ottawa Valley in Canada, about a three-hour drive north of Rochester, New York. After high school, I moved to Cambridge, Massachusettes to attend Harvard. I stuck around Boston for about a decade before being recruited by Microsoft in the 1990s to work in their advanced consumer technology group. I left the software world in the early 2000s and turned my attention to other interests -- the top three being theatre, advocacy for the homeless, and family history. I am a member of Actor’s Equity Association, vice-president of the board for Operation Nightwatch, and a council member of the Clan Hannay Society in Scotland. I live in Seattle with my wife. With our son off in his freshman year at college, we are recent empty-nesters.
Oberon: Where would you put Behind the Mask on your list of lifetime accomplishments?
Lawler: You make it sound so grandiose! This is my third book; the first was an original play, Holiday of Errors -- published by StageRights/Broadway Licensing; and my second was a family history work, The Hannays of Sorbie, Fourth Edition, published by the Clan Hannay Society. Behind the Mask is the first time I’ve done a translation. I’ve felt that each of these books has exercised different parts of my brain. Certainly, the pandemic gave this particular project unprecedented levels of isolation and focus. Hopefully it won’t take another global outbreak to summon those again.
Frank Lawler, https://franklawler.com/
Behind the Mask of William Shakespeare by Frank Lawler, Behind the Mask of William Shakespeare,
Oberon post "Frank Lawler at work on English translation of anti-Strat Abel Lefranc" published July 19, 2020,