Thursday, December 13, 2012

Authorship

Truth. 


Today's shirt is from the genius of Threadless and a few years ago would've been too controversial to wear to a high school as a large segment of the student body identified seriously with the "emo" philosophy. But, like all major cultural movements, "emo" grew to become a parody of itself. The word "emo" now holds the record for the most crowd-sourced definitions of any word in the Urban Dictionary, most of which are "taking the Mick", as my very-not-emo students in England would've said.

Now whether Shakespeare would've cared much for the poetic ramblings of today's over-sensitive, idle youth is not really up for debate. The only poem we know for sure that the actor, William Shaksper, wrote was that which was engraved upon his tombstone:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forebeare
To digg the dust enclosed heare;
 Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones

A fun bit of verse but of a far different voice than that which penned Gertrude's grieving report of Ophelia's drowning:

"Ophelia" as captured by Sir John Everett Millais
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.
There on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds
Clamb'ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element; but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay

To muddy death.  - Hamlet: IV, vii, 162-179

Of course, that's a bit much to engrave on anyone's tombstone. The point is, though, that the body of work popularly attributed to Stratford-Upon-Avon's golden son was produced in relatively secrecy as history records the results and not the process. William Shaksper never signed his name to the works. Fact is that he rarely signed his name at all and never consistently.

Until I read Fred Faulkes' Tiger's Heart in Woman's Hide in 2007, in which the former librarian makes an argument for Mary Herbert Sidney, Countess of Pembrooke, as the true source of Shakespeare's works, I don't think I had a conscious opinion on the authorship of Shakespeare's works. In fact, I don't believe that I was even aware of a debate or controversy on the subject. I remember a short debate in passing in an episode of Head of the Class but they only mentioned Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe as candidates. Anyhoo, I recommend (to those interested and with a somewhat open mind) reading Faulkes' book as his research is exhaustive and thorough and takes into account human nature and the psychology of the times as much as normative cultural norms and documented events. And call it my own gender bias outrage, but the fact that the Wiki list of candidates has over SEVENTY possible alternative authors and only SEVEN are women (two queens of England and Shakespeare's wife Anne included and assuming that women weren't allowed in the Rosicrucian Society) makes me think that this theory has been overlooked rather ignorantly for a very long time.

Ultimately, the question of the authorship of the Shakespearean canon is purely academic and bears no effect on the writings at all. It is, effectively, the literal epitome of "moot". The works will outlive the people who debate it just as they have outlasted those who first performed and recited and read them. We will continue to study them whether they were written by the son of a glovemaker, a lady of means, or a Klingon bard. They are a touchstone in English-speaking culture - stories and characters and sentiments that tie us together with a common essence of humanity. I may refuse to teach R&J because Romeo's a putz and continue to feel all my days that Helena in Midsummer is hugely problematic (possibly in need of major psychiatric treatment) but I have yet to encounter a Shakespearean work that left me with a "meh" reaction. And that - that evocative and resonant nature in these works - is the true genius of the creator, no matter who SHE was.