[LMB] OT: Shakespeare

John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Sun Sep 12 14:02:22 BST 2021

Louann: Question: did the popularity of "Shakespeare in Love" some years
back, even
though fictionalized, do serious damage to the anti-Stratfordians in
popular culture?

John: Nope. But then, nothing does -- anti-Stratfordians know what they
know, and have little interest in facts save as plot points in their
theorisings. There seems no more point in arguing with them than with
evangelists at the door, or party spokespersons.

*Shax in Love* does, though, sometimes serve to promote the erroneous
belief that Queen Elizabeth I attended performances at the Globe ; the
company attended her at court. She, and/or some of her ladies, -may- have
attended some childrens' company performances at the First or Second
Blackfriars ; most don't believe so but there is a letter by Dudley
Carleton (a courtier) that implies so. But adult performances at an
amphitheatre? No chance.

It also sometimes creates an erroneous belief that *Romeo* is early 1590s,
which it ain't. The film moves dates back to get in Marlowe before his
murder in May 1593. *Romeo* premiered with *Dream* in 1595-6.

Louann: Other question: I know it's also fictionalized, but what would you
about the overall accuracy of Branagh's more recent movie "All is True"?

John: Complete if stirring piffle, redeemed only by the acting. Shax had
money by 1612, when he bought property in London, everything about Anne
Hathaway and the children is at best wildly speculative, and the
Southampton stuff is as nonsensical as most attempts to quarry the sonnets
for supposed biographical data

Sylvia: > So, suppose you want to test Hand D of *Sir Thomas More*.

I had to look that up....  they have existing copies of original folios in
original handwriting?  I'm astonished. what kind of paper/parchment/? is it
written on?

John: Folio means a sheet of paper that has been folded once, to give two
leaves/four pages, so not all are folios, but yes, quite a few C16-17 plays
survive in manuscript, scribal or authorial.  Off the top of my head,
Middleton's *Game at Chess* is (I believe) unique in having both scribal
and authorial MSS surviving, but it was wildly popular and controversial
and so presentation MSS were created. William Percy's (very probably
unacted) plays are in autograph MS ; and Wilson's *The Swisser* is in
scribal MS. There are also 18 scribal promptbooks.

The MS of *Sir Thomas More* in the British Library is (again, I believe)
the only surviving MS with censor's markup. It's pre-C18 history is
unknown, but it then comprised 20 leaves in a vellum wrapper, 13 of the
play and 7 of additions/revisions ; it's now bound, with the vellum as the
first two leaves. I can't find the paper described anywhere as other than
paper, which means it will be rag paper, which doesn't fox with age as
woodpulp papers do ; leaves can be distinguished as from different stocks
by rag density and by watermarks. Ink will be oakgall, probably.

For detail see the Arden Shakespeare edition of *Sir Thomas More*, ed. John
Jowett ; ISBN 978-1-904271-48-2 ; esp. appendices 2-4, pp. 344-460.

Hand D has been suspected to be Shax for a very long time, but with only
six signatures on record as definitely his handwriting, certainty has never
been possible ; however, the new stylometrics add substantial probability
-and- vocabulary comparisons suggest strongly that a date in the early-mid
1600s would be right, not the early 1590s date that older scholarship
wanted (because a collaborating, jobbing Shax -must- be early in the
career, before he ascended alone to empyrean heights ; not). So it adds
interesting complexity to the picture of Shax as successful company
playwright and after 1599 both sharer and housekeeper, but still it seems
willing to play script doctor for others (though apparently unsuccessfully,
as the play doesn't seem ever to have been completed, allowed, or staged :
too political a hot potato, probably).

There's also an interesting implication in asking Shax to do that
particular scene, featuring insurrection and immigrants -- speculative, but
it looks like "If anyone can do this acceptably, Will can -- he managed it
in *Julius Caesar* a couple of years back ..." : and had probably also done
so further back, in the Henry VI plays. He would again in *Coriolanus*, but
the Roman setting is a powerful insulator that *Sir Thomas More* inevitably
lacks, while also of necessity treading close to Henry VIII, Elizabeth's
father. Win some, lose some.

John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)

Associate Member, Hughes Hall, Cambridge
Independent Scholar

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