Shake it

I think a lot about Shakespeare. Rum fellow. Really.

Now I don't much hold with conspiracy theories. Too convoluted by far. I pretty much favour Occam's razor - no need to unnecessarily complicate things that actually don't need complicating. Not unnecessarily.

Shakespeare never wrote the Works of Shakespeare, say the conspiracy theorists. Or maybe they'd call Shakespeare Shaksper. Or the man from Stratford. Fair enough.

I've always taken exception to a couple of pet peeves of the conspiracy buffs. One is that no one of such ignoble birth could have written so perceptively of the nobility and kings especially. Another is that it is quite impossible for Shakespeare (meaning Shaksper) to have written his plays without having practised law, without having travelled extensively (and indeed in the very countries and cities in which he sets his plays), without being an expert falconer, without having intimate knowledge of soldiering, without having intimate knowledge of sailoring, without having a university education.

Clearly this is lunacy. Clearly these people have no idea whatsoever how an author creates fiction. Fiction is the art of making things up. The better the author, the more convincing the fiction. He does indeed need some material for his work, some faint straws of reality to erect his mansion of the mind, but not nearly as much as might be imagined by those uninitiated in the craft of drama or prose.

Fiction creates its own reality, often a more powerful reality than the one it purports to be mirroring. It doesn't matter if the author of Henry V ever fought in a war or hobnobbed with a king. It doesn't matter in the slightest if the author of The Tempest never set foot on a boat or witnessed a furious storm at sea. It matters not a whit if the author of Romeo and Juliet visited Verona. What matters, the only thing that does matter, is if he can conjure these things up with his words. If he can make us see them, whether he himself ever saw them or not.

So - birth and first hand knowledge, or more to the point lack thereof: these are not valid reasons to suspect the authorship of the plays.

However. We really know next to nothing about Shakespeare. Most biographies seem to dance around this fact, fabricate facts to fit the life. Hard facts are so very scarce. What we basically have are the plays and the poems, and not a whole lot more. Seems to me most biographies create a life for Shakespeare, create a fiction drawn from and around his plays - try to imagine what sort of a man might have written works such as these and then go on to describe him. Not really cricket, if you ask me.

He might have written every play to be a sliver of his autobiography. On the other hand, he might not. We don't know. And more to the point, we really have no way of knowing.

Recently having read two conspiracy books Täcknamn Shakespeare by Friberg and Brolin, and The Mystery of William Shakespeare by the legendary anti-Stratfordian Charlton Ogburn, I must admit there are a few things that puzzle me. Puzzle me deeply.

Shakespeare was an actor before he started writing and went on being one for quite a while even when he did write. Why is his name mentioned in virtually no rosters of actors? He should be mentioned in several places. Why isn't he? Funny.

Suddenly Shakespeare seems to have a lot of money out of nowhere. This we know because he purchases a share in the company he's in (Chamberlain's men) and then a few years later a tenth share in the Globe. He buys a grand house in Stratford. From whence came this money? A large sum indeed and a guarantee that in the future he will always get a healthy cut of the profits of the theatre. But where did he get the money to invest in the Globe in the first place? Surely not from his writing? That just isn't possible.

Why is Shakespeare's name only ever mentioned in petty litigatory matters? Suing and getting sued for banal and minor matters. Land disputes. As a witness in a trivial case concerning his landlord in London. And once even for assault and acting in cahoots with a known bully and extortionist - acting perhaps as the muscle of that known mobster. Perplexing indeed.

Why are all the surviving autographs such a mess? Surely a man who lived by his pen would know how to spell his own name and do it with a surer hand?

Why are there no manuscripts left? No letters? Nothing the man ever wrote, except for the autographs. He must have written letters? To colleagues, associates, relatives, publishers, patrons? Yet we have nothing.

Why on earth is there such gibberish on his tomb? He didn't write the half-witted, semi-illiterate poem himself, surely? So why is it there?

But above all this: did the man truly own not a single book? Not a one? Not a sausage? If he did, then why aren't they mentioned in his will? Books were valuable things in those days. Worth a great deal. They would certainly have been mentioned in the will. Now Shakespeare if anyone must have owned a lot of books - so extensive was his reading and so much did he make use of what he read. Veritably all his writing is based on other texts. They were the very tools of his trade. This man was a bookworm. Bookworms surround themselves with books. And still, not a single book is mentioned in his last will and testament. He didn't own a single book? Very odd.

Makes one wonder.


Anonymous said...

Löysin tämän blogin vasta, siksi kommentti myöhässä. Onkohan Euroopassa ollut sama käytäntö kuin idässä, eli että tietyn henkilön seuraajat ilmoittavat tekstin kirjoittajaksi sen ihailemansa henkilön eivätkä itseään (esim. Sun-tzun teksteistä vain osa alkuperäisen Sun-tzun kirjoittamia)?

PS said...

Jotenkin voisi pitää tapaa itämaisena, siellähän kollektiivi aina ajaa yksilön edelle. Länsimaissa on tietenkin samaa perinnettä, periaatteessa, mutta aivan toisista syistä. Rembrandt pisti oppilaitaan maalaamaan tauluja ja signeerasi ne itse (tai sitten joku väärensi jälkeenpäin Mestarin nimmarin), Dumas piti kirjoittajatallia, saneli suuret linjat, antoi toisten kirjoittaa varsinaisen tekstin ja julkaisi jutut härskisti omissa nimissään. Idässä käytänto oli siis yhteisön tai opetuslasten hommagea, lännessä karkeaa ja kisällejä riistävää rahantekoa.

Shakespeareahan on tietyissä teorioissa arveltu kollektiivin nimimerkiksi. Kollektiivissa olisi ollut mukana koko aikakauden parhaat englantilaiset aivot - Baconia ja jopa kuningatar Elisabetia myöten!

Vaikea nähdä että Shakespearen ihailijat olisivat signeeranneet teoksensa Shakespearen nimellä (jos tätä tarkoitit?), jo yksistään siitä syystä että tasoero on aika selvä. Aika harva ihailija yltää lähellekään Shakespearen tasoa.

Mutta ajatus on kiehtova, suorastaan borgesmainen. Borgeshan jossakin kirjoitti että kirjallisuus on yhteistä omaisuutta - kaikki merkittävä kuuluu kaanonille ja perinteelle ja kielelle eivätkä yksittäisten kirjailijoiden yksittäiset saavutukset ole mitenkään olennaisia. Jos se on hyvä se kuuluu kaikille ja on osa kieltä ja kollektiivistä kirjallisuutta. Jos ei ole niin ei sillä ole mitään merkitystä kuka sen kirjoitti.

Anonymous said...

Kiitos vastauksesta. Olin unohtanut maalarit tyystin. Kollektiiviteoriasta en Shakespearen yhteydessä ollut edes kuullut. Blogisi noin ylipäätään on todella mielenkiintoinen: kiitos!