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Scipio Who?

August 29, 2017

UMass Amherst awarded a Ph.D. to Roger Stritmatter in 2001 in comparative literature. Stritmatter’s topic: the Shakespeare authorship question. This is a little bit of a slap in the face to mainstream scholars who think Scipio is an old-fashioned soft drink.

Along with Stritmatter, there’s Waugaman at Georgetown, Wright at Concordia, Fox at Rutgers, Sturrock at Stanford, Rubin at York, and a number of other academic face-slappers.

Non-academics, some of them famous, do it too: writers Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Henry James, and John Galsworthy; actors Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jakobi, Mark Rylance, and Jeremy Irons; U.S. Supreme Court Justices Powell, Blackmun, Scalia, Stevens, and O’Connor.

Yes, really.

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They’re all crackpots of course. Everyone knows Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare; just look at the title pages. A wealthy investor from Stratford named Shakespeare was the author of thirty-six plays, two epic poems, and the sonnets. We know this with 99.99% probability. The authorship question is not worth discussing.

The documentary record, that is, actual evidence from the period as opposed to mythology, circular reasoning, and title pages, tells us that Shakspere — that’s his birth name, the name of his children, and the name he used to sign documents — was semi-literate at best. His signatures were strained. He wrote nothing, not even a letter. His documented life is that of a shrewd money man who made a number of successful investments in Stratford real estate and in London theaters.

People alive at the time knew the theater big shot wasn’t the author of similar name and they said so repeatedly. The mainstream will twist itself into amazing rhetorical knots or even gouge their own eyes out in their epic battle against the contemporary references. The title of the present post — Scipio Who? — refers to the mainstream’s bloodiest effort.

John Davies of Hereford was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s. He was a teacher, specifically a writing master — he wrote The Writing Schoole-Master, a popular manual that saw its 16th edition in 1636. In 1611, Davies published a series of epigrams in his book The Scourge of Folly including one addressed to Shakespeare.

The title is “To our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare.” The colon signifies Will as a shortened version of William. Eight lines follow referring cryptically to Kings, “sport,” and parts played. The question is, who is Terence?

Terence was a Roman author; the investor from Stratford was a shareholder in a London acting company called the King’s Men; Davies’s second line reads “Had’st thou not played some Kingly parts in sport . . .” Aha! says the mainstream. Davies is saying Shake-speare the actor and Shake-speare the author are the same person.

Well there you are!

N.B. Academics, avert your eyes. No broaches, please.

A book by Roger Ascham has bad news. Ascham, like Davies, was a teacher — he was one of Queen Elizabeth’s tutors. Ascham’s book, The Scholemaster, was published in three editions in 1570, 1579, and 1589. When Davies called Shake-speare “our English Terence,” he was NOT saying Shakespeare was similar to a Roman writer.

It is well known by good record of learning, and that by Cicero’s own witness, that some Comedies bearing Terence’s name were written by wise Scipio and worthy Laelius. — Roger Ascham in The Scholemaster

Uh-oh. Bad turns to worse. Montaigne’s Essays, published in French in the 1580’s and translated in 1603 into English by John Florio also tells the story of Terence, Scipio, and Laelius.

For, to prove this labor [the Comedies with the Terence byline] to be theirs, the exquisite eloquence and excellent invention thereof doth sufficiently declare it: and Terence himself doth avouch it.

Montaigne explained that Scipio and Laelius were “great personages” for whom “the perfection of well-speaking” would NOT bring them appropriate “glory.” Thus, they “resigned the honor of their Comedies” to Terence.

Mainstreamers, open your eyes. Scipio is refreshing after the theater.

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Scipio! It relieves fatigue and excitement! A few sips of Scipio and rationality is a distant dream.

It is not altogether surprising that Shakspere didn’t write the plays and poems. He was a shareholder in the King’s Men, part-owner of the Globe Theater, part-owner of the Blackfriars Theater, a major Stratford real-estate and agricultural investor, and a dealer in commercial quantities of grain and malt: he didn’t have the time to be anything but an “English Terence.”

Of course, Davies was far from the only one to comment about the existence of a semi-literate theater magnate who had the name and the money, but not the talent or the ability: reactions to the “English Terence” situation were widespread; they covered a broad emotional range — from bitter anger to mocking amusement.

A rich, arrogant “Puppet” who has been “beautified with our feathers” has the gall to “speak from our mouths” and then claim he “is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you [my fellow writers]” (Robert Greene).

A wealthy theater big shot is “so bold a thief” that he “makes each man’s wit his own” while “we, the robb’d” can do nothing about it — this thief started off buying “old plays” and now “devours” everything in sight (Ben Jonson).

Greene and Jonson made it clear they were referring to Shakespeare.

Greene called the theater owner an “upstart Crow” who was “in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.” The upstart Crow epithet, unlike Scipio, is in every mainstream book. What is typically missing is the context.

After first parodying a rich, mean, stupid “gentleman player” who repeats Latin phrases without knowing what they mean and who takes advantage of the poor poet “Roberto,” Robert Greene offers his epithet-filled open letter.

In the letter, Greene calls Shake-scene an “upstart Crow,” a “Usurer” and an “Ape.” He must not be trusted. Greene advises his friends, Peele, Marlowe, and Nashe, to “seek better Masters.” These “rare wits” should not allow their “admired inventions” to fall into the hands of Shake-scene, an Ape who should be left with nothing but the ability to “imitate your past excellence.”

“Base-minded men all three of you, if by my misery you be not warned.”

Greene’s moneyed monster is a Shakespearean horror: he has a “Tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide.” The original quote from 3 Henry VI — “Tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide” — refers to a remorseless murdering Queen of surreal cruelty.

Jonson complained, not quite so bitterly but no less strongly and rather more directly, of a “Poet-Ape that would be thought our chief.” At the time, Shakespeare’s works had been printed in what modern scholars call a “staggering and unprecedented” fifty thousand copies in London, population two hundred thousand. He was indeed the chief.

Jonson’s Poet-Ape was no such thing: he was, to be precise, a “thief” with a sordid history as a play broker. Having “grown to a little wealth and credit in the scene,” he laughed off his blatant “crimes.” Jonson’s description is eloquent and detailed and in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet.

London students giggled. In a satiric comedy called the Parnassus Plays, a student playing an actor in the King’s Men (Kempe) gives a speech in which he says his “fellow Shakespeare” is a great writer, better than that “pestilent fellow” Ben Jonson, better than “that writer Ovid,” and better than “that writer Metamorphoses.” LOL.

The deeply misinformed Kempe character, who doesn’t know the difference between a poem by Ovid and a writer, falls all over himself with appreciation for his “fellow Shakespeare” who doesn’t “smell too much” of “that writer Ovid.” Oh, thank goodness, our down-to-earth “fellow,” ah yes!

Of course, the audience knows Shakespeare as a poet with Ovid oozing from every pore of his body and every stroke of his pen — Venus and Adonis, the epic poem that made the name “Shakespeare” famous virtually overnight in 1593, was a rewrite of an Ovidian story.

Kempe: “Why here’s our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down.” ROFL.

Shakspere’s associates in Stratford didn’t think of their “townsman” as a writer any more than anyone in London did. Mainstream biographer Samuel Schoenbaum explains: “They probably troubled their heads little enough about the plays and poems. Business was another matter; they saw Shakespeare [they actually called him Shakspere] as a man shrewd in practical affairs.”

Schoenbaum, who said, “Perhaps we should despair of ever bridging the vertiginous expanse between the sublimity of the subject and the mundane inconsequence of the documentary record,” was immune to his own research.

Harold Bloom, the mainstream author of Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, calls people interested in the authorship question “lunatics.” But Bloom has studied Shakespeare’s biography deeply: “There is an inverse ratio, a little beyond our analytical skills, between Shakespeare’s virtual colorlessness and his preternatural dramatic powers.” Bloom hit the nail on the head.

Another mainstream biographer, Park Honan, has never been topped: “Shakespeare seems to have flourished with a certain annihilation of the sense of himself” [emphasis added].

Today, scholars continue the great Schoenbaum-Bloom-Honan tradition by misreading contemporary commentary to the point of schizophrenia.

Davies’s reference to “our English Terence” is easily explained if you’ve never heard of Scipio: “Terence was an ancient Roman playwright who came from humble origins, just like Shakespeare.”

Greene’s warning about the Usurer/Ape/upstart Crow is obviously nothing more than “a veteran writer shrewdly taking the measure of an upstart he doesn’t much like.”

Jonson’s “Poet-Ape that would be thought our chief” must have been someone other than Shakespeare.

The student-produced gag is clear testimony, easy to understand: “This passage establishes that the playwright Shakespeare was a fellow actor of Kempe.”

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How do you know he was a writer? Well, for one thing, he’s better than Metamorphoses he is. And don’t forget he doesn’t smell like Ovid, no not a bit. Oh, but that Ovid is a pestilent fellow, inn’t ee!

Another enormous problem for the clueless businessman is that he apparently never met the Earl of Southampton. Southampton was Shakespeare’s dedicatee on his two epic poems and is the only person to ever receive a Shakespeare dedication. The first 126 sonnets are obviously written to him as well.

Even modern scholars, despite their terror of the authorship question, often admit Southampton is a likely candidate: the earl was first suggested as the “lovely boy” of the sonnets in 1817 by Nathan Drake.

The connection between author and earl ran exceptionally deep: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end . . .” (epic poem, dedication); “From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die” (Sonnet 1); “Make thee another self for love of me” (Sonnet 10); “thou art all the better part of me” (Sonnet 39); “O thou my lovely boy . . .” (farewell, Sonnet 126).

But no link between the businessman and the “lovely boy” has been found despite centuries of searching.

We must not be unfair: we must not exclude the real-estate tycoon “on semantic grounds,” says the ivy league professor. Yes, there is no independent evidence of a connection between the businessman and this earl or any other patron. But Shakespeare “directly addressed a patron, the Earl of Southampton.” Therefore, the businessman is the author.

Yes, really.

Euclid is rolling in his grave. But we need not trouble our heads about logic. Ascham and Montaigne told us exactly what “our English Terence” meant to the Elizabethans. Greene’s deathbed tears provide a watery backdrop. The Cambridge students’ humor provides the color Bloom was looking for.

Finally, Ben Jonson sets the stage in three informative rhyming (abab) quatrains and one cutting rhyming (aa) couplet.

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Frippery (from the French freperie, rags) are discarded clothing.

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On behalf of humanity, dear Euclid, we apologize sincerely.

So far, the mainstream looks frighteningly ridiculous; surely, they can’t be that stupid! Thank goodness mainstream observers make one valid point. It’s just the one point, but the mainstream’s “ace in the hole” is an extremely powerful card. They may have been right all along.

In 1623, seven years after the wealthy businessman from Stratford died, twelve plays that had been published accurately during his lifetime and twenty-four plays that had either not been published at all or that had been hacked and mangled, were rescued and published in the monumental “First Folio” which contains prefatory material saying that the businessman had, in fact, been the great author.

The mainstream says anyone claiming the prefatory material is fraudulent is a conspiracy theorist. And they are right again! All hail the mainstream! Faking the prefatory material would indeed have required a conspiracy.

The relevant Elizabethan conspiracy is called by historians the Essex Rebellion. It was aimed at the crown itself. The Earl of Southampton was neck-deep in it.

In 1601, the “lovely boy” of the sonnets, along with the Earl of Essex and four unfortunate knights, was arrested and charged with high treason. Southampton, Essex, and the four commoners were convicted on all charges and sentenced to gruesome deaths. At the same time, scattered sympathizers among the nobility got away with fines.

Queen Elizabeth had been ailing and the succession was in doubt: no one except Lord Burghley and perhaps Elizabeth herself knew who would be the next monarch. Essex and Southampton evidently had ideas of their own. They planned an assault on the palace. They didn’t get far.

The first Lord Burghley, William Cecil, had created a vast network of spies still in operation in 1601. Burghley’s son, Robert Cecil, having taken over from his father as the right-hand man of the monarch, easily outwitted the Southampton-Essex amateur hour. The two earls and their knighted friends got their dates with the axeman, the hangman, a knife, and four horses — not the most fun kind of date.

In mulling the fate of the popular Earl of Essex, the Queen, the “Moone goddess” herself, chose mercy. She could not bear to see Essex hung by the neck, his intestines torn out, and his arms and legs ripped from his body thence to be beheaded. He had been one of her favorites in better days.

He got three whacks with the axe. These were sufficient to sever Essex’s fool head from his body. The knights weren’t so lucky.

With his five friends worm food, Southampton languished in the Tower of London perhaps contemplating the “long life still lengthened with all happiness” a brilliant writer who loved him had wished him as a teenager. Shakespeare’s wish didn’t seem likely to come true.

But miracles happen.

Guilty of a crime worse than murder, having threatened the god-sanctioned Crown, the noble young man would live, and not just in Shakespeare’s poetry. Southampton’s sentence — death by torture — was commuted to life in prison.

No one knows why.

Two years later, with the “mortall Moone” having finally been “eclipsed,” King James of Scotland ascended the throne exactly as Lord Burghley and his son Robert had planned for years (another conspiracy). The day James was crowned, the day the succession was settled, the day “peace proclaimed Olives of endlesse age,” the day the whole country breathed a huge sigh of relief, Southampton’s sentence, death after decades in prison (“a confin’d doome”), was mysteriously commuted. Again.

This time he got a royal pardon.

Southampton was released with his intestines nicely curled in his body and his head firmly attached to his shoulders. His earldom was restored with all of his privileges and all of his lands. And even that’s not the end of it.

The summer of his release, Southampton was promoted. King James made him Captain of the Isle of Wights and a Knight of the Garter, this last a singular honor even today. No historian has the slightest idea why Southampton merited such treatment.

Who could have seen such a rosy future for the convicted traitor? Who could have prophesied such lavish rewards? Whose eyes could divine Southampton’s true worth? Whose prefiguring could tell of Southampton’s good fortune?

Shakespeare’s, maybe . . . though even he couldn’t say why.

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Twenty years after Southampton’s deliverance, the First Folio compiled all thirty-six Shakespeare plays in one magnificent volume. But something was missing — namely, all things Southampton. Two-thirds of the Shakespeare canon was rescued from oblivion, but the epic poems and the sonnets were left to fend for themselves. There are many possible reasons for this, but the truth is we simply don’t know why the poetry was left out.

In 1623, the epic poems had already been published in several editions each and were still popular. The sonnets had seen just a single edition: they were presented to the public for the first (and almost the last) time in 1609 when the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, famously called Shakespeare “our ever-living poet” and laid out for all to see the sonnets that had previously circulated only amongst the author’s private friends.

Shakespeare was the dominant literary figure in England at the time. He had written a series of hauntingly beautiful, somewhat mysterious sonnets to a “lovely boy” whose “worth” was “wide as the ocean.” These were followed by another series of intense missives addressed to a “mistress” whose “eyes are raven black.”

How strange that the private writings of the greatest poet in history were so unpopular. Perhaps discerning readers in the England of King James had no use for such trivia. Or maybe the sonnets were unpopular with one person in particular. But that’s another “conspiracy theory.”

To summarize what is known: Shakespeare dedicated the first works published under his name to Southampton; Shakespeare wrote a series of heartfelt sonnets to someone who bears a strong resemblance to Southampton; Southampton committed treason; Southampton’s comrades were butchered; Queen Elizabeth died; King James ascended the throne; Southampton was released and granted royal favors; Shakespeare’s writings either about Southampton or dedicated to Southampton were excluded from the First Folio; the prefatory material in the First Folio pointed to the businessman of similar name identifying him as Shakespeare.

Nothing can be proven. However, the sudden identification of this man — a businessman who neither wrote nor received letters, who died rich in a bookless house surrounded by two illiterate daughters, who could barely write his own name, and who was openly called “our English Terence” — as Shakespeare, as the most erudite and well-read man in England, is not merely suspicious. It’s funny.

Speaking of funny, Sonnet 87 contains the following line: “So thy great gift upon misprision growing, comes home again on better judgement making.” Misprision of treason is a non-capital offense: the perpetrator has not informed the authorities of a treasonous plot. What could that be referring to? Careful now, you don’t want to be accused of believing in conspiracies.

The mainstream hates any connection of the sonnets to real life or real people and especially to the Essex Rebellion; even wondering who is the subject of the sonnets is a silly “parlor game.” This misprision line is a ticket to an apoplectic seizure; do spare the poor mainstreamers.

Though the sonnets are full of easy-to-understand lines such as “My glass shall not persuade me I am old, so long as youth and thou are of one date,” they are, according to the mainstream, not at all personal. In fact, the sonnets are “primarily fictional creations.” We must “steer clear of reading these remarkable poems as autobiography.”

Whatever you say.

Rational Speculation

Shakespeare loved the Earl of Southampton to whom he dedicated his first two published works.

Shakespeare wrote 126 sonnets to Southampton.

The sonnets tell of the earl’s mysterious “worth” (mentioned in ten sonnets) “wide as the ocean is” (Sonnet 80) and also speak of a “Chronicle” written by those who do not have “skill enough your worth to sing” (Sonnet 106). This “worth” saved Southampton’s life after he committed high treason.

The sonnets speak of Southampton’s learning of his worth: “thy own worth then not knowing” (Sonnet 87).

The sonnets, the connection between Shakespeare and Southampton, the royal succession, and Southampton’s pardon were all somehow related.

Mainstream Gibberish

An astute businessman from Stratford dedicated two epic poems to a teenaged Earl he may never have met.

The businessman from Stratford addressed someone as a “lovely boy” in 126 sonnets. This boy was “my love,” “my all-the-world,” “my Rose,” “all the better part of me,” etc., etc.,

The “lovely boy” could have been anyone or no one.

Anyone or no one was, in the eyes of the “colorless” Stratford businessman, a “tender churl” and a “self-willed” young man. He was “thy mother’s glass” and “she in thee calls back the lovely April of her prime.” But he wasn’t a real person.

Anyone or no one was very important to a writer who had otherwise “annihilated the sense of himself.” This shimmering writer first offers limitless love, gentle guidance, occasional admonishment, and unconditional support to his beloved but then evaporates like the Cheshire Cat into a puff of imagination.

The subject who may not have been Southampton will be celebrated forever in Shakespeare’s “monument” of “gentle verse.” But this monument does nothing to repair the “mundane inconsequence of the documentary record” because it was nothing personal.

Today, almost 400 years after the First Folio buried the troublesome sonnets and elevated the shrewd businessman, we see the modern heir to the great Lord Burghley, Michael William Cecil, the 18th Baron Burghley, as a signatory on the “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” which is a rational document that basically says to mainstream scholars, “Houston, we have a problem.”

A Columbia University professor answered by writing Contested Will which is a beautifully written book glorifying the mainstream viewpoint. The book is of course a Scipio-free zone; we trust the good professor did not use broaches.

Diana Price is not a university professor, but her book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, makes her appear smarter than 100 typical academics. Probably no one is really quite that smart, but Price is rational and that makes all the difference.

Read both books. Then raise a glass with me and with Diana Price to rationality. — Thor Klamet

P.S. For a fuller discussion, click here. For the story of the sonnets, click here.

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