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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Rethinking William Shakespeare by H. N. Prasad

Rethinking William Shakespeare by H. N. Prasad

William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, is getting scholarly and   critical attention in multiple ways. This paper aims to explore Shakespeare’s authorship, his influence and his translation. K.S.Vijay Elangova interviewed Prof. Stanley Wells, President, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust about Shakespeare’s authorship. A number of studies took place in recent time to explore his authorship. Nearly 2500 signatories, including writers, academicians, actors and scholars assume themselves doubtful about his authorship. The book including The Contested Will and the films, Shakespeare in Love and the forthcoming Anonymous  dwell on this question. But Prof. Stanley Wells is thoroughly convinced and declares that there are sufficient evidences and proof about the authorship of Shakespeare. Further, he is co-editing a collection of essays with Dr. Paul Edmondson about the Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory. John Gross in his article ‘‘Shakespeare’s influence’’ claims that even poems, plays, novels of present time have impression of William Shakespeare. The poetry echoes countless instances. As W.H Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror (1945) subtitle  A Commentary on Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a brilliant medley of verse and prose in which Auden pursues his own preoccupations. Pasternak’s Shakespeare paints a vivid imagined picture of his tavern life in London. Today several plays have prints of  local circumstances and traditions of his time. Others were  ‘ appropriations’ in which Shakespearian material was given a new post-colonial or anti-colonial twist, as Welcome Msomi’s Umabathu, for instance (a Zulu transposition of Macbeth). In recent  time, the novelists like, Anthony Burgess and Robert Nye have succeeded in producing novels about Shakespeare. Burgess’s Nothing Like the Sun (1964) is notable for its gusto, wit and linguistic exuberance. Nye’s Mrs Shakespeare offers  us an intimate and less than enraptured view of the great man through the eye of Anne Hathaway. The article ‘‘Shakespeare and translation’’ by Ton Hoenselaars views that Shakespeare is widely studied in the works of translation in recent years. Dennis Kennedy and Michael Billington have championed a multi-cultural  approach to Shakespeare. Thus Shakespeare became a literary saint whose work was sacrosanct like the bible, yet, the translator became one of the apostles.

Rethinking William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare is widely known and studied worldwide. The scholars like David Kathman, John Gross, Ton Hoenselaars, Prof. Stanley Wells make an authoritative information about his stature in contemporary period. A number of efforts are made by various critics and scholars about his authorship. Recently, in The Hindu, K. S. Vijay Elangova interviewed Prof. Stanley Wells, President, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust about Shakespeare’s authorship. It out broke a cry over William Shakespeare’s works about whether he wrote his works or not. Prof. Stanley Wells viewed that this rubbish came about in the middle of 19th century when Shakespeare’s genius flourished worldwide. It all started in the 1850’s when the American teacher and writer, Delia Bacon who was even not related to Francis Bacon, started to suggest that the plays had been written by a committee of people, led by Sir Francis Bacon. They also think the original author was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford who had borrowed Shakespeare’s name for his plays. They contend Shakespeare had only humble origins and could not have had exposure to royalty and royal atmosphere and did not possess the aristocratic sensibility which most of his plays reflect.

Another scholar David Kathman in his article ‘‘The Question of Authorship’’ tries to explore some views concerning Shakespeare’s authorship. It is also found that some amateurs in this field who argue that William Shakespeare is actually a pseudonym for a mysterious hidden author. The anti–Stratfordians accept that the real Shakespeare is 17th Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe. They claim that the Stratford man’s name is not Shakespeare at all, but Shakspere, the spelling he himself uses in his signatures. The Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and actor Michael York also sympathise with those anti–Stratfordians.

Further, Stephen Greenblatt’s book, Will in the World (2005) shows  how a man who has only a secondary school education, becomes the most renowned playwright of all time. It interweaves a searching account of Elizabethan England with a vivid narrative of the playwright’s life. We see Shakespeare learning his craft, starting a family, and forming a career for himself in the wildly competitive London theatre world, while at the same time grappling with dangerous religious and political forces that took less agile figures to the scaffold. It is found that Shakespeare as the patron Saint of parking lot attendants, getting his start in the big city holding horses for rich folks. But he quickly dismisses that image.  James Shapiro’s The Contested Will (2010) also examines authorship’s controversy. It declares that there is fabricated document about embellished lives, concealed identity, pseudonymous authorship, contested evidence, bald-faced deception, and a failure to grasp what could not be imagined.

Next thing is the film, Shakespeare in Love is a 1998 British-American romantic comedy drama film, directed by John Madden, written by Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard. The film depicts a love-affair, involving playwright William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) at the time when he was writing the play Romeo and Juliet. It has also dealt with the views that whether Shakespeare is Shakespeare or not. The film begins, as Shakespeare’s patron Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush) finds himself in debt to loan shark Hugh Fennyman (Tom Wilkinson). Henslowe offers Fennyman a partnership in the upcoming production of Shakespeare’s newest comedy, Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate’s Daughter promising that it will be a hit. This play will later be renamed Romeo and Juliet and be reworked into a tragedy. Shakespeare is suffering from writer’s block and has not completed the play, but begins auditions for Romeo. A boy named Thomas Kent is cast in the role after impressing Shakespeare with his performance and his love of Shakespeare’s previous work. Thomas Kent was really Viola de Lesseps who was dressed as a man because only men can be actors. Even, Faye Kellerman sues about the writers of the film that the story is lifted from her book, The Quality of Mercy (1989) a detective novel in which Shakespeare and a cross-dressing Jewish woman attempt to solve a murder.

A new film Anonymous, directed by Roland Emmerich, also suggests that William Shakespeare is a fraud and Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, the true author of his plays. It is a feature film based on the Prince Tudor, variant of the Oxfordian theory, written by John Orloff , premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. De Vere is portrayed as a literary prodigy who becomes the lover of Queen Elizabeth, with whom he sires Henry Wriothesley 3rd  Earl of Southampton, only to discover that he himself may be the Queen’s son by an earlier lover. He eventually sees his suppressed plays performed through the front man, William Shakespeare, who is portrayed as an opportunistic actor and the movie’s comic foil. Oxford agrees to Elizabeth’s demand that he remains anonymous as part of a bargain for saving their son from execution as a traitor for supporting the Essex Rebellion against her.

The film shows how plays are written and performed at a particular place and time, then published under another writer’s name. Elizabethan public theatres are depicted as places where low-class actors perform silly plays written by dramatists so mediocre they can’t imagine how anyone can compose an entire play in blank verse. De Vere’s genius is so towering that it is unimaginable how he can ever be influenced by these lesser talents. The film maker Emmerich and script writer Orloff inherits this bizarre about the past of English. It derives more or less intact from the work of a man named J. Thomas Looney, who first proposed 90 years ago that De Vere wrote Shakespeare’s plays. His book, Shakespeare Identified (1920) becomes the bible of the movement and has shaped the case for De Vere ever since. Looney was convinced that no commoner like Shakespeare who cared about money could have written the plays, but it was De Vere who wrote these plays because his life history was found in these plays.

Again, the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition which announces a one-year Master of Arts programme on Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare in Shakespeare authorship studies that is coinciding with Brunel University. The coalition aims to enlist broad public support by 2016, the 400th anniversary of  Shakespeare’s death. The academic Shakespeare establishment will be forced to acknowledge that legitimate grounds for doubting Shakespeare’s authorship exist. More than 1200 signatures were collected by the end of 2007, and as of July 2012 the number of signatures had increased to 2413, including those of 420 former academics. On 22 April 2007, The New York Times published a survey of 265 American Shakespeare professors on the Shakespeare authorship question. To the question of whether there is good reason to question Shakespeare’s authorship, 6 percent answered ‘yes’, and 11 percent possibly.

His influence is also worldwide, as W. H. Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror : A Commentary on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a poem of dramatic monologue. It was first published in 1944, later it was published in 2003, by Arthur Kirsch. Caliban to the Audience is a prose poem in the style of Henry James, where Auden reflects on the nature of the relationship of the author (presum’ably Shakespeare) to the audience of  the Tempest, the paradoxes of portraying life in art, and the tension of form and freedom. In the three parts of the poem, where the so good, so great, so dead author is asked to take a curtain call and being unable to do so. Caliban stands in his place to take the questions. In  the  first  section,  there  is  meditation  on   the  dramatic  arts,     in  various personifications, the Muse for the dramatic arts, Caliban as the Real  World, and Ariel as the Poetic world, The second section deals Shakespeare on behalf of his characters which reflects on the journey of Life, the down at heels disillusioned figure and the desire for either personal or artistic freedom. The third section meditates on the paradox of life and art, with mutually exclusive goals, where the closer to Art you come, the farther from life you go, and vice versa. It ends with a coda of sorts, with the paradox is resolved through faith in the wholly other life. The poem is not merely a great work but ranks as one of the most profound interpretations of Shakespeare’s final play in the twentieth century. As, it is really about the Christian conceptation of art and it is Ars Poetica, in the same way as  believed, The Tempest to be Shakespeare’s.

Boris Pasternak, a Russian writer wrote Shakespeare, that is an evidence of Shakespeare’s wide influence, as  he writes :
well, master Shakespeare, i do know your talent.
  and i have the seal of your genius, well.
i think, and i’m sure. you will be so prudent
 to agree that this place is not ready for me!(Pasternak 1)

Welcome Msomi, a South African playwright who wrote Umabathu :  A Zulu transposition of Macbeth, which is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth into the tribal Zulu culture of the early 19th century. It evinces that Shaka like Macbeth visits early in his career by an Isangoma (with doctor) whose prophesy is that he is a man who already sees a chief of chiefs. Later in confrontations with the powerful Isangomas, he defies their superstitious magic and emerges with undisputed authority. His wife, Pampata, also predicts that he will rule the entire world they know, like lady Macbeth, or Kamandonsela of Umabatha. Pampata plays a dominant role in Shaka’s ambitious reign and has, in Shaka’s own words as, a mind shrewder than that    of a ring-headed counselor. As it is said that the similarities between Shakespeare’s Macbeth and our own Shaka become a glaring reminder that the world is, philosophically, a very small place.

In the fiction, Shakespeare has been vividly seen, as Anthony Burgess’s Nothing Like the Sun, which has subtitle, A Story of Shakespeare’s Love-life. It follows Shakespeare as WS, a young man who  is struck by the image of a dark goddess to a man wasting away from syphilis. Naturally, Burgess spends considerable time on Shakespeare’s relationships with the Dark

Lady and Fair Youth of Shakespeare’s sonnets, renders here as Fatimah, a woman of color from the East Indies, and Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton. From the first page, you realize that Nothing Like the Sun is one of those kinds of novels where, there is some absolutely beautiful language, especially concerning Shakespeare’s desire for a dark lady and how the abstract fantasy of it does not quite match up with the reality of it, his dark goddess is always described as golden. It is never flowery, but it’s often powerful. The novel is very rich, while the language feels spontaneous and periodic, it’s very     specific. The novelist reflects back on Shakespeare’s early fantasy concerning a wealthy widow of color as he goes through life, failing an encounter with a black prostitute and his relationship with Henry, which play with the text of that fantasy interestingly.

The novelist, Robert Nye is also influenced by Shakespeare. His novel, Mrs. Shakespeare illustrates Shakespeare. The novel has a central character, Anne Hathaway, who reveals to us the real Shakespeare. It is written after seven years of Bard’s death. The novelist carries us Anne’s memoirs, of course, as Shakespearean gospel. Mrs. Shakespeare has a way of storytelling that the Bard himself will envy. Not only does she present facts about their life together, she presents them in a way that relates to all people who haven’t felt jealousy when their spouse puts work above them. Who is not angry when they lose a child and have no one to talk about? It is not so much a story of William Shakespeare, but a story of how his wife sees him. We hear about Mr. Shakespeare from his wife, the woman who knows him best.

The paper will now discuss the perennial translations of Shakespeare. As Dennis Kennedy and Michael Billington have viewed Shakespeare in translations. Kennedy’s emphasis shows the calibre of foreign Shakespeare. He echoes native British condition, while Shakespeare is  performed in non-English-speaking contexts, without his language. Kennedy’s contentions in Foreign Shakespeare (1993) are the most portentous developments of  Shakespeare on stage since the Second World War have been of foreign origin, deriving largely from continental Europe, where Shakespeare is practised in languages other than English. In general, foreign productions of Shakespeare, frees from the burden imposed by centuries of admiring his language, have been more ready to admit that the door to the past is locked. In English the language will always be important to our appreciation, yet our ability to reach the plays directly in their original language lessens year by year. Our own English continues to change, and eventually only specialists will be able to read the texts, much less listen to them comfortably in the theatre. This may well happen within the next fifty years. Reflecting on performances outside of English, we can see more clearly how Shakespeare is alien, as well as what we continue to find indigenous about him.

Michael Billington has shared his view with his British Guardian and expected that we can not help but see Shakespeare in terms of our own language, history and culture. He also hopes that we need to widen that definition of culture. He wants that we should work towards an appreciation of Shakespeare in cultural contexts other than that familiar from an English perspective, Shakespearean translation may be the occasion to enable non-English speaking people to appreciate Shakespeare. The German-speaking world prides itself on Wieland, Schiller, Schlegel who have tackled the sonnets of Shakespeare brilliantly. In France, Marcel Schwob, Alfred Vigny, Marcel Pagnol, Andre Gide, Jean Anouilh and Yves Bonnefoy have tried their hands at Shakespeare. In Russia, Boris Pasternak produces formidable translations of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Henry IV, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra. His translation of Shakespeare’s works remains deeply popular with Russian audiences because of their colloquial, modernised dialogues. Day by day, he reproduces his actions and he is drawn into some of his secrets, not in theory, but practically, by experience. As It is found whenever Boris Leonidovich has been provided with literal versions of things which echo his own thoughts or feelings, it makes all the difference and he works  feverishly turning them into masterpieces.

Thus, Shakespeare’s relevance and importance has been analysed in different ways. His authorship has been acknowledged widely. The works like, Will in the World, Shakespeare in Love, Anonymous have supported the authorship conspiracy, but Prof. Stanley Wells is thoroughly convinced and has accepted that Shakespeare is the author of his plays. If critics and scholars are debating on his authorship, it means his name and achievements are still remembered and his influence is also being seen how he influenced different stalwarts of all decades since the Shakespearean age. A good number of poets, novelists and playwrights clearly have his influence and his works have widely been translated in almost all major languages of the world. Shakespeare is died but he is alive in the thoughts all around the world. Shakespeare is thus not of an age but for all ages.

1. Auden, W.H. The Sea and the Mirror : A Commentary on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Ed. Arthur C. Kirsch. Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2005. 
2. Burgess, Anthony. Nothing Like the Sun. London : Vintage, 1992. 
3. Brantley, Ben. ‘‘Umabatha—The Zulu Macbeth.’’ Wiltern : UCLA News. August 19, 1997.

4. Elangova, K.S.Vijay.  ‘‘The real William Shakespeare.’’ Delhi : The Hindu. Sept 14, 2011.

5. Gross, John. ‘‘Shakespeare’s influence.’’ Ed. Stanley  Wells and  Lena   Cowen  Orlin.  New York : Oxford University Press, 2003.

6. Greenblatt,  Stephen. Will in the World : How Shakespeare became Shakespeare. New York : W.W. Norton, 2005.

7. Hoenselaars, Ton. ‘‘Shakespeare and Translation.’’ Ed. Stanley Wells and Lena Cowen Orlin. New York : Oxford University Press, 2003.  

8. James, Shapiro. Contested Will : Who Wrote Shakespear ? London : Faber and Faber, 2010.

9.  James, Shapiro. ‘‘Shakespeare—a fraud?’’ London : The Guardian.      Nov 4, 2011.

10. Kellerman, Faye. The Quality of Mercy. New York : Harper Collins Publishers, 1989.

11. Kennedy, Dennis. Foreign Shakespeare : Contemporary Performance. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1993.

12. Kathman, David.  ‘‘The question of authorship.’’ Ed. Stanley Wells and Lena Cowen Orlin. New York : Oxford University Press, 2003.

13. Looney, J. Thomas.  ‘‘Shakespeare’’ identified in Edward De Vere the seventeenth earl of Oxford.  London : C. Palmer, 1920.

14.  Msomi, Welcome. Umabatha. Johannesburg : Skotaville Publishers, 1996.

15.  Nye, Robert. Mrs. Shakespeare : The Complete Works. London : Arcade Publishers, 2000.

16.  Roger, Ebert. ‘‘Shakespeare in Love.’’ Chicago : Sun Times. Dec 25, 1998.

17.  Williams, Niederkorn. ‘‘Shakespeare Reaffirmed.’’ New York : The New York Times. April 22, 2007.

Web Links:
1. The Shakespeare Authorship Page..

2. The Shakespeare Influence Page..

Dr H. N. Prasad is an Asst. Prof. of English with the Dept. of English & MEL, University of Lucknow, Lucknow, (U.P., India).

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