British Author Explores Mysteries of the Bard

Doubts About Will Endure, as the Shakespeare Enigma Goes Local

BY PAULA KEHOE

Summer in Big Sky Country is well known for Shakespeare. Montana's Shakespeare in the Parks (MSIP) has been touring since 1973, offering hilarious, innovative and profound interpretations of the Plays. The Firehouse 5 Young Actors Workshop performed a splendid rendition of A Midsummer Nights Dream with about 80 children and only two weeks of rehearsal time. The Thomas More School also produces an enter-taining Shakespeare play each spring. In fact, Montanans may have more exposure to the Plays per capita than any other state.

This summer we are in for a double Bard treat. Besides our traditional Shakespeare offering from MSIP, Peter Dawkins, British author of The Shakespeare Enigma and The Wisdom of Shakespeare series, is in Montana for a series of lectures and workshops. Dawkins delves deeply into Shakespeare’s plays and their relevance to audiences today, and he brings to light the subtle fabric woven through Shakespeare’s work that stems from the Western philosophical traditions.
Dawkins, and Mark Rylance, former artistic director at the Globe Theatre in London, offer three weekend Wisdom of Shakespeare workshops in Britain every summer to study Shakespeare’s plays in depth. Participants interac-tively learn about the Wisdom traditions expounded in the plays. This summer, Montana audiences have an opportunity to enjoy Mr. Dawkin's scholarship, humor, and inspiring take on William Shakespeare.

Dawkins brings his scholarship and wit to bear on one of the great who-done-its of history: The Authorship controversy—as in, who actually wrote the Shakespeare plays? The question dates back to the 1800s. One of the best and most hilarious explorations of the authorship issue is Mark Twain's essay: Is Shakespeare Dead? Based on the Bard's impeccable knowledge of the intricacies of law displayed in the Plays, Twain said, “I took this attitude, to wit: I only believed Bacon wrote Shakespeare, whereas I knew Shakespeare didn't.”

For those who have not studied the matter, the answer may seem ridiculously simple—Shakespeare wrote the Plays, of course. Yet the evidence, and lack of evidence, gives definite room for more than reasonable doubt. Many great authors, lawyers and actors believe that someone else wrote Shakespeare. This list includes, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Orson Welles, Sir John Gielgud, and Walt Whitman.

One of the top Shakespearian actors of our time, Sir Derek Jacobi, is a sponsor of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition and their online petition (www.doubtaboutwill.org). The coalition’s goal is to promote a greater exploration of the authorship question and wider appreciation of the immense learning behind the Plays.  

Over 200 University faculty members and two current Supreme Court Justices have signed the petition. The “Doubters” have been featured with Mark Rylance on PBS's weekend edition.

My first experience of the great Authorship question came in High School. My Shakespeare teacher Peter Mantzaris declared that if any student brought up the idea that someone else wrote Shakespeare, that person would fail.
Well, this outburst from my normally reasonable teacher peaked my interest. So, I casually raised my hand and asked, why would any one even think that someone else wrote Shakespeare? He grudgingly replied that the handwritten originals of the Plays have never been discovered and that there are no examples of Shakespeare's handwriting ever found…other than five questionable signatures on legal documents. So began my study of the great Authorship controversy.

One of the most intriguing pieces of evidence as to the Authorship is Shakpur's last will and testament (the most common spelling of the Stratford actor's name). The document has puzzled Shakespeare fans for hundreds of years. It contains one of Shakespeare’s five “legitimate” handwritten signatures. The will also contains a detailed list of each of the man's belongings. It painstakingly lists everything, down to his “ second best bed.” There is no mention of one manuscript, book, or letter, let alone a copy of the Great Works. This literary absence is odd for the world's most brilliant writer.

Another curious fact is that Shakespeare's favorite daughter Judith had to “make her mark,” an X, on legal documents. Are we to believe then that Shakespeare, the creator of the immortal feminine characters Rosalind, Celia, Beatrice, Portia and Juliet, could not take the time to teach his own daughter to read and write, or is there something funny in Denmark?

Why does this question even matter today? Ah, there's the rub. One of the great Shakespeare scholars of our time, Yale professor Harold Bloom, teaches that Shakespeare, in a sense,  “invented” us—modern mankind. Meaning, we have come to see ourselves and explore our psychology, philosophy and meaning through the Shakespeare characters themselves. Before Shakespeare, not many writers took us inside a character's motivation and being. Bloom says we know ourselves more deeply because Shakespeare wrote his plays.

In exploring the controversy, we find that there are a number of candidates for authorship, all with interesting connections to the plays. Peter Dawkins has an intriguing theory that encompasses all the evidence and offers a great adventure of the mind as he navigates readers through the clues.

Dawkins summed up the importance of the Authorship saying, “ The enigma of the subject is worthy of his genius as he loved to test the intuition of his characters. He was a master of disguise and revelation. If one thing is certain about the Plays, it is that nothing is as it appears.”

Explore the authorship issue and more Friday, July 9, Emerson Center, Bozeman, and at a seminar Sunday, July 10, Emigrant Hall, Paradise Valley. Tickets: www.francisbaconsamerica.org.

Paula Kehoe is a researcher of the Shakespeare controversy and is writing a book of fiction on the subject at her home in the Paradise Valley.

 

 

 

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