Shapiro's writhing way of writing

SHAPIRO: 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

Anne Barton in New York Review of Books:

<<All in all, it is a great relief to turn from Wilson, Asquith, and Ackroyd to James Shapiro's A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599. The very last sentence of the epilogue to this consistently intelligent and informative study makes the biographical position of its author clear: "More so, perhaps, than any writer before or since, Shakespeare held the keys that opened the hearts and minds of others, even as he kept a lock on what he revealed about himself." With admirable restraint, Shapiro sets out to chronicle the public events of 1599 - its major news items, as it were-without speculating unduly about Shakespeare's own response to them.>>

Admirable restraint? Without unduly speculating? ?

1) P. 80 ff.

On Spenser's burial Shapiro is at a loss to explain where Shakespeare was. Several of Spenser's fellow-poets were present and threw verses into the tomb. It is unlikely that they would not have kept copies of these verses. Indeed, several were published later: Nicholas Breton, William Alabaster, Francis Thynne, Charles Fitzgeoffrey, John Weever, Richard Harvey, Hugh Holland quoted by Shapiro). Shapiro's explanation:

"Unlike most of his fellow writers, Shakespeare had a strong aversion to heaping praise on the work of the living or the dead. Rather than be seen carrying the hearse or ostentatiously tossing a poem into the grave, it's more likely that Shakespeare went home after the funeral and paid a quieter tribute, paging through a well-worn [RD: Shapiro saw it!!!] copy of Spenser's poetry. Yet as he heard Spenser publicly eulogized as England's greatest poet, Shakespeare could not have remained disinterested. Spenser, after all, had chosen paths Shakespeare had rejected. He had pursued his poetic fortune exclusively through aristocratic - even royal - patronage, and had done so in

                              description of fairest wights,
                And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
                In praise of ladies dead an lovely knight.

So Shakespeare puts in Sonnet 106, deliberately echoing Spenser's archaisms."

Possibly, Shapiro has filched this fancy from Daniel in whose sonnet 46 (Delia cycle) there is probably an allusion to Spenser (in 1594):

<<Let others sing of Knights and Palladines,
In aged accents, and untimely words.>>

But Shakespeare's sonnet takes quite another direction. There is not a single allusion to archaisms. This argument is made of "shreds and patches". Spenser's "aged accents" were in the first place his archaic vocabulary and his imitation of Chaucer. And what about Shakespeare and Chaucer, Mr Shapiro?
In sonnet 76 Shakespeare writes of himself in a way which rather likens him to Spenser:

Why is my verse so barren of new pride?
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,

2) P. 40ff. On Will Kemp

Shapiro explains that Kemp left the Chamberlain's Men in 1599 - which is correct. And left them in great anger at Shakespeare - which is invented and nothing short of a lie.

"The parting of ways between Kemp and Shakespeare was less than friendly (a year later, having left the company, Kemp was still muttering about 'Shakerags')."

Kempe's "shake-rags" has absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare and it is clearly meant for the ballad-makers whom he accuses of having spread lies on him and his morris dance from London to Norwich:

From: Kemps Nine Daies Wonder: Performed in a Morrice from London to Norwich. Wherein euery dayes iourney is pleasantly set downe, to satisfie his friends the truth, against all lying Ballad-makers; what he did, how hee was welcome, and by whome entertained:

"Kemps humble request to the impudent generation of Ballad-makers and their coherents ; that it would please their rascalities to pitty his paines in the great journey he pretends, and not fill the country with lies of his neuer done acts as they did in his late Morrice to Norwich.

To the tune of Thomas Delones Epitaph.

MY notable Shakerags, the effect of my suit is discouered in the Title of my supplication. But for your better vnderstandings: for that I know you to be a sort of witless beetle-heads, that can understand nothing, but what is knocked into your scalps; These are by these presents to certify vnto your block-headships, that I, William Kemp, whom you had never rent asunder with your vnreasonable rimes, am shortly God willing to set forward as merrily as I may; whether I wish ye, employ not your little wits in certifying the world that I am gone to Rome, Jerusalem, Venice, or any other place at your idle appoint.
I knowe the best of you by the lies you write of me,
got not the price of a good hat to couer your brainless heads..."


3) Pp. 99 -103, on Henry V.
<< The Chorus, which scholars have argued was played by Shakespeare himself...>>
There is of course not the faintest evidence for this absurd statement of a one-man chorus.

<< a copy of it was first ‘stayed' or ‘delayed'... and then have undergone extensive cut...>>

The copy which Thomas Pavier printed was in all likelihood a stage version of the play. The copy of Henry V which was presented for entrance by James Roberts on 4 August 1600 and was then stayed along with three others at the initiative of Thomas Pavier's occasional partner Edward White, who happened to be under warden for that period (July 1600 to July 1601), might have or not have been the original version. Most likely we have to deal with the same course of events as in 1603 for Hamlet. Roberts entered the latter play in July 1602 and printed it in the second half of 1604. But John Trundle had a much shortened stage version printed in 1603.

5) P. 103:
<< From Shakespeare's new lodgings near the Clink prison in the parish of St Saviour's in Southwark it was just a few minutes' stroll to the construction site of the Globe.>>

For this apparently self-evident statement not a shred of evidence is available.
Chambers (Shakespeare, II.90) writes:

"So far as his residence is concerned, the inference is that at some date before October 1596 he had lived in St. Helen's Bishopsgate; that by 1599, and possibly by the winter of 1596-97, he had ceased to do so, and that by October 1599 he was resident in the Clink on the Surrey Bankside. This is not inconsistent with Malone's statements of 1796 [these statements: "From a paper now before me, which formerly belonged to Edward Alleyn, the player, our poet appears to have lived in Southwark near the Bear-Garden, in 1596. Another curious document in my possession, which will be produced in the History of his Life, affords the strongest presumptive evidence that he continued to reside in Southwark in the year 1608] But unfortunately Malone left his Life incomplete before he reached the evidence for these, and Boswell, who completed the Life for the Variorum of 1821, did not give it. Collier attempted to supply the gap by two forged documents, which he ascribed to 1596 and 1609 respectively."

Shapiro attempts to supply the gap either by basing his statement on Collier's forgeries or by substituting a confident sounding statement of his own. That Shakespeare dwelled in St. Saviour's between 1596 and 1608 can be ruled out with almost absolute certainty.

The registers of St Saviour's are among the best preserved parish registers of the time. Only two statements from Mark Eccles contributions to Notes & Queries of 1) March 1991, Elizabethan Actors I: A-D, pp. 38-49; 2) December 1991, Elizabethan Actors II: E-J, pp. 454-460; 3) September 1992, Elizabethan Actors III: pp. 293-303; 4) June 1993, Elizabethan Actors IV: S to End, pp. 165-175.
Eccles III.294:

<< Kemp [William] and Dutton, an Admiral's Man, both lived in St Saviour's, Southwark. The token books for the parish (now on deposit at the Greater London Council Record Office in Clerkenwell) show that Kemp was living in 1602 in ‘Mr Langlyes newe Rentes nere the playhouse' in Paris Garden (Langley's Swan) and that Dutton in 1600 and 1602 lived in Brend's Rents near the Globe.>>

"Tokens" were sort of confirmation that the person in question attended the church. The name William Shakespeare does not once appear in the token books of St Saviour's.

Eccles IV p.169:

<< Martin Slater was assessed in 1595 for the third subsidy granted in 1593 and payable by 1595/6, but his five shillings could not be collected in 1596 because he had moved out of Middlesex.>>

So the case is comparable to Shakespeare's who had moved out of St Helen's Bishopsgate in 1597. But had he moved to the Clink, his name must have appeared there - as Slater's did.

<< The St Saviour's token books name Slater from Easter 1595 to Easter 1602.>>

Many players were living in St Saviour's and are recorded, among them, for instance, Shakespeare's fellows: Thomas Pope, Augustine Phillips, George Bryan, William Kempe, Lawrence Fletcher; further, Thomas Heywood, Antony and Humphrey Jeffries, Edward Juby, Robert Shaw, Aleander Cooke, and John Singer. About the latter, IV. 169:

<<Singer was assessed in Holywell Street, Shoreditch, on subsidy rolls from 1593 to 1596, when he had gone elsewhere. The token books of St Saviour's show that he lived in ‘Awstens Rents' by 1597 and the registers list five children...>>

The conclusion can only be that there dwelled no actor William Shakespeare near the Clink in St Saviour's Southwark.

6) P. 148, on Julius Caesar:

<< What Shakespeare brought to the play was not just cerebral. There's a visceral quality to the play that keeps it from turning into an intellectual exercice... It is most palpable in the bloody scenes where the conspirators hack Caesar to death and the Plebeians dismember Cinna the poet before our eyes. Shakespeare was no stranger to butchery. It's likely that as a youngster he accompanied his father to local butchers to purchase skins for making gloves[remark RD: It is, moreover, a not unplausible assumption that as a child he was sent by his parents to the butcher to buy blood sausage, maybe even of the brand Cinna]. One seventeenth-century Stratford tradition even holds that Shakespeare had been bound ‘apprentice to a butcher' before running off to the London stage; and John Aubrey was told that when ‘Shakespeare was a boy he exercised his father's trade, but whenever he killed a calf he would do it in high style and make a speech.' As an adult, when he had to write speeches that conjured the brutality of assassination, his childhood recollections served him well. Perhaps only a talented whittawer's son might liken Caesar's death to that of a slughtered animal; when Polonius brags in Hamlet that in his university days he ‘did enact Julius Caesar. I was killed i' th' Capitol; Brutus killed me,' Hamlet replies: ‘It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there' (III, ii, 103-6).>>

In his preface Shapiro writes:

<< Rather than awkwardly littering the pages that follow with one hedge after another - ‘perhaps', ‘maybe','it's most likely', ‘probably', or the most desperate of them all, ‘surely' - I'd like to offer one global qualification here: this is necessarily my reconstruction of what happened to Shakespeare in the course of this year and when I do qualify a claim it signals that the evidence is inconclusive or the argument highly speculative.>>

Nothing more needs to be added than this: if Shapiro has to rely on a statement of Aubrey's to put "life and blood" into Shakespeare, it proves by itself how lifefeless and bloodless the record is.

7) Pp. 160-1

<< When he was nineteen years old, still living in Stratford a few months after the birth of his first child, Shakespeare learned that his relative, John Somerville, a Catholic, had been implicated in a failed attempt to assasinate Queen Elizabeth... On 25 October 1583 Somerville left his home a few miles from Stratford and headed to London, intending to shoot the Queen. But he was intercepted the next day on the London road, near Aynho, and conveyed to the Tower... The leaders of the plot were put to death and Somerville himself was found strangled on the eve of his execution...(p. 160).>>

<< What Shakespeare knew about the plot, whether any of his Arden relations were investigated or suspected, even what his sympathies were, is lost to us; but apparently he didn't forget Somerville. There's an otherwise inexplicable moment in The Third Part of Henry the Sixth where the Earl of Warwick looks for his enemy, Clarence, in the wrong direction, and is corrected by a Warwickshireman who speaks briefly, then disappears. This bit character's name, efficiently immortalized, is Somerville.>>


Sir John Somerville appears in V.i.7-15:

WARWICK. Say, Somerville, what says my loving son?
  And by thy guess how nigh is Clarence now?
SOMERVILLE. At Southam I did leave him with his forces,
  And do expect him here some two hours hence.
                                              [Drum heard]
WARWICK. Then Clarence is at hand; I hear his drum.
SOMERVILLE. It is not his, my lord; here Southam lies.
  The drum your Honour hears marcheth from Warwick.
WARWICK. Who should that be? Belike unlook'd for friends.
SOMERVILLE. They are at hand, and you shall quickly know.

In the second part of Contention, Sommerville appears as Summerfield:

War. Say, Summerfield, where is my loving son?
       And by thy guess, how far is Clarence hence?
Summ. At Southam, my Lord, I left him with
      His force, and do expect him two hours hence.

8) P. 247:
<<An anecdote set down in the late eigteenth-century records how ‘a very old man' of Stratford-on-Avon, ‘of weak intellect, but yet related to Shakespeare - being asked by some of his neighbours what he remembered about him, answered - that he saw him once brought on the stage upon another man's back'. Another independent and fuller version of this tradition from around this time provides more corroborating details, recalling how Shakespeare played the part of ‘a decrepit old man', in which he appeared so weak and drooping and unable to walk, that he was forced to be supported and carried by another person to a table, at which he was seated among some company. Who were eating, one of them sung a song'. The descriptions bear a close resemblance to Adam's role [RD: As You Like It]. Scholars have long surmised that Shakespeare, not the finest actor in his company [RD: but in 1592 he would have been "the only shake-scene in a country"], may have taken ‘old man' parts for himself. There aren't any other anecdotes [RD. better is "anecdotages'] quite like this that describe which roles Shakespeare created for himself and, while there's no way of authenticating it, this tradition sounds plausible.>>

Did the silly old man, who was nevertheless a relation of Shakespeare's, tell this at the end of the 18th century? And did Shakespeare play Old Adam in AYLI in 1600? About 180 years before? Then the very old man must have been close to 200 years old.

<< Shakespeare added his name to a list of seventy or so people who in 1611 contributed to supporting a Parliamentary bill ‘for the better repair of the highways and amending diverse defects in the statues already made'. He was acting out of self-interest, knew that travel on the poorly maintained roads was travail, labour - and said as much in Sonnet 27:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But the begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind when body's work's expired.

His obligations to his parents, his wife and her family, his daughter and his business affairs drew Shakespeare to Stratford. But if Sonnet 50 can be said to offer any insight in his private life, the journey home must at times have produced mixed feelings, separating him as it did from other, more intimate relationships in London:

How heavy do I journey on the way;
When what i seek, my waery travel's end,
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say,
Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend.>>

And so on, 7 pages long on the possible association of the sonnets with the bad state of the highway between London and Stratford.

 © R. Detobel