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Robert Detobel: SHAKESPEARE: THE
Review by Jan Scheffer and Elke Brackmann
Robert Detobel has definitely achieved real mastery in the art of making documents speak. Reading is not as easy a skill as it seems: The seduction of speculating and lazy thinking is not only a modern danger, even for Oxfordianism; Detobel indeed teaches us to read anew.
In the introduction he promises to thoroughly examine key documents and placing them in their right historical context, something previous scholars have failed to do, doubtless with disastrous results - his unbiased approach to the task, however, is outstanding.
The book is divided into three parts. A proper reading of the "lifeless" documents results in his demonstrating that de Vere is Shakespeare. The dedication to the Herbert brothers and the epistle "To the Great Variety of Readers" in the First Folio are analyzed first. He goes to great lengths to stress a difference most readers might simply overlook, namely that the author was dead and could not edit his own works. However, the two statements are not correlated. As minute as the difference might appear at first glance, as wide-reaching are the consequences for the authorship debate. For the epistle tells us that the author was departed by death from the right to "oversee" his work, whereas the dedication states that he had not the fate "to execute" his own writings, adding that this was "common with some". Both terms are borrowed from testamentary terminology. The overseer was appointed by the testator to watch the executor; he controlled the execution of the will from the background. This is what Shakespeare was doing as an overseer between 1598 and 1604. In 1604 he was deprived of that right. But even between 1598 and 1604 the author Shakespeare did not "edit" his works as he did not publicly assume the role of author, that is, he wrote neither dedications nor epistles to the readers, nor were the works accompanied by any encomia. It was not death that deprived him of the right to edit. The fate of not being in a position to "execute" or "edit" his own works if these works were, as Francis Bacon expressed it in the apologizing letter to his brother Anthony prefacing the first edition of his Essays in 1597, if "they be of some nature", was the fate of the aristocratic writer. And so the apposition "common with some" becomes perfectly clear. To edit their own works was common for "commoners" but not for aristocrats. This sophisticated diction must be taken seriously, not only read superficially: Thus these two very small bits of information suffice to set free this truth: Shakespeare was an aristocrat or courtier who died in 1604. It is hardly surprising that no noteworthy attempt has been undertaken by orthodox scholars to elucidate the meaning of those prefaces.
The other two chapters of the first part proceed with a close reading of the registers of the Stationers' Company between 1595 and 1623. It is Detobel's merit to have shown for the first time what scholars had been unable to explain up to now: What does the entry of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice on 22 July 1598 mean? What we have to do with is a memorandum to the successive wardens (they were yearly elected anew) of the company that no other stationer could claim the printing of one issue even when the copy owner James Roberts were waiting a very long time before publishing the play - which, indeed, is what Roberts was doing. But this prohibition could take effect on only one condition: the author had to express his veto. From which it follows that the Lord Chamberlain, making the publication conditional upon his permission or licence, was the author. Who is this Lord Chamberlain? In 1598 there were only two candidates: Lord Hunsdon, Chamberlain of Her Majesty's House, as was his full title, or the Earl of Oxford, Lord Great (or High) Chamberlain of England. Hunsdon is of course an unlikely candidate. Again, Detobel successfully turns to another document to support his thesis, scrutinizing Francis Meres' "Comparative Discourse" in which no mention is made of Hunsdon. Checking Meres' symmetries in each paragraph, he arrives at a surprising conclusion which seems irrefutable. Meres deviates four times from exact symmetry. In four cases the numbers of Meres' comparisons are not equal on both sides of the equation. But the asymmetry is in each case spurious. As in the paragraph on comedy 16 ancient and 17 English authors are listed, this asymmetry too is spurious. It is the paragraph mentioning both Edward de Vere and Shakespeare!
The second part mainly deals with the letter in Greene's Groatsworth of Wit and Chettle's apology. Both documents contain a number of elements more overlooked than looked over by orthodox and anti-Stratfordian scholars alike. His profound reading of the documents makes some of the actions of the "divers of worship" intervening for another "worship" in this literary scandal explicable. Detobel proceeds analytically, asking important questions: Why did the "divers of worship" argued against the letter in GGW that the playwright was "honest" when, at face value, no such reproach is made? If the "divers of worship" argued the playwright's honesty, the possibility must be contemplated that such a reproach was implied. Why does Chettle revoke the reproach alleged by the "divers of worship" by ascertaining that his "demeanour was civil" and why the "divers of worship" seemed to be satisfied with this revocation? And what could Chettle's affirmation that his demeanour was civil "as he excellent in the qualiy he professes" mean ? Why did Chettle not know for certain if one of the two playwrights actually felt personally offended (he only knew it because "divers of worship" intervened on behalf of one of the playwrights)? Why did Chettle not address a personal apology to this playwright as he did in the case of the other (Marlowe)? Indeed, Chettle's apology to the third playwright was a public one, enforced on him by the "divers of worship".
The answer, based on two articles on slander in the 16th and 17th centuries by William S. Holdsworth in the Law Quarterly Review (1924) is fairly simple. Slander of commoners was a private affair dealt with by a court, generally the Court of the Star Chamber. Chettle had to reckon with being sued by Marlowe for slander in the Star Chamber. But slander of a peer or another high-ranking officer was no private affair: it was an affair of state. Neither was it the private affair of the high-ranking person to require restitution of honor nor was it left to a court. The Privy Council took charge of the matter. As they did in 1580 when Gabriel Harvey slandered Oxford and Sir James Croft thought he had been slandered by Harvey. Neither of them intervened personally with Harvey. Harvey was urged to recant by some "worshipful persons", being Sir Walter Mildmay and second secretary of state Thomas Wilson. Hence, the third playwright was a man of high rank and can neither be the commoner William Shakespeare nor the commoner George Peele. This cogitation is sufficient to destroy the contention that George Peele was the third playwright. But Chettle gives us another information which has hardly ever been noted and excludes Peele: the third playwright's "demeanour was civil" and " as excellent as he in the quality he professes". The expression "quality he professes" was only used for the profession of actor and unequivocally tells us that the third playwright had been exposing himself as an actor. Moreover, the author explains why Chettle's testimony to the civility of the third playwright satisfied the "divers of worship" who had "argued his honesty", civility and honesty being interchangeable signifiers for "proper social behavior", something orthodox scholars seem not to be aware of.
Would this have been all, Shakespeare: The Concealed Poet would still be a very valuable book. These two parts, however, are topped by the wealth of new insights contained in the third part, which offers us a close reading of the Harvey-Nashe quarrel and the relation it bears to the subplot of Love's Labour's Lost. The importance of the Harvey-Nashe quarrel and the subplot of Love's Labour's Lost for the Oxfordian theory cannot be stressed enough. That this subplot has something to do with the Harvey-Nashe quarrel has also been noted by orthodox scholars. But they have never entered into the details. Understandably, for it would be hard for them to dodge the question why Shakespeare, who in his play shows himself privy to it, is not once named by Harvey or Nashe, whereas Oxford occupies centerstage, sometimes expressly named, more often clearly alluded to. Moreover, by intentionally confounding four times in a row Harvey's Three Familiar Letters of 1580 in one of which he libeled Oxford and his Four Letters of 1592 in which he vituperated Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe, Nashe sends us the clear message that the quarrel between him and Harvey in 1592 is intimately connected with the satirical poem "Speculum Tuscanismi" Harvey wrote against Oxford in 1580. In the light of this quarrel, many a joke in the subplot of Love's Labour's Lost becomes better understandable. The Harvey-Nashe quarrel and the subplot of Love's Labour's Lost illuminate one another.
Finally, although he does not name him explicitly, at one point Nashe identifies Oxford unambiguously. Indeed, in Have With You to Saffron Walden Nashe is lashing out at Harvey's overbearing speeches at Audley End in 1578. Nashe's source in this case are the four books of Harvey's Gratulationes Valdinenses. The first three books contain Harvey's speeches to the Queen, Lord Burghley and the Earl of Leicester, the fourth book the speeches to the Earl of Oxford, Philip Sidney and Christopher Hatton. So when Nashe in 1596 wishes Sidney's "knight companion" the favor he had enjoyed at court in his youth, only Oxford can be meant (Leicester, Sidney and Hatton were dead in 1596). Nashe suggests that Oxford is writing under another name; he wishes him "no other fame than he hath purchased himself by his pen". The praise Nashe, writing, it be reminded, in 1596, bestows on Oxford is the praise one would have expected him to bestow on the literary star of the day, the author of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece , for Nashe lauds Oxford as "Our Patron, our Phœbus, our first Orpheus or quintessence of invention". But a real author William Shakespeare seems to have been completely unknown to Nashe.
Detobel has kept his promise and more than that: The title page shows Rembrandt's famous doctors dissecting a corpse; obviously an allusion to the Stratfordians' attempt of reanimating Shaxpeare as Shakespeare. Detobel's profound and selfless research is a powerful medicine against such wishful thinking and at the same time open to further enrichment.
There is a German proverb expressing the fact that when matters are generally settled it is the little things that cause big problems. A word-for-word translation is "The devil is always stuck in the details." But so are the gods! Meditating upon details dispels uncertainties and doubts and offers insights. Detobel's contribution has helped the latter side. Oxfordianism cannot do without his mental landmarks.
© the De Vere Society Newsletter, Juliy 2011