Rumblings from the Oxfordian Underground
That crazy "Shakspur" plus a Bigfoot update
If mem’ry serves, it was in my college days and plodding through Hamlet that I came across the classic axioms of advice of Polonius to his son, which included such immortal lines as “to thine own self be true,” and “neither a borrower nor a lender be,” when, like a thunderbolt, I came across the admonition, “Remember, no matter how frail and slender be the string, just bind in it c**t and t’will hold fast a king.” (Yes, that says what you think it says.)
It seems I’d unknowingly procured a rare copy of the Bard’s unexpurgated plays. You see, in the early 1800s an Englishman, Thomas Bowdler (from whom we get the term “to bowdlerize,” a verb meaning to remove material considered improper or offensive) was incensed over Shakespeare’s vulgarity and realized that England’s common practice of reading the Bard aloud at family gatherings was akin to exposing them to pornography. So he laboriously undertook his own editing of the plays to render them palatable to the public. Even today, most of our modern editions follow Bowdler’s “revisions.”
Most changes are relatively minor. In Macbeth, for instance, “out damned spot” was switched to “out crimson spot” and the exclamation “God!” was changed to “heavens!” Some, however, were major: the prostitute character in Henry IV is completely removed, the suicide of Hamlet’s Ophelia is changed to accidental drowning, the gay relationship of Achilles in Troilus and Cressida is entirely omitted, and in the Sonnets, those immortal love poems written to another man, all the genders were changed from he to she. The famous sonnet “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” originally written to a male lover (Mr. W. H.), is edited to align with Victorian scruples. George Stevens remarked after first reading the unexpurgated poems, “It is impossible to read these fulsome sonnets, addressed to a male, without an equal measure of disgust and indignation.”
The six known samples of “Shaxspur’s” signatures (his own spelling), resemble nothing more than the pained, halting, half-legible scrawl of a country bumpkin (his father and his own daughters were all illiterate) who could awkwardly scribble his own name and little else. Five of those scrawls deal solely with the petty lawsuits and grievances of a Stratford grain-hoarder and real estate speculator, and his will (with that same almost illegible signature at the end) makes no mention of any plays or books, both valuable keepsakes, and instead leaves his wife only his “second best bed.”
Now, for reasons too numerous to relate here, I’d consider myself an “Oxfordian,” thinking it far more likely that Edward De Vere, 6th Earl of Oxford, was more apt to be the man behind the plays we commonly ascribe to Wilum Shaxspur. Oxford traveled widely in Italy, at virtually all of the locales in the plays (Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet). He was shipwrecked and captured by pirates, as was Hamlet, was familiar with court etiquette, the law and falconry, as was the author of the plays, and was a known ghostwriter. Called “Will” by his close friends, he was accused of being bisexual by enemies at court: his heavily underlined Bible (now in the possession of the Folger Library) contains no less than 30 marked passages which were likewise used in Shakespeare’s plays. His family crest shows a rampant Lion shaking a Spear.
As I mentioned, there’s too many reasons to go into here for my “Oxfordian” heresies, but I’m joined by such stalwarts as Henry James, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Orson Welles and Freud in thinking the good Edward is the author of the plays. A good, if hard to find, book on the subject is Shakespeare by Another Name by Mark Anderson (Gotham Books, 2005). A recent Hollywood fictional movie, Anonymous (2011 - the Sandpoint library has a copy) also deals with the subject and is worth a look. I hope Oxford will one day get the credit and recognition he deserves.
In Bigfoot News, I was mildly disappointed in the recent (November 17) Nat Geo special on DNA results by Dr. Sykes, Professor of Human Genetics at Oxford, though it was interesting to find there’s probably an extinct, previously unknown type of polar bear roaming around the high Himalayas. An interesting call was forwarded to me last weekend by a fellow Bigfoot enthusiast near Mt. Baldy who had a brief encounter (large footprints found after a sudden sighting) and I hope he’ll see this and e-mail me back here at the Palatial River Journal Ready Response Center with further information (joe(at)riverjournal.com).
‘til next time, keep spreading the word; Soylent Green is People! All Homage to Xena!