Archive for the Shakespeareana Category

Two New Portraits of Shakespeare Found?

Posted in News, Shakespeareana on 2014/02/18 by mattermind

We have so few authenticated images of Shakespeare that any report of a new discovery is bound to draw worldwide attention.  Over the last few days I have become aware of not just one, but two of them – one from Shakespeare’s early playwriting career and the other from his days of leisurely retirement.

The First is known as the Wörlitz portrait and features a young man brimming with confidence:

Worlitz Portrait

The second is called the Boaden portrait (featured on the right) and renders a gentleman who has acquired a good measure of comfort and ease:

New Portraits

PHOTO CREDIT: See German link below

There is solid scholarship behind the assertions, coming from Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, a noted professor of English at Mainz University, Germany.  (That is her seen standing between the two portraits.  For a full recap in German, click HERE.)

She has been on the prowl for authentic images of Shakespeare for over 20 years!  For those seeking more information, her WEBSITE offers much to explore in both German and English.

“I subjected the images to fundamental tests of identity and authenticity, and these revealed that we are dealing with true-to-life portraits of Shakespeare, one from his youth, the second from his old age,” Hammerschmidt-Hummel told Discovery News. (For the full story in English, click HERE.)

With such solid scholarship behind the recent announcements, there is a good likelihood that these two new images will stand the test of time, helping round out a pictorial timeline stretching from Shakespeare’s ambitious early days as a young actor and budding London playwright through his latter luxury as an accomplished gentleman in Stratford.

I will update this site as more information becomes available.


10 Curious Facts About Shakespeare

Posted in Shakespeareana on 2014/02/17 by mattermind

Normally these are fairly generic and often throwaway, but the bit about the pipe is news to me and Much Ado About Nothing just took on a whole new meaning.

Great Writers Who for Some Reason Hated Shakespeare

Posted in Shakespeareana with tags , , , on 2014/02/08 by mattermind


Old Tolstoy Found Religion – But No Love for Shakespeare

While I spend the weekend hanging out at the California Antiquarian Book Fair, I thought you might enjoy a sampling of contrarian points of view to my heavy doses of Bardology.

This all began when I discovered tp my amazement that no less than the eminent Leo Tolstoy detested Shakespeare with a white-hot passion. I plan to read an ebook of his essay graciously made available for free by the Guttenberg Project.

Tolstoy on Shakespeare

In the meantime, this sent me on a most bizarre odyssey as I googled one shocking tale after another of famous people who could not stand either Shakespeare or his work. Surely there must be some professional jealousy going on here.

If there is any truth to professor Harold Bloom’s theory in the “agon” of the ages, that great artists inherit an obligation to absorb the accomplishments of their predecessors, this must quite naturally lead to enormous anxiety when you face the daunting challenge of having to follow upon the likes of Homer, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton. Better to draw a mustache on the Mona Lisa than attempt to top it.

That could, in part, explain these:

Voltaire called Shakespeare’s works an “enormous dunghill.”

Tolstoy was equally unimpressed, calling Will’s writing “Crude, immoral, vulgar and senseless.”

George Bernard Shaw really waxed poetic about how much he hated Shakespeare. “There is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare,” he said. “It would be positively a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him.”

I wish I could post this shocking listing from Brianpickings in full. But I offer this smattering of quotes as an appetizer and an invitation to bang the LINK for more.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Did William Shakespeare Write Science Fiction?

Posted in Shakespeareana with tags , , , , , on 2014/01/30 by mattermind


Ok, ok, the headline is a wee bit sensational.  Or I should say, overdramatic.  But I’m only echoing this from the Telegraph UK:

William Shakespeare, the ‘king of infinite space’
 Was the Bard a science-fiction writer 200 years before Mary Shelley?


Now to understand their point, you really need to read the article in full, which can be found HERE.

Essentially, the idea is not that Shakespeare wrote short stories about rocket ships, space colonies or warps in the space-time continuum.  So relax, fanboys.  You won’t have to read your comic books in iambic pentameter.

Nor will you have to confront this eyeball-searing image of Sean Connery, who hopefully learned his lesson:

My eyes!  My eyes!

My eyes! My eyes!

Shakespeare’s works are currently being re-evaluated specifically for their science content, to discover how ideas from his age’s cutting-edge thinkers and dreamers may have found their way into the texts.  Yes, the plays you already know and love.

If true, then, that would make Shakespeare a master of inner space, social space and outer (physical) space.  William S. –  space cadet and pioneering “space” explorer.

Don’t just take my word for it.  Read the article yourself.

A few paragraphs from the story to whet your appetite:

The genius from Stratford-upon-Avon has worn many hats over the years, with imaginative scholars casting him as a closet Catholic, a mainstream Protestant, an ardent capitalist, a Marxist, a misogynist, a feminist, a homosexual, a legal clerk and a cannabis dealer – yet the words “Shakespeare” and “science” are rarely uttered in the same breath.

 A surprise, perhaps, given that he was producing his greatest work just as new ideas about the human body, the Earth and the universe were transforming Western thought. But a re-evaluation is on the horizon. Scholars are examining Shakespeare’s interest in the scientific discoveries of his time – what he knew, when he knew it, and how that knowledge might be reflected in his work.

Why Is Shakespeare Called the Bard?

Posted in Shakespeareana on 2014/01/25 by mattermind

I searched the internet for a satisfying answer to that question and this is the best that I found.

It comes from No Sweat Shakespeare and may be read in full HERE.

An excerpt:

The word is very old and referred, originally, to a poet generally, especially one who wrote impassioned, lyrical, or epic verse. Bards were originally Celtic composers of eulogy and satire; the word came to mean more generally a tribal poet-singer gifted in composing and reciting verses on heroes and their deeds. As early as the 1st century AD, the Latin author Lucan, referred to bards as the national poets or minstrels of Gaul and Britain.

The word ‘bard’ has lost its original meaning, although we might use it ironically to refer to a friend or local person who writes poems. In present-day usage the term ‘bard’ has become synonymous with a revered poet. Given the reverence in which Shakespeare is held worldwide, and given that the original bard’s tale was of great deeds, great events, and the great themes of heroism, love, war and death, it seems indisputable that Shakespeare is entitled to the name.

Shakespeare & the King James Bible

Posted in Context, Language, Shakespeareana with tags , , on 2014/01/19 by mattermind

King James


Anyone even vaguely familiar with the Christian Bible knows that there has never been a translation yet that surpassed the King James.

What nobody ever mentions – and something I had never before considered – is that the KJV Bible was created and produced at the very pinnacle of Shakespeare’s career. Not by him, of course. Though there are legends about his alleged involvement.

But how many people, when they praise the unmatched linguistic beauty of that bible, know it sprang from the very same time and place as Shakespeare?

This is from Wikipedia:

The King James Version (KJV), commonly known as the Authorized Version (AV) or King James Bible (KJB), is an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England begun in 1604 and completed in 1611.

Now that I know this, it makes me wonder how much of Shakespeare’s eloquence was “in the air” during that momentous decade of literary achievement… not to take anything away from him, but rather to better understand the context of early 17th century England.

UPDATE: Thanks to Karla Tipton for alerting me to a documentary called The Story of English. The following is an excerpt from episode 3 titled “Muse of Fire” dealing specifically with the English language around Shakespeare’s time:

The documentary in its entirety may be viewed HERE.

Who knows how destiny ultimately works, or why certain people happen to be born at just the right moment in time. Such questions are not mere idle speculation. Famous authors and philosophers such as Hegel and Leo Tolstoy famously pondered whether great individuals make history or whether history makes great individuals.

It’s fun (and unnerving) to consider such possibilities as: had William Shakespeare never been born, would history have invented somebody else just like him? Or: if William Shakespeare had written in any other age, how would his work have sounded?

With the coincidence of Shakespeare’s career high point occurring exactly during production of the King James Bible, it’s tempting to imagine that Shakespeare had a hand in the KJV. And it turns out that such legends exist.

From Wikipedia:

For several decades a popular rumor has persisted that William Shakespeare placed his mark on the translated text of Psalm 46 that appears in the King James Bible, although scholars view this as unlikely. By coincidence, the 46th word from the beginning of Psalm 46 is “shake” and the 46th word from the end (omitting the liturgical mark “Selah”) is “spear”. Shakespeare was in King James’ service during the preparation of the King James Bible, and he was 46 years old in 1611 when the translation was completed.

I need to investigate further. But now and forevermore, Shakespeare and the King James Bible will be linked together in my head and heart, if only by a bizarre coincidence of time and space.

In a related note, I do not believe in coincidence!

Looking for Shakespeare

Posted in Shakespeareana on 2014/01/18 by mattermind

Shakespeare: the Biography, Chapters 1-6

Will in the World, Chapter 1

This year, I plan to read at least three notable biographies of Shakespeare: Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespeare: the Biography by Peter Ackroyd and Shakespeare by Bill Bryson.  I have divided them up into 12 months of reading so that I will have new discoveries to make at each and every stage along the way.

This month’s word is SPECULATIVE, often used both to describe and to deride most Shakespeare biographies.  For what else can a book be but speculative that purports to tell the life of a man we know so little about?  If only the bare “facts” about William Shakespeare were published, they would make for a slim volume indeed.

I have only just begun my journey through these two biographies, so it would not be fair to either author to attempt what might generously be called a book “review.”  I can say they pair well together, since Ackroyd tends to interpolate Shakespeare from the facts and from details in the writing, while Greenblatt sets his imagination free to try and recreate the world Shakespeare might have encountered based upon the cultural context of the historical period.  One gets at the man through the writing; the other the writing through the man.

Ackroyd, for example, has told me much more about Shakespeare’s genealogy, economic background, family life, and social setting.  He has proposed that John Shakespeare, William’s father, was a much better businessman and far more successful than we give him credit for.  He also argues that Mary Arden, William’s mother, was strong and capable, exercising a huge influence on his later tendency to create bold, saucy, assertive and independent women.

I was much moved by Ackroyd’s argument that the proof of Shakespeare’s Stratford origins can be found within the plays, through descriptions of the landscape, the flora and fauna, the forest, the countryside, the birds, the seasonal changes, his knowledge of village habits and customs – and, most notably, certain careers like a glover, that of his father.

Before beginning these biographies, I gave much credence to the suggestion that Shakespeare must have come from the upper class, that he would have needed court access or at least a university education to acquire his knowledge of history, mythology and the workings of the social world.  But now I find myself swayed by the centrality of Shakespeare’s standing, that his middle-class background placed him in the perfect position to learn not only about kings, queens and the upper crust, but about butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.  In the end, it’s Shakespeare’s versatility, his ability to render a prince or a pauper, a witch, a wench, a friar, an ass that sets him apart as the genius we know him to be.  Not just up the ladder, but down to the very bottom.

Greenblatt and Ackroyd both establish that Shakespeare would not have been as limited in Stratford as we commonly think.  The King’s School, which he attended, gave him a solid grounding in Latin.  Like anybody with even the rudiments of education, he would have known his Bible.  And Greenblatt goes to great lengths to show that Shakespeare would have had ample opportunity to have been exposed to the theater, even at an early age, by the troupes that traveled from town to town.

I especially took note of Greenblatt’s descriptions of the morality plays that were in vogue up until the late 16th century, how Shakespeare may have borrowed and adapted their scope into his own writing.

Indeed, both these works speculate much.  But in taking such a risk, straying from the known into the what-may-have-been, they open a wider world of possibilities than are normally addressed when talking about Shakespeare close to the vest.  Maybe, when measured by actual facts that might never be known, some of what they venture would turn out to be false.  But considering what we have, the conjectures that they offer present a Shakespeare who becomes plausible and three-dimensional and very much alive in my imagination.  it certainly seems that much of what they are describing is true. 

At the very least, they have me reading, learning and wondering more about Shakespeare’s world than I ever dreamed possible. I’ll let you know more as the year unfolds.

Both books are highly recommended.