In a recent essay on Emerson’s thoughts on Shakespeare, I showed, I hope, that he was sympathetic to the emerging viewpoints of rival claimants or anti-Stratfordians.
To do this I ranged far and wide on the broad pastures of Emerson’s essays, taking, those brave enough to journey with me, to places where he called the Baconian idea "bold" and in another lea, "plausible."
I cited example after example of Emerson’s thoughts about the Author that place him at odds with the present consensus opinion, which is forced to dumb down the intellectual merit of the works in favor a more plebeian view, which, in turn, is more in keeping with the known facts regarding the slenderness of the rustic actor’s intellectual accomplishments.
Intentionally I did not venture into the essay where Emerson directly addresses Shakespeare and offers us his insights into precisely how the Author accomplished the feats displayed in scene after scene, indeed, in nearly every line of these remarkable works, as Emerson so nobly illustrates. I avoided this because a passage in this essay is often quoted to prove Emerson disapproved of the linkage between the actor and the author and must, thus, be well known.
Upon reflection and rereading the essay myself, I have come to the conclusions that all students of Shakespeare will profit by reading this study, brief as it is. Paradoxically it remains one of the strongest cases that can be made for the rustic’s authorship.
Emerson argues that a poet, even if he is illiterate, is able to draw on the entire body of knowledge that surrounds him and that truly great poets have managed to do precisely this, so the whole world becomes open to their note.
Emerson was such a poet himself, but as we all should know, came from Harvard, a school of no small stature, even then.
Emerson suggests that Shakespeare lived in a primitive age when copyright or ownership of texts was not yet an issue and that he thus had open to him all the saws of mankind. Particularly all the earlier dramatic content which had been popular in London in the period immediately preceding Shakespeare’s tenure with the Globe playhouse.
Scholars now suspect this wasn’t the case and that Shakespeare’s plays, along with Marlowe’s before him, actually built up the enormous popularity of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages.
Emerson remains correct that no monarch dared challenge this popularity in a head on confrontation, any more than a present regime might attempt to wipe out newsprint or tv in the US. (Emerson said nothing about television, of course, since it lay in the distant future, but had he lived today he would have cited it rather than newsprint.)
In brief Emerson makes of Shakespeare a plagiarist, on a grand scale, which in a sense the Author was.
However modern studies assure us that writers were jailed for plagiarism during that period, as evidenced by the treatment of Sir John Hayward, and, thus, Emerson’s well intentioned interpretation of these far away events falls woefully short of its mark.
Emerson himself acknowledges this himself, because as he winds his way back to the barn, he concludes that he has been unable to wed events in the actor’s life with events in the Author’s life, thinking mainly about the glaring contradictions between the placid life of the actor and the turbulent life of the sonneteer.
"Who ever read the volume of the Sonnets without finding that the poet had there revealed, under masks that are no masks to the intelligent, the lore of friendship and of love; the confusion of sentiments in the most susceptible, and at the same time, the most intellectual of men? What trait of his private mind has he hidden in his dramas? One can discern, in his ample pictures of the gentleman and the king, what forms and humanities pleased him; his delight in troops of friends, in large hospitality, in cheerful giving..."
While Emerson must surely be correct about the nature and character of the Author, this is confidently not the nature and character of the Stratfordian skinflint and recluse, who reared his daughters as letterless women and left his wife their "second best bed" and who, about the time that _Macbeth_ was being written, "was suing" as Emerson notes one "Philip Rogers, in the borough-court of Stratford, for thirty-five shillings, tenpence, for corn delivered to him at different times..."
_Macbeth_ was one of many of "Shakespeare’s" marvels that was _never_ offered to the public during the actor’s life. Surely it would have provided him more ready pence if he’d marketed it than pursuing his court action again poor Phillip Rogers?
No marvel Emerson could not "marry this fact to his verse."
No wonder Emerson concludes this remarkable and still noteworthy essay, so perceptive as it is about the underlying creative genius behind these works, by saying "other admirable men have led lives in some sort of keeping with their thought; but this man, in wide contrast."
This wouldn’t be the case, of course, if the Baconian thesis he called "bold" and "plausible" proves correct.
It wouldn’t be the case if Oxford or Marlowe wrote these remarkable works, as now supposed by so many.
No it is only a profound mystery if the Stratfordian wrote them.
Consider Emerson’s cryptic conclusion. He writes,
"The Egyptian verdict of the Shakespeare Societies comes to mind: that he was a jovial actor and manger. I can not marry this fact to his verse."
Emerson says "I can not marry this fact to his verse." He does not say he had difficulty wedding it to his works. He tells those of us who can but read that he "_can not_ marry this fact to his verse." What could be clearer than that?
More, he labels the conclusion of the Shakespeare Societies, i.e., professional researchers into the life of the rustic, an "Egyptian verdict." Its up for grabs precisely what he meant by this, but I vote for "a sphinx like riddle."
The life of the actor does not fit with the life of the Author. It is a mystery wrapped in a enigma, as inscrutable as the sphinx. Even then the Shakespeare Societies were pushing the limits of credulity when they supposed him a jolly fellow.
There is absolutely nothing in the actor’s life that would lead us to conclude, as Emerson concluded, that he "delight[ed] in troops of friends, in large hospitality, in cheerful giving..." Indeed he left not a dime to the Stratford school, which many believe he attended.
We now know he lived, for an extended period of time, as a "roomer" in the Mountjoy house, about which he remembered little, less that a decade later. There is no indication in the record, whatsoever, of a large friendship circle, troops of friends, or "cheerful giving."
Nor is there any evidence of exile, illicit children and lost loves, unless we reach back to that early contradictory marriage licence issued in a nearby village for one "William Shakspre" just days before he married Anne Hathaway, who was already in a family state.
Clearly Emerson was troubled as to the lack of fit between the life of the rustic actor and the mind he so clearly perceived in the works. He should be. The more we learn about the Stratfordian, the more it is certain he wasn’t he Author.
Our generation has Duncan-Jones and Dianna Price to thank for much new light shed on this perplexing issue. Jones has correctly lifted the veil and exposed the miser and malt hoarder, willing to sue over any trifle, but unwilling to protect his name from libels or to capitalize on "his" plays.
Meanwhile Price has proven that _unlike_ any other writer from the period, the record fails to connect the actor with works boasted his seven years after his death in advertisements attached to those works by his publishers.
Armed with this knew knowledge, I am quite confident, that were Emerson alive today, he would be an outspoken anti-Stratfordian, as ready, as myself, to nibble at the heals of Kathman, Webb and Reedy, who cling, somewhat desperately, to this failed paradigm. A thesis based solely on advertisements in the First Folio, ads which have been proven false in nearly every other verifiable claim, stipulation or statement.
I suspect, in my mind’s eye, Emerson would have been a Marlovian, since he correctly sees in these great works an understanding of poverty and the common man, an understanding that neither Bacon nor Oxford possessed.
Indeed Emerson is quite unqualified and emphatic about the Author’s exclusion from the ranks of the nobility, he writes, "the so-called high-born are for the most part heartless." More he noted, "Aesop Socrates, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Franklin had the poor man’s feeling and mortification." Emerson continues, "Aesop, Saadi, Cervantes, Regnard, have been taken by the corsairs, left for dead, sold for slaves, and know the realities of human life."
Where is Shakespeare in this short list? We know from the Sonnets, if from nothing else, that Shakespeare too had been left for dead, that he’d lived as an exile and was estranged from those he loved and his country too.
Yet Emerson cannot include Shakespeare along with Cervantes and de Vaga, both of whom were imprisoned, because the life of the rustic actor will not allow for such vicissitude and reversals of fortune.
Yet nearly every line sings of such pains and it was from such depths that the poet’s acumen became universal. Had he not faced the travails that Marlowe faced in 1593, he would never have become the poet "Shakespeare." For it was in the crucible of those trying events that the Author lost his ego, along with his hateful name.
Indeed this is, for Emerson, one of the Author’s distinguishing characteristics. There is no "egotism" in these works, Emerson suggests. Yet the actor’s life abounds with petty conceits and egotism, which included, a longtime and repeated effort to obtain, for himself and his family, what was certainly a fraudulent coast of arms.
Suffice it to say there is nothing like that in the works.
This Author knew he commanded the world’s highest mind and he committed that mind to the betterment of mankind. An advancement that he proposed would only take place once "the state government changed from kings to counsels," as he tells us in the rare prose introduction to _Rape of Lucrece._
That this was precisely the same "_curcus_", or literary methodology, that Marlowe had elaborated in his works, is quite secure. As is the fact that Marlowe allegedly died just two weeks _before_ Shakespeare’s name would appear in print, hastily attached to a poem Marlowe almost certainly wrote and dedicated to Marlowe’s alliums friend Southampton.
No connection between Southampton and the actor has ever been authenticated.
So based on Emerson’s kindness towards the embryonic rival claims, and with an eye on his perception that the Author was not of the peerage, I suspect Emerson would have embraced the idea that Marlowe became Shakespeare, having faked his death to avoid pending capital charges.
Emerson rose to fame, or one might say infamy, in a similar fashion, for though a Harvard educated pastor, he resigned his church and collar because he could not reconcile communion with his conscience. That sounds like a true Marlovian to me. In Elizabethan times Emerson would have been hunted down, arrested, tortured and horribly and painfully executed. For Elizabethans believed those who held grotesque opinions should have bodies to match them.
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