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David J. Kathman Jr. RSS Feed (Chicago, IL United States)
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Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare
Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare
by Bertram Fields
Edition: Hardcover
114 used & new from $0.01

60 of 78 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Warning: Filled with blatant inaccuracies, April 4, 2005
If you're really interested in the Shakespeare authorship question, this is a terrible book to start with. Fields seems to have simply taken claims that he found in various anti-Stratfordian works and organized them into something like a narrative, though it's difficult to tell, because he provides no bibliography and only rarely mentions other authors. (Even when he does mention another writer, he is often confused; thus, the index contains separate entries for "Charles Ogburn" and "Charlton Ogburn", though both references should be to Charlton Ogburn.) For the most part, Fields accepts these anti-Stratfordian claims at face value, even though many of them can be shown to be either flat-out false or blatantly misleading.

For example, in his conclusion (p. 281), Fields asks, "And, if Shakespeare was the Stratford man, why do Henslowe's records fail to list any payment to him for his plays, at least some of which played at Henslowe's Rose?". But as Irvin Matus pointed out more than a decade ago in *Shakespeare: IN FACT* (a book Fields does not appear to have read), Shakespeare's plays only played at the Rose in 1592-94, when Henslowe was not recording authors' names; by the time Henslowe started recording payments to playwrights in 1596-97, Shakespeare was with the Lord Chamberlain's Men, Henslowe's chief rivals in London, and there is no reason to expect any mention of Shakespeare in the Diary.

On the same page, Fields expresses amazement that no examples of Shakespeare's handwriting survives other than six signatures, concluding that, "Evidently, not a scrap exists; and it would not be unreasonable to conclude that not a scrap ever existed, or that, if the Stratford man left writings of any kind, someone set out to eliminate them." This displays an astounding ignorance of the extreme rarity of theatrical manuscripts from Shakespeare's day, and the rarity of any handwriting from middle-class people such as Shakespeare. The only handwriting that survives from Christopher Marlowe is a single signature; the only handwriting that survives from the prolific John Fletcher is a signature and a few words; no certain example of John Webster's handwriting survives, not even a signature. Evidently Fields would conclude that these men could not write either, or that there was a conspiracy to destroy their writings; if not, he is displaying a rather distressing double standard.

On the next page, Fields repeats the well-worn anti-Stratfordian chestnut that "no one spoke out on the death of the Stratford man in [1616]", and asks, "Where were the outpourings of grief that followed the deaths of even lesser-known writers?" Here, again, Fields exhibits a rather depressing ignorance of the historical context. In the early 17th century, only socially important people such as noblemen (and sometimes church leaders) received printed tributes immediately after their death; tributes for lesser folk such as playwrights circulated in manuscript, often for years, before sometimes making their way to print. There were a great many manuscript tributes to Shakespeare after his death, and the most widespread of these, William Basse's poem, specifies in its title that "he died in April 1616". The first datable tribute to Shakespeare in print appeared in 1620, four years after his death, followed by the tributes in the First Folio three years after that. The seven years before the printed tributes in the First Folio was, by far, the shortest such period for any English playwright up to that time; the first printed poetic tribute to Francis Beaumont did not appear until 13 years after his death, and the first to John Fletcher did not appear until 14 years after his death.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the inaccuracies to be found in this book. Fields does appear to believe what he is saying, but readers should be warned not to take any of his historical claims at face value.

Dave Kathman

djk1@ix.netcom.com

The Shakespeare Authorship Page
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 14, 2009 7:20 PM PDT


Who Were Shake-Speare?: The Ultimate Who-Dun-It!
Who Were Shake-Speare?: The Ultimate Who-Dun-It!
by Ron Allen
Edition: Paperback
34 used & new from $0.54

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unintentionally hilarious, but worthless as history, July 7, 2000
Although I'm pretty sure the author was serious when he wrote it, this book is filled with factual errors and bizarre logic which had me howling with laughter. All theories of alternate "Shakespeares" which I've seen rely on factual distortions and arbitrary assertions, but this book is worse than most. Read it for its entertainment value, but for God's sake don't start to take it seriously! For a lot of facts about Shakespeare, and refutations of the most common Oxfordian claims, visit the Shakespeare Authorship page on the Web.
Dave Kathman djk1@ix.netcom.com


A Question of Will (Out of This World Series)
A Question of Will (Out of This World Series)
by Lynne Kositsky
Edition: Paperback
33 used & new from $0.01

10 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very entertaining, but misleading on the authorship question, July 7, 2000
Purely as a historical novel for young adults, this book is entertaining and funny. All the slang takes a little getting used to, but for the most part it's easy to follow. There's some gross-out humor which should appeal to younger readers (and to older readers who are into that kind of stuff, like me).
The problem I have with the book is in its depiction of the Shakespeare authorship issue. The novel's heroine, Perin "Willow" Willoughby, is magically trasported back in time to 1595 London, where she meets William Shakespeare and his fellow actors. Shakespeare is depicted as a filthy, drunken fool, and Willow gradually begins to suspect that Shakespeare's plays are really being written by the mysterious Earl of Oxford who keeps showing up at the playhouse and having furtive meetings with Shakespeare. Now, granted, this is a novel, and as such the author has a lot of room for interpretation and speculation. But the depictions of both Shakespeare and Oxford in this book are caricatures based on highly biased Oxfordian sources, and have little to do with the historical record. Quite apart from his playwriting activities, Shakespeare's known circle of acquaintances, in both Stratford and London, was a cultured and literary one. And the documentary record shows that the Earl of Oxford, at the time when this novel depicts him furiously writing plays and attending the theater, was actually writing long and tedious letters to Lord Burghley, trying to get the royal monopoly on tin mining.
The evidence that William Shakespeare wrote the plays published under his name is very strong, stronger than the comparable evidence for most other playwrights of the time. While Oxford is known to have written at least one comedy (now lost), and kept a minor company of players, the evidence that he had anything to do with Shakespeare's plays is nil. The "evidence" which Oxfordians present for their beliefs, primarily based on imagined parallels between the plays and Oxford's life story, is essentially worthless as evidence of anything. This book is an entertaining piece of fiction, but nobody should take it as representing anything close to historical fact. Anyone wishing to know more about the factual and logical distortions used by Oxfordians should visit the Shakespeare Authorship Page on the web.
Dave Kathman djk1@ix.netcom.com
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 9, 2013 4:40 AM PST


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