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To Whom It May Concern:
I had thought that Frontline attempted to present controversy in a reasonably balanced way. However, your program on "The Shakespeare Mystery" deeply dismayed me with its lack of balance, weighted research and emotional loading toward the Oxfordian viewpoint.
Emotional Loading: Not only is more air time given to the Oxfordian view, but the production "loads" it emotionally. Emotional weighting is achieved by using a professional delivery of Shakespearean quotes --quotes that subtly convey longing and frustration-- presumably that of De Vere's for his supposed place in history. Further loading comes from the image of the elderly gentleman weeping, the feeling of "intrigue" that comes from the ridiculous word games playing on the name, "De Vere - every word" and the amount of time given to emotional weighting. None of these emotional ploys has anything to do with reasonable conjecture let alone facts. Emotions are not facts, and sadly this show weighs in heavily on the emotional side.
Weighted Research: It is impossible to create a fair, balanced show on Shakespeare without an in-depth presentation of the historical facts dealing with the theatrical and literary practices of his time. Because of this imbalanced approach, the following hard facts were either mentioned quickly or left out entirely, and they are crucial to any balanced discussion.
1. Significant numbers of people were directly involved with, wrote about or alluded to William Shakespeare as an author in his own time. Some of these men were important personages in the theatrical world, like Ben Jonson (with his references to Shakespeare's writing practices), Green the playwright (with his "Shake-scene" references), the working with Heminges and Condell and Richard Burbage and publishers and actors, a significant variety of people who dealt with Shakespeare as an author, share-holder and actor for two decades with no questioning/mystery or intrigue whatsoever. (Elizabethans loved intrigue and probably would have leapt at something like this).
2. Significant facts about theatrical traditions of the time are ignored. When it is asked, "Where are the manuscripts?" it is obvious that facts mean little in this program. Only a tiny fraction of any significant authors' works survived the centuries. Further, actors in Shakespeare's company would not have had manuscripts because they worked from Sides. Moreover, Shakespeare's manuscripts belonged to the Company and his official ownership of them was limited to his shareholding status in the Company. It is not unreasonable to surmise that the manuscripts may have been stored at the Globe itself and were destroyed in the fire. Further, playwrights generally did not "treasure" play manuscripts because at the time plays were hardly considered to be of literary worth. If one asks where are Shakespeare's manuscripts, then one must also ask where are De Vere's manuscripts and Christopher Marlowe's and Kyd's and Greene's.
These plays were written by a man who knew what it was like to perform on stage. John Gielgud once said that Shakespeare seemed to know where an actor would especially need to catch breath is some of the difficult passages, and he is not the only distinguished actor to note this. It is also believed that some on-spot writing and revisions would have had to be done in the staging of these plays; spot in the action where the playwright would have to allow for physical changes in the stage picture. In short, for people who actually work in theatre, the works of Shakespeare have a "feeling" about practical everyday theatrical needs that argue they came from the pen of a man who was entirely immersed in the theatrical world.
Further reinforcing Shakespeare's involvement with playwrighting and acting and shareholding in the Globe is the family connection. William Shakespeare of Stratford worked in the London Theatre; and William Shakespeare of Stratford had a younger brother, born in Stratford who also came to work in London at The Globe, and his name was Edmund. Shakespeare also dealt with a publisher named Thorpe, who also came to London from Stratford-On-Avon. Facts like these were never cited in the Frontline program, and they argue powerfully for the facts of Shakespeare's ownership of his reputation.
3. The program should have noted that Shakespeare was acknowledged as the playwright by all the owners of The Globe: men who had worked daily with him for two decades. These men worked for years to collect his plays, so highly did they think of the work and of the man, William Shakespeare. (Some of these were the very men who received small bequests directly from the will of the William Shakespeare who died in Stratford). The First Folio itself is a major historical fact and document.
4. Ms. Woodruff noted that this has been a "mystery for four centuries." On the contrary, Shakespeare's authorship was never doubted in his own time, nor was it seriously questioned until approximately two centuries after his death. Again, basic facts were obscured and ignored.
Other Arguments Posited That Are Generally Dismissed By Scholarship Today
1. William Shakespeare's Will is not "literary." It certainly is not literary, nor is it unreasonable to deduce that a man who had been involved in litigation knew that a Will was not the place for lyrical, sentimental language and metaphorical images.
2. He spelled his name in a variety of ways. He certainly did as did most writers and people of the time did. Language History will show that firm, formalized spelling of names and words did not take place until centuries after Shakespeare's time. An example, Christopher Marlowe's name had also been spelled "Marlo" among other ways. (Ooooh...another "Mystery?!")
3. He ONLY attended Grammar School. And what a Grammar School. Scholarship acknowledges that The Stratford Grammar School was not what we know as "grammar school" today. We know the name of the Oxford University Dons who trained and taught at Stratford. Historically we know of the demanding curriculum taught there, and we know the emphasis on Latin, Greek, The Classics and Rhetoric that existed in that school. Shakespeare would have had plenty of background for the not terribly extensive Latin and Greek he used in his plays.
4. Shakespeare was not an aristocrat. Thank heavens for that, for the ranks of the aristocracy have furnished relatively few world-class geniuses! Luckily, Shakespeare was probably exposed to the full spectrum of society. His father's work as a Glover may well have exposed him to aristocracy, and his father's position as Mayor would have exposed him to other societal and cultural experiences. Moreover, he was also a child of nature, a fact he obviously treasured as his plays are replete with moving, detailed references to that world. Shakespeare did not only write of Kings. He wrote brilliantly of what it's like to be cold in a hovel or groveling on a moor. He wrote of carpenters and bellows-menders, servants, wenches, of greasy maids stirring a pot, of sinners and of saints. Reversing Oxfordian logic, would an aristocrat born and bred have such empathy for types that existed to serve the aristocracy? Further, the very academic errors that Shakespeare made in Geography, History and Language would argue that this was a man who definitely did not attend a University. This lack of academic perfection supports the authenticity of William Shakespeare's work.
Yet, Frontline offers to the viewer Shakespeare's humble origins, the dry language of the Will and the varied spellings of the name and lack of University education as arguments against Shakespeare's authorship. And Frontline fails utterly in balance of fairness by omitting the historical perspective and facts that not only obliterate these arguments against Shakespeare but further destroy the Oxfordian contention. Frontline's narrative never:
1.Offered any hard evidence of De Vere's authorship
2.Never asked where De Vere's manuscripts are
3.Never offered any historical allusions or proof that he was directly involved in the theatre of his day, not that he was not acknowledged as a theatrical personage by the theatre would of his day
4.Never acknowledged that the actual "poetry" of De Vere does not put him in the front rank of writing ability, nor dares to compare that poor offering to the overwhelming richness, power and beauty of William Shakespeare's work.
I would like to offer my own theory as to why Shakespeare's authorship was ever questioned. I think this all came about because Shakespeare just doesn't "fit" and people who don't "fit" make many people uncomfortable. Genius often doesn't fulfill our expectations logically. The thinking runs something like this: to have written such plays, the person must have 1.attended University, and (prejudice of the time) 2.must have been an aristocrat. But if one goes by that thinking, one should be able to "add up" 1.a highly trained Composer who was 2.the darling of the Aristocracy, and 3.a skillful Musician and get a genius like Mozart. But add those factors up and what you also get is Salieri! Not the genius of Mozart, but the competency and adequacy of a Salieri.
Real genius does not fit into such paltry patterns, nor is it easily explained, and that makes the small-minded uncomfortable. Rather than being enriched by the work of geniuses, some seek to explain it away or try to claim it as their own, and when they can't, it becomes a "Mystery" and fodder for the media to further mislead and obscure rather than taking the time that real scholarship demands.
Geniuses like Shakespeare bother some because they do so without aristocratic birthrights, wealth and university educations. Interestingly, Mark Twain possessed none of the above, and was a genius in his own right. (Yes, Shakespeare was just ONE of several artists that Twain tried to debunk, because one of Twain's causes was to exalt American achievement over almost anything "Old World-European" in origin. Frontline should have put that fact in for balance and perspective). Perhaps it is time to throw out the works of Mark Twain as writer, Michaelangelo as artist, Lincoln as statesman, Beethoven as composer, and Olivier as actor because, after all, these men were born without aristocratic titles, most were not wealthy, and none of them attended Universities. They, too, just don't "fit." Perhaps other wrote their works, sculpted their statues and painted their Sistine Chapels and composed their Symphonies and acted their performances!
Had Frontline simply said, "We firmly contend that De Vere wrote the Shakespeare's Plays" there would have been an honest approach worthy of respect. Certainly the effects and weight of the show from the imbalanced research and emotional weighting leads one to that conclusion, and wrongly so. But then, ratings have a better chance with words like "Mystery" in the title, although Shakespeare's authorship was never a mystery in his times. This bothers me.
But what bothers me most is that this imbalanced version will go into classrooms in which students with little or no background will see a heavily emotional approach to a question that should not even be a question. It bothers me that so few historical and factual perspectives were presented. It bothers me that the powerful, emotional image of an elderly man weeping is presented instead, which proves nothing and answers nothing.
Shakespeare deserved better.
So did your viewers.
Audrey J. Monahan