Thursday, June 04, 2009

How Did I Miss This? *Who* Wrote The Tempest?

I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad about this.  Seems just last week there was a 2 day Shakespeare conference right in my backyard (Watertown, MA).  Unfortunately it was about Shakespeare Authorship - “mostly Oxfordians”, the post tells us.  So perhaps it would not have been my cup of tea.

Not too much new under the sun, presentations by the author of The Monument:

It is Whittemore’s theory that Her Majesty was not the “virgin queen” she claimed to be. He maintains that Elizabeth in the late 1560s began an affair with Edward de Vere, and, after staying out of public view for six months, bore a son, Henry Wriothesley [pronounced Risly], 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624). Henry would join Robert Devereux (1566-1601), 2nd Earl of Essex, in the so-called Essex Rebellion against the government in 1601. This failed, and Essex was beheaded as a traitor, while Henry was reprieved and imprisoned in the Tower until Elizabeth’s death (the “three winters cold” in Sonnet 104). Henry, as royal issue, could have claimed the throne as King Henry IX, last of the Tudors. The Sonnets are viewed as written by de Vere to his son, the dedication to “Mr. W.H.” reversing the initials to conceal the identity of the addressee.

and “Shakespeare By Another Name”:

He stated that the plays characterized people from de Vere’s life – which is plausible. Not so convincing was his statement that the author “stopped creating new work in 1604, stopped reading in 1604, stopped reporting in 1604.” He proposed that the standard chronology of the writings is “a polite fiction.”

What *is* new, at least to me, is the theory of poet Marie Merkel (author of a book on Titus Andronicus) that The Tempest, very late in Shakespeare’s life and very different from all other works, is in fact so different because it was written by …

…Ben Jonson?!

…She also compiled several dozen words that occur in “The Tempest” and in Ben Jonson (1572-1637) but nowhere else in the Bard’s plays.

Her conclusion is that “The Tempest” was written by Jonson, who, she says, was still obsessed by this play in 1631. She doesn’t explain how Jonson came to provide his lengthy prefatory encomium to “my beloved, The AVTHOR Mr. William Shakespeare” in the 1623 First Folio of the plays, in which “The Tempest” was printed first. She is preparing a book on Jonson and the play, and will doubtless address this question.

That’s different.


Craig said...

Very different from the rest of the works? I have to dispute that.

Like the way it happens almost in real-time on the stage, like The Comedy of Errors? Or the way it showcases a father-daughter relationship, like The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, Pericles? The way it weighs revenge against forgiveness, like Measure for Measure and the Merchant of Venice?

No...the Tempest is a notable play in Shakespeare's output, but a thousand threads connect it to his other works.

A better question would be just what on Earth the Tempest is supposed to have in common with Ben Jonson's canon. It is not a satire, not a city comedy, not a "humors" play, and not a tragedy set in Ancient Rome--which categories throw a pretty good rope around Jonson's dramatic work. "Miranda" does mean "wonderful," but Jonson prefered to give his whole casts overt descriptive names: Love-wit, Subtle, Drugger (a tobacconist!), Brain-worm, Well-bred, or the whole bestiary that populates Volpone. After "Volpone," he was disinclined to set plays anywhere but in England--he even yanked "Every Man in His Humour" back to London from Italy in a revised edition.

It just doesn't wash at all, and you have to wonder whether a person who would advance this theory has actually _read_ Ben Jonson. At least the Marlowe crowd have attached themselves to a playwright who had a few things in common with Shakespeare.

Bill said...

But the real question for me is this: Was The Tempest Ben Jonson's farewell to the theatre?

Marie Merkel said...

Craig: Great questions. Few people seem to read Ben Jonson anymore, and you obviously have. I’ve been slowly testing and probing this theory since 2001, and haven’t yet come up with a “silver bullet” that makes Jonson’s authorship of The Tempest impossible, but I’m open to hearing what won’t wash.

The interconnection with the “late” Romances is so complex that I’ll only touch on it briefly in the book I’m working on now. My theory posits that Jonson intentionally forged a Shakespearean play. (A brief outline of my argument will appear in the Sept. 09 issue of the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter). It seems like Shakespeare’s most Shakespearean play because it that’s what it’s supposed to be. But it’s also his most experimental play (David Lindley). As it happens, most of these experiments were the same ones that Jonson was tinkering with in 1609 – 1614.

You mention how Jonson yanked his 1598 EMIHH, (with its 1st Prospero and 1st Stephano, BTW) out of Italy and into England by the time of his 1616 Folio. By so doing, he distracted scholars from sharply questioning why “Shakespeare” recycled the names of these two characters. If you close your eyes and pretend, just for an afternoon, that Jonson IS the author of both The Tempest and Every Man in His Humour, consider the sea-change we find in the characters twelve years later:

*Cob the water-bearer becomes Caliban the log-bearer: both servants, both slow in their duties, both with fishy ancestors, both with some connection to cannibals.

*Musca (the fly), another servant, becomes the 2nd Prospero’s servant Ariel (of the air); both flit about carrying the plot from act to act for the author.

*Lorenzo Sr., the Voice of Reason becomes the 2nd Prospero, Voice of Reason.

*Stephano the Buffoon becomes Trinculo the Buffoon;

*Bobadil the “miles gloriosa” or Braggart, becomes Stephano the Braggart.

*The afterthought of a sappy love affair between Lorenzo Jr. & Hesperida becomes the sappy love affair between Ferdinand & Miranda.

*And the breezy wit of the 1st Prospero becomes the dark wit of Antonio.

One dramatic category you left out was the masque. Jonson’s masques certainly influenced the shape and conception of The Tempest. Gary Schmidgall, in “Shakespeare and the Courtly Aesthetic” covers this pretty thoroughly, though his work seems to make other scholars uncomfortable.

Maybe in order to push against my theory on Jonson, people will start reading Ben’s plays again. Not the same high at all as you’ll get from sweet Shakespeare’s passion, but he’s smart, sly and audacious, feeding the brain more than the heart.

Leo said...

The latest edition of "Shakespearescene" contains a thought provoking article: "The Original Prospero?
Francis Stewart 5th Earl of Bothwell."