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Paul Mullin

Oh, and he would hate our precious gutless aversion to competition, too.


don't you think it's a bit odd to try to speak for someone we know next to nothing about? we have no images of shakespeare's plays, no private writings other than the sonnets, no record of vast swaths of his life. we know next to nothing about him. we don't know what he would've made of the American Theatre system, because we have no idea what he made of his own theatre system (other than money).

I think you and I share the same biases and ideological positions w/r/t much of the LORT system, I just think it's astrange exercise to say, essentially, "Shakespeare would agree with me." That's like people claiming that Jesus would support their particular political cause.

Paul Mullin

Isaac, you're right. It's exactly like saying I know what Jesus would think about a political cause. My tongue was nowhere near my cheek while writing this. My points about modern theatre separate from what Shakes would've thought of them (an obviously impossible notion) have no standing on their own. And we can surmise nothing about Shakespeare using the same historical techniques we use to surmise biographical understandings about other persons, because he is somehow magically mysterious.

Will in the World by Stephan Greenblatt, I heartily recommend it, along with a sense of irony.



Wow, you're a dick to me in your comments AND facebook friend request me on the same day, I'm touched!

Stephen Greenblatt's WIll In The World is a wonderful work of entertaining speculative history, but it's just that... entertaining and speculative. Some variation of perhaps/may have/possibly etc. appears on just about every page. An important qualifier entirely missing from this post.

For example: we have no idea whether or not Shakespeare actually liked the theatre system of his day. You could certainly point to his early retirement and refusal to write anything after that retirement as a pretty good sign that he didn't approve of it, if you wanted to. It's all open to all sorts of interpretations. WILL IN THE WORLD is one of those interpretations, and golly I enjoy it, but it's not really a work of scholarship in any meaningful sense. I don't mean that as a put down. That's not what Greenblatt is trying to achieve with that book, he's trying to use his imagination and what he knows/thinks about the time to fill in the considerable lacunae in Shakespeare's biography. And in fact, the speculative moments are probably the most enjoyable, particularly the theory that Shakespeare-- as a secret catholic living undercover in someone's house-- may have met and studied with Edmund Campion. There's not a shred of evidence that anything in that sentence is true (other than pere Shakespeare's sometime Catholicism), but it allows Greenblatt to discuss issues of Catholicism and the life of Edmund Campion, so it goes in. I love that book, but it's purpose is not really history or biography. It's like an issue of Marvels' "What If..." series.

You may have been being ironic and your tongue may have been planted firmly in your cheek, but there's enough sincere versions of this kind of stuff floating around the internet (and barroom conversations about theatre) that I think mistakenly confusing this for one is, well, understandable. Shakespeare gets used as a prop so often for all sides of pretty much every debate having to do with theatre (or literature) that it's become a particular nerve on my part.

Paul Mullin

Thanks, Isaac.

Ask around, seeming like a dick is my standard MO of initiating friendship. Must mean I like you!

I appreciate you trying to keep me honest, or earnest, or whatever it is you prefer I was more of.

And while using Shakespeare as a Straw Man, or Whipping Boy, or Stalking Horse, or whatever I'm doing, may be old hat inside theatre circles; I think you'll find that outside our bubble few people could give a shit one way or another.

I'd have to say my pet peeve (or one of my many) about theatre discussions is how often and quickly we get all academic and clubby, while glibly forgetting that the very people we should be trying to reach really don't care about our post-graduate theses on how to fix things.

Frankly, they don't care if we fix it or not.

So if I seemed dickish, first let me say, that I AM kind of dickish, but with a heart of gold.

And second, niggling about details of Shakespeare's putative biographical details puts people to sleep just when we ought to be waking them up. I'd openly avow that Shakespeare wore a purple penis as a bow tie if I thought it might put butts in seats. Nobody cares how smart we show people are. Well, nobody but other show people who spent a butt-load of money going to school to learn how to seem smart.

Shakespeare would hate that.


I dated a guy who was really into Shakespeare for a couple of months. He was offended when I said, "Fuck Shakespeare," as though it was some kind of blasphemy. Too bad. I said what I said not to the Bard but to all his pretentious followers for all the reasons you state.

He was brilliant. No doubt. It's also true that brilliance still exists and that new stories NEED to be told and there is little room for them when everyone is theeing and thouing so they can feel smart and important because they, you know, have an MFA in Theater (that last word said with a nice Transatlantic accent, of course).

I like it much better to imagine that Shakes is flipping US the finger while also psychically challenging us to write our own fucking stories and find ways to get paid for doing so.

Thank you writing this, Paul. I appreciate how often you are willing to stick your neck out there and support your ideas. Egads, but the world needs more of this.

Also, you've never been a dick to me. Does that mean you don't like me? ;-)

Paul Mullin

Thanks, Kymberlee!

I should've probably been more specific. If you DESERVE me being a dick to you, and I'm a dick to you, then it probably means I like you. If I flat out ignore you, it probably means that you ain't worth the time.

You, however, are in a lofty class all your own. :-)


Thanks, Paul! You make me smile. I'm happy that our circles have overlapped. I learn from you and I like that. :-)

Ed Boswell

To begin with, It would help to know who "Shake-speare" was. To entertain the fantasy that a player wrote them (in his spare time) to generate money for his theatre group is absurd. It's as ridiculous as expecting him to know the law w/o legal training, or Italy so precisely (down to existing houses) w/o going there. We are a foolish species, and should re-examine who "Shake-speare" actually was, or could have been. A detached and intuitive examination of the greatest literary mystery of all time reveals the true author to be a disgraced, libertine, drama loving, Italianate Earl, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, to be the one and only "Shake-speare". He studied law, his Uncle translated Ovid, he took a grand tour of Italy, had acting troupes under his patronage, and heavyweights John Lyly and Anthony Munday employed as personal secretaries. He staged plays before the Queen, with her license, in order to lampoon and parody the Courtiers who would have had the Stratford Man killed for doing so. After his death, his in-laws received the Dedication to the First Folio. (hardly a coincidence).Believing someone wrote these plays without assistance, education, or personal experience is absurd. This article reflects the problems associated with believing the Stratford Myth. It's simply untenable to anyone using common sense, and a detached approach to solving the "Shakespeare Authorship Question". The Earl of Oxford may, or may not have hated us, but he'd surely marvel at our gullibility.


As Ed Boswell suggests, a little humility about what we actually do or don't know about the bard would be pertinent to the discussion. I suggest beginning here: http://www.shakespearefellowship.org, but the FAQ on my own site is also worth checking out: http://shake-speares-bible.com/faq/. Will in the World is a piece of puffery for folks who have never examined the serious problems posed by 21st century claims to knowledge about a bard of whom almost nothing is known -- until, that is, you shift the focus to the real man, and suddenly his works are of vastly greater human significance.

Paul Mullin

Thanks all, for the recent comments.

I've actually been reading a bit of Joyce lately, and came across this truism: "Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance."

Ed Boswell

I've been reading a bit of Whitman lately, and came across this truism from the "Poet of the Common Man". "Conceived out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism -personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) -only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works -works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature." PS: It's a hackneyed cliche at this point in time to play the insanity card.

Paul Mullin

I love Ol' Uncle Walt! He was, as you know, an expert in all things. Please feel free to continue to quote at length and at leisure.

And I will endeavor, going forward, to keep my cliches unhacked at the knee.

Ed Boswell

I would listen and learn from Whitman's expertise and intuition in the field of literature before I'd accept the blind faith of someone schooled primarily (I assume) in the theatre arts. And in regards to being an "expert in all things", where did that come from? I certainly did not infer that. Only the man who wrote under the pen-name "Shake-speare" would come close to fitting that description. The fact that the primary medical source for Shakespeare was Oxford's family physician, or that Oxford knew astronomers, or that Oxford knew England's most famous botanist, who was the landscaper at Cecil House, where Oxford grew up, or that Oxford's uncle translated Ovid, or that his paternal uncle introduced the "Shakespearean" sonnet into English, or that Oxford went to Gray's Inn to study law, might be of interest to you when you determine how the Bard acquired such "expertise in all things". But maybe not? Maybe the Stratford Man's biography, which could be completed in a single spaced page, without anything literary in it at all, suffices.

Paul Mullin

I was actually serious about more Whitman. More Whitman, less ranting. Additional ranting will be removed. You have been politely warned.

Your next post can contain a BRIEF link to your rantings elsewhere, otherwise, I refer you to the polite warning above.

Ed Boswell

Walt Whitman: "The Shakespeare plays are essentially the plays of an aristocracy: they are in fact not as nearly in touch with the spirit of our modern democracy as the plays of the Greeks -as the Homeric stories in particular. Look at the Homeric disregard for power, place: notice the freedom of the Greeks -their frank criticism of their nabobs, rulers, the elect. You find the Greeks speaking of 'the divine hog-keeper', 'keeper of the hogs' -saying things like that -very convincing things -which prove that they had some recognition of the dignity of the common people -of the dignity of labor -of the honor that resides in the average life of the race. Do you find such things in the Shakespeare plays? I do not -no, nothing of the kind: on the contrary everything possible is done in the Shakespeare plays to make the common people seem common -very Common indeed." Essentially, with few exceptions, commoners are used for comic relief by the bard, with names like Snout, Pistol and Doll Tearsheet. Hardly what one would expect from a glover's son from Warwickshire.


I've actually been reading a bit of Joyce lately, and came across this truism: "Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance."

Joyce was thinking about the "scholars" who think that they have Shakespeare's biography. They don't.

Of course, such quotations can readily be used as a form of psychological defense and subtle name-calling against those who question the scholarly dogmas of authorship. I recommend this recent documentary as a good introduction to the nature of the problem: http://www.firstfoliopictures.com/.

The documentary puts paid to recent scholarly evasions such as Greenblatt's and James Shapiro's *Contested Will*.

Those wondering why the "fact" that the Tempest was written in 1611 disqualifies the well known alternative that the plays were written by Edward de Vere will be interested in this forthcoming book, which shows that the play was written (at the latest) by 1603-4. http://www.shakespearestempest.com.

A blog responding to the documentary would no doubt be of some interest.

Paul Mullin

Psi and Ed, if you took a moment to peruse the many MANY other blog posts of mine, it might penetrate your obsessive fog that I don't really care all that much about the Shakespeare authorship controversy. I am-- or I was-- a living playwright who cares about the living theatre.

I will no longer be accepting any more comments in this vein: not because I don't believe you have a right to be heard, but because you and your ilk exercise that right here and elsewhere, ad nauseum with very little regard to the actual context of the on-going conversation.

If you have something to say about the dearth of locally grown new play development, by all means say it. If you can only hew to this anti-Stratfordian obsession then hew to it and spew it elsewhere.


Paul, there's a sort of tragic irony in the fact that your article has attracted the attention of the 'Shakespeare Authorship Question' gladiators. There's no need to go into why it's ironic. As you can see from Ed's and psi's posts,

Anyway, I'm here to offer a helpful suggestion, rather than drag a dead and profitless debate onto a site about theatre.

I agree with much of what you say. I'm sure you'd have loved the Everyman theatre group I grew up with in Liverpool in the 1970's. We had writers like Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale in residence and actors like Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Pete Postlethwaite, Antony Sher and Julie Walters sometimes all in the same scene. They created really strong topical drama and outrageous comedy and presented it all as if it were disposable street drama. They took this a bit too far. When I went looking for a script to their version of The Canterbury Tales, 25 years later, the theatre manager just replied 'Script???'

What the Everyman did with Shakespeare was interesting. They did one production a year. They would do it in modern costume or Elizabethan costume, whatever - it didn't matter. But every production had the objective of making the audience feel, after 100 lines, that they were watching something that was written the day before.

Some were tremendously successful. Other's not so much. Lear with all white costumes and the theatre interior all whitewashed. Truly heartbreaking. Measure for Measure not so great but I will never forget Postlethwaite as the Friar, arriving in Angelo's cell on a scooter, covered in flashing lights, spelling out 'Jesus Saves' while smoking a cigar about a foot long. I can only hear that scene in the voice of Groucho Marx, now. They did The Eumenides absolutely straight in a strict translation, lit by torches, with the theatre smelling of the sea and sea soundscape playing in the background so that after 100 lines, everyone thought they were in Periclean Athens, watching the premiere. It was terrifying.

When a journalist asked Mick Jagger what makes a hit song he said 'Repetition'.

Theatre is about imagination.

Wills tells us in the Prologue to Henry V.

So if you're looking at addressing a crisis of imagination, I think a short embargo on Shakespeare, might work - or a different challenge, say a 12 month ban on everything except new work created by the group?

Be mad, Be risky. Challenge directors. Upset audiences. (And Oxfordians)

It's what HE would have wanted.

Ed Boswell

I left this post on a somewhat respectful note, wishing you well. (which you did not allow to be posted) There's no need to continue insulting me.

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