Saturday, June 22, 2013

Three civil questions about William Shakespeare and Edward De Vere for Sir Derek Jacobi -- and a dinner invitation

In an intriguing diversion from his brilliant televised journey into the history and meaning of the play Richard II, Sir Derek Jacobi shook things up. 

Jacobi expressed his personal belief that the Elizabethan aristocrat Edward DeVere composed the plays traditionally attributed to the actor William Shakespeare. He also predicted that the fur would fly (or something like that) because he was wiling to share his opinion out loud, on TV.

No airborne fur  here. Sir Derek is certainly entitled to his opinion. I do have three questions I would pose -- civilly, of course -- if I were ever to have the honor of making dinner and serving it to my favorite actor of all time.

So this post is, first and foremost, a dinner invitation to Sir Derek. If he should ever find himself in Charlotte, North Carolina, eager to discuss the Oxfordian theory, I hope he will allow me to be his host.

Each question will sound much better when delivered over a nice baked chicken breast with a side of risotto.

1. We now know that the frequency of certain words appearing in the plays correlate strongly to roles Shakespeare himself is likely to have played as an actor. Thus: Certain rare words recited by the actor who performed the Ghost in Hamlet are statistically more likely to show up in the plays written after 1601. Why? Because Shakespeare was a member of the troupe, and he was repeating these unusual words every day in 1601 and 1602. He had them "front of mind" regularly, and was predisposed to use them in his new plays. Now, with all respect, the data analysis on all this is quite solid. For more on the remarkable computer-driven 21st-century scholarship that connects these dots, see . Question: Given these striking statistical patterns, wouldn't Edward De Vere have to have performed as an actor in Shakespeare's troupe, performing roles such as Adam in As You Like It and The Ghost in Hamlet on a daily basis?

2. De Vere died in 1604. This means that plays written before that date -- say, A Midsummer Night's Dream (now trending as #dream40) -- are far easier to fit into a De Vere timeline than plays written after that year. The problem: There are a lot of plays traditionally attributed to Shakespeare written after 1604. How do we know that? Well, take Macbeth. It contains direct references to the "equivocation" theme that Londoners of the time knew to connect to the 1605 Gunpowder Plot against King James I, the great political story of the day. Questions: Are the generations of scholars who have placed the composition of Macbeth later than the Gunpowder Plot incorrect? Why?

3. Similarly, The Tempest contains a clear allusion to a troubled 1609 journey to the Bermudas that was widely reported, and a popular topic of conversation in London before The Tempest was performed in 1611. Question: How did De Vere know about the perils of the Sea Vessel's journey to Bermuda five years before it occurred?

I don't suppose I'll get a reply to my  dinner invitation any time soon. But Sir Derek has been my favorite interpreter of Shakespeare for as long as I can remember. I am emboldened to hope he will come across this note, read it, and accept not only these questions but also my gratitude, respect, and admiration for his remarkable body of work.

Sir Derek, you can read the current chapter excerpt from my novel JIHADI by clicking here if you want a look.

Finally: I want to acknowledge that, after a career like his, the man gets to say whatever the hell he wants to say about these plays.