Monday 9 May 2011


Not very active this weekend although I did do something for the first time, namely perform reconstructive dental surgery...on myself. Half a tooth fell out last week and my dentist wouldn't see me until today, necessitating emergency action using a little kit you can buy from Boots. Carefully following the instructions I manage to repair the tooth temporarily - it takes about 10 minutes so Mrs Blog suggests I send myself a bill for £350. Enough information.

More appealingly I read a whole book over the weekend, James Shapiro's "Contested Will" all about the "controversy" over whether Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems ascribed to him. I've never previously taken an interest in this because no serious Shakespeare expert has ever doubted WS's authorship. Shapiro is a serious Shakespeare scholar and doesn't doubt the history but wrote the book as an examination of the strange phenomenon that is "Antistratfordianism".

It is one of the funniest books I've read in ages because the supporters of Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, etc as the real authors tied themselves up - and still do - in hilarious knots to overcome such difficulties as their man dying long before Shakespeare's last plays were written. In Oxford's case it is asserted that the plays were written earlier and then drip fed later by a secret cabal; whereas Marlowe apparently didn't really die in that Deptford knifing in spite of there being an inquest!

But the book reveals some deeper, stranger aspects of this obsession with the authorship. Delia Bacon (no relation), who championed Bacon as author in the 19th C., was motivated by a curious religion-driven republicanism and ended her days in mental hospital. John Looney (the name has of course attracted much derision which Shapiro rightly deplores) argued for Oxford up until his death in the 1940s: his motivation was a religion-driven "retro-fascism" which required a return to feudalism and dealing with the "Jewish question".

Given this last, sinister matter it's a surprise to find Sigmund Freud to be a supporter of Looney's daft theory, though Freud's motivation seems to have been that it must have been Oxford because Hamlet must have been written after the death of the author's father (which fits Oxford but not Shakespeare) as the play was clearly motivated by an Oedipal crisis following that death - Blimey!

One consequence of Freud's Oxfordian position was a falling out with his biographer and the only English-speaking member of his inner circle, Ernest Jones. Jones, an early Welsh nationalist and one of the world giants of psychoanalysis and psychiatry generally, had rescued Freud from Austria when the Nazis took over but refused to take the theories about Shakespeare seriously, to his credit. But Jones (who had a skeleton in his cupboard from his early career which haunts his reputation to this day - look him up here though I think this Wikipedia life is a bit too kind to him) agreed with Freud that Shakespeare has much to teach us about the unconscious mind.

Perhaps the strangest thing of all about the authorship question is the almost hysterical mass interest in the phenomenon which sucks in quite eminent people even now despite the clear evidence. A bit like creationism or homoeopathy I suppose.