In various magazines I have seen advertisements offering tuition in proof-reading. Maybe I should have responded. I now appreciate what a difficult job proof reading is. Both Roger Beeching and John Lewis have criticised the autobiography, NO OFFICIAL UMBRELLA for the number of typos therein; according to Roger 10 before page 350 but with John it is grammatical mistakes as well. My grammar has never been five star. I wouldn’t know a gerund from a saucer of sardines and, as far as these mistakes are concerned, I can only say mea culpa. As for the typos which John says make the book look slapdash, despite it being a jolly good read, that is very disappointing because slapdash is the last thing it should be. Both Douglas and I went over and over and over the ms eliminating every mistake we saw but how come we missed so many? In the light of readers’ responses so far, which have been universally positive and enthusiastic, I am sick with remorse, particularly as I am very quick to pick up any mistake in other people’s books, especially those from major publishing houses that have resources and should be better served.
But on to a book in which I found no mistakes, not as far as typos and grammar are concerned. I have just finished reading “The Lodger – Shakespeare on Silver Street” by Charles Nicholl, a quite fascinating read but woe, woe, and thrice times woe, it really adds very little biographical detail to the life of that elusive person. Once again someone has tried to make a silk purse out of that old sow’s ear and, as far as I am concerned failed, as is always the case. I have a shelf full of books on the life of Shakespeare, Schöenbaum and Sir Sydney Lee managed quite impressive volumes and in a fairly recent biography I made notes which I am going to regale you with further down because, with the exception of “The Lodger” every biography contains “Perhaps”, “It may be that”, “We believe”, “Possibly”, etc. Tell me, John, with inverted commas, does the comma come after the ”, thus? Or before ,” thus? And (never start a sentence with “and”) after a ? Does the next sentence start with a capital or not? My spell-check will always change my lower case after a question mark. On with the Blog. (Fragment. Consider revising)
Of “The Lodger” Jonathan Bate in the Sunday Telegraph writes ‘The most absorbing work of Shakespearean biography I have ever read … he reanimates his subject’s world with a vividness and intensity that is almost impossible to achieve.’ Now here I agree one hundred percent with Mr Bates. I learnt an awful lot about Jacobean London but what did I learn about William Shakespeare apart from the fact that he lodged in this particular house for a few years, was instrumental in forwarding the marriage of a young couple and later testified in court when the husband sued his father in law for not paying up what was offered dowry wise.
Perhaps if I list the illustrations the percentage of Shakespeare biography to the story becomes apparent.
1) The deposition. Shakespeare’s statement at the Court of Requests, 11th May 1612.
2) Plaintiff and defendant in a scene from a Jacobean law-court.
3) Witness list for the first session of the Belott- Mountjoy suit, including ‘Willm Shakespeare gent.’ (This tells us nothing new as we have already had his deposition.)
4) Signatures of (a) Daniel Nicholas, (b) William Eaton (c) Noel Mountjoy (d) Humphrey Fludd.
5) Hulda and Charles William Wallace, discovers of the Belott-Mountjoy papers, at the Public Records Office, 1909.
6) The house on the corner. Detail from the ‘Agas’ map showing Silver Street and Muggle (or Monkwell) Street.
7) The Cooper’s Arms, on the site of the Mountjoy’s house, from a photograph of 1910.
8) St Giles, Cripplegate with bombed out buildings of Silver Street in the foreground. Drawing by Dennis Flanders, 1941.
9) Commemorative stone on the site of St Olave’s, Silver Street.
10) The surgeon of Silver Street, John Banister anatomizing a corpse at barber-Surgeons’ Hall 1580.
11) The author in bed. Title-page illustration from Thomas Dekker his Dreame (1620)
12) Le Couturier. A Huguenot tailor at work, c.1600.
13) Subsidy roll for Aldersgate ward 1582 listing Christopher ‘Mongey’ and his wife as tax-payers.
14) ‘Mrs Monjoyes childe’. Burial entry in the St Olave’s register, 27 February 1596.
15) Marie Mountjoy consults Dr Forman about missing valuables 22 November 1597.
So far Shakespeare 1 - other 13, ignoring 3.
In the second selection of illustrations taking us up to number 36, Shakespeare name is mentioned in connection with a public house so, in 36 illustrations Shakespeare’s appears twice, (still ignoring 3) the second time telling us nothing but that John Lowin ran ‘The Three Pigeons’ at Brentford and that he was a colleague of William Shakespeare’s.
And so to the promised treat of ifs and buts –
NOTES ON SHAKESPEARE – THE BIOGRAPHY
The Holy Bible – facing page 3 – there is no record of Shakespeare ever being a schoolboy. Not saying he wasn’t but not saying he was.
Page 4: “It is likely”, ‘May have been”, “Perhaps”, “Must have been”, all assumption.
Page 6: Guy of Warwick “imbibed by Shakespeare in his infancy." No proof, and since when were infants capable of imbibing legends?!
Page 7: “Came so instinctively to Shakespeare” – supposition.
Page 20: “Mornings to school” – supposition.
Page 23: Was Shakespeare from a literate or illiterate family? Note his father making his “mark.” And where is this supposed document now?
Page 26: Who inherited Henry’s wealth? - not William.
Page 27: The Ardens – “What can be asserted or suggested is more important than that which can be proved”!!! Wow! One way of getting out of it I suppose.
Page 27: Male actors in their earliest years identify with the mother – where on earth does he get this piece of nonsense from?
Page 29: “It has been surmised”, “It is also possible, indeed plausible”, more supposition.
Page 31: Warwickshire dialect – this at least is convincing.
Page 37: Why did Nicholas Lane lend money to both John and Henry Shakespeare if they were supposedly so wealthy?
Page 38: “Shakespeare’s schoolteachers.” No names given, no proofs. Later we hear of Thomas Jenkins? John Cottam? Walter Roche? Simon Hunt? Who knows?
Page 41: Dialogue in Henry lV Part 2 is convincing but was Shakespeare the only Warwickshire man with this knowledge? See below: Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke.
Page 44: “No doubt he devoured books.” Presumption.
Page 48: “It is also likely” and “we can infer,” more of the same.
Page 51: School again!
Pages53/4: Still maintaining Shakespeare’s schooling – “Enrolled in the register”? No evidence.
I haven’t made a note of the page number for this one – but a Hackney carriage in Elizabethan London? Oh boy, this is as bad as infants imbibing legends.
Page 115: "Shakespeare noted for the quickness of his repartee." Most of the writings dealing with Shakespeare’s character where penned after his death, sometimes a good while after his death, for example Nicholas Rowe 1709 Page 116.
Page 136: More assumption regarding Shakespeare’s character, “He had too great a respect for his own genius.” Really? Who said that? Then later we learn that he was “this apparently UNEDUCATED young actor from the provinces.” This after all the previous talk about schooling. And, if his contemporaries thought him uneducated, where does that leave us now?
Page 182: “Ample scope for contemplation”! As an actor? Only if he’s continually out of work. This is as bold a statement as “male actors bonding with their mothers.” Where does he get his facts from?
Page 186: Shakespeare the exception to collaboration – why? Later on he writes about the collaboration with Fletcher etc. (and in “The Lodger" evidently Shakespeare collaborated with Wilkins on Pericles)
Page 241: “On an earlier occasion he was reading Arthur Golding’s translation pf Ovid.” How can he make statements as bold as this? (Together with all the other books Shakespeare was supposed to have read, ‘on an earlier occasion’ no doubt.) This is how I imagine it by a contemporary of the great man, “I went to relieve myself and discovered Master Shakespeare already at stool and engaged between farts in perusing the Arthur Golding translation of Ovid and obviously deep in thought.”
Page 291: “This is not necessarily William Shakespeare; it is William Shakespeare as poet.” This statement is total nonsense. William Shakespeare and William Shakespeare poet are one and the same.
Page 359: What evidence? He makes statements like this without elaborating or giving reasons.
Page 373: John Shakespeare’s burial. “His son was undoubtedly present.” Who says so? It’s possible his son was present. It’s also possible he was not.There is no record of those present.
Page 383: “It is likely Shakespeare had some knowledge of Italian.” Why? If the play was translated into English why didn’t he just read it in English? That’s presuming he read it at all. (Page 404 we learn he preferred translations anyway). And here we have a further list of books he read – note, not might have read but read. Statement of fact.
PS: Fulke Greville referred to himself as Shakespeare’s master. Could this possibly be a sly way of saying he was the true author of the plays? Looking at his poetry it isn’t beyond the bounds of speculation, as much anyway as anything else we or this particular author knows.
Isn’t it time to give up trying to unravel the mystery that is William Shakespeare?