Amazon.com Reviews of The Apocryphal William Shakespeare
***** Best of Its Kind in Years.
This book deserves a much wider readership than its small publisher and limited distribution is probably going to allow. Feldman, a manager in the NASA organization and an "amateur" Shakespeare scholar, provides a much more fascinating look into the authorship question than any of the recent Oxfordian Bandwagon books. I'm not sure if I'll be as enthusiastic about her proposed Volume II advocacy of Thomas Sackville as the writer as the accepted Shakespeare Folio canon, but this first volume provides a wealth of information and step-by-step analysis of the many puzzles behind the "Who was William
Shakespeare....really?" controversy. I've taught and directed the Bard's plays for 25 years, and read most of the major historical, critical, and theoretical books from Chambers to Sams, but I've learned much from Feldman's methodical, and yes, scientific analysis of these major questions: Who wrote the Shakespeare apocryphal plays? What is the provenance of the so-called "Bad Quartos"? Why did Robert Greene have so much animosity toward the "Upstart Crow", clearly echoed more subtly by many of his peers? Why are there so many contemporary references to a "secret" poet whose works exceed his rivals? (Stratfordian Purists would have you believe that there aren't any such references extant that are of any real significance; but Feldman provides convincing evidence to the contrary.) And, connected with that, why are there so many contemporary references to an unnamed strutting, flamboyant, pretentious actor who strives to be a poet, blatantly plagiarizing full lines and passages from other writers' plays? Why did Shakespeare let the clearly fraudulent "Passionate Pilgrim" stand without correction with his name listed as the sole author, even into a second edition during his lifetime? Etc., etc.) Feldman carefully examines virtually ALL of the surviving evidence surrounding these questions, drawing the threads together like a seasoned attorney, and provides reasonable doubt.
We may never know the truth behind the plays--and whatever it may be, the plays stand in their greatness no matter who the author was (or authors were)--but these are all questions that can't be ignored. And before I'm attacked mercilessly by the usual cadre of Stratfordian Purists that impatiently wait to pounce upon all Amazon reviewers who question the accepted story of the lad from Stratford who "hit the big time" out of nowhere in 1590's
London, let me say that I have held--and still hold--an open mind on the authorship question. (Although I pretty much discard Bacon, Marlowe, and Queen
Elizabeth as legitimate candidates!) Maybe Will Shakespeare....maybe not. But whatever the truth, the questions that Feldman raises and examines--from
primary source documents of the time--cannot, and should not, be ignored by anyone interested in the plays and their origins.
***** Third Way Offers a Way Forward.
This is a really important book, and anyone who has ever had any doubts about William Shakespeare's assumed authorship of the plays and poems needs to read it. Why? Because it introduces not just a new candidate, but a new way of approaching the question. Feldman accepts the skeptics' premise that the mismatch between the William Shakespeare of documentary record and the Shakespeare canon is too big to be ignored or wished away. But rather than simply adding yet another alternative Shakespeare to the long line of better-qualified candidates proposed over the last hundred years, she focuses on the authorship of the `Shakespeare Apocrypha', a group of about a dozen plays that were published in quarto editions during Shakespeare's lifetime with his name or initials on the title page. Her contention, developed in convincing detail, is that they were all written by William Shakespeare, and that Shakespeare was also responsible for the so-called `bad quartos', the shorter, artistically inferior versions of several of the canonical plays. Essentially she is arguing that Shakespeare spent most of his career successfully adapting other people's plays for the public stage - exactly as Greene, Ben Jonson and others said he did - and that the First Folio embodies someone's (almost certainly Jonson's) informed judgment as to which of these plays were adaptations of the work of one particular poet, the true Bard, together with some of the `true, original copies' (yes, that is what it says on the title page of the First Folio - funny, that!) from which Shakespeare worked.
Feldman does have an alternative author to propose. Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, a known poet and dramatist, 28 years older than Shakespeare, can now join the queue. She presents his case in outline here, and it looks quite strong; her detailed evidence will be presented in a second book. But what makes this one so exciting is that it answers so many questions so straightforwardly about William Shakespeare and his role. It won't be embraced with open arms by Stratfordians because it denies Shakespeare the ability to write the canonical plays himself; but equally it will not be welcomed by most skeptics, especially Oxfordians, because it credits Shakespeare with the ability to write entertaining popular drama. I'd like to think that at least some people on both sides can step back from their current convictions for long enough to see that Feldman's `third way' offers real solutions to problems that neither side has ever been able to solve.
And by the way, it's very readable. Being an astrophysicist, Feldman is almost touchingly innocent of humanities conventions like long discursive chapters. She has 86 short ones, which makes for a slightly jerky reading experience. But her writing is fresh, lucid and economical, with the inexorable forward momentum of a big idea unfolding; so it's a lot of fun to read.
***** Fascinating exploration of a neglected area
I thoroughly enjoyed The Apocryphal William Shakespeare - so much so that as soon as I finished it, I went back to the beginning and
started to read it again.
Sabrina Feldman makes an excellent case for the existence of a modestly educated author of rural origins whose raucous voice can be heard throughout the so-called Shakespeare apocrypha - plays that were attributed to "William Shakespeare" or to "W.S." during the 16th and 17th centuries, but are dismissed from the canon today. She argues that this authorial voice did indeed belong to William Shakespeare, the glover's son from Stratford, who came to London after touring the provinces as "absolute interpreter to the puppets" (as one scoffer put it) - i.e., as an impresario of puppet shows and morality plays. Her version of the Stratford man is colorful and believable; her William Shakespeare is a talented rhymester, a born showman, and a shameless self-promoter.
What he is not, however, is the greatest poet in the English language. That honor belongs to a veiled nobleman who wrote court plays - sophisticated entertainments designed to appeal to the intellectual sensibilities of an aristocratic audience. It was the peculiar genius of the Stratford man to realize that these plays, when simplified and adapted to meet the popular taste, could be profitably performed on the public stage. These bastardized but popular versions were published under the name William Shakespeare (or W.S.); hence the so-called "bad quartos" and those baffling items like The Taming of *A* Shrew that retain the essential plotting of Shakespeare's plays, but without their graceful language and keen insights. With the exception of isolated publications like the "good quarto" of Hamlet, it was not until the appearance of the First Folio in 1623 that the original author's unadulterated work was revealed to the public.
This hypothesis may explain the strange fact that two sets of works were attributed to William Shakespeare - one set being the greatest plays ever written, and the other a collection of coarse, bawdy, rough-and-tumble entertainments clearly aimed at the groundlings. It could also plausibly explain how and why the Stratford actor became the front man for the veiled aristocrat whose works he appropriated and doctored.
There are areas where I disagree with the author, or at least am not sold on her conclusions. Most notably, she proposes Thomas Sackville as the veiled aristocrat, an argument to be fleshed out in a follow-up book. It will have to be a powerful argument to dissuade me from the opinion that Edward de Vere was our man. But as Feldman herself says, the world is not exactly clamoring for another authorship candidate; and in this book the Sackville issue is of secondary importance. The focus is on establishing the plausibility of the Stratford man as the author-adapter of the bad quartos and other apocrypha. He was a man who borrowed liberally from all sources to pad out his adaptations; if he felt a scene needed a bit of bombast, he didn't hesitate to throw in some slightly mangled verses from Marlowe or Greene. He was the "upstart crow, beautified with our feathers" who imagined himself "the only Shake-scene" in town - a boundlessly confident plagiarist and rhymester extempore who stole from everyone, added his own seasoning of country wit, and became wildly successful, much to the chagrin of his more polished rivals.
Sabrina Feldman's thesis really does seem to make sense. In fact, it has the quality of a really good original insight - namely, it seems almost obvious once it's pointed out.
***** Fascinating Study of the Apocrypha.
The Apocryphal William Shakespeare is a fascinating book which addresses in detail questions concerning the authorship of the Shakespeare Apocrypha (as opposed to the works in the Shakespeare "Canon"). The Apocrypha are around 10 plays which were originally attributed to William Shakespeare, but which are not now considered by mainstream scholars to have been written by him. Not much thought has been given to the Apocrypha by scholars, and there is no generally accepted theory as to who wrote them.
Feldman shows that these plays share a distinctive authorial voice: an author who pilfered freely and frequently from other playwrights (especially Christopher Marlowe and Robert Greene), who wrote in a often very funny but clumsy manner, employing clunky blank verse, bungled Latin phrases, slapstick, jingoism, jokes about food, and other distinctive features. These plays are generally not great works of art, but often are lively and funny, and some of them were very popular in their time.
She shows that the author of the Apocrypha is a very good fit for William Shakespeare of Stratford (which isn't totally a surprise, as these plays were all attributed to him, many during his lifetime). Assuming that the Stratford man wrote the plays explains why Robert Greene (in his "Groatsworth of Wit") famously described him as "an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers", which makes no sense when applied to the author of the Shakespeare Canon. Furthermore, in a fascinating series of chapters, Feldman shows that there are an extremely interesting group of characters occurring in plays of the late 1590's to early 1600's which seem to be lampooning William Shakespeare (one of the characters is explicitly described as being from Stratford Upon Avon), which seem to show that William Shakespeare's fellow playwrights viewed him as something of a buffoon. A lot of the quotes from these plays are very funny, I laughed out loud many times reading these sections.
The book also addresses the question as to who wrote the Canon (Feldman believes that there was a coverup of sorts in which Ben Jonson was central, and that the works in the Canon are by the nobleman Thomas Sackville), although much of this discussion has been deferred to a second book.
The book is organized as a series of short chapters, most of which address a single work or topic. There is an extensive set of notes to the chapters which detail the voluminous research Feldman undertook in writing this book. To my mind she is very fair in addressing counter-arguments to her points. One drawback is that the book has no index, hopefully this can be rectified in a future edition (that said, the fact that the book is organized in short chapters makes it generally fairly easy to track down a topic that one is interested in).
All in all this is an extremely interesting work, with many new ideas, I think it would be fascinating not only for Shakespeare conspiracy buffs, but for anyone interested in Shakespeare or Shakespeare's time.
***** Elizabethan Age Treat.
Whatever your views on the Authorship question, this book is a revelation. Into the inside world of the theater, into the development of the playwright as an artist, and into the minds of the playwrights inhabiting and working in Elizabethan England. The author examines many little known plays--the so-called Shakespeare Apocryphal; plays most of us know very little about, but which reveal a lot, potentially about Shakespeare, but also about the "other" playwrights of the time, and the constant wordplay they employed to lampoon one another. In all the works of history or Authorship that I've read, I've never before realized how much was going on behind the scenes in the theater world, or how much was discernible from a simple reading of these obscure plays. Sabrina Feldman also breathes new life into the Authorship Controversy, introducing a new candidate, a "hidden poet." Her forthcoming sequel to this book promises to lift the curtain a bit more, and I for one, look forward to the unveiling. A very enjoyable read, written with an easy and confident hand.
***** Great scholarship, a plus for any Shakespeare reader.
The author does a thorough job of investigating and explaining what is, and is not, the work of Shakespeare. Her use of the apocrypha to understand who was writing the works we know, and what the career of Shakespeare really was, is something that should have been looked at long ago. To understand that this is written by a real rocket scientist (at JPL) who understands scientific method and research further supports her careful interpretation. This should be a work read by Lit and English majors, and should demonstrate to PhD candidates that new research is indeed possible.
*** Useful . . . but her next book will be more interesting.
The purpose of this book is to lay the groundwork for a second book in which the author will argue that Thomas Sackville, a notable Elizabethan poet and politician, was 'The Bard', and William Shakspere, actor and businessman, was an inferior playwright who adapted Sackville's plays for the popular theatre.
This book reviews numerous contemporary references (often cryptic or veiled references) to people who might have been The Bard or Shakspere, and builds up an interesting but not conclusive case that there was a veiled playwright operating with a populist playwright/entrepreneur. This is similar to the argument made by Dennis McCarthy in North of Shakespeare, and like McCarthy, Feldman doesn't produce much evidence to support her alternative candidate, Sackville. That is supposed to come in the next volume.
While Sackville has some interesting connections to Shakespeare, it's hard to see how a convincing case could be made for his authorship, given his career and age. His son Robert Sackville has also been suggested as a candidate, but there is so little information about Robert it's hard to know what he did with his time.
The Sackvilles were a literary household and had other connections to the literary world. It will be interesting to see what Feldman comes up with in her next book.