430 In Shakespeare’s Shadow (with Michael Blanding)

It’s a paradox that has bothered Shakespeare’s fans for centuries: the man was as insightful into human beings as anyone whoever lived, and yet his own life is barely documented. This combination of literary genius plus biographical uncertainty has spun off a number of mysteries – including the question of how exactly Shakespeare came to know the things that he did.

In this episode, Jacke talks to investigative journalist Michael Blanding, author of In Shakespeare’s Shadow, about a renegade scholar named Dennis McCarthy’s theory that Shakespeare may have drawn upon a previously unknown source – the lost plays of Sir Thomas North – and how Blanding himself joined the pursuit of searching for evidence to support McCarthy’s theory.

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2 thoughts on “430 In Shakespeare’s Shadow (with Michael Blanding)”

  1. Sorry! Not convinced!

    That Shakespeare may have drawn on other plays for inspiration, re-purposing plots, scenes, characters, and maybe even lines is plausible and probably correct. It is not controversial that Shakespeare’s plays were written by not only a clever magpie but, significantly, an artist who created his works in close collaboration with a tight ensemble of talented actors. And, as noted in the podcast, Michael Blanding and Dennis McCarthy are not positing that Shakespeare did not exist.

    Nevertheless, Blanding (if not McCarthy) sets the context by, (once again!), asking how the son of a glover could write those plays. Sadly, the question is fallacious! The primary error he makes is to assume that, in Elizabethan England, art (particularly Theater) was an expression of identity and borne out of personal experience. Here in the 21st century we believe it to be true and see biography as a legitimate avenue for criticism and analysis. But we can thank the Romantics for that – not the Elizabethans.

    All Shakespeare needed to do to learn how to render battles, courtly life, aristocratic speech, the Italian countryside, or historical scenes on stage was to SEE PLAYS, which we can assume he did. A lot. Shakespeare’s theater was not a realistic artform. No personal experience was necessary to set a scene in Denmark, Scotland, Verona, Bohemia or Athens when played on a bare stage. They didn’t need authentic costumes, sets or music to satisfy the fantasies of the playgoers.

    What seems more likely? That an apprentice (and later) man of the theater could learn the craft of staging swordfights, court pageants, scenes set in foreign lands by seeing lots of plays, working in the theater, and then employing imagination, wide reading, and the talents of the ensemble in the service of making plays? Or that a “gentleman” (especially one who, the conspiracists admit, might not have been accepted in the theater) could learn to craft entrances and exits, continuity of character, time, and place; scenes with one, two or twenty actors — or write witty dialogue that actors can make come alive – without ever training in or working with a company of players, musicians, child actors, stage managers, stage hands, costumers, and fight masters?

    OK. Fine! Blanding can disparage the work of academics and Shakespeare scholars. But I wish he’d take a little time to research and gain just a little RESPECT for the art and craft of playwriting and theatrical production.

    1. Sigh. You are fighting an old battle, and it’s a valiant effort, but I don’t think Blanding is the opponent you seek. Your argument seems to be “Of course Shakespeare could have written his plays – he could have learned a lot from other plays!” Blanding’s argument is “Yes I believe Shakespeare could have written his plays – and in fact, here are some plays he might have learned from!” Somehow you’ve failed to see that he’s on your side: you are almost literally saying the same thing that he is. (Son of glover learns things from plays, uses that knowledge to create works of genius.) In any case, I think you would agree that the world of Shakespeare fans, academics and non-academics alike, will be excited to find some new source material for Shakespeare, if it exists, so we can further appreciate the operation of genius on earlier (and no doubt lesser) material.

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