In honour of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday, the Prince of Wales chose a selection from Shakespeare to commemorate the occasion. The passage was taken from Henry VIII and presented this morning on the BBC.
The reading from act 5, scene 5 (edited) begins: “Let me speak, sir.
For heaven now bids me; and the words I utter
Let none think flattery, for they’ll find ’em truth”.
“She shall be, to the happiness of England,
An aged princess; many days shall see her,
And yet no day without a deed to crown it”
The extract is from a speech by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to King Henry VIII after the birth of the future Queen Elizabeth I. In consultation with Greg Doran, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Prince Charles chose and read the selection for both the birthday celebrations and the 400th anniversary of death of William Shakespeare.
Fourteen, a sonneteer thy praises sings;
What magic myst’ries in that number lie!
Your hen hath fourteen eggs beneath her wings
That fourteen chickens to the roost may fly.
Fourteen full pounds the jockey’s stone must be;
His age fourteen – a horse’s prime is past.
Fourteen long hours too oft the Bard must fast;
Fourteen bright bumpers – bliss he ne’er must see!
Before fourteen, a dozen yields the strife;
Before fourteen – e’en thirteen’s strength is vain.
Fourteen good years – a woman gives us life;
Fourteen good men – we lose that life again.
What lucubrations can be more upon it?
Fourteen good measur’d verses make a sonnet.
The word sonnet comes from the Italian word “sonetto” which means “little song” and normally contains fourteen lines. Sonnets are divided into categories based on their rhyme scheme. Shakespeare’s poems follow the “abab cdcd efef gg” format. The other traditional sonnet types are Petrachan and Spenserian. The Spenserian sonnets follow the rhyming sequence of “abab bcbc cdcd ee”. The Petrachan or Italian sonnet was named for Francesco Petrarch who popularized the sonnet and began to appear in the 14th century. This type of sonnet, has the rhyming pattern in the first octet of “abba abba” with the last six lines having various rhyming patterns. It was lines in this sextet that mark the volta, or turn in the sonnet; so that the first eight lines posed a question and the final six answered it.
Shakespeare continues to appear in new and usual ways and one of the newest formats is the appearance of traditional and manga style graphic novels, though the plays have appeared in illustrated editions for hundreds of years. Copies of the plays were illustrated in both adult and children’s editions and proved particularly popular with the Victorian middle class. There was another surge of popularity during the depression and following the Second World War. Classics illustrated which operated between 1941 to 1971 in it’s incarnation did brisk business selling over 200 million copies.
As illustrated novels again rise in popularity, its not surprising that Shakespeare has found a whole new audience. Shakespeare Manga publishes the plays in a manga format and from it’s own advertising claims the works will appeal to “manga fans and kids that find Shakespeare intimidating”. A number of companies offer graphic novels in English, including No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels and Shakespeare Graphics but there is also a large market for Shakespeare graphic novels in none English speaking editions, especially in Japan.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! It is an ever-fix’d mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
In recent years numerous real historical figures have turned up as characters in works of fiction, and oddly are frequently solving mysteries. In the mysteries of Gyles Brandreth, Oscar Wilde is solving murders along with his friends Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and William Wordsworth’s great-grandson Robert Sherard. Jane Austen stars in Stephanie Barron’s mystery series, which began with “Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor”. Author Dan Simmons, places Victorian mystery writer Willie Collins along with his mentor Charles Dickens exploring the darkness behind the unfinished manuscript of “Drood”. So it’s not surprising to find Shakespeare doing his best sleuthing in a couple of series. In “The John Shakespeare Mysteries” by Rory Clements, William is the younger brother, a struggling playwright, helping his elder sibling investigate theft, murder and treason. William appears again as the cousin of another investigator also named William Shakespeare in the “William Shakespeare Detective Agency Series” by Colin Falconer.
Simon Hawke also has a full series begin with 2002’s “Much Ado About Murder” which features ostler and would be thespian Tuck Smythe and a young Will Shakespeare, fledging playwright. The Plague has hit London and the theatres are closed so the pair are seeking other employment, when a murder happens, and Will and Tuck are on the scene to investigate. Most of the series finds Will using the experiences and adventures they have as plot points or background in his plays.
“Time’s Fool: A Mystery of Shakespeare” by Leonard Tourney, has the Bard narrating his own story as he gives readers hints about the woman known as the Dark Lady of the sonnets. Of course, if mystery mixed with the supernatural is more to your taste, then Elizabeth Bear’s “Ink and Steel of the Promethean Age” might appeal. Here Master Shakespeare along with Kit Marlowe, find adventure and witches, warlocks and an assortment of fae creatures. Perhaps, its appropriate that a man whose life is such a mystery, could turn out to be a great detective.
Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, questions on whether Shakespeare was actually the author of the works thought to be his, began to arise. His lack of a formal education, and humble family background, have contributed to questioning his genius. Since then over 80 possible candidates have been put forward as possible authors to some if not all of his attributed works.
The four most commonly suggested alternative authors are pictured above: Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. While some of the arguments have a persuasive element, and have garnered support by a number of prominent members of society; nothing have ever been proven. Any internet search will garner a number of sites claiming to have solved the mystery of who authored the plays and many universities offer courses exploring the possiblities. Most recently, the film “Anonymous” postulated that Edward de Vere had paid Shakespeare to use his name, to prevent any difficulties to the Earl at the Tudor court. All the “evidence” is based on the lack of information available about Shakespeare himself, and nothing concretely attributes any work definitely to another author.
So believe what you will, I will continue to believe in the genius of William Shakespeare.