Lawyers, leave Shakespeare at the bar.

A nigh-headline story in the books section of The Wall Street Journal today announces: “Justice Stevens Renders an Opinion on Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays.”

I’ve excerpted my favourite part of the article below:

Justice Stevens can indulge his love of the Bard at the Folger Shakespeare Library, a block from the Supreme Court. He says he had a particular brainstorm after learning the library held a Bible that once belonged to de Vere.

“In two of the plays Shakespeare has an incident using the bed trick, in which the man is not aware of the identity of the woman he’s sleeping with,” Justice Stevens says, referring to “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “Measure for Measure.” “And there’s an incident in the Old Testament where the same event allegedly occurred.”

Justice Stevens says he reasoned that if de Vere had borrowed the escapade from his Bible, “he would have underlined those portions of it. So I went over once to ask them to dig out the Bible.”

Leaving aside the question of the author (sorry Foucault), I will at least observe that the bed trick is a (hackneyed) convention used by numerous early modern dramatists (last year I wrote about Middleton and Marston’s use of it in The Changeling and The Insatiate Countess, respectively), and  also that it’s possible to reference a text without first underlining the original. (Stevens himself seems to realise this possibility when it turns out “the passage involving the substitution of Leah for Rachel in Jacob’s bed, Genesis 29:23, was not marked.” This lack of evidence, however, does not change Steven’s opinion on Shakespeare).

What most annoys me, however, is not the argument itself[i], but the source. One certainly doesn’t have to be a critic, reviewer, publisher, or writer to read and discuss Shakespeare, but I do question why a casual after-court pub discussion receives top billing in the literary section of a national newspaper.

More fie.

End Notes:

[i] the argument itself. The article redeems itself somewhat by including Coppelia Kahn’s delightful response: “Oh my […]Nobody gives any credence to these arguments”.

19 April 2009 ~ St. Catharines


2 thoughts on “Lawyers, leave Shakespeare at the bar.

  1. This is one of the most horrid puns I’ve ever seen you employ, ugh. Oh and as a side note. Ben Jonson did not write anything that has been attributed to him. Ben Jonson is just an alter ego for William Shakespeare. Cheers.

  2. Now see, that would affect both Shakespeare and Jonson’s author functions. Their works are, we shall be understated and say, different.

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