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Literature
 
The Shakespeare Authorship "Controversy"
The idea that the works credited to William Shakespeare were actually penned by a scholar or aristocrat, not by a glover's son from the boondocks, holds a strange fascination for many otherwise sensible people. Professional academics mostly lack the time and interest to point out the huge logical and evidentiary gaps in the "anti-Stratfordian" case (and frequently, through lack of preparation, make a botch of it when they try), so there is a role for laymen like me in the dispute.
 
Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography by Diana Price purports to prove that the William Shakespeare born in Stratford-upon-Avon was an unscrupulous businessman who stole credit for plays and poems really written by one or more anonymous aristocrats.
Alias Shakespeare by Joseph Sobran attributes Shakespeare's works to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), a suitably pedigreed candidate who unfortunately died while much of Shakespeare was yet to be written. Sobran claims to be able to detect hundreds of literary resemblances between the canon of Shakespeare and Oxford's handful of surviving poems.  His own book contains, I have found, an inadvertent test of the method's reliability - and conspicuously fails it.
Little as I regard the productions of Diana Price and Joseph Sobran, they are models of scholarly restraint next to Shakespeare's Fingerprints, in which Michael Brame and Galina Popova claim that the Earl of Oxford wrote not only Shakespeare but practically all other Elizabethan literature.
Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford by Alan H. Nelson is a sober, though occasionally mind numbingly detailed, account of the Shakespeare claimant's real life, one that had little to do with literature but is interesting in its own right. Oxford, despite his lofty birth, inherited wealth and valuable marriage, was a malcontent who failed in all of his strivings to coin privilege into power. While the mainsprings of his character remain enigmatic, his career illustrates how much leeway the Tudor elite would grant to an erring son and the limits of its trust.
Not directly about who wrote Shakespeare but invaluable as a source of authentic information on aristocratic literary output in Sixteenth Century England is The Elizabethan Courtier Poets by Steven May.
Shakespeare the Player by John Southworth approaches the Bard as an actor first and dramatist second, a perspective that gives new plausibility to many aspects of his career.
The Case for Shakespeare by Scott McCrea is the best overview yet of the current state of the Authorship "debate", though it could have used discreet editorial pruning.
"The Gray Lady Flirts With the Earl of Oxford" dissects the errors in an analysis of the authorship debate by the New York Times.
"From Mapplethorpe to Oxenford" examines the copious misinformation about Shakespearean authorship presented as fact by the National Endowment for the Arts.
For more information on aberrant theories concerning the Bard, see the Shakespeare Authorship Web site, which covers just about every aspect of the question. I have also begun discussing selected aspects of the question in Querulous Notes. For those who are specifically interested in the 17th Earl of Oxford, Alan H. Nelson of Berkeley, author of the biography of the earl noted above, has posted extensive documentary materials on his Web site.
 
Letters of Comment: Michael Marcus (9/9/03); Anonymous Oxfordian (10/29/03; 10/30/03; 10/31/03); David Gontar (1/8/04); Harry Horton (10/17/04)
 
C. S. Lewis
Spirits in Bondage was Lewis' first published book, written while he was still an atheist and aspired to forge a career as a poet.  If he had written nothing else, this verse would not have kept his name alive, but it has moments that foreshadow future greatness.
The largest undertaking of Lewis' life was Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, a volume in the Oxford History of English Literature.  Surveys on this scale are now normally divided among a battalion of scholars.  Lewis worked alone, scrupulously reading every extant English and Scottish book from his period.  Years of unremitting labor finally produced a work that is dense with facts and opinions but never tedious.
Of Other Worlds, one of the first posthumous Lewis collections, centers on the reading and making of stories. Highlights are "On Stories", "On Science Fiction" and "A Reply to Professor Haldane", which explains and defends the ideas the underlie the Perelandra trilogy.
The Dark Tower and Other Stories collects Lewis' minor fiction, consisting of two fragments of unfinished novels and four short stories.  Except for two of the stories, none of these writings was published during Lewis' lifetime.  The claim that they are pseudepigraphia is considered in the review of Kathryn Lindskoog's Sleuthing C. S. Lewis.
Two Lewis "encyclopedias" marked the centenary of his birth.  C. S. Lewis: Companion and Guide is the product of his literary executor Walter Hooper and has the virtues and defects of a massive one-man effort.  The C. S. Lewis Reader's Encyclopedia draws on over 40 contributors, significantly not including Hooper.
The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer examines a strangely neglected topic: the way in which the weekly gatherings of the Inklings influenced Lewis, Tolkien and the other members as writers.
No one has yet written a first-rate Lewis biography.  Not even second rate is the best known, C. S. Lewis:  A Life, a snide mixture of factoids, political correctitude and psycho-drama by A. N. Wilson.
Also of dubious value, though friendly to Lewis, is Sleuthing C. S. Lewis by Kathryn Lindskoog, a vehement attack on Walter Hooper and other keepers of the "Lewis legacy".  The most publicized aspect of this book is Mrs. Lindskoog's theory that Hooper forged The Dark Tower and other posthumously published Lewis writings.  [N. B.: Regardless of the merits of Mrs. Lindskoog's views, her vigorous scholarly and polemical activity, carried on despite severe multiple sclerosis, should be an inspiration and rebuke to all of us who accomplish less under the weight of fewer burdens. Her Web site, Lindentree, contains information about her many publications and literary interests. Update: Mrs. Lindskoog died on October 21, 2003, at age 68. Requiescat in pace.]
 
Classical Literature
Only scanty remains of ancient Greek prose fiction, once a flourishing genre, have escaped the winnowing of time.  Collected Ancient Greek Novels offers, in one thick volume, translations of virtually all that survives.  Most prominent are tales of young love thwarted by pirates, tyrants, storms and wars but at long last triumphant over all adversity.
 
English Literature
The Court of Elizabeth I has a reputation as a concourse of belle lettres.  In Elizabethan Courtier Poets, Steven W. May closely examines the careers and poetic output of the Queen's inner circle.  The group was smaller and less influential than legend would have it, but it nonetheless occupies a worthy place in our literary heritage.
Sir Philip Sidney achieved great things in literature during a tragically brief life. He is now remembered only as an author. In Philip Sidney: A Double Life, Alan Stewart tries to portray him as an important European political figure. The effect is a mirror image of ignoring Disraeli's public career in favor of his novels.
Ben Jonson is generally regarded as the finest Elizabethan/Jacobean playwright after Shakespeare himself.  Ben Jonson:  A Life by David Riggs recounts his turbulent career - much better documented than the Bard's - with thoroughness and skill, but he is less successful in his post-modern criticism of his subject's works.
Four of Anthony Trollope's less well-known novels, Lady Anna, Nina Balatka, Linda Tressel and Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, don't reach the standards of the Barset chronicles but show unusual aspects of the author.  Lady Anna, is, unusually for Trollope, set in the 1830's rather than the time of writing.  Nina and Linda take place in Prague and Nuremberg (and were originally published anonymously, as part of a Trollopian experiment).  Harry Heathcote is an Australian Christmas story, in which Yule fires are threatening rather than cheerful.
 
Querulous Notes
Thoughts, comments and speculations on literary topics; probably concentrating at first on Shakespearean authorship but always liable to wander elsewhere. Nothing set down here should be regarded as an absolutely fixed and settled opinion, and I revel proudly in my amateur standing.
Anti-Stratfordianism for Lawyers: The University of Tennessee College of Law makes it possible for lawyers to fulfill almost their full continuing legal education obligation by listening to talks about the authorship "debate". [4/16/04]
The "Catholic Bard" and the Authorship Question: Anti-Stratfordian loon Peter W. Dickson (well known to Shakespearean newsgroup readers) gets a forum in The Weekly Standard for his thesis that Shakespeare of Stratford's (alleged) Roman Catholicism disproves his authorship of the works that bear his name. [2/15/04]
Stritmatter statistics (part 1): The analysis of Roger Stritmatter's dissertation turns now to the statistical arguments that supposedly demonstrate a better-than-chance correlation between verses marked in the Earl of Oxenford's Bible and those alluded to by Shakespeare. [2/3/04]
Dr. Stritmatter's literary analysis: The fourth installment of my discussion of Roger Stritmatter's Oxfordian dissertation looks at the author's "literary" case for identifying Shakespearean themes among the markings in the Bible once owned by the 17th Earl of Oxenford. [1/20/04]
A new Shakespearean discovery: A contemporary marginal note, hitherto overlooked, suggests that Shakespeare's reputation as an actor was higher than most scholars suppose. [8/20/03]
Strange hobbies of a Supreme Court Justice: One of the nine men most responsible for interpreting our laws is receptive to patently insane ideas about Shakespeare. [3/15/03]
More stritmatter and a new authorship book: A debate at the pro-Oxfordian Shakespeare Fellowship exposes further blunders by the movement's academic whiz, and two linguists announce a truly outré addition to the authorship "controversy". [1/5/03]
My contribution to Oxfordian "scholarship": If The Two Gentlemen of Verona was written by the Earl of Oxenford, it raises questions as puzzling as any that the Oxfordians have ever found in orthodox attributions. [10/10/02]
Dr. Stritmatter's Latin: Third in my series about the Stritmatter dissertation, this time examining the author's pretentious but utterly inaccurate Latinity. [8/17/02]
The "Fair Youth" and Shakespeare's biography: The "fair youth" of the Sonnets most likely was not modeled on any real human being. [6/19/02]
The conspiracy mindset and anti-Stratfordian theory: Joseph Sobran's annual column on Oxenford displays the psychological connection between political idiotarianism and bizarre theories about the authorship of Shakespeare's works. [4/27/02]
Stritmatter's handwriting evidence: Were the supposedly revealing marginal notes in a bible once owned by the 17th Earl of Oxenford written by the earl himself? There isn't much evidence to back that claim. [3/23/03]
Roger Stritmatter's magnum opus: The first in an occasional series analyzing a new anti-Stratfordian tract. [3/16/02]
Shakespeare of Stratford, un bourgeios gentilhomme?: A popular idea among anti-Stratfordian scribblers is that Will Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was too prosperous, contented and bourgeois a figure ever to have written poems like Shakespeare’s Sonnets. [3/11/02]
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