Much Ado about Essex

Let me freely admit that I know my title here derives from the fairly bawdy joke that is the great comedy’s title and Shake-speare’s mea culpa for scandal. After long but incomplete study, I realized that I had been ‘had’ by a couple of commentators whose arguments I at first bought into. The joke was on me. So turn about is fair play, and I hope to turn the joke inside out by taking my sweet time and continuing to carefully figure out what I can about the puzzle that is Essex and his relation to another equally puzzling earl, come what may…Yes, I am very bad. But that may be good.

I took a long hiatus from writing this blog to work on my paper, the one I had started talking about here, for the Toronto edition of the Shakespeare Authorship conference. I had started this as a process journal for my research which it shall continue to be though, I am not really sharing any breakthroughs or findings which I will share when my paper is published.

Some Observations for Novice Oxfordians about Researching Authorship Issues and Figures for whom history may be somewhat distorted, particularly here, Essex.

When I first started, I realized that the usual methods of historical literary research would not work as well for this inquiry. I was taught to read backwards…To go back and read the critics and historians until their work seems obsolete in the face of new work. But I found out that the following basic research skills, which most scholars use, are doubly important when working to verify or discover early modern information:

  1. You have to go back to the early critics or historians and look at their sources. If you have limited resources, you may not ever get to look at primary sources, but many are now available online through libraries and EEBO.
  2. Read forward and backwards through all historians and literary historians; this should often include traditional scholars and authorship scholars and bloggers on both sides of the pond. Read everything on your topic. Use the academic databases, and Google. Oxfordian works can be found by using the search terms “authorship” and “Oxfordian.” I just downloaded all of the publications online from the DeVere Society, the Shakespeare Fellowship, and SOS. Now all will be combined for those last two. Once you save the pdfs on your own computer, the local files are searchable for key words. Be creative with your search terms. It is important to look at new scholarship even if orthodox. New materials do resurface or are reappraised.
  3. Read all footnotes and find any seemingly pertinent source yourself, then peruse the new source, especially for topics you feel you don’t have the strongest argument. —–Make a note of each source you get w who cited it and what you wanted to look into. You may have to wait to read or obtain the book and you need to remember why you needed it. If you find you need a book longer, make a copy of the parts you need. Look up everything. If an object or book is mentioned, look it up and you just might find that it exists in the British Library or a museum and you can see it for yourself.
  4. You can’t trust anyone to be 100% correct–especially scholars you number among your friends–this is called objectivity. Ask your fellow scholars. They do not mind answering questions on FB or email if you are genuinely doing the work.
  5. Just when you think you know something, you probably don’t–keep looking!
  6. Read everything any mentor or expert tells you to read immediately. They might be sending you a curve that you need to know about or giving you a clue to a treasure or the location of a needle in a haystack.Do not overestimate the ease of recommended reading or sources (they may be trying to teach you something or point you to a problem you need to solve). Working through sources is hard, but I found something new around every page, so it was motivating to keep working.
  7. Most things in authorship studies happen earlier than anyone thinks they did. But this is really hard to prove. You can’t guess about dating. Read the arguments for the various dating rationales.
  8. Read orthodox criticism, but also read to understand their theoretical basis– It is usually fairly revealing. Also look for outliers. Find out why they are doing what they do. Who else uses the theorists they cite? What is their reputation? Note that you often can actually trust some experts who have been discredited by people hostile to authorship issues. Reviews can be helpful. If a book is highly criticized, it may be that they actually had something new that makes their detractors very uncomfortable, and it may be groundbreaking.
  9. Do not avoid difficult texts or texts that need to be translated. There are people out there glad to help you with this aspect of research with valuable knowledge and skills.
  10. In Elizabethan discourse, you can safely bet that all writings may have multiple meanings and that nothing is necessarily literally true. I knew this to be true in theory, but this project research political intrigue made it all too clear to me how deep this runs. They wrote in code at several levels of interpretation to avoid being pinned down about saying things that could get them censored or frowned upon by people whose patronage decided their place in society and their ethos. Learning to understand why and how this works is part of the learning curve for anyone new in or returning to this field.

© Michelle Maycock 2014

2 thoughts on “Much Ado about Essex

  1. In Ben Johnson’s Poets’ War plays, EMO and Cynthia’s Revels he described both de Vere (Shakespeare) and Shakspere overtly. Plus, Jonson repeated de Vere’s cipher. See shakespearedeciphered.com.

    • Thanks for pointing that out, though I am aware of this from my readings and from other blogs, namely Quakespeare Shorterly and the Festival Robe. If you want to be part of the conversation, you should get yourself peer reviewed and talk to other scholars at ShakesVere on Facebook, also document where other scholars have made observations similar to yours or that support you findings. Thanks for pointing me to your blog.

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