Sunday, April 23, 2017

HGB Ep. 198 - Shakespeare and Ghosts

Moment in Oddity - Handsome Devil Puppets

The Handsome Devil Puppets are a creepy assortment of puppets created by an artist named Han. They are hand-sculpted and decorated with antique lace, real human hair, remnants from a grandmother's jewelry box and bones. Han started creating these puppets to help her deal with life and death. They are inspired by horror films and mysterious famous personalities. The clothing Han dresses her creations in, is historically accurate and hand-stitched. She says, "I have a longstanding fascination with Victorian mourning practices and memento mori. After a traumatic, life-threatening event in my life, I seemed to lose the ability to process the idea of death and loss. Studying the practice of post-mortem photography and the way they so embraced and normalized the idea of death made me feel a little less like I'd gone crazy. Their use of mourning jewelry containing the hair of the deceased has carried over to my use of trinkets of the deceased and human hair in my puppets." Han's puppets are some of the creepiest we have seen and they certainly are odd!

This Month in History - Max Ernst is Born

In the month of April, on the 2nd, in 1891, Max Ernst was born in Germany. He also died in April, on the 1st, in 1976. His father taught him to paint at an early age. He was forced to join the German army during World War I. The trauma of war affected him greatly and he turned to his art to help him cope. Ernst would be a founding member of the Dada Art movement and surrealism. He would create collages from various materials like illustrated catalogs, manuals and paint. it was this collage style that inspired other painters and surrealists. He created his own world of fantasy. Ernst came through Ellis Island in 1941 and eventually made his way into the New York art scene through his third wife, Peggy Guggenheim. Jackson Polluck became a follower of Ernst. Eventually, Ernst moved to Paris, where he eventually passed away.

Shakespeare and Ghosts

There are those who believe that Shakespeare is not the author of the plays attributed to him. There is a Renaissance Conspiracy Theory that claims it was someone else. And there is not just one theory in regards to this. On today's episode, we are hosting a round table with listeners Angie Reynoso Akbarzad, Bob Sherfield, Ronda Borgen and Emily Ridener. They are going to present the different theories and their thoughts in regards to them. If Shakespeare was who history claims he was, what are the details of his life? There are no tales of his spirit still walking the earth, perhaps because he was someone else, but he used ghosts in several of his plays. What were those plays and what part did they play in his works? Join us as we explore the life of Shakespeare, the theories about his identity and the ghosts he used as characters in his plays!

Stratfordian Theory: Shakespeare was Shakespeare and he wrote all his plays. Bob Sherfield researched the life of Shakespeare and shares it on this episode:

William Shakespeare was born in the April of 1564 to John and Mary Shakespeare (nee Arden) residents Stratford upon Avon, a market town some 100 miles northwest of London. His birthday, whilst not know precisely is taken to be April 23rd, possibly because that would match up with the date of his death, and also it fits in with the recorded date of his baptism, April 26th. April 23rd also happens to be St George’s day, the patron saint of England. His Father John was a successful glove maker, and his Mother, Mary was from the Arden family, who were, or had ancestral links to the local gentry. John Shakespeare was a prominent member of Stratford society and held a number of offices including alderman (meaning he sat on the local council) and then bailiff or mayor in 1568. He would also have a justice of the peace. , before falling on hard times in 1576.

Interestingly it was during his time as Bailiff that touring companies of players were first allowed to perform in Stratford, a license that would have been granted by John Shakespeare. William’s education history is a matter of speculation as no records for the town guild school survive, the school was free to male children (as long as they could read and write) in Stratford at that time, and given his fathers positions it is fair speculation that he would have attended. At this school he would have been educated in Latin grammar, literature & classical plays and though the standard level of teaching required a deep understanding of Latin, he would probably have not learnt much else.

The next time we see William Shakespeare recorded is on the occasion of his marriage to Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a local farmer on 28 Nov 1582. Anne was some 8 years his senior, and the marriage was conducted in some haste, as special permission was gained for the wedding bans to only be read once, rather than the usual 3 times. This was probably due to the fact that Anne was already pregnant as their first child; Susanna was born only six months later in the May of 1583.
Two further children would follow in 1585, twins Hamnet and Judith, though Hamnet, his only son would die young in 1596 at the age of 11.

Baring a lawsuit, Shakespeare then disappeared for 7 years between 1585 & 1592, when he was called an Upstart crow by Robert Greene. All that can be assumed to have occurred during this period is that he began his career as an actor and playwright. Some legends to exist, an early biography claimed he fled the town to avoid charges of deer poaching. Another has him working as a schoolmaster in Lancashire, and indeed a William Shakeshaft (his father was from the county, and that was how his grandfather spelt the surname) is recorded working for the Hesketh family (interestingly the same family had links to the Globe theatre.) Now that he was married, Shakespeare would have been ineligible to attend university and also barred from taking up indentured apprenticeship. Thus many of the normal routes to employment would have been closed to him.

By 1594, Shakespeare had become a part owner in the acting company know as The Lord Chamberlains men, know as such due to taking the name of their aristocratic sponsor.
In fact they were so popular, that under the reign of James 1 they became the Kings men.
It is during these years that many of the plays were written, whilst Shakespeare acted at court, and also at the Globe and Blackfriars theatres in London, although it seems that he had moved back to Stratford full time by 1608. It was here that the later plays would have been written. By the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, Shakespeare was wealthy enough to purchase the second largest house in Stratford, New Place, as well as substantial parcels of land in the area of Stratford, as well as an apartment in the gatehouse of the former Blackfriars priory.

Shakespeare appears in a series of legal documents in the years up to 1614, including as a witness in a court case, and a case of slander against his daughter Susanna. His death came April 1616 at the age of 52. The cause of his death is not recorded, but it could possibly have been influenza, or if the vicar of Stratford, writing some 50 years later is to be believed, he caught a fever after a drinking session with Ben Jonson and another actor. He was buried in the chancel, beneath the high altar, or Holy Trinity Church.

Oxfordian Theory: Was it Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford? De Vere did have a degree from Oxford University and a solid grounding in the law that would explain the number of Tudor legal phrases in Shakespeare's plays. He also lived in Italy for a few months--the setting of many Shakespearean plays such as Othello and Romeo and Juliet. He served as a soldier, and he was the nephew of a literary pioneer who helped popularize the sonnet in English. Another of de Vere's uncles translated Ovid's Metamorphoses, the source of many allusions in the Shakespearean plays. Edward de Vere's crest has a lion holding out a paw and shaking a spear (thus a pun on "Shakespeare"). His copy of the Geneva Bible has passages underlined in it that also appear in the Sonnets, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and a Falstaffian speech. The hardest part to swallow is that de Vere died in 1604. Some of Shakespeare's later plays were written after this time and Oxforians claim these plays are misdated.

Queen Elizabeth Theory: Was it Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boylen. She took the throne in 1558, with her coronation on January 15, 1559. She was his patron, did she ghostwrite some of the works. Several were published after her death, but there are those who maintain several authors were Shakespeare. Was she one of them?

Baconian Theory: Was it Sir Francis Bacon?  Some arguments are based on anagrams or hidden messages in the plays. Cryptography and anagrams are especially popular with the Baconian school. But there really is no proof to back up this theory.

The Wild Goose Club Theory: Shakespeare's plays were written by a group of about twenty famous writers (all Freemasons, incidentally), including Ben Jonson, Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe and Edmund Spenser. They called themselves "The Wild Goose Club" and would meet for dinner once a month at a particular inn where William Shakespeare was their usual waiter. Shakespeare's plays were thus all an elaborate practical joke designed by the nefarious secret society on some unfathomable lark requiring over twenty years of collective labor (labor which continued somehow to produce plays long after the deaths of the purported perpetrators of the hoax, apparently).

Marlovian Theory: Was it Christopher Marlowe? Calvin Hoffman, in The Murder of the Man who was "Shakespeare," argues that Christopher Marlowe did not die in a knife fight in 1593 (as listed in historical records). The whole affair was a hoax supposedly. Once believed dead, Marlowe could assume the nom de plume of "Shakespeare" and keep writing while he hid from the public. 

There was a lot of superstition in the Elizabethean Era and even MacBeth has a weird curse circulating about it. Shakespeare’s Macbeth was supposedly cursed due to the playwright’s having given away a few more of the secrets of witchcraft than the weird sisters may have approved of. For a time, productions experienced an uncanny assortment of mishaps and injuries. Even today, it is often considered bad luck for members of the cast and crew to mention the name of the production, simply referred to as the Scottish Play. Ghosts were recognized by the Elizabethans in three basic varieties: a visual and subjective ghost, a ghost who has not an opportunity for repentance and a ghost that can masquerade as anything. Critics are not sure how to classify the ghosts in Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Richard III, or Hamlet. Shakespeare's ghosts and witches were very popular.

Richard III (Ghosts of his victims)

The earliest Shakespeare play in which ghosts appear is Richard III. As Emily shares, the victims of Richard, return in spirit to seek vengenance against him. Each ghost visits him one at a time, as a parade of spirits. They each predict his defeat and death and all of them end their visits with ‘Despair and die.’ These same ghosts visit the Earl of Richmond, who is the leader of the army opposing Richard, and they tell him to ‘Live and flourish.’ This visit to the enemy solidifies that Richard III has not just dreamed this. In Shakespeare’s source story in Holinshed’s Chronicles, Richard is said to have had a terrible dream of ‘images like terrible devils’ on the night before the battle, but there is no mention of ghosts. This parade of the dead come back to life is entirely Shakespeare’s creation.

Hamlet (Ghost of his father.)

Hamlet's ghostly encounter seems most plausible. The ghost that appears to Hamlet is his father, the dead king. He almost seems residual in form in that he has a nightly ritual of walking about his former castle. Several people see the spectre, from Horatio to the guards. The ghost will only speak to Hamlet. The two carry on a heavy conversation. The dead king calls for vengeance. The ghost claims that he is forced to walk the Earth, which backs up the belief in Purgatory and he demands that his son get revenge to help bring him peace. Hamlet slips into depression  and madness after his father's ghostly visit and he eventually dies. The whole family is consumed with a need for revenge. Horatio begins the play doubting the existence of the ghost that Barnardo and Marcellus claim to have seen on two previous nights. Horatio eventually sees the ghost. When Hamlet finally confronts his mother in the so-called closet scene, the ghost comes back, but only the Prince can see or hear him. ‘You do bend your eye on vacancy’ (3.4.117), says Gertrude. Yet the ghost does not only appear, it speaks.

MacBeth (Ghost of Banquo.)

Macbeth invites his friend Banquo to dinner, but has him dispatched while in route. Banquo later manifests as a ghost and this has a connection to some Scottish folklore that Shakespeare may have been inspired by. In that folklore it is said, "Untimely dead often return in search of food or hospitality denied them in life and must be satisfied" and that ghosts "keep appointments made when living." Banquo had an invite to dinner and he was going to keep it , so he manifests at Macbeth's dinner. But only Macbeth can see him and thus the guests begin to question the sanity of Macbeth. Lady Macbeth apologizes for his odd behavior explaining that he is tired and sick. Macbeth thinks he sees a bloody dagger and solidifies that thought that he is crazy. The comparison between Macbeth and Banquo seeing the Weird Sister witches at the beginning of the play and him seeing the ghost alone seems to solidify that the witches were real, but the ghost was not there.

Julius Caesar (Ghost of Caesar.)

Brutus has helped to murder Julius Caesar and he is sitting at a table by the dying flame of a lamp when the spirit of Caesar manifests to him. During the Middle Ages, it was believed that a ghost would appear in whatever state of decomposition the body happened to be in. Caesar wants revenge and has returned to fulfill a vendetta as he confronts his murderer. He informs Brutus that he will be defeated at Philippi. The ghost is described as monstrous. As the battle turns against him, Brutus cries:

    O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet!
    Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords
    In our own proper entrails. (5.3.94–96)

This helped illustrate how ghosts were mostly used to warn of impending doom or to seek revenge. Shakespeare was inspired by the book "The Discovery of Witchcraft" by Reginald Scot written in 1584. Scot was a skeptic and he felt that ghosts were a form of mental disorder that came from melancholy, timidity, drunkenness and false reporting. Shakespeare draws upon these traditions and makes something new with his ghosts. Unlike the emotional and moaning ghosts of the Middle Ages, Shakespeare's are reasoning entities.

Is the man we have been taught was Shakespeare the real man? Did he write all of his works? That is for you to decide!

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