Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Former poet laureate recognizes Mary Sidney as poet

Robert Pinksy, former poet laureate, wrote a wonderful article about Mary Sidney as a poet and translator, and appreciates that she inspired John Donne. He reads aloud one of the psalms she versified, Psalm 52.


Not long ago, Joyce Carol Oates made a reference to Mary Sidney having written Shakespeare, in the New York Times Sunday Book Review:

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know? Have you ever written to an author?
We would probably all want to meet Shakespeare—or so we think. (We could ask the man if he’d really written all those plays, or if, somehow, he’d acquired them from—who?—Sir Philip Sidney’s sister, perhaps? Wonder what W.S. would say to that.) Some of us have fantasized meeting Emily Dickinson. (The problem is, would either W.S. or E.D. want to meet us? Why?)

Let’s hope that Oates and Pinksy are talking to each other!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mary Sidney update

Okay, World’s Worst Blogger strikes again. I don't know why I have so much trouble blogging when so many interesting things have happened over the past couple of years.

I am so pleased to announce that Mary Kimball Outten created a lovely CD of music from Mary Sidney's time. It is a stunning collection of renaissance and original music that Mary Outten has composed and arranged, accompanied by several other professional musicians. It is the perfect thing to transport you into the world of Mary Sidney. The CD can be purchased on her site: www.MaryKimballOutten.com

The Mary Sidney Society is still going strong. We are updating the web site shortly to switch from credit cards to PayPal for membership, which will make it much easier on everyone. 

The movie Anonymous came out (about Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as Shakespeare) with great fanfare and quickly disappeared. So many issues with that film that I don't even want to get started. 

I've been teaching a course in the Shakespeare Authorship MA at Brunel U. in London, "Shakespeare the Collaborator," that explores the authorship attribution studies that "prove" Shakespeare collaborated or coauthored several of the plays. There is a fascinating parallel with the attribution studies and the Shakespeare authorship issue, with many of the same pitfalls. And in the course we become very familiar with the stylistics and prosody that make the Shakespearean works different from all others. 

I'm now working on my doctorate through Brunel, going back to original documents and traditional stories to see exactly what facts we can count on in Shakespeare's mythology. I am constantly amazed at how the simplest of facts have been twisted and distorted and enlarged to make something happen in Shakespeare's life and supposed career.

The paperback edition of Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare came out in December 2011 and is available on Amazon. I updated it, added a few pieces, clarified some issues, cleaned up some things, etc. I have yet to update the book links on the MarySidney.com site and others. sigh. Web site work is never done. 

I continue to do presentations about Mary Sidney as author whenever someone asks. And work continues on a feature film about Mary, but I'm not allowed to talk about that.  :-)  Hopefully when my dissertation is complete, I will be able to promote Mary Sidney a lot more. She certainly deserves a better PR person than me! 

And here's a thank-you shout to those of you who have written me with warm words of encouragement and who are spreading the news about Mary. Thank you!!! And carry on!

Robin P. Williams

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Masters Program in London on Shakespeare Authorship Studies

This is a report on my experience, from Robin Williams

Professor William Leahy made history in 2007 when he developed and inaugurated the first post-graduate program in the world that looks at the question of the authorship of the Shakespearean works. The program is at Brunel University in London, a campus founded in 1966 that now holds more than 15,000 students from over 100 countries.

The Masters program does not try to discover, “Who wrote Shakespeare?” Rather, the program’s focus is on the question itself: why is it not going away, what are the facts and issues behind the debate, why is the question greeted with such fierce antagonism and even vitriol in academic settings? Scholars complain that most of what is written about the authorship question is bad scholarship, but how can decent scholarship develop if it is not allowed to be discussed? Dr. Leahy himself does not find enough evidence to warrant his allegiance to any particular candidate, thus an open-minded and non-biased attitude permeates the entire curriculum.

The program consists of four modules, each designed to flesh out the history of Shakespeare’s changing place in the world and to provide students with a broad background within which to consider the question. Each module requires a 5,000-word essay/paper to pass.

“Research Methodologies” is an education in the textual scholarship of the plays, methods of research, how to judge sources, document retrieval, early modern printing and spelling, paleography, Shakespeare’s source materials, assessing multiple versions of texts, preparing for visits to libraries and archives, and how to write a professional academic paper, among other related concerns. My own papers for this module were 1) a bibliographic assessment of a 1763 German book that claims to be a translation of Mary Sidney’s manuscript of four rather mysterious techniques; and 2) a comparison of an original source material (a Greek version of the story of Jason and the Argonauts) with the published play of The Merchant of Venice. At the conclusion of the course and learning from the comments on my papers, I felt well-grounded in research techniques with an overview of early modern texts, and I felt I had the basics of the appropriate skills to enable me to move forward in this arena.

“The Making of Shakespeare” module traces the path of Shakespeare’s acceptance in the world from his own time up to the present. This module includes studies of early modern London and theaters, how the Shakespearean works have been adapted and edited and rewritten according to the mores of each era, how Shakespeare’s image has been influenced by each era—from a rustic and old-fashioned writer to a romantic genius to a deified entity—as well as readings and discussions of the theoretical works of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault in relation to the ideas of authorship. We looked at the work of Nicholas Rowe and other early biographers, actors, editors, and critics who influenced perceptions of Shakespeare, such as John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, Edmond Malone, up through Samuel Schoenbaum, Steven Greenblatt, and James Shapiro. I found it fascinating to see how Shakespeare has been refashioned to match the ideals of each era, and how these eras have influenced the editing and scholarship of the works. The slow process of deification over the centuries is what has led, I realized, to the resistance today of questioning his authorship (there are remarkable parallels to the sixteenth-century resistance of printing the Bible in English so the common masses could have direct access to the Bible, but that’s another story). My own paper for this section was on the Woman’s Club movement in America in the late 1800s/early 1900s that disseminated Shakespeare across the country and promoted widespread reading of the plays.

“The Shakespeare Authorship Question” module presents an unbiased overview of the question to date, including its history and premise, theories of authorship, the evidence for Shakespeare, the evidence for the question, the problems of attributions and declarations, the attitude of academia, academic authority, the question as a postmodern phenomenon, as well as individual presentations of the arguments for the four leading candidates (Mary Sidney, Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford) from outside authorities. My research paper for this module was to discover for myself the prevalence of pseudonymous or anonymous publications in the Elizabethan/Jacobean age. I found it riveting to discover the Elizabethan passion for wordplay and name games that influenced a widespread pseudonymous culture in print, inspiring me to create my own nom de plume.

The final module, “Shakespeare, the Collaborator,” looks at the complex field of literary collaboration and authorship attribution, including the studies from Brian Vickers and Jonathon Hope that attribute certain portions of the Shakespearean plays to writers such as Peele, Kyd, and Middleton. This module focuses on the history and philosophy of attribution studies, how they parallel and conflict with attitudes to Shakespeare throughout history, as well as how to gauge the reliability of studies and their results. To this end, close readings of the Shakespearean plays alongside those of his contemporaries focus on recognizing the techniques and jargon of metrics, imagery, rhetorical devices, verse vs. prose vs. rhyme and how they are used, play structure, rare words, and characterization, to enable not only effective comparisons of authors, but an ability to understand and appraise the existing studies. A continuing thread throughout the course is the importance of proper argumentation and documentation. My own paper for this module was yet another method of attributing authorship using visual patterns to compare the metrics of the language in Shakespearean and other plays. Seeing Shakespearean plays in a visual form is enlightening, I discovered; although it is limited in its quantitative value in coauthorship studies, there may be other uses for my technique. I must admit it was rather shocking to see how the multitude of attribution studies contradict each other—one wonders where this important study will eventually lead us.

All papers are read and marked by two PhDs, analyzed by computer programs for plagiarism, and sent to an External Examiner for final comments and an assessment of the program in general. To complete the Masters, a fifty-page dissertation (a critical essay) is required. Personally, learning to write papers in the appropriate “scholarly” fashion was difficult for me because it’s just about the opposite of how I’ve written more than sixty computer/design books. I did take advantage of the great variety of workshops, seminars, and private tutoring that Brunel provides to support graduate students in all areas of the process. Based on the marks I received on the papers, it appears I was able to rise to the occasion.

Dr. Leahy is to be commended for having the courage to create this exciting and important program. I am honored that I was able to participate and look forward both to its future and to mine.

* * * * *
Brunel University
Authorship Studies program at Brunel

* * * * *
Shakespeare and His Authors:
Critical Perspectives on the Authorship Question,
William Leahy

Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? Robin P. Williams

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Catching up

I see there are some questions in the comments that I haven't answered, me being such a lame blogger.

Regarding the paperback: the agent never could find a publisher so I will be editing and updating the book this fall and releasing it myself. That's the plan, anyway. A friend in Germany suggested I also do a "lite" version, which is an interesting idea.

Regarding the Canadian documentary: It never happened. I have no idea why -- someone called just a few months before the summer they wanted to schedule it, but I never heard from them again. John and I have it on our list to create a nice DVD of my presentation so there will be something for teachers to show students, at least. Or anyone else who might be interested.

Sweet Swan of Avon, the book, has been optioned by a fabulous team of producers in Hollywood, though. They are extremely interested and committed and have produced remarkable (and well-known) films. I've been asked not to say much about it at this point, though.

Regarding Mary Sidney's will: That's a question I've wondered often myself -- how unusual was it for a woman in her position to not have a will? It's been on my list for a long time to do some research on that, and now that I have access (as a student) to a much greater pool of information, I'll put that on my list again.

I will be doing several presentations about Mary Sidney in northern California in late October. I'll post a schedule when it gets closer. If you're interested in organizing a talk for your own group in that area, just let me know!

more real soon now . . . . . . . . :-)

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I must be the World's Worst Blogger. So much has happened in the past year and so much is coming up -- I have no idea why I don't blog more often. Maybe I work too much.

In mid-September I leave for London for six to nine months to get a Masters in Shakespearean Authorship at Brunel University, the first post-graduate degree on that topic in the world. I'm hoping that when I am immersed in nothing else except the Shakespearean works and Mary Sidney that I will blog every dang day. But before I leave I have to get four books to press, so back to work I go.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Orbis Mundi -- Reading Shakespeare

Amy just told me about a great little web site that keeps track of the number of people reading "shakespeare"—Shakespeare’s Global Globe. This is so great! It would be really terrific if there was some way to contact other reading groups to share information about how everyone is reading. I've lead two reading groups for six years, plus Amy and I have the lengthy discussion group, The Understanders.

If you have a Shakespeare reading group, please let me know!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sweet Swan in paperback?

I have an agent! A book agent. One who knows what I'm capable of and thinks it's perfectly viable to find a publisher to put Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? into paperback. Bless his heart. With the two documentaries about Mary Sidney coming out this year, it shouldn't be too difficult to sell to a publisher, I hope. Then we can start promoting it to book clubs and do a new push.

This agent is also interested in selling my book about starting your own Shakespeare reading group. I was astounded, while speaking on the Shakespeare at Sea cruise, how few people actually read Shakespeare! It's so great to read a play in a group, especially. And with things showing up like brain gyms specifically for boomers and older, it's an indication of how much people might actually enjoy learning something new in this way. If you have any experience with a Shakespeare reading group and are interested in sharing, please let me know.

And My Agent is also interested in shopping my book about the women in Shakespeare -- a fun, illustrated look at 52 women and what they accomplished. Then those books will open the doors to other projects! woo hoo! I've got a long list of projects already on my plate and can't wait to dive in.