Thursday, 14 January 2016

Book Review - The Shakespeare Conspiracy

The Shakespeare conspiracy by Graham Phillips & Martin Keatman

London: Century, 1994                                ISBN 0712658831

Oh dear. This book fulfilled my expectations  - when you read on the flyleaf that "the authors' previous book, ...King Arthur: the true story, identified for the first time the historical King Arthur, his 'Camelot' and his final resting place." - you know you're going to be reading something with a tenuous relationship to the facts.

This book is the classic straw-man setup. After demolishing several well-held (and some not so popular) ideas about Shakespeare's career, the authors then present their own theory, which is just as, if not more, tenuous than the others.

The premise of The Shakespeare conspiracy is that Shakespeare was a secret agent, and part of Walter Raleigh's "School of Night", and ended up betraying Raleigh, who organised to have Shakespeare killed, after he had retired to Stratford because he had been injured in the fire at The Globe .

When all these theories are put together, the absurdity is obvious, but it is less so in the book, as it is padded out with histories of other players, quite a bit about Marlowe's death (which is to put the reader in the mind to believe their Shakespeare theories), and much history of the intrigues at Court.

There are many famous "inconsistencies" around the life of Shakespeare, mostly due to gaps in documentation of his life (hardly unusual for a commoner, even a famous one, in the 16th Century). This has led to many theories about Shakespeare and the authorship of his plays, which I'm not going to re-hash here, but which allows works such as this to flourish.

Phillips and Keatman make much of Shakespeare's lack of education (although it is fairly certain he would have had a good grammar school education in Stratford), suggesting that Shakespeare, being friends with Marlowe, would have been part of Ralegh's "School of Night", and thus have access to his books and ideas. There is absolutely no evidence of this, and their suggestion that some lines in Loves Labor's Lost point to Shakespeare's knowledge of Ralegh's school seems complete nonsense.

They make much of the dedication on the original edition of Shakespeare's sonnets to a W.H., and link that to a certain William Hall, who was one of Cecil's secret agents, and make the leap that Shakespeare was William Hall. There is absolutely no evidence of this.

They suggest that Shakespeare left London after he was injured in the fire at The Globe theatre, based on a reading of the dedication in the First Folio, which to me (and everyone else) clearly refers to the texts of the plays that had been available up until the First Folio's publication, and not to Shakespeare's physical state. They cite Shakespeare's purchase of a house shortly before he left London as unusual, given he was leaving, which may not be the case at all - it is just as valid to think he bought it knowing he was leaving, to have a base for times he might return.

They try to make the fact that no-one in Stratford seemed to know about his theatrical activities somehow sinister and odd. I think that it can be explained by the fact that Shakespeare's circle of acquaintances in Stratford might not have been interested in the theatre (they probably would not have had the opportunity to see any of his plays either), and so why would they mention that about the man they knew as a successful business man.

I could go on, but I don't feel like wasting any more time on this book - the select bibliography, the name only index, and lack of footnotes make this book a lightweight tome with very little to recommend it - one for the conspiracy nuts only.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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