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Yet another egregious addition to the discredited authorship debate
on 26 August 2013
The author's enthusiasm for Shakespeare is admirable but the appalling lack of scholarly rigour used to produce this book is jaw-dropping at virtually every turn of the page.
Roe sets out his stall in the prologue when he says he is merely interested in facts and not what would/could/should have happened and also isn't interested in theories of an alternative author. Yet he then writes a book that disregards the facts, mangles others and would have been half the size it is if he didn't indulge in so much fanciful theorising. He makes ridiculous remarks that Shakespeare was never known to have left his house in all of his 52 years except to do business as a grain merchant - a comment that says far more about Roe than Shakespeare. He goes on to say no letters survive from Shakespeare, alleging he was illiterate. That there are virtually no letters of any playwrights that have survived the 400 years since the English Renaissance, that Shakespeare and his contemporaries plied their trade in London, 90% of which was razed to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666 destroying everything in its wake and that Shakespeare's own home was looted of all its books, desks and letters in 1637 as recorded in the associated court case does not give him food for thought. I contend that Roe was ignorant of these events that are directly responsible for the lack of survival of such perishable materials.
In his 1st chapter one would expect a compelling account of why we should believe Shakespeare visited Italy but it falls flat on its face. He first locates a grove of sycamores that he claims is referred to in Romeo & Juliet, evidence of "intimate and detailed knowledge of Italy". But there is no grove of sycamores, just the odd number to the west and south of the city of this weed of trees that has been regularly cut back so they don't over-run the place. Roe is blissfully ignorant of the fact that the only reason Shakespeare depicts Romeo depressed around Verona in a sycamore grove is as a literary device in Act 1 Scene 1 to emphasise the love-sick theme of the whole play as "sycamore" is a pun on "lovesick", i.e. syc = "sick" and amore = amour, French for "love". Shakespeare uses the same lovesick device in Othello when he has Desdemona singing a love song: "The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree, Sing all a green willow, Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee, Sing willow, willow, willow, The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur'd her moans; Sing willow, willow, willow; ...etc."
Next, he attempts to locate Juliet's house and finds the tourist trap of Cappello Street. He admits that there is no evidence that R&J ever existed, it is just a story; he admits that this house has no orchard as portrayed in R&J; he admits a balcony was added in 1936 to attract more tourists to the 3rd most popular destination in Italy due to R&J; he admits there is no evidence atall that anyone called Juliet, let alone the Juliet of R&J ever lived there. Then, he proceeds to speak of it as Juliet's house! Next, he hunts for the St Peter's church referred to in the play assuming this will be a challenge. He seems blissfully unaware that St Peter's Basilica in Rome is the seat of the Catholic church, that there are countless St Peter's churches in Italy and that Verona itself has no less than four. Faced with an abundance of St Peter's churches to choose from rather than the challenging hunt he expected he chooses the one that he claims is Juliet's as it is in "her parish", closest to the house he previously dismissed as nothing to do with Juliet. Mind-boggling.
When a local corrects him that a fight scene portrayed in the play wouldn't have happened where set because it was right under the noses of the authorities he doesn't repeat his claim of the playwright having "intimate and detailed knowledge of Italy", he just quietly moves on.
In the 2nd chapter he indulges in battling one of Shakespeare's most egregious mistakes in portraying Verona and Milan as sea ports. Occam's Razor tells us that the simplest solution is the most credible and discourages us from creating unnecessary complexity to explain a problem. The simple explanation is that Shakespeare simply did not know or care that Verona is not a sea port - he was writing for a London audience with the tidal Thames outside of the Globe and dramatising a story to resonate with that audience who equally did not know or care, he was not preoccupied with geographic or maritime accuracy. But Roe embarks on the most tortuous and incredible water-borne journey between those cities imaginable, travelling via rivers (upstream and downstream), canals and locks to get from one city to the other - one half expects him to claim they even travelled through streams and puddles to get there. For chapters he is baffled by what the playwright means by "flood", again blissfully ignorant that the term simply means a river swollen at high tide, enabling large ships to set sail. He claims an obscure Anglo-Saxon meaning for tide meaning "schedule" or "time" that leads him to conclude the tides the playwright refers to are locks in canals and claims locks are operated to schedules, not whenever boats simply need to pass, which is what actually happens. Unable to resolve a 20 km stretch that can not be traversed by water he claims to have found a schematic of canals in that area but fails to demonstrate that they were operational at the time of all the other waterways nor navigable. But Roe's insurmountable problem is that whatever a Heath Robinson of a trip he contrives, Verona is not a sea port as portrayed in the play that shows inarguable evidence that the playwright didn't know or didn't care that it was.
And this goes on in the rest of the book. He claims to have found Shylock's penthouse in the Venetian Jewish Ghetto, the only penthouse there, by using an obscure meaning of penthouse as an apartment on stilts or columns rather than the commonplace English meaning of a top-floor penthouse of which there are countless in Venice, not least in the Jewish Ghetto. He claims Shakespeare had intimate knowledge of St Luke's church at the same time as showing a map from centuries earlier that clearly shows it, meaning Shakespeare needed to travel no further than his desk to know of it. He correctly refers to the Aenied as being one of the sources for The Tempest but deliberately omits its reference to "yellow sand" so requiring Shakespeare to literally stand on Vulcano to know it has "yellow sand". Again, Shakespeare's source has all the content he needed to travel no further than his own desk. When the evidence shows Shakespeare's ignorance of Italy, Roe breathtakingly says Shakespeare was writing for an English audience, not an Italian one, so the errors don't matter.
He then concludes that the Shakespeare canon was written 20 years before scholarly analysis and evidence shows it to have been merely based on a line referring to perfumed gloves and Roe's beloved Earl of Oxford having given Elizabeth a pair in 1576. That perfumed gloves were popular as early as 1560 and that Shakespeare's own father was a glovemaker, literally evades him.
Roe's most appalling crime is reserved for the last chapter. He correctly concedes that the trip that Prospero and Miranda make from Milan to the sea and on to Prospero's island could not happen. This relatively simple trip of "some leagues to sea" as portrayed in The Tempest would instead require a 400km eastward river trip down the Adage and a huge voyage around the east then southern coast of Italy to reach destination. One thinks Roe has finally found that his theorising is balderdash but instead he simply says that the playwright really meant Florence and claims Elizabethan authorities insisted on an edit to the play before publication. Utterly astonishing.
This is the world of the conspiracy theorists, especially the Oxfordians: avoid most facts and sensible explanations; warp the remaining facts; treat Shakespeare unlike everyone else in the world; if the facts don't fit, then bend them, create your own facts from myth.
This is another great addition to the conspirasist's canon: from the silly film "Anonymous" to TJ Looney's "Shakespeare Identified" to Malcolm X believing Shakespeare was actually a French playwright called "Jacques Pierre". All tales full of hot air and myth, told by fools, signifying nothing.