Top positive review
on 9 July 2015
The case presented in this book is entirely compelling; in this reviewers mind, it is now known who the author of the Shakespearean oeuvre was.
The reviewer holds an MA from Cambridge in English literature. It never made the slightest sense in my years of study to suppose that Shakespeare from Stratford wrote the plays. They were obviously written by a man thoroughly immersed in court/political life….a man of considerable learning…well travelled and with a range of languages at his disposal. The most important thing to me was that somewhere in the author’s life there had to be an explanation as to why he suddenly started writing tragedies….. And there was one strange point that was always very evident to me: throughout the plays there is a remarkable ability of the author not to identify with his characters in a way that you felt he was intruding; Hamlet for example must be expressing things the author felt or could at least imagine feeling, but there is a distance between character and author; this is true for every character in ‘Shakespeare’ except one – somehow the character of Falstaff is different; I always felt that the author was investing, exploring, engaging with, something of himself in this one character.
Every desideratum is met in the person of Sir Henry Neville, and so much more. Why is Hamlet set in Elsinore? Because Neville went there. Why is it that in King Henry V we suddenly find a great and unique interest in speaking French? Because the play was written when a bored and unhappy Neville was an ambassador in France..…the details are multiple. Why suddenly start writing tragedies? Because they were written at the time that Neville, an unproven co-conspirator with Essex, was in the Tower with death hanging over him….. Neville was a corpulent man who suffered gout; his friends called him Falstaff…..
I had one problem, and one remains.
The problem was the way Brenda James says she found Neville. She came across his name by playing with what is almost self-evidently the code-bearing inscription to the sonnets. She goes into detail about that…and to me it seemed fanciful. I therefore wrote to the author and expressed my admiration for her work but my doubts about the code. Is that really how you discovered Neville? She was very angry in her reply that I would question her account – so it can be taken as fact that this is indeed where she came across him. The name Neville really emerged as it were out of the blue, prior to any historical research. James does not suggest Neville as a ‘candidate’; the inscription to the sonnets tells us who their author was!
The problem that remains to me is the somewhat mysterious fact of the concealment of the author after his death. During his lifetime the reasons are plain – the politically subversive nature of some of the plays being the most important; and the use of Shakespeare as a front man is equally plausible. I may not have read James very well, but I was not initially convinced by the reasons for concealing the true author in the Folio, though this is discussed at length, with Ben Jonson very much a participant in the subterfuge.
Be that is it may, the identification of Neville through the code, and then the parallels between his life and the content of the plays make this thesis so entirely convincing as to leave little room for doubt. Research from a contrarian point of view would doubtless, though, be of great value – what would be found? James’ investigation is most interestingly tied to the plays; her literary comments are well worth while, and her excursus on why Shakespeare couldn’t have been the author is very good. I think there are aspects of the two first books that could have been done better if the goal was simply to convince the reader of her case, but she would seem to have included everything that she has found in the heat of her most remarkable discoveries.