Top critical review
Good on the detail; pity about the conclusions
24 April 2012
This book is a very odd mixture. Some of Pointon's judgments, on broad issues, are wild and speculative. On the other hand when he gets into nitty gritty evidence he is generally accurate and sometimes very helpful which may perhaps reflect his background---not as a Shakespeare scholar---as an engineer, physicist and a member of ACAS a board of arbitration.
On the wild and speculative side he claims that it is not "entirely ridiculous" to think of Queen Elizabeth, the best educated best informed woman of her time as "a rival to William Shakspere" of Stratford for having written the plays. This is an extremely poor judgment---as he later notes she died in 1603 and could therefore not have made the final revisions to Hamlet (let alone written plays like Cymbeline that were written after that date). So in my judgment the proposition certainly is ridiculous. Similarly with Marlowe, Pointon wonders in an appendix if the circumstances surrounding Marlowe's death were "a cover-up for Marlowe faking his own death." He even concludes that the wound described in the coroner's report "was probably made on the body post-mortem" for which he provides not the slightest evidence, nor does he suggest a real cause of death. The circumstances of having Marlowe and three men spend eight hours parading around the town in a visible way, fit equally well with a plot to show him having been killed accidentally in a quarrel, as well as they do a cover-up plot of faking his death. To take yet another example Pointon argues that the dedication to the First Folio about "country hands" is a jibe by Ben Jonson at Heminges, a grocer. In fact it is well known that this part of the preface is a parody of the dedication of Pliny's Natural History.
Pointon is more at home on boring historical details concerning the life of the Man From Stratford, and indeed provides a useful Annex of key dates. Much of the book is concerned to show that the Man From Stratford was associated with the name `Shakspere' and not the name ` Shakespeare'. Pointon also argues that he was likely illiterate. This is a bad judgment since as an actor the Man from Stratford would necessarily have been literate in order to read his role/roll script. As to the name, in Pointon's own Annex there is evidence that his brother Edmund was buried in 1607 under the name `Shakespeare', in December 1607. It was as Shakespeare that William appeared to collect money in 1595 for a performance at Court the previous year, and the same spelling appears in the Harrison law-suit of 1569 (which Pointon forgets to mention) in which his father was referred to as `Shakespeare' from "Stratford Upon Haven". So although the dominant spelling of his family name was Shakspere, there certainly were times when it was spelt `Shakespeare'.
There is no evidence to support Pointon's contention that in 1623 when the First Folio was being compiled that there was a sudden effort to associate the name that had appeared on the Quartos, with the actor in the former Chamberlain's Men. Pointon supplies not the slightest evidence as to why such an attempt would have been made. It is much more likely that in his time in London, Mr Shackspere was indeed the actor who everyone believed to have written the Shakespeare plays. Indeed the First Folio preface by Heming and Condell describe how they received the play scripts from him.
Whether he actually wrote those scripts, or was a broker for another learned brain, is quite another--and more interesting--- matter and I wish that Pointon had focused more on that.