Shakespeare: scholars & crackpots

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Samuel Schoenbaum's Shakespeare's Lives is a history of Shakespeare scholarship and folklore, not that the distinction is always a sure one.

I'd been curious about Edmund Malone, who I knew only as Boswell's friend and helper. Textual criticism, first called verbal criticism, wasn't new but Malone was one of the first with the temperament and skill to foreshadow the recovery of text that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The exacting attempt to ascertain what an author may have originally written seems to have fallen by the wayside in the age of the critic as polemicist. A pity, the English seem to be forever discovering new or neglected papers.

The chapters of the people who interpolated or outright forged Shakespeariana were lots of fun. Their motives varied from whim to an pathetic attempt to please a careless father to merely greed.

But best of all were the cranks who couldn't believe that the author of the plays and poems wasn't an intellectual or nobleman, most famously the Oxfordians and Baconians, tormenting themselves with imagined ciphers and codes. (Converts included Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud.)

I haven't been as entertained by a work of intellectual history in years.

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Shakespeare: scholars & crackpots
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