31. 9 December 2001 (Duncan-Jones)

Dear John,


   Many thanks for your review of Duncan-Jones (and for the kind comments about me therein contained). Trouble is, I've not really recovered from my fall (proverbially preceded by pride, as dear friends remind me). That's the main cause of my tardiness. Still, for whatever they may be worth at this rather late stage, here are my comments.

   As to Shakespeare's 'latent syphilitic infection' (whatever that is; perhaps it's just supposed to mean what ordinary people call syphilis) being among the causes of his death, she does say (as about so many things) that this is 'my own guess'. In other words, she has just quite typically made it all up. But her guesses all seem to partake of the same pattern, like that shaken spear resulting in an erect phallus (for which you might have added the page reference). At least that interpretation isn't, so far as I can see, applied to the name Falstaff.

   Her occasional non-sexual and non-feminist interpretations include what she herself calls the 'supposition' that he was a Queen's dramatist; but I'm sure the story is far better founded than that (how otherwise would one explain his wellknown access to that company's manuscripts?). Similarly he surely belonged to Pembroke's. What's the difficulty, by the way, about his being a Queen's Man? It wasn't 'at the same time', was it?

   I don't believe that Schoenbaum ever had any ideas of his own, which didn't stop him from writing 'as who should say, I am Sir Oracle, and when I open my lips, let no dog bark'. Not that these failings interfered with his tenure, or with Duncan-Jones attachment to his 'scholarship', which she's apparently always ready to abandon. But what's wrong with the Leicester story and its recognisably literal incorporation in MND? And what of the general contemporary consensus, and its sensible support from Aubrey, Rowe and the Sonnets, that S. had only minimal schooling? Otherwise he could hardly have been accused of lack of freedom in Latinity, if he'd really studied that tongue for seven years.

   More Duncan-Jonesisms; the George Wilkins tie-up is in fact so very well known that he has become, in Oxford (Taylor, Jackson) and in Ulster (M. W. A. Smith), though not, I was happy to note, in Canada (the latest edition), the actual part-author of Pericles. The coat of arms story is quite well known too and often mentioned; it concerns Dethick, by the way, not ' Gethic' .

   I think that Bate (current TLS) is right about the patchiness of Duncan-Jones but less impressive about her brilliance, which is confessedly solely subjective ("I feel...I have yet to be convinced' and so forth). It's just the way that academics write.

   But I don't actually own her book; so I'm mainly dependent on the London Library (and reviews) for her views. Hence for example the current time-lag; sorry about that.

   Best, as ever,

   Yours Eric