74. 8 October 1995 [ES] (More on Tusculan Disputations and Hamlet; dramatic characters aren't real people)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs. Mathew’s letters)

Dear Hayat,

   Thanks for yours. I've seen the Kernan book now, and I think you can relax; he stops well short of supposing that Shakespeare was a party to the Southampton-Essex rebellion.

   I've made no progress with the annotations on the BM copy of J. Dolman's 1561 translation of the Tusculan Disputations, except that I'm rather sure they're all from the same hand, which wrote both secretary and italic indiscriminately, as in the signature. But nobody seems very impressed by the argument 'that's old Proteus – I'd know him anywhere'. Prof. Bugliani of Milan hasn't replied to my letter congratulating her on this discovery – which I'm sure seems to her entirely trifling compared with what I see as the stupefying boredom of her entirely unoriginal interpretation of 'To be or not to be'. She's one of those third-rate commentators who insist on treating dramatic characters as if they were real people; as if Hamlet for example really needed psychiatric advice and would have benefited from compulsory Rugby and cold baths. But they're not real people, are they? If we prick them they don't bleed; if we tickle them they don't laugh. All this seems to me a rather obvious category-mistake. As to Hamlet's supposed Oedipus complex, what did it matter so long as he loved his dear old Mum? Anyhow, I've applied for some professional palaeographological help and comment; I'll let you know of any developments, about which, however, I'm not too sanguine. As a leading handwriting expert (R. Alton of Oxford) once said to me, 'with Shakespeare, one can't be too careful'. And being careful consists mainly in lying low and saying nuffin, like Brer Rabbit.

   I've been re-reading The Advancement of Learning, which teaches me mainly that my own is rather retarded. For the rest, I've given my London University seminar, which was quite well received; and I'm enclosing a couple of items which you may not have seen.

   Chambers says that Polimanteia was by one William Covell, a fellow of Queen's, Cambridge; I don't see (but would. gladly hear of) any reference to an Oxbridge Shakespeare, though the Draper's Hall in London records tales of his being in residence at Oxford (the university as well as chez Davenant), and Hamlet Q1 was performed there and also at Cambridge, according to its title-page. But more than this I cannot say.

   I'm afraid I'm rather below par at the moment, to put it mildly; in fact, in a pitiable state of coughing and sneezing. But what you and Edwin Reed say is encouraging, as ever; and I hope to do better another time.

   Best, as ever,

   Yours Eric