73. 16 September 1995 [ES] (Cicero as Hamlet source; Francesca Bugliani; superfluous theories on "To be"; London seminar)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,

   Thanks for the card. I'm rather preoccupied at the moment with family affairs. Jeremy's getting a few good reviews for his direction of John O'Keefe's Wild Oats (1791) at the National, a jolly romp about a strolling player who spouts and quotes Shakespeare. Jeremy claims to have been influenced in this direction by an over-literate father who could never get the boys to bed without saying 'Stand not upon the order of your going/But go at once'. If one of them stomped off in a huff, which was not unknown, I'm alleged to have commented 'It is offended; see, it stalks away'. Still, I'm quite glad to hear of such formative influences.

   Next comes the study of a book (the 1561 Dolman translation of Cicero's Tusculan Disputations) recently identified by Francesca Bugliani of Milan as a Shakespeare source for the 'To be or not to be' speech, as reported in the latest Hamlet Studies (which also contains my own latest piece, enclosed). I had already mentioned this Cicero source in The Real Shakespeare, because Nashe in his 1589 Menaphon preface satirises those who plagiarise it, meaning Shakespeare; and it contains the phrase 'id aut esse aut non esse'. That seemed enough to be going on with; but no doubt I should also have looked for a pre-1589 English translation, since I'm the person who keeps on saying that Shakespeare's Latin wasn't all that fluent, and if I can't believe my own theories, whose theories can I believe? Instead, it was left to Francesca to identify the English source. As soon as I saw it mentioned in Hamlet Studies, quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante; off I went to the British Library to have a look. And bless me, it certainly seems to be signed 'W Shak's as in the enclosed (much enlarged) page, unfortunately cropped-by a 19th century bookbinder. I shall have some difficulty in explaining how the 'spear' dropped from his nerveless hand (as in Fal-staff, perhaps?). But it's hard to believe that a forger would have written thus, or even known about the book's relevance. There are also copious annotations in various hands, 'one of which resembles supposed specimens of Shakespeare's handwriting', as la Bugliani also points out. But she seems a typical academic in being utterly uninterested in paleographology, although obsessed with theories about what the soliloquy means (as though we didn't know). Still, Dolman's a great discovery, especially to those of us (in practice, me, and perhaps also Charles  Hamilton) to whom the hand looks very like that of Edmund Ironside. No one, I'm sure, will take the least notice.

   The London seminar, about which you kindly enquire, will contain some thoughts on the grant of arms application (which I duly saw at the College) and the Asbies lawsuit and the Swan theatre drawing (essay awaiting TLS publication) and the Richard II text, all relating to 1596 or thereabouts. The thought is that we can draw certain inferences from Shakespeare's imagery, as Spurgeon did; I shall offer the notion that when he said that people were actors he meant it, i.e. it was no mere metaphor. People are conditioned, then as now, much as if their personae were dramatis personae. We play the parts allotted to us by our genes, our background and training. It's sometimes a cause of suffering, as I once reflected when I saw a statistical table headed 'Male population of Great Britain broken down by sex and age'; such realism. And I now note from the currentSpectator that such constraints have now been spelt out in a recent official circular which requires equal treatment 'regardless of colour, race, sex, religion, politics, marital status, sexual orientation, membership of trade unions, ethnic origin, age or disability'. That seems pretty comprehensive (though 'height' etc might have been added.). Some such conditioning must have applied to Shakespeare himself, which will also form part of my thesis. As I may have mentioned, he wouldn't much care for having his relatives tortured, disembowelled, emasculated and otherwise maltreated by Elizabeth's Schutzstaffel. But I feel rather strongly that we find hi feelings only in his imagery, if at all, not in his characters' pronouncements as such. I react thus not because of any modern literary theories but because of sturdy Tudor common sense, as expressed by Sidney for example: the poet nothing feigneth, for he nothing affirmeth. I don't believe for a moment for example that Shakespeare set much store by such daft doctrines as the divine right of kings; he'd surely have asked himself whence such supposed rights could possibly derive. I note that Jeremy Bentham, whose mind I increasingly admired, asked himself that same question about the law, with very interesting results. And my Shakespeare seminar is within a politics and sociology series, so I suppose I must try to address such topics.

   I see, finally, from the Shakespeare Newsletter that the latest statistical rare-word tests entirely agree that so-called 'Bad Quartos' alias 'memorial reconstructions' are in fact early Shakespeare plays; which is good news for me and bad news for academic publishers.

   Sorry to go on thus; but you kindly (if incautiously) asked. And my attempts to get back to Brahms have been rather thwarted by the indisposition of my dear friend Alan Tyson, great musicologist and scholar of the first Viennese school. Tragically, although he's younger than I am, his mind is faltering and indeed failing; he forgets names like Köchel, which is impossible. I see from his latest letter that he's also forgotten that we've been on first name terms for the last thirty years. And a Beethoven book of his, on which I lent a hand here and there on points of German translation, has been turned down by Cambridge U.P., I believe because they can't talk to Alan any more and also feel that the changes they'd like to recommend would be prohibitively expensive in editorial time. I have a feeling that I'm going to have to visit Cambridge and see what if anything I can do. Great groans; oh what a noble mind is here o'erthrown.

   No doubt Jeremy was right about my habit of quotation.

   On a more practical and productive question, I was pleased to hear that your own book is making good progress. And I shall certainly ask about, and get a copy of, Shakespeare, The King's Playwright, when I'm next in touch with Robert and/or Candida.

   Love, as ever,

   Yours Eric