Rome or the countryside? – A letter from the World of late Antiquity

LIVING THE BUSY city life or moving to the quiet life on the countryside? That’s the question.  Even during the late Antiquity people pondered over this. Let’s take a look on a letter from the well-known Jerome (347-420) who lived in Rome while busy spreading Christianity through teaching and writings on Christian morality. He also liked to befriend Roman ladies from the Aristocracy who had promised to remain virgins for the rest of their lives. He eventuelly became a Saint and is regared as a Father of the Church.

I. Context

This letter is adressed to Marcella (325-410), a Christian widow. As wikipedia comments on her life: “After her husband’s early death, Marcella decided to devote the rest of her life to charity, prayer, and mortification of the flesh and was convinced that God was directing her to a life of poverty and service. She left behind her fashionable dresses for a coarse brown garment and abandoned her usual extravagant hair styling and makeup. Along with other women, Marcella formed a community known as the brown dress society, spending their time praying, singing, reading the Bible, and serving the needy. Her palatial home was now a refuge for weary pilgrims and for the poor.” I will not quote the entire letter, but simply point out a few sentences. 

From: Jerome

To: Marcella

Date: Rome, 385 A.D.

II. The Letter

“Wherefore, seeing that we have journeyed for much of our life through a troubled sea, and that our vessel has been in turn shaken by raging blasts and shattered upon treacherous reefs, let us, as soon as may be, make for the haven of rural quietude. There such country dainties as milk and household bread, and greens watered by our own hands, will supply us with coarse but harmless fare. So living, sleep will not call us away from prayer, nor satiety from reading. In summer the shade of a tree will afford us privacy. In autumn the quality of the air and the leaves strewn under foot will invite us to stop and rest. In springtime the fields will be bright with flowers, and our psalms will sound the sweeter for the twittering of the birds. When winter comes with its frost and snow, I shall not have to buy fuel, and, whether I sleep or keep vigil, shall be warmer than in town. At least, so far as I know, I shall keep off the cold at less expense. Let Rome keep to itself its noise and bustle, let the cruel shows of the arena go on, let the crowd rave at the circus, let the playgoers revel in the theatres and— for I must not altogether pass over our Christian friends— let the House of Ladies hold its daily sittings.”

Sources

Butler, Alban. Butler’s Lives of the Saints. 12 vols. Ed. David Hugh Farmer and Paul Burns. New full ed., Tunbridge Wells, UK: Burns & Oates and Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1995–2000.

Select Letters of St. Jerome. Jerome, Saint. F.A. Wright. William Heinemann Ltd.; Harvard University Press. London; Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1933.

Translated by W.H. Fremantle, G. Lewis and W.G. Martley. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1893.)

wikipedia.org (various entries)

Jerome making notes.

Ode 1:37 on the Death of Cleopatra – A poem by Horace

A. CONTEXT

On the Life and Name of Cleopatra 

Cleopatra VII Philopator (Greek: Κλεοπάτρα Φιλοπάτωρ; 69-30 BC), known to history simply as Cleopatra, was the last active ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt, briefly survived as pharaoh by her son Caesarion. After her reign, Egypt became a province of the recently established Roman Empire. Her title in Greek philopátōr means the one who loves the father. On the etymology of her given name wikipedia informs Cleopatra is derived from the Greek name Κλεοπάτρα (Kleopatra) which meant “she who comes from glorious father” or “glory of the father” in the feminine form, derived from κλέος (kleos) “glory” combined with πατήρ (pater) “father” (the masculine form would be written either as Kleopatros (Κλεόπατρος), or Patroklos (Πάτροκλος). She was a member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty who ruled Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great. Unlike her Ptolemaic predecessors who spoke Greek only; Cleopatra also learned the Egyptian language. She married her biological brother which was custom but didn’t produce any offspring until she met Julius Caesar.

B. THE POEM

Horace on Cleopatra and his Ode

Horace or Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC. –  8 BC), was on of the most famous Roman poets. He achieved great fame through his Odes [Carmina] but wrote also in Hexameter. He’s considered to be the first person who wrote an autobiography since he talks so much about himself through his poetry. According to English wikipedia: “Horace left Rome, possibly after his father’s death, and continued his formal education in Athens,[…] The Academy was now dominated by Epicureans and Stoics, whose theories and practises made a deep impression on the young man from Venusia.” The Odes were developed as a conscious imitation of the short lyric poetry of Greek originals – Pindar, Sappho and Alcaeus are some of Horace’s models.

The poem is a praise and celebration over the defeat of Cleopatra who comitted suicide and Egypt was then taken over by the Roman Empire. The news of her death likely reached Horace in Rome in the Autumn 30 BC. There are many interpretations of this poem. I quote John Cornington’s interpretation of Ode 1:37, published for the first time in 1882:

Now drink we deep, now featly tread
A measure; now before each shrine
With Salian feasts the table spread;
The time invites us, comrades mine.

‘Twas shame to broach, before today,
The Caecuban, while Egypt‘s dame
Threaten’d our power in dust to lay
And wrap the Capitol in flame,

Girt with her foul emasculate throng,
By Fortune’s sweet new wine befool’d,
In hope’s ungovern’d weakness strong
To hope for all; but soon she cool’d,

To see one ship from burning ‘scape;
Great Caesar taught her dizzy brain,
Made mad by Mareotic grape,
To feel the sobering truth of pain,

And gave her chase from Italy,
As after doves fierce falcons speed,
As hunters ‘neath Haemonia’s sky
Chase the tired hare, so might he lead

The fiend enchain’d; she sought to die
More nobly, nor with woman’s dread
Quail’d at the steel, nor timorously
In her fleet ships to covert fled.

Amid her ruin’d halls she stood
Unblench’d, and fearless to the end
Grasp’d the fell snakes, that all her blood
Might with the cold black venom blend,

Death’s purpose flushing in her face;
Nor to our ships the glory gave,
That she, no vulgar dame, should grace
A triumph, crownless, and a slave.

Sources

Horace. The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace. John Conington. trans. London. George Bell and Sons. 1882.

For the Latin version of Horace’s ode; published by wellesley.edu, please visit this link.

wikipedia.org [various entries].

Cleopatra portrayed worshipping with her son Caesarion, carvings on the Dendera temple.

“Lindisfarne” – A poem by Sir Walter Scott with photos from my journey there

Lindisfarne ruins seen from the graveyard

Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet. Many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.

Walter Scott’s poem Lindisfarne is very much like a travel description of the Northumberland area starting a few miles from Lindisfarne in Tynemouth outside Newcastle upon Tyne, believe it or not. The 6th line mentions Tynemouth’s priory and bay. From here the poem travels further along the coast up to Bamburgh. And from Bamburgh to Lindisfarne. In fact, one can see Lindisfarne from the Bamburgh Castle which is also mentioned in the poem as king Ida’s Castle.

Holy Island has a recorded history from the 6th century AD. It was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After the Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built on the island in 1550.

I travelled through Newcastle, Tynemouth, Bamburgh and Holy Island in 2011. All photos by me in this post.

Scott’s poem – First lines

(From Marmion)

AND now the vessel skirts the strand
Of mountainous Northumberland;
Towns, towers, and halls successive rise,
And catch the nuns’ delighted eyes.
Monk-Wearmouth soon behind them lay, [5]
And Tynemouth’s priory and bay;
They marked, amid her trees, the hall
Of lofty Seaton-Delaval;
They saw the Blythe and Wansbeck floods
Rush to the sea through sounding woods; [10]
They passed the tower of Widdrington,
Mother of many a valiant son;
At Coquet Isle their beads they tell
To the good saint who owned the cell;
Then did the Alne attention claim, [15]
And Warkworth, proud of Percy’s name;
And next they crossed themselves to hear
The whitening breakers sound so near,
Where, boiling through the rocks, they roar
On Dunstanborough’s caverned shore; [20]
Thy tower, proud Bamborough, marked they there,
King Ida’s castle, huge and square,
From its tall rock look grimly down,
And on the swelling ocean frown;
Then from the coast they bore away, [25]
And reached the Holy Island’s bay.

Tynemouth priory


Bamburgh Castle
IN THE second section of the poem Scott describes the sorrounding nature of Lindisfarne and mentions the tide as well.

Second section of Scott’s poem

The tide did now its flood-mark gain,
And girdled in the saint’s domain:
For, with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle; [30]
Dry-shod, o’er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day, the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.
As to the port the galley flew, [35]
Higher and higher rose to view
The castle with its battled walls,
The ancient monastery’s halls,
A solemn, huge, and dark red pile,
Placed on the margin of the isle. [40]

The Holy Island is a tidal island

 
Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory
Much of the place was under renovation when I visited the place in 2011.

The Lindisfarne castle is located in what was once the very volatile border area between England and Scotland. Not only did the English and Scots fight, but the area was frequently attacked by Vikings. The castle was built in 1550, around the time that Lindisfarne Priory went out of use. The raids of the Vikings is mentioned in the third and final section of Scott’s poem.

Third section of Scott’s poem


In Saxon strength that abbey frowned,
With massive arches broad and round,
That rose alternate, row and row,
On ponderous columns, short and low,
Built ere the art was known, [45]
By pointed aisle and shafted stalk,
The arcades of an alleyed walk
To emulate in stone.
On the deep walls the heathen Dane
Had poured his impious rage in vain; [50]
And needful was such strength to these,
Exposed to the tempestuous seas,
Scourged by the winds’ eternal sway,
Open to rovers fierce as they,
Which could twelve hundred years withstand [55]
Winds, waves, and Northern pirates’ hand.
Not but that portions of the pile,
Rebuilded in a later style,
Showed where the spoiler’s hand had been;
Not but the wasting sea-breeze keen [60]
Had worn the pillar’s carving quaint,
And mouldered in his niche the saint,
And rounded, with consuming power,
The pointed angles of each tower;
Yet still entire the abbey stood, [65]
Like veteran, worn, but unsubdued.

The Lindisfarne Castle seen from the Churchyard

Journals by Lizzie Borden’s lawyer Andrew J. Jennings to be conserved and published

The Jennings’ journals surface after 120 years

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The Jenning’s Journals. People has searched for a final clue here. Did she or didn’t she?
Andrew Jackson Jennings (1849-1923) was Lizzie Borden’s attorney during the two weeks of trial in 1893. Lizzie herself had already spend 9 months in prison prior up to the trial. During the trial about a year after the murders the prosecution received several blows. Lizzie Borden’s inquest was not considered valid since she was high on morphine when the police questioned her. Her attorney also complained her legal rights was set aside a she was questioned without any attorney present. The autopsies didn’t reveal any signs of poison being present so the pharmacist testimony about Lizzie trying to buy prussic acid (cyanide) a day before the murders was ruled out.

THE CONSERVATION OF THE JENNING’S JOURNAL is good news to all people interested in the local history of Falls City, New England and the murder case. The murder of Lizzie Borden’s parents remains one of the most sensational and unsolved crimes in the american history. As the prime suspect Lizzie Borden was found not guilty of murder the local citizens of Fall River alienated her and the nursery rhyme Lizzie Borden took an axe…rendered her guilty for all time.

The Jennings’ journals consists of a scrap-book with newspaper clips concerning the unsolved case and a reference ledger. At time miss Borden had the best attorney money could buy at this time, Andrew Jackson Jennings. When the journals were opened people searched for evidence of Lizzie’s guilt. There was none. If Lizzie had confessed murder to her lawyer he certainly wouldn’t have written anything down about it which would be left to other people to read about. 

lizzie_borden
Lizzie A. Borden (1860-1927)
THE TRIAL of Lizzie Borden has often been compared to O.J Simpson’s trial. Both were rich and was accused of double-murder. Both faced death penalty.  Both had good lawyers who may have helped them get away with murder. During the trials media showed a great interest in both cases and produced sensational headlines. Both of them did crime after they were acquitted of the murders. Lizzie Borden was however never sentenced again, but she did take up on a bad habit from her youth – shoplifting. This resulted in a police warrant but she was able to make it fair with the shop keepers by paying for what she had stolen. This was not a problem since Lizzie and her sister Emma became millionaires after the death of their father.

But the murder trial was not the last time the American Justice System would hear about Lizzie Borden. There was another incident embarrassing to Lizzie who never moved away from Fall City. Only a few years after acquittal a judge received a letter from a married man accusing his wife of lesbianism and Lizzie’s name was mentioned as evidence from a correspondence. The judge dismissed the accusation as frivolous.

Crime Scene, August 4th 1892 

Abby Borden was killed first and then the killer hid in the house for about one and half hour until Andrew Borden arrived home. One dead body and a killer waiting for one and a half hour in the building without anyone in the household taking ay notice. This murder case must be unique. Andrew came home a bit early that day because he was not feeling well. Upon arrival Andrew is surprised he cannot enter his house, it’s locked. After awhile Lizzie opens the door.

While Abby Borden was clubbed down with the through hatched 19 blows Andrew Borden’s face was hacked out beyond recognition. One of his eyeballs was split. The photos from the crime scene are hideous and Mr Borden had literally no face left! Lizzie also gives the maid Bridget Sullivan alibi. During the trial Lizzie showed some strange behaviour. She was often seen giggling and behaving irrational. Many times she was looking at her lawyer for some support almost asking him how to behave properly. After the trial and Lizzie’s acquaintance Bridget moved from Fall River never to be heard from again. In the town’s Central Church the Borden family owned a pew. Once acquitted Lizzie wanted go back to her church. When she got there she noticed all seats around hers was empty. She understood that people had moved away from her on propose and after the experience she never sat her foot in that church again.

Tensions within the family revealed

There was much tension within the family and the house. The irish maid Bridget Sullivan probably didn’t like working there and she wasn’t even addressed by her own Christian name. Instead the family  used the previous maids name whenever they called on Bridget. At court Bridget was asked bout this – didn’t she find it derogatory?  Bridget Sullivan answered she didn’t mind this.

MUCH OF THE FUSS in the family sprung from Andrew Borden’s marriage to Abby McDuffy. They married 2-3 years after the death of Emma and Lizzie’s biological mother. His daughters never seemed to have accepted the new wife and at one point Lizzie stopped calling Mrs Borden “mother”.

At the age of 32 Lizzie was given 4 dollars a week in pocket-money and it’s possible she thought 4 dollars wasn’t enough for her. The shoplifting also embarrassed her father but he paid all these expenses whenever a shopkeeper needed to talk to him about Lizzie’s behaviour in the store. On one occasion she stole jewellery at home. More tensions arouse in the household as Andrew announced he was going to buy a new house to their stepmother’s sister. When Lizzie and Emma heard this they stopped taking meals together with Abby and prefered eating in another room. It could not have been easy for Abby Borden to be a new mother to these girls and there was a big difference in age between her and Andrew. After the death of his first wife he needed someone to take her place and Abby was unmarried. The marriage was likely not a love match. WHEN the police asked questions about her mother Abby Borden, Lizzie was quick to respond that she was not her real mother, but a stepmother.

The incest-theory has been put forth several times and has been viewed by many as a possible trigger to murder. Especially since victims of incest often blame both parents. Her biological father gave Lizzie his own middle name, Andrew. At her inquest 32 years later she stated her full legal name: Lizzie Andrew Borden. “You were so christened?” the district attorney asked. “I was so christened,” she replied. After the trial Borden would change her first name Lizzie into Lizbeth although she continued to sign legal documents with both names.

And the motive?

It’s suggested money was the prime motive behind the killings of Andrew Borden and his wife Abby. Andrew Borden had worked hard all his life as a business man and upon his death his wealth was worth 8.000.000 dollars. The only persons who could have profited from their deaths were the daughters, Lizzie and Emma Borden. It’s known that Lizzie wanted a better lifestyle and was not happy at the house at 92 2nd Street. It was not a modern place and they had no electricity or any running water installed. Water was drawn from a pump in a sink room. The father refused to move the family elsewhere since the house was located in the city and not too far away from his office. More tensions come forth after her father revealed he was going to change his will including some of his new wife’s relatives. After the trial the sisters inherited their father’s fortune and Lizzie Borden and her sister could finally live at French Street on the Hill.

Emma Borden continued to maintain her belief in her sister’s innocence as long as she lived. She died only nine days after the death of her infamous sister who had left her out of her will. Clause 28 of Lizzie’s will read: “I have not given my sister, Emma L. Borden, anything as she had her share of her father’s estate and is supposed to have enough to make her comfortable.” She signed the will as both Lizzie A. Borden and Lizbeth A. Borden. People who inherited Lizzie Borden were friends, loyal servants and The Animal rescue of Fall River. She also left a huge sum of money to the perpetual care of her father’s gravesite.

Other suspects?

After the killings and the trial there were no more beastly murders involving hatchets around. Things got quiet in Fall river. The sisters sold their old home and moved up to the Hill were other family members already lived. And no other suspect or suspects was heard or inquired. After Lizzie was acquitted the police continued to receive letters from all around the world for years from people who wanted to help solve the case.

The Scottish poems in Lizzie’s house

She had the following lines inscribed on the mantle of her house at French Street. It has the following lines:

“The Green Leaf of Loyalty’s beginning to fall
The Bonnie white Rose it is withering an’ all
But I’ll water it with the Blood of usurping tyranny
And green it will grow in my ain countree”

The Bonnie white rose in the poem may be something she choose to identify with. Another line of poetry is located over the fire-place in Lizzie’s bedroom:

“And old time friends, and twilight plays
And starry nights, and sunny days
Come trouping up the misty ways
When my fire burns low.”

Resources

http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/LizzieBorden/bordenhome.html

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/211803/lizzie-border-wasp-florence-king

wikipedia.org [various entries]

Visiting Sigmund Freud’s home in Vienna

In this post I continue to reflect upon my trip to Austria in 2009. I went to Berggasse 19 in Vienna, the former home of dr. Sigmund Freud. He lived there with his family for many years and his practise was also located in the apartment. When the political situation changed in the 1930s due to the raise of National Socialism in Germany and because of the Anschluss in which Nazi Germany forced Austria to join in the Reich; Sigmund Freud had to flee. Nazis once entered his apartment but were too afraid to do anything because Freud’s old testament persona scared them off. He knew they would come back. He understood he must flee Austria. His escape took place in 1938 with the help of a very rich former patient he could resettle in London were he died a year later. Freud was a heavy smoker and in the 1920’s he developed a leukoplakia in the mouth and was told to stop smoking. He later developed cancer in the mouth.


 

Today Freud’s apartment is converted into a Museum dedicated to his life and work. The very famous coach isn’t located here but in London. There were little furniture around but the walls are scattered with information about Freud’s life and the psychoanalysis he helped intervent. However, there were several small statues or figuerines on display which Freud once had collected. If you wish to visit this excellent site be sure you got some time. The place also holds a small shop selling Freud’s books.

Freud was born 1856 to Jewish parents in the Moravian town of Freiberg now called Prbor, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Czech Republic). He qualified as a doctor of medicine in 1881 at the University of Vienna. Five years later he started his own clinic and received patients in his apartment. He was a neurologist and the father of Psychoanalysis; a form of therapy. In 1902 he became a University professor. In creating psychoanalysis, Freud developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association and discovered transference, establishing its central role in the analytic process. 


Freud’s therapy focus a lot on sexuality and the interpretation of dreams. He developed several theories about man’s sexuality including the famous Oedipus Complex. These assets helped him form a clinical analysis which could explain repression in some cases and help patients with abnormal or complex mental conditions. He also created a theory about the unconscious and its mechanisms in relation to man’s ego.

 

Freud’s theories were not well-recieved in his own time and today we still cannot verify them which has led to the conclusion psychoanalysis as a theraphy is heavily critized. But one of his biggest contributions to the medical field was his focus on the patients previous experiences and the need to search for explanations to a patient’s mental condition. This sound like a basic thing to do today, but one must remember that in Freud’s own time focus was only on treatment and not searching for the cause of the condition. Freud also practised Self-Analysis and his most famous work The Interpretation of Dreams first published 1899 had its origins in his own personal crisis dealing with the death of his father.

Despite the criticism Freud’s ideas continue to live on and he has not only made his mark on Psychology; but also on numerous Academic fields such as anthropology and Semiotics. I liked visting the Museum and see the place where he and his family lived for so many years.

All photos in this post were taken by me on the visit. Make sure you got plenty of time while visiting Freud’s Museum since there was plenty to read when I was there in 2009.

Sources

wikipedia.org

My visit to The Vienna Central Cemetery: The Jewish Experience and WW2

IN THIS post I will write about my visit to one of the most well-known cemeteries in Europe and Austria. My journey was back in 2009 but I still remember my visit very well as I spent about two hours walking the older Jewish part of the cemetery. The Vienna Central cemetery (Wiener Zentralfriedhof) is also a cultural landmark receiving many tourists. It’s the final resting place of famous people like Beethoven and Mozart. As I arrived with my Nikon it was a very hot day in July it was all very quiet and I honestly can’t remember I saw that many people around. The photo below is what you can expect the old Jewish section to look like a warm beautiful summer’s day. Many stones are overgrown by vegetation reminding us this place soon 100 years ago was active and full of family members attending beloved ones final resting places. But as National Socialism arose in Germany in 1930s and Austria was ‘captured’ in 1937 all Jews were deported to Concentration Camps in Eastern Europe. You can see this for yourselves on several stones that something happened because there are no further burials or deaths noticed on the stones between 1939-1945 since their family members died in the Concentration Camps. In that point of view the Cemetery is a horrible reminder on what happened to Austrian Jews during WW2. 

Several non-Catholic denominations share the Zentralfriedhof and there’s an Evangelischer Friedhof. By far the largest non-Catholic sections, however, are the two old and new Jewish cemeteries.

A Rabbi’s gravesite

ONE of most interesting discoveries was a tomb of a rabbi and as I managed to sneak myself in with my camera I noticed people had scribbled several messages to him at the walls and the ceiling. I also noticed many of the messages dated to the late 1930’s and as early as 2004. All the messages are written in German and likely scribbled down by one-time vistors seeking the blessing of the deceased rabbi. Most of the content are somewhat desperate begging the rabbi to bless their souls and asking for help or guidance.

All photos in this post was taken by me. I saw several interesting graves with family names connected to many wellknown historical persons in Vienna history; such as Viktor Frankl and Arthur Schnitzler.

Gravesite of author Arthur Schnitzler

Arthur Schnitzler (15 May 1862 – 21 October 1931) was an Austrian author and dramatist. I was really happy upon discovering his grave since I love his novel Rhapsody – also published as Dream Story (Traumnovelle – 1925/26), later adapted as the film Eyes Wide Shut by American director Stanley Kubrick.

Notice all the small stones on Schnitzler’s grave. All of them marks an unique visit as it’s a Jewish custom to place a stone on a grave. There are many explanations why we place a stone rather than flowers which is connected to pagan worship in some Rabbinic sources. In the Torah patriarch Abraham builds an altar to God by help of stones. The Temple in Jerusalem was built by stones and The Wailing Wall surrounding the Second Temple. While flowers wither and die a stone can represent a more lasting memory. In European Jewry with a rich superstitious tradition the grave is the deceased’s new home and not make the soul go wander among the living a stone is said to keep it were it belongs until Judgement Day. You are welcome to comment on my post if you wish to share your experience on this famous cemetery. 

“Shakespeare Bites Back”: A free e-book from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

As the weekend is approaching I would like to recommend a free e-book if you are interested in the life and works of William Shakespeare. The e-book “Shakespeare Bites Back” (2011) is written by Dr. Paul Edmondson and Prof. Stanley Wells. It’s available to the public for free thanks to The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The aim of the Foundation “is to connect Shakespeare professionals, lovers and enthusiasts all over the world and to lead the world in democratizing Shakespeare in the digital age.” The main task of “Shakespeare Bites Back” relates to the controversy of authorship which has been much debated in this century. Therefore it’s a bit polemical too. The authors in this book do argue there are masses of evidence concluding Shakespeare was the author of all works attributed to him. They also conclude that “The nature of evidence is rich and varied”. Sadly, Edmondson & Wells states that “Until recently, Shakespeare scholars and the academic community at large have either opposed the conspiracy theory or stood alof from it.” They will introduce you to the Academic controversy and mere Conspiracy “theories”. The Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory has a history which can be dated back to Romanticism and the Gothic influenses some two hundred years ago.

I think it’s an important little book considering how we use Shakespeare today in movies for an example. The movie Anonymous (2011) gave extra fuel to the debate of authorship and I guess case isn’t closed when it comes to modern artistic interpretations of his life. I don’t mind artistic interpretations; but scholars should be in place to question; and help us see things with objectivity when presented “facts” are dubious or wrong no matter which field they emerge from. Here are some more important conclusions fighting Anti-Shakespearians:

Anti-Shakespearians may claim that they are ‘looking objectively’ at the evidence, but they never are. Their anti-Shakespearian bias prevents them from ever doing so. Instead, anti-Shakespearianism seeks first to deny the evidence for Shakespeare and then to position an alternative nominee in the gap Shakespeare has left behind. Anti-Shakespearianism is therefore synonymous with a denial of history, rather than with a revisionist and scholarly interpretation of the past.

You may take an extra look at the Pro-Shakespeare manifesto which also lists some of the important evidence:

Shakespeare puns on his own first name, William, in Sonnets 134, 135, 136 and 143. Sonnet 136 ends with ‘for my name is Will.’ We are in favour of a cautionary approach to making links between the works and their author’s life.

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