NEWS & EVENTS
Unlocking Shakespeare's sonnets
What Hank Whittemore had in mind was an entertaining little play that would provide a new framework for understanding Shakespeare's sonnets. And his identity. In 90 minutes.
Meet "Shake-speare's Treason." It's a one-man show in which Whittemore, a New York actor and writer, dramatizes the theory that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote not only the Bard's dramatic canon but the sonnets, those 154 little enigmas wrapped in riddles that give fits even to those who know and love the plays.
Whittemore will present "Shake-speare's Treason" at Monday at Carpenter Hall on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus in
"In the library there's history, and there's literature and drama," Whittemore says in a phone interview from his home in
"The two worlds never got together. In the history department Shakespeare is a disembodied voice. It never says he had a cup of coffee with somebody. I'm hoping to reunite the history and drama departments."
WARNING. We interrupt this narrative for some background: The orthodox view of what's called "the authorship question" is that Gulielmus Shakspere of Stratford-Upon-Avon went to London, fell in with actors, became one himself and produced what became known as the works of Shakespeare. Many have pointed out that there is surprisingly little evidence for this, from Mark Twain, Henry James and Sigmund Freud to Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Irons and Mark Rylance, the former artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe in
As a young actor, Whittemore, 67, worked with Helen Hayes and Art Carney on Broadway. He worked in television, including soaps, married, worked as a reporter in New York, wrote 10 books, many TV documentaries and 100 covers for Parade magazine. About 20 years ago he came back to Shakespeare.
"I always thought he was an actor who wrote," he says. "I walked the river for years spouting Hamlet's soliloquies. I fell in love with a guy second to the crown, Prince Hamlet, who would rather be with the players than royalty."
When he was introduced to
"The first thing I saw was that he got stopped by pirates in the English Channel — twice — just like Hamlet. I thought, 'Shakespeare must have heard of
Whittemore became an Oxfordian, eventually spending a decade writing "The Monument," a 900-page book that argues that the sonnets are written in a "double image" with politically correct if cryptic sentiments on the surface and a dangerous record of the intrigue at their core (see www.shakespearesmonument.com or Amazon.com).
This year is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the sonnets by Thomas Thorpe under the title "Shake-speares Sonnets," a sequence of poems inspired by a fair youth and a mysterious dark lady. Their story, like so much about Shakspere, is disturbingly vague. Experts have long thought that Thorpe acquired the manuscript from someone other than Gulielmus Shakspere. Whittemore believes he's identified the youth and the lady.
The show had its world premiere in
Whitemore's eureka moment came in the fall of 1998 in San Francisco at a conference, not in a could-be-this, could-be-that sort of way but in a slap-your-forehead, now-it-all-fits kind of way.
"Nobody's gonna believe this," he thought.
He says the sonnets use a special language to tell the story of a young prince
No spoilers here. Let's just say Whittemore's theory is one of those Big Thoughts that, if you embrace it, seems to clear up a lot of mystery. It also speaks to maybe the biggest weakness in the whole Oxfordian case: that Oxfordians don't have a story to put up against the powerful Stratfordian story of the poor boy from
"Suddenly," he says, "it all opened up."