Jul/Aug 2015 Reviews & Interviews

The Virtual Vanaprastha Discovers the Seemingly Endless Joys of Shakespeare

Discovered: A New Shakespeare Sonnet (or three actually)
Gilbert Wesley Purdy.
The Virtual Vanaprastha. 2015. 59 pp.

Review by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

Buy now from Amazon! When I discovered previously unattributed Shakespeare sonnets, while following a research trail from electronic text to electronic text to electronic transcriptions of more than usually obscure manuscripts, I was so intent upon getting the details right that I barely felt a moment of wonder. I was hot on the trail of something, it appeared, but I barely knew what until I was on top of it and then it just seemed so unbelievable that the very best I could hope for had somehow actually come to pass. The resulting celebration, such as it was, lasted a mere matter of minutes. Mostly I just stood staring at the text, grinning and shaking my head. I think a fist-pump or two were involved, as well.

After weeks of repeatedly retracing my route, and checking to see that previous scholars' efforts hadn't somehow explained the discovery away, I cautiously revealed it to a few close friends and family members. They were confused. Wasn't it a really big thing to make such a find? Why didn't I seem in the least overjoyed?

Of course, I was too exhausted to appear appropriately exhilarated. I could only think of the enormously tedious work ahead. I still had to formalize the statistical evaluations, gather notes from every quarter, plan, write and rewrite the manuscript, etc. While my numbers would likely meet with the silence of self-important gate keepers, for all my efforts, those who might so much as deign to read them would almost certainly find them suspect as a matter of course. I am outside of their professional and amateur networks, after all.

The computer resources available to me give me a far better set of tools than earlier scholars but only secret proprietary programs can suffice any longer. Nothing but each group's own Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval numbers would satisfy. My open invitation, here, that they do that verification would not necessarily satisfy them with the prospect of confirming a finding announced in a Kindle book. This to say, my statistics would be both essential to a proper presentation… and, if they were noticed at all, the basis of irrational alpha-positioning. None of this was exactly leaving me celebratory.

How perverse the Cosmos seemed, then, to add on top of all of these difficulties, the fact that the front matter of the book would display the title Edward de Vere was Shake-speare: at long last the proof among my august publishing credits: an Oxfordian authorship title. The vast majority of traditional Shakespeare scholars, seeing such a title, will likely consider it a provocation and a sign either that I could never properly identify a new Shakespeare sonnet or could never be allowed to be credited with such a discovery. The best strategy could only be to ignore the existence of the claim: a thing easily accomplished given that it was made in a Kindle book.

My necessary allies—in this particular matter—were almost certain to recoil in disgust from even considering my new discovery, it coming from an Oxfordian. Each successive draft of the monograph was written in the face of these eventualities. The going was hard.

As if Kindle publishing weren't frustrating enough, now comes a branding issue. Surely my books don't sell in sufficient numbers that I should have such problems.

But there can be no denying that having written a Shakespeare Authorship book attracts a lot of negative attention. A provocative book may sell a bit more than most other nonfiction subjects not involving sex or weight loss but not so much that its coattails are meaningful. That is pretty much the full range of benefits, as it were, while the ferocious Stratfordian trolling and the dismissive cold shoulder from Shakespeare scholars in academia (or non-profit knock-offs of academia) on the other hand, can be quite impressive.

In my own books on the work and identity of William Shakespeare I strive to be more rigorous than traditional Shakespeare scholars. My Edward de Vere was Shakespeare and Was Shake-speare Gay? are heavily documented and strictly conservative in their interpretation of historical facts. The latter title only reflects for a few brief summary pages upon the implications of Shakespeare's sonnets for the traditional assignment of the man from Stratford as the playwright William Shake-speare. Those implications are hard won through long hours of research, strict documentation and conservative interpretation.

In all of this research, of many hundreds of thousands of words of text, I have found far and away more evidence suggesting that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the author of the works that go under the name of William Shake-speare, than the traditional Stratford man. For present purposes I wish I could say otherwise (and get away with it). To remove my Shakespeare Authorship title(s) would only appear disingenuous, when, with electronic ease, my other books would be soon found out. The book credits must be included. That these new sonnets are evaluated upon their own textual basis, apart from all other publishing platforms, issues and persons, must somehow be enough to get them recognition in the end—however long it will take to reach that end—and myself due recognition and expanded opportunities for having had the research skills to have found them out.

Well, precisely as expected, the only customer review of the book is offered by a widely known (so I am informed) Stratfordian troll. As a matter of course, it is an insulting, blatantly incorrect one-star review. My many years of publishing poetry and poetry reviews notwithstanding, the prospective reader is warned that they will be paying good money for a total ignorance of all matters relating to poetry. To date, over 50 copies of the book have either been downloaded as part of the free book kick-off promotion or purchased by a customer so brave as to have ventured $4.99.

Among fellow amateur lovers of Shakespeare, on either side of the authorship issue, I've received one thank you message for a free copy, one warning that a free copy has been downloaded in spite of the fact my books are no longer considered of any particular interest to fellow Oxfordians (I'm paraphrasing here) no matter what they include. I have not heard again from the one Oxfordian scholar who informed me after the first book that I was unlikely to succeed without paying annual dues to one of the non-profit organizations the Oxfordian faction has created (and which pay him speaking fees) and ponying up for the annual conference where I would most certainly have been expected to further pay not just good money but flattery for the old boys.

Only one person has been willing to so much as admit having read the book, then. (One has hinted at reading it and followed it up with hints at "his demands" for giving me his opinion.) Only the troll has felt emotionally unable to resist giving it a customer review free of charge. With the exception of the troll, I am invited to flatter in hopes (almost certainly vain) of a reading. In other words, my expectations have been realized to the T.

What I didn't predict was that, as I was tallying my statistics, a Ph.D. candidate would announce that he'd developed a computer algorithm that he feels certain proves, via a psychological profiling secret sauce, that Shakespeare wrote part of a play called "The Double Falsehood". Because Shakespeare authorship of the play would all but prove that Edward de Vere could not have been Shakespeare, the Stratfordians and their army of media spokespersons simply announced that Shakespeare's authorship had been proven beyond all reasonable doubt. The play is abominably bad and hasn't a trace of Shakespeare in it and they simply do not care. Putting a stake through Edward de Vere's heart is far more important than protecting the integrity of the scholarly record.

Add to this the claim, as my book hits the electronic shelves, by an expert-by-virtue-of-social-networking, who had the journalistic connections to get world coverage for his announcement, that he'd discovered the first verifiable picture of Shakespeare. Verifiable, that is to say, once one knows how to read the secret cipher that identifies him.

All of the above said, this is not offered to the public as an authorship book regardless that the context in which the new sonnets are found can only have authorship implications. Nor is a cipher or a proprietary secret sauce of any kind used as part of the proofs. The sonnet in the monograph Discovered: A New Shakespeare Sonnet is offered as a new Shakespeare poem entirely divorced from the question of who Shakespeare might have been. As many as four poems in the pirate anthology merit investigation as possible Shakespeare poems: three sonnets and one song. One sonnet satisfies traditional criteria for Shakespeare authorship so perfectly that the present monograph focuses almost entirely upon it. The others receive brief commentary and are marked for future evaluation.

The new resources available to the amateur scholar give him or her the opportunity to participate fully in the fields that they love. The discipline and standards are another matter but they are well worth developing, given the opportunities, and academia is right to expect them. To lack them all but guarantees failure no matter how big or powerful the mutual admiration society that may seem to substitute for them. I can only hope that Stratfordians and Oxfordians, or just plain lovers of the works of Shakespeare, can eventually evaluate these poems without reference to authorship issues or the publishing platform by which they are presented or my failure to appear "paid in full" in some group's accounting books.


An earlier version of this essay appeared in my blog: Virtual Grub Street. Discovered: A New Shakespeare Sonnet is scheduled for release in paperback by the end of July.


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