Monday, May 18, 2009

1601, and Is Shakespeare Dead? by Mark Twain

So, 1601 is touted to be Twain's dabbling in the pornographic essay.  Um..not so much but it WAS probably quite naughty back in the day.  Unfortunately it is so hard to read, in the Oxford Twain edition anyway, because it is set in this convoluted fake Middle English-looking font.  The entire original title is 1601, or Conversation As It Was By the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors.  What you have is Queen Elizabeth, some of her ladies-in-waiting, Ben Johnson, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Raleigh in conversation about farting and sex, and they are being eavesdropped on by her cupbearer.  It is just a few pages long and it was more corny (to me) than anything but I can only imagine what kind of impression it made in the early 1900's :-)

Is Shakespeare Dead? was much more interesting to me.  In this short work, Twain lays out the reasons why he does not believe William Shakespeare authored all the works attributed to him.  I'm afraid I'm in the camp which Twain scorns, but he does give you alot to think about in terms of where and when Shakepeare may have acquired his knowledge of the variety of social levels and occupations which he writes about considering he came from a fairly illiterate household.  Twain votes for Ben Johnson to be the author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare...I guess anything is possible.  The literary criticism I've read about this all talks about Twain exploring his own fame by talking about Shakespeare's.  I thought it sounded a bit whiney at times (i.e. Shakespeare died alone and in obscurity but look at ME!  I'm popular and well known and I'm not even dead yet!) but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Anonymous said...

i've heard of the shakespeare essay and have to check it out! twain can be a tad that even legal for an english major to say?!?! thanks for reminding me about this; i may use it in the classroom one of these days.

Holley T said...

english majors are not a dead, static group so it is definitely legal to say as far as I am concerned...I have been ostracized (sp?) before by other EM's for not liking something in the status quo, Faulkner for example.