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Why I Don’t Love the New Yorker Festival Anymore

by Josina Reaves on October 4, 2011

You know how they say, “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”?  Well, I’ve finally had my one bad apple at the New Yorker Festival, and I’m still getting over that queasy feeling.

I’ve already shared my complete dissatisfaction with Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous with you, but I didn’t tell you anything about the event that featured the viewing.

In addition to a sneak peek of the film at the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) in Manhattan, the festival also billed the event as a conversation with James Shapiro, noted Shakespeare scholar and—perhaps most importantly—the author of Contested Will, and the film’s director Emmerich.  Okay, I thought, then the $35 ticket and the ridiculous convenience fees will be worth it.  Besides, I like seeing movies at the DGA; it’s in the same block as Carnegie Hall and the Russian Tea Room, so I always feel like I’m getting a little extra swagger with my flick, even though there are no popcorn or Twizzlers in the place.

Well, we know how the movie went, for me at least, but the crowd was pretty ecstatic about it. These people had clearly gotten their money’s worth, but I needed more.  I needed to hear Shapiro validate my extreme irritation with the film, so while other disgusted audience members filed out, I stayed put.

I don’t know who the woman was who moderated this talk, but she was no-nonsense in a way that actually killed conversation.  What she wanted (and was going to have, even if she had to cut somebody) was a series of statements from the two parties, and no monkey business.  Turns out, that might have been for the best, because by the time Shapiro was done with his opening statement, these two men hated each other.

Let me back up.  I’ve seen Shapiro talk four times now. This is a man with a head full of knowledge and a lovely way of expressing himself.  When he’s irritated, though, his glibness can become razor sharp.  Moreover, his face registers disdain and disapproval in ways that carry all the way to the back of the room, as they say.  I’ve heard him speak on the question of the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays before, so I was expecting him to be tough; I wasn’t expecting him to have been rendered speechless by his dissatisfaction.

Not totally speechless, of course, but this was not Shapiro on his A-game.  One of the first things he said was, “This movie is factually inaccurate in virtually every respect.”  There was a smattering a applause for that statement—including mine—but he seemed to have trouble framing the specifics of his assertion. Rather than a litany of details that Emmerich had gotten wrong, he got stuck on the point Emmerich seemed to be making that if the movie was true at all, than Shakespeare/Oxford was merely a propagandist, not an artist, not even an artisan making saleable goods for consumption.  “I’ve long been interested in why smart people believe dumb things,” he said, repeating that there isn’t a shred of evidence to connecting Oxford to the plays, but he couldn’t put forward the more compelling material he does have.

To be clear, though, this was not a debate and not a point-counterpoint display of research and scholarship.  Emmerich was expressing his intentions with the film and the premises he worked with, and Shapiro was expressing his concern that people might believe him.  He seemed almost choked by the notion that Emmerich could take such a high post with the authorship issue without a reason.  It would seem that Emmerich and his team are packaging this movie with a documentary and document packet for schoolchildren, so they can learn the truth of these plays as Emmerich and his, um, scholars have presented it.  Shapiro wanted to know why Emmerich thought he needed to do that, but he couldn’t quite express why he was so incensed by the idea, aside from his contention that the facts were wrong, though he could barely express which ones he meant.

There were some questions after that short chat, and what the questions revealed was how ready people were to buy the story Emmerich had presented because they found the film entertaining.  Not one person questioned Emmerich’s sources or his process or even the fact that in addition to destroying Shakespeare’s myth in this movie, he seemed very interested in destroying Jonson’s and Elizabeth’s as well.  And for what?

Shapiro did manage to land one solid punch.  When Emmerich asked why there was no evidence that this great playwright had ever owned and bequeathed books and manuscripts to his children—a piece of proof for him that Shakespeare was a Stratford merchant and not a London writer—Shapiro pointed out that Shakespeare had indeed left books and manuscripts to his son-in-law…on the second page of his will.  Emmerich said, “Well, I did not know that,” and Shapiro countered with, “Well, you shouldn’t have skipped that part of your research.”  And I knew he was finally recovering from his head punch and was ready to get into the ring with some grit.  But it was over.  The moderator rang the bell, so to speak, and sent us out into the rain without anything substantial to take away with us.

And that’s why I’m sick of the New Yorker Festival: exorbitant ticket prices, inane events, and conversations that aren’t actually conversations.  It felt like I’d been lured to some back alley, hit in the head with a sap, and rolled like a drunk for all the money in my pockets.  But I am wiser than I was before.  I will never follow a hooker again…I mean, get suckered into jumping at those tickets the second they go on sale.  I’ll wait, instead, for a nice bright moment, like the kind the Shakespeare Society provides, and I’ll put my money on that!



20 Comments Leave one →
  1. John L. permalink

    Very interesting assertion by Professor Shapiro regarding the list of books and manuscripts. The only problem is that it doesn’t actually exist. Scholars have been searching for this supposed “missing page” for centuries and it has never been found (if it ever actually existed).

    All the will mentions is this: “All the rest of my goodes, chattel, leases, plate, jewels, and household stuffe whatsoever, after my dettes and legasies paied, and my funerall expenses dischardged, I give, devise, and bequeath to my sonne in lawe, John Hall gent., and my daughter Susanna, his wief, whom I ordaine and make executours of this my last will and testament”.

    No books and or manuscripts…no letters, papers, not even a quill pen and ink…nada.

    It seems that Professor Shapiro might have crossed a line here…the one that separates fact from wishful fiction.

  2. Bob permalink

    Um, you know Shapiro’s last point is made up, right? He is absolutely in error. From the will itself

    To my Daughter, Susanna and Son-in-Law Dr. John Hall:

    “All the Rest of my Goods, Chattels, Leases, Plate, Jewels & Household stuff whatsoever after my debts and Legacies paid & my funeral expenses discarded”

    Where do u see Books or manuscripts listed?

    Shapiro is APPARENTLY assuming there was an inventory that included books…. An inventory that has conveniently been lost to history.

    You complain about EMMERICH not being factual. I wou,d hope the same for Shapiro, no?

    No wonder EMMERICH had no response– why would he? Sadly he is not an expert in Shakespeare’s will enough to rebuff Shapiro’s completely made up “fact”.

    PS any reason why you skipped the part where Shapiro implied the movie was Nazi propaganda?

    To those who were not there, yes, Shapiro actually implied the German born director made a film where the heroes were blond and blue eyed, and the villains were Jews…

    • Josina Reaves permalink

      I did catch that reference, but what he actually said was that the villains were dark and swarthy, not Jews. And he never said it was Nazi propaganda. But honestly, with the exception of Ben Jonson, he’s right about the split between the fair-haired boys and the others.

      • Bob permalink

        Re: the blinds vs. The swarthy (both factually accurate to the real people)– if Shapiro wasn’t making a veiled (and rather tacky) Nazi refence, what WAS his point?

        Love to know what you think


        • Josina Reaves permalink

          I guess that’s really a question for him. I didn’t jump to that conclusion, but I suppose it’s all in the hearing, isn’t it?

    • Josina Reaves permalink

      There is another page, apparently, and it is an inventory. I haven’t seen it, but I have heard about it from other scholars.

      • Bob permalink

        Well, sadly this is an historic issue, no? Southampton and Essex WERE fair haired, as was Oxford, while the ceceils WERE actually dark.

        What do you think shapiro’s point was?

        • Josina Reaves permalink

          No arguing with the historic record here. I don’t know why he brought it up, but I noticed it myself. It was pretty hard not to. For me, it’s an interesting detail, not a conspiracy.

      • Bob permalink

        As to the “inventory”, respectfully, the reason you haven’t seen it is because it doesn’t actually exist.

        Shapiro has made an assumption that it exists. It does not.

        Shapiro has also made an assu prion that it contains books.

        This is an assumption– a wild guess if you will. Actually it is two guesses, one; that such inventory exists, two that it contains books.

        Neither is actually, factually accurate.

        Respectfully, “hearing” about it from other scholars doesn’t mean it actually exists.

        Please take five minutes and see if you can find anything concrete about it’s existence before you start to repeat false facts.


        • Josina Reaves permalink

          Now, now, let’s take the tone down a notch, please. I’m not personally invested enough in this particular debate to spend those five minutes on that search. I was reporting what I heard. More than that, I will leave to those who are invested.

      • Bob permalink

        Shapiro’s logic is one of the problems with so-called Shakespeare scholarship.

        It goes something like this:

        1) shaekspeare wrote the plays
        2) he must have had books to do so.
        3) ergo, since his will doesn’t mention a book, the will must be incomplete
        4) therefore there must be other pages of the will that have mention of books.
        5) sadly they are lost to history (though the will exists)

        You must recognize this is not scholarship.

        This is circular logic.

        Much like the dating of the plays. Let’s take Hamlet

        Most scholars date it to early 1601-4

        Wen confronted that HAMLET is referenced by Nashe in 1589 (when Shakespeare was 25), scholars (knowing Shakespeare probably was too young in 1589 to write HAMLET) have made the amazing jump that the HAMLET Nashe speaks of is some other play.

        And the evidence for this assumption? there is none.

        But, they know this is a problem for shakespeare, so now we have a brand new Hamlet that no else ever refenced….

        Again, this is scholarship?

        I respectfully sub it it is guesswork. Presented as fact.

      • Bob permalink

        God bless the internet.

        So apparently James halliwell-Phillips mentions in the mid nineteenth century– almost 250 years after the events halliwell-Phillpps describes, is Shapiro’s source.

        Halliwell-Phillips ends his point about the will by stating:

        “from the absence of all reference to books in the will of 1616, it may be safely inferred that the poet himself was not the owner of many such luxuries”.

        Shapiro disagrees with his own source…

        And this is scholarship…. I find it a bit sad actually.

      • Stephen Moorer permalink

        Nope – the “inventory” has never been found, leaving scholars the ability to claim that Shakespeare’s books and manuscripts (and anything else that might actually prove he was a writer) “must have” been listed on it. Convenient, eh? But Shapiro definitely made up the statement. Check out the will for yourself (especially Shapiro’s mysterious Page 2):

  3. Bob permalink

    Apologies. The exact wording is:

    All the rest of my goodes, chattel, leases, plate, jewels, and household stuffe whatsoever, after my dettes and legasies paied, and my funerall expenses dischardged, I give, devise, and bequeath to my sonne in lawe, John Hall gent., and my daughter Susanna, his wief, whom I ordaine and make executours of this my last will and testament.”

    No book mentioned. No manuscript mentioned. No mention of any unpublished manuscripts– which would have had value ( which is why p,ats had been published for years by 1616)

  4. Mark Johnson permalink

    As a matter of fact the Will itself states that an inventory is attached as an exhibit. Additionally, there is documentary evidence that attests to the fact that the late William Shakespeare’s home in Stratford, New Place, had a “studdy” full of “books of great value” in 1637. A lawsuit was filed over the fact that the books, along with other property, were stolen and not recovered: “…in the right of the Defendant Susan as given to her the said Susan by the last Will and testament of Willm. Shackspeare gent her late father…men of meane estate or worth violently and forceablie to breake open the house in Stratford aforesaid where theis Defendantes dwell and inhabite And that the said Bayliffes Did then and there break open the Doores and studdy of the said howse and Rashlye seise vppon and take Divers bookes boxes Deskes moneyes bonds bills and other goods of greate value as well weh were of the said John Halls as of the proper goods of this Defendant Thomas Nashe the perticulers or value whereof theis Defendants saie they are not able to expresse…”

    Damn Baldwin Brookes.

    • Josina Reaves permalink

      Bravo, Mr. Johnson!

    • Stephen Moorer permalink

      Well.. bravo for changing the subject, that’s for sure. The bottom line is that Shapiro lied to Emmerich, and to the audience. And by doing so, created the only “Aha” moment for the reviewer. In order to “land one solid punch”, he had to do it below the belt. If I were the reviewer, I’d definitely feel misled, especially after featuring this particular exchange so prominently in her review.

  5. Stephen Moorer permalink

    Mark, with all due respect, your quote above might be misleading to the uninformed. In the 1637 lawsuit, reference is made to the PROPERTIES in Stratford and London given to Susan Hall by her father WS. The fact that over 2 decades later, in order to collect a debt of 77 pounds,the Undersherrif seized some property of she and her late husbands (including desks, money, books, etc.), well – this is hardly documentary evidence of WS owning any books. We know Dr. John Hall wrote and kept journals, and we know he had a decent library. (Interesting aside for you to chew on – in all of Dr. Halls correspondences, he never refers to his famous father-in-law as a writer or artist of any kind.) Hmmmmm.

  6. I see this subject has been adequately supplied with the facts. Shapiro lied when he sniped Emmerich about there being books in the Stratford Shakespeare [Shakspere was his name] will.

    It is true that Halliwell-Phillipps found record that there had been an inventory. It was mentioned as part of the proving of the will when registered with the Archbishop of Canterbury June 22, 1616. After that it was lost.

    But as Bonner Miller Cutting found out, (p. 172, Brief Chronicles I) of the million remaining inventories from that era, the vast majority do not include books anyway. They were considered too valuable in terms of cost and status to be dismissed as housestuffs, the basic purpose of the inventory. Traditional scholars usually don’t even try to twist out of that fact. But Shapiro is not a scholar. He is a hustler out of his depth as an investigator into truth. The reviewer caught a relevant aspect of his personality, a vindictive vein rather close to the surface. The subject deserves a better.

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