As promised, here is the continuation of my discussion with Syril Levin Kline, author of the award-winning, historical fiction Shakespeare’s Changeling: A Fault Against the Dead.
Fade: Who was your intended audience as you wrote this fascinating novel?
Kline: Everyone! Middle school and high school students will enjoy this book because it connects them to the actual author with the life experience to have created the Shakespeare canon. They will understand the meaning of scenes in the plays that traditional scholarship cannot and does not explain.
It provides students with a new template for understanding the history plays of Elizabethan England as a nation facing war that must use its theaters as mass media outlets that call the Queen’s subjects to arms.
It also shows the importance of Shaxper as a man working his way up in the world to become a prominent businessman and theater owner while helping his master, the true playwright, keep his identity hidden.
But Shakespeare’s Changeling is for anyone who loves a good mystery – and in this case, it’s a mystery that is over 400 years old!
Fade: How long have you been writing?
Kline: Writing is one of my earliest memories. I wrote my first story when I was five and our Studebaker broke down. We had to walk through a field of very tall grass to get home, with my mom being very upset and my dad just shrugging it off.
I wrote stories and plays in elementary school. When we studied conservation in the 5th grade, I researched Izaak Walton in the World Book Encyclopedia, which I used to read for fun. Walton published The Compleat Angler in 1653, and I used his dialogues between Piscator and Venator to write my own play with his characters.
I wrote for my middle school yearbook and literary journal, thanks to an excellent English teacher, Mildred Groner, who inspired me to become a writer. I wrote for my high school newspaper, and even wrote a humorous novel about my first year of college in a coed dorm in 1972.
As an adult, I wrote a thrice-weekly consumer Q&A column for a Midwestern newspaper, and during that time began my first draft of Shakespeare’s Changeling. I have also been a teacher, showing preschoolers how to write and illustrate their own storybooks.
Writers write. It’s what we do. Even as children, we search for and create our own images and symbols of meaning, and we scribble them on paper long before we can actually read any words.
Incidentally, there are several samples of Lord Oxford’s early juvenilia, but nothing known to have come from Shaxper of Stratford’s childhood quill.
Fade: In a conversation in the Epilogue between Susan de Vere and Ben Jonson, the characters discuss the existence of “dark and dangerous secrets” encoded between the lines of Shakespeare’s poetry.
Please give us an example of one of these with a brief interpretation.
Kline: There are poems in which Lord Oxford’s name is encoded in acrostic. There are also hints such as the Induction to The Taming of The Shrew that imply an impostor posing as a noble author, but sometimes this scene is omitted and not performed because traditional Stratfordian interpretations don’t understand it or deliberately attempt to hide its meaning.
Sonnet 81 also causes us to wonder who the poet is memorializing, and several sonnets suggest a father talking to a beloved son, beseeching the fair youth to marry and have children to replicate his handsome features.
I must say that in my own research for this book, I’ve seen Stratfordian orthodoxy telling people what to think about Shakespeare, whereas the Oxfordian approach tantalizes inquiring minds to ask questions and look beyond the first blush of simple, spoon-fed meaning.
Fade: To me, learning about the historical backdrop and key players in Queen Elizabeth’s court, banishes boredom and brings the Shakespeare Canon to life.
Your book has made me want to research people such as the Lords Pembroke and Montgomery because of their connections to the First Folio as well as their familial bonds to the de Vere family.
What are some books you’d like to recommend to Shakespeare fans curious about these and other key figures in the Shakespeare story?
Kline: I’ve already mentioned Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare and Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography. I’d also recommend Shakespeare Identified as Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford by J. Thomas Looney, and William Farina’s De Vere as Shakespeare.
A visit to the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship website will also direct interested readers to a variety of publications on the subject. Because there are so many books to read, I’m considering posting a link to our bibliography on my website http://www.shakespeareschangeling.com. Peter’s book will also be available sometime in the near future.
Fade: That is a fantastic idea! In closing, I have one more question for you, Syril:
Do you think the Shakespeare Authorship Question will one day be added to the standard curriculum in literature classes?
Kline: Yes. To this day, I thank Mrs. Groner, my 7th grade English teacher, for discussing it in our English class.
To reiterate my earlier comments, Shakespeare comes alive for students and people of all ages when they can see the connections between an author and his work and understand that genius is part nature and part nurture.
*** I would like to take this opportunity to thank Syril Levin Kline for this interview. May Shakespeare’s Changeling: A Fault Against the Dead take the Grand Prize at the Chanticleer Awards Gala! ***
Over the summer, I recommended, Shakespeare’s Changeling: A Fault Against the Dead by Syril Levin Kline – a highly entertaining historical fiction novel – to my readers.
The action is entertaining and suspenseful with clever characterizations of some key players in the Shake-speare story, while the plot offers a plausible case for the Oxfordian authorship theory. Kline employs the Five-Act Structure, like a Shakespearean play, introducing each chapter as a scene with an epigraph relating to the action or mood of each chapter.
This weekend, Kline is attending the Chanticleer Authors Conference and Awards Banquet in a very chilly Bellingham, Washington, where she will proudly accept the
Chaucer First Place 2014 Award in the Elizabethan/Tudor category.
On Tuesday, Shakespeare’s Changeling: A Fault Against the Dead also has a strong chance of winning the Overall Chanticleer Reviews Grand Prize Award, giving Kline, her controversial book, and the Shakespeare Authorship Question, some well-deserved attention.
Over the summer, it was my pleasure to chat with Kline about her novel. Here I will share our discussion in this 2-part post.
Fade: What inspired you to write Shakespeare’s Changeling?
Kline: In 1990, my husband Peter and I were invited by one of his former Maret School students, Peter Kreeger, to visit his father, David Lloyd Kreeger. At the time, Peter and I were skeptics who believed (like most people are taught in school) that a commoner from Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the famous plays and sonnets, although my husband had his doubts since college.
That night, within a matter of hours, Mr. Kreeger convinced us with solid evidence that “Shake-speare” was actually the pseudonym for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) who had been forced for a variety of reasons to hide his identity as a public playwright.
Mr. Kreeger asked my husband how long he thought it would take to write a novel about Lord Oxford, and Peter said, “Oh, about a year.” Well, it didn’t exactly happen that way – it took me 22 years of writing thousands of pages, reading everything I could get my hands on, giving up, going back, and completing tons of edits to connect well-documented, biographical events of into a story line.
Sadly, David Lloyd Kreeger passed away a few months after our visit, but I’ve dedicated my book to him. His former home on Foxhall Road in Washington, D.C. is now the Kreeger Museum, which displays the works of famous artists from Monet to Kandinsky to Picasso, which Mr. Kreeger and his wife Carmen collected during their marriage.
And of course, since his father’s passing, Peter Kreeger continues to be a staunch supporter of my novel and my husband’s non-fiction book on the Shakespeare authorship.
Fade: What do you hope to achieve with this novel?
Kline: My first objective is to entertain. Shakespeare’s Changeling is a fast moving page turner that begins in 1616 as Ben Jonson races against time to edit Shakespeare’s First Folio as commanded by his patrons, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. The problem is that no one knows where the plays are, or whether any of them have survived!
On his quest to locate them, Jonson visits his old nemesis, Will Shaxper of Stratford, who offers readers a deathbed confession that reveals the secrets of the mysterious authorship.
By the way, history recognizes Montgomery’s wife as Susan de Vere, Lord Oxford’s youngest daughter, who like her father, is a familiar player in court masques. Coincidence? I think not.
This brings me to my second objective, which is to inform readers about the biographies of Will Shaxper and Lord Oxford so they themselves can form their own opinions about the real author, or whether or not there were collaborations among groups of playwrights, as some suspect.
For example, how could one person alone “crank out” astonishingly brilliant history plays one after another in close succession before the age of photocopiers, printers, computers, even typewriters and carbon paper? And why would anyone do it? Not even the most ingenious commoner could accomplish all that on his own!
And we know from prime source documents that Lord Oxford was well known as a writer, that he influenced others to write, and that he was a maker of court masques. Someone had to write for the players as the public theaters grew quickly in numbers, but this “lowly work” (which Shakespeare called “vile lucre”) was forbidden to high-ranking courtiers.
Interestingly, most people today don’t realize that it takes a long time to write a well-written book and that it doesn’t simply spring out of your head full blown.
Fade: I think many will be shocked to learn that the storyline of your book is closer to reality than the traditional story of Shakespeare, i.e. the man from Stratford.
What are a few of the resources you referenced for the historical data used in your novel?
Kline: My husband Peter and I have a 20-page bibliography on this subject that contains a large number of prime source materials as well as modern scholarly books on Shakespeare and Oxford. Peter completed his three-volume, non-fiction manuscript on the research I needed to write my novel.
Many books have been published since the comprehensive tome The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn. For example, Dr. Roger Stritmatter received his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for connecting verses in Lord Oxford’s Geneva Bible to lines in the Shakespeare plays.
On the Shaxper flipside, Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography augmented my understanding of the Stratford man’s life story and clarified for me why he could not have written the plays on his own.
In my novel, Will Shaxper is a man on his way up in the world, climbing the Elizabethan social ladder of success. He’s not stupid, illiterate or bungling, but is a willing conspirator in one of literature’s most complex conundrums. Without him, the plays may never have come to the public’s attention. Each man in his time plays many parts, as they say.
Fade: What were some of the challenges you faced while writing this novel?
Kline: Wow! In 22 years, you can imagine how it felt with a number of false starts, misguided early drafts, feedback by kind readers and by one not-so-kind editor. I began wondering what on earth made me ever think I could write anything more complicated than a shopping list!
A novelist must leave no stone in the plot unturned, and no loose ends for readers to trip on. It’s hard work leaving out scenes that you love and have labored over, but if they don’t move the plot, they’ve got to go. You have to make some sacrifices on the cutting room floor.
But thanks to computers, you can have enough material saved to rework and refine into a sequel, and that’s exactly what I’m working on right now.
~ End of Part 1 ~
Check back tomorrow for the continuation of my interview with Syril Levin Kline, author of the award-winning Shakespeare’s Changeling: A Fault Against the Dead.
Looking for a midsummer’s read? A break from the ordinary? A book that you won’t find on HuffPo’s “Beach Reads” list nor the NY Times’s “Cool Books for Hot Summer Days?”
To me, summer is the best time to escape the everyday – to abandon inhibitions and expand horizons.
With that in mind, may I suggest a topic that exercises your cerebrum as you relax by the beach, pool, or in a shady mountain retreat.
Perhaps a controversial subject that will make you, heaven forbid, question what you’ve been taught about Shakespeare. OK, you know where I’m going with this, right?
Make this the summer you explore the Shakespeare Authorship Question!
Four summers ago, instead of catching up on the Stephen King novels I’d missed during the school year, I read a book that set my intellect on fire: Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom by Charles Beauclerk.
If the plays and poems of Shakespeare were written today…we would see them for what they are — shocking political works written by a court insider, someone shielded by the monarch in an unstable time of armada and reformation. (Beauclerk)
This was the first SAQ book I’d ever read, recommended to me by my former English professor, dear friend, and mentor, Sallie DelVecchio.
From there I read what is, in my opinion, the Oxfordian primer: Mark Anderson’s Shakespeare by Another Name.
“This book, with fascinating specificity, suits ‘the action to the word, the word to the action.'” (Sir Derek Jacobi on SBAN)
But if you are new to the Oxfordian Theory and want something to whet your appetite for learning more about the movers and shakers of Queen Liz’s court, I strongly advise you start out with something entertaining.
A historical fiction novel that will introduce you to the theory that challenges Shakespeare Orthodoxy: Shakespeare’s Changeling: A Fault Against the Dead by Syril Levin Kline.
Kline’s novel engages your mind in a tantalizing way. It introduces you to some key players in the Shakespeare backdrop without bogging you down with historical information overload. Shakespeare’s Changeling: A Fault Against the Dead offers a storyline more fact-based than that of the country merchant turned London playwright.
In my upcoming posts, I will chat with Ms. Kline about her book, literary inspirations, and why she feels the SAQ should be taught in mainstream academia.
‘Til then, savor these “dog days” because summer’s lease hath all too short a date!
I’m back, Dear Followers, and ready to question the dogma of Shakespeare, again!
Today, I’d like to share a bit of the recent hypocrisy promoted by orthodox Shakespeare scholars in the mainstream media. None of this, however, is breaking news to many of my Facebook friends.
At the beginning of the week, on the ABC News Sunday Spotlight, viewers got a glimpse into the underground vault of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. where 82 copies of the 233 rare, remaining copies of the First Folio are housed.
The online version of ABC’s story correctly mentions that this collection of priceless plays “dates back to 1623, seven years after [William Shakespeare’s] death.” (http://tinyurl.com/pofcclh)
Yet, just a few days later, in Ask History, a blog sponsored by “History” Channel (yeah, you know the reason for those air quotes), the anonymous blogger declares that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, could not be the true author of the works attributed to Shakespeare because
“…Oxford died in 1604, and some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays (including “King Lear,” “The Tempest” and “Macbeth”) were published after that date.” (http://tinyurl.com/nhbdmog)
So, these people are saying that the grain-hoarding merchant from Stratford-Upon-Avon, the man who is traditionally regarded as the one true Shakespeare, could have his alleged works published posthumously but that the same could not possibly be true of Oxford, who was once recognized by members of the Royal Court as Queen Elizabeth’s favorite earl and was, as per Ask History,
“…highly educated, trained as a lawyer and was known to have traveled to many of the exact places featured in Shakespeare’s plays.”
But wait, there’s more! While referencing the famous Droeshout engraving from the First Folio’s title page, Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, produces this sparkly quote:
“People who knew him, worked with him said he looked like this…This is the picture that we think really captures the man, and this is the picture you see everywhere. This is his headshot.”
Really? Who might those people be? And, to me, that so-called “headshot” looks more like a masked figure with a dislocated shoulder!
There’s just one more thing I need to get off my chest.
When you scroll to the comments at the bottom of ABC’s “A Rare Look at Shakespeare’s First Edition at DC’s Folger Library,” you will see one lonely comment by someone named “Tom” who writes:
“A Shakespeare autograph would be worth a fortune. I’ve heard there is no known example. Correction; One article I found said there were six known.”
I attempted to reply to his comment with:
Wait…are we living in modern America, or Elizabethan England?
To all the Oxfordians out there, those “elitist snobs,” (oh, that’s one of the milder monikers for those who dare to believe that Edward de Vere was the real Shake-speare) raise your glass in honor of the poet earl!
Here’s one of my favorite Shakespearean excerpts, from Sonnet 81:
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read;
And tongues to be, your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
You still shall live, such virtue hath my pen,
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.
Happy Birthday, Edward de Vere!
(As per Newsweek, December 29, 2014.)
Antony and Cleopatra is classified as a Shakespearean tragedy; and yet, as is the case with much of the celebrated playwright’s work, its lines are infused with comedic relief and romance, as well. A ticket to this particular production at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center is worth its weight in Egyptian gold, simply as a cultural break from our frenetic modern routines. From the minute the house lights darken, until the tragic finale, the Berlind Theatre audience is treated to a sensory spectacle of theatrical proportions.
Director Emily Mann’s stark yet effective set, transports the audience between the primary settings of Alexandria and Rome with the use of giant, illuminated obelisks in the background that alternate between hues of languid blue and regal maroon.
This visual effect also mirrors the mood of each scene, contrasting the blithe sanctuary of the lovers to the royal magnificence of Caesar’s palace and other locations in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Sound plays a crucial role in setting the tone and fueling the plot. Surprisingly, while this theatrical element is also minimalist by design, (performed by one musician), its quality enhances the ambiance of the play, voluminously.
Thunderous booms evoke the Roman cavalry storming a battlefield, and delicately struck pipe bells resonate flute-like, as solo percussionist Mark Katsaounis works his harmonious magic from the corner, stage left. At the post-production discussion, several audience members commented on the emotional intensity of the score. Unfortunately, Katsaounis had to catch a train immediately following the performance, and could not accept the audience’s compliments personally.
The two-and-one-quarter-hour performance blew by with only a few bland, Roman soldier scenes that failed to hold my attention. Nicole Ari Parker’s performance as the mesmerizing Cleopatra validated the initial critical reviews; she is, indeed, talented and beautiful. Although I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed in her vocal presence that, at times, sounded shrill and lacked the commanding quality one would expect from a ruler. Due to the relentless performance schedule, as well as Parker’s admitted lack of Shakespearean acting chops, this minor flaw is excusable and did not interfere too much with the overall quality of her performance.
Her romantic partner, however, played by the imposingly handsome Esau Pritchett, mastered his role with impressive talent. During the post-production discussion, Pritchett confessed to having played the lead in Othello on multiple occasions. Unlike his female counterpart, Pritchett’s Shakespearean expertise is evident in the strength and tenor of his vocal skills.
One actor who particularly shone onstage was Zainab Jah, who played a secondary role as one of Cleopatra’s two female servant-companions. It was no surprise when Jah announced that she’d performed in at least half a dozen Shakespearean plays to date.
There were a few awkward moments when laughter erupted from some areas of the audience during scenes that were scripted as somber. One such occurrence was during the dramatic dual-suicide scene in which Antony’s personal guard, Eros, stabs himself after refusing Antony’s wishes to be killed. Antony then follows suit, driving the sword into his own chest in melodramatic Shakespearean fashion.
The actors, who seemed more curious, than disappointed, mentioned this peculiar reaction during their post-production discussion. While they attributed it to the genius of Shakespeare, I am more inclined to ascribe it to the relative immaturity of approximately one third of the audience who may have been experiencing Renaissance theatrics for the first time. Nonetheless, more convincing acting during these particular moments, might have achieved the intended reaction from the entire crowd, Shakespeare newbies as well as veteran theatergoers.
In spite of my minor criticisms, I encourage others to claim a seat for one undeniably entertaining night at the Berlind Theatre, before this performance run ends on October 5th. Travel in time, back to an ancient civilization where all roads led to Rome, yet one rogue Roman general and his Egyptian queen, were guided by their blind passion down a path to self-destruction.
All photos courtesy of McCarter Theater Center’s website exclusively designed for this production: http://www.mccarter.org/antonyandcleopatra/
As the summer melds gradually into autumn, it’s time to take in some theatrical delights.
And…I’m lucky to live very close to a wonderful theater in the vicinity of Princeton University campus: McCarter Theatre.
This month, (from September 5 – October 5) theater-goers will be treated to a sultry rendition of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Emily Mann, an award-winning director and playwright who, as Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre for 25 years, directed over 125 productions.
The leads are played, respectively, by Esau Pritchett (Fences) and Nicole Ari Parker (Boogie Nights, Soul Food).
Click Antony and Cleopatra to be redirected to the informative website that contains links to educational resources regarding Shakespeare’s play, as well as the historical context.
The theater is located at 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540. For student and/or group discount rates, call McCarter Theatre Center directly at 609.258.ARTS(2787).
Start a fall tradition that enriches the soul by treating yourself to a little culture, Shakespeare style!
This semester, I took a break from my Shakespearean studies and just completed a class entitled: “The Beatles and Their World” at The College of New Jersey.
I’ve never had more fun reading, researching, and writing than I had while taking this course.
For my final paper, I chose to research the Beatle I had become fascinated with: John Lennon.
John’s persona grew to mythical proportions during his lifetime. After his murder, his image morphed into that of a martyred hero – at least for awhile.
Then the ugly stories began pouring out, page after page.
I wanted to play armchair psychologist and investigate a hunch that had nagged at me while reading about John’s volatile nature, which resonated with “Jeckyl and Hyde” overtones:
Could John Lennon have suffered from mental illness?
If you were ever curious to learn a little more about John Lennon, or wondered about this yourself, please take the time to read my paper which has recently been published in The College of New Jersey’s Journal of Student Scholarship,Volume XVIII, April 2016 edition. (click on link below)
John was known for cutting through the bull—- and emphatically rejected the public’s idolatry of the Beatles; just feel the sarcasm in his ballad, “Working Class Hero.”
So, OK, this post has NOTHING to do with Shakespeare. But consider this,
both Shakespeare and the Beatles are British “institutions” AND both have developed into revered myths of the Modern World.
With that in mind, I think John would have forgiven me for stripping away his facade in order to get to the truth.
For those of you in the NY/NJ/PA metro area looking for a Shakespeare fix, I’ve got a recommendation:
This stage adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy stars Tony award nominee Forrest McClendon who thrilled the Philly audience last year with his powerful performance as Othello at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre.
I had the pleasure of meeting Forrest after a performance of the aforementioned play last year; he is a warm and charismatic soul (and a brilliant talent) with a contagious enthusiasm for performing Shakespeare. So, I look forward to witnessing his transformation into yet another Shakespearean tragic figure.
Tickets are selling quickly, so purchase yours now. Student discounts are available, so I’m going to snag one ASAP!