Saturday, August 24, 2013

Shakespeare Study: The Birth Of Merlin or The Childe Hath Found His Father

I’m deep into the apocryphal plays at this point, really getting down to the end of my three and a half years of Shakespeare study. In fact, this month is month number forty-four in my study, and basically concludes the study (though I’m already thinking of going back to certain plays again). I’m reading a couple of the doubtful plays this month. The first was Edmund Ironside. The second is The Birth Of Merlin.

The Birth Of Merlin or The Childe Hath Found His Father is a play that was first published in 1662, and was attributed to William Shakespeare and William Rowley. Most folks at this point think that Shakespeare had nothing to do with the play, and that his name was used simply to sell copies. Some people think Shakespeare may have had the original idea, and that William Rowley then later wrote the play. The play was likely written in 1620, four years after Shakespeare’s death.

The edition that I read was published by Element Books in 1989, and includes a foreword by Harold F. Brooks, as well as chapters by R.J. Stewart, Denise Coffey and Roy Hudd. Unfortunately, it is not annotated at all (though it is illustrated). The foreword is not well written, but Brooks does state he believes “Rowley is imitating Shakespeare” (page x). 

Denise Crosby points out that Shakespeare mentions Merlin in King Lear, in the Fool’s speech in Act III. Crosby writes, “Why did mention of Merlin turn up in the revision? Was the speech a parody of Poly-Olbion style? Or an actor’s addition? Or in response to some topical situation? Or…or, suppose that the two Wills, Shakespeare and Rowley, had a conversation in which Geoffrey of Monmouth’s works were discussed as a fruitful field for plots for plays” (page 34). Crosby then writes: “There’s certainly no hint of writing of the quality of Shakespeare in The Birth of Merlin, although two pieces of evidence (which I can only defend from an instinctive feeling) suggest that Shakespeare influenced the making of the play. The first example is one of the four strands of plot which weave their way through the play” (page 36). And then: “Suppose the Wills were discussing the strand of the play of which Modestia is part. The unusual idea in the scene is that a wedding procession is stopped by the sister of the bride, who has become so influenced by the Hermit that she has renounced the world. She in her turn influences the bride so that she too gets her to a nunnery. Could this perhaps have been suggested by the man who created the darkly comic-tragic wedding scene in Much Ado About Nothing?” (page 37). Crosby also writes, “The other moment in the play where I feel a Shakespearian influence is the transformation of Joan Go-too’t after the birth of Merlin” (page 37).

Roy Hudd’s piece includes a conversation with Bob Stewart, in which Bob says, “And of course the ghost in Hamlet does something very similar, appearing only to his son, invisible to everyone else” (page 61). That, of course, is completely wrong. In fact, the Ghost appears to at least three people before Hamlet ever sees it.

In the play itself, Caesar is mentioned in Act III Scene vi. Edol says, “Were the worlds Monarch, Caesar, living, he should hear me” (page 115). Caesar is someone to whom Shakespeare makes references often. Oddly, this is not mentioned in the argument that Shakespeare had a hand in this work.

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