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Jewess » Interview: John Hudson, Shakespeare-as-Jewess Proponent

Interview: John Hudson, Shakespeare-as-Jewess Proponent


by Rebecca Honig Friedman

hudsonphoto.jpg John Hudson is the author of “The Dark Lady”, a historical biography of Amelia Bassano, a Marrano Jewess living in Elizabethan England who he contends is the true author of William Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. The Bassano theory is based on the discovery of Jewish allegories in the plays, and Hudson formed The Dark Lady Players theater company to bring out the true meanings of the plays, as Bassano intended them, through performance. For further reading on Hudson’s arguments regarding Bassano as the true Shakespearean author, see this article by one of the Dark Lady Players in the NJ Jewish News and Hudson’s recent article in Jewcy, “Shakespeare’s Plays Were Written by a Jewish Woman.”
Hudson holds numerous degrees from numerous prestigious academic institutions, with specialties in Tudor history, Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare and Performance, sociology and anthropology, dramaturgical theory, structuralist analysis, and the social scientific study of literature and the media. Over the last 30 years he has been employed as a cognitive scientist, working on the restructuring of the communications industry and inventing new industry models — which is exactly what he is now doing with Shakespeare. He is a reviewer for Shakespeare, the journal of the British Shakespeare Association, occasionally performs Renaissance music, and has studied at both Christian and Jewish theological colleges. He is now continuing his research at the Shakespeare Institute, where he is writing a thesis on “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

After attending a lecture Hudson gave on Bassano last week, we put his theory to the Jewess test via an email Q&A.

JEWESS: So, you’re not yourself Jewish, are you?
HUDSON: Although I not now a practicing Jew, my mother was a hidden child in Germany during the war but did not bring me up as Jewish. On coming to New York I was for some years a member of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun under Rabbi Marshall Meyer until his untimely death. I have also studied with Rabbi David Silber and the traditional approach to reading Torah is invaluable in reading the Shakespearean plays which use many of the same compositional features.

How did you first hit upon Amelia Bassano as a candidate for author of the plays we’ve come to know as William Shakespeare’s?
If the plays contain Jewish satires and allegories, then there was only one Jewish candidate.

How much knowledge of Jewish texts was Bassano likely to have as a Marrano and a woman?
There was only one Talmud known in England, it was in westminster cathedral library; however, Talmudic teaching was also oral, so individual quotes could have been transmitted that way. There are several quotes from the Pirke Avot which was available as a standalone volume in Latin, similarly the Zohar.
There were of course women scholars at the time, including one who was a distant relative of the Bassanos–Donna Ana (Reyna) de Nasi continued her mother’s vision and support for Torah scholarship, and in her 50’s set up a printing press at Belvedere Palace that published a dozen Hebrew books over 1592-99 including an allegorical drama and a Talmudic treatise.

Why would Bassano have written sonnets about herself as “the dark lady”?
The Sonnets have several voices, and the so-called dark lady sonnets are written to herself in the third person describing a woman whose cheek is gray and whose breasts are dun.

Would you then read Sonnet 130, for example, as a woman celebrating the earthly beauty of women, so to speak, taking women down from the pedestal that male poets generally put them on?
Sonnet 130 is one of the ‘dark lady’ sonnets, and is written to herself, as a literary conceit, as if by a third person who loved her, and refers to her beauty as black. It is not a general comment about women; it is highly specific.

Do you imagine there will ever be a time when the world will refer to Bassano’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Bassano’s “Hamlet,” or is the persona of Shakespeare too deeply ingrained in the popular imagination? Could the world ever accept that these plays were written by a Jewess?
I don’t know. It depends how successful we are in getting the information out.

What kind of response has the Bassano theory gotten from the academic world?
Most academics have refused to look at it. However some of the Oxfordians are proving to be very interested in it, and Dr C.M.S. Alexander, the editor of the Cambridge Shakespeare Library has given it the following endorsement: “Controversial and provocative, this well researched and wide ranging book establishes a legitimate new area for scholarship.”
Pioneering an entirely new area of scholarship is about the most anyone can aim to achieve!

In your mind, is this the hugest literary hoax ever pulled off by a woman or is it the worst example of a man stealing a woman’s glory?
I don’t think this is a hoax. It is a stratagem she used to get her work published, as many other women have done, by having their work published under a man’s name. In Elizabethan London women could not write original literature at all, let alone plays, so this was her only option.

So then would you consider it a triumph on Bassano’s part?
The example I use is that of the Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria. In order that his name might be known, the architect Sostratus had his name carved on the stone base, then covered over with a piece of plaster with a dedication to the king. In time the plaster fell away revealing the architect’s name. Amelia’s strategy was to leave behind a preposterous case for William Shakespeare, which has now fallen away revealing the true creator who is now at last visible.

We are always told that Shakespeare’s works are timeless — universal — and that is why they have aged so well. But in your staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and now “As You Like It,” with the Dark Lady Players, you seek to put a very specific, time-bound spin on the plays. Are you not damaging their appeal — even their genius — in some way?
Some directors anachronistically set the plays at the North Pole or in outer space or in a Mafia village. They therefore destroy and suppress the allusions that the plays contain and make them impossible to discern. I understand why directors who do not understand the plays might resort to such misleading devices. But they should do so no longer, and should use their staging to reveal what the author really meant.

Your theory adds a whole new layer to all the play with gender roles in the plays, doesn’t it?
Yes, the Shakespearean plays have more examples of women characters dressing up as men than in the whole of the English theater up to that point. Now we know why.

At the lecture you gave on Bassano last week, someone said that, as an actor, he always took comfort in the idea that Shakespeare was also an actor and understood what actors go through. He was dismayed at the prospect of giving up that notion. You responded by suggesting that Bassano was an actor, too, in a much more profound way. Can you elaborate on that?
Yes, all the world is a stage, and this was especially true at the Elizabethan court, where courtiers were constantly creating and performing meta-theatrical dramas to persuade the Queen about various issues. This is where the author learnt their highly developed sense of theater, and as a Marrano passing in a Christian society, she had to act every moment of her life, including being a cheerful mistress to a man 45 years her senior.

Are there any other examples of “secular” literature written by Jews during the time Shakespeare/Bassano was writing? If so, do they bear any
connection to “Shakespeare’s” work?

No. There were only 200 Marrano Jews living in England at the period. Though many were musicians, Amelia is the only one who was a poet.

You have a documentary about Bassano in the works. A feature film can’t be too far behind (and with all those possible lovers you mentioned it’s sure to be a good one). Which actress would you choose to play Bassano?
In our workshop of “As You Like It,” the part of Touchstone (who is an allegory for Amelia Bassano since, for example, Touchstone in Greek is basanos) is played by Daniela Amini, an Italian speaking Jew with degrees in literature from Oxford and Harvard, who is an excellent comic. In a movie I would also look for an actress who had the intellectual and cultural understanding of the role.

6 Responses to “Interview: John Hudson, Shakespeare-as-Jewess Proponent”

  1. Has anyone asked him to explain Merchant of Venice yet?
    Seems like an obvious question, especially with the recent news about those school kids boycotting their exams over the supposed anti-Semitism.

    http://www.shakespearegeek.com

  2. Duane,
    I just did and here’s his response:

    MERCHANT OF VENICE

    Whereas Ben Jonson’s plays put in a lot of architectural details of the buildings and sites, gained from guidebooks to Venice, both Othello and Merchant of Venice are written from the viewpoint of someone who took that for granted. Also whereas English writers stereotype the Venetians as evil and corrupt, neither Othello nor MOV does so. And the figure Bassanio has long been known as the original spelling of the Bassano family—it is one of the many ways in which she wrote herself and her family into the plays.

    As with all the plays, you need to look beneath the surface to the underlying allegory. So Portia for instance, who comes from Belmont, the mountain of the Lord, and is a law-giver, who is accompanied by the light of the rainbow-lady Nerissa has a clear allegorical identity! So does Shylock whose name is a version of ‘Shiloh’ listed in the Talmud as one of the names of the Messiah. Since such a determined Jew would not convert to Christianity, at the end of the play his body-which at his death was his sole possession– is left ironically as a cannibal banquet to the hungry Christians as they wait in a room featuring church ‘patens’-communion platesfrom which the messianic feast is to take place. Recommended reading : Barbara K. Lewalski “Biblical Allusion and Allegory in “The Merchant of Venice” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Summer, 1962), pp. 327-34 and S. J. Schöenfeld ‘A Hebrew Source for ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Shakespeare Survey 32, edited by Kenneth Muir, Cambridge University Press (1979) 115-128.

    If anyone is interested in finding out more, then they are welcome to come to the last of the season of four events at ManhattanTheaterSource, 177 Macdougal Street, NYC, THIS SUNDAY at 3pm on 23rd March on the allegories in As You Like It. Email us at darkladyplayers@ aol.com to get on to our mailing list for the next event. We are also always happy to talk to actors who are interested in working with us–we normally require a degree in theater, postgraduate conservatory training in Shakespeare and/or clowning, plus previous experience in several Shakespearean productions.
    For more information on our approach see www.darkladyplayers.com and
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyn-3GNOd7w&feature=related

  3. Why Belmont is read as ‘mountain of the Lord’ rather than ‘Bel monte’, that is simply “beautiful mountain”, as it clearly sounds in perfect Italian is not clear at all. Curious about it!
    ‘Mountain of the Lord’ would probably be ‘El-mont’. Unless one admits of ‘Bel-’ as a contracted form of ‘Baal-’, but that would really sound blasphemous and idolatrous to a Jewish mind.

    Thanks.

  4. Let’s remember, regarding MOV, making any argument effectively requires adapting to the perceptions of your audience. MOV may present a stereotyped and negative image of a Jew but this would hold the Elizabethan audiences’ belief more effectively than a positive presentation. The “Hath not a Jew eyes…” moments in the play would be rejected by an anti-Jewish person who could see Jews being presented well.

    As for me, a Jew, when I read the “Hath not a Jew eyes…” monologue and get to “…revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that” that resonates with me deeply. That’s where a Jew thinks of the atrocities committed against Jews by Christians and how we nonetheless must repeatedly hear the perception of many Christians that Christianity is the more humane perspective And this is an opinion Shakespeare would probably not have heard from (covert) Jewish acquaintances (if he had any). It’s an opinion Jews in a dangerous world would keep to themselves.

    And on the subject of Ms. Bassano… I’m a fan of the “Bassano Theory,” finding it as plausible as the “Raleigh Theory” or “Shakespeare Theory,” but I find it a pity that in scholarship only myopic theories seem beneficial to the scholar’s career. Maybe it’s just that people who are driven enough to push their theory into widespread review have to be a little fanatic? The sharp point I’m rapidly dulling here is that there is great evidence in these various theories for a “Collaboration Theory.”

    I think that’s why those of us who write, ask, “Why couldn’t a less traveled but talented fellow have written these things?” We know writing is usually a very collaborative process even when only one person gets named credit. A writer meets an acquaintance’s acquaintance and she describes a beautiful fresco she saw last year. The writer notes the description and later uses it. A playwright overhears his company’s patron speak (ad nauseum, most likely) of his love of falconry and takes mental notes. How many mystery writers have had any experience as detectives? Duh. I believe that’s the scholarly term for this sort of oversight. “Duh.”

    And another thing… Amelia wrote the dark lady sonnets about herself?? Oh, puhlease. It’s more believable that Shakie was intimate with the woman and learned of Italy and Jewishness from her, received her input or even collaboration poetically.

    My brain’s tired. I have to stop now.

  5. The tortured logic (Belmont doesn’t mean something in Italian, it means something in Hebrew and Italian) is typical of this sad, frantic theorizing.

    Fantasists like Hudson start with a profoundly literalistic and reductionistic view of creativity: one can’t write what one hasn’t experienced. But did Bassano murder people? The plays are full of assassinations and murders. See how ludicrous this is?

    Bibliobuffet.com published a rebuttal of the main points of this latest conspiracy theory. it’s careful, thorough, and scholarly:

    http://www.bibliobuffet.com/book-brunch-columns-322/1304-anyone-but-shakespeare-062010

  6. can i have john hudson email? i am working for flame production and i want to know more about shakespeare and how he thought he was a women?

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