THE HIDDEN SHAKESPEARE: A ROSETTA STONE
by DAVID BASCH
If Basch's observations in The Hidden Shakespeare are correct, the controversy over the authorship of Shakespeare's plays will have heated up a notch. Not only will the favorite candidates for this authorship, like Edward de Vere and Francis Bacon, be eliminated, but new controversy will begin over the personal Shakespeare and the message of his plays.
Basch presents striking evidence, both external and internal to Shakespeare's work, that he was indeed the William Shakespeare of Stratford, but a man whose origins are radically different from what has been supposed. This revelation is not merely of a parochial interest, because, as Basch shows, it bears on the meaning of the Bard's work.
As things shape up, it remains true that Shakespeare, while being an intensely proud Englishman, was at the same time the prototype for the universal man who spoke to the ages for all mankind. Yet, the foregoing does not change the fact that he was at the same time forced to hide his identity as a Jew in an England in which Jews had long been expelled and in which being a Jew was a crime.
What is the evidence for this dramatic finding? On the historical side, an overlooked diocesan record has been available that tells that Shakespeare's father, John, had another last name. Basch is the first to report that the name actually has a meaning in Hebrew which has implications for the poet's identity. But even more persuasive than this admittedly inconclusive detail is the internal evidence to be found in his plays.
It seems that Shakespeare had provided a Rosetta Stone to enable future generations to ferret out the facts now coming to light. In what is certain to be a major cultural find, somewhat akin to the original Rosetta Stone that enabled the lost hieroglyphic language of ancient Egypt to be recovered, the great poet devised a key to the hidden facts of his origin. It is the presentation of this internal literary evidence that forms the central core of Basch's book.
In an account that reads like a detective story, Basch peels away the layers of meaning in the poet's work, getting ever closer to the real man, what he said and believed. Unlike evidence that is inferential, unintentionally left by an unwilling subject desiring to hide himself, Shakespeare very consciously devised and purposefully left word of himself. To the world, it offers new insight on the meaning and message of his works -- a message more than ever relevant in a world of diversity seeking to find unifying themes of brotherhood.
Anticipating reaction to his findings, Basch, quoting Shakespeare, poignantly asks whether "love will alter when it alteration finds"? It is in his final chapter that he offers a larger perspective on this question. Basch looks forward to a future in which, through a deeper understanding, the poet's message, like the message of Israel's prophets, will truly belong to all people.
Basch's central thesis is presented in Chapter 1 where we are introduced to the Bard's scheme of self revelation. It will surely seem as ingenious as the poet-genius that crafted it. The key to it is Jewish traditional lore, inaccessible to the surrounding culture he lived in. When this lore is brought to the fore, suddenly the scheme becomes transparent and predictable. For just as the biblical Joseph, unrecognized by his brothers in Egypt, reveals himself to them by demonstrating familial knowledge, so does Shakespeare emulate this feat, leading to a new world of discovery.
Later chapters (Chapters 2, 3, and 4) record the process that led to the formulations of his main chapter. Of particular significance is Chapter 2, titled "Shylock on Appeal." This chapter alone will change the reader's understanding of the meaning of The Merchant of Venice. It will smash forever the idea that this play was an anti-Semitic work depicting an ignoble Jew. (The book includes an index and a summary of The Merchant of Venice for those unfamiliar with the play.)
And just when the reader could think that, with the conclusion of the revelations on the personal Shakespeare, Basch had exhausted his topic, in Chapter 5 his subject suddenly broadens. Here he discusses some of the specifically Jewish sources Shakespeare drew on in his work -- sources scarcely, if ever, touched on by commentators. Basch then ends up with what will surely be an ongoing discussion of what Shakespeare, as a Jew, contributed to Jewish thought itself. Opening this discussion, he reveals that Shakespeare gave his own commentary onthe Bible's Job and Ecclesiastes in a manner that will without doubt surprise and astound the reader.
Basch's book will be particularly inspiring to budding writers who believe
they have a unique perspective to offer. To read in this book of Basch's first
dawnings of insight and the implications these raised proves that an individual
can make a difference in subjects thought to be only the domain of the
specialist. In Basch's case, he had been intrigued by an idea off the beaten
path. Over time, following his intuition, he found his subject ever
deepening. In the end, to his own astonishment, he discovered that he had
literally gone where none had gone before.