Shakespeare Matters Review

Unnamed critic writing for Shakespeare Matters

A concert consisting largely of compositions based on the works of Shakespeare was presented Sunday, 23 February at Temple Emeth in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The program was arranged by Joseph Summer, and the bulk of it was devoted to performances of his compositions, settings of texts from the plays and the sonnets, including “With Mirth in Funeral” (Claudius’s speech from Act I of Hamlet), “Too Too Solid Flesh,” “What a Piece of Work is Man,” “To Be Or Not To Be,” “Gallop Apace” (from Act 3 of Romeo and Juliet), “Full Fathom Five” (from Act 1 of The Tempest), and Sonnets 8 and 132. These works, composed in a modern style, were performed by a superb group of musicians, including Maria Ferrante (soprano), Ja-Naé Duane (mezzo-soprano), Alan Schneider (tenor), Elem Eley (baritone), Miroslav Sekera (pianist) and John McGinn (pianist and music director). Two of the numbers included accompaniment by French horn, ably carried out by Barbara Shepherd. The music varied in mood and compositional technique from piece to piece, but was always beautifully expressive and deeply emotional.

Joseph Summer is a full-time composer who has written operas based on Boccaccio’s Decameron as well as the works mentioned above. He became an Oxfordian in 1991, and so refers to the Shakespearean works as the “Oxford Songs.” The program for the Temple Emeth concert included the following paragraph:

Joseph Summer’s settings of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and the sonnets are contained in five books, which Summer has labeled The Oxford Songs; labeled thus because Summer subscribes to the unorthodox opinion that Shakespeare is the pseudonym of Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford. The doubts regarding Shakespeare’s ipseity have a long history. At one time those who doubted the Man from Stratford as the author flirted with the idea of Bacon. Mark Twain wrote “I only believed Bacon wrote Shakespeare, whereas I knew Shakespeare didn’t”; in the article “Is Shakespeare Dead?”; In this unpopular essay, Twain assailed the orthodox authorship view (known as the Stratfordian), writing “since the Stratford Shakespeare couldn’t have written the Works, we infer that somebody did. Who was it then?”; The view that it was Oxford wasn’t hypothesized until several years after Twain, first in 1920 by J. Thomas Looney. Summer shares his “Looney” belief that the Stratfordian Shakespeare is not the author of our language’s greatest works with many predecessors, including Henry James, Walt Whitman, and Ralph Waldo Emerson; with contemporary figures such as noted Shakespearean actors Kenneth Branagh and Derek Jacobi; and even Mark Rylance, the artistic director of the Globe.

In some introductory remarks, the rabbi of the temple pointed out that “Emeth” is the Hebrew word for “Truth”; He did not go on to make the connection with de Vere’s family name, but it is there.