NABOKV-L post 0026665, Mon, 30 Nov 2015 06:18:22 -0800

Pale Fire, Timon of Athens and George Chapman
In his book 'The Literature of Satire' (2004), Charles Knight notes what he calls Kinbote's

"comic lapses in language, from his inability to understand the significance of “Chapman's Homer” for the game of baseball to his inability to find the title of Shade's poem (“Pale Fire”) in his English translation of a Zemblan translation of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens." (page 91).

These two lacunae are related. By the second decade of the twentieth century it was commonly assumed that Chapman was co-author of Shake-speare's 'Timon of Athens'. The main proponent of this hypothesis was J. M. Robertson, a Scottish autodidact who by dint of sheer hard work and willpower, and no little ability, had thrust himself into the forefront of British critical culture. He published copiously on literary and socio-political subjects, especially what was known in those days as "freethinking", or atheism/agnosticism. In 1917 Robertson published "Shakespeare and Chapman; a thesis of Chapman's authorship of A lovers complaint, and his origination of Timon of Athens". Nowadays Robertson's work is ignored, his hypothesis rejected; modern critics assume that Middleton was part-author of Timon, but that was not the prevailing opinion when Nabokov wrote Pale Fire.

In his book "Nabokov's Shakespeare", the late Samuel Schuman quotes Arthur Phillips on the Chapman wordplay: "(Chapman's homer will make me happy until I am a walking shade)". Unfortunately he doesn't get the serious part of the joke. At the time Robertson was writing, it was also widely believed that Chapman was the so-called "Rival Poet" of Shake-speare's sonnets; some still believe this. In fact Robertson was indebted to Arthur Acheson's 1903 book "Shakespeare and the Rival Poet", who was supposed by Acheson to be Chapman. When Nabokov invoked the legendary rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees he was alluding to a more historic rivalry, that of Chapman and Shake-speare. Of course there's no proof, literary or otherwise, that Chapman was in fact the 'rival', or even if one existed outside Shake-speare's mind, but that's not the point. The reason that the newspaper cutting was "thumbtacked" to the door harkens back to "Lolita", where Dick Schiller's friend Bill, who is a spoof of the man from Stratford-upon-Avon and yet another expression of Nabokov's skepticism about the traditional attribution of Shake-speare's works, is all thumbs -- i.e. he can barely write ("one of the few thumbs remaining to Bill was bleeding (not such a wonder-worker after all)"). Anyone who's seen the surviving examples of the farcical efforts of the Stratford man to sign his name will understand.

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