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Issue 11-3

You Find What You Look For

Some wise sage has made the point that humans generally find what they look for. Unfortunately, in many cases this is all too true.

We have gone up to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for the last 37 years, so you can safely say that we have more than a passing fancy in the Bard. Naturally, I was intrigued when Hollywood introduced a film this past season titled Anonymous that posed itself as asking (and certainly not answering), “Was Shakespeare a fraud?” This old controversy (which didn’t exist until 200 years after Shakespeare’s death) has been nudged to the public’s attention again. The screenwriters maintain that the real author of Shakespeare’s works was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

I was gratified to find that only 47% of critics gave the film a good review. The Web site “Rotten Tomatoes” aptly concludes, “Roland Emmerich delivers his trademark visual and emotional bombast, but the more ‘Anonymous’ stops and tries to convince the audience of its half-baked theory, the less convincing it becomes.”

Peter Ranier, film critic for The Christian Science Monitor, explains the conceit of this premise (that Shakespeare’s works were ghostwritten) and that de Vere was too highly placed to reveal his identity as a playwright, and so he dragooned poor Will into acting as his front. Never mind that the film has the Earl writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was 9 (talk about unbelievable premises!) and died in 1604—before OthelloKing Lear and The Tempest were conceived.

As Ranier points out, “If ‘Anonymous’ were simply a lousy movie I’d leave it at this. The movies have a way of serving as history texts for gullible audiences. … According to James Shapiro, the author of the definitive pro-Bard book ‘Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?,’ Sony Pictures is reportedly distributing Shakespeare-debunking lesson plans for literature and history teachers.” The critic ends by commenting, “Frankly, if I’m going to be offered a heaping pile of revisionism about the greatest writer who ever lived, I’d rather it be from someone with more academic heft than the director of ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Godzilla.’ I trust the teachers who receive this film’s study guide have a shredder handy.”

This controversy, which surfaced in 1850 and has raged on and off ever since, was based largely on the scanty lack of information about the life of Shakespeare; the history of this contention is the subject of Shapiro’s well-written scholarly book. In Shapiro’s research, he discovered a body of archival material that was un-sifted and often unknown. While rushing to judgment, biographers had ignored documented fact. A classic case of You-See-What-You-Want-to-See.

Shapiro’s greatest concern is that much of the criticism is based in a classism maintaining that only a man of high position and breeding could have written the exquisite language of the plays that have now lasted for centuries. The fact that genius strikes (and always has) inexplicably where it will is always beyond our ability to critique. The genesis of genius is unfathomable and often creates discomfort in the more concrete thinkers of the ages.

I love some of the other leads from “Rotten Tomatoes” reviewers:

•  “John Orloff’s screenplay could have used a rewrite by de Vere—or whomever.”

•  “Bombastic claptrap.”

•  “What’s distressing isn’t the film’s plodding incoherence or wild-eyed credulousness but it’s misplaced priority: It suggests that what’s most interesting about this writer we call Shakespeare is not the genius of his words but the puzzle of his identity.”

•  “Will Shakespeare, whose words shine on, bright and brave, is turning o’er with laughter in his grave.”

(You notice that I only see what I’ve chosen to see—I’m not including any of the good reviews on this movie; I’m only quoting the “rotten tomatoes.”)

The Web site “Political Facts” printed this opening paragraph from the Boston Globe: “Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we choose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions.”

What intrigues me about this human tendency to twist the facts to fit our own understanding of truth is that people often see what they want to see when they look at the life of Jesus, and question the reality of the evidence the Christian Church has accumulated for centuries.

John Polkinghorne, a theoretical physicist who has become an Anglican priest, considers the truth-seeking aspects of both enterprises as having what he terms a “cousinly relationship.” He is a Fellow and former president of Queens’ College, University of Cambridge. In his remarkable book Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, Polkinghorne explores that relationship but also explains that a secondary reason for writing this book is for those who look at faith skeptically. “When I read the writings of some of the high-profile scientific proclaimers of atheism, I find a degree of ignorance of the intellectual content of serious biblical study and theological reflection that is not altogether different from the scientific ignorance displayed by those who send out papers with titles such as ‘Einstein was wrong.’ If scientists are to reject religious belief, they should do so with their eyes open and after a proper consideration of the serious intellectual effort that has been exerted in theology over many centuries of careful enquiry.”

Now in my sixth decade, I find I am impatient with myself for not being a better seeker of truth, and I am vowing to try to improve my approach to seeking, forcing myself to look past the diatribes and accusations and slanders this world so easily assumes. These are called blind-spots—not a Christian disposition we should maintain.

How about you? How are you doing in conforming the world to your own image?

(But I can tell you who wrote Shakespeare. Shakespeare did!)

Karen Mains


Come See Shakespeare With Us (and The Matchmaker, Wanderlust, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) This Summer

The Mainses are conducting our annual trip to the Stratford Festival Monday, July 2 through Saturday, July 7. We’re going to talk more about this topic and also look at Shakespeare’s religious background—another blind spot in the ongoing dialogue about the Bard.

We have a group of seven high-schoolers (some who have been attending since grade-school days) who enliven our learning. Feel free to bring your children or grandchildren. The week we are attending is a little Shakespeare play-lite (only two plays: Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing)—a great season for early exposure.

Our granddaughter Joscelyn, a freshman in high school, has attended the Stratford Festival since she was eight. She tried out for a coveted spot at the Chicago Academy of the Arts and was snapped up mid-term! Apart from her own dramatic ability and delightful personality, I suspect the Shakespearean exposure recorded in her resume (seven summers with the Bard) didn’t hurt.

Follow this link to the brochure: Our son-in-law Doug Timberlake and our daughter, Melissa, are taking over the administrative functions to give us a break from all the planning we have undertaken through the years. You can call them at 630-461-6501 to ask questions and to register.

Valentine's Deadline: Global Bag Project Home Parties

From November through December 2011, we sold almost $9000 worth of products. A home party with 10 people on average sells $500-$600 worth of reusable bags; with 20 people, we sell, on average, $1000-$1200 worth of Africa-made bags.

If you contact us before February 14 and volunteer to hold a home party, we will schedule your party on our calendar and send you a charming kanga-cloth apron as a thank-you hostess gift as a sign of our abundant gratitude! A Party-in-a-Box will be mailed or delivered to you, with a DVD that walks you and your guests through this 1 hour event that gives women beneath the poverty line the means to feed their families, pay the rent and send their kids to school.

We’ve made the Home Party as simple as possible. Little time investment, HUGE returns!

E-mail GBP Director Carla Boelkens at

BLOGS For This Coming Week

Link is Blog topics are "Sick Days," "Watching DVDs During the Daytime," "Try to Praise the Mutilated World," "Remembering What We Already Know: The Labor of Older Theologians," and "We Were There: Alternative Energy at the CSO."


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

“What intrigues me about this human tendency to twist the facts to fit our own understanding of truth is that people often see what they want to see when they look at the life of Jesus, and question the reality of the evidence the Christian Church has accumulated for centuries.”

Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Contested Will:
Who Wrote Shakespeare?

by James Shapiro

Sometimes we don’t attend Shakespeare plays because we don’t understand them. Sometimes we don’t read scholarly works because we’re afraid they will be inaccessible. James Shapiro’s wonderfully readable book about the essential qualities of literary genius is a work that will intrigue and entice.

Think about it this way: There must be some reason that all those people through the centuries have raved about the works of Shakespeare. What are you missing by judging the genius of the Bard by that bad production your English teacher forced you to see when you were in high school?

Some of us have entered into the delight, the mystery, and the wonder of language exquisite, profound and pure. If you are a Shakespeare illiterate, this is a great book to start your journey into the wonder.

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Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship

Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship
by John Polkinghorne

If you are into physics (yes, some people really, really are), don’t miss the opportunity to expose yourself to the elegant thinking of John Polkinghorne. I will admit that I had to work at this some, but even then, I kept taking deep breaths and thinking, I am being exposed to a true mastermind. What a privilege!

This is a unusual synthesis of the commonalities that quantum physics and theology share in their search for truth. Rarely does a specialist (in both fields) explain complexity with such clarity. Don’t miss this chance to expose yourself to a rare thinker (who can be understood by the person with average intelligence—but a large quantity of curiosity). Highly recommended.

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