The moment many of us have long been waiting for is soon upon us—the publishing of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt from a cadre of Shakespeare scholars purporting to demonstrate that the man from Stratford, and only him, could have been the primary author of the Shakespeare works.
Long ago in one of my posts here I wrote that the evidence for the Stratford actor/businessman must be hidden away in some secret vault where only establishment scholars could come and view the unassailable proof of his authorship. This was because so many highly educated Shakespeare enthusiasts that had actually examined the available evidence found it far too lacking as any kind of proof to overcome the apparent chasm of the Stratford man’s life and, as the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt says: “show extensive knowledge of law, philosophy, classical literature, ancient and modern history, mathematics, astronomy, art, music, medicine, horticulture, heraldry, military and naval terminology and tactics; etiquette and manners of the nobility; English, French and Italian court life; Italy; and aristocratic pastimes such as falconry, equestrian sports and royal tennis.”
Finally, we are told, we will be provided the evidence and arguments from some of the most authoritative Shakespearean scholars in the world that will prove why the Stratfordian model is beyond any ‘Reasonable Doubt’. There have been previous books attempting to prove the Stratford man’s authorship. The best I think is by Irvin Leigh Matus in Shakespeare, IN FACT, 1994. But I found nothing in it that precluded the alternative scenario of a hidden author using the businessman/actor from acting as a front man. And even he had pointed out how very few Shakespeare scholars had yet examined any of the authorship evidence themselves.
So it still may seem somewhat new to them if they have not yet delved into the matter thoroughly. In any case, this new book, by several scholars this time, again attempts to make modern and familiar what appears to many as supernatural, and to ensconce ourselves in the reasonableness of what Shakespeare might, in a jest, call “A showing of a heavenly effect in an earthly actor”.
We now find that both sides of the dispute are in agreement that ‘the authorship question’ is important. Professor Shapiro lamented the lack of scholarly interest in the topic; the stylometric analysts Elliott and Valenza agreed, the leaders of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust now say it’s important, and now also many other scholars supporting them say it’s important. So, from any Shakespeare enthusiast, we shouldn’t hear “it’s [the authorship question] not important” or “it doesn’t matter who wrote them”. Now, more Shakespeare enthusiasts, are likely to become at least somewhat knowledgeable about the basic arguments on both sides of the question. Just gathering one-sided arguments to use as ‘ammunition’ is not going to show any intellectual maturity. The main problem is that perhaps no one can review close to what all has been written about so many alternative candidates. Fortunately, the response [by The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition] to the orthodox side has also just now been published so the two viewpoints can be contrasted, even though it can’t possibly contain all the detailed evidence for any alternative candidate. This book is also called “Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?” (but it ends with a question mark. It’s primary authors are John Shahan and Alexander Waugh.
We hope also that we are finally moving beyond the name calling, slanders, and insinuations that ‘doubters’ are ‘Holocaust deniers’, vampires, psychologically aberrant, mentally deficient, etc. Why would anyone have implied such a characteristic to so many high-achieving intellectuals like Henry James, Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mortimer Adler, Harry Blackmun, leading Shakespearean actors such as Sir Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, and some modern authors on this topic like Peter Usher, Ph.D, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, Peter Sturrock, Ph.D, a Stanford astrophysicist, and Barry Clarke, a writer of logic puzzles for MENSA? These are not people who should be in strait-jackets and locked in dark rooms, just because, like Galileo, they “looked through the telescope”!
More recently, on the mainstream or establishment side of the debate, there is the emphasis on not questioning any approved ‘authority’ on the topic. For instance, Paul Edmondson of the SBT wrote: “There is the loaded assumption that even though one may lack the necessary knowledge and expertise, it is always acceptable to challenge or contradict a knowledgeable and expert authority. It is not. (If the focus of this volume [SBD] were about a specialized area of nuclear physics those last two sentences would not even have been necessary.) But one characteristic of the Shakespeare authorship discussion is its apparent generosity of scope in which everyone can have their say, ignore the evidence for Shakespeare, propose alternative nominees, contradict authorities and feel empowered.”
One response to this argument would be: On what basis are the mainstream Shakespeare scholars ‘authorities’ on the authorship question? There have been doubters who have spent 20 years or more on the authorship question, or more specifically, on just one aspect of this question. Have any of the mainstream scholars researched the authorship question for that length of time? In addition, why could not an expert, of Shakespeare’s time, in the law, astronomy, music, medicine, seamanship, Italy, and such, challenge a non-expert of these fields but who is a Shakespeare scholar? And what about the beliefs of those tenured professors, like one of mine, who, on the last day of class, said “If you learn ANYTHING in all of your college years, you should at least have learned to question Authority”. Or is intellectual curiosity and independence to be discouraged and suppressed?
In astrophysics Professor Peter Sturrock’s new book, AKA Shakespeare: A Scientific Approach to the Authorship Question, he suggests an intellectual attitude with these precepts:
• All beliefs in whatever realm are theories at some level. (Stephen Schneider)
• Do not condemn the judgment of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong. (Dandemis)
• Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. (Francis Bacon)
• Never fall in love with your hypothesis. (Peter Medawar)
• It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. (Arthur Conan Doyle)
• A theory should not attempt to explain all the facts, because some of the facts are wrong. (Francis Crick)
• The thing that doesn’t fit is the thing that is most interesting. (Richard Feynman)
• To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact. (Charles Darwin)
• It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. (Mark Twain)
• Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong. (Thomas Jefferson)
• All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second, it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)
Does anyone really think that Prof. Sturrock would act as Paul Edmondson claims--that such a scholar would never listen to or consider an objection by a well-informed non-professor on some specific question within that field? And that he would be totally closed-minded to everyone outside of the approved in-group of academic astrophysics researchers? If so, why would scholars like him write books out of their specialty in the first place?
The Declaration of Reasonable Doubt has some commonality to the U.S. Declaration of Independence in the 18th century. Then the American scientist, statesman, and diplomatic leader Benjamin Franklin, who was in France seeking support for the American cause, was demonized by the then propaganda as a “traitor to his king”, the “dean of all charlatans,” who “deceived the good with his white hairs, and fools with his spectacles”. It kind of makes it seem like he was a part of some feeble-minded conspiracy than one of many individuals that disagreed with a group with great power and self-claimed ‘authority’.
So it looks now that we’re moving into arguments by evidence, which is where the question should be examined. We can imagine the two sides as something like Elizabethan jousters who will take to the field and then have their turns “shaking their lances” at their opponent’s perceived ignorance. I imagine it will be as entertaining as it will be educational for any Shakespeare enthusiast.
Next, we’ll look at some preliminary exchanges.
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The Proving Shakespeare Webinar of April 26.
One of the first attempts of representatives of the two sides discussing the dispute, and that’s connected to the current “Shakespeare Beyond Doubt” publications, has taken place in a webinar involving Paul Edmondson, Stanley Wells and Marlovian Ros Barber who has written a novel of Christopher Marlowe as the hidden Shakespeare. The transcript is an interesting read.
Barber became interested in the dispute after watching the film “Much Ado About Something” and since then has become another skeptic.
Here are some things said in the webinar:
RB: “…but I think that it’s actually important to look at the evidence that is argued, that is put forward on both sides…” “So I actually welcome the absorption of this question into professional academic circles.
PE: It’s interesting, isn’t it, how many academics try to avoid this issue…
They all think the authorship discussion should be participated in by the academic community.
[Note: There’s a mention of an unusual argument:]
PE: Now in our book there is a chapter by Matt Kubus which sort of mops up, at the last count, seventy-seven of the nominees, in which he says ‘Mathematically, each time an additional candidate is suggested, the probability decreases that any given name is the true author.’
RB: I want to query that, because I want to know is that mathematically true? Do we have any mathematicians listening in to the webcast who could actually tell me whether that’s a true statement or not?
[Note--My own first thought is this idea is senseless. Would it follow that if a crime was suspected in a hotel, that the greater the number of hotel guests, then the less likelihood that any crime actually was committed? That seems to be what the argument is implying. How is that logical?]
There is much time in their discussion trying to get the other side to see their evidence, or to see their interpretation of the same evidence. This is especially true in regards to the idea that another person could be used as a front for another, and that what appears to be his name, and references to him or his name, aren’t strong enough evidence to many people that he actually wrote the works attributed to him. So the very idea of what constitutes evidence is debated. Is it possible for two opposing sides to agree on the validity of posthumous evidence?
This is a good beginning to this new stage of the debate and if the two sides can continue talking we may see some progress toward a broader appreciation of the amassed evidence that is yet to be satisfactorily explained.
Here’s the link to the webinar discussion:
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Then Ros Barber wrote her own review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt. Nearly the whole thing is worth the read but I want to highlight parts of it for emphasis.
If the distinguished contributors to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt hope their book will place the traditional author of Shakespeare’s canon where the title claims and settle the Shakespeare authorship question for once and for all, they are likely to be disappointed. In the hands of twenty-one eminent Shakespeare scholars, the case for William Shakespeare of Stratford sounds plausible enough, and will reassure the already convinced as well as those who would like to be. But anyone versed in the primary material of the authorship question will emerge essentially unsatisfied. Although a well-written, accessible and interesting read, it is riddled with the common misunderstandings that characterise this ‘dialogue of the deaf’ and contains factual errors that suggest certain contributors haven’t done their homework. Nevertheless it is full of fascinating information for initiate and expert alike, and (with the exception of Paul Edmondson’s final chapter), reasonable in tone.
Though Shakespeare Beyond Doubt aims to ‘bring fresh perspectives to an intriguing cultural phenomenon’, it is in many ways a reprise of James Shapiro’s Contested Will, side-stepping recent scholarly work on the authorship question to focus extensively on examining the ‘pathology’ and psychology of Shakespeare skeptics.
Though the belated entry of orthodox academics into this 156-year-old controversy is a welcome development, there are two major problems with Shakespeare Beyond Doubt. One is a blatant attempt to win the debate through semantics. Throughout the book, the editors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson decree that those who don’t agree with them be described not with the well-established term ‘anti-Stratfordian’, but with the hackle-raising ‘anti-Shakespearean’. Their justification is that ‘to deny Shakespeare of Stratford’s connection to the work attributed to him is to deny the essence of, in part, what made that work possible … Shakespeare was formed by both Stratford-upon-Avon and London.’ Yet the contested connection between Shakespeare of Stratford and the work attributed to him is the authorship question. Were it supported by incontestable evidence (rather than such fragile evidential scraps as the disputed Hand D in Thomas More) there would be no need for their book. The term ‘anti-Shakespeareans’ is also fundamentally inaccurate: the person Ben Jonson referred to in the First Folio as ‘the AUTHOR William Shakespeare’ is esteemed as highly by those who question his identity as by those who don’t.
But the most significant failing of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt is that it attempts to support the orthodox position using evidence the sceptics do not contest – that there was an author widely known as ‘William Shakespeare’ – while failing to address recent scholarship. The most glaring omission is Diana Price’s 2001 Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, the first book on the authorship question to be published by an academic press. The authors cannot be unaware of the most notable advancement in Shakespeare authorship studies in the last fifteen years, and yet it is mentioned precisely nowhere. For the second academic book on the subject to pretend that the first doesn’t exist is disingenuous and unscholarly, and suggests orthodox scholars cannot answer Price’s arguments. Richard Paul Roe’s 2011 The Shakespeare Guide to Italy, the culmination of twenty years’ research which persuasively demonstrates Shakespeare’s first-hand knowledge of Milan, Verona, Mantua, Venice, Padua, Lombardy, Florence, Pisa, and Sicily is also notable by its absence, as is this author’s 2010 non-Stratfordian essay published in the peer-reviewed Routledge journal Rethinking History. Hardy Cook’s ‘Selected Reading List’ is more of a ‘Selective Reading List’, and sidelines recent and authoritative non-Stratfordian texts, highlighting early (19th Century) and poorly-written ones.
Throughout the volume, and despite significant developments in non-Stratfordian research in the last decade, only arguments advanced prior to 1960 are acknowledged. Paul Edmondson claims that those he perceives as his ‘antagonists’ ignore evidence, yet himself presides over a volume of essays that demolishes straw men while skillfully eliding the more challenging work of contemporary researchers. Weighing this approach against the accepted principles of academic argument, one must ask whether Shakespeare Beyond Doubt is genuinely a work of scholarship, or simply a skilful piece of propaganda.
Written on May 10th, 2013
Well, that's not a promising start but there should be many more reviews to come. I'll also see if I can come across some pro-Stratfordian and yet are more than just courtier-like flattery "My Lord!"
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The following user(s) said Thank You: Ed Boswell
Next is a snippet from Ros Barber again, and this time with one of her Marlovian cohorts, Peter Farey.
They primarily take issue with the anti-Marlowe argument in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt. You can use the link at the bottom to view their full rebuttal which demonstrates how technical evidence, such as with statistics, can be misused if used too selectively. They counter with a show of their own statistical analysis. In such cases I would expect that an independent expert would need to be called upon to adjudicate the two positions. But one of their points is more general:
Thus it is clear that despite the generally improved tone of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, the defenders of the orthodoxy continue to hold the line that authorship questioners are morally or logically deficient, and the question itself invalid. Charles Nicholl demonstrates a clear distaste for "the interrogative syntax much favoured in authorship literature." We, on the other hand, insist that questioning is a legitimate human activity, central to all research in both the humanities and the sciences. And though it is possible that the Shakespeare authorship question will never be settled, we refer Charles Nicholl and the contributors and editors of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt to this quote from French philosopher and humanist Joseph Joubert:
"It is better to debate a question without settling it,
than to settle a question without debating it."
Last Edit: 3 years 7 months ago by Unfoldyourself. Reason: typo
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Then, even though, Diana Price's book was oddly not mentioned in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, there was some exchange of arguments between her and Prof. Stanley Wells. So it gives the rest of us an opportunity to see what Price thinks might be the reason the 'A plaisance' took place off the field of play.
Stanley Wells reviews the paperback (“An Unorthodox and Non-definitive Biography”) on Blogging Shakespeare 8 May 2013. bloggingshakespeare.com/an-unorthodox-an...definitive-biography
Diana Price responds to Stanley Wells’s review of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography:
I am grateful to Professor Stanley Wells for following up on Ros Barber’s challenge to him and Paul Edmondson (eds., Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, Cambridge University Press, 2013, launched at the ‘Proving Shakespeare’ Webinar, Friday 26 April 2013). Barber criticized their collection of essays for failing to engage in the arguments presented in Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem ( Greenwood Press 2001; paperback 2013). As the first academic book published on the subject, it surely should have been addressed in essays relevant to Shakespeare’s biography. But better late than never.
In his review Prof. Wells takes issue with any number of details in my book, but he does not directly confront the single strongest argument I offer: the comparative analysis of documentary evidence supporting the biographies of Shakespeare and two dozen of his contemporaries. That analysis demonstrates that the literary activities of the two dozen other writers are documented in varying degrees. However, none of the evidence that survives for Shakespeare can support the statement that he was a writer by vocation.
But the absence of personal literary paper trails for Elizabethan or Jacobean writers of any consequence is not a common phenomenon; rather, the absence of any literary paper trails for Shakespeare’s biography is a unique deficiency.
In the Webinar, Wells expresses “no objection whatever to the validity of posthumous evidence.” Posthumous evidence can be useful, but it does not carry the same weight as contemporaneous evidence. Historians and critics alike make that distinction (see, e.g., here:
Wells relies, as he must, on the posthumous testimony in the First Folio to prove that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. But even if he accepts the testimony in the First Folio at face value, no questions asked, no ambiguities acknowledged, he is still left with the embarrassing fact that Shakespeare is the only alleged writer of consequence from the time period for whom he must rely on posthumous evidence to make his case.
Wells has himself commented on the paucity of evidence. In his essay “Current Issues in Shakespeare’s Biography,” he admits that trying to write Shakespeare’s biography is like putting together “a jigsaw puzzle for which most of the pieces are missing” (5); he then cites Duncan-Jones who “in a possibly unguarded moment, said that Shakespeare biographies are 5% fact and 95% padding” (7). One difference, then, is that my work has no need for “guarded” moments, particularly as I re-evaluate that 5%.
Instead, of confronting the deficiency of literary evidence in the Shakespeare biography, Wells instead takes exception to particular statements and details in my book. For example, he criticizes my references to Shakespeare’s illiterate household in Stratford, while at the same time I acknowledge that daughter Susanna could sign her name. And yes, she did, once. She made one “painfully formed signature, which was probably the most that she was capable of doing with the pen” (Maunde Thompson, 1:294), but she was unable to recognize her own husband’s handwriting. Her sister Judith signed with a mark. That evidence does not support literacy in the household; it points instead to functional illiteracy.
In another criticism, Wells states that:
“Price misleadingly says that ‘there are ‘no commendatory verses to Shakespeare’, ignoring those printed in the First Folio as well as the anonymous prose commendation in the 1609 edition of Troilus and Cressida and that by Thomas Walkley in the 1622 quarto of Othello.”
In this criticism and elsewhere, Wells disregards the criteria used to distinguish between personal and impersonal evidence, explicit or ambiguous evidence, and so on. Such criteria are routinely used by historians, biographers, and critics. The prefatory material for Troilus and Cressida and in Othello necessitate no personal knowledge of the author and could have been written after having read or seen the play in question. (As pointed out above, the prefatory material in the First Folio is problematic, but the complexities require over a chapter in my book to analyze.)
[Price then refers to Well’s citation of the William Basse elegy on Shakespeare. And then her response is that:]
The poem itself contains no evidence that the author was personally acquainted with Shakespeare. Whether by Donne or Basse, it is a posthumous and impersonal tribute, requiring familiarity with Shakespeare’s works, and, possibly, details on the funerary monument in Stratford. Wells and Taylor themselves cannot be certain which manuscript title (if any) represents the original (Textual, 163).
Wells concludes that “of course, she can produce not a single scrap of positive evidence to prove her claims; all she can do is systematically to deny the evidence that is there.” Questioning the evidentiary value of existing documentation is not the same thing as denying that documentation. It is true: I cannot prove that the man from Stratford was not the writer the title pages proclaim him to be, because one cannot prove a negative. However, I do demonstrate why there is an overwhelming probability that he did not write the works that have come down to us under his name. If he wrote the plays and poems, he would have left behind a few scraps of evidence to show that he did it, as did the two dozen other writers I investigated.
It is regrettable that Prof. Wells characterizes my book as an attempt to “destroy the Shakespearian case.” My book is an attempt to revisit the evidence and to reconstruct Shakespeare’s biography based on the evidence. Finally, I do not claim that my biography is “definitive.” But I think it is a step in the right direction.
end of Part 1 of 2
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Many of you have likely already gone to Price’s website to read her full response. If not, here is:
Part 2 of Wells and Edmondson vs Price
Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson reply (Beyond Doubt For All Time) on Blogging Shakespeare 13 May 2013.
Diana Price replies to Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson (14 May 2013):
In their blog reply to my response to the BloggingShakespeare 8 May 2013 review of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem (Beyond Doubt For all Time,” 13 May 2013), Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson acknowledge that writers from the time period are documented to varying degrees, some more, some less. They imply that Shakespeare is in the “some less” category, so there are no grounds for suspicion. As Wells puts it, “The fact that some leave fuller records than others does not invalidate the records of those with a lower score.” Based on surviving evidence that supports his activities as a writer, Shakespeare not only rates a “lower score,” he rates a score of zero. At the time of his death, Shakespeare left behind over 70 documents, including some that tell us what he did professionally. Yet none of those 70+ documents support the statement that he was a writer. From a statistical standpoint, this is an untenable positio, as I have argued elsewhere:
“Even the most poorly documented writers, those with less than a dozen records in total, still left behind a couple of personal literary paper trails. Based on the average proportions, I would conservatively have expected perhaps a third of Shakespeare’s records, or about two dozen, to shed light on his professional activities. In fact, over half of them, forty-five to be precise, are personal professional paper trails, but they are all evidence of non-literary professions: those of actor, theatrical shareholder, financier, real estate investor, grain-trader, money-lender, and entrepreneur. It is the absence of contemporary personal literary paper trails that forces Shakespeare’s biographers to rely – to an unprecedented degree – on posthumous evidence. (“Evidence For A Literary Biography,” Tennessee Law Review, 147).”
While Wells and Edmondson acknowledge that Shakespeare is the only writer from the time period for whom one must rely on posthumous evidence to make the case, Wells disputes my claim that Shakespeare left behind no evidence that he was a writer. The evidence he cites are “the Stratford monument and epitaphs, along with Dugdale’s identification of the monument as a memorial to ‘Shakespeare the poet’, Jonson’s elegy, and others” – all posthumous evidence. On the distinction between contemporaneous and posthumous evidence or testimony, Wells states:
“I do not agree (whatever ‘historians and critics’ may say) that posthumous evidence ‘does not carry the same weight as contemporaneous evidence.’ If we took that to its logical extreme we should not believe that anyone had ever died.”
But historians and biographers routinely cite documentary evidence (burial registers, autopsy reports, death notices, etc.) to report that someone died. Wells may disagree with “whatever ‘historians and critics’ may say,” but I employ the criteria applied by those “historians and critics” who distinguish between contemporaneous and posthumous testimony (e.g. Richard D. Altick & John J. Fenstermaker, H. B. George, Robert D. Hume, Paul Murray Kendall, Harold Love, and Robert C. Williams). Jonson’s eulogy and the rest of the First Folio testimony is posthumous by seven years, and it is the first in print to identify Shakespeare of Stratford as the dramatist. Posthumous or not, this testimony therefore demands close scrutiny. And I find in the First Folio front matter numerous misleading statements, ambiguities, and outright contradictions. I am not alone. For example, concerning the two introductory epistles, Gary Taylor expresses caution about taking the “ambiguous oracles of the first Folio” at face value (Wells et al., Textual Companion, 18). Cumulatively, the misleading, ambiguous, and contradictory statements render the First Folio testimony, including the attribution to Shakespeare of Stratford, vulnerable to question. From my earlier response:
“Wells concludes that “of course, she can produce not a single scrap of positive evidence to prove her claims; all she can do is systematically to deny the evidence that is there.” Questioning the evidentiary value of existing documentation is not the same thing as denying that documentation. It is true: I cannot prove that the man from Stratford was not the writer the title pages proclaim him to be, because one cannot prove a negative.”
Prof. Wells now counters that:
“Price defends her attitude by saying ‘one cannot prove a negative case.’ Why not? It is surely possible to prove that for example Queen Elizabeth 1 was not alive in 1604 or that Sir Philip Sidney did not write King Lear or that Professor Price does not believe that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote Shakespeare.”
Price responds: There is affirmative evidence that Queen Elizabeth died in 1603. Even allowing for uncertainties in traditional chronology, King Lear was written years after Sidney died in 1586. David Hackett Fischer elaborates on the logical fallacy of “proving” a negative when no affirmative evidence exists (Historians’ Fallacies, 1970, p. 62), and it is in that sense that I state that “one cannot prove a negative.” If there were explicit affirmative evidence that Shakespeare wrote for a living, there could be no authorship debate.
[Price:] Please note: I am not a professor.
I’ll add some of my own comments to this discussion, probably on this coming Saturday, assuming I'm not prevented from logging in, as it seems there may have been some effort toward that end, not though from anyone directly managing this site.
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The last post emphasized the debate between Wells and Price on the importance of the non-existence of a literary paper trail to support the belief in William of Stratford’s authorship. Noteworthy was the complete absence of acknowledging Price’s research in the new book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt.
But if we review the basic elements of the Stratfordian theory of Shakespeare’s authorship there are some additional points of the story that are fading away.
His assumed apprenticeship
Not that all Shakespeare scholars agree on the basics of his assumed path to being a playwright for the Lord’s Chamberlain’s Men, but one prominent argument is that, like for other professions, there was an apprentice system that playwrights evolved through and it’s implied that this was the only way that Shakespeare’s plays could have made it to the stage. For instance, we find:
“Theater companies were extremely busy. They would perform around six different plays each week, which could only be rehearsed a couple of times beforehand. Also, there was no stage crew like we have today; every member of the company would have to help make costumes, props and scenery. The Elizabethan acting profession worked on an apprentice system, making it very hierarchical. Even Shakespeare would have had to rise up through the ranks.” shakespeare.about.com/od/theglobe/a/Th_Expereince.htm
So this is the story of his professional beginnings. It sounds sort of reasonable. He could have had a sound grammar school education and then worked his way up the theatrical ladder. But more than that, there were some ‘lost years’ that he certainly learned and developed on his own and for his apparent plan to be a playwright. So we also find this:
“The second period [of lost years] covers the seven years of Shakespeare's life in which he must have been perfecting his dramatic skills and collecting sources for the plots of his plays. "What could such a genius accomplish in this direction during six or eight years? The histories alone must have required unending hours of labor to gather facts for the plots and counter-plots of these stories.” and “…sometime between 1585 and 1592, it is probable that young Shakespeare could have been recruited by the Leicester's or Queen's men. Whether an acting troupe recruited Shakespeare in his hometown or he was forced on his own to travel to London to begin his career, he was nevertheless an established actor in the great city by the end of 1592. www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/shakespeareactor.html
The problem with this apprenticeship assumption is that the actual evidence, in his case, appears to contradict it. According to Irvin Leigh Matus in Shakespeare, IN FACT, “Shakespeare fits into the pattern of the free-lance playwright according to his earliest quartos. The title page of the first of his published plays Titus Andronicus (1594), states that it found its way into the repertory of three acting companies—those of the Earls of Derby, Pembroke and Susex.” He provides more evidence regarding Henry VI part 2 and The Taming of the Shrew and concludes “Clearly, Shakespeare got around until he began his association with the Chamberlain’s Men some time in 1594 and thus became the first playwright known to be affiliated exclusively with one acting company.” So, while not yet with any London theatrical company, he was reading histories to collect facts for plots. No doubt he also read some other literature to collect more plot ideas.
Are we really to believe that, beginning sometime after 1585, he spent years unknown as an apprenticed actor and then playwright in an “extremely busy” theater company rehearsing several plays a week while also helping to “make costumes, props and scenery” and then also spend “unending hours of labor” reading histories, the classics, and an enormous amount of other literature, and then ‘graduate’ from his apprenticeship and LEAVE his sponsoring company to be a free-lance playwright writing first rate plays?
Let’s compare that scenario (ignoring for now all other circumstantial evidence) with another in which someone with no need for manual labor, who didn’t wander around during some lost years, but who, from earliest years, spent a great many hours as a youth with the best tutors, highest educated gentry and nobility in London, ready access to many of the most complete libraries, and at least with many years of tangible connections to the practice of masques and plays, and who THEN found a way to submit plays to a theatrical company without his/her name attached.
I’ll leave this topic as it is as this is meant to be connected to the next post but it’s all I’ve had time to do today. Maybe more tomorrow.
Last Edit: 3 years 7 months ago by Unfoldyourself.
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Shakespeare’s Collaborative writing
The predominant view among scholars is that Shakespeare “worked alongside fellow professionals” in a collaborative writing environment. Or as one person put it “The best analogy is of a team of script writers working on a film or TV series. Shakespeare, Marlowe and an actor (for example, Will Kemp) would get together down the tavern and thrash out a scene, testing lines of verse, entrances and exits, working out blocking with coins on the tavern table”. Another writer sums it as “… all the historical, literary (and these days computational) evidence points to the fact that Shakespeare’s plays were written in collaboration by a group of writers and actors working together to develop pieces of commercial drama”.
Yet, even if the evidence of collaboration were fully accepted, the assertion of “working alongside” is a supposition relying on an accepted premise that best fits the Stratfordian model. What it may as likely indicate is a weakness in hypothesis generation, for can there not be other ways of collaboration than by face-to-face gatherings?
I’m currently reading Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship by Patrick Cheney and have found it to be one of the most insightful books I’ve ever read, showing how he and some other noted scholars are just now piecing together some highly nuanced hidden allusions with the Shakespeare works. He shows how Shakespeare went to great pains to write anonymously, even (“in a collaborative production”). On page 40 he says “We discover a rare instance in which this author resists the material conditions of the collaborative theatre so prominently emphasized in recent Shakespearean criticism”.
If so, then how could so many researchers have assumed otherwise? Perhaps it is because they think of Shakespeare as a typical playwright as far as his life and motives are concerned, though they endow with an exceptional imagination and with knack for turning a phrase. But consider that Shakespeare, the author, wasn’t typical or average, but a master craftsman of all aspects of writing wherein only another master craftsman could perceive his many Tiffany touches. This is the picture coming from Cheney’s book. If so, another hypothesis explaining some of the seeming hands of other (co-author) playwrights in Shakespeare plays is that he could have imitated the styles of others when it suited his purpose. We know that he imitated other writers and used their plots, songs, phrases, etc. Then it’s only another step to conceive that he also imitated their styles, and that, unlike lesser writers, he didn’t have one style of writing that can always be distinguished from another.
For support, there is the recognition by experts that “Shakespeare rather than Spenser…[possessed] the final consummation of all the potentialities of English” [p. 285 in Shakespeare and Spenser, Watkins, 1950. Also in this book “… each poet alters diction and syntax according to the effect he desires [ 267]”; and “Like Shakespeare, he has range and variety; he is master of more than one style”; and so we can see that like Spenser he would be able produce “… a pattern of intricate verbal sounds so skillful that only careful analysis would reveal it”. So if his purpose required it he could alter his style “... depending on the effect which he seeks [p. 288]”. This is why “His whole method in Coriolanus differs from that in Antony and Cleopatra [p. 288].” Now, Watkins wasn’t speaking precisely about all the varieties styles examined in stylometric analysis, but the basic argument needs to be considered. This is especially the case knowing as we do that Shakespeare was a master craftsman of grammar, logic, and rhetoric who “… has mastery and easy control over his medium quite beyond the ordinary.” (Shakespeare’s Use of The Arts of Language, Sister Miriam Joseph, 1947.
Consider then that is Shakespeare liked the particular effect that another playwright achieved in some other work, that Shakespeare have imitated it for a particular scene or Act or passage. And in cases where the collaboration still seems more likely, that this co-authoring didn’t necessarily happen face-to-face.
Though this touches on the argument of stylometrics I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read about this topic in the two Shakespeare Beyond Doubt books. I may have more to say on it after I have.
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Shakespeare’s Hidden authorship
Returning to Chaney’s Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship, he writes convincingly that Shakespeare deliberately hid his authorship as part of a long term literary strategy. I’ll just support this with many quotes from his book:
Pg. 3 “Especially when juxtaposed with ‘demi-puppets’, ‘printless foot’ [from The Tempest] comes to stand for an unusual phenomenon neglected in modern Shakespeare scholarship: an invisible poetic authorship produced within the London commercial theatre”.
Pg. 9 Quoting another scholar: “Printed playbooks became respectable reading matter earlier than we have hitherto supposed …” leading Chaney to argue that Shakespeare should be seen as a ‘literary dramatist’ … “composing scripts both for performance and for publication.”
Pg. 11 “…unlike nearly every major author from Virgil to Spenser, Shakespeare rarely presents himself.”
Pg. 11 Quoting Greenblatt “He contrived … to hide himself from view … Shakespeare’s signature characteristic [was] his astonishing capacity to be everywhere and nowhere …”
Pg. 12 “According to this model, Shakespeare’s genius lies in hiding his authorship in order to foreground his characters, to privilege his actors, and to submit himself genially to the authorial anonymity of the theatrical medium.” And “He remains, in fact, the most anonymous of our great writers…”
[Note: This is his personal hypothesis of why Shakespeare ‘hid his authorship’. From what I’ve read he is nearly completely ignorant of any anti-Stratfordian arguments or evidence, so he’s only thinking based on what he is currently able to imagine.]
Pg. 13 Here Shakespeare is described as a ‘ghost’ and quotes Marjorie Garber “Shakespeare as an author is the person who, were he more completely known, would not be the Shakespeare we know.”
[Note: I understand what she means, but can she see a more radical interpretation to her statement?]
Pg. 15 Chaney refers to “Shakespeare’s self-concealing counter-authorship” and quotes Bloom “We all want to find him in the sonnets, but he is too cunning for us.”
Pg. 22 “We might say that the blank at the heart of Shakespearean authorship is a self-erasure that opposes the very presence of Spenserian self-writing.”
[This is another conjecture on Shakespeare’s motive for his self-erasure.]
Pg. 22 quoting R. Wilson “… this author’s vanishing act was a deliberate function of his work: that Shakespeare wrote his plays with the conscious intention of secreting himself.
Pg. 23 “He theorized self-concealment as a political strategy of national leadership.”
Pg. 30 “Shakespeare self-consciously conceals his authorship”
Pg. 63 “Shakespeare’s authorship is strange because it deftly conceals the author.” … “Rather than present himself as an author with a literary career in search of fame Shakespeare disappears into the dramaturgy of his works.”
Ironically, while Chaney repeatedly demonstrates and refers to Shakespeare’s deliberate concealment of his authorship status, and at the expense of fame (at least in his lifetime) he still cannot conceive that Shakespeare may not be the actor/businessman from Stratford. It appears he is so immersed in his research, great as it is, that he cannot see outside of the very limiting blinders he’s had on all his life. He doesn’t show any but the most simplistic stereotypical awareness of the authorship skeptic’s evidence and arguments, and none of that from anyone on the doubter’s side of the divide.
I haven’t seen Chaney address the question of why Shakespeare would go to such lengths to hide himself and then not consider how his name, being so prevalent on most of his works, might undermine his self-concealment strategy. [Though I’m only half way through his book so he still might later say something about this anomaly. Perhaps he’d suggest that it’s only his biography and motives that he wanted to hide, but not his name.]
The last popular myth that’s fading is the story of Will Shakespeare writing plays commercially for fame and fortune.
We’re seeing now from Prof. Cheney and others that Shakespeare was actually doing just the opposite of seeking fame by being ‘Counter’ to expectations for what a laureate or commercial writer would be, especially one that was so concerned about moving up in the world.
“…one of Shakespeare’s major professional goals is to challenge and perhaps supplant the major print-poet of his day.”
Pg. 102 “Shakespeare’s conversation about poetry does not occur in a historical vacuum but responds to a larger conversation about poetry coming out of classical Greece and Rome, migrating to the middle ages, and entering renaissance Europe and England.“ This doesn’t seem to me to fit the idea that he read just to “collect facts and plot ideas” for his commercial labor.
Pg. 118 “Shakespeare is a theatrical man who wrote enduring poems that he himself saw published (or saw published through the agency of others); who engaged vigorously the Western poetic tradition”.
Pg. 125 “The Shakespearean dramatic canon can be said to be about the book of scholarship.” Chaney contrasts this with the prevailing story of Shakespeare being a “poet of nature”. Though he wrote for the theater, Shakespeare had a “career-long commitment to creating memorable theatre out of poetry and books.” That is, Shakespeare was extremely bookish and scholarly and not like a common script writer hacking out a scene with other writer and actor friends at a tavern.
It’s starting to look like there are a group of mainstream Shakespeare scholars that, without realizing it, are about to find themselves standing in doubter territory, if they would ever look at the territory itself.
The Shakespeare scholarly and enthusiast community might be wise to consider if this very bookish, self-concealing author might enjoy jesting more than they have given him credit for; that they are not close to being in his element, and that he might indeed create an ‘improbable fiction’ to entice the world, especially those with a kind of Puritanism in them, into being infected with his device. I think the heart of his mystery is still a ways away from being plucked out! Sport Royal!
Note: I'll begin reading Shakespeare Beyond Doubt when I finish Cheney's book. One some point within it I should have more to say.
Last Edit: 3 years 7 months ago by Unfoldyourself.
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I’m about done (delayed for lack of reading time) with Chaney’s Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship and there’s one more section in it pertinent to this forum. In his chapter on ‘The profession of consciousness’ which talks much of the play of Hamlet, which he and other scholars are seeing as partly about “consciousness in a state of distraction” they see staged the political question, relevant at the time, of whether someone should “listen to his conscience as the primary voice of authority, as urged by Martin Luther”, “Or should the intellectual listen to the metaphysically sanctioned voice of the ‘father’ exterior to his consciousness (suggested by his father’s Ghost), lodged at the Vatican in the roman Catholic Church”?
This is analogous to the Shakespeare authorship debate since the SBT argues for their sanctioned authority over an individual’s conscience based on a personal examination of evidence. In Hamlet, this ‘interior versus exterior truth’ is presented, it’s speculated, “to help the audience process the great spiritual crisis of the age”.
This search for truth is displayed in various scenes and speech parts of the play, as by Polonious when he says “I will find / Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed / Within the centre” and then devises a meeting with Ophelia to observe him. Claudius also attempts to get at Hamlet’s secret with the aid of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. There is also the prominence of the ideas of doubt and skepticism as in Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia wherein is brought up the Copernicus versus Ptolemaic theories.
Hamlet sought to resolve this question with a test, his Mousetrap play within a play. In other words, he, and the others, sought more evidence. Chaney discusses how Shakespeare stages a similar dilemma in Much Ado About Nothing in which is presented the question of Hero’s supposed unfaithfulness. When she blushes at being accused of sin, her father sees this and “he is convinced that the outward blush reveals her inner truth” of being unfaithful to Claudio.
But then Friar Francis intervenes as he explains how he has often studied Hero’s face and mark’d “A thousand blushing apparitions / to start into her face, a thousand innocent shames”. So, first appearances need to be more fully considered in the light of all available evidence. This is paired with Dogberry’s suggestion for catching a thief (“take no note of him…let him show himself what he is, and steal out of your company”). Chaney sites another scholar’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s message: “a hypothesis must be checked against a sufficient body of confirmatory data”.
Then, it seems clear that if Shakespeare himself were asked to testify on how this Shakespeare Authorship question should be approached, he would not come down on the side of ‘authority’, but on the side of reasoned examination of all (or at least a sufficient body of) evidence that either confirms or denies an hypothesis. This would also go along with the intent of study as described at the beginning in Love’s Labour’s Lost, that we should seek to know “Things hid and barred from common sense”.
Ironically, we are told by self-proclaimed sanctioned authorities that this approach is ‘anti-Shakespearean’. Just as self-serving evidence was produced against Hamlet to imply his insanity and send him away, we’ve seen the same strategy against Authorship doubters. It will be interesting to see if such a ‘Claudiusonian’ (a vile word!) maneuver is still being attempted.
So now we (or I, as it looks) will take a closer look at this evidence as it has been presented in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (SBD). Since there havn’t been as many critical reviews as I was expecting, (primarily because a response has already been published as discussed here: doubtaboutwill.org/beyond_doubt ) I may need to lock myself in my study and while marking the passing of time, see if I can hammer out some mini-reviews on my own.
The beginning of SBD shows some promise of even-handedness. In the General Introduction it states “the authorship discussion is a complex intellectual phenomenon well worthy of objective consideration” and “It raises questions about the nature of historical evidence, the moral responsibility of academic enquiry…” This last question was also raised by doubter Keir Cutler, Ph.D. who in his recent book The Shakespeare Authorship Question: A Crackpot’s View in which he quotes Prof. Shapiro who admitted that the Authorship Question “remains virtually taboo in academic circles”. Keir wonders why academia would make and keep an historical question ‘taboo’ or “walled off from serious study”? I wonder how well Shakespeare would think that academia is living up to its moral responsibility of enquiry in this instance?
The first part of SBD is about the ‘Skeptics’ and has chapters on Delia Bacon, and the three most prominent authorship candidates of Marlowe, Bacon, and the Earl of Oxford. I don’t plan on reviewing their portrayal of the evidence for Marlowe or Oxford since their own proponents are far more capable than I would be. And I’ve already given a link to some Marlovian response. If I find a site that responds to the chapter on Oxford then I’ll include a link to it. And after reviewing the general evidence, probably from both SBD books, then I’ll respond to the chapter on Bacon.
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