Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0999. Sunday, 12 December 1994.
(1) From: Craig Bryant <
Date: Friday, 9 Dec 1994 15:37:09 -0500 (EST)
Subj: Re: SHK 5.0986 Authorship
(2) From: Penelope Klein <
Date: Friday, 9 Dec 94 19:35:42 -0500
Subj: Re: SHK 5.0996 Authorship
(3) From: David Jseph Kkathman <
Date: Saturday, 10 Dec 94 17:20:22 CST
From: Craig Bryant <
Date: Friday, 9 Dec 1994 15:37:09 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0986 Authorship
Comment: Re: SHK 5.0986 Authorship
I am going to start by saying that I am a very simple man. I take my licks at
as straightforward and unsubtle a place as Georgia Tech. So perhaps my
amusemenmt at the nimble dances of logic surrounding the authorship question
only indicate that I share a level of sophistication with those silly players
the wits so liked to poke fun at.
As a Ramblin Wreck from said Georgia Institute of Technology, I have a few very
simple strategies for solving problems. From Physics 2121: I drop a pencil from
my outstretched hand, having predicted it will fall to the ground. It does. If
you do the same thing under fairly similar conditions, you will be soon bending
over to recover your pencil. Now, why does this happen? Gravitational force
acts upon it to minimize potential energy.
But, a scientific radical mind may cry out, what is gravity? Can you show me
gravity? Can you see it, store it, point to where it comes from? Gravity is the
great bugaboo of physical science--all the great minds of the age can not crack
it's secrets. If you can't show me more than a scant handfull of equations
describing how gravity behaves and what it does, I don't see how we can really
accept it as genuine. It is much more reasonable to say that thousands of tiny
invisible faeries grab your pencil and carry it to the ground.
Of course, I can't _prove_ that little pixies, which have been in the mind of
humanity, after all, much longer that "Gravity," aren't doing the work we
attribute to mass and potential. Nor can I "prove," really, that the current
models of what makes gravity happen are dead on, either. Curiously, this does
not imply that Titania and Oberon are vacationing on my writing desk.
It takes no more esoteric knowledge than can be gleaned from the introductory
remarks to a Signet or a Folger edition that we have every reason to believe
the "Stratford Man" wrote the plays attributed to him.
First, we know that the butcher's boy was a player in the King's Men. --From
his will, if nothing else. --Even if he shared that curious twinge of ignorance
with Christopher Marlowe that led them both to misspell their names.
Second, we know that the King's Men were the performers of a whole slew of the
plays attributed to Will Shakespeare. Or at least, any number of publishers
thought to report it so.
Most of us would stop there. Those of us with a little energy would note the
Meres quote listing a number of plays, Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece as by our
favorite Butcher's Boy. The _really_ inquisitive among us would note the other
classic quote of Robert Grene, from 1592, which bears repeating:
"There is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his tiger's
heart wrapped in a players hide supposes he is as well able to bombast out a
blank verse as the best of you, and being an absolute Johannes-factotum is in
his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country."
I am, as I have said, unschooled in the subtle points of literary forensics, so
perhaps I am missing the critical understanding that explains how this passage
says anything other than Shakespeare, author of Henry VI, is a player strutting
around where he shouldn't be.
So, if Stratford Man was a player, someone called Shakespeare wrote the plays
that his company performed, and a rival denounced the upstart actor/author of
Henry VI, where is the difficulty? Does this line take a little indirection in
providing the "proof" of the Stratford connection? Yes. Sure. But not much.
Certainly a great deal less than any, absolutely any, line of argument that
gives the "Oxford Man" the credit.
Are the above quotes and notions "proof" that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote
his plays? Not if you demand the video footage from the spy cameras of
Elizabeth's Secret Service of Stratford Man hard at work on Hamlet. But I find
it hard to define any reasonable standard of "proof" that will allow us to get
any work done in the world and still disbelieve Shakespeare.
I offer a counter-challenge to Oxfordians: give us some of the "proof" you seem
so fond of demanding for Shakespeare. Common sense and every available record
suggests that Will Shakespeare of Stratford was in the King's men, and Will
Shakespeare of the King's Men wrote the plays. The burden of proof is upon
anyone who says otherwise, not on those who adhere to the documentary record.
Occam's razor gives a close shave--just a word of advice to a theory that goes
about in several days of stubble.
I am sorry to be so long in this message, but the double standard of "proof" we
have seen so much of late would try Patience itself, seated on its own
From: Penelope Klein <
Date: Friday, 9 Dec 94 19:35:42 -0500
Subject: 5.0996 Authorship
Comment: Re: SHK 5.0996 Authorship
Congratulations to Alice Kroman who succinctly paraphrased my sentiments
regarding the recent authorship debate, although I would replace her "who
cares?" with "what is the point?" I do not mean to trivialize anyone's
scholarship or passion regarding the authorship question, but hasn't the
pedantry reached new extremes recently? Would the plays be any more or less
meaningful if written by someone other than William Shakespeare and would they
be interpreted differently? Is the authorship question *ever* likely to be
resolved or are we destined to go around in circles for the rest of our
electronic days? (I don't think I've got the stamina, to be honest!) Wouldn't
the energy be better spent producing terrific, thought-provoking productions of
the plays and encouraging audiences to enjoy them?
On a different topic entirely: I agree with Christine Mack Gordon's assessment
of *Pericles* produced at the Guthrie Lab two(?) years ago -- it was a
masterful piece of theatre that vibrantly shimmered across the stage, spun its
tale and kept the audience engrossed. Enchanting stuff.
Cordially, --Penelope Klein
From: David Jseph Kkathman <
Date: Saturday, 10 Dec 94 17:20:22 CST
I'm getting a little burned out on this authorship thread, but I feel compelled
to respond to Dom Saliani's remarks, first to respond to an argument I haven't
dealt with yet, and then to correct some misinformation based on Mr. Saliani's
unfortunate quoting of Richard Bentley (about whom more later).
1) Yes, I'm very much aware of the Shakespeare Apocrypha; I thought of
mentioning that when I made my title-page arguments, but if I parenthetically
responded to every possible Oxfordian objection in the course of presenting my
own arguments, I'd never get anywhere. I figured someone would bring it up,
and so they have. First of all, several of the plays cited by Mr. Saliani
(*Locrine*, *Thomas Lord Cromwell*, and *The Puritan*) were only attributed at
the time to "W.S.", which may or may not have been meant to be Shakespeare;
there was an Elizabethan playwright named Wentworth Smith, and possibly other
W.S.s who wrote plays (the records are not very clear), and the fact that the
editors of the Third Folio attributed these plays to Shakespeare only means
that by 1664, William Shakespeare was more famous than Wentworth Smith.
*Edward III* was printed anonymously in 1596 and 1599, but was not attributed
to Shakespeare until 1656 (in a bookseller's playlist), and in any case a
growing number of scholars now think part of this play may actually be by
Shakespeare. *Sir John Oldcastle* was printed anonymously in 1600, and was
reprinted by William Jaggard in 1619 with a false date of 1600 and the
attribution to Shakespeare. *The Birth of Merlin* was not published in Quarto
until 1662, though it was probably written around the early 1600s. *Mucedorus*
went through many editions, all anonymous, and, like *Edward III*, was not
attributed to Shakespeare until the 1656 bookseller's lists; the same goes for
*The Merry Devil of Edmonton* and *The Arraignment of Paris* (now attributed to
Peele), plus *Arden of Feversham* (which was probably written much earlier than
1608). *The Troublesome Reigne* was published in 1611 with an attribution to
"W. Sh.", almost certainly meant to imply Shakespeare.
All that aside (and there are many more plays which were ascribed to
Shakespeare in 17th-century booklists and the like), the fact remains that *The
London Prodigal* (1605) and *A Yorkshire Tragedy* (1608) were printed during
Shakespeare's lifetime with his name attached, yet they are not thought to be
by Shakespeare. Mr. Saliani says that "it is also obvious that we cannot trust
the information on title-pages," and Oxfordians often cite the Apocrypha as an
excuse to dismiss all title-page evidence. Well, that's a little simplistic.
Title-pages are one type of evidence, and I never said they are definitive;
they must be supplemented with other evidence, just as in any reconstruction of
events from 400 years ago. In the case of the core Shakespeare canon, about
half of which was published in Quarto form before 1623, inclusion in the First
Folio is another piece of evidence for the attribution to Shakespeare;
presumably the editors of the Folio knew what they were doing, and had their
reasons for including these plays and not others which had been attributed to
Shakespeare. For plays outside the Folio, stylistic comparison to the core
canon is another type of evidence. *Pericles* was not in the Folio, but was
attributed to him in the 1609 Quarto and is now generally accepted into the
canon because its last three acts are in the quality and style of the core
canon plays from around 1609; presumably it was not included in the Folio
because its first two acts are in an inferior and different style, probably
that of George Wilkins (or maybe not). *The London Prodigal* and *A Yorkshire
Tragedy* are not generally accepted into the canon because they were not
included in the First Folio and are not in the style of Shakespeare. And by
the way, all the above still hold even for Oxfordians; if you think the First
Folio was put together by a consortium of Lords rather than by Heminges and
Condell, presumably they knew what they were doing too, and the style and
quality of the plays in question is the same no matter who you think wrote
them. The fact that some plays were falsely attributed to Shakespeare just
means that he was popular, and that his name was a draw; that doesn't change if
you think the name was a pseudonym for the Earl of Oxford. My main point on
the title-page business was that the name "William Shakespeare" on a title page
amounts to an assertion that William Shakespeare wrote the work in question,
and the only person named William Shakespeare living in London between 1590 and
1610 was the Chamberlain's/King's Men actor/sharholder from Stratford. (There
was at least one other William Shakespeare at the time living out in the
boondocks). The fact that this assertion may have sometimes been false does
not change the fact that people thought William Shakespeare was the author of
plays and poems.
2) And that brings me to my second point, which will have to be brief since
I've rattled on so long thus far. Dom Saliani's quotation of Richard Bentley,
who was editor of the American Bar Association Journal in the 1950s, had me
cradling my forehead in dismay. I'm sure Mr. Bentley was a fine lawyer and an
excellent editor, but I'm afraid that when it came to Shakespeare he had no
clue what he was talking about, and any "facts" he cites about Shakespeare
should be taken with several gargantuan grains of salt. Mr. Bentley wrote an
article in the February 1959 ABA Journal called "Elizabethan Whodunit: Who Was
'William Shake-speare'?"; he presented it as a legal summation of the evidence
in favor of the authorship of William Shakespeare (who he insisted on calling
"Shaksper"), Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, and Christopher Marlowe, but in
fact it's a wildly biased and inaccurate attack, in which his contempt for
William Shakespeare is palpable. This resulted in a flurry of articles on the
subject by both Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians; some of the Stratfordian
articles pointed out some of Bentley's more egregious factual distortions,
which he responded to in a further article. The whole series of articles was
collected in a book called "Shakespeare Cross-Examination", which I now have
before me. To get back to the claims cited by Dom Saliani, most of which I've
addressed before: (a) Bentley claimed that the Stratford documents NEVER spell
the name "Shakespeare", which is simply a blatant falsehood. It is spelled
that way (5 times) in the documents relating to the purchase of New Place, as
well as in several other Stratford documents. It is true that in Stratford
there were many variant spellings, entirely in keeping with the practice of the
times, but the most common spelling of the man's name in Stratford was
"Shakespere", with "Shakespeare" tied for second with "Shakspeare",
"Shackespeare", and "Shackspeare". In the London records of the Stratford man,
though, there is much more uniformity: "Shakespeare" occurs roughly 85 percent
of the time, or slightly less if you want to perversely insist that the actor
was not the Stratford man. Overall, "Shakespeare" is far and away the most
common spelling of the Stratford man's name. (b) Bentley claimed that
references to the actor are "not linked to the Stratford man". Well, we've
been over that before, and I thought we had established that the actor was the
Stratford man, based on the will, the coat of arms, and the Gatehouse mortgage.
I don't want to argue the point again. (c) Bentley claims that allusions to
the poet/dramatist and his works "do not identify the dramatist/poet as a
person and certainly not a person from Stratford-upon-Avon". Well, I beg to
differ; there are all kinds of references to Shakespeare the author as a
person, at least as many as for other playwrights of the era. The fact that
these are all dismissed by Oxfordians as the result of the conspiracy or as
misinterpretations does not change their existence. If I wanted to play the
Oxfordian game, I could easily explain away all references to Christopher
Marlowe the author as a person, leaving a bunch of references to a belligerent
man who just about everybody hated. The Oxfordian gamne seems to be to take
all the references to Shakespeare as a person, explain them away as the result
of the conspiracy, then triumphantly announce that there are no references to
Shakespeare as a person. Sorry, but I don't consider that scholarship.
I'm really sorry to have gone on so long, but as usual I got carried away.
Apologies to all who find this tedious.