Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0962. Tuesday, 29 November 1994.
(1) From: David Joseph Kathman <
Date: Monday, 28 Nov 94 18:47:18 CST
(2) From: Don Foster <
Date: Monday, 28 Nov 1994 12:58:32 -0400 (EDT)
Subj: Authorship: Happy Trails, Pat...
From: David Joseph Kathman <
Date: Monday, 28 Nov 94 18:47:18 CST
I've been on an e-mail-inaccessible Thanksgiving holiday for most of the last
week, so I haven't been able until now to respond to Bradley Berens' queries.
First of all, I understand the weariness this latest authorship thread has
engendered; I've been getting tired of it myself, and my tolerance for this
sort of thing is, I think, much higher than most people's. Pat Buckridge and I
had pretty much decided that it was time to take it to the sidelines and just
e-mail each other directly, as we did when last spring's authorship thread
petered out, but since other people have started contributing comments again, I
guess we can keep this thing going for a while at least. Anyone is free to
delete these messages. I do agree, though, that it would be a good idea to
take it in some new directions. So, as for Bradley Berens' questions:
1) I had not read Leah Marcus' book, but last night I took a look at it, or at
least at the first chapter. I agree that she has some interesting things to
say; she's clearly not sympathetic to anti-Stratfordians (I think "corrosive"
counts as criticism), but on the other hand I can see Pat Buckridge taking some
of what she says and trying to turn it to his own advantage. I've tried to
avoid getting into the sociology and psychology of anti-Stratfordianism in
favor of sticking to the facts, but I do have some thoughts. I think Marcus is
right that Oxfordians want to "save" Shakespeare by reassigning the works to
someone with a more comforting pedigree and life story; her observation that
anti-Stratfordian activity has increased when the British national identity has
been threatened, as during and after the two World Wars, is interesting if
maybe a little oversimplified. (Baconianism flourished most widely when the
British Empire was at its peak, but I think there were other factors at work
there.) I don't particularly feel like getting too deeply into this
sociological/ psychological stuff at the moment, since it tends to make both
sides hostile very quickly, but let me just say a few things. The Oxfordian
theory is in fact a conspiracy theory, and the conspiracy required is fairly
massive and widespread, despite what people like Charlton Ogburn would like you
to think. Anyone is free to believe in this conspiracy if they want to, but
your belief in that conspiracy must be a matter of faith, since the external
evidence for it is exactly nil. Ultimately, the Oxfordian theory is
unfalsifiable --- both the considerable evidence that the plays were written by
William Shakespeare and the complete lack of evidence that they were written by
Oxford, plus the unflattering personal picture of Oxford which the historical
record has left us, are dismissed as the result of the conspiracy. Our reasons
for believing that William Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems which were
published under his name are the same as our reasons for believing pretty much
any historical fact from 400 years ago. Similarly, our reasons for believing
that the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford was a selfish, unpleasant man who dabbled
in poetry when it was in vogue at court but then wasted away his considerable
estate by the age of 40, spending the last 15 years of his life not doing much
of anything except complaining, are of a similar nature. If anyone wants to
believe otherwise, be my guest, but please don't tell me I'm turning a blind
eye to the "truth", because I don't want to argue about religion.
2) As for the second question, namely "Who cares who wrote Shakespeare?", it's
one that's been asked many, many times, and answered in many, many ways. Since
I'm tired right now from my answer to (1) above, I won't try to go into any
depth. My main purpose in these various authorship threads has been to keep
the facts straight, because I think the discussion at least deserves that much.
It would be theoretically possible to present the Oxfordian case without any
factual distortions, but I don't know that I've ever seen it done. Another of
my purposes, I think, has been to establish exactly what it is that the
Oxfordian theory requires one to believe. The Oxfordian literature is filled
with claims which make the theory more palatable to a newcomer (e.g. "The
Oxford theory is not a conspiracy theory"; "There is a mysterious lack of
information about William Shakespeare of Stratford") but which do not stand up
to scrutiny. If, once we get all the facts straight and we establish just how
extensive the conspiracy is required to be, people still want to believe this
theory, fine. At that point, my work will be done, because as I said above I'm
not interested in arguing about matters of faith.
There's more I could say, but I've gone on long enough. I'm not sure how long
I'll be interested in this, but if people have comments on the above I'd be
glad to hear them.
From: Don Foster <
Date: Monday, 28 Nov 1994 12:58:32 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Authorship: Happy Trails, Pat...
Thanks for your interest in SHAXICON. I'm sorry not to have been more clear.
Thus, one last note--and this the last that you'll hear from me, since we both
have more important work to do than to continue this unfruitful discussion:
As I have already noted (and as you seem to understand) SHAXICON only supplies
probable "sequence." By way of metaphor, let's say that there's a ten-car wreck
on the freeway. All ten cars are towed to the same gas station, but in no
particular order. A wrecked white Mustang is lacking its radiator ornament.
White paint and a little chrome mustang are found on the crunched rear bumper
of a green Cadillac. Green paint and GMC headlight-glass are found on the
crunched rear bumper of a blue Dodge van. Our best bet, given the available
evidence, is that the ten-car pileup included the sequence "white Mustang >
green Cadillac > blue Dodge minivan (and so on for the remaining wrecks). We
don't yet know anything particular about "chronology." We don't know at what
minute each car was hit. Intervals between collisions may have varied. We
cannot even be CERTAIN that the actual historical sequence is that which we
have established by means of material evidence. But if our established sequence
matches that of an eyewitness, then we're in reasonably good shape. Now let's
suppose that someone comes along, noisily insisting that the wreck cannot have
happened at all because he happens to know that half of the damaged cars, at
the time of the pile-up, were safely parked in an Oxford garage...well, what
can I say? One wishes to be diplomatic. One also wishes to inspect the poor
fellow for head injuries, just in case he needs assistance. If the skull seems
whole and sound, we shall do well to thank the man for his interest, and then
to carry on with the business at hand. The so-called "Shakespeare
establishment" has not wished to be rude to Dr. Looney or to his followers, but
neither is there a conspiracy among us to silence the anti-Stratfordians as the
anti-Stratfordians have sometimes wished to believe. I mean, hey, it's a free
SHAXICON's sequence for Shakespearean texts is similarly derived fr. "material
evidence"--from the lexical debris deposited by each Shakespearean text upon
other Shakespearean texts. SHAXICON by itself cannot tell us whether the plays
and poems were written from 1590-1613 or from 1950-1994. Chronology is made
possible, in the case of Shakespeare, only by collating SHAXICON's record with
external data, such as records of actual performance. As it happens, the
periodic peaks of lexical influence for each play precisely match what we know
from archival records concerning the performance of Shakespeare's plays.
Unfortunately, we lack a complete record of early performance and revivals, but
what we do know corresponds quite nicely with the evidence of SHAXICON.
"But keep your way, i'God's name; I have done." Benedict-like, I shall end with
a jade's trick, by simply disengaging myself from this unprofitable debate.
Good bye. I wish you all the best in your research. If, someday, you are able
to prove that "Shakespeare" was merely a conspiracy, I will be the first to
applaud your achievement, since there shall then be no more call for idle chat
about these matters. In the meantime, pardon me for not joining the fray.