The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1167 Tuesday, 6 June 2000.
From: Robert F. O'Connor <
Date: Tuesday, 6 Jun 2000 12:23:30 +1000
Subject: 11.1154 Article of Interest
Comment: Re: SHK 11.1154 Article of Interest
[Editor's Note: A few years ago, I banned discussion of the so-called
"authorship" question. Robert O'Connor's post below invites discussion
of this issue on a meta-level. I have no objections to posting a few why
does it matter responses, but I do not want the topic to flare up again.
Forth those who may not be inclined to pursue yet another URL thrown
about in an e-mail, let me explain that the article to which Sophie
Masson draws people's attention is about the authorship debate. It is,
by the by, only the latest in a series of Shakespeare-related articles
which have turned up in the more leisurely sections of Australia's
weekend papers over the past few weeks. Why this sudden splurge of
articles I do not know.
I was tempted to write to the Sydney Morning Herald in response to the
article - not because of any essential fault with it, but merely to
express an opinion which I have decided to air here, instead.
Is anyone else out there also hugely uninterested in the authorship
It has always seemed to me to be a futile exercise - the best reaction I
have ever been able to manage is to recall the legendary 'schoolboy
howler' to the effect that the Iliad and Odyssey were not written by
Homer but by another man of the same name. So many of the 'facts' of
Shakespeare study can be readily called into question that the whole
field can, from some perspectives, seem to stand upon grounds of
nothing-at-all. Speaking personally, I have long since put behind me my
original training as a scientist - facts facts facts - and learned to
relish the comparatively slippery, entirely subjective nature of our
field, to the confusion of some of my friends and former colleagues.
Yet there is still a tendency to pretend the field is not, in fact, so
subjective as all that; perhaps it is a hangover from post-war 'New'
Criticism but a great deal of literary study still strives at 'proving'
some case or another, if only by judicious citing of supporting evidence
from other critics, other texts. But it is all subjective; nothing is
proven; we do, in 'fact', operate in a sphere of informed (we hope)
But the same ambiguity that I otherwise enjoy is what turns me off the
whole authorship issue. Yes, new discoveries of old texts are still
being made; there still lurk in uncatalogued private collections of
letters and manuscripts items which may yet re-ignite whole areas of
study ... but I strongly believe that the issue - if there is one - of
who wrote the plays is ultimately irresolvable.
I really do not understand how something as unproveable as who wrote
what can engage the attention of so many scholars, and for so long.
What, exactly, is the appeal? I can only begin to comprehend it myself
as a highly specialised form of iconoclasm.
In short ... Bacon, Marlowe, de Vere, whoever ... I don't care.
Now if you'll excuse me I think I'd better go an put on some