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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: October ::
Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed by
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2015  Thursday, 16 October 2003

[1]     From:   Bob Grumman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Oct 2003 16:42:40 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2001 Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed by
Stanley Wells in TLS

[2]     From:   Tom Pendleton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Oct 2003 20:23:55 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.2001 Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed by
Stanley Wells in TLS


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bob Grumman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Oct 2003 16:42:40 -0400
Subject: 14.2001 Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2001 Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed
by Stanley Wells in TLS

Stanley Wells wrote:

>The answer to the question 'What could keep photocopies of [the
>document] from being released' is simple: the owners are unwilling for
>it to be photographed at all for reasons of conservation.

Okay.  I'm ignorant of such matters, so assumed some expert in
photographing such material could have been hired to do so--and would
have been long before this time, if the owner of the manuscript had any
feeling of responsibility to Literary History.  But if we still lack the
technology to get reasonably accurate photographs of frail material, the
owner is justified in keeping photographers away.

>I had to read
>it all aloud to a colleague, who took notes on selected passages under
>my guidance and at my request.

With no tape recorder going?  (I'm so out of it, I don't even know if a
full copy of the manuscript's text exists.  Does it?)

>It seems to me that the owners have a
>perfect right to keep it under wraps until such time as they decide to
>do otherwise.
>
>I am having to try very hard not to say that I should have hoped my
>reputation as a scholar and an honest man would have helped to dispel
>doubt.
>
>Stanley Wells

It has.  I feel certain that you are not pushing something you know or
even think is fraudulent--and that if the manuscript is a fraud, it's a
first-rate fraud.  Still, the best of scholars have been fooled before,
and all the secrecies of this discovery tend to make automatic skeptic
like me uneasy.

Another factor is that we all wanna find out more about this manuscript,
and questioning its authenticity is one way of needling those in the
know to reveal more than they have.

--Bob G.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Pendleton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Oct 2003 20:23:55 -0400
Subject: 14.2001 Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.2001 Shakespeare's "first serious critic" revealed
by Stanley Wells in TLS

Let me begin by saying that, yes indeed, Stanley Wells' reputation as a
scholar and an honest man does of course help to dispel doubt about the
authenticity of the document.  But the dissatisfaction at the document's
unavailability is natural and quite legitimate.

We don't have John Shakespeare's spiritual last will and testament, but
since Edmond Malone said he examined it, almost everyone, I suppose,
believes that it did exist, which doesn't mean we wouldn't like to have
the document.  We don't have that "amicable letter" from King James to
Shakespeare that Lintot says John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, said
Sir William D'Avenant possessed. This is a somewhat less perfect
analogy: Stanley Wells' reliability is a good deal closer to Malone's
than Lintot/Buckingham/D'Avenant's.  But again, if the King James letter
did exist, we'd like to have it.  I don't recall who is responsible for
the story that the Countess of Pembroke wrote to her son, the Earl,
suggesting he get the King to visit Wilton because "we have the man
Shakespeare with us."  Whoever it may have been and however reliable,
we'd still like to see it.

We have many examples in the history of Shakespeare studies--both long
ago and recently--of distinguished scholars whose probity was not in
question just getting things wrong.  Although I see no reason to suspect
that Wells has done so in this case, still--we'd like to see.

The one point on which I would take issue with Wells is his claim that
the owners of the manuscript "have a perfect right" to keep it private,
seemingly for as long as they wish.  I suggest that a document of this
importance "belongs" to a community larger than the people who own the
paper; this seems to me a case of at least moral eminent domain.  The
owners certainly have the right to control and limit access to the
document, but not to prevent its examination by other scholars.  Until
that happens, the natural dissatisfaction with the situation will
continue, although one hopes that it will be expressed without any
negative implication about Stanley Wells' expertise or his motives.

Tom Pendleton

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