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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: September ::
Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1451  Saturday, 3 September 2005

[1] 	From: 	Herman Gollob <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 1 Sep 2005 12:06:08 EDT
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1435  Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT

[2] 	From: 	John-Paul Spiro <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 01 Sep 2005 12:23:01 -0400
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1421 Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT

[3] 	From: 	Al Magary <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 01 Sep 2005 13:01:55 -0700
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1435 Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT

[4] 	From: 	David Kathman <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 1 Sep 2005 21:18:43 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1435 Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Herman Gollob <
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Date: 		Thursday, 1 Sep 2005 12:06:08 EDT
Subject: 16.1435  Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1435  Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT

"Appropriating Shakespeare" IS essential, especially the devastating 
chapter on Greenblatt.

Herman Gollob

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John-Paul Spiro <
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Date: 		Thursday, 01 Sep 2005 12:23:01 -0400
Subject: 16.1421 Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1421 Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT

William S. Niekderkorn asks, Why not make the authorship question part 
of the traditional Shakespeare curriculum?

This begs a second question: What does this controversy add to our 
reading of the plays?

Not much, I think.  The authorship controversy, like so many others, 
derives from the paucity of evidence regarding Shakespeare's personality 
and from assembling scattered "evidence" from his writings.  He left us 
so little of himself as a person--yet in the writings there is more than 
we could ever digest.

I'm all for getting as much as possible out of the plays.  I am 
suspicious of hidden codes but there's nothing wrong with putting some 
quotes together and finding patterns.  Arguments about Shakespeare's 
religion, politics, sexuality, and so on, can enrich our reading of the 
plays, even (especially?) when we realize that the conclusions we reach 
depend much more on us than on Shakespeare.  He keeps sending you back 
to your biases, and that's always good.

But authorship is different.  If Shakespeare was not Shakespeare, then 
how might that affect our reading of his works?  Greenblatt and others 
have made much of the works being the product of a middle-class country 
boy with Catholic heritage.  If the works were written by de Vere, does 
that mean they reflect his aristocratic Protestant background?  If they 
were written by Marlowe, are they affected by his being dead or exiled? 
  If Bacon, then should we be more sensitive to their sympathies with 
scientific progress--or was Bacon using his pseudonymous poetry to 
question the writing and political activity he did under his own name?

I ask these questions only half-facetiously.  Biographical criticism is 
quite useful for artists who made a big deal of themselves and write 
themselves all over their works--Byron, for example, or Dante or Donne. 
  You can't read their works without dealing with them as real people 
who lived real lives.  But Shakespeare is different.  I am with Harold 
Bloom when I read him as like Homer and the author(s) of the Bible:  he 
was more interested in humanity than in himself.  Perversely, this has 
sent several people to do little other than wonder who he was and read 
him back into his own works.  (Less perversely, most of these people are 
keen on proving Shakespeare was a lot like them.)  There is ample 
evidence in and out of the plays that Shakespeare was a bad husband and 
father--yet not many people seem bent on arguing this.  They're more 
interested in making him an aristocrat, a man of faith, a political 
partisan, a man with an interesting sex life, a model of the self-made 
man, a prophet, and so on.

I don't know about all that.  I just know that I can't stop reading him.

His writings are literature, not (just) evidence.  They are creations, 
yet we want them to be facts.

The authorship question should not be in the "traditional curriculum" 
because there is precious little time to read the works at all.  So many 
students use supplemental materials (Sparknotes and such) and, in my 
experience, most teachers offer only the blandest of interpretations. 
They read a few plays, perhaps one year, and they usually read very 
little else from the English Renaissance.  Shakespeare's plays require 
time and energy and few high school teachers have it.

The authorship question is a dime story mystery.  Why distract ourselves 
with that when there are wondrous plays and poems to read, plays that 
address far greater mysteries?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Al Magary <
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Date: 		Thursday, 01 Sep 2005 13:01:55 -0700
Subject: 16.1435 Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1435 Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT

William S. Niederkorn wrote:

 >I am not an Oxfordian, nor a Stratfordian for that matter. I am
 >just trying to keep an open mind and sort things out.

I beg you to examine your amazing bias against the man from Stratford. 
I have frankly wondered at the judgment of the New York Times in 
allowing Niederkorn to so freely assume and express the minority view on 
authorship and make that the basis of both cultural news stories and 
opinion pieces.  (Imagine if all the Times Science writers were so 
accepting of creationism, astrology, flat earth theory, etc.)

Here's his Times bibliography of bylined articles (reverse chronological 
order) in the last three years:

--The Shakespeare Code, and Other Fanciful Ideas From the Traditional 
Camp. Aug. 30, 2005
--To Be or Not to Be . . . Shakespeare.  Aug. 21, 2004
--THEATER; Where There's a Will, or Two, or Maybe Quite a Few.  Nov. 16, 
2003
--Seeing the Fingerprints of Other Hands in Shakespeare.  Sept. 2, 2003
--All Is True? Naye, Not If Thy Name Be Shakespeare.  Aug. 19, 2003
--In Shakespeare, the Play's the Thing, and Here It Is, Trimmed to 
Living Room Size.  Dec. 25, 2002
--New Chief at Stratford-Upon-Potomac.  Oct. 10, 2002
--Beyond the Briefly Inflated Canon: Legacy of the Mysterious 'W. S.' 
June 26, 2002
--A Scholar Recants on His 'Shakespeare' Discovery.  June 20, 2002
--THEATER; A Historic Whodunit: If Shakespeare Didn't, Who Did? Feb. 10, 
2002

I see 10 articles of which one is a news story and one a review; the 
eight others may have a "news peg" but are propagandistic in style and 
content.

Meanwhile, SHAKSPER readers might wish to read Mr. Niederkorn's most 
recent scattergun piece, at 
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/30/books/30shak.html then David Kathman 
and Terry Ross' letter to the NYT after Mr. Niederkorn's Oxfordian piece 
was published Feb. 10, 2002: http://shakespeareauthorship.com/nyt.html

No cheers,
Al Magary

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Kathman <
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Date: 		Thursday, 1 Sep 2005 21:18:43 -0500
Subject: 16.1435 Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1435 Brian Vickers in TLS, Wm Niederkorn in NYT

William S. Niederkorn wrote:

 >Al Magary <
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 >
 >
 >>NYT's resident Oxfordian, William S. Niederkorn
 >
 >I am not an Oxfordian, nor a Stratfordian for that matter. I am just 
trying to keep an open mind and sort things out
 >as well as I can.
 >
 >Best,
 >William S. Niederkorn

If you actually believe this, then I'm afraid you're delusional.  It's 
very clear to anyone who has read your articles that you have a strong 
pro-Oxfordian bias, and you have made little or no effort to represent 
accurately the real views of mainstream Shakespeare scholars.  I realize 
that these are feature articles, so I guess the normal rules of 
journalism must not apply, but if you were really the open-minded truth 
seeker you depict yourself to be, you would have talked to some actual 
Shakespeare scholars to get their side of the authorship issue, or at 
least to check the factual accuracy of what you had written.  The fact 
that you did not do so is painfully obvious to any Shakespeare scholar 
who reads your work.

For example, in your original Times article of February 10, 2002, you 
quote or paraphrase nine Oxfordian advocates (Dan Wright, Minos Miller, 
  Charlton Ogburn, Roger Stritmatter, Richard Whalen, J. Thomas Looney, 
  Charles Wisner Barrell, Barbara Burris, and Ruth Loyd Miller), two 
Marlowe advocates (Calvin Hoffman and Mike Rubbo), and six non-experts 
expressing pro-Oxfordian views (Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, 
William Causey, Sigmund Freud, and Mark Rylance), plus you mention the 
alleged Oxfordian sympathies of three prominent actors (Derek Jacobi, 
Michael York, and Orson Welles) and one Supreme Court justice (William 
Brennan).  Of these twenty-one antistratfordians, you appear to have 
interviewed Wright and Stevens, and possibly Stritmatter, especially for 
the article.  Their views are featured prominently are accepted 
uncritically, even though many of those views are either extremely 
doubtful or factually wrong.  For example, you assert that "Oxford had a 
close relationship with Southampton" when there is actually no evidence 
that the two men even knew each other personally.  You also uncritically 
accept the conclusions of Roger Stritmatter's thesis, when that thesis 
and its conclusions have come under some devastating criticisms.  For 
instance, see the following, which are only the tip of the iceberg:

http://members.tripod.com/stromata/id288.htm,
http://members.tripod.com/stromata/id317_august_17_2002.htm,
http://members.tripod.com/stromata/id459_february_3_2004.htm
http://groups.google.com/group/humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare/msg/ 
5f96b6b678209380

In contrast, you only quote or paraphrase three mainstream Shakespeare 
scholars (Irvin Leigh Matus, Werner Gundersheimer, and Gail Kern 
Paster), and mention three others (Alan Nelson, myself, and Terry Ross). 
  You do not appear to have spoken to any of these people for the 
article (I know for a fact that you did not talk to me), and the quote 
from Gundersheimer is only to dismiss the authorship question 
altogether.  Your paraphrases of the arguments allegedly made by 
"Stratfordians" are frequently oversimplified and/or inaccurate, and 
appear to have mostly come from Oxfordian sources rather than the 
scholars themselves.  Furthermore, following each pro-Shakespeare 
argument is an Oxfordian rebuttal which you accept uncritically, even 
though many of these rebuttals are themselves factually inaccurate.

For example, you mention Sir Henry Wotton's 1613 letter in which he 
calls *Henry VIII* a new play, which appears to be good evidence that 
the play was written long after Oxford's death in 1604.  But then you 
report that Oxfordians say that Wotton was mistaken because "three 
other sources do not call the play new and that scholars of the 18th 
and 19th centuries dated it to Elizabeth's reign, or before 1603".  The 
claim that "three other sources do not call the play new" appears to 
come straight from the Oxfordian "Shakespeare Authorship FAQ" at 
http://www.shakespeare-oxford.com/faqfina3.htm, but it is a blatantly 
false claim -- Henry Bluett, writing independently two days after 
Wotton, calls *Henry VIII/All Is True* "a new play called all is trewe 
wch had beene acted not passinge 2 or 3 times before".  (See *William 
Shakespeare: A Textual Companion*, p. 29.)  As for the appeal to what 
18th and 19th century scholars believed, they had only a small fraction 
of the evidence we have, and it is difficult to understand why we should 
privilege their opinions over the overwhelming conclusions of modern 
scholars; this is a bit like a chemist arguing for the existence of 
phlogiston because the best scientific minds of the 18th century 
believed in it.

You could have been spared these and many other blunders if you had run 
your article by a competent Shakespeare scholar; the fact that you 
apparently avoided real scholars while generously quoting the likes of 
Daniel Wright does not speak well for your claims of objectivity. 
After the article appeared, Terry Ross and I wrote a letter to the New 
York Times outlining our objections, but they only printed a soundbite 
which omitted the substance of our arguments.  We eventually posted the 
letter on our web site, where you can read it at 
http://shakespeareauthorship.com/nyt.html.  Alan Nelson posted his 
response to the article on his own web site, at 
http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~ahnelson/nyt.html; there he especially 
objects to the article's ludicrously inaccurate assertion that the 
Shakespeare authorship question is widely debated in university English 
departments.

Dave Kathman

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