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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Bearman on the Will Again
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0339  Monday, 24 April 2006

From: 		Dennis Taylor <
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Date: 		Saturday, 22 Apr 2006 15:41:37 -0400
Subject: 	Bearman on the Will Again

Robert Bearman has just come out with a well researched article, "John 
Shakespeare:  A Papist or Just Penniless?" (SQ 2005), redoing the 
traditional argument that John Shakespeare's difficulties were due to 
business, not to recusancy.  Bearman makes one important mistake, re. 
John's "Spiritual Testament":  "the evidence, when scrutinized, merely 
confirms what Edmond Malone suspected-that this document bears all the 
hallmarks of an eighteenth-century hoax and that subsequent attempts to 
link it to the Jesuit Mission of the early 1580s is unjustified."  The 
suggestion of hoax, associated with the hapless John Jordan, applies 
only to the first page of the testament; Malone accepted the validity of 
the rest of the testament, until much later he remarked but never 
substantiated that he had found "documents" to prove the will not to be 
John Shakespeare's.   These reasons had nothing necessarily to do with 
Jordan, but probably concerned the style of the will.  In fact, the 
discovery of later templates answered such doubts:  Bearman's misleading 
phraseology, "subsequent attempts to link it to the Jesuit Mission of 
the early 1580s", implies that the subsequent attempts were simply 
argumentation and not discovery of actual evidence verifying the 
validity of the testament as a traditional form used by Catholics. 
Greenblatt in Will in the World notes:  "The case against authenticity 
[of the John Shakespeare will] ... has been vigorously resumed by Robert 
Bearman ... but more recent scholarship has cautiously tended to confirm 
its authenticity" (p. 397).  I might cite my own "Bearish on the Will: 
John Shakespeare in the Rafters," Shakespeare Newsletter 54.1 (Spring 
2004), which discusses Malone's so-called "documents."

It would be good if both sides of the Shakespeare and Catholicism issue 
would cease making misstatements.

PS.  Bearman cites D. Thomas and N. Evans 1984 article, "John 
Shakespeare in the Exchequer" (SQ) but doesn't address their argument 
that John Shakespeare was rich all along, and so debt excuses must have 
been a cover.  However, this issue is not my concern.

Dennis Taylor
Professor of English
Boston College

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