The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0339 Monday, 24 April 2006
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.
Professor of English
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