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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: November ::
Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0422  Wednesday, 3 November 2010

[1]  From:      Tom Reedy <
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     Date:      November 1, 2010 2:29:59 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

[2]  From:      Anthony Burton <
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     Date:      November 1, 2010 2:57:43 PM EDT
     Subj:      Stratford/Oxford

[3]  From:      Hardy M. Cook <
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     Date:      Wednesday, November 3, 2010
     Subj:      Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

[4]  From:      Bob Grumman <
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     Date:      November 1, 2010 4:20:00 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

[5]  From:      Joseph Egert <
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     Date:      November 1, 2010 5:29:53 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

[6]  From:      Arlynda Boyer <
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     Date:      November 1, 2010 7:11:26 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0419 Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

[7]  From:      David Kathman <
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     Date:      November 2, 2010 1:21:33 AM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Tom Reedy <
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Date:         November 1, 2010 2:29:59 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

Hardy wrote:

>If we are not able to acknowledge that we would be convinced by evidence 
>acceptable as scholarly proof, then we cannot expect that anti-Stratfordian 
>would be swayed by us.

I doubt that any logical or scholarly evidence would disabuse a person of a belief 
that was arrived at by illogical and unscholarly means. The motives of anti-
Stratfordians are many, but as far as I have been able to determine logic and 
scholasticism are not among them; to a man their method is to begin with their 
conclusion.

The time to engage with students about the topic is when they ask about it, and the 
response should be a considered answer or directions on where to get one instead of 
hand-waving dismissal. Refusing to do so usually doesn't quell their curiosity.

>As I reflect on the contributions of John, Tom, and Gabriel, it is becoming 
>clear to me that in order to respond to anti-Stratfordians, academics and 
>scholars must first be able to define what constitutes scholar proof/evidence 
>so that we will then be able to explain how our "facts" are valid by scholarly 
>standards and why anti-Stratfordian arguments are not valid by those scholarly 
>standards. 

Allow me to quote from a Wikipedia article I have been co-writing for longer than I 
care to think about:

At the core of the argument is the nature of acceptable evidence used to attribute 
works to their authors. Anti-Stratfordians rely on what they designate as 
"circumstantial evidence": similarities between the characters and events portrayed 
in the works and the biography of their preferred candidates; literary parallels 
between the works and the known literary works of their candidate, and hidden codes 
and cryptographic allusions in the texts. By contrast, academic Shakespeareans and 
literary historians rely on the documentary evidence in the form of title page 
attributions, government records such as the Stationers' Register and the Accounts 
of the Revels Office, and contemporary testimony from poets, historians, and those 
players and playwrights who worked with him, as well as modern stylometric studies, 
all of which converge to confirm William Shakespeare's authorship. These criteria 
are the same used to credit works to other authors and are accepted as the standard 
methodology for authorship attribution. 

Tom Reedy

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Anthony Burton <
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Date:         November 1, 2010 2:57:43 PM EDT
Subject:      Stratford/Oxford

Hardy,

I'm much more in sympathy with your frustration and impatience than your repentance. 
As far as I can tell -- and I closely read only the Friedmans and Kathman -- all the 
arguments for alternative authors rest on a doubtful foundation, i.e., that 
Shakespeare couldn't have written what he did, because he lacked sufficient social 
and intellectual experience to have done so. Then, taking advantage of the absence 
of information as to what Shakespeare's social and intellectual experience really 
was, they invoke some candidate for whom the record of such experience in more and 
less plausible. Then the argument for such candidate follows, no more or less 
convincing than the better sort of science-fiction thriller, or an intellectual 
diversion like The Da Vinci Code. 

May we not properly be impatient with reports of sightings of creatures that look 
like ET? Of claims to have found the ark, the true cross, the bones of Arthur? Even 
sightings of Hitler living in Argentina are only a couple of decades past their 
sell-by date. 

After the candidacies of Bacon, Milton, Essex and others all lapsed, and Oxford kept 
alive principally as the hobby-horse of a single man, isn't it the best part of 
reason to put them together with the flat-earth devotees and those who still believe 
the earth is 4,000 years old as examples of popular delusion and the madness of 
crowds? Let them first point to a new and significant fact rather than positing an 
ingenious new suspicion, before giving them a hearing.

And let us resist the Oxfordians' clever rhetorical device of giving the name 
"Stratfordians" to the people who believe Shakespeare was Shakespeare, as if the 
whole discussion were a tug of war on even ground between two equally sound but 
apparently conflicting viewpoints, as if between relativity theory and quantum 
theory. No! There are historical realists and there are kooks-with-bizarre-and-
factually-unsound-theories. When a fact comes along to alter that Manichean duality, 
I'll be glad to reconsider, and then so should you. And Gabriel Egan's post doesn't 
urge you to be more contrite than this.

Tony

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:         Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Subject:      Q: Academic Response to Anonymous 

Dear Tom and Tony:

I am afraid that I did not express myself as clearly as I had wished.

My entire point was that scholarly evidence IS scholarly evidence. THE reason that I 
cannot accept the anti-Strats is that they do not USE scholarly evidence. Were they 
able to and were that evidence to prove their case by standards of generally 
accepted scholarly evidence, then I would have to accept. Would I not? The problem 
is that this evidence does not exist because the truth is that William Shakespeare 
of Stratford-upon-Avon DID INDEED write the works attributed to him.

What I am concerned with is establishing a procedure by which academics and scholars 
can explain to the GENERAL PUBLIC how the Oxfordians, for example, distort evidence, 
use what they considered evidence that would not stand scholarly scrutiny, and 
outright lie or simply take their own fantasies for reality. 

How often are you each asked by non-academics when they learn that you teach or 
otherwise study Shakespeare something to the effect of "I have heard that 
Shakespeare really did write the plays himself What do you think?" Well, this sirt 
of encounter happens to me a lot -- In fact, at lot more than I am even comfortable 
with. I usually respond something along the lines of "There is absolutely nothing to 
that."

When the film Anonymous is released the number of people who will be asking did he 
really do it (probably with a wink and a smile) will be increased a thousand fold. 
It doesn't even matter that the Oxfordians are upset about this film too -- that the 
screenplay is based on the work of someone so extreme that even orthodox Oxfordians 
don't want to have anything to do with his theories. Nevertheless, I am convinced 
that with the release of this film my dismissal will not even be considered.

When I first started teaching film in the early 1970s, I went to a screening of 
Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde" at a first run theater on North Avenue in downtown 
Baltimore. At the conclusion of the film, after witnessing the orchestrated, slow 
motion deaths of the Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway characters, a young African-
American woman, probably in her late teens or early twenties, got up from her seat 
in front of me, began waving her fits at the screen, and yelled "AND THEY CALL THAT 
JUSTICE." As I thought about what I had witnessed, it was obvious to me 

1.	that this young woman had, on a deep level, believed that she had just seen 
something which had reproduced the HISTORICAL REALITY of the deaths of Bonnie and 
Clyde, 
2.	that she had accepted what she saw on the screen to BE reality, 
3.	that she was talking as if what she had seen in the fictionalized, cinematic 
version of a couple of ugly and trashy bank robbers was truth itself, and 
4.	that she felt on a gut level that Bonnie and Clyde were beautiful and were 
ambushed and mercilessly slaughtered in a slow motion volley of machine gun fire 
which had been recreated on the cinema screen. 

I know the power of cinema and I know that once Anonymous is released that academic 
Shakespearean will not be able to simply dismiss the claims of disbelievers. I want 
to be prepared.

Hardy

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Bob Grumman <
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Date:         November 1, 2010 4:20:00 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

Forgive the intrusion, but my book Shakespeare and the Rigidniks has been available 
since 2006. It also contains my theory as to why seemingly sane, intelligent, 
informed people become anti-Stratfordians, a question James Shapiro tries to provide 
an answer to, but only raises a second question, which is, given their bardolatry 
and basis for skepticism from the "higher criticism" of the Bible, what pushes such 
people over the edge to become advocates of a theory of authorship as irrational as 
anti-Stratfordianism? Other bardolators have been exposed the higher criticism 
without becoming authorship cranks. 

My answers are based on my own uncertified theory of psychology, which is the reason 
people like Kennedy and Reedy, who know of it, never mention it. Certainly, it will 
most people will take it as a crank theory no better than anti-Stratfordianism.  It 
can be roughly summarized as explaining the main authorship cranks as grinds 
incapable of understanding, or even recognizing the possibility of, non-grinds like 
Shakespeare who take in data by other means than formal study, and have something 
called an imagination.

Moreover, these grinds, whom I call rigidniks, have a horror of self-education, 
which -- if shown to be effective in the case of Shakespeare, The World's Greatest 
Writer -- would bring into question the need for universal compulsory formal 
education, which rigidniks perceive as the first absolutely mandatory step in the 
proper indoctrination of the conformists they want to make of everyone. (Conformists 
to what the rigidniks believe in, not necessarily what others do.)

Not that formal education can't be of enormous value to certain people. But there 
are those who don't need it (or don't need more than Shakespeare got) -- those, in 
fact, who are hindered by it. Or so I believe, which will keep my book from ever 
being very popular, especially with those whose field is formal education.

Oh, another reason my book is ignored is that it posits that anti-Stratfordians are 
"psitchotics," or "psituationally psychotic." Such a characterization is impolite.

But I doubt that any non-psitchotic would find much that isn't sound about my book's 
170 pages of detailed refutation of anti-Stratfordianism. In fact, if anyone is 
interested in reading it, and will be willing to write 200 or more words about it, 
negative or positive that I can post at my blog (without its author's name if that 
is the author's desire), I'll send him a copy, free. 

There's an essay of mine on John Michell's anti-Stratfordian book at the Shakespeare 
Authorship site run by Terry Ross and Dave Kathman, by the way. It should give you a 
good idea of my thinking and writing ability. Or you can check the entries I wrote 
for The Facts-on-File Companion to 20th-Century American Poetry. 

--Bob Grumman

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Joseph Egert <
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Date:         November 1, 2010 5:29:53 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

On Monday, 11/1/10, Hardy M. Cook <
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Gabriel Egan proposes the "correct scientific response" to controversies like 
evolution or authorship as, "I will gladly give up my belief [. . .] when you show 
me some real evidence against it."

. . . which Hardy Cook seconds:

"Gabriel is further correct in urging us ("orthodox" academics and scholars) to 
assume a position that acknowledges that were we presented with evidence that stood 
up to the test of scholarly proof that we would accept that the anti-Stratfordian 
candidate put forth had written the works attributed to William Shakespeare of 
Stratford-upon-Avon. If we are not able to acknowledge that we would be convinced by 
evidence acceptable as scholarly proof, then we cannot expect that anti-Stratfordian 
would be swayed by us.

"As I reflect on the contributions of John, Tom, and Gabriel, it is becoming clear 
to me that in order to respond to anti-Stratfordians, academics and scholars must 
first be able to define what constitutes scholar proof/evidence so that we will then 
be able to explain how our "facts" are valid by scholarly standards and why anti-
Stratfordian arguments are not valid by those scholarly standards." 

This position merely pushes the problem one step backward in that anti-Stratfordians 
may/will question the validity of the standards themselves or any evidentiary rules 
yielding 'facts' inconvenient to their favorite's candidacy.

One could, however, study a 'random' set of, say, one hundred historical 
controversies, whose ultimate resolutions are no longer contested by the bulk of 
both Strat and anti-Strat populations. Which scholarly methods early on were 
ultimately vindicated, as evidence accumulated toward a final uncontroversial 
resolution? Wouldn't such methods then prove the most fruitful in evaluating current 
controversies? Perhaps, such studies have already been done and have already 
demonstrated the superiority of 'orthodox' scholarly standards. Though past is not 
always prologue, it's still the way to bet.

Joe Egert

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Arlynda Boyer <
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Date:         November 1, 2010 7:11:26 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0419 Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0419 Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

I applaud John's warning about false catenas -- there is a world of difference 
between "could mean" and "does mean." While doing some research during my job at the 
Blackfriars in Staunton, I stumbled across a page that turned out to be an Oxfordian 
site. I had never actually seen one of their sites before. Here is, approximately, 
the sum total of evidence on the site:

Or as O-phelia, her name may signify "the lover of O." ... Horatio declares himself 
"your poor servant ever." Hamlet responds, "Sir, my good friend -- I'll change that 
name with you" (I.ii.162-163). Oxfordians suggest he means the name: "ever" = E. 
Ver, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of O -- Oxford.

No need for us to get too precious or too academic in our own defense here. After 
all, sure every instance of "ever" (or "every," "e'er", "everything," "everyone," 
"everyday," etc.???) could mean E. (de) Vere. And sure, Ophelia could mean "lover of 
O(xford)."

And purple monkeys could fly outta my ass, but I'm not the one wearing the monkey-
proof diapers here, am I?

Jon Stewart and his predecessor "Jon" Swift have it right ... the best way to defeat 
an argument is to make it ridiculous. And in this case, that won't be hard.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Kathman <
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Date:         November 2, 2010 1:21:33 AM EDT
Subject: 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0419  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

Hardy M. Cook wrote:

>As I reflect on the contributions of John, Tom, and Gabriel, it is becoming 
>clear to me that in order to respond to anti-Stratfordians, academics and 
>scholars must first be able to define what constitutes scholar proof/evidence 
>so that we will then be able to explain how our "facts" are valid by scholarly
>standards and why anti-Stratfordian arguments are not valid by those scholarly
>standards. 
>
>Thoughts?

I've thought quite a bit about these issues over the past 15+ years, starting when I 
used to argue directly with anti-Stratfordians (which I haven't done in a while), 
and later when I've written about the Shakespeare authorship question in a more 
formal way. Many of my thoughts can be found on the Shakespeare Authorship web site 
(http://shakespeareauthorship.com), albeit scattered in various places. One of my 
first attempts to explain why Shakespeare scholars do not take anti-Stratfordians 
seriously was in an article called "Why I Am Not an Oxfordian", which appeared in 
the anti-Stratfordian journal The Elizabethan Review in 1997, and is available 
online at http://shakespeareauthorship.com/whynot.html. That article specifically 
addressed Charlton Ogburn's book The Mysterious William Shakespeare as a case study, 
but its general conclusions apply to all anti-Stratfordians. The following passage 
from the last paragraph summarizes its arguments:

"I have tried in this article to explain the major ways in which Oxfordian methods 
differ from those used by literary scholars, using Ogburn's book as a case study. 
Oxfordians typically ignore or rationalize away the external evidence, relying 
instead on notoriously subjective internal evidence; they apply a sometimes radical 
double standard in order to make Shakespeare look bad in comparison to other 
playwrights, and to make Oxford look good; they confidently interpret texts without 
looking at the context those texts appeared in; they are distressingly reluctant to 
criticize previous Oxfordian writers, even when those writers are clearly wrong. Not 
all Oxfordians are equally guilty of these things; there are some who, to their 
credit, have tried to raise the standards of the movement and put it on a more 
scholarly footing. Even if the worst of the bad scholarship is trimmed away, though, 
the heart of the Oxfordian case rests on double standards and enshrinement of 
subjective interpretations as fact. Ogburn's book is essentially an elaborately 
presented rationalization for his fiercely-held ideas about who should have written 
Shakespeare's works, dressed up in the trappings of scholarship but employing a 
series of double standards which make it impossible to disprove his basic thesis. 
This is a harsh assessment, but one which I believe would be shared by any 
Shakespeare scholar who took the time to work through Ogburn's book."

I later wrote a chapter on "The Question of Authorship" for Shakespeare: An Oxford 
Guide (2003). This was broader in scope than the 1997 article, covering the history 
of the authorship question and other candidates, as well as attempts to define 
exactly what Shakespeare wrote, but it also included the same broad criticisms of 
anti-Stratfordians. A few years later I came at the issue from a different 
perspective when Tom Reedy and I wrote "How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote 
Shakespeare: The Historical Facts" (http://shakespeareauthorship.com/howdowe.html), 
which detailed the web of evidence showing that William Shakespeare of Stratford 
wrote the works of Shakespeare. Last year I expanded this into a 5,000-word article, 
"Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare", that appeared in The Oxfordian, another anti-
Stratfordian journal.

For Pat Parker's forthcoming The Shakespeare Encyclopedia I wrote all the 
authorship-related entries, including one on "authorship question" and others on 
"Oxfordian theory", "Baconian theory", "Marlovian theory", and various other minor 
theories. These presented more or less the same basic arguments as above, but due to 
space limitations I couldn't go into nearly as much detail. For another upcoming 
Shakespeare reference work, I just finished writing a longer authorship article that 
presents the evidence for Shakespeare and tries to explain in some detail what is 
wrong with anti-Stratfordian methods, and why Shakespeare scholars don't take them 
seriously. Looking again at the 1997 article I quoted above, I realize that this new 
article addresses the same basic problems: factual sloppiness and ignorance of 
historical context, radical double standards in dealing with evidence, and the 
deeply problematic assumption at the heart of anti-Stratfordianism: "that all 
literature is not just autobiographical, but transparently so, and that it is 
possible to discern an author's biography and personality from his works, even four 
centuries after the fact." Jim Shapiro's Contested Will does an admirable job of 
showing how wrong and anachronistic this assumption is, especially in dealing with 
literature from Shakespeare's time. Yet many people see it as a self-evident truth, 
and are willing to do great violence to logic and the historical evidence in order 
to defend it.

Dave Kathman

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[Editor's Note: My thanks to all who have contributed to this inquiry. -HMC]

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