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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: November ::
Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0424  Thursday, 4 November 2010

[1]  From:      Allston James <
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     Date:      November 3, 2010 7:52:04 PM EDT
     Subj:      RE: SHK 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous 

[2]  From:      JD Markel <
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     Date:      November 3, 2010 9:12:16 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
 
[3]  From:      David Evett <
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     Date:      November 3, 2010 10:53:27 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
 
[4]  From:      David Kathman <
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     Date:      November 4, 2010 1:15:35 AM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
 
[5]  From:      Qadir H. <
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     Date:      November 4, 2010 11:22:31 AM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Allston James <
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Date:         November 3, 2010 7:52:04 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
Comment:      RE: SHK 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

I have often pointed out to Oxfordians that they indeed do begin with their 
conclusion rather than scholarly inquiry. They nearly always respond, well, how is 
that any different than Stratfordians beginning with THEIR conclusion?

It's a no-win situation, hence my own retirement from the debate. I am seldom 
bothered by ignorance as it can be addressed, but stupidity is something else, of 
course.

Allston James 
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Humanities Division
Monterey Peninsula College

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         JD Markel <
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Date:         November 3, 2010 9:12:16 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

>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"

I thought the deployment of toponyms in this debate arose from the complex 
class/caste and regional anxieties that fuels some of it. Not sound equals but the 
hauteur of "Oxford" over the lowly "Stratford," the latter could hardly be the home 
of the creator of the work signed Shakespeare. That was what I sensed I heard some 
two Brit anti-Strats speak the towns' names. Feel free to correct my American 
impression.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Evett <
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Date:         November 3, 2010 10:53:27 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

As a believer that on the available evidence the person who wrote most of what 
appears in many editions over several centuries as The Works of William Shakespeare 
was, indeed, William Shakespeare, son of John and Mary Shakespeare, of Stratford-
upon-Avon (1564-1616), I think it is nevertheless incumbent on all of us to 
recognize that terms like "evidence" and "proof" have less assured meanings in 
literary studies than they do in mathematics or physics. Over the past 30 years or 
so, I've looked at considerations of argument in logic, in physical science, in law, 
in social science, and in literature, and I cannot say that I have found any book or 
article that provides an irrefutable or even firmly persuasive set of criteria by 
which to evaluate and compare the truth-claims of the individual elements that 
comprise what we might call the data-set of information on the authorship issue.

Like the younger Gabriel Egan, I am disposed to assign higher probability of truth 
to title-pages and contemporary testimony (Meres, Jonson, et al), and to the 
proposition that active involvement in theatrical production, day after day and year 
after year, is likely to produce mastery of theatrical crafting, than to matters of 
social hierarchy. None of these, however, is on its own enough to prove that W. S. 
of Stratford wrote those plays, any more than the higher criticism (as I understand 
that term) can prove that God, of Heaven, did not dictate the Bible to one or more 
patient secretaries, rather than its being produced in bits and chunks by a good 
many very human agents over a long period of time. Like Hardy, I have to be prepared 
for the day when somebody finds in some London basement a letter, in handwriting 
that is as far as anybody can show is that of Edward de Vere, to Richard Burbage, 
that reads, "Dear Richard, here is a final draft of Hamlet; I know it's long, but I 
just can't bring myself to cut any more. In the intervals when I just couldn't work 
on that any more, I have done first drafts of Antony and Cleopatra, Winter's Tale, 
and the Tempest. I think a shift into romance a few years down the pike would result 
in excellent box-office for what will, I suppose, by then be the King's Men." 

I could wish, indeed, that some very able thinker with more knowledge and patience 
and skill than I have in philosophical argument would set her/himself to the task of 
working out a coherent and persuasive set of criteria for evaluating arguments in 
our field. Until then, we need to proceed as responsibly and thoughtfully and 
dispassionately as we can in advancing such arguments as we ourselves find 
persuasive, and in challenging those we do not.

I might add that the U.S. congressional election on Tuesday, November 2, 2010, makes 
it pretty clear that there are a lot of people (many of whom would shrink in horror 
from the higher criticism, at least of the Bible, if they knew what it was) for whom 
the kind of evidence that most scholars privilege does not effectively challenge the 
way they like to see things.

Critically,
David Evett

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Kathman <
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Date:         November 4, 2010 1:15:35 AM EDT
Subject: 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

Joseph Egert wrote:

>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.

This presupposes that anti-Stratfordians are driven by logic or reason, which they 
are not, as others have pointed out. They are driven by a visceral, emotionally-
based conviction that William Shakespeare of Stratford could not possibly have 
written those plays and poems; that the real author was a dashing, classically 
romantic tragic hero (the earl of Oxford, or whoever); that dark, sinister forces 
(Lord Burghley, in many Oxfordian scenarios) covered up the hero's authorship of 
these great plays and poems, and denied him the fame that he deserved; that later 
dark, sinister forces (the academic Shakespeare industry) continues to cover up "the 
truth" in a desperate effort to save their jobs; and that anti-Stratfordians are 
heroic seekers of truth, struggling against these dark forces to give their romantic 
hero the credit he was denied 400 years ago. This is basically the plot of Charlton 
Ogburn's "The Mysterious William Shakespeare", and it has a powerful emotional 
appeal to a significant subset of people who are exposed to it. Once this set of 
convictions takes hold, all "facts" and arguments are bent to fit it, and attempts 
to argue for the traditional attribution to William Shakespeare of Stratford are 
often seen as obstacles in the way of giving the hero his due.

Still, it's worth arguing against this sort of thing for the benefit of third-party 
observers and others who are just curious whether there's anything to this Oxfordian 
stuff. Much as Joseph Egert suggests above, I often defend the methods used by 
Shakespeare scholars by pointing out that they are the same basic methods used for 
any other historical question from 400 years ago. The evidence for attributing the 
plays of Christopher Marlowe and John Webster to those two men is actually much 
weaker (I would argue) than the evidence for attributing Shakespeare's plays to the 
Stratford man, but those attributions are uncontroversial; indeed, there is a group 
that believes that Marlowe wrote the works of Shakespeare after faking his death in 
1593. I also point out that the methods used by Oxfordians, if applied consistently 
and taken to their logical conclusion, leads one to the inevitable conclusion that 
Oxford wrote essentially all early modern English literature. This may seem like a 
reductio ad absurdum, but it is more or less the position taken by Michael Brame and 
Galina Popova in their book "Shakespeare's Fingerprints". (See Tom Veal's amusing 
review of this book here: http://stromata.tripod.com/id408.htm.) Similar arguments 
were used against Baconian ciphers a century ago, and have been used more recently 
against neo-Baconian ciphers (e.g. by Terry Ross here: 
http://shakespeareauthorship.com/bacpenl.html).

Arlynda Boyer wrote:

>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.

As I understand it, the movie "Anonymous" is based on the "Prince Tudor 2" theory, a 
particularly ridiculous strain of Oxfordianism that is also behind Charles 
Beauclerk's recent book "Shakespeare's Tragic Kingdom". In this scenario, Edward de 
Vere, 17th earl of Oxford, was secretly the son of Queen Elizabeth and her 
stepfather Thomas Seymour, born in 1548 to the 15-year-old Elizabeth and secretly 
placed two years later in the home of John de Vere to be raised as his son. (The 
two-year gap is needed because Seymour died in March 1549 but de Vere was not born -
- or "born" -- until April 1550.) Under many versions of this "theory", Elizabeth 
had numerous other sons, who were raised as various other noblemen. Then, once 
Oxford came of age, he became his mother Elizabeth's incestuous lover, and their 
son, born in 1573, was placed with the Wriothesley family and raised as the earl of 
Southampton. Meanwhile, Oxford wrote the plays of Shakespeare to tell his woeful 
tale to posterity, since he could not do so openly. In the 1590s he dedicated Venus 
and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece to his son/half-brother Southampton, and wrote 
the Sonnets to convince Southampton to beget a royal heir.

I'm sure that many of you think I'm joking, but I'm completely serious -- this is 
what some Oxfordians believe, including, apparently Roland Emmerich, the director of 
"Anonymous". The above scenario developed from the plain "Prince Tudor" theory, in 
which Oxford was either Elizabeth's son or her lover (with Southampton being their 
son), but not both. This theory caused a rift in Oxfordian ranks in the 1950s, and 
modern iterations of it have caused more recent rifts, between Oxfordians who 
embrace the Prince Tudor scenarios and those who think it's ridiculous, easily 
falsified claptrap that makes Oxfordians look bad. It's been my experience that 
Prince Tudor proponents are particularly immune from documentary evidence, and 
particularly dependent on internal "evidence" from the plays. The scenarios I've 
described above are wildly at odds with the documentary evidence, of course, but 
Prince Tudor proponents literally couldn't care less -- the only evidence they use 
is their interpretations of the Shakespeare plays and poems (especially the sonnets 
and narrative poems), which they are convinced contain messages from their hero that 
they need to bring to light.

Dave Kathman

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[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Qadir H. <
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Date:         November 4, 2010 11:22:31 AM EDT
Subject: 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0422  Q: Academic Response to Anonymous

Believe me, Milton's God has more chance of subduing Satan than we do of convincing 
"Oxfraudians." As you have probably already noticed, they first assume the 
conclusion, then turn back groping for evidence and when their heads hit against the 
wall, they jump back to the conclusion claiming that they have not searched well 
enough yet. This kind of backward reasoning is hard to fight back, because it does 
not follow the rules of the game. Questions asked by students, I think, should not 
remain unanswered, but other than that, I believe "We grace the yeoman by conversing 
with him." (I'm wrenching the quotation out of context.)

Qadir H.
M. A. student of English Literature, Tehran, Iran.

 
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