The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0147 Thursday, 4 April 2013
Date: Thursday, April 4, 2013
Subject: Shakespeare Scholars Unite to See off Claims of the ‘Bard Deniers’
From The Guardian: The Observer
Shakespeare Scholars Unite to See off Claims of the ‘Bard Deniers’
As the Academic Debate Gets Personal, New Book Aims to Prove William Shakespeare Was the Author of His Own Plays
Saturday 30 March 2013
A group of 22 of the world’s leading Shakespeare scholars have come together to produce a book that details what they consider to be definitive evidence that the Bard really did write his own plays.
Since the 1850s, 77 people have been suggested as the likely author, with Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere – the 17th Earl of Oxford – and Christopher Marlowe the most popular candidates, and Queen Elizabeth I among the most outlandish. The academics feel the anti-Shakespeare campaign has intensified lately, and that the elevation of Shakespeare authorship studies to master’s degree status has been the final straw.
Three eminent experts on Bacon, Oxford and Marlowe are among the Shakespeareans who demonstrate in a series of essays precisely why only Shakespeare could have written his plays and poems, apart from his collaborations. Cambridge University Press will publish Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy on 18 April, days before the Shakespeare birthday celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon on 20-21 April. The publication – which they say will be scholarly, but accessible for general readers – is co-edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, noted scholars from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the academic charity.
Edmondson told the Observer that Shakespeare academics have until now had their heads in the sand, hoping the doubts were ludicrous enough to fizzle out. However, they have been alarmed by the spread of authorship challenges in universities on both sides of the Atlantic – at Brunel in west London, and Concordia in Portland, Oregon. He told the Observer: “The University of Brunel has an MA in Shakespeare authorship studies and, as part of that, they could write a dissertation on why they think the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare, for example. It’s absolutely crazy.”
The academic debate has descended into personal attack. Edmondson was shocked to discover a recent paper by an American academic entitled The Factual Desert of Stanley Wells, which compares the emeritus professor of Shakespeare studies at Birmingham University to the farmer describing a creature in his pasture: “Half-man and half-bear, and the other half was pig. No matter how he told the story, it didn’t add up.”
Signatories to an online “declaration of reasonable doubt” – which affirms a belief in an enormous gulf between the author’s life and the contents of his works – include leading actors such as Sir Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance and Michael York. Hollywood sparked further outrage in 2011 with the film Anonymous portraying Shakespeare as an inarticulate buffoon and the Eal of Oxford as the covert author.
Edmondson said of the new book’s diverse textual and biographical evidence: “This is the first time the discussion has been treated by so many different people in one volume.” For example, discussing the “stylometrics”, or “computational stylistic” tests, MacDonald P Jackson of the University of Auckland concludes that Shakespeare’s and Oxford’s poetry are “intergalactic distances” apart. “De Vere’s models are of the mid-16th century and earlier, with heavy use of alliteration . . . and a liking for metrical forms with long lines of 12 or 14 syllables. No Shakespeare poem is written in these metres.”
David Kathman, an independent scholar, writes on Shakespeare and Warwickshire, showing how the works are “peppered” with signs that the author came from around Stratford, pointing to local dialect words such as “batlet”, a paddle to beat laundry.
Charles Nicholl, the Marlowe scholar, concedes that at least Marlowe, unlike other contenders, was a major poet and dramatist in his own right, but points out that he was killed in 1593 and was therefore dead when most of Shakespeare’s plays were written. He ridicules Marlovians who, ignoring a coroner’s report, suggest that his death in a brawl was an elaborate hoax to escape charges of heresy.
Carol Chillington Rutter of Warwick University takes issue with those who argue that Shakespeare was not educated enough to have written learned works. She demonstrates the intense rigour of Elizabethan grammar schools, where children could translate Latin into English and back, could recognise the most intricate rhetorical tropes and figures (metaphor, allegory, hyperbole) and got through reading lists that would today constitute a university classics degree.
James Shapiro of Columbia University in New York, says that doubters will not disappear, but adds: “This volume will make responding to the next film, or the next campaign, or the next question posed about Shakespeare’s authorship that much easier.”
However William Leahy, head of Brunel’s school of arts, justified offering a master’s in Shakespeare authorship: “I find it disingenuous of them to say that this is not a rigorous academic course. There is a problem with the idea that Shakespeare wrote all of the plays and poems traditionally attributed to him.”