The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0259 Monday, 2 April 2007
Date: Tuesday, 27 Mar 2007 19:50:25 -0400
Subject: Shakespeare Authorship Survey
[Editor's Note: Tom Pendleton, co-editor of the Shakespeare Newsletter,
was moved to respond to the request he received to complete the so-call
authorship survey. Below is that response.]
Dear Mr. Calame:
I have recently been invited to participate in a survey by the New York
Times Education Life to determine what college professors think of the
Shakespeare Authorship question. I am sorry to see this silliness
dragged our yet again since it has been demonstrated repeatedly that
there is not the least scrap of evidence that anyone other than William
Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the Shakespeare plays.
The fact that the survey is being conducted under the supervision of
William J. Niederkorn, who has for at least the last five years operated
as the Times resident Oxfordian, is, I think, reason to suspect that the
outcome of the survey will in some way end up supporting Mr.
Niederkorn's own views in this matter. Indeed, on August 30, 2005, Mr.
Niederkorn had suggested that "authorship studies" be made part of "the
standard Shakespeare curriculum"-an idea that makes little sense unless
one is already committed to the belief that the job of being Shakespeare
is now open for applications.
I am aware that Mr. Niederkorn has portrayed himself as neither an
Oxfordian nor a Stratfordian, but as an impartial seeker after the
truth. His supposed impartiality is, however, well demonstrated by his
assertion that "On both sides of the authorship controversy, the
arguments are conjectural" (Aug. 30, 05). What "conjecture" means in
regard to the orthodox position is the assumption that the surviving
contemporary testimony is likely to be reliable, especially when it
co-relates with other surviving testimony. Thus, that the Shakespeare
who in his will named Hemings and Condell as his fellows is the same
Shakespeare whom Hemings and Condell seven years later identify as their
"friend and fellow" who wrote the plays of the First Folio. On the other
hand, "conjecture" for the Oxfordian means starting from the conviction
that Shakespeare lacked the education, social status and life experience
necessary to have written the plays, and then dismissing any evidence
that contradicts this conviction as fraudulent or mistaken or meaning
something other than it says.
To present the all but universally accepted evidence of Shakespeare's
authorship as merely an indifferent option to the Oxfordian position is
to misrepresent grossly the historical and literary situation. And this
is what Mr. Niederkorn's previous publications in the Times have done,
and what-it is reasonable to expect-his reflections on his survey will
continue to do. As I understand your function at the Times, it is to
assure that your readership is presented with reliable and properly
researched information and analysis. I do not suggest that Mr.
Niederkorn's survey be scrapped-this would probably be inappropriate-but
I do suggest that when the results of and reflections upon the survey
are published, the Times-as it has not done in the past-also present in
some detail the evidences on which the orthodox case it based; not just
a two or three line disagreement from some orthodox spokesman that will
be buried among Mr. Niederkorn's biographical fantasies.
If the Times is serious about its reputation for accuracy and
reliability, it really cannot allow Mr. Niederkorn to continue to speak
for it on this matter.
Please feel free to make what use of this e-mail seems best to you.
Thank you for your attention.
Thomas A. Pendleton, Ph.D.
Professor of English, Iona College
New Rochelle, N.Y. 10801
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