The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0055  Monday, 11 February 2013


From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         February 11, 2013 1:09:55 AM EST

Subject:     S.A. Tannenbaum & The Revels Accts.


Not that I’m keeping count, but I rated another ‘Editor’s Note’ with my posting on Arden3 STM:


> [Editor’s Note: For those as myself who are suspicious of names

> of people I have never heard of being paraded around as experts

> and those as myself who have nothing but the highest regard for

> John Jowett as a scholar, I researched Tannenbaum.


I’m surprised (not shocked) that a career Shakespearean hasn’t heard of or doesn’t remember “Dr. T.” My inference is that current students are even less likely to know of him. Tannenbaum is better than one will gather from latter-day descriptions of his part in notable controversies yet to be decided. Anyone interested in more than pronouncements has no choice but to revisit Tannenbaum’s arguments because they're more extensive, informative, and (to me) often more persuasive than those of his detractors.


As for my references on Hand D, I didn’t parade Tannenbaum around as expert; I noted two points he made because he was right. However, Tannenbaum was an expert in his fields of interest. That is not to say all experts agree. And that is not to say his adversaries are equally expert; at times they’re out of their league. Dr. T. was capable of big mistakes aggravated by an imperious nature, which are even today used against him more than argument against his representative work. For example, I noted some time ago that he failed to understand confusions caused by the probate copy of Shakespeare’s will; but neither did many other “experts.” And I posted a long story, years ago, on his investigation of the suspect “Massacre at Paris” leaf; Tannenbaum made some errors. He was probably right about the manuscript though.


> Ah, that is he—the man who believed that the Office of the

> Revels Accounts were a Collier forgery. Interesting. –Hardy]


Tannenbaum freely applied the “Not Bambi” dictum: Where Collier goes a document grows. A good rule to start. As with Hand D, the 1604/11 Revels Accounts are artifacts of great value if genuine and curiosities if they are not. If for no other reason they have their institutional backers. Shakespeare studies are subject to the pressures of other intellectual endeavors; probably more so. When competence of noted scholars is questioned, stakes get higher. That’s the situation Dr. T. fell into by concentrating on questionable documents related to Shakespeare, upon which the powers-that-were had already bestowed their blessings.


Tannenbaum wasn’t the only man (or woman) who believed the Revels Accounts were forged. Dyce, Ingleby, Halliwell-Phillipps, Stopes, and others have expressed that opinion. Ultimately it depends on evidence and argument. Minds may be made up already; I think this “Shaxberd” stuff isn’t worth a plugged nickel and I could expound on my reasons for thinking so, but that’s just me. What matters, is the handwriting and the science surrounding it.


Tannenbaum embraced “bibliotics,” a term (scorned by Greg) for the scientific investigation of suspect written documents. There’s a lot in it applying to the Revels Accounts. Toss in subjective and circumstantial aspects of the case addressed by Tannenbaum and it still may seem viable to a few, someday. I’m particularly interested in one possibility.


Quasi-science doesn’t go very far these days, whoever wields it. But some features of the Revels case might relieve us of such questions. No one denies the peculiar state of the ink: A. E. Stamp, one of Dr. T’s adversaries, notes it as “unusually thick owing to an excess of the gum used to give it body. In consequence it had not penetrated the paper but lay on the surface. Seen under the microscope it was like a stream of dried mud, full of cracks, through which the fibres of the paper were clearly visible. This effect was so unusual that its persistence . . . .” In respect of “Document A,” Stamp registers a hypothesis to explain the happenstance as inconsequential: “So much for document A. Exactly the same reasoning applies to document B.”


Tannenbaum replies, reasonably enough, that a “person employed in a clerical position in a government office knows enough to thin his ink. . . . Furthermore, what person will believe that the scribe . . . compelled to write the 1604-5 accounts [Doc. A] with such thick ink was destined to write the 1611-12 accounts [B] with the identical thick ink? And in the course of seven long years no one thought of thinning that ink or getting a fresh supply. . . . [W]hy do not the defenders of the [accts] produce . . . even a single genuine document . . . written with such thick ink?”


Some way or other, this “unusual effect persisting” over seven years (in a manuscript era) takes a lot of gall. But no one really believes that (as Dr. T. observes). The identical features seven years apart must be a strange coincidence – if the docs are genuine. Then what must also persist is the question whether the inks are (for all practical modern purposes) “identical.” Decades ago this question couldn’t be answered; but through the 21st century advances in practices such as molecular mass spectrometry allow testing that may provide definitive results for the controversy. I suggest the whole century because that’s how long it will take the authorities to agree to the testing, R3 notwithstanding.


A & B are in the same screwy hand and screwy spelling; detailed analysis of the chemical composition of the inks should be telling. No telling (just yet) what it may find. There may even be opportunity to date the ink, given its conveniently clumpy sampling potential. Iron gall ink contains organically derived carbon, which might provide a carbon-14 interval. Tannenbaum himself would strongly advise the tests.


Gerald E. Downs


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