For the longest time, academic Shakespeare specialists have simply ignored the so-called authorship controversy. In the face of a steady stream of books proposing one supposed “real Shakespeare” after another, we in the academy have largely shrugged and turned back to the kind of work we consider important, relevant, and worthwhile; and most of that work has nothing to do with identifying shadowy figures allegedly hiding behind the “Shakespeare” tag. “Authorship Studies” is a recognized subfield of the academic Shakespeare industry, but it doesn’t concern itself with what the self-styled skeptics are interested in; as Brian Vickers recently made clear, it “exclude[s] the legion of misguided souls who deny [Shakespeare's] authorship or even his existence as both actor and dramatist.”

I have a lot of sympathy for this attitude. I completely understand it, and for many years, I have shared it. Anti-Stratfordians love to misinterpret the cold shoulder the academy has almost universally shown them as an ostrich’s: they think our trembling heads are buried, not in the archive or the library, but in fear. Personally, I have never, ever met a single Shakespearean who is afraid of the Earl of Oxford. I have met many who are deeply, profoundly bored by the debate. And I have met a significant number whose reactions to the discussion fall somewhere on the spectrum between irritation and rage.

Boredom is a perfectly understandable reaction. Many of us, after all, work on research for which the question of authorship is almost entirely irrelevant. Speaking for myself, I’m fairly confident that not a word I’ve ever written about Shakespeare’s plays would be invalidated if we discovered tomorrow that all of the works were in fact authored by a hitherto unheralded haberdasher’s son from Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Or by the Earl of Rutland. Despite the biographical virus that has swept through the ranks of senior Shakespeareans in recent years, the vast majority of academic publications on early modern drama have little or nothing to say about the presence of authors in their works; in the absence of biography as a critical category, arguments and conclusions aren’t profoundly affected by biographical controversies or revelations.

Explaining the various shades of anger would take more time — irritants range from the sense that the entire discussion is a waste of limited time we should spend more productively to the frustration of the well-meaning debater who finds herself up against arguments that don’t seem to rely on recognizable standards of evidence. Personally, I find both the near-religious fervour and the extraordinary smugness of many anti-Stratfordians more than a little off-putting. No-one I have ever met, however, is angry because he or she sees Shakespeare’s authorial identity under threat.

But I fear things are changing right now in a way that will no longer allow us academic Shakespeareans to opt for the luxury of mute disdain. Forgive me if what follows sounds a little manifesto-ish. It’s sort of in the air.

First, there is Roland Emmerich’s awesomely benighted Anonymous. I explained elsewhere why I think this is a horrible film, but I’m not at all certain that its sheer badness will dilute its deleterious potential. As James Shapiro reports, Sony Pictures is actively encouraging High School teachers to use the film as a quasi-textbook, distributing ready-made lesson plans in glossy packages that superficially ask students to look into the authorship debate without taking sides even as every page’s footer trumpets “Uncover the true genius of William Shakespeare: See Anonymous — in theaters October 28, 2011.” Nowhere in these materials are teachers or students told to adopt the position Emmerich, Orloff & Co. have been retailing in various public venues, that the film is “just a movie” and shouldn’t be held to the same standards as a work of scholarship, or even a newspaper article. I want to believe that most high school teachers would not delegate instruction in literature and history to Hollywood blockbusters, but I can’t say I’m truly confident.

And then there is this:

Not only is this a German theatre advertising its upcoming production of Macbeth as by de Vere — it’s the municipal theatre of the town I grew up in, the place where as a child I saw my very first play (and my first Shakespeare productions). That one hurt.

The poster has a genealogy, and it’s instructive. Two years ago, the same theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet was advertised as Shakespeare’s. But last year, the playhouse hosted an interview with Germany’s foremost Oxfordian, the publisher and essayist Kurt Kreiler, and after that interview, things changed. Kreiler’s book, Der Mann, der Shakespeare erfand (The Man who Invented Shakespeare), which largely rehearses the same arguments as the major Oxfordian publications in English, appeared in Germany last year, was widely reviewed, and received a very warm critical welcome. With academic Shakespeareans leaving the field largely to journalists, the “mystery-like” appeal of Kreiler’s narrative seemed to matter more than its credibility. And in the virtual absence of a serious scholarly dismantling of Kreiler’s arguments and assertions, they have begun to attain the kind of cultural authority that makes it possible for theatres to present Shakespeare’s plays as someone else’s without so much as an asterisk alerting audiences to the controversial nature of the claim.

All of which makes me think that we can’t afford to ignore the anti-Stratfordians anymore. Worse, it makes me think that it’s not enough to deconstruct the intellectual basis of their projects, as Shapiro did so brilliantly in Contested Will. I fear we will actually have to engage with what they consider evidence; we will have to explain, in venues and formats as popular and widely available as those used by the anti-Stratfordians, why their claims don’t make sense; and we will have to be much more robust in our presentation of the facts. I don’t find this an intellectually stimulating (let alone rewarding) prospect, nor do I think there are many constructive conversations to be had. I also don’t relish the thought of having to spend any of my time in the company of Charles Beauclerk’s writings. But if we don’t take part in the public discussion, if we don’t carefully detail our own position and debunk the supposedly skeptical point of view in as accessible a language and manner as the other side, we risk losing by default. Silence will be interpreted as defeat or, worse yet, consent. I’ve read Much Ado About Nothing. I don’t want to be Hero.

If nothing else, a serious engagement with anti-Stratfordian claims might make us better scholars, too. Shapiro in some sense led the way there, in rejecting the recent vogue for biographical readings of Shakespeare’s plays, but we should go further. We might as well acknowledge that the entire authorship controversy is Bardolatry’s evil twin: without the nineteenth-century invention of Shakespeare as the original genius, we wouldn’t have to deal with people who find it hard to conceive of a glover’s son in that role. (Before that, a glove-maker was no less suitable a father for a great playwright than a cobbler, a bricklayer, a saddler, an innkeeper, or a coach maker.) And if Harold Bloom’s hyperventilating Shakespeare criticism weren’t as prominent in the public eye as it is, the anti-Stratfordian view wouldn’t receive as much attention either. The more Shakespeare’s supposed singularity is emphasized, the more the notion that his biography must be correspondingly exceptional will gain hold. (Stephen Marche doesn’t help….)

And we might as well admit that traditional Shakespeare scholarship has its own significant blind spots. One of the Shakespearean arguments one hears over and over again is that Oxford can’t have been the true author, because he died in 1604, “before 10 or so of Shakespeare’s plays were written” (that’s Shapiro in his recent New York Times op-ed, but the point is commonplace). Anti-Stratfordians always call out Shakespeareans for this sort of claim — and they’re right. We’re far too ready to assert, with an air of certainty, when which plays were written; we rely, far too often, on the magnificent work of fiction known as The Annals of English Drama, or “Harbage.” Early modern theatre history thrives on myths and strong (if hollow) assertions. Anti-Stratfordians know this, sort of, and they’re happy to point at our naked emperors (blithely ignorant of their own earl’s threadbare outfit). I don’t think pretending to a certainty we can’t honestly — intellectually — defend strengthens our position at all. But if confronting the misguided skeptics allows us to score in the public debate while simultaneously forcing us to interrogate our own practices and assumptions as Shakespeare scholars, I’d be happy if we used that stone for the murder of both those birds.

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164 Responses to Enough Already

  1. knitwitted says:

    Hi Dr. Syme,

    Perhaps you and your readership would be interested in Roger Stritmatter’s and Lynne Kositsky’s latest book *On the Date, Sources and Design of Shakespeare’s The Tempest*

    http://www.amazon.com/Date-Sources-Design-Shakespeares-Tempest/dp/0786471042/ref=cm_rdp_product

    Best wishes,
    Libby

  2. psi says:

    Why call for “serious” engagement and then run away from a real opportunity to debate with the fig leaf that “there’s nothing to debate.” Please make up your mind.

  3. Horace Cornflake says:

    Bacon dunnit. Say no more.

  4. Dear Holger, I remember reading this blog post last October, and being encouraged by your call for academic Shakespeare specialists to “engage with what they (anti-Stratfordians) consider evidence; we will have to explain, in venues and formats as popular and widely available as those used by the anti-Stratfordians, why their claims don’t make sense; and we will have to be much more robust in our presentation of the facts.” At that time, I hoped that you and other Shakespeare specialists might be willing to read and respond to my book The Apocryphal William Shakespeare, which came out in November of 2011 and introduces the case for William Shakespeare as the main author of the apocryphal plays and bad quartos, rather than the main author of the canonical works.

    One distinguished Shakespeare professor did read The Apocryphal William Shakespeare in draft form in August of 2011. He wrote back: “This is easily my favorite among the books I’ve read arguing that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare…The Speculation and Conclusion sections are appealing, eloquent, and fair-minded…Though I am not convinced, I am impressed – I wouldn’t have thought there was so extensive an argument possible, and you certainly have made one, with intelligence and ingenuity.” One other Stratfordian also read the book in draft form last summer – Bob Grumman, one of your commenters, and the author of Shakespeare and the Rigidniks. He kindly provided a couple of blurbs that I could use in advertisements: “Better on the anti-Stratfordian side than James Shapiro’s Contested Will is on the other side.” And: “An order of magnitude more intelligent than any other book I’ve read by an authorship skeptic.”

    My purpose in commenting here is not really to advertise my book, since all my past attempts to interest Stratfordians in it have failed. Instead, I’d like to share a report from the front lines of the authorship debate, from the perspective of an authorship skeptic. I can report with high confidence that Shakespeare specialists still have no interest in engaging with authorship skeptics. Since my book came out last November, not a single Shakespeare scholar or prominent Stratfordian (e.g. Tom Reedy) has been willing to read and respond to it. I’ve written to more than a hundred Shakespeare professors, literary critics, Renaissance historians, etc. about my book over the last year, and not one has been willing to read it (or if they have, write back to let me know what they thought about it; I can’t tell which). I’ve sent out dozens of free copies to the likes of James Shapiro and Stephen Greenblatt, and that didn’t make a difference. Nor did posting an advertisement in the New York Review of Books, or any of the dozens of other ideas I tried. As I wrote to the blogger Dr. Beachcombing, who also didn’t want to read my book, “It’s as if my book has literary cooties, or I belong to an untouchable class of writers. What would you do in my situation, if you were convinced you had written an interesting, intelligent, important book despite your status as an amateur scholar?”

    • Holger Syme says:

      Sabrina –

      sorry: too little world, too little time. The point I made elsewhere in one of my posts on the subject still stands — the authorship “question” is of very limited interest or relevance to most academic Shakespeareans, including myself. There are plenty of books of much more direct importance to my work that I’ve been unable to read over the past year.

      I do want to say, though, that I didn’t take the position I took last fall in bad faith. I never had planned to debate anything with authorship skeptics, and to the extent that I was drawn into debate with some of them nonetheless, I found the experience so dispiriting and unproductive that I am no keener now than I was then to engage in actual conversations. I believe it’s more helpful to talk about the blindspots and misconceptions that both Shakespeareans and authorship skeptics share, and I have done quite a bit of that in subsequent posts. I’m not especially interested in considering, discussing, or investigating an array of alternative candidates for the role of Shakespeare, though.

      I’m glad to hear that your book has found some kind, if unconvinced, readers among my colleagues, and I still have the PDF you sent me last year. All I can say is that I have not ignored it out of ill will — it’s just that between my theatre historical research, teaching, chairing my department, and pursuing my active interest in live theatre, I don’t have much time left for an issue that’s marginal at best to my personal and professional interests.

  5. Hitandrun says:

    Doc Syme writes:

    “There’s also no need to turn to France to explain the turn away from the author as the centre of meaning [...].”

    Doc,
    Do you agree with these French critics? Isn’t the author by definition the source and center of meaning? To my mind’s eye ‘meaning’ equals intent, and intent is always conscious, though its formation and expression are shaped by accident and forces both conscious and unconscious. Texts, of course, may or may not convey authorial meaning fully or imperfectly at any given moment to any given percipient. Hence any particular text will often (?always) not be the same for author and percipient.The texts, however, do not mean. Only their authors mean, while their percipients infer. Isn’t it time to unmuddle the semantic obfuscations of these French critics and their fellow travellers?

    H&R

  6. Hitandrun says:

    Kudos to Holger Syme for this excellent blog.

    And many thanks to Mark Johnson for his helpful post (25/10/2011, 4:27pm) listing contemporary honorific references to Shakespeare.

    I’d add the Thomas Screvin 44 shilling payment record of Mar 31,1613 for the 6th Earl of Rutland’s (Frances Manners’) impresa:

    “to mr Shakspeare in gold about my Lordes Impreso [...] To Richard Burbadge for paynting & making yt”

    Best,
    Hitandrun

  7. I apologize for my late arrival. Thanks to Holger Syme for hosting this fascinating discussion. Also for acknowledging that the topic is worthy of discussion.

    I’m also appreciative that he admitted, “adopting Oxfordian methods of reading would ruin my outlook on Shakespeare’s works…” Is it possible that convincing evidence that de Vere wrote the canon would have a similar effect?

    That captures something important, that is not limited to him. Many Shakespeare scholars I know are not particularly interested in the author’s life. De gustibus non est disputandum.

    However, I suspect some circularity here– modern critical theory has been influenced, if not warped, but the false premise about Shakespeare’s identity.

    Anyway, it should not surprise us that so many Shakespeare scholars have not been interested enough in the authorship question to investigate it in any details for themselves. When a few of them have, it’s been with a preconceived, unquestioned premise, which leads them to filter out conflicting data in ways they’re not even aware of.

    As a psychoanalyst, I’m utterly convinced that it’s seriously misleading to try to divorce an author’s work from his or her psychology, which is shaped by many forces, certainly including life experiences. Creative geniuses weave from the warp and woof of their lives and their imaginations.

    • Holger Syme says:

      Richard:

      welcome. I’m not really willing to reopen this particular conversation again — I’ve already had it with Paul Crowley. Linking the developments of literary study and/or critical theory in the 20th century to the question of who wrote Shakespeare’s work is simply bad intellectual history. There is no evidence that there is even a remote connection.

      As for my “admission,” I’m afraid you’re misreading me. I have said before that the positive identification of someone else as the author of Shakespeare’s works would not invalidate anything I have written about those texts, and I stand by that assertion. Choosing to read literary works as an author’s self-expression is a methodological decision — a decision largely out of fashion in the contemporary academy across periods, but especially in pre-20th-century studies. Whether one approaches literary works this way or not has nothing to do with what one knows about the author (many critics working on well-documented authors’ works are just as uninterested in biography as most Shakespeare scholars). If anything, the relative lack of knowledge in Shakespeare’s case has fuelled a now largely superseded tradition of reading the works (auto)biographically, going back to Malone. These days, that approach is left largely to those of us writing for a popular audience (it may be worth pointing out that the Greenblatt of Will in the World is not the same kind of critic as the Greenblatt of Renaissance Self-Fashioning or Shakespearean Negotiations — i.e., he’s not the Greenblatt whose criticism has been hugely influential over the past 25 years).

      What I “admitted” is that choosing to read as so many Oxfordians do would be profoundly limiting — but it doesn’t matter whether I’m reading Shakespeare that way, or George Herbert, or Jane Austen. I’m not afraid of what Oxfordians might “discover,” but I do bridle at the idea that the late Victorian methodology that informs Oxfordian reading practices could make a comeback. That’s a larger intellectual disagreement, not in any way limited to the Shakespeare issue. You “as a psychoanalyst” are of course entitled to your opinion; I choose to find other approaches to the interpretation of literature more fruitful, interesting, and intellectually exciting. De gustibus indeed.

  8. Robert says:

    Paul Crowley’s 02/11/11 at 9:56 a.m. posting is another in a long line of examples proving he knows nothing about theatre history. If Mr. Crowley doesn’t understand a Shakespeare play, in his view of things, no one understands it. Shakespeare plays continue to be performed around the world in high school, university, community and professional theatres. There are many Festivals around the world devoted to producing the plays season after season.

    I would suggest Mr. Crowley get out in the world to learn something. On the other hand, Crowley and learning don’t belong in the same sentence.

  9. Vanya says:

    Holger, I came upon your blog after reading your splendid response to Keir Cutler in the Montreal Gazette today. I admire your energy, lucidity, and, now that I’ve spent some time scrolling through your exchanges with rabid conspiracy theorists, your saintly patience as well. Thank you for fighting the good fight!

  10. mitchel says:

    I applaud your patience and endeavor. But, it does not surprise me that Sony is promoting high-school teachers (not college professors, mind you) to use Anonymous in the class-room as a way of lighting false fires of discussion. The first time I saw an Emmerich movie was in a high-school science class (The Day After Tomorrow). Yes, we watched that as a part of our climate-change section. We were also shown The Core and Dante’s Peak in geology. Happily, my teacher did this in a tongue-in-cheek manner (but what a waste of precious class-time). And though I’ve been a fan of Emmerich’s ridiculously campy, overwrought fare, I was so disappointed the first time I saw a trailer for Anon.

    In fact, the first time I was exposed to the conspiracies of authorship was again in high-school through dubious film. In a class specifically centered around Shakespeare, my teacher showed us a History Channel* (I believe) “documentary” exploring the authenticity of Shakespeare’s identity. To this day I cannot fathom why an otherwise wonderful, credulous teacher such as Mr. W. felt this program was necessary. If this were a general English class, perhaps it would be justified in piquing otherwise bored students’ interest. But this was an elective for those of us already obsessed with the Bard. So, never underestimate the American public school’s willingness to devote attention on dubious claims of controversy.

    As for the idea that de Vere (not to mention Marlowe or Bacon or whomever) wrote these classics as opposed to a “lowly” man like Shakespeare is strangely classist and unimaginative. That one simply lacks the capacity to write up one’s experience denies the vast stacks of literature written by those not in a position of their personal authority to go beyond their station’s limitations. It also displays the conspirator’s lack of imagination that it could be another way than what their own gut tells them.

    Keep up the good work, Mr. (Dr.?) Syme.

    *I sometimes watch the History Channel with masochistic glee, and came upon a wonderfully un-researched assertion recently that the etymology of “lullaby” was derived somehow from the character Lilith as a means to scare children asleep (a “lilith-by”, I guess). This claim was made completely straight-faced and without a counterclaim from anyone with the OED handy.

    • mitchel says:

      Also, as a writer I would hope my identity is never called to question based on the number of times I’ve dropped letters in my signature. I’m sure this happens every time I close my tab.

      • crowleypaul says:

        [As I have made clear elsewhere in this thread, I'm not willing to turn my blog into a forum for the uncontested propagation of Oxfordian views. I'm willing to engage in conversations, but Mr Crowley has shown no inclination to get up to speed on current historical research, and I don't have the time to give him a crash course -- especially since he would dismiss whatever I say in any case. This is not a productive mode of discussion. There are many places around the web where Mr Crowley's views can be aired, and I would encourage him to seek those out. -- HSS]

  11. Blair says:

    @Eric…he started it.

  12. Eric Johnson-DeBaufre says:

    Now might be a good time to recall to mind that the title of this blog entry is “Enough Already.” Enough already. I am sure that Holger has better things to do with his time than to continue this farcical exchange with people who have shown themselves to be immune to persuasion.

  13. Robert says:

    This is an interesting site and I’ve learned things or it got me to consider things which is a plus.

    On the other hand, I find some of the comments similar to things said in a high school lunch room. Even mature people have moments of childishness, but “An Abbreviated History of Shakespeare Scholarship 1976-2011″ is silly.

    One of the things I find puzzling about some of the books written by those who believe Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare is there is little or no mention of theatre practices during the time period. I found this to be true in Mark Anderson’s book, Diana Price’s book, and Charles Beauclerk’s book. (Yes, I know Price says she’s not Oxfordian. Oxfordians do use it as proof to support their claim.) I have read books about Shakespeare and many playwrights with little or no mention of theatre practices. This is not a requirement for a book about Shakespeare. On the other hand, if an author wants to persuade me someone else wrote Shakespeare, is it too much to ask him or her to devote a chapter to the theatre business of the day?

    I’m left to wonder how many of the Oxfordian authors have spent any time with actors? If they had, they would quickly learn actors love to gossip. I speak from years of experience. If Will from Stratford wasn’t the author, actors would have blabbed.

    Today, I find the term “immortal Bard” to be useless in talking about Shakespeare. I’ve read most of the plays many times and some of them aren’t very good as literature. Except for Pericles, which I’ve seen once, I’ve seen the rest of the plays many times. Even the weaker ones are playable and there are moments of in interest in all 37.

    • crowleypaul says:

      Robert says:
      25/10/2011 at 4:42 pm

      ” . . . One of the things I find puzzling about some of the books written by those who believe Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare is there is little or no mention of theatre practices during the time period. . . .”

      There are good reasons for that. Shake-speare’s work had virtually nothing to do with the commercial theatre. It was written and produced for aristocratic, especially court, audiences, of mosly the 1570s and 1580s. Of course, when it came to be published, it had to be put out as being for the common herd. While that was an absurd story, people are extrarordinarily gullible, and will believe almost anything they are told.

      ” . . . On the other hand, if an author wants to persuade me someone else wrote Shakespeare, is it too much to ask him or her to devote a chapter to the theatre business of the day? . . .”

      A few sentences would do. The canonical plays were NOT written for the public stage, and were rarely performed upon it. Do you see the Ring Cycle being peformed for audiences which watch “The X factor”? The belief that it was written for the public stage is half-crazy and is based on little more than impressions, fostered by assumption and word of mouth.

      ” . . . I’m left to wonder how many of the Oxfordian authors have spent any time with actors? If they had, they would quickly learn actors love to gossip. I speak from years of experience. If Will from Stratford wasn’t the author, actors would have blabbed. . . ”

      This ‘argument’ would have merit if the Stratfordian case was based on fact. But of course it’s not. The actors who performed (say) “The Merchant of Venice” for King James knew no more of the history of its peformances than do modern actors. To them it was just ‘an old play’. It was first performed when the Queen was still marriageable (that’s what it’s about, btw) i.e. before 1581 . The actors then were working within the royal court, and knew that any gossip to the public would result in dire punishment, starting with the loss of their job. They would not have known who the playwright was, and would quite likely have missed many of the allusions in the play. For example, would anyone have told them that Lady Portia was meant to represent the Queen? Or that the Prince of Morocco was Raleigh?

      Paul.

      • Holger Syme says:

        I’m not deleting this comment simply because it’s so self-defeatingly counterfactual that I don’t think it even merits a response.

        • crowleypaul says:

          Holger, you wrote:
          ” . . I’m not deleting this comment simply because it’s so self-defeatingly counterfactual that I don’t think it even merits a response. . . ”

          Surely it would be so easy to present a fact or two, just to rub my nose in it?

          Paul.

  14. D. Wentworth Cobham says:

    In slinging his smuggery vis-à-vis the alleged gravity of Prof. Shapiro’s “error,” Dr. Stritmatter mentions one “Charlotte” Spurgeon. I guess he meant “Caroline,” who was only, as Wikipedia describes her, “the first female professor involved in English literature.” So much for Dr. Stritmatter’s dedication to flawless scholarship: and let’s just say it’s not difficult to generalize errors such as this to the rest of his spurious scholarship. Next century, chances are we’ll still be studying Dr. Spurgeon’s contributions to scholarship, while a mention of Dr. Anti-Matter will evoke nothing more than “Lord, I’d forgotten that fart!”

    • Holger Syme says:

      I’m not sure that answering pedantry with pedantry is a winning strategy, D., no matter how much I agree with your position substantively.

    • My apologies for the confusion. My scholarship is not flawless, and I never said it was. It is, however, a good bit more self aware than much of what is passing for such on this blog.

      Feste had not “forgot the fart”:

      SEBASTIAN
      I prithee, vent thy folly somewhere else: Thou
      know’st not me.

      Feste.
      Vent my folly! he has heard that word of some
      great man and now applies it to a fool. Vent my
      folly! I am afraid this great lubber, the world,
      will prove a cockney. I prithee now, ungird thy
      strangeness and tell me what I shall vent to my
      lady: shall I vent to her that thou art coming?

      • Holger Syme says:

        That’s a reference to Oxford? Good grief.

        It’s pretty obvious from the OED that “vent” in this sense was a newfangled expression (Marston uses it in 1602 — always a good indicator that something’s a bit of a fad). Feste is obviously making fun of the pretentiousness of Sebastian’s speech by highlighting the scatological associations of the expression. Linking this to a specific, possibly apocryphal anecdote, just doesn’t make sense — at my kindest, I’d call it a big stretch.

        • Bob Grumman says:

          Read Roger on Venus and Adonis, if you want stretches. Roger considers Venus to be based on Elizabeth, a main datum he uses to support this is that Venus is called a queen two or three times. But she was a goddess, not a queen!

      • Robert says:

        Yep, those two speeches prove beyond reasonable doubt Edward de Vere wrote 12th Night! I guess de Vere was the only person at the time who passed gas which made him unique. If only he had worked this feat into an act, he would have solved his financial problems.

  15. I personally find it fascinating the eminent creators in literature — Whitman, Emerson, Dickens, Twain, H. James, Du Maurier, Gallsworthy, etc. — who have all at least expressed interest in the Shakespeare authorship question if not (in Whitman and Twain’s cases) gone on at length about why they find the conventional attribution of William of Stratford so very wrong.

    “It is my final belief that the Shakespearean plays were written by another hand than Shaksper’s [sic],” Whitman said. “I do not seem to have any patience with the Shaksper argument: It is all gone for me– up the spout. The Shaksper case is about closed.”

    (Horace Traubel’s multivolume set _With Walt Whitman in Camden_ contains numerous examples of this kind of vehemence from America’s greatest poet about what he saw as the Stratford myth.)

    James Shapiro’s _Contested Will_ does go into excruciating psychological detail seeking excuses as to why so many great minds were anti-Stratfordians or held sympathies for that point of view.

    _Will_ is an entertaining read, no doubt. But I found myself at the far end of Shapiro’s extended exercise scratching my head. Is the authorship controversy really a kind of strange confluence of unconscious forces over the generations — a psychological conspiracy, as it were — that misled so many creative figures throughout history?

    _Contested Will_’s examination of all the famous Shakespeare skeptics throughout the centuries struck this reader, instead, as a kind of deft exercise in projection. We’re left to wonder at how much avoiding of real issues **everyone else** is doing.

    Here’s a simpler explanation than Shaprio’s: These skeptics were skeptical for good reason.

    And here’s where the discussion must diverge beyond the bounds of a blog and its comments, enlightening and interesting though they are.

    Because there is no direct evidence that would settle the authorship question either way. _Pace_ Stratford’s defenders, there is no Dante or Chaucer or Austen or Dickens etc. authorship controversies because the meager requirement of *some* sort of direct proof of their being an author is and has always been there.

    Instead, we are left with circumstantial evidence. Nothing wrong with circumstantial evidence. It constitutes a centerpiece of court cases in courtrooms around the world every day. Circumstantial evidence wins cases every day.

    But circumstantial evidence requires a patient accumulation of facts and hypotheses that together work toward the larger goal of proving or disproving a theory. Forest for the trees.

    So this is why I think you may be guilty of a touch of melodrama when you claim that considering the Oxfordian hypothesis will be such a supposedly dreary exercise. In point of fact, there is a very strong **circumstantial** case that puts Edward de Vere’s life and epic story right at the heart of the Shakespeare works.

    As Orson Welles said “I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don’t there are an awful lot of funny coincidences to explain away.”

    Say that the Oxfordians, as so many here so confidently claim, are wrong. Fine. But, beyond that, you’re equally certain that picking up the Shakespeare canon and viewing it from a completely different — Oxfordian — point of view is going to be so completely useless or ruinous to your outlook on the Bard and his immortal masterpieces? Really??

    What did mom or dad say when you stubbornly refused that asparagus on your plate all those years ago? “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

    Right?

    Please, then, have a go at at least a few nibbles. You might surprise yourself.

    Thank you.

    Mark Anderson, author
    “Shakespeare” By Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, The Man Who Was Shakespeare

    • OK. On reflection, the line about the asparagus was a bridge too far. Struck the wrong tone. Those final few sentences would be edited out if it were possible.

      (This heretic is also the parent of a couple young kids. As the instructors all say… Write what you know!)

    • Holger Syme says:

      Hi Mark,

      if we applied the same standards of evidence to Chaucer that you apply to Shakespeare, I’m pretty sure we could have a Chaucer authorship controversy as well. It’s just that no-one would care. On that count, I’m completely with Shapiro: there is a Shakespeare authorship debate because Shakespeare has become such a iconic figure over the past two hundred years. If people hadn’t projected so many ideas about artistic genius on him, there’d be far less of a desire to learn more about “the man,” and consequently far less amazement about the unsurprising fact that the man didn’t leave a lot of personal traces. As I said, Oxfordianism is Bardolatry’s twin.

      Your rather short list of creative writers who have joined the ranks of skeptics is totally irrelevant, as far as I’m concerned. It carries no evidentiary weight whatsoever. Poets and novelists aren’t inherently more qualified to discuss literature than other thinkers, they’re certainly no more competent historians than, well, historians, and they have a long track record of being wrong on all sorts of things. All the same, let me suggest that keeping Dickens on that list is a bit spurious: his point was that he valued the very mystery Shakespeare was shrouded in, and that he feared that some discovery might dispel that mystery. If anything, Dickens was an anti-skeptic.

      I’ll respond very briefly to your claim about circumstantial evidence (this will take a proper post, but here’s the short version). It’s just not true. There are plenty of references, literal, direct references to Shakespeare, the poet. For any other writer, that would be good enough. But your camp will argue that unless the reference is to “William Shakespeare [or Shakspere] [or Shaksper] of Stratford upon Avon, glover’s son,” it can’t count as evidence, because the base assumption is that “William Shakespeare” was in fact a pseudonym. That base assumption, which has no foundation other than a misguided and general claim that pseudonymous publication of this kind was rife in early modern England, raises the bar massively. Suddenly, we’d need John Weever to have written “Honie-tongued Stratfordian when I saw thine issue” or Harvey to have noted that “[t]he younger sort takes much delight in Shakespeares, the glover’s son from Stratfords, Venus & Adonis: but his Lucrece, & his tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, have it in them, to please the wiser sort, howsoever he be of the common sort.” All of those references would count as direct evidence under most circumstances — they only become circumstantial once you shift the grounds you argue on. But that shift in itself needs to be justified, and justified specifically: it’s not enough to argue that someone, anyone, would have had an interest to publish under a false name, you have to argue why Shakespeare’s name specifically should be considered a pseudonym. I have yet to hear that argument made with any credibility.

      I’ve already said how adopting Oxfordian methods of reading would ruin my outlook on Shakespeare’s works: I don’t find autobiography an especially compelling genre. That’s one of the reasons I’m an early modernist: there’s so little of that stuff around. I know enough about literary interpretation that I’m not interested in engaging with the kind of biographical parallel-hunting you practice. I will happily engage in arguments that are based on archival or other documentary data; the debate over the dating of the Tempest is certainly one of those.

      Finally, I think it’s revealing that it’s you, not I, who speaks of “the Bard” and “immortal masterpieces.” I avoid this kind of adulation, and I think it sort of proves my point that you don’t.

      • Mark Johnson says:

        There are a number of contemporaneous documents [direct, physical evidence] that specifically and explicitly identify William Shakespeare — of Stratford — as the author of the works. When a record from the time cites “Master William Shakespeare” or “M William Shak-speare” or “M. Willi. Shakespeare gentleman” as the author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare, those records unequivocally qualify as evidence that tends, logically and reasonably, to prove the proposition that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the author. The use of the honorific and the status signifier {Gentleman} [both of which begin in printed materials, coincidentally enough, only after the grant of the coat of arms to Shakespeare's father] in describing the author serve to specifically and explicitly identify Will Shakespeare of Stratford as that author. The Stratfordian is the only documented William Shakespeare in all of Elizabethan England entitled to be addressed as “Mr.” or “Master”, and is the only one who was permitted to be called a “Gentleman”, according to the College of Arms. There is no lack of specificity, as the title pages and other documents are quite specific in identifying the author by use of the honorific/form of address/social status. Thus, there is direct, physical evidence that the Stratford man not only was literate, but that he wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare. You can argue about the authenticity of the evidence, or argue that the documentary evidence means something other than what it explicitly says on its face, or you can say that it is the product of a conspiracy, but none of that deprives it of its essential quality as evidence for the Stratfordian attribution [please note, I am not saying proof]. What I believe is that this, along with other evidence, sets forth a prima facie case that WS of Stratford was the author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. A prima facie case establishes what is known as a rebuttable presumption — so far, I haven’t seen any evidence of equal value to override that presumption. In fact, most of what is offered in support of Oxford [or the other alternative candidates] is conjecture and speculation, and attempted ambiguation of unambiguous documents, and would not even qualify as circumstantial evidence.

        Following are the literary references which use the honorific:

        (1.) 1599 (From The Returne from Parnassus, Part I; MS in Bodleian Library): “Mr. Shakspeare” [more than once]

        (2.) 1600 (Stationer’s Register entry for Henry the Fourth, Part Two and Much Ado About Nothing; August 23): “master Shakespere”

        (3.) 1607 (Stationer’s Register entry for King Lear; November 26): “Master William Shakespeare”

        (4.)1608 (Q1 of King Lear): “M. William Shak-speare” (title page) “M William Shak-speare” (head title)

        (5.) 1610 (From The Scourge of Folly by John Davies of Hereford; registered October 8): “Mr. Will: Shake-speare”

        (6.) 1612 (From “Epistle” to The White Devil by John Webster): “M. Shake-speare”

        (7.) 1614 (From Runne and a Great Cast by Thomas Freeman): “Master W. Shakespeare”

        (8.) 1615 (From continuation to 1614 in ed. 5 of John Stow’s Annales, by Edmund Howes): “M. Willi. Shakespeare gentleman”

        (9.) 1616 (Q6 Lucrece): “Mr. William Shakespeare” (title page)

        (10.) 1619 (Title page, Q3 (Pavier quarto) of Henry VI Parts 2 & 3): “William Shakespeare, Gent.”

        (11.) 1619 (Title page, Q2 of King Lear, falsely dated 1608): “M. William Shake-speare”

        (12.) 1619 (Head title of Q2 of King Lear): “M. William Shake-speare”

        (13.) 1622 (Catalogus Universalis pro Nundinis Francofurtensibus; Frankfort book fair list of books to be published in England between April and October 1622): “M. William Shakespeare”

        (14.) 1623 (Stationer’s Register entry for First Folio; November 8): “Mr. William Shakspeer”

        Here are some of the other references to WS of Stratford as “Mr.” Shakespeare, gent.

        (1.) 1601 (Deed transfering the Globe and other Southwark properties from Nicholas Brend to Sir Matthew Brown and John Collett as security for a 2500-pound debt; October 7): “Richard Burbadge and William Shackspeare gent.”

        (2.) 1601 (Updated deed for the above transaction; October 10): “Richard Burbage and William Shakspeare gentlemen”

        (3.) 1608 (Deed transferring the Globe and other properties from John Collett to John Bodley; November 11): “Richard Burbadge & William Shakespeare gent”

        And, of course, that doesn’t even include other evidence such as the Stratford Monument, the First Folio, Ben Jonson’s references in ‘Timber’, and plenty of other evidence that identifies William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author of the works.

        • crowleypaul says:

          Mark Johnson wrote:
          ” . . .The Stratfordian is the only documented William Shakespeare in all of Elizabethan England entitled to be addressed as “Mr.” or “Master”, and is the only one who was permitted to be called a “Gentleman”, according to the College of Arms. . . .”

          You make sound points — but they are merely expressions of the Oxfordian case, not criticisms of it. Other salient facts are that no one at that time would have considered the possibility that a writer of such merit could have been other than a ‘gentleman’. The author was manifestly literate and did not work with his hands (thus qualifying in substance for the honorific). They did not have to know (nor even necessarily believe) that he had a coat-of-arms for them to play safe and use the ‘Mr’. Secondly, the public did not have to know of the existence of the resident of Stratford-upon-Avon of (roughly) that name, who possessed an officially sanctioned title.

          It is the Oxfordian case that the Stratford man was quite deliberately promoted to that rank of gentleman as an essential part of a government cover-up (or, more accurately a back-up part of the cover-up). This elevation followed the appointment of William Camden to Clarenceaux King of Arms (after one day’s ‘training’ as a herald), and lead to a major row within the Heralds office. It also followed a large payment to the Stratford man in early 1597 (at the end of a long period of theatre-closures brought about by the plague) which enabled him to buy New Place and other properties.

          That “Will Shake-speare” (a gentleman living somewhere in the country) was deliberately foisted on the gullible public as the real name of the author is part of the Oxfordian case; likewise that there was a real person (almost certainly illiterate) living in Stratford-upon-Avon with a name that could be taken as that of the author.

          The name “Will Shake-speare” is a transparent Elizabethan pun, and would have long been the pseudonym of the poet. (A principal sense, among many others, was that he shook the emblematic spear of his goddess, the Queen, Pallas Athena, the all-wise, ever-seeing guardian of the city, who loved men but who never allowed them to touch her . . . etc., etc.) Both she and he wanted to publish the works, but could not put them out for what they were. (They would have been misread in the manner of modern ‘Prince Tudor’ theorists.) Both saw the beauty of putting them out over the name of an illiterate. Only those who were incapable of understanding puns and the entire body of literature could believe in such an author. But they formed the great bulk of the populace. Everyone got exactly what they deserved.

          Paul.

          • kj says:

            This is one of the oddest of the many odd Oxfordian claims; it’s another indication of a wish to have it both ways.

            I address this is my review of _The Shakespeare Conspiracy_ over at Bardfilm:

            http://bardfilm.blogspot.com/2011/01/oxfordian-conspiracy.html

            Enjoy!

            kj

          • Holger Syme says:

            Paul: OK, so what you’re saying is that the Oxfordian “case” depends on an entirely evidence-free act of interpretation. Nothing you say in that third paragraph has any kind of documentary support.

            Historically, you’re also painting a very odd picture. The idea that only gentlemen could be writers is manifestly counterfactual (Robert Wilson was born and died a yeoman, etc.). The distinction you draw between gentlemen and those who worked with their hands is ahistorical (Shakespeare’s claim to his social status rested on his father’s official role in the governance of Stratford; whether John Shakespeare worked with his hands or not was totally immaterial). The idea that only gentlemen were expected to be literate is an absurd claim without any basis in historical reality.

            • crowleypaul says:

              Holger, you write:
              ” . . . OK, so what you’re saying is that the Oxfordian “case” depends on an entirely evidence-free act of interpretation. Nothing you say in that third paragraph has any kind of documentary support. . .”

              I am giving a very different account of when, why and how the plays and poems were written. The scenario falls if it cannot provide quite different (and far better) readings of those works, both in detail and in gross. There is nothing unusual here. If a re-interpretation of Spenser’s “Mother Hubberd’s Tale” to fit characters in Dublin in the 1580s makes better sense than one aimed at Burghley in London in the 1590s then we accept it — even if there is evidence that one or two contemporaries thought otherwise. Like later scholars they knew little or nothing about the Dublin politics of that time, and made a simple and obvious mistake.

              ” . . Historically, you’re also painting a very odd picture. The idea that only gentlemen could be writers . . ”

              You missed my qualifications; ” . . in substance . .” and ” . .a writer of such merit . .”

              “. . is manifestly counterfactual (Robert Wilson was born and died a yeoman, etc.). . . ”

              There were a lot of ‘Robert Wilson’s around. I’d need to see good evidence before I’d accept your ‘historical record’.

              ” . . . The distinction you draw between gentlemen and those who worked with their hands is ahistorical . . ”

              It is broad-brush, and not legalistic. But I stand by it. The ‘rule’ that gentlemen were literate did not have to be written down. Everyone knew it. They certainly were not supposed to work with their hands. Whereas the great bulk (~98%?) of the rest of the society had no choice in the matter. A tiny fraction of that ~98% might have had occupations that required writing, but certainly did not qualify them as gentlemen: scriveners, actors, printers. But it was tiny.

              ” . . (Shakespeare’s claim to his social status rested on his father’s official role in the governance of Stratford . . ”

              The case of the Stratford man is an illustration of where the rules were breached, not upheld.

              ” . . whether John Shakespeare worked with his hands or not was totally immaterial . . “.

              Sorry but this is nonsense. There was class distinction — going back hundreds (or thousands) of years, and continuing up to recent times. That was based on social roles. Nearly everyone had to work with their hands; those hands were usually hard, and _therefore_ incapable of doing fine work or of holding a pen. A small fraction of the male population could escape manual labour. They had soft hands, and were able to wield a pen. They were known as ‘gentlemen’. A few manual occupations might also allow (or require) soft hands: jewellers, tailors, barbers, cooks, musicians, bakers(?), some retailers,

              ” . . . The idea that only gentlemen were expected to be literate is an absurd claim without any basis in historical reality. . . ”

              Not what I said. However, historical reality is about how people lived their lives — which is mostly about how they made a living. Name the occupations (other than scriveners, actors, printers, and a few clerks) where literacy might be expected. (The professions, doctors, lawyers, clergymen, teachers, were of course strictly for gentlemen.)

              Paul.

              • Holger Syme says:

                Paul,

                I’m sorry, but your comments really show an astonishing lack of knowledge about early modern England. Just a few facts about literacy:

                - in the late 15th century (i.e., over 100 years earlier) almost half the lay population of London appears to have been literate.

                - In the wake of the advent of printing, literacy rates skyrocketed in England, and the Reformation led to a massive increase in schooling levels. Examples: of 398 Essex parishes, 258 had a school; of 53 Hertfordshire ones, 44 did. By the turn of the 17th century, the majority of Englishmen (gender specificity deliberate) were almost certainly literate, and at least 30 percent could write as well as read. The more urban the population, the higher the literacy levels. Historians believe that among the gentle and professional classes, literacy was near-universal at that point.

                - How about publication figures? Book historians estimate that between 1576 and 1640, 300,000 books were printed in England EVERY YEAR. Add to that something like 3-4 million broadsheet ballads, a popular format (not a “gentle” one) in the second half of the 16th century alone (all figures from Adam Fox, Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700, Cambridge 2000). Who do you suppose read all those materials? The “tiny” fraction of the population that needed to be able to read?

                The world you’re describing may have existed in the darkest middle ages, but it’s really the stuff of legend. I can only advise you to have a look at some of the work historians have done over the past decades. I think you’ll find it a revelation.

                • crowleypaul says:

                  Holger, you write:

                  ” . . I’m sorry, but your comments really show an astonishing lack of knowledge about early modern England. . .”

                  I note that you don’t answer my question: “Name the occupations (other than scriveners, actors, printers, and a few clerks) where literacy might be expected”. Why not?

                  ” . . . – in the late 15th century (i.e., over 100 years earlier) almost half the lay population of London appears to have been literate. . . ”

                  On what is this ‘appearance’ based? It’s probably signatures of marriage registers and the like. But that ignores the common practice whereby people learned to write their signatures in much the same way as others learned to write their marks, (e.g. Judith Shaksper’s famous ‘pigtail’, which was probably intended as a ‘ J ‘ joined to an ‘S’).

                  ” . . . – In the wake of the advent of printing, literacy rates skyrocketed in England . .”

                  How is this known? What printed works would the typical worker (say, bricklayer) have read?

                  ” . , and the Reformation led to a massive increase in schooling levels . . ”

                  Simply false. The Reformation (essentially in England dating from the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1541) brought about chaos in the education system. The great bulk of teachers were clergy, who simply lost their jobs. They could no longer be trusted with the education of young minds.

                  ” . . Examples: of 398 Essex parishes, 258 had a school; of 53 Hertfordshire ones, 44 did.

                  The monastry-based schools (Stratford is as good an example) as
                  any had to be replaced. But a new generation of teachers had to be found. That was not easy, leading to the employment of many who were inadequate as well as Catholics, many of whom fled to the Continent as things got worse for them, especially after the Rebellion of the Northern Earls in late 1569 and the Papal Bull of 1570

                  ” . . By the turn of the 17th century, the majority of Englishmen (gender specificity deliberate) were almost certainly literate . . ”

                  Ridiculous — both in terms of number and gender (an academic myth). What family educated its sons (as regards literacy) but left its daughters illiterate? If it were a common condition, then the literate sons should have left numerous records of having to read material for their sisters, mothers, or daughters. Such records are virtually non-existent.

                  “. . . and at least 30 percent could write as well as read. . .”

                  The ‘ . .reading but not writing . . ‘ is another academic myth. Taking the whole modern world as your data set, never have there been so many illiterate parents with literate children as there are today. Where — in the modern world — are these supposed adults or supposed children who can read but not write? If Tudor England was different in some way, why and how was it so?

                  ” . . Historians believe that among the gentle and professional classes, literacy was near-universal at that point. . . ”

                  Of course. Without literacy they could be neither gentle nor professional.

                  ” . . – How about publication figures? Book historians estimate that between 1576 and 1640, 300,000 books were printed in England EVERY YEAR. . . ”

                  Let’s say that by 1640 the population was 4 millon, or (say) 800,000 families. Those that could read (e.g. the Moores and the Pepys) added up to maybe 16,000 families (i.e. 2%). That 2% bought an average of 20 books a year — making a total of 320,000 per year. The rest (98%) bought nothing.

                  We get a reflection of a world we can recognise.

                  ” . . . Add to that something like 3-4 million broadsheet ballads, a popular format (not a “gentle” one) in the second half of the 16th century alone . . ”

                  4 million over 50 years is 80,000 per year. Let’s say a balladeer buys 50 ballads a year (one a week). That’s 1,600 literate balladeers — or balladeers with literate friends who will read the words for the singer to learn.

                  ” . . (all figures from Adam Fox, Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700, Cambridge 2000). Who do you suppose read all those materials? The “tiny” fraction of the population that needed to be able to read? . . ”

                  Yes. You’ve got it.

                  ” . . The world you’re describing may have existed in the darkest middle ages, but it’s really the stuff of legend. I can only advise you to have a look at some of the work historians have done over the past decades. I think you’ll find it a revelation. . . ”

                  There was no sudden increase in literacy around 1570 or 1600 or 1640 or (pick any date) before the Education Act of 1870. There was a slow steady improvement over the centuries as the jobs that required literacy increased. This is Economics 101, or basic Social Systems, or common sense. The rest is fantasy.

                  You fail to understand that literacy is hard to acquire, especially in families where the tradition does not exist. They have to pay for tutors, and their children have to learn something that their parents, and their friends don’t do, and for which they see no need. Paper, books pens and ink are all foreign. In the summer, work is pressing and their is little waking time for them to waste on such an unproductive activity. In the winter, the evenings are long and dark, and candles are expensive. Literacy is a skill acquired only under compulsion — whether governmental or economic. There was no compulsion for more than a small fraction of the Elizabethan population.

                  Paul.

                  • Holger Syme says:

                    OK, Paul, I’m sorry: I have better things to do with my time than argue with someone who dismisses generations of historians’ work — not “Shakespeare scholars” — on the basis of a back-of-the-napkin common sense argument. I respect the exhaustive work these colleagues have done, working largely from the parish-level up, and providing data sets that show that your global assertions are simply incorrect. We have endless stories of yeomen and tradespeople able to read and write — people like blacksmiths, and yes people like bricklayers. The figures for schools I listed were for late-Elizabethan years.

                    Having worked with archival documents for years, I consider the notion that there was a common practice of teaching illiterate people to write their “signature” quite simply a myth — I’ve never come across evidence that this is true. Illiterate people made a mark. You will, of course, dismiss this as anecdotal or impossible to prove, but frankly, I don’t care.

                    All I can say is that your ideas about early modern society are out of the step with the consensus among historians over the past decades. If you want to dismiss that work as well as the work being done in English departments, be my guest, but I really don’t see the point of even having a conversation if the only thing you will accept is what sounds right to you and fits your preconceived notions of what England (or Shakespeare) was like.

                    • Tom Foster says:

                      You’ve been admirably patient, Holger, but there simply is no way to discuss things rationally with Paul Crowley. He’s notorious at humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare for dismissing all historical documents that contradict his ‘theories’ as fakes, forgeries or jokes. He has no evidence for anything he writes; he simply ‘knows’.

                      Take a look at his analysis of a Shakespeare sonnet, if you can bear to. It should give you some idea of the kind of mind you’re trying to reason with:

                      http://groups.google.com/group/humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare/msg/8444a684dc586968

                    • kj says:

                      I’d like to add that literate people occasionally signed with their mark on a document as well. I also have examined numerous manuscripts, and I find this to be consistent. Sometimes a full signature is given; sometimes the same person, in a rush—not wanting to be bothered—will simply put a mark.

                      kj

                    • Holger Syme says:

                      Indeed. I know I shouldn’t feed the troll, but I can’t help myself:

                      If 16,000 families bought an average of 20 books a year, they would have accumulated libraries of 500+ books per generation. Where are those thousands of large libraries?

                      John Dee’s library of 3000+ books was the largest in England in 1583. Senior scholars at Oxford and Cambridge sometimes collected over 300 books, but the vast majority of those were in foreign languages and imported from the continent.

                      Among the 200 or so book inventories catalogued by the Private Libraries of Renaissance England project, a vanishingly small number contains more than 100 books, with a majority of libraries holding less than 50 — and most of those are the collections of clerics and scholars. See their data here.

                      The idea that 2% of English families bought all English books printed every year, building vast collections over time, is nothing but fiction.

                    • crowleypaul says:

                      [I deleted this post. I'm not having anyone use phrases like "kill-file" on my blog, as Paul Crowley did in his post. There are enough outlets for committed Oxfordians on the web, and I would ask Paul to take his views to one of them. -- HSS]

                    • crowleypaul says:

                      [Comments are too nested at this point and I can't respond to Paul Crowley properly anymore. I also made it clear that I didn't think this was a fruitful conversation, given Mr Crolwey's unwillingness to acquire a working knowledge of the current state of historical studies; I have neither the time nor the willpower to keep responding to him, and am not willing to offer him a forum where he can voice his ideas uncontestedly. I will therefore respectfully ask him to resort to one of the many Oxfordian websites for further comments. -- HSS]

      • Linda Theil says:

        Dear Professor Syme, I don’t understand your recourse to Chaucer, because that reference seems to undermine your position. Even though Chaucer lived 200 years before Shakespeare, the documentary evidence linking the Chaucer to his work and his life to his work is persuasive, whereas nothing like that body of evidence exists for the man from Stratford. For those, like me, who do not find the Stratfordian argument persuasive, that lack of evidence is significant. I understand that others find the evidence for a Stratfordian attribution of Shakespeare’s work persuasive, but to compare that evidence to the the wealth of documentation for Chaucer seems, to me, to be totally incorrect — and, as I said, seems to make the point AGAINST the Stratfordian attribution.

        • Robert says:

          Ms Theil, Based on your comments, you do not appear to understand what is or isn’t known about writers from the Elizabethan/Jacobean period. There are gaps in the “biographies” of all of them. For some, we don’t know if they went to school. For some, we don’t know when they were active writers. For some, we don’t know when they died. Given they were all middle-class men, these gaps are not unusual or surprising or significant.

          It goes without saying, I would like to know more. It would be helpful if the dates of composition, dates of first performances, and original cast lists were included in the First Folio. One the other hand, at the time the volume was printed, this information could have been left out because there was no room, or this information was not considered important, or some other reason.

          When it comes to evidence, I like this quote. “And the absense of historical evidence is never the same as evidence of absense.” Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson & Prof. Stanley Wells, CBE

  16. Blair says:

    I only want to know one thing…how can I get in touch with Mr. Crowley. He is brilliant!

    • Holger Syme says:

      Would you explain to me why you think so? I’ve argued in some detail against Paul’s assertion upthread, and have outlined where he has gone wrong, but he hasn’t responded. I’d love to hear an Oxfordian perspective on the supposed brilliance of his misinformed comments.

  17. William Ray says:

    You can’t ignore your responsibility to inquire into the history behind the Stratford narrative, which has always been full of contradiction and a distorted concept of creativity. It has always been just so!–that someone whose signature and entire biography suggest disinterest in art, was the consummate philosopher and artist, Shakespeare. That isn’t good enough for honest scholarship.

    You appear to base your distaste for that inquiry on the failure of Oxfordians to use recognizable methods of determining evidence. Therefore please explain away the following co-incidences. Edward de Vere wrote Romeus and Juliet at age twelve. It later became Romeo and Juliet, and lines of it reappeared in Two Gentlemen of Verona. Hamlet replicates the early biography of someone whose father was poisoned and supplanted by a rival, his mother quickly married the poisoner’s adjutant,who was put in the custody of an official who married him off to his own daughter. Is it starting to look like Edward de Vere’s father,his father’s poisoner Leicester, his mother Margery Vere, his warder William Cecil, and Cecil’s daughter Anne? Two Noble Kinsmen is referenced above as a collaboration of Fletcher and ‘Shakespeare’. But it had a precedent: Palomon and Arcite by Edward de Vere, performed before the Queen in 1566. The subplot was added after Oxford died and the altered play published in 1634. Some of the same phrases written by the adolescent de Vere remained in the final version.

    Setting aside the over-educated claptrap, the truth is you have made a serious status-quo-favoring error of ignoring factual and literary realities. I could go on for hours about the de Vere related precedents for Macbeth (The Tragedie of the Kinge of Scottes 1567), Merchant of Venice (Portio or The Jew 1578), Taming of the Shrew (A Pleasant Conceit 1577), A Comedy of Errors (A History of Error 1577), and many more. But that may do for recognizable methods of evidence–the near identity of plays by Edward de Vere to plays attributed to Shakespeare. Either ‘Shakespeare’ was the most outrageous plagiarer in history, or de Vere used Shakespeare as a pseudonym subscribing his revised plays, now familiar to us as part of the Shakespeare canon.

    I think you are riding a three-legged horse and complaining that that the rival is just not playing fair riding a quadruped. It isn’t my fault I honor the truth and wish to see it vindicated. You and your colleagues should do the same.

    William Ray
    wjray.net

    • Holger Syme says:

      William,
      thanks for another post fuelled by evangelical energy, but again, no dice. Shakespeare wasn’t “the consummate philosopher and artist.” That’s precisely my point: the history of skepticism begins after people start talking about Shakespeare in such impossibly inflated terms. I have NO idea how a signature can say anything about someone’s interest in art.

      I’m not going to go into detail about your list of titles: there’s not a shred of documentary evidence to suggest, let alone prove, that de Vere authored _Palomon and Arcite_, which is a lost academic play, and we have no idea whether it informed _TNK_. All of the other texts you list in your penultimate paragraph only survive as titles with no documented connection to de Vere, with the exception of the “pleasant conceit” — but in that case, you can’t prove the connection to 12N (or any other play), or that the text was in fact a play at all. If that’s the best you can do, good luck.

    • Bob Grumman says:

      Gad, Holger, you’re getting them all!

      It was cruel of you to send Paul Crowley off to Oxfordian sites, by the way–they won’t have anything to do with him, either. But I continue arguing with him at HLAS, a google newsgroup (humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare). I not only can’t win an argument with him, I can’t even get him to allow that anything I’ve said against his assertions IS an argument.

  18. rstritmatter says:

    Here is a clue about your hero Shapiro:

    http://shake-speares-bible.com/2010/04/18/james-shapiro-and-the-notorious-hyphen/

    “My favorite response to any rabid Oxfordian is to tell them to read CONTESTED WILL and come back to me with a point-by-point response. To date, it hasn’t happened.”

    Bow wow. Now it has. Better check into the hospital fast.

    • Holger Syme says:

      Just to clarify: you’re not quoting me. I think there is much to admire in James Shapiro’s scholarship, especially his first two books, but as you well know if you’ve read my comments here, I don’t agree with him in every way and on everything (that’s the norm in the humanities). I don’t consider him a “hero” (that’s not a term I find useful or appealing).

      • rstritmatter says:

        Many people do treat Shapiro as a hero. Tom Reedy for example. But I’m glad to hear that you are not one of them.

        • Holger Syme says:

          Re. your review: yes, that is an unfortunate error. I also don’t think the spacing/kerning issue is the sole explanation for the occasional hyphen. But italics vs. roman isn’t the only factor. In the example from the folio, the particular italic typeface is highly ornamented, with large swashes, and your photoshopped illustration doesn’t show what you think it shows — you’d need to see the actual pieces of type to know whether the k and the s would have collided (I suspect they would have). As for compositors using blank spacers in a situation like that, I doubt it, since it would make the one word/name look like two. In this particular instance, I suspect the hyphen really is motivated by the typeface; and the second appearance of the name in the next line follows that precedent even though there’s no typographical need. That said, on the same F page, the name is spelled twice with a single hyphen in Digges’ poem as well, which also has it with a double hyphen; and it’s entirely unhyphenated in the title of that poem (where it’s in roman small caps). Two pages earlier, in Hugh Holland’s poem, the name is one word in the title (caps) and in the text, where it appears in italics; here, however, the typeface is far less ornamented, with hardly any swashes at all, so the “e” alone does the trick of keeping the k and the s apart — or rather, in this case, the k and the sp ligature (which Jaggard doesn’t seem to have owned for the larger italic typeface).

          • I’m glad you appreciate at least some of the significance of the error. But its not just an error. It’s emblematic of Shapiro’s entire cavalier approach to fundamental questions of evidence. For example, he asserts that the authorship question didn’t start until the 19th century. This shows how unfamiliar he is with the literature of the 1590s, which shows every evidence already of responding obliquely to an authorship question already known to be problematic among the writers of the day. Likewise,there is simply no way that you can explain away the instances of hyphenation by appeal to any kind of typographical necessity. It doesn’t work. Period. The many uses of the hyphen can only be explained by the inference that the typographer was setting what he saw before him on the manuscript. This is, of course, only a small part of the picture. Step back and look at how Shapiro in effect lied about the sources of his knowledge that the Wilmot manuscript may be a forgery. He got the idea from the Oxfordians. His book not only contains mistakes that no fourth grader should have made, it’s fundamentally dishonest.

            • Holger Syme says:

              No, Roger, you can’t explain all instances of hyphenation that way. Some you can. On the whole, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what particular compositors (or just possibly publishers) chose to hyphenate. You are entirely wrong, though, in your presumption about manuscript sources being the answer. We have positive evidence that compositors didn’t — and in some cases, like punctuation, weren’t supposed to — follow their copy.

              I’d love to hear some good examples of the 1590s “oblique” references to an authorship controversy. None I’ve seen were remotely convincing — certainly no more convincing than the cryptographic readings Baconians are so fond of. And no more convincing than explicit title page and stationers’ registry attributions.

  19. rstritmatter says:

    I’d be happy to debate you any time. Just name the time and place. But you’ll need to be better prepared than you were in this blog…Just saying. Its easy to beat up on an idea you don’t understand. Here’s the short version of why you may be wrong:

    http://shake-speares-bible.com/2011/10/17/an-abbreviated-history-of-shakespearean-scholarship-1976-2011/

    • Holger Syme says:

      Roger: why don’t you point out the weaknesses in my post, paying special attention, if you would, to things I supposedly don’t understand. Thanks.

      I have no idea what that sequence of book covers is supposed to demonstrate. Almost none of them are published by academic presses, and few of them represent the work most academic scholars do.

      • Blair says:

        Who publishes the book is not nearly as important as what is IN the book. I would love to see this debate. Do it! Do it!

        • Holger Syme says:

          Blair, I politely disagree. Roger’s version of “Shakespeare scholarship” is made up almost entirely of works written for a non-academic audience and focused on either biography or the “authorship controversy.” It’s a massively distorted representation of what “Shakespeare scholarship” has been about for the past 30+ years, and as an English PhD, he knows that very well. At least I hope, for his alma mater’s sake, that he does.

          • rstritmatter says:

            Sir:

            You don’t know squat about my “Shakespeare scholarship.” Please check out my cv before you publish further nonsense. It’s available on my site. I provided you with one link to a blog post that might have suggested to you the crisis of your own discipline. Instead you attack the messenger. How impressive.

            • Holger Syme says:

              Roger,

              I have no idea how you can possibly know what I know or don’t know about your work. We’ve never met or talked before. But in any case, as should have been evident from the context of the exchange between Blair and me, I was referring to the “Shakespeare scholarship” depicted in your blog post (you linked to it). I didn’t attack any messenger. I attacked the distorted message that what the book covers in that post represent is in fact representative of the state of Shakespeare studies now (or over the past 40 years). Knickers untwisted?

              • rstritmatter says:

                You made a false generalization based on your misunderstanding of one blog post. You should be more careful.

                • Holger Syme says:

                  For crying out loud! What did I generalize about? You wrote a blog post in which you depict the covers of a number of books. Those books supposedly represent an abstract of “Shakespeare Scholarship (1976-2011).” I contest that your selection is in any way actually representative — with two exceptions (Schoenbaum and Marcus) none of these books are written primarily for an academic audience, and they don’t stand for the kind of work most early modernists are doing. Have you perhaps not read Leah Marcus’s work? Her “puzzling” Shakespeare has nothing to do with the “authorship controversy” (though she spends two pages discussing the relationship between her topical approach to interpretation and that favoured by many Oxfordians).

                  Again: I did not say a thing about the quality of your scholarship. I said your representation of the history of Shakespeare scholarship was way off. Where’s the generalization?

      • rstritmatter says:

        Then you don’t read very well.

        • Holger Syme says:

          Apparently I don’t, because I have no idea what you mean by this either. Do be patient and explain yourself, would you?

          • rstritmatter says:

            Reread the first sentence of your blog, and then revisit my website. The claim of your first sentence is utterly spurious, although I didn’t really explain the details in that post. Orthodox Shakespeareans have been responding in detail to the authorship question at least since Charlotte Spurgeon’s 1935 *Shakespeare’s Imagery.* It has accounted for much of the best and much of the worst Shakespearean scholarship ever written. The fact that you are not aware of this history is not perhaps your own fault, but as someone who wants to be taken seriously as a scholar you should, imho, avoid these kind of blanket prejudicial statements that emanate from ignorance. Puzzling Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Ghostwriters, etc, these are all titles reflective of the industry’s uncertain response, primarily, to Charlton Ogburn’s book. You might want to read it. If you can’t afford it, here, at least, is Looney, free and online:

            http://www.shakespearefellowship.org/etexts/si/00.htm

            Your blog is filled with further prejudicial remarks that are similarly reflective of your lack of preparation to hold a meaningful conversation on the topic in question, for example the condescending sentence: “we will have to explain, in venues and formats as popular and widely available as those used by the anti-Stratfordians, why their claims don’t make sense; and we will have to be much more robust in our presentation of the facts.” No. You will have to read some books you don’t like and learn from them. That is what real scholarship is about. You refer to “the virtual absence of a serious scholarly dismantling of Kreiler’s arguments and assertions, they have begun to attain the kind of cultural authority that makes it possible for theatres to present Shakespeare’s plays as someone else’s without so much as an asterisk alerting audiences to the controversial nature of the claim.” Wow. Are we supposed to jump through your rings of fire too? Your blog offers not a word of substantive criticism of Kreiler. We get it that you don’t like the book, but all you’ve done is to repeat in various ways that you don’t like it, and perpetuated the most likely wholly false notion that you have anything of substance behind your prejudicial opinions. I have neither the time nor the interest in going through your missive line by line. Best of luck. It’s best not to throw stones when you live in a glass house.

            • Holger Syme says:

              OK, look: I’m an “orthodox” Shakespearean. I’ve been taught by “orthodox” Shakespeareans. I’m friends with many “orthodox” Shakespeareans. I go to the “orthodox” Shakespearean conferences every year, I read “orthodox” Shakespearean journals and books, I publish in those venues, and I teach my students a fairly “orthodox” version of Shakespeare (that last claim may not be entirely true, depending on how one defines orthodoxy). And I can assure you that for most of us in this field, the authorship question is an annoyance that detracts from the work most of us do, work that has little to do with authorship. It must be even worse for the small but growing (thanks to the rise of the digital humanities) cottage industry of attribution studies, but by and large, this is just not a question that anyone spends much time on — it’s not a matter of fear or anxiety, it’s that most of us do the kind of research for which authorship is not a major concern. That’s just a fact. If you don’t believe me, well, all I can do is send you to the long review sections of SEL and Shakespeare Survey. See if the extensive overviews of recent criticism there show a marked focus on Shakespeare as a person. I’d be shocked if they did, because I don’t know many scholars, especially younger scholars, who do that kind of work.

              I didn’t say “orthodox” Shakespeareans had never responded to authorship skeptics. I said that currently, and for quite some time, most of us simply ignore the issue, because it’s irrelevant to what we do.

              I have to ask again: have you read Leah Marcus’s book (and Marjorie Garber’s, the other one you cite here)? They’re in no way inspired by or responding to the perceived threat of authorship skepticism. Marcus’s book is a prime example of early New Historicism, and argues for a return to topical readings; it was quite important at the time, but I don’t find its historiography especially reliable. Garber’s book is a deconstruction of all sorts of ideas about “authorship” — she deals with Looney et al. a bit, but is primarily interested in them as a cultural phenomenon, evidence of a particular way of thinking about writing. It’s a high-theory kind of book, informed by the heady mixture of Lacanian and Freudian psychoanalysis and various forms of post-structualist thought that Garber was working with in the 80s and early 90s, but it’s much more about Shakespeare as a cultural force than about the plays. She’s not a historicist by any stretch of the imagination; I have no idea how her work would in any way be affected by any revelations of any kind about Shakespeare’s biography.

              I’m frankly a bit puzzled by all of this. I find it hard to imagine that you don’t know the kind of work mainstream early modernists produce at all — you did, after all, graduate from a respected department. So I have to conclude that you’re presenting this skewed picture deliberately; but I don’t understand what the purpose of that would be. Care to explain?

              Finally, a word about my post and your response to it. You must see, surely, that I’m speaking to fellow Shakespeareans? The “we” is a pretty clearly defined entity here. I’m sure you must also have gathered that this post is both a rallying cry and an expression of my willingness to engage with your ideas. I have, in fact, spent more time than I should like to admit reading through Oxfordian essays and websites, and even the odd book. Your blanket assumption that I’m driven by prejudice rather than motivated by judgement is telling in itself. But what I haven’t done, and what I’m planning to do, is actually respond to what I’ve read. You’re right that this particular post does not critique Kreiler. I suspect a future post might get to that. That wasn’t my point in this post. Instead, what I argued (if you will reread what I wrote) is that “we” need to make our case more forcefully and directly, and that “we” can’t fall back on tired and, indeed, flawed positions in the process.

              I’m not going to pretend that I’m interested in an objective assessment of the merits of each side’s case. I’m interested in being honest about what’s weak in traditional Shakespeare scholarship, because I think that such honesty will make it easier to show just how misguided and ill-informed the vast bulk of anti-Stratfordian arguments are. This is the start of a project, not its conclusion.

              • I’ve not only read those books, but they have deeply influenced by my understanding of the present predicament for almost twenty years now. Here’s my cv: http://faculty.coppin.edu/pages/RStritmatter/cv.htm

                I’m not surprised that you are puzzled. You should be. But, am I going to answer your question about “deliberately presenting a skewed picture”? Hello. That’s your interpretation and tendentious accusation.

                You say: “I’m not going to pretend that I’m interested in an objective assessment of the merits of each side’s case.”

                No kidding. That much is obvious. And its your loss, not ours. I read these books and many others from the point of view of an intellectual historian, not someone with an a priori commitment to a body of knowledge that I *assume* to be valid and authoritative.

                So let me ask you: have *you* read Kurt Kreiler’s book? Or, to be more accurate, had you read it when you posted about it? Because I certainly can’t tell that you have. I can tell that you’ve read Shapiro’s “brilliant” book, and apparently you missed the fact that he based a significant part of his argument on a factual error that no graduate student should make – and that really no fourth grader should make. Why is it that I can come up with a glaring error in Shapiro, and the best you can do with Kreiler is to abstractly condemn his book for having a “’mystery-like’ appeal” that “seems to matter more than its credibility.” Not a word of your long post even touches the book’s credibility. You just assume the work has none and ask your readers to assume the same. Your post is one long appeal to prejudice and prejudgment. Forgive me for hazarding the conjecture that this makes your cross examination of my readings habits particularly, well, problematic.

                • Holger Syme says:

                  Roger: why do you keep urging me to look at your CV (and again, why do you keep assuming I don’t know it already)? What am I supposed to find there? I can’t say I see any marked traces of the influence of critics like Garber or Marcus — should I?

                  I take your non-answer as an answer in disguise: you actually think those books represent a fair abstract of Shakespeare scholarship over the past 35 years. In that case, you actually don’t know the field at all. I didn’t want to conclude that, but I don’t see how I can’t. That’s an “interpretation,” but not an unreasonable one. How is it “tendentious”?

                  Re. Kreiler, I’ll refer you first to the post you were responding to; secondly, to my quotation marks around “mystery-like” (that was the tenor of the many positive reviews of the book in Germany: it tells a gripping, “mystery-like” story — which is not a standard of credibility I find compelling, but I can see why a journalist might). I’ve read Kreiler’s book as quickly and, frankly, superficially, as Shapiro’s. I didn’t see anything new there, though I hadn’t been aware of the Oxfordian notion that Oxford also wrote part of George Gascoigne’s oeuvre (though I now see that Kreiler, who claims this is his discovery, got that idea from Charles Beauclerk — or elsewhere?).

                  I can’t help but find it revealing that you repeatedly make large assumptions about what I have “assumed” or have (or haven’t) done. Your readerly attention to my writing also leaves something to be desired (I didn’t judge Kreiler’s book in that sentence but it’s critical reception). I don’t know where you get the idea that I worship at the altar of received wisdom. As I said elsewhere here, that’s not something I’ve been accused of before.

                  • You seem to be full of assumptions about me, but fail to answer my question. You haven’t read Kreiler’s book. Guess what? Neither have I. The difference is, I didn’t launch myself into cyberspace criticizing it without reading it. You take exception to Kreiler’s argument that Oxford had a lot to do with the poetry in Hundredth Sundrie Flowers. I wonder if you have read that book. I can’t tell that you have. I’ve been studying it for twenty years and, for my part, I find Kreiler’s arguments on that point — with which I *am* familiar through the debate being carried on in the pages of Brief Chronicles, a journal I edit: http://www.briefchronicles.com. Not all Oxfordians agree, but I find serious evidence for two hands in the book, and I subscribe to Kreiler’s view that this is best explained in the hypothesis that Gascoigne wrote only a few of the poems in that book (although two years later claiming the lot for himself), and that Oxford seems a very likely candidate for the rest. You say that you refer me to your previous post regarding Kreiler. But that post does not answer my question. It appears that you have not read Kreiler with any care. You certainly have not read with any care the long history of scholarship on the topic of Burghley’s satirical portrait as Polonius, not to mention a number of other topics such as the date of the Tempest on which you affect to inform your readers. Here is a better link for you, one that places the “irrelevant” (to you anyway) comments of Justice Stevens in more complete historical context. http://www.sourcetext.com/sourcebook/essays/polonius/corambis.html

                    Adjectives are not the same as arguments.

                    • Holger Syme says:

                      Roger: your certainties are as endearing as they are devoid of any basis. If you were willing to read, you’d find that I did answer your question: I will address a series of specific issues one at a time in a series of blog posts, not ad hoc in a comments section. I’m aware of the ancient idea that Polonius is Cecil. I’m also aware of the notion that R3 is Robert Cecil. I know the traditional claim that Elizabeth thought Shakespeare’s R2 represented her. I think they’re all entirely spurious, and an example of bad Shakespearean scholarship — but the fact that we’re capable of poor scholarship and have a long history of it doesn’t really help your cause, does it?

                      But really, you’re just opening up battle line after battle line, without addressing the point I was making: that your version of what “Shakespeare scholarship” has been for the past 35 years is either a wilful distortion or a sign of your ignorance as an intellectual historian. Why don’t you talk about that.

  20. I. Ask scientists for help. They’ve been doing this sort of thing for a long time.

    II. Talk, too, to Norris Lacy, who, like other Arthurian scholars, tried to ignore the “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” rubbish until the “DaVinci Code” movie drove him to speak out.

    III. It would certainly make a great deal of difference if we were to discover that “Hadrian VII” had been written by, say, John Kensit.

    IV. For this immediate purpose, it is sufficient that we have a certain terminus a quo for The Tempest, and an even better one for Cardenio (though the madder Oxfordians will attempt to counter you by saying that The Tempest is spurious and that Oxford wrote Don Quixote “in the original English”).

    V. I quite agree about the Epilogue to 2H4. When I got to that passage in Shapiro, my eyebrows, Spock-like, nearly flew off my face.

    VI. We can yet reserve the right to swoon a little from time to time, even in this very cause. From Delia Bacon on, the key to most anti-Stratfordianism has been not bardolatry simpliciter, but a queer sort of “Ibsenist” bardolatry (so to speak) that values the plays, not for what they are, but for a phantom “philosophy” that is supposed to inform them. Those who are deaf to Shakespeare’s poetry and blind to his drawing of characters, but know (because they have been told so) that his are works of greatness, though they cannot detect it, will gaze into the clouds and see alternate virtues to praise, and “philosophy” is as good a word as any to substitute for “fancy” in such cases.

  21. Tom Reedy says:

    For those who need an authorship primer, I suggest the Wikipedia article, “Shakespeare authorship question” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare_authorship_question. Unfortunately, the various Wikipedia Oxfordian articles don’t come up to the standards of the SAQ article.

  22. Jess says:

    I also think that, even without fully engaging in arguments with Oxfordians, Stratfordians could do themselves a big favor simply by adjusting the attitude with which they respond to inquiries about the topic. Let me explain…
    I became curious about the authorship question in high school when my English teacher mentioned it. I always meant to look into it, and several years later, I finally got around to it. I visited the Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet website, and one of the first things you see written under the ‘authorship’ category is, “Most of us think it manifest that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, and think it not worth the effort to argue the point with those who don’t.”
    ‘Well, thank you,’ I thought sarcastically, ‘Glad you’ve cleared that one up for me.’
    I didn’t need to immediately find counterpoints to all of the Oxfordian arguments (something which I think is impossible anyway, since their arguments are always shifting). But the contemptuous, dismissive attitude was a major turn-off. Nobody wants to be told how to think. A curious person wants to find answers for themselves. I soldiered on past my initial indignance, but it’s easy to imagine that many people don’t. I’m sure that many people embrace the anti-Stratfordian stance purely out of rebellion.
    Simply encouraging, rather than discouraging, a person’s curiosity, could make a lot of difference in my opinion.

    • This is an important comment. Yes, there is the text, and the author “should” be in the background (as Joyce said, the author should be like God, “paring his fingernails”) but in the instance of Shakespeare the horse has left the barn. We are dealing with human curiosity about the author and it will only become more inflamed. If serious Shakespeareans could greed doubters with respect and engage in serious dialogue, we might really get somewhere together.

      • Holger Syme says:

        Bronwyn — sure, but that curiosity is largely a Romantic and post-Romantic phenomenon. People are surprised now that there is so little evidence about Shakespeare’s life, but historically, there’s nothing surprising about this at all. I’m happy to engage in dialogue, and I can respect skepticism (I certainly respect skeptics much more than believers in one or another alternative candidate), but I also rely on standards of evidence and reasonable doubt — which is why my point will always be that misplaced skepticism is no more rigorous or advisable than misplaced faith.

        • Eric Johnson-DeBaufre says:

          This response really hits several nails on the head all at once. And it draws attention to a terminological problem, one of which I am as guilty as anyone; how do we refer to those who refuse to accept William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author of the plays that bear that name? To call them anti-Stratfordians confers upon them the more neutral appearance of being merely skeptics when in fact they are ardent believers in their chosen candidate. I have found that believers in other candidates frequently hide behind the mask of doubt, but it is clear when one engages them that their position as believers involves them in a very different epistemological stance than genuine skeptics. So while it is often convenient to use the “Anti-Stratfordian” label to refer to all those who believe in other candidates (Oxford, Bacon, Marlowe, Derby), doing so has unfortunate consequences that we would do better to avoid.

          Finally, I think you have raised something here that really needs to be at the forefront of our conversations with the believers, namely the differences in our standards of evidence. Early modern scholars–at least those with historical interests–enter into discussions of authorship with the assumption that to understand the composition of these particular plays one needs to know something about the nature of playing companies, the broader culture of the public and private stage (including competition between playhouses, vogues for plays on certain subjects, awareness of changing stylistic fashion, etc,) the reading and writing practices inculcated through the grammar schools, early modern print culture, and so forth. They thus draw on a range of evidence from several subfields in early modern studies. Believers, by contrast, appear to think that the composition of these plays is explicable by appeals to biography. Their evidentiary base is thus of the slenderest sort (and of course precisely the sort to favor elite members of the nobility as the authors of all early modern literature, not simply the plays of Shakespeare), yet on it they erect a massive edifice called Oxfordianism, or Baconianism, or what you will.

    • I agree completely. More curiosity and less dogma is what we all need.

    • Jess says:

      Hmmm, perhaps I should clarify, in case I was misunderstood, that I’m not an ‘anti-Stratfordian,’ and I don’t believe that there is any reasonable reason to believe that anybody but William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the plays attributed to him. When I speak of ‘encouraging curiosity,’ I don’t mean that as a euphemism for ‘pretend that theories which aren’t grounded in sound scholarship are reasonable.’ I meant that bit of advice for those who don’t have the time to go in depth refuting claims. I’m sure that many don’t have the time to do the in-depth debunking that this blog is currently engaging in. I’m trying to say that, even for those who don’t have the time, I think that choosing your words carefully when asked by laypeople about the authorship questions could make some difference to how they approach it.

  23. crowleypaul says:

    You write:
    “Speaking for myself, I’m fairly confident that not a word I’ve ever written about Shakespeare’s plays would be invalidated if we discovered tomorrow that all of the works were in fact authored by a hitherto unheralded haberdasher’s son from Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Or by the Earl of Rutland.”

    Unfortunately, that is probably true, and would be true for almost every ‘authoritative’ statement on the works over the last 300 years or so. But about which other author could it be said? ” . . . Not a word I’ve written on Tolstoy would be invalidated .. . . if in fact his works were authored by Thomas Hardy . . “. ” . . . Not a word I’ve written on William Blake would be invalidated .. . . if in fact his works were authored by Thomas Hobbes . . “.

    You can articulate such a monstrosity about Shakespeare because to you he is a nobody, a nothing, who could readily be replaced by another nobody. But, as soon as he becomes a real person, a revolution follows. All that can be said for certain is that you won’t like it.

    • Holger Syme says:

      Actually, crowleypaul, this is almost entirely wrong, and just shows that you have an extremely limited grasp of the work literary scholars do, and have done for the past 50-60 years. Authors, and especially their biographies, are not the focal point of most scholars’ attention, and haven’t been for a very long time — at least not in the sense that those biographies matter more than the texts they produced. And since the reinvigoration of various kinds of historicism in the 1980s, the dominant trend in literary study, at least in the English-speaking world, has been the production of one kind of cultural history or another, in which authors aren’t entirely neglected, but don’t play a leading role either. My own work, for instance, focuses on a couple of historical developments: the history of the book and the shape that printed plays took (a history for which stationers matter more than authors); the question of why the theatre became such a key cultural institution in the English Renaissance (a question I answer by looking at various social and cultural fields and texts, but not at authors’ biographies); and the history of theatre companies in the 1590s (in this instance, Shakespeare matters somewhat as an actor, but since the records are much better for the companies playing in Henslowe’s playhouses, that’s where my focus lies).

      The same is true for the vast majority of my colleagues in the very large English Department at the University of Toronto — most of us working on pre-Romantic literature, i.e., periods before the rise of the notion of the original genius, aren’t especially interested in authors and their biographies as the key to unlocking a work’s meanings, and even those of us specializing in later works read them through many different lenses, among which the author is only one. The only “revolution” I can envisage in your terms would be an enforced turn to reading every text as an allegory of its author’s life: a radical reduction in meaning, a shutting-down of interpretative options, and a depressing impoverishment of literary studies.

      • crowleypaul says:

        Holger, you respond with a curious “non-denial denial”.
        ” . . Actually, crowleypaul, this is almost entirely wrong, and just shows that you have an extremely limited grasp of the work literary scholars do . . ” I said nothing, and implied nothing, about the work of literary scholars. Let me ask you a simple yes/no question. Would you be horrified if a colleague said ” . . . Not a word I’ve written on Tolstoy would be invalidated .. . . if in fact his works were authored by Thomas Hardy . . “ ? If you answer “yes” to that, how come you aren’t horrified by the scholar in your own department who expresses similar sentiments about Shakespeare?

        While I’m here, let me answer Kim Carrell, who says:
        ” . . . I am still awaiting a coherent response from any Oxfordian to James Shapiro’s excellent deconstruction of the “conflated” epilogues of HENRY IV PART 2.”

        Let’s go along with Shapiro on his main facts: there are two epilogues written for separate occasions; one in the voice of Falstaff, promising a future return and possibly hinting at a bawdy jig to follow immediately; the other in the voice of the playwright expressed in humble terms, apologising for some recent ‘displeasing’ play, Shapiro’s conclusion is based on two legs: firstly (A) that “It’s inconceivable that any of the rival candidates . . . could possibly have stood on the stage of at Whiitehall, publicly assuming the socially inferior role of player, and spoken these lines”,

        Shapiro has a curiously ‘Victorian’ conception of the Elizabethan court. Firstly, he does not seem aware that the Queen ‘swore like a trooper’, loved bawdy and would hardly have objected to a jig however rude (which is not to say that I accept Shapiro’s speculation that such a jig was implied). Secondly, in Early Modern (and later) times, the presence of the monarch changed ‘menial’ into ‘most highly honoured’ — in respect of services rendered. Shapiro would be shocked to learn of the role of the ‘Groom of the Stool’ and amazed to discover that it was the most sought-after and prestigious position at court.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groom_of_the_Stool

        That is just one example from many of ‘a menial task’ performed for the monarch by nobles of the highest rank. Contrary to Shapiro’s anachronisitc assumptions, every courtier would have sought the honour of addressing the Queen, in the role of a “lowly actor” or otherwise.

        Further, to whom exactly was Falstaff promising that he would return? Shapiro assumes that it was the public audience at the Globe. While that is not unreasonable (within the context of his scenario), I feel that such a promise is much more likely when addressed to an intimate court audience. They would be asking and could virtually insist on an answer. A public audience would take whatever was, in due course, served up to them.

        Shapiro’s second leg (B) is “it is even harder [..] to imagine the alternative, that the speaker, who claims to have written the play they just saw, was merely a mouthpiece for someone else in the room, and lying to both queen and court.”

        Shapiro may find this ‘hard to imagine’ but then he knows nothing about the conventions that applied to entertainments provided by theatrical companies within the royal courts of Europe. None of us do. They would have varied from one court to another, and from one monarch to the next. I speculate that in the Elizabethan court most plays (especially those written by courtiers) would have been presented as being by ‘Anonymous’ — with only the Queen routinely informed as to the true identity of the author. That would allow courtiers to be caricatured freely, and for the most high and mighty (excluding the Queen herself, of course) to be regularly taken down a peg or two. The Queen would, in turn, have felt obliged to endure a little gentle ribbing from time to time. But all that was the point — to entertain in the most amusing ways that could be found. One result of such a convention would be an ignorance (or, at least, an uncertainty) within the court as to Oxford’s authorship of any particular work, making the eventual public cover-up easier to mount. In such a context, it would be fairly routine to have an actor speak the words of the author, qua author, and it would be even more nonsensical than usual to think of an actor ‘lying to both queen and court’.

        Of course, all this is explicitly speculation. None of us were there,and there are few useful records of such occasions. All we can do is present scenarios and try poke holes in those of the opposition. My task is much the easier, since Shapiro starts from a fantasy, which he is obliged to defend, his historical grasp is weak, and he cannot distinguish between speculation and fact.

        To avoid possible confusion, let me make clear my belief that the Henry IV plays were written in the 1570s

        Paul.

        • Holger Syme says:

          Well, Paul, I can’t argue with belief. That is, of course, a problem in a debate, but it is what it is.

          As for the question you addressed to me, I already answered it (see below). I will respectfully point out, though, that your original comment did imply that Shakespeare scholars are shockingly uninterested in author-focused interpretation, and that those working on other authors are (or can be imagined to be) less so. You did imply that much about the work of literary scholars.

          And I will reiterate that your idea that Shakespeare’s authorial identity is uniquely etiolated — that “we” don’t care about him because he is a blank — is both factually wrong and misguided in its assumptions about current methodologies. To be clear: it is entirely possible for me to imagine a conversation with a Victorianist whose work on, say, Far From the Madding Crowd would not be rendered in any sense invalid if it were revealed that that book was in fact written by Lord Salisbury. And no, I wouldn’t find that shocking in the least.

          • I will reiterate that your idea that Shakespeare’s authorial identity is uniquely etiolated — that “we” don’t care about him because he is a blank — is both factually wrong and misguided in its assumptions about current methodologies.

            I have to admit that I find your use of the concept of “fact” in this context to be one of the most metaphysically muddled conceptions I’ve read recently. How could this be a “fact”? It can’t be. You have a different perspective — perhaps “belief” is a more apt term– than Mr. Crowley. Your argument has as much to do with fact as it does with ice cream (which tastes better).

            • Holger Syme says:

              It’s as close to a fact as we can get in the humanities. You claim to be an intellectual historian: why don’t you show me evidence that the turn away from the author, and especially the turn away from Shakespeare, in literary studies was motivated by the absence of biographical data on Shakespeare. It’s an absurdly skewed version of history. I can — and have — supported my account of the development of Shakespeare criticism with arguments; if you really want me to, I can add book titles and names, though you should really know them yourself. This isn’t a matter of belief, though it is a matter of historiographical argument — which, I will grant you, can rarely rise to the level of factual certainty.

              • I practice intellectual history. Unless I mis-spoke myself, I never claimed to be credentialed in the field, and I am not. You ask me to prove you something that is widely accepted, even by most Stratfordians. Sorry, not my job. You seem to prefer the theory that the “turn away from Shakespeare” as you call it, is a consequence of the stupidity — or, sorry, “lack of professional qualification” of the people who hold a view different from your own. This is called wearing your ad hominem with a difference. You seem to have failed to understand my original point, namely that just because you claim something is a fact, doesn’t make it so. I overstated my case in the previous post. it is not that this could never be a fact, but that it is unlikely to ever become one. We are discussing the circumstances under which certain ideas emerged. The only conditions under which this could become a fact would be that all parties to the dispute stipulated to a certain way of characterizing them. For a model of how this might happen, I recommend Henry Ford’s *Twelve Angry Men* — a movie with a great deal to teach.

                • Holger Syme says:

                  Roger:
                  I’m sorry, but I can’t argue with you if you refuse to read what I write and instead continue to impute to me imaginary ad hominem attacks. I don’t know you and I don’t care who are, what you are, what your credentials are, etc. Please re-read what I wrote: I simply didn’t say what you think you heard me say.

                  I have never, ever heard anyone make the argument that the move away from author-centric criticism in the second half of the 20th century had anything whatever to do with Shakespeare and/or a perceived lack of biographical data. How exactly is this narrative “widely accepted”? Was Roland Barthes informed of the fact? Was Michel Foucault? Were Monroe and Beardsley? Your intellectual history tells you that the New Criticism was a response to Anti-Stratfordianism? The rise of theory — a phenomenon much more closely associated with later periods, esp. Romanticism — was somehow driven by the absence of a convincing biography for Shakespeare? I may not be able to claim that my version of intellectual history is perfectly factual, but at least it bears some resemblance to the facts. Yours really, really doesn’t.

                • Tom Foster says:

                  Hello there Roger.

                  Do you mean Henry *Fonda’s* 12 Angry Men? Henry Ford made cars, I believe. (Though since Fonda merely acted in the film, it might more correctly be termed “Sidney Lumet’s” as he directed it, or “Reginald Rose’s” as he wrote it.)

                  And while I’m nitpicking, you referred earlier to *Charlotte* Spurgeon’s book “Shakespeare’s Imagery.” Her name was Caroline.

                  These are *facts*.

        • Holger Syme says:

          Paul & Kim:

          let me add my tuppence to the 2H4 issue. I like James Shapiro’s book, but I don’t find his reading of the epilogue convincing, and his assertion that it constitutes “one incident that ought to persuade even the most hardened skeptic” (231) strikes me as an entirely unforced error: I’m not a skeptic at all and I’m not in the least persuaded by the argument.

          Obviously, my response rather differs from Paul’s all the same; in bullet points, here it is:

          - Shapiro says there are two epilogues, one for a court performance, the other for the Curtain.

          There is no record of an Elizabethan court performance of 2H4, and it is unlikely that the Chamberlain’s Men were performing at the Curtain when 2H4 was first staged — they were still at the Theatre, on a year-to-year lease, until the second half of 1598. By the autumn of 1598, the Theatre was empty and the company was at the Curtain, but that would be an unusually late dating of 2H4. There is absolutely no evidence which venue the epilogue (or the two epilogues) is/are intended for. The phrase “to pray for the Queen” seems to me at least a little odd if its primary audience is the Queen herself –”to pray for her majesty” would surely be more appropriate.

          I’m not at all convinced that there are two epilogues. More about that in a moment.

          - Shapiro claims one half of the epilogue (the “Curtain” one) is spoken by Will Kemp, having just finished his performance of Falstaff; the other is supposedly spoken by Shakespeare himself.

          There is no evidence for any of this.

          We don’t know if Kemp played Falstaff (given the roles we know he played, Peter in Romeo and Juliet and Dogberry in Much Ado, I’ve never found the idea that Kemp was Falstaff remotely convincing; it’s certainly entirely speculative).

          We don’t know if the Epilogue (that’s a role as much as a piece of text, as Tiffany Stern has recently, brilliantly, argued in Documents of Performance in Early Modern England) is played by Kemp either. He presents himself as an old acquaintance to the audience, having recently appeared before them “in the end of a displeasing play” — this is a well-known Epilogue, familiar to spectators, an old hand at the job of asking for forgiveness and applause.

          There is no sense that this an author speaking. At all. To my ears, it’s very clearly the voice of the playing company. If anything, it’s a speech deliberately distinguished from the authored discourse of the rest of the play (“If you look for a good speech now, you undo me, for what I have to say is of mine own making” — in other words, this is someone who’s not good at making [or writing] speeches, someone supposedly unused to speaking in his own words; precisely the kind of speechless puppet Robert Greene imagined actors to be).

          And that’s why the two parts of the epilogue go perfectly together: first, a performatively self-conscious speech, then the promise of more embodied action, the actor’s true domain.

          - Shapiro thinks that there were no jigs at court performances.

          I have no idea where he gets that idea from. We know that Richard Tarlton, not exactly a gentle comedian, entertained the Queen into the wee hours of the morning. The notion that court performances were significantly toned down has almost no documentary support I’m aware of — and certainly the promise of a dance (which is all the epilogue hints at) wouldn’t be a breach of decorum.

          Now all that said, I don’t think the epilogue has anything whatsoever to do with the authorship debate. We have no idea at all if it was written for or performed at court. We have no idea if the author spoke it. It’s a pretty conventional speech, interesting mainly for its promise that Falstaff would be back (though it seems to anticipate a version of Henry V that Shakespeare didn’t end up writing — unless we take “the story with Sir John in it” literally, since a story of Sir John is all we get in the later play).

          In sum, this passage in Shaprio’s book is precisely the kind of Shakespearean argument I think we need to learn to forego: it’s as impressionistic and devoid of the hard evidence it gestures at as some of the Anti-Stratfordian arguments.

    • Holger Syme says:

      One more thought: your imaginary examples are very different from mine. If we discovered that Shakespeare’s plays were in fact written by Andreas Gryphius — well, yes, that would make a difference. If we found out that they were actually authored by John Lydgate — yeah, that would change things. Those are situations that roughly correspond to your Tolstoy/Hardy and Blake/Hobbes scenarios. In those scenarios, the plays were either written by a non-native speaker or hundreds of years before their conventional date of composition — but even in the face of such massive revisions, I don’t think the new authors’ biographies would be the most important new context!

      • crowleypaul says:

        Holger, I’m going back to your statement that I first quoted — with no apology, and no implication of personal criticism. It is an accurate expression of standard dogma from which, I am sure, you don’t resile from one whit:

        ” . . . Speaking for myself, I’m fairly confident that not a word I’ve ever written about Shakespeare’s plays would be invalidated if we discovered tomorrow that all of the works were in fact authored by a hitherto unheralded haberdasher’s son from Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Or by the Earl of Rutland. . . ”

        Yet it is an extraordinary statement. No parallel could be found among those who devote their lives to the study of any other major (if better recorded) author. Even the expression would sound outrageous: ” . . . not a word I’ve ever written about Milton’s works would be invalidated if we discovered tomorrow that all of them were in fact authored by a hitherto unheralded haberdasher’s son from Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Or by the Earl of Rutland.” Substitute for ‘Milton’, Donne, Marvell, Byron, Coleridge, or who you will, and you won’t improve matters.

        Extraordinary statements require extraordinary explanations. What is yours?

        Related questions here are: Why can’t Shakespeare scholars openly admit the extraordinary (or exceptional) nature of their own study? They are, in fact, in a state of denial. This is demonstrated by your counter-attack on me (” . . an extremely limited grasp of the work literary scholars do . . “). It is not just misdirected; it is symptomatic. Like Shapiro, you insist that the model of Shakespearean scholarship you espouse is the only reasonable or possible one, the standard, and imply that the rest of the world is mad — or, at least, trailing far behind in your wake, as misguided scholars continue to pay attention to the personality and personal background of particular authors.

        You may find this hard to accept, but can you identify a body of specialists on Jane Austen, or Dickens, or Wordsworth, or Dante, or Rousseau, or Voltaire, or whoever, who would so blithely say the same as you about their own subject? In fact, this is a ‘Shakespeare problem’, and not one about any other author. It has been a ‘Shakespeare problem’ since the scholars gave up all hope of finding useful material about the life and background of their author. Agreed the final acceptance of that was only about 50 or 60 years ago. That conclusion was slow to arrive. It should have been apparent 100 years earlier, around 1860 when the scale of the Collier forgeries became known, and as the first anti-Strats emerged. Even then it could hardly have survived without some vague theoretical justification and the nonsense emanating from the Sorbonne after ~1960 proved most convenient.

        You describe your own work, which ” . . focuses on a couple of historical developments: the history of the book and the shape that printed plays took (a history for which stationers matter more than authors); the question of why the theatre became such a key cultural institution in the English Renaissance (a question I answer by looking at various social and cultural fields and texts, but not at authors’ biographies); and the history of theatre companies in the 1590s . . ” . There is nothing wrong with any of that, and similar work by your colleagues on (say) the 1760s in France, would be equally worthy. But unlike you, they would not claim that their work _replaces_ a study of the output of individual writers (like Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot), and unlike you and Shapiro they would not set up the kind of false opposition we see here:

        You write:” . . The only “revolution” I can envisage in your terms would be an enforced turn to reading every text as an allegory of its author’s life: a radical reduction in meaning, a shutting-down of interpretative options, and a depressing impoverishment of literary studies. . .” Those who devote their lives to the study of other better-known authors (Milton, Austen, Hobbes, Dickens, etc., etc.,) don’t feel ” . . an enforced turn to reading every text as an allegory of its author’s life: a radical reduction in meaning, a shutting-down of interpretative options, and a depressing impoverishment of literary studies . . “. Or I’ve never heard any say they did, nor anyone ever say it about them.

        Thanks for your demolition of Shapiro’s theory on the Henry IV epilogue(s). It’s on page 262 (not 231) of my edition where he refers to “. . one incident that ought to persuade even the most hardened skeptic . .”. My response was to Kim Carrell who wrote ” . . . I am still awaiting a coherent response from any Oxfordian . .”. But, like every other Stratfordian ‘undeniable’ argument, it turned to dust on the first touch.

        Paul.

        • Holger Syme says:

          Paul, I’m sorry, but I can’t reply without an implication of personal criticism: you simply do not understand the current state of literary study. There are scholars interested in biography in every subfield, I’m sure, and they produce more or less interesting work. As you well know, there is a flourishing cottage industry of academic biographers of Shakespeare as well. But what is absolutely a minority position is the idea that an author’s life holds the key to reading his or her works.

          To give you yet another example from Shakespeare studies, some of us feel more comfortable invoking the author as reference point than others. I do it all the time. Lukas Erne, for instance, obviously thinks he knows something about Shakespeare’s intentions and point of view regarding the publication of his plays, and that conviction informs Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist. But what you won’t find either Erne or me doing is proceeding to readings of the plays that rely on biographical information. It’s one thing to say that many of Shakespeare’s plays are rather long because he meant them to be read, anticipating that they’d be cut and simplified for performance (it’s a theory I don’t really agree with, but it’s not unreasonable — and it partly depends on the faith that we can know what Shakespeare thought). But it’s an entirely different thing to say that what happens in Hamlet happens because it happened to its author, and reading the play as a reflection of the author’s life is the only correct, or the most correct, way. I can only think of a handful of current scholars who would dream of arguing the weaker version of such a claim, and I don’t know anyone who would argue the strong version.

          The problem may be that you don’t seem to understand the difference between the “study of the output of individual writers” and biographical interpretation. Of course many of us use authors as organizing principles. People who study stylistics may argue about the development of a particular author’s style over time. It’s perfectly normal (though not normative) to be interested in themes that recur in a particular author’s oeuvre (the figure of the overreacher in Marlowe, for instance; the question of the disempowered but powerful female voice in Webster; etc.). But that doesn’t mean that whatever we think we know (or don’t know) about the author him- or herself determines how we read those works, or how we interpret the centrality of certain themes. If biography were the primary source of meaning, why read literary works at all? And how could we ever do anything other than misread the works of any author about whom we don’t know much? (Chaucer, say, or Langland — or Homer.) Finally, I don’t think I set up a “false opposition” — I said not a word I’d written about Shakespeare’s plays would be invalidated by new biographical evidence. The same is true for many, many works of scholarship that eschew biography. I don’t make any claims that depend on who Shakespeare was, so nothing I say can be affected if it turns out that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare. I’d argued that the same is true of the vast majority of work produced by literary scholars now. (Well: an essay about, say, George Eliot’s publishing practices would be affected, obviously, if it turned out that she was in fact a man named George, even if the essay didn’t offer a reading of Middlemarch grounded in Mary Anne Evans’ biography. And I will concede that if we discover a letter in which Jonson says he doesn’t care one bit where the stage directions appear in his Workes, one of my essays will be in a spot of trouble [though the discovery that Jonson was really Robert Cecil wouldn't affect my argument!].)

          You are remarkably off the mark, by the way, in supposing that Shakespeare studies embraced theory out of our panicked realization that our author didn’t exist — partly because you’re quite wrong about the influence of theory (and its origins). Relatively speaking, early modern studies has engaged far less rigorously with theory than other fields (Romanticism, for instance, or Modernism). There’s also no need to turn to France to explain the turn away from the author as the centre of meaning — the New Criticism had killed the author before Barthes had published a thing.

          If you’ve never heard a Miltonist or an Austen or Dickens scholar express such ideas, you’ve simply not been listening. (I don’t know about Hobbes: he’s a philosopher, not a literary author.) These ideas don’t come out of Shakespeare studies, they are near-axiomitic in modern literary study, and have been for a very long time. Even an ostentatiously autobiographical work, such as, say, Milton’s “When I consider how my life is spent,” has significance beyond its autobiographical relevance, and can be read in non-autobiographical ways. The kind of literary interpretation Oxfordians practice reads to me, and to most of my colleagues, like a throwback to the nineteenth century, I’m afraid.

          • crowleypaul says:

            Holger, apologies about being so slow to reply. It’s been a
            difficult week.

            > Paul, I’m sorry, but I can’t reply

            One of our mutual difficulties is that you don’t reply to what
            I said, but merely to what you think I ought to have said.
            For nearly every substantive clause of yours, I could reply:
            “I did not say that; I would never say that. and (for most of
            them) I have never heard anyone say that”.

            > Paul, I’m sorry, but I can’t reply without an implication of personal criticism: you
            > simply do not understand the current state of literary study.

            I don’t regard this as a criticism. I don’t understand, nor claim
            to understand, the theology of the Church of Latter-Day Saints,
            nor the doctrines of Scientology, nor the management-speak
            of bankers who justify their million-dollar bonuses on the basis
            of their expertise, immediately after having cost the taxpayer
            billions of dollars. I would rate current ‘literary studies’ as
            having about the same degrees of clarity and integrity.

            > But what is absolutely a minority position is the idea that an author’s life holds the key
            > to reading his or her works.

            I don’t know what that means nor what it could mean.
            I did not say that; I would never say that. and I have
            never heard anyone say it. However, I would say, as
            (I hope) a roughly relevant example, that a help to an
            understanding the centrality of Ovid’s Metamorphoses
            to Shake-speare’s work, was the fact that as a teen-
            ager, with the assistance of his maternal uncle, the
            Latin scholar Arthur Golding, he made the first, as well
            as a most brilliant, translation into English

            > But it’s an entirely different thing to say that what happens in Hamlet happens
            > because it happened to its author, and reading the play as a reflection of the
            > author’s life is the only correct, or the most correct, way. I can only think of a
            > handful of current scholars who would dream of arguing the weaker version of such
            > a claim, and I dont know anyone who would argue the strong version.

            Do you know of any Oxfordians who would argue for
            either the weak or the strong version? I don’t. Phrases
            like ‘most correct’ or ‘only correct’ are just not uttered
            (or ought not be uttered) in literary discussions. But
            nearly everyone would agree that many works of fiction
            echo, and sometimes closely resemble, the experience
            of the author

            > But that doesn’t mean that whatever we think we know (or don’t know) about the
            > author him- or herself determines how we read those works, or how we interpret
            > the centrality of certain themes.

            I don’t know what it means to “determine[s] how we read those works,
            or how we interpret the centrality of certain themes.”

            Works of fiction can usually be read in all manners of
            ways. But, the life, the background and experience of
            the author are often highly relevant. No one would
            (I hope) want to claim that the author “Hemingway”
            could have been a Korean peasant.

            > If biography were the primary source of meaning,

            What, on earth could a (or ‘the”) “primary source of meaning”
            be? I did not say it was; I would never say that. I have never
            heard anyone say anything like that.

            > If biography were the primary source of meaning, why read literary works at all?

            Set up a strawman; then knock it down.

            > And how could we ever do anything other than misread the works of any author
            > about whom we dont know much? (Chaucer, say, or Langland  or Homer.)

            Indeed. It IS a source of concern. The less we know of an
            author (and/or of his works) the greater is the likelihood of
            misreading. That is what this debate is all about. We say
            that your misreadings of the Shake-spearean canon (and of
            most Early Modern literature) are catastrophically inept.

            We don’t expect you to like our arguments.

            An example of misreading (with some directly relevant
            aspects) is that of Spenser’s “Mother Hubbard’s Tale”.
            As Dave Kathman tells us
            http://shakespeareauthorship.com/ox2.html
            this “contained a vicious parody of Burghley in its fable
            of the Fox and the Ape”. Kathman uses this ‘parallel’ to
            show how the Stratford man could well have caricatured
            Burghley on the pubic stage as Polonius in Hamlet.
            (Both instances are — or were — highly puzzling to
            anyone with a slight knowledge of the politics, the class
            differences, and the power of patronage, of the day.)

            However, it now turns out that Spenser’s parody was not
            about Burghley at all — but about the effective ‘rulers’ of
            Ireland in the 1580s.

            http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/studies_in_philology/v105/105.3.herron.pdf

            In this new context this ‘fictional’ tale takes on an entirely
            different set of meanings. The old one just goes out the
            window. A fate that awaits every Stratfordian publication.

            > Finally, I don’t think I set up a “false opposition” -

            That was (and is) in your attacks on what you imagine
            Oxfordians argue: You falsely oppose ‘biographical readings’
            of texts to ‘non-biographical’, as though there were only two
            opposed possibilities. In fact, and as we all know, an
            understanding of the author’s life, and of the context in
            which he lived it, are both often highly relevant, and
            frequently integral, to an understanding of the works.

            It is rare indeed — especially in works of some merit — to
            be able to dispense with either.

            > I said not a word I’d written about Shakespeare’s plays would be invalidated by
            > new biographical evidence. The same is true for many, many works of
            > scholarship that eschew biography. I dont make any claims that depend on
            > who Shakespeare was,

            Agreed. You cannot attach a real person to the works.
            “Mr Nobody X” is necessarily indistinguishable from
            “Mr Nobody Y”.

            > so nothing I say can be affected if it turns out that Shakespeare wasn’t
            > Shakespeare.

            Utterly false. You simply can’t imagine what it would
            be to have “Real Person Z” as author, instead of
            “Mr Nobody X”.

            You read Spenser’s “Mother Hubberd’s Tale” as though
            it was simply a fairy story for children, and could not
            possibly be anything else.

            Of course, the case for “Real Person Z” has to be
            made. Most anti-Strats (e.g. Roland Emmerich)
            think of their own candidate as just another
            “Mr Nobody” whose life and identity have little or no
            bearing on the works. This is usually because they
            adopt many of the Stratfordian assumptions, and
            have him writing plays in the 1590s as entertainments
            for public audiences

            > I’d argued that the same is true of the vast majority of work
            > produced by literary scholars now.

            Maybe. I envisage vast libraries of unread (and unreadable)
            Ph. D. theses and academic dissertations, guarded by
            serried ranks of ‘scholars’, much like Emmerich’s depiction
            of the armies of aliens in their vast mother-ships in
            “Independence Day”. If what you say is true, then such
            ‘work’ has about the same relevance to humanity.

            > [though the discovery that Jonson was really Robert Cecil wouldn't affect
            > my argument!].)

            I have never read any of your work. But I would find it
            astonishing IF, on learning of such a fact, Robert Cecil’s
            many friends, and numerous enemies, did not rush to
            buy copies of “Jonson’s works” and read all manner of
            things into them (and many of those things would —
            almost necessarily — be present). It would be like
            finding that Hilary Clinton was the real author of ‘Primary
            Colors’. Very little of the ‘pre-discovery’ perspectives on
            such works would remain. Any later historian or literary
            critic would see those works through those prisms. If,
            somehow, the ‘discovery’ had been lost and then re-found,
            the later scholar would not be doing his job if he did not
            at least attempt to approach such texts in much the
            same way.

            > You are remarkably off the mark, by the way, in supposing that
            > Shakespeare studies embraced theory out of our panicked realization
            > that our author didn’t exist

            I did not mention ‘panic’ nor hint at it. There was,
            of course, nothing like that. I don’t know, nor care,
            from where the ‘anti-author’ ideology within literary
            studies originated. Its arrival was merely highly
            convenient for Stratfordian academics.

            > If you’ve never heard Miltonist or an Austen or Dickens scholar express such ideas,
            > you’ve simply not been listening.

            I won’t believe it till I see it. Remember that the test is high:
            ” not a word I’ve ever written about Shakespeare’s plays
            would be invalidated if we discovered tomorrow that all of
            the works were in fact authored by a hitherto unheralded
            haberdasher’s son from Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Or by the
            Earl of Rutland. . . ”

            A Miltonist or an Austen or Dickens scholar is not writing
            about a “Mr Nobody”, and only the very worst of them
            would be able to rigorously stick to standard literary
            doctrine. I am willing to believe that some possibly
            exist, and can manage to put not one meaningful
            sentence into their theses or papers. But a lifetime
            of such activity? Better to have never been born.

            > These ideas don’t come out of Shakespeare studies, they are near-
            > axiomitic in modern literary study, and have been for a very long
            > time. Even ostentatiously autobiographical works, like, say,
            > Milton’s “When I consider how my life is spent,” has significance
            > beyond its autobiographical relevance, and can be read in non-
            > autobiographical ways.

            Another false opposition. I am sure that every
            educated Oxfordian would agree with what you say
            here. The issue is whether or not ALL biography
            can and should be excluded from ALL study of the
            works of an author. Strats like you argue that it can
            – but that’s only because you have not a scrap of
            useful biographical information.

            > The kind of literary interpretation Oxfordians
            > practice reads to me, and to most of my colleagues, like a
            > throwback to the nineteenth century, Im afraid.

            It could be said that our modest aim is to do no
            more than the typical Miltonist or an Austen or
            Dickens scholar — but without the hideous, if
            fashionable, jargon. However that would be to ignore
            the greatness of subject, the vast implications of
            such a change — for all literary studies, as well as
            for history, and the disastrous consequences that
            have followed from treating the greatest writer of
            all time as a “Mr Nobody”.

            Paul.

        • Paul writes: Holger, I’m going back to your statement that I first quoted — with no apology, and no implication of personal criticism. It is an accurate expression of standard dogma from which, I am sure, you don’t resile from one whit:

          ” . . . Speaking for myself, I’m fairly confident that not a word I’ve ever written about Shakespeare’s plays would be invalidated if we discovered tomorrow that all of the works were in fact authored by a hitherto unheralded haberdasher’s son from Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Or by the Earl of Rutland. . . ”

          Yet it is an extraordinary statement.

          Indeed. It indicates the depth of irrationality we are dealing with here. I also find the use of the word “we” to be very interesting. The misuse of this pronoun is the root of many evils. *Some* of us understand already the improbability of Holger’s beliefs about the bard. He does not, I believe, have a monopoly on defining the “we” who counts in the discussion.

          • Holger Syme says:

            A) What do you know of my “beliefs”?
            B) How is one word I wrote above “irrational”? How well do you know my work? I don’t depend on biographical arguments, so I don’t see how my arguments can be invalidated by biographical discoveries (with some exceptions as noted).
            C) I’m pretty clear who the “we” I’m talking about is. I’m not co-opting you. But the “we” in the quoted sentence might as well say “everyone” — “if it became universally accepted knowledge that…”

  24. Holger, we have not met – I learned about your blog from a former student of yours who is now in the same MFA programme in England as I. I have read your entries on that “film” and the authorship “question” with interest, and I do agree with you. If I may, I would like to add my two pence worth.
    I will freely admit that on your spectrum of where Shakespeareans fall in reaction to the discussion, my face should be the icon indicating rage. Perhaps I’m destined to be the Shakespearean version of The Incredible Hulk – you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Much of my anger comes from the seemingly unrelated fact that I am a Freemason. As such, I have been dealing for years with a total lack of understanding about the fraternity by non-Masons, and it is almost always fed by outlandish conspiracy theories. I probably do not need to tell you how very similar are the constructs of anti-Masonic arguments to anti-Stratfordian arguments. The willingness of otherwise seemingly intelligent people to allow the absence of a particular piece of physical evidence (such as a handwritten play text undeniably in Shakespeare’s hand) to inflate in their imaginations as proof of this “conspiracy” is beyond ridiculous. (As for the Freemasons – the fact that one cannot get any three Freemasons to agree on what to have for dinner casts doubt on the efficacy of a Masonic cabal running the world…)
    Nonetheless, thanks to this execrable film of Emmerich’s I think we will be forced to address the question and engage with the doubters. I would like to offer a point with which I like to respond to them.
    After years as a company member and resident fight director with the New England Shakespeare Festival, I became an avid proponent of studying “original practices” and putting the approach to work in practice-as-research. While I am drawing a great deal upon the work of Patrick Tucker and Tiffany Stern, I have formulated some interesting ideas of my own. Without bogging down in the details – I believe that looking in depth at how information was fed to actors in “cue-scripts” is key. Looking at the richness of information in a Shakespearean cue-script as compared to one by say, Robert Greene or Thomas Kyd is not simply indicative of their varying levels of talent and ability as writers. I believe that it shows that as an actor himself, Shakespeare was able to communicate more information and use the cue-script as a tool far more effectively than a writer who did not also act. To me this becomes proof in itself that Shakespeare the actor MUST also have been Shakespeare the playwright. I also believe that his experience as an actor feeding his ability to provide other actors with a more effective “playable” text contributed to the performances of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men/King’s Men standing apart from those of other companies. I will grant that the vast majority of Oxfordians probably do not have nearly enough understanding of the actual working conditions of the Early Modern theatre to understand this – but that lack of knowledge alone also serves to weaken their position.
    In addition, I am still awaiting a coherent response from any Oxfordian to James Shapiro’s excellent deconstruction of the “conflated” epilogues of HENRY IV PART 2. My favorite response to any rabid Oxfordian is to tell them to read CONTESTED WILL and come back to me with a point-by-point response. To date, it hasn’t happened.

    • Holger Syme says:

      Kim — thanks for your comments! (Masons DON’T run the world? Drat. Who does, then?)

      I like working with cues, and agree with you that there are some striking differences between authors — have you done anything with Heywood? He should be a good test case: if the argument is that Shakespeare writes differently because he was also a company member and an actor, the same is true of Heywood. And in theory at least, the same should be true of what survives of 1580s tedium, given that most of those works were written by playwright-players (adult company plays, that is). I also suspect you’d see changes over time — Kyd and Greene are both early playwrights, of course; I suspect Middleton or Webster, or Ford or Shirley, show quite different patterns.

      The one thing I’d be very cautious about is drawing conclusions about the LCM/KM repertory and their standing. As you know, we can’t really say exactly how representative Shakespeare’s plays were of the things they staged otherwise, given the absence of documentary evidence. As a close study of Henslowe’s records shows, we can’t really extrapolate from the surviving plays from the Henslowe companies — in that case, the evidence more or less proves how ignorant we are. I’d like to think we’re at least as ignorant of Shakespeare’s company’s practices….

      • Holger – In the words of Toddy in “Victor/Victoria”:
        “You just said a cotton-pickin’ mouthful”.

        I’m adding you to the list of those with whom I hope to indulge in some discussion in person sometime – ideally over a pint.

    • Actually, some subsects of Oxfordianism believe (as nearly as I can understand them) that the Freemasons and the Knights Templar are responsible for the great anti-DeVere conspiracy.

      • Greg Koch says:

        The premise of Carrel’s theory works today but not in the 1500s. “Cue-script” in that case the cart leading the horse. Cues for _acting_ were totally unimportant, because acting was still not the least bit important to Elizabethan society. Speaking of boring, picture several ancient Greek stiffs delivering the key lines and then you clearly see the “cue-script.” They helped the _listener_ visualize action, not the actor to “act.” In a “modern” sense, QE1 acting mirrored the opera tenor’s inaction of the 1800s and early 1900s. Voice was everything; especially the fun hearing a young boy in puberty do the part of a young woman disguised as a young man wooing a young woman. Actor’s pay was enough to buy a pint of ale per week. Societal rank was somewhere south of stable boy, however – as an old man – you had a slim chance in hell to make company lead (be cited in the revels). A QE1 actor didn’t have any education to speak of. Those facts seemed overly harsh, but life was _very_ harsh.

        • Holger Syme says:

          Greg,
          I don’t really know who or what you’re responding to, but you seem to know much more than any archive I know could teach us. You also appear to be unaware of the work theatre historians have done on cues and parts in the early modern theatre. Would you mind sharing some of your sources? Your certainty strikes me as very strange.

          • Greg Koch says:

            Syme, To be more specific for your benefit, the theories (Tucker, Flatters,…) on how Shakespeare was performed did not serve the illusion that actors “performed” with some “modern” concept of the whole, as if unified by a great director. They appeared as stiff ancient Greeks well into the 1600s. Or, at best, like operatic tenors did 200 years later. The “message” equals the words, not the acting. Today, the message equals the acting. We lost the ability to listen and visualize for any length of time. Today’s readers cry “boring” if they must imagine something that isn’t _there_. Like, for example, a missing entry in a register.

            • Holger Syme says:

              Again, Greg, I understand you have a theory of early modern acting styles, but I’d like to hear about your sources. I don’t disagree that Shakespeare’s theatre depended on the power of words to create an imaginary visual reality (in fact I’ve written on the subject at some length). But you can’t dismiss entirely the importance of “action,” nor would it be wise to simply ignore alternative traditions of clowning and improvisation that were less text-bound and certainly anything but “stiff.” What any of this has to do with historiography and/or a reliance on documents or registers in reconstructing the past, however, is truly beyond me.

              • Greg Koch says:

                I can see the need for crying “show me every [ancient] reference to [some demographic analysis]” really means “Go away quickly, please.” And the theme “authors are boring” (of your piece above) evades any need to construct literary criticism from the ecological realities of an author’s either very limited or expansive influences. Thus, I remain your sympathetic pal knowing how most professors will never be bothered with creating new perspectives. – Why that’s continue-ed, and even worse: a renaissance.

                • Holger Syme says:

                  I’m not crying, Greg. I’d just like to see some evidence for what otherwise sounds like pretty clichéd stuff. I’ve shown you the courtesy of engaging with your ideas and have offered a number of points that directly contradict what you say about early modern acting. Why don’t you extend the same courtesy to me and explain how you square your ideas with my arguments (or how I’m wrong)?

                  I don’t know why you think that I find authors boring. I just don’t think they’re the key to any given work’s meaning. That does indeed strike me as a boring proposition.

                  (I would also suggest you acquaint yourself with my work before you accuse me of being wedded to old perspectives. That’s not something I’ve often been charged with.)

                  • Hitandrun says:

                    Doc Syme writes,

                    “I don’t know why you think that I find authors boring. I just don’t think they’re the key to any given work’s meaning.”

                    Doc,
                    Just what do you mean by a ‘work’s meaning’? Only authors, revisers, and corrupters can mean. Can texts themselves mean?

                    Puzzled,
                    H&R

                    • Holger Syme says:

                      You puzzle me, H&R. How can an author have a meaning? Authors make texts; authors (presumably) have a meaning, or a range of meanings, in mind. But they can only “mean” by virtue of using words. So how can anything or anyone “mean” without using — or rather, without becoming, a text?

            • Hi Greg,

              unsure if you know this info about Burbage’s acting. Kinda refutes your wooden acting thesis:
              No more young Hamlett, ould Heironymoe.
              Kind Leer, the greued Moore, and more beside.
              That liued in him, haue now for ever dy’de.
              Oft haue I seene him leap into the graue,
              Suiting the person which he seem’d to haue
              Of a sadd louer with soe true an eye,
              Thar theer I would haue sworne, he meant to dye.

              taken from a page all about actors and theatre:

              http://www.gabrielegan.com/publications/Egan2001s.htm

              William S.

  25. [...] God. Someone (Dispositio, here) is writing something sensible on the Shakespeare Authorship issue. The whole blog is worth [...]

  26. Joanne Rochester says:

    At the risk of being tiresome I’ll just provide a few more links to some excellent rebuttals. I’ve had a lovely time today, playing on the internet rather than writing — and feeling virtuous about it.

    The video of the Shakespeare Authorship Debate at the English Speaking Union: http://vimeo.com/25095833

    The Youtube recording of the “Webinar” given by Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEFBrB27afg&NR=1

    And I will now go play darts!

  27. Todd Butler says:

    Like you (and Joanne?) I’ll agree that boredom is an understandable reaction. But I’ll also agree that it’s no excuse for abandoning the issue. There are in fact many elements of Shakespeare interpretation (and the interpretation of early modern texts more broadly) that, if I’m honest, I’m probably a bit bored with, at least at the level I first communicate them to my students.

    Since Greenblatt has come up here, I’ll offer an example that might also double as a bit of a confession. I can get bored easily with the “performativity of power” and “monarchical masking” that inheres in Henry V. And that’s not because I disagree with it–having gone to graduate school in the 1990′s those issues were core matters for my study and understanding of Renaissance literature. Yet after teaching the play for 10+ years they’ve become so familiar as to be almost self-evident and, comparatively speaking, not that interesting to remark upon.

    Yet none of that means that my students, most of whom are encountering the play for the first time and whose background in Shakespeare (for better or worse) involved learning to follow plot, shouldn’t get some help from me in uncovering these issues. They most decidedly should, and when they find and understand them they often get quite excited by them.

    Perhaps then that’s another resource to motivate this fight–not our own core academic beliefs but the passion that lies more or less dormant in our students. Someone’s going to tap it, and why shouldn’t that be me?

    • Eric Johnson-DeBaufre says:

      Well said, Todd. I’d also like to add in response to Joanne’s last point that as difficult and time consuming as it is to articulate our arguments for, just to take one example, dating the plays as we do, doing so presents the public (at least those willing to sit still long enough) with a far more interesting and complex picture of early modern authorship than the anti-Stratfordian conspiracy theorists can offer. Less obviously sexy admittedly, but more fine textured.

  28. Ian Gadd says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. *Anonymous* is, I think, incredibly pernicious, not least as it taps into what seems to be the increasing adoption of conspiracy (dressed up as scepticism) as an acceptable intellectual position.

    Incidentally, if you’ve not already seen them, I recommend reading Alan Nelson’s remarks on Anonymous:

    http://bloggingshakespeare.com/anonymous-how-sharper-than-a-serpents-tooth-it-is

  29. Eric Johnson-DeBaufre says:

    I just want to say that I didn’t know about your blog, Holger, until my friend Ed Gieskes linked to this article on Facebook. Now I will be checking in on it regularly. This is a fabulous and timely post, not simply because engagement with the public might help counter any damage done by Emmerich’s movie but because it might (NB–might) begin to address the perceived irrelevance of (and efforts to defund) humanities departments in the U.S. and elsewhere.

  30. Joanne Rochester says:

    Yes, Holger, I think you’re right. Damn. I still don’t want to devote class time to this nonsense, but it may have the positive effect of forcing us to talk to the general public rather than just each other and our students. And this will probably be good…I suppose.

    The 60 Minutes with Shakespeare site from Blogging Shakespeare is also excellent, entertaining and accessible: http://60-minutes.bloggingshakespeare.com/

    And this review of “Contested Will” is also pretty good:
    http://www.bibliobuffet.com/book-brunch-columns-322/1328-who-wrote-shakespeare-the-history-of-shakespeare-denial-072510

    • Joanne Rochester says:

      One thing on the dates, though: although none of them are set in stone, it’s unlikely that Fletcher would have collaborated with a dead man once, let alone three times.

      • Holger Syme says:

        Fair enough: but Fletcher was 25 by the time Oxford died. How precisely can we really date All is True and Two Noble Kinsmen? I’m playing devil’s advocate, of course, but I do think it’s important for us to not just say: well, we know X plays were written after 1604; or we know Shakespeare collaborated with Fletcher. I think we need to demonstrate how we know that, or more accurately, how we can make the case for those scenarios (since we can’t exactly point to a lot of documentary evidence that spells any of this out…).

        • Joanne Rochester says:

          Yes, I see the problem — but this isn’t exactly true. “Two Noble Kinsmen” has some pretty concrete evidence, given that uses the Morris dance from Beaumont’s “Masque of the Inner Temple”, and so has to post-date the 1613 masque. The British Library’s site has a lovely illustration. http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/noble.html

          Given that Fletcher’s early stuff (Faithful Shepherdess, among others) is reasonably easy to tie to the Children’s companies, and is stylistically very different from his later work for the King’s Men, I think it would be up to the Oxfordians to demonstrate 1) why Oxford chose to collaborate with a novice who had never written for the stage before 1606 2) why Fletcher then didn’t ride his lordship’s noble coattails to success in 1603 or 04, rather than a decade later 3) why, after Oxford’s death, Fletcher turned around and chose to write for the boys’ companies rather than continuing to write for the King’s men, which would have been more lucrative and prestigious, and 4) why Fletcher (and, presumably, everyone else associated with Kings and the Children’s companies) chose to keep the secret. Also, why are Fletcher’s sections of these two plays written in his late style? And I won’t touch stylometrics, which is tricky at the best of times, but the two hands are pretty easily distinguished.

          I think the biggest issue is that any argument mounted has to wheel up the whole mechanism of theatre history: outline the nature of internal and external evidence, explain the process of composition, publication, collaboration, and then explain the Revels office, the Stationer’s Register and all the rest. So much simpler to just wave one’s hand and declare “But he didn’t even go to university!”.

          • Holger Syme says:

            Yup. But you said a lot of the things that need saying in just two paragraphs there. (Although I suppose one could still come back and argue that it’s all Fletcher adding and revising old Oxford scripts in the 1610s, just as Middleton was revising Timon a few years earlier. But I’m done with the D.A. act for now.)

        • rstritmatter says:

          Its undemonstrable.

          • Holger Syme says:

            What is? What Joanne is asking you to demonstrate? That’s a little weak.

            • It’s undemonstrable that the plays were written after Shakespeare died.

              In fact, if you review the history of this question, you might notice, as for example I documented in my dissertation, that the Pelican Shakespeare in its original edition, classified 35/37 plays as possibly written before 1604.

              The only outstanding exceptions that those editors seemed to feel sure must have been written later than that were Tempest and Henry VIII.

              Of course, we all recognize that there is a large body of assumption, based on a fundamental confusion between the concepts of terminus ad quem and terminus a quo, which hypothesizes that quite a few plays were written later.

              Lynne Kositsky and I have published extensively, including in an article that seems to be completely ignored by mainstream academicians, in Critical Survey, showing why the Tempest does not depend on Strachey’s TR and therefore cannot on that basis be dated with any certainty so late. Further arguments on this point are forthcoming.

  31. Tricia says:

    I agree that public debate is somewhat a distraction to a serious scholar. However, I think there’s also benefit to engaged semi-scholarly discussion. I forgave the local de Vere-ist when I saw him stirring up conversation about elizabethan society in a coffee shop; the central premise might have been flawed but there was a lot of interesting background. As a reflection of public interest it seems quite a few steps up from “Hagar the Horrible” and more along the lines of the guy who’s just fascinated with world war one, has read several books, and will explain it over a few beers. And that kind of guy has been making films for quite some time.

  32. Eric Johnson-DeBaufre says:

    I agree that this is an excellent post, but in good E.M. Forster fashion, I want to give two somewhat equivocal cheers for Bardolatry. It does not deserve three.

    While it is certainly true that Anti-Stratfordianism is Bardolatry’s evil twin, Bardolatry has happily sired its own patricidal offspring, perhaps the most notable being New Historicism. However much we might complain about the pernicious effects of Bardolatry–and they are legion–we cannot deny that scholars have derived a considerable amount of critical energy from its cultural presence. Rereading Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self Fashioning, one has the sense that if Bardolatry did not exist Greenblatt would have had to invent it. I suspect that this energy, however unconscious, animates work that never even alludes to Bardolatrous notions of a transcendent and singular Shakespeare. I’m thinking, for example, of Peter Stallybrass’s article “Against Thinking,” which catalogues the various sources for Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy. Bardolatry, in short, motivates much of what we do, if only as the necessary other against which we strive in a Hegelian master-slave like battle of recognition.

    Second, and a bit less equivocally, Bardolatry is unapologetic about the pleasurable aspects of the Shakespearean text, something that sadly got lost for a time in some of the political criticism of the past decades. While this criticism made important contributions to our understanding of the plays as both permeated by and participants in the ideological discourses of their time, it too often treated pleasure as either a longed-for retreat from the political or a reactionary aestheticization of odious right-wing/imperialist politics. I think that was a mistake and that critics with leftist political sympathies now need to find ways to redeem pleasure as a (potentially) progressive political category so that Bardolaters no longer monopolize it.

    • Holger Syme says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful response, Eric. I’m not sure I quite agree with your genealogy of New Historicism, though: Renaissance Self-Fashioning comes out of Greenblatt’s prior work on Ralegh, and I think it matters that it’s a book about Wyatt, More, Spenser, and Marlowe as much as it’s a book about Shakespeare. And even if Shakespearean Negotiations takes a more unequivocally bard-centric approach, I don’t think it’s significantly more bardolatrous either: it’s one thing to see Shakespeare’s works as important, culturally central even, or unusually rich in historical texture; it’s another to treat them as “the ultimate expression of humanity.” I agree that Bardolatry is part of the engine that drives much of current academic work on the period (even scholarship on “the other” playwrights is often quite explicitly motivated by the desire to rectify the skewed picture of Shakespeare and “his” time a Shakespearocentric literary history has given us); but I don’t think saying that makes Bardolatry a good thing — or even a lesser evil.

      To your second point, I’d argue that Bardolatry may be explicit about the pleasures of the text, but usually has little to say about them beyond general swooning noises. But I agree that aesthetics and a sense of what is pleasurable or even, horror of horrors, great about Shakespeare (and others!) need to play a larger part in our critical vocabulary again.

      • Eric Johnson-DeBaufre says:

        I’m not sure I was clear about Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self Fashioning. The fact that it is a book about Wyatt, More, Spenser, and Marlow is precisely the point–its resistance to any centering of Shakespeare is, I want to suggest, evidence of a conscious or unconscious opposition to Bardolatry and its attendant celebrations of Shakespeare’s transcendent genius. Perhaps a better example (again from Greenblatt) is the opening chapter of Shakespearean Negotiations which quite clearly kicks at the bogeyman of Bardolatry in its seven abjurations (p. 12). Mind you, I agree with Greenblatt that there “can be no transcendent or timeless or unchanging representation” but the articulation of this claim is hardly conceivable without the backdrop of Bardolatry. My only point here is that critics have made lemonade out of the lemons. To confess this is not to argue that Bardolatry is precisely a “good,” only that we have made it one out of professional necessity.

        Full agreement about the “swooning noises” of he Bardolaters–a diet of Harold Bloom’s writing on Shakespeare will induce diabetes and is certainly not the kind of thing we need more of.

    • Very good. One must guard against boomerangs.

  33. Sarah Werner says:

    You’re a brave man, Holger. And you’re right. I don’t have the expertise to argue on the same terms that you do, so I’m especially grateful that you’re willing to be a bit mad on our behalf.

  34. At this point, surely *Anonymous* needs a response in its own medium — film. Seems time for someone to put in a proposal for an NEH grant to make such a movie. Or, of course, go to Hollywood.

  35. Carrots says:

    To me, one of the most disturbing things about this trend is that, apparently, we are back to fawning over the aristocracy. Somebody with the title “Earl” in front of his name is automatically presumed to be naturally more capable of genius and achievement than someone from the middle class. Perhaps that too is a sign of the times.

    • Anka Z says:

      No, Mr/Ms Carrots, Oxfordians make no such presumptions in regard to “natural” capabilities. What we do believe is that someone belonging to the aristocracy would have had many more opportunities – through education, lifestyle and associations – to enhance an innate gift of genius. In an attempt to bridge the chasm between their man and the canon, Stratfordians must capitalize on what little is known of him, embellishing facts to the point of absurdity. Out of necessity, they are forced to promote the mythology which surrounds him. Was William a schoolmaster? Perhaps he became a law clerk. Surely, he must have traveled to the Continent during those (very problematic) “lost years.” You bemoan “fawning over the aristocracy” as a sign of the times while discussing the essence of genius springing full-formed from the head of a middle-class merchant. Oxfordians, to support their case, have no need to rely on such unfounded suppositions.

      • Holger Syme says:

        Anka, your comment reflects a grasp of what Shakespeare scholarship was like 50 or so years ago. Much of that mythology has been dispelled or left by the wayside in current and recent criticism.

        That said, I don’t know why you would think that members of the early modern aristocracy would be more inclined or able to educate themselves than members of the middle classes. That belief is certainly not reflected in the biographies of the vast majority of early modern thinkers, historians, theologians, poets, playwrights, or other writers. (I should also say that you won’t find me using the term “genius.” It’s a loaded and largely useless notion that tends to shut down debate.)

        • Anka Z says:

          Mr Syme, if you would be so kind, please let Messrs. Greenblatt and Shapiro know that their Shakespeare scholarship is passe. You would be doing us a huge favor.

          You said: “I don’t know why you would think that members of the early modern aristocracy would be more inclined or able to educate themselves than members of the middle classes.” Yes, I do believe this, but for the sake of our argument here let’s not talk in generalities. Let’s focus on the two men in question. We are discussing William of Stratford and Edward de Vere, are we not? So I ask you a simple question: Considering only the known facts of their lives, who would have been the more likely author of the Shakespearean canon?

          I don’t know what ethereal plane of literary discourse you frequent, but we who live our lives outside of academia have been championing our cause armed with as much knowledge as we can glean from current literature, blogs and online discussion groups. Apologies, if my grasp of the issue doesn’t quite meet your standards. I do find it rather amusing that you would criticize my reply to Carrots, while completely ignoring his/her comments on the nature of “genius.”

          • Holger Syme says:

            Anka,
            I don’t think either Greenblatt’s or Shapiro’s work is passé, but it does indeed not represent the kind of work most early modernists do (as long as we’re talking about the Greenblatt of Will in the World). I don’t recall either of them speculating about what professional experiences Shakespeare must have amassed in order to explain the supposedly vast knowledge of this and that displayed in his works, though. The main speculative angle these days has to do with Shakespeare’s supposed Catholicism, a question on which I’m agnostic.

            Can I point out to you that “belief” is fine and good, but not a basis for an argument or a debate? You may believe what you wrote there, but there’s virtually no historical basis for that belief. Does that not trouble you?

            To respond to your concrete question: the answer is clearly Shakespeare. The vast majority of Shakespeare’s works are plays written for the public stage. All other known authors of such texts are from the same social stratum Shakespeare came from (with the possible exception of Fletcher). Many of them lacked a university education, just like he did. Shakespeare looks exactly like the kind of man who would become a playwright. De Vere doesn’t at all. De Vere looks like someone who might write coterie poetry, which is exactly what he did; he looks like someone who might, given his evident interest in performance, pen the occasional court entertainment, especially earlier in Elizabeth’s reign, when such things were sometimes written by courtiers (contrast James I). So the burden of proof is really squarely on you: there is no broad historical basis for the claim that aristocrats were more interested in education and learning than others; and the prima facie probability of an aristocrat becoming a playwright is vanishingly small compared to that of someone of Shakespeare’s profile taking that route.

            I only said I wouldn’t use the word “genius.” I can’t acknowledge much more often than I already have that I don’t agree with everything people on my side of this conversation say or do. As for the “plane” I frequent, it’s no great mystery. I’d invite you to look at my website, where you’ll be able to find some of my essays and links to others. I’m sure some library near you has access to at least Shakespeare Quarterly, which would give you a decent idea of the kind of work Shakespeareans do these days. But I do think it’s revealing that you admit a lack of knowledge about academic Shakespearean studies even as you’re convinced that we ignore the Oxfordian case out of spite or fear — where does that conviction come from? Or do you not share this view of the academy?

            • Anka Z says:

              You said: “I don’t recall either of them [Greenblatt, Shapiro] speculating about what professional experiences Shakespeare must have amassed in order to explain the supposedly vast knowledge of this and that displayed in his works, though.”

              Greenblatt speculates ad nauseam in WITW. How could you not have noticed? My marginalia consists of hundreds of question marks, six of which border this little gem of extrapolation: “He [William] may have been working in the glover’s shop, perhaps, or making a bit of money as a teacher’s or lawyer’s assistant. In his spare time he must have continued to write poetry, practice the lute, hone his skills as a fencer – that is, work on his ability to impersonate the lifestyle of a gentleman. His northern sojourn, assuming he had one, was behind him. If in Lancashire he had begun a career as a professional player…” All speculation!

              You said: “Can I point out to you that ‘belief’ is fine and good, but not a basis for an argument or a debate? You may believe what you wrote there, but there’s virtually no historical basis for that belief. Does that not trouble you?”

              Belief should not be equated with blind assent to some doctrine of Oxfordian faith. I have studied the Authorship Question for almost twenty years and I am convinced that de Vere was Shakespeare. To deny a historical basis for this conviction is to deny the mountain of evidence uncovered by scholars more knowledgeable, and certainly more unpretentious, than an academy full of tenured pedants with a noli me tangere attitude.

              You said: “But I do think it’s revealing that you admit a lack of knowledge about academic Shakespearean studies even as you’re convinced that we ignore the Oxfordian case out of spite or fear — where does that conviction come from? Or do you not share this view of the academy?”

              Academic Shakespearean studies? Is this a prerequisite for having an opinion on the Authorship Question? Some of us actually have a life outside the hallowed halls of academe. The case for de Vere has become a passion for me. Do I need a PhD to indulge myself? While I’m baffled by your reference to “spite,” the “fear” factor is all too evident, especially in Shapiro. Unlike you, Mr Syme, he refuses to debate.

              Apologies for my brevity. Like I said…

              • Holger Syme says:

                Oh, it’s not a matter of “noticing” it — I said “recall.” If you check the Acknowledgments in WITW, you’ll see that I would have “noticed” at the time. But there is a point to be made here: Greenblatt is very clear that he’s speculating. None of this is necessary to maintain his sense of who Shakespeare was. They’re possibilities (and that’s sort of undeniable). The “must have” is rather more debatable.

                But leaving that aside, since I’ve already made the point that books like WITW don’t really represent the mainstream of academic Shakespeare studies, let me respond by addressing a larger issue.

                I’m not denying a historical basis for your faith in de Vere (I might well do that, but that’s not what we’re talking about here). I’m denying a historical basis for your belief that aristocrats were as a rule more educated than those of lesser social rank; and I’m denying your supposition that between de Vere and Shakespeare, the former would have been more likely, in the abstract, to become a playwright.

                But here’s my point. You say that there’s an “academy full of tenured pedants.” But you don’t really know or read their work, by your own admission. You do, after all, have a life, too. I fully sympathize. But what do you think gives you the right, then, to attack people you don’t know and whose work you’re not familiar with? How do you even know they’re pedants? You don’t need a PhD, at all, to engage in an informed discussion, but you do need information. Our halls aren’t hallowed, but they’re full of people who spend their entire lives dedicated to the study of their chosen subject. On what grounds, exactly, do you presume to judge those of us who have concluded that there is no apparent factual, documentary, cultural historical, theatre historical, or literary historical basis for the Oxfordian claim, and that the kinds of readings Oxfordians propose tend to be massively out of step with all contemporary notions of literary interpretation, if by your own admission you don’t know any of the work that has led us to those conclusions?

                • Anka Z says:

                  Your condescension is telling, Mr Syme. Did I hit a nerve?

                  • Holger Syme says:

                    Anka:
                    why don’t you explain to me how I’m being condescending. I’m clearly too obtuse to see it. You have described academics in certain terms; you have ascribed certain positions to us; you have proposed views of early modern social and cultural history without backing them up, although they are out of step with the state of historical scholarship; and while doing all this, you have also said, explicitly, that you don’t have the time to keep up with, or even acquire a working knowledge of, the things written by those of us who have devoted our lives to studying this period (which doesn’t stop you from having opinions about us and our work). I’m merely describing what you yourself have posted here. Personally, I wouldn’t want to proceed in such a manner, and I really can’t see how it’s condescending to point out your m.o. It’s critical, sure — but that’s an entirely different thing. If I had said something like “You don’t have a PhD, you couldn’t possibly understand these things” — now that would indeed be condescending and quite, quite stupid. But I, in fact, have said the exact opposite. So where, please, is the condescension?

                    • Anka Z says:

                      Mr Syme, your responses to me reek of condescension. You play the game well, apologizing for your “obtuseness” while prithee-pleasing me to explain further. I will not play your game. One thing is evident: You and your fellow Early-Modernists-Focusing-on-Shakespeare are panicked at the fact that the Authorship Question has gone mainstream and that our man Oxford is the main contender for the laurels. Whether or not I’ve read (what you consider) acceptable information is irrelevant. The scholars who have persuaded me continue to buttress their arguments with new discoveries and fascinating insights. For this non-academic, it’s a pleasure to absorb this new scholarship. And, unlike my experience with the WITW fantasy, there’s no need to underline and question mark…

                    • Anka Z says:

                      You said: “But if you’re unwilling to learn what academic scholars have done and are doing, you cannot reasonably presume to judge what we do or say. That, in fact, is arrogant.”

                      RES IPSA LOQUITUR!

                • Anka Z says:

                  May I point out that my initial response was to Mr/Ms Carrots?

                  • Holger Syme says:

                    On my blog. And you subsequently engaged with my responses. So what?

                    • Holger Syme says:

                      Anka:
                      then I suppose the conversation ends here, and I am sorry for that. You mistake my tone, though: it’s not condescension. If anything, it’s indignation. It’s your prerogative to ignore the vast amount of scholarship on Shakespeare’s era that has been produced by historians and literary scholars over the past decades. Given your obvious interest in this period, I don’t know why you would choose to do that, but it’s your right, and you’ve clearly decided to exercise it. But if you’re unwilling to learn what academic scholars have done and are doing, you cannot reasonably presume to judge what we do or say. That, in fact, is arrogant. (And please note that I’m not asking you to AGREE with a thing any of us say or do: I’m just asking you to inform yourself before you judge.)

    • Bob Grumman says:

      The real bias of the anti-Stratfordians is their bias against self-education. They can’t stand the thought that someone could learn anything of consequence without significant formal education, especially the Greatest Writer in the History of the Cosmos. Which makes their loathing of academia all the more amusing.

  36. Tobias Gregory says:

    Bravo, Holger. Lead the way.

    • Bob Grumman says:

      If you’ll read my book, “Shakespeare and the Rigidniks,” which not only presents the best case against the wacks in print but also presents a theory as to what makes them so irrational about Shakespeare although more or less sane in the rest of their lives.

  37. Jim Cappio says:

    Excellent post, Holger. I hope you’ll have the stomach to step up and spread the message to the popular venues you allude to: at least the Toronto newspapers and sites such as Salon and Slate. I’m going to pitch these, but as an academic I suspect you’d have better odds. So go for it!

  38. Holger Syme says:

    PS.: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention David Kathman and Terry Ross’s important website, Shakespeareauthorship.com, but it’s too much of a lone voice in the wilderness.

    • rstritmatter says:

      Would it be allowed to point out that some of the more absurd propositions on the Kathman Ross website, which has not been substantively updated for at least five years, are conscientiously rebutted here? http://www.shakespearefellowship.org/virtualclassroom/State%20of%20the%20Debate.htm

      • Holger Syme says:

        Quick response:

        I note that very significant issues are not addressed (yet) in those rebuttals.

        I further note that your “authoritative opinions” on Shakespeare’s “Aristocratic Orientation” consist of pronouncements by Walt Whitman, Charlie Chaplin, and the late Richmond Crinkley, a former Folger employee and film and theatre producer, writing in a short opinion piece over 25 years ago. I don’t see any authority there.

        I further note that the “rebuttal” of others’ doubts concerning the Burghley/Polonius identification consists of an irrelevant citation of a Supreme Court justice’s opinion (I don’t pronounce on constitutional law…) and references to “orthodox” Shakespeare scholars writing over 50 years ago. The field, by and large, has moved on. I’ll take this issue up properly in a future post, though.

        The dating of the Tempest (or any play) is indeed a matter of debate, and falls within the area of troubling scholarly conventions that I’m keen to discuss. I’ll get to it eventually.

        Your detailed response to Reedy & Kathman’s “historical facts” essay is obviously too long to address properly here. Again, give me a few weeks.

          • Holger Syme says:

            Thank you, Anka, though I don’t know what’s gained by linking to a page already linked in Roger’s post. As I said, play dates are indeed an area where I think Shakespeareans have been too assertive (the same, however, goes for source study, a field Anti-Stratfordians are only too happy to rely on). I’m agnostic on the date of The Tempest and will, as I said, address Kositsky and Stritmatter’s arguments in a future post.

            • Anka Z says:

              Mr Syme, since I am often guilty of ignoring embedded links, I didn’t want you to overlook it. I eagerly await your comments on Kositsky and Stritmatter’s very compelling argument.

              • Holger Syme says:

                I’ll get to them. At first glance, they look credible, as source study arguments go — no surprise RES published their essay. Though of course the dating of the Tempest has no evidentiary value in the “authorship debate” — it may take one knee-jerk argument against candidates who died too soon out of Shakespearean’s arsenal, but it doesn’t make the attribution to Shakespeare any more doubtful.

                • Anka Z says:

                  <> Then perhaps Stratfordians should refrain from using this as their all-purpose cudgel when attempting to discredit Oxford. According to them, the dating of The Tempest is our biggest “problem.”

                  • Holger Syme says:

                    Anka, it would really help if you read what I’ve written here and elsewhere on this blog. “Stratfordians” don’t exist. Most of us are early modernists, many with a focus on Shakespeare. Don’t generalize about what “we” think or say. I don’t think play dates are “your” biggest problem. I think standards of evidence are.

                    • Anka Z says:

                      So you, as a “modernist focusing on Shakespeare,” are keen on discussing the evidence presented by Kositsky and Stritmatter on the dating of The Tempest. I, as an Oxfordian, look forward to your reply.

                    • Holger Syme says:

                      Anka, to clarify: I’m an early modernist. That’s the term many of us now prefer to “Renaissance scholar,” because “Renaissance” is a bit of an awkward concept when applied to England. And I like it better than “Shakespearean,” though I am that, too, because I dislike the exceptionalism inherent in the exclusive focus on one author.

                    • Holger, actually, the terminology is sociologically apt. You may wish to conflate the terms “early modern scholar” and “Stratfordian” in such a way as to make them news synonymous, but here is a news flash. They aren’t. You don’t have a monopology on scholarship. Kurt Kreiler is a scholar. Robert Detobel is a scholar (and a fine one at that). Dan Wright is a scholar. Richard Whalen is a scholar. Ren Draya is a scholar. Nina Green is a scholar. Michael Delahoyde is a scholar. Richard Waugaman is a scholar. Each of these persons knows something you don’t about “early modern studies.” None of them are Stratfordians. Ergo, your argument is an attempt to define the terms of the debate through the use of exclusionary and prejudicial circular reasoning. Doesn’t work. Maybe it works for you. But not for those who prize their intellectual dependence from idolatrous labels.

                • Holger,

                  You write

                  “of course the dating of the Tempest has no evidentiary value in the “authorship debate”

                  Wow. That’s a truly stunning remark.

                  • Holger Syme says:

                    Well, it doesn’t, for the reasons I also give (if you read the entire comment). As far as I’m concerned the “he died in 1604″ argument in conjunction with “the Tempest is later” is not a strong point. The date of the Tempest says nothing about its authorship — unless you can prove that it predates Shakespeare’s dates of professional activity. At that point, the dating does indeed become evidence in the authorship debate.

                  • Holger Syme says:

                    And since these comments are now too nested, let me reply to yours above here: again, READ. I never said Anti-Stratfordians weren’t scholars or that all early modernists were Stratfordians (your two charges). I rejected the term “Stratfordian,” and I don’t use it. My work is neither motivated by nor does it circle around the question of where one writer was born. On the other hand, much Anti-Stratfordian work is in fact concerned with that issue. I suppose we all work under the larger umbrella of early modern studies, but I would argue that some of us are more keen to think of authors as part of a larger professional or artistic landscape than those who like to talk of geniuses and unparalleled figures. You’re really arguing with yourself here — and I don’t have time to keep interrupting the monologue. If you start reading what I actually wrote, we can have a conversation.