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Historicizing Shakespeares…SAQ

Francis Bacon was the first full blown alternative authorship candidate and possibly an antidote to the Academy Biographies lead by Dowden. The scholar that opened the floodgates of matching the author to the works.

The Oxfordian movement with their opposing candidate, started with Looney’s seminal work and set of assumptions of who Shakespeare MUST have been in the 1920’s. Since then Oxfordianism has developed its own literature and authority base. Hit any comments section dealing with the SAQ (Shakespeare Authorship Question) and the same advocates are merrily swathing in with their own brand of the SAQ. The most strident are the Oxfordians.

Now the Oxfordian field extends from the worst PT2 theorists to Ogburnites to the Looneys to Stephanie Hughes, the politic worm. An interest in the truth is their only mission. And that with an open mind. Google their efforts I won’t help you find this can of worms.

This post is trying to get to the heart of the authorship controversy. We found this pdf by David Chandler, a prof at Kyoto University which is archived online. It touches the genesis of the authorship controversy, with the Baconians in the middle of the 19thC. Finally it suggests the Oxfordians with Looney’s research in the early 20thC were just behind the times to have any real effect.

Until now. A full on new media offensive is taking place. Slick pdf’s based on the film are being sent to educators. Look at their site and see how Oxford gets corporatised alongside other lobby groups for amongst others, the pork board, orthopaedic surgeons and Auto Alliance.

Perhaps this is a film industry thing; an extension of product placement. The Weinstein company has a couple of pdf’s on the site including one for grades 1-6 called Hoodwinked, which has been taken down. Hurrah.

The above was first posted in 2011 when the film Anonymous would supposedly arm the masses with the correct knowledge and academic uprisings and outright rebellion could begin. In reality perhaps several hundred more people have added their signature to the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt. Google it, if you must!

The problem from my side is most authorship detractors start with a full blown positive identity (Oxford or whomever). So all evidence for the Stratford man becomes suspect. They must explain him away; so they make him into a country bumpkin from an illiterate family in some versions, and a canny businessman in others. Anyway you look at it you cannot ignore him. Without Shakespeare, no conspiracy.

Obviously we disagree with this shoving aside the rightful candidate. (by virtue of the historical evidence and method, which too is pushed aside). Then when ad hominem attacks rain upon his memory, we respond in kind to those spitting the poison.

In comment threads and probably in reality too, they are super touchy in this regard. They feel they are not being taken seriously. And in turn neither are we.

I want to take them seriously because I feel the more research into the period the better. But not at the cost of how scholars investigate the period. That goes against my grain.

Like most Oxfordians, I’m not a fan of theory or its influence in late 20thC scholarship. There was at that time no centre to the issue of Shakespeare.
He fragmented into theory-speak language: some concerned with mind, politics, or sexuality; others with how words mean or don’t mean, or say by not saying.
Somewhere in there the author died or was killed, and students had to learn a new jargon to understand why.

Each theory grew out of and or in reaction to the others and a spurt of the old profs going out with the new coming in gave us the po-mo pantheon we have today. This could all change as Universities and their structuring changes. Today’s theorie du jour with big Marxist academic wings is Presentism. It, as far as I know, ignores the authorship question.

Biography still flourishes outside academia even though the author was declared dead. The publishing world takes its authors from anywhere along the spectrum of knowledge. And so it was in Elizabethan printing and publishing. And in the Elizabethan academic world.

Elizabeth is portrayed as either gloriana virgin queen or despotic propagandist with her secret service using its power to control printing on matters of state. But it wasn’t silenced. There were a spate of illegal presses, mostly on religious matters.
The score of legal presses made the books, which an obviously eager reading public wished to buy.

Literary theory was nowhere near as developed then as it is now. But there were works like Aristotle’s Poetics and Longinus On Sublimity plus contemporaries of Shakespeare who show their concern for how and why a piece of art is created.

For example to show how knowledge bases change, the Ptomely-ean solar system (sun moved around the earth) was fact and the Copernican system (earth moved around the sun) had been accepted by some. The scientific method, like literature, was in its infancy.

Vying ideologies on what is the truth can be really helped out if you can have your opponent burned. And Copernicans, like Giordano Bruno, burned. Thought and the ‘truth’ change over time, though each age strives for truth in thought.

There will always be two sides to this argument, irrelevant to how people feel about it. A discovery could be made tomorrow which would clear it up. It’s unlikely, but it could be.

That means there are still a group of antiquarian minded souls out there doing the digging and searching in the archives. A set of skills in early modern transmission is required to do this. Reading early modern handwriting, understanding their Latin etc.

Literature is not science. And science, let’s not forget, is filled with as many fictions as literature. Phlogiston was discounted a hundred years after it was proposed. The circulation of blood put forward in Shakespeare’s time by
William Harvey took over a 150 years to be accepted into mainstream science.

Oxfordians have argued since the early 20thC that in time their candidate will be accepted. We know, along with the 80 or so other candidates, it will never happen. Continental shift is often cited as an example. But that can be proven and not inferred by a startling heap of coincidences.

Now I really don’t think so, but am prepared to eat crow if it does. My mind is open on the subject. Though not open to their methodology, which is where most people who reject their theories agree.

Ideas are personal and which ones you accept as real and truthful often need to be examined. Twain thought that it wasn’t Shakespeare and that Queen Elizabeth was a man. Yet radically unusual beliefs are not unusual.

On the comment threads, Mark Johnson’s kickbacks to the Orksfordians are exemplary. And I really admire his detached demeanour. He argues succinctly, clearly and inoffensively. Paradoxically Roger Strittmater (among others) concludes Mark is the offensive one. Having long toes, they call that in Dutch. Touchy, I call it. Still Mark retains his composure and reminds them to re-read his comments and answer his open questioning.

Working in stand up comedy I have no restraint and dive in for jugular. I’d like to make a page out of all the best rebuttals to the specific questions and arguments they throw in the ring. Pseudononymous Howard16 likes to ask rambly lists of questions, there’s one on the Forbes site.

Fortunately here in 2015 there is a website called OXFRAUD and a bunch of Orthodoxian stalwarts who dedicate themselves to exposing the rubbish that gets said in the SAQ.

I already called out for a point by point rebuttal of the Declaration of Treasonable Doubt as necessary. It happened. it was rebutted in turn and the now they think they are winning.

Some of the commenters on threads are very naive regarding early modern events and history. Others really do know their shit and throw in people and events I never heard of. This I am in favour of and celebrate when a new fact or connection is made adding to my knowledge of the Early Modern Era.

Bring it on I rejoice. An open mind is open for all pov not just the ones they favour. We may disagree as to the placement and relevance of their argument. But then I disagree about many things on a regular basis.

Knee-jerk reactions aren’t going to help. Superiority feelings either. I am guilty of knee-jerk reactions to comments. And as for superiority if you know a little or know a lot it’s hard not to use that. One potential opponent by admission, only knows Shakespeare through the authorship question. It’s like the twittering Kanye West fans who recently celebrate his discovery of Paul McCartney and how his career will soar thanks to Kanye.

ah twitter

ah twitter

Well I trump that ignorance. But I don’t trump Mark Rylance’s or Derek Jacobi’s experience acting and interacting with Shakespeare on the stage. Then the same can be said of Patrick Stewart, or Greg Doran if we go the ‘actors and directors of’ route. It’s the reason I don’t bite at the so and so believes it was Oxford arguments. Anymore. Yet call to authority is a natural gambit.

There’s something to be said for ambition here too. Everyone who gets into a field they are passionate about, wants to become good at it. You have to measure up and you want to.

When we first begin we have peers approaching the same subject. The top is small so not everyone can achieve it. Many will fail, but some will join those experts that were in that field when they started out. And become the new experts as the old ones die out.

The cynical route that everybody has their price is a common one in the Arts. So Jonson could have been a sell-out as well as Shakespeare. Any Jonson scholars back the Oxfordian claims? Didn’t think so.

Btw every field of knowledge has over-lapping fields. Shakespeare is a large field and is approached from many directions. Add to that fact that it was a very specific field within the Early Modern World.

The one Oxfordian is an ex-postal carrier, the other a Supreme Court Judge. And so too with the Orthodoxian camp. Within the fields that comprise either camp, are larger fields on which the whole Shakespeare field depends. One of these is the ‘who was the author’ field. It’s not a big or important field. Never has been until now.

Central to the authorship question are the artefacts that make Shakespeare relevant anyway: the plays and poems. Without these who Shakespeare?

i don’t admire Picasso because of who he was. Or Mozart. Or Miles.

Shakespeare the man not the author cannot be the centre of Shakespeare studies.

His plays and poems are the reason we study him still.

Was it Oxford’s desire to be anonymous? Then let him be.
He obviously found peace with the situation. Just as I believe Shakespeare did with his leaving nary a crumb to be traced.

I give a rat’s ass where he came from.

But was it possible for someone of humble beginnings to achieve what he did? ie write these 36-41 plays, 2 poems and 154 sonnets?

Is it do-able at the average rate of two a year over the course of a 25-30 year history with the theatre?

Yes is the answer if Jonson, Dekker, Marlowe, Heywood and a slew more contemporaries are anything to go by. They surpassed his output; but not his genius.

His genius is not the man, it is within his works.

How, or why, does projecting Oxford onto his plays assist me in the interpretation of Anthony’s speech to the Roman mob? Or is Oxford the go-to source for all things Mark Anthony?

That Oxford knew of Mark Anthony and possibly had great empathic and selfless intelligence is not at issue. The issue is: could he have gone to all this trouble to write, hire, hide, subvert, and ego-preen this conspiracy together. Up to and including after his death?!

Obviously in Anonymous that is the point. He could. No he did. In a film no worse in historical accuracy or fact twisting than many another film. It’s just not believable as a theory or history, listen to film critic Greg Mantell.

The issue is the acceptance and full identification of the man with the most wounded name in history. ‘Sblood it makes me blood boil when I think on’t!
And vice-versa.

I’m trying to find a way to defuse this argument before it takes hold.
A simple dichotomy may suffice:

Should I treat the Shakespeare Authorship Question as a theatre question?
Or is the SAQ a literature question?

And most importantly when arguing the SAQ:

How relevant to the acting of the plays is the authorship problem?

The truth is none at all.

To act the plays is to re-embody dead words on the page,
whilst being beheld speaking them upon the stage.

To read the plays is to construct a palace, battlefield, or seacoast, in your mind; with princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene.

Both have their merits.

In Germany there’s a Macbeth crediting the play to Edward de Vere, Alias William Shakespeare. Some one should make a court case out of it. See how the judges of Europe stack up in favour of an alternative candidate. The most recent moot court in Stratford Ontario decided once again in favour of the one who still sits on that seat and throne. William Shakspere.


O lest your true love may seem false in this,
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me, nor you.
For I am sham’d by that which I bring forth
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.

First conclusions:
Biography is not the purpose of Sh studies and doesn’t alter appreciation of Shakespeare.

The debate continues…

Comments are turned off because inflammatory discourse wastes time faster than time wastes life.

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