Sunday, December 4, 2011

Responses to more Stratfordian Questions, Part 1 of 3

Responses to more Stratfordian Questions,   Part 1 of 3

Thank you for bringing your perspective to this question. Again, I’ve kept your words in Bold and then added my responses. I think it’s best to respond over two separate posts, just due to the amount of text involved. And it might be helpful to readers to have easy access to the original statements, so I’m keeping those. 
One of the things that fascinates me endlessly in “the authorship debate” is the odd feeling that one is arguing / debating backwards. 

The extant references to Shakespeare from the period are numerous if not extensive. Francis Meres Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury being but one example. 

Yes, there are many references to Shakespeare. That is not in dispute. The claim is that “Shakespeare” and “William Shakespeare” was actually a pen name that deliberately coincided with (or closely resembled) the  name of the man from Stratford who was also an actor. What seems to many of us as the biggest problem in this debate is that the Orthodox group (normally called the Stratfordians) generally don’t want to acknowledge these two hypotheses before trying to argue their case. They want to insist that any mention of Shakespeare is automatically a direct and knowing reference to William of Stratford as the person(s) who wrote the Shakespeare works. A fair argument would allow the two hypotheses and then whatever documentary evidence and argument could be marshaled would be examined and compared.

Anti Stratfordians seem to have decided that, as there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the Stratfordian claim,


that perforce Shakespeare of Stratford cannot have written the works

Not true. Anti-Stratfordians, as far as I can tell, are not absolutists. They provide evidence and arguments attempting to show that one particular hypothesis, or theory, is stronger than another.

and then go on to perform extensive research to “prove” their already preconceived theory. 

They attempt to come as close to proof as they can, even as the Stratfordians have tried.

Many hundreds or thousands of hours of research have provided them with details that substantiate their claims,  because they were looking for them .  One gets the feeling that their research is not destined at discovering the truth but at finding facts to support a theory.

I think there is much truth in this, but they see it nearly the same as the Stratfordians have always done. Though most anti-Stratfordians, I think, would be happy to have conclusive proof one way or another. Many of them are at least trying to discover the truth, and they feel a need to do this partially because the bulk of Shakespeare scholars do not want to research this question. At least, the anti-Stratfordians do not seem to have a financial or career threatening conflict of interest in the matter that would bias their interest.

I am sure that given the time and the inclination (of which I have neither) I could probably do the same thing and find sufficient evidence to doubt that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the composer of the works attributed to him; rather that his father, Leopold – seeing his reputation as a composer starting to whither - decided that if he could pass his compositions off as the work of a 5 year old, there would be more interest in them.  Wolfgang was a brilliant performer and his father exploited this to give his compositions the attention he felt they deserved.   As his early biographer Niemetschek wrote, "there was nothing special about [his] physique. [...] He was small and his countenance, except for his large intense eyes, gave no signs of his genius."

If it were that easy, to just have the time and inclination, and then that sufficient evidence could be found to prove a theory, one would think it would have already occurred for the Stratfordian position, and to the full satisfaction of all, or nearly all, reputable observers. But this hasn’t been done despite over a hundred years of painstaking searching for evidence by many, many dedicated researchers very motivated to find such proof.

This is a totally spurious and somewhat pointless exercise and I will dwell no further on it;  but I use it as an example of how, if one wants to prove a point, selective research can always make it possible. 

The Anti Stratfordians bombard the debate with researched facts that support their case.  As there are at least 3 major contenders in the race (DeVere, Bacon and Neville) these facts often become contradictory.  The Baconites, for example, cite references to Cambridge University as evidence.  How does this sit with the Oxford case?  One argument from the Oxford camp has been that his coat of arms contains a lion shaking a spear.

I don’t know how the Oxfordians respond to the Cambridge evidence. Maybe they think they have good counter evidence or arguments for it. Then again, I’ve never seen any Stratfordian counter arguments for it either. There are at least three groups of the anti-Stratfordians that can relate their candidate to the name Shakespeare through the image of “shaking a spear” – the Baconians, the Oxfordians, and the supporters for the Earl of Rutland. So that supports their case, but is far from sufficient to prove it.

The doubters shower us with facts and then ask us to explain their research.  But their facts all turn around “absence”. 

Not true in the least, about the facts primarily being about ‘absence’. The evidence and argument they present is often ‘present’ evidence for their specific candidate. And they don’t usually ask Stratfordians to ‘explain’ the anti-Stratfordian evidence, except maybe on a comment website somewhere, and that because that’s about all they can do. What they really want is a scholarly examination of all evidence, either by a panel of experts, or by encouraging scholarly research on the authorship question in academic institutions.

OK here’s one “fact”.  Heminges was a member of a company called the Queen’s Men. In 1587 they were touring Oxfordshire and Warwickshire with an anonymous play called “The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth”  This is documented due to the tragedy of the death of William Knell in Thame.  Much of this play turns up in Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V, some of it reworked, some of it almost verbatim.  Shakespeare and Heminges are inextricably linked  (many documents exist to that effect) for all of the known careers of both.  The plays belonged to the companies at that period.  So explain how Oxford (or Bacon or Neville) obtained a copy of “The Famous Victories …” in order to plagiarise or rewrite it.  Any explanation could only be through conjecture but there is a direct, documented link to Shakespeare and this play.  Coincidentally it is documented that The Queen’s Men performed at Stratford in the summer after William Knell’s death in June 1587.  And that Heminges married Knell’s widow.  And the last mention of Shakespeare in Stratford is 1585, the birth of the twins. 

To rephrase, there is a direct, documented link to the playwright ‘Shakespeare’, whoever he may have been, since he must have had access to “The Famous Victories…” to write Henry IV an V. Logically, the actor would have had access to this early play. Since as you say any explanation can “only be through conjecture” it seems hardly worth the bother. But since Stratfordians have long accepted pretty much any conjecture that suits their theory, I’ll just conjecture that Heminges lent a copy of the play to Francis Bacon who asked if he could read it. What for I can’t imagine. On the other hand he may have obtained a copy from printer Thomas Creede, who not only printed Famous Victories of Henry the fifth, but who also printed Bacon’s  The tvvoo bookes of Francis Bacon. Of the proficience and aduancement of learning, diuine and humane: To the King. At London : Printed [by Thomas Purfoot and Thomas Creede, for Henrie Tomes, and are to be sould at his shop at Graies Inne gate in Holborne, 1605.]   Notice also that Henrie Tomes had a bookshop at Graies Inne gate, an easy walk from Gray’s Inn where Bacon studied and later lived for a major portion of his life.

My eternal question to the doubters is “Why?”  What is it that motivates them to do all this research and to dedicate so much time and effort into trying to find an alternative to the man from Stratford? 

I wonder the same thing about astronomers. Why do they keep trying to find undiscovered planets or to explain the universe? Why?  Why did Copernicus, Galileo, and many others question the Geocentric theory of the universe?? Wasn’t there a very good theory already available that the authorities accepted and that could be used for the execution of heretics that thought otherwise?

They cite facts like the lack of contemporary comments on his death.  Mozart suffered much the same ignominy. They dwell on the fact that there is no mention of books in his will.  But they fail to give importance to the fact that in the will are bequests to John Heminges and Richard Burbage.  The latter of these two facts links Shakespeare of Stratford to the playhouses of London, the former tells us absolutely nothing.  So why is something that tells us nothing at all more important than a documented link? 

It is not just that there was a lack of contemporary comments on William’s death. It’s just a pattern of a lack of positive authorship evidence for him that seems to stand out. I don’t think that they fail to give any importance to the bequests to Heminges and Burbage. There’s been quite a bit of thoughtful analysis about it. It does show they were friends to the end at least. But one of the recent comments I read, from an Oxfordian website, was why William didn’t leave them more than just the rings?  There’s an argument, though I didn’t save it, suggesting that if William had been the playwright Shakespeare, that it would have been more likely to leave more for them and say more about them as friends in his will.

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