Sunday, July 28, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 16 - Stylometric evidence

I’ve now finished reading the Shakespere Beyond Doubt book and one thing at the end was especially interesting. In the Afterward by James Shapiro we see that he thanks the tireless worker for keeping the Wikipedia Shakespeare Authorship pages in accord with Stratfordian theory. Actually, he phrases it as “ensuring that the site remains fact rather than faith based”. But I had noticed when researching for the last post with comments on Hand D handwriting that the Wikipedia page on the handwriting of Hand D in Sir Thomas More only mentioned the pro-Stratfordian viewpoint. The Wikipedia Shakespeare Authorship pages, which Prof. Shapiro states are controlled by Stratfordian proponents have a link to the pages on the handwriting of Hand D. And on that Sir Thomas More page there’s an emphasis on the opinions of Edward Maunde Thompson.

But there is no mention whatsoever of the work or opinions countering Thompson that are in Samuel A. Tannenbaum’s Problems in Shakepeare’s Penmanship, 1927. And it is impossible for an honest and knowledgeable encyclopedia subject author to write on the Hand D handwriting question, citing Thompson’s conclusions without mentioning Tannenbaum and his book along with his conclusions.

This is some actual proof of the pro-Stratfordian efforts, approved by members of the academic community, of deliberately misleading the public with supposedly trusted public information sources on the Shakespeare authorship topic. Or if they don’t really think the Wikipedia webpages should be considered as ‘trusted’ then why are they working tirelessly to control them?
But back to Chapter 9 and the evidence of stylometrics

Here I only want to respond to the stylometric evidence provided against Bacon as an authorship candidate.

The essay author begins his argument against Bacon by saying that Shakespeare and Bacon had opposite mentalities, with Bacon’s writings being products of reason and Shakespeare’s products of the imagination, as if a person could not be talented in each. And that they each wrote of different things and used different imagery. This is a very common Stratfordian argument that we keep refuting. So here are just a few quotes of what many others have said:

“I infer from this sample that Bacon had all the natural faculties which a poet wants; a fine ear for metre, a fine feeling for imaginative effect in words, and a vein of poetic passion....Truth is that Bacon was not without the fine phrensy of a poet.” --James Spedding, Bacon biographer, "Works "

"A man so rare in knowledge, of so many several kinds endued with the facility and felicity of expressing it all in so eloquent, significant, so abundant, and yet so choice and ravishing, a way of words, of metaphors and allusions as, perhaps, the world hath not seen, since it was a world. I know this may seem a great hyperbole, and strange kind of excess of speech, but the best means of putting me to shame will be, for you to place any other man of yours by this of mine." - Tobie Mathew, friend of F. Bacon
“Only once grant that Bacon lacked imagination (he had infinite imagination), that he was devoid of humor (his humor was unbounded and inextinguishable), that he had no leisure to write the plays (he had years of waiting for place and work and years of struggle with debt), that he had no poetic faculty (his noblest prose is the highest poetry in all but metre), that he was cold and unsympathetic and selfish (Sir Tobie Matthew, and Rawleigh and other contemporaries did not think so)—only grant these postulates (all false) and a few others, and it will be certain that he did  not write the plays.” --- Rev. L. C. Manchester

No imagination was ever at once so strong and so thoroughly subjugated. In truth, much of Bacon’s life was passed in a visionary world, amidst things as strange as any that are described I the Arabian tales. –Lord Macauley.

The essay author also cites Caroline Spurgeon and her work on Shakspeare’s Imagery to argue that the two writers have “sharply dissimilar patterns” in their imagery. What he is unaware of is that her work on Bacon was refuted over 40 years ago. Spurgeon seems to only have sampled about a quarter of Bacon’s writings. And even within that she made such blatant oversights that it could only be concluded that they were intentional. For instance, when she argued that they had opposite views on “the action of time” and quoted Shakespeare’s Lucrece:

"Time's glory is to command contending Kings
To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light".  

Then she quoted a passage from Bacon that had nothing to do with Time and Truth. But on the preceding page of this Bacon book from where she took that quote could be found "As time, which is the author of authors, be not deprived of his due, which is, further and further to discover truth". And this was only one of many quotes she should have come across that showed the similarity in thought.

Then regarding the stylometrics evidence itself, since there are no plays written under Bacon’s name there were only tests on the poetry of Shakespeare and Bacon. Shakespeare’s primary poetry was written in the early 1590s. The sonnets appear to have been mostly written from 1592-1598 or some later to 1603, and at least finished by 1609. Samples of verse in the plays were also used for the Shakespeare stylistic profile and so a portion of these likely came from a later period. But the heavier weighting seems to come from prior to 1609. This profile was tested against a sample of Bacon’s poetry, of which is only mentioned his Psalms paraphrases and his The World’s a Bubble.

Here are the problems I find with this comparison:

1.  The Psalms were a religious devotional exercise, which is not quite the same state as a poetic phrensy he might have been in if he were writing the erotic Venus and Adonis or even The Rape of Lucrece. Nor were they meant to be like sonnets.

2.  His Psalms were written in later 1624 when he was ill from “the raving of a hot ague”. So he was old, sick with a fever, almost in the last year of his life, somewhat mentally depleted, and likely dispirited from the loss of his great station and reputation. And yet they’ve still compared favorably with other noted poets like Sir Philip Sidney, John Milton, Joseph Hall and others.

3.  We’re told by the stylometrics researchers that stylistic trends change significantly over time. So Bacon’s poetic style likely would have changed significantly over the 20-30 years separating these Psalms from Shakespeare’s poetry from its earliest years and perhaps also into much of its later years.

 4.  He’s likely to have done little poetry writing in the last decade of his life since he had been so busy in his government positions and finishing up his philosophical works.

 5.  Since they’re paraphrases of the original psalms they can be expected to be more restricted in their style, choice of words, metre, etc.

6.  Being Psalm paraphrases, they may have likely been meant to be sung and not just read or recited. Nor were they suitable for embedding in a dramatic play. They might then even be said to be in somewhat different genres.

With all these considerations in mind, doing stylistic comparisons between Bacon’s Psalm paraphrases and Shakespeare’s poetry appears very much like comparing apples and oranges. You probably should expect statistical divergence on their styles! Still, many parallels of word usages have been found between them and in the Shakespeare works.

Bacon’s poem “The World’s a Bubble” is another paraphrase, this time of a Greek epigram. And it’s undated and so it may also have been written in his later years. It shares some of the same defects as the Psalms in terms of its usefulness in a stylistic comparison.

It looks like they may have used one other short poem in their stylistic tests. Even using the Psalms and two short poems this does not seem enough of a variety to do decent objective tests. And with the drawbacks already mentioned, especially for the Psalms, I think the minimum requirements for comparisons were not close to being met.

Finally, even with any stylometric analysis you’re still going to have to examine external evidence. The external evidence for William of Stratford has been shown to be weak by the non-Stratfordians and may support one of the alternate candidates. You can never know unless you examine it with them.
“Attribution studies should not be performed in isolation; one item of external evidence can overturn all such internal evidence. – M.W.A. Smith, “Attribution by Statistics: A Critique of Four Recent Studies”, in Revue Informatique et statistique dans les sciences humaines 26 (1990).

Friday, July 26, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 15 - Collaboration - Hand D

Now in chapter 8 we have the topic of Shakespeare as a collaborator. Most of this evidence is based on stylistic analysis, and is further described in chapter 9. It’s acknowledged that there is disagreement on some evidence and that some conclusions are speculative. Still, there are what are considered core finding that have broad support. There are 8 other playwrights that this evidence suggests that Shakespeare collaborated with.

Then, based on this evidence of collaboration, there is the claim that “This picture conflicts utterly with the anti-Shakespearians’ usual preferred candidates for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, who are usually aristocrats such as the Earl of Oxford or Francis Bacon who had no day-to-day dealings with the theatre and its dramatists.”

I can’t answer the evidence for the Earl of Oxford beyond what general comments I’ve already covered earlier on collaboration and stylometrics, or what more of a general nature I may write. But there is a response to this in the companion book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? (SBD?) that is at least a partial answer.

But I can provide my own answer as a Baconian. And that is that it is totally false that “This picture conflicts utterly” Bacon’s candidacy as ‘Shakespeare’. Part of my argument for this is based on, as already mentioned several times, the quality of the stylistic evidence that I’ve seen presented. It has long seemed to me that many researchers, and the journal editorial boards, that review and approve their papers, have a bias in ‘wanting’ to elaborate upon a model picture of Shakespeare that fits the Stratfordian theory. This includes portraying the author as not well educated, not well travelled, as from Warwickshire, etc and then selecting or interpreting data that supports this view. I’ve already described some of this apparent ‘fitting of the data to theory’ in a previous post. And other contrary evidence to the poor education premise is answered in SBD? The strong academic bias against anti-Stratfordians is well known and the campaign to ‘defeat’ their challenge to orthodox dogma is apparent and admitted by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and some of the academic community supporting them. I recall one journal editor asking about how they as a group might ‘discourage’ public interest in the topic. Well, giving an easy pass on any research paper supporting the orthodox theory would certainly help this cause.

Secondly, Baconians are not uniform in their beliefs. In more recent decades there are still some that believe he was the sole author, but several others have no problem seeing him as collaborating with others.

Third, is the problem with the claim that Shakespeare the author must have had “day-to-day dealings with the theatre and its dramatists”. I think anti-Stratfordians would like to see the documentary evidence that either Shakespeare the author, or William of Stratford, met every day or nearly so, with another dramatist, or that any Shakespeare playwriting was done in the actual presence of actors. A simple assumption that he did, because it fits with the Stratfordian model, isn’t satisfactory for our authorship debate, unless you choose not to be scholarly about it. I’ve written elsewhere how easy it actually would be for Bacon, or also Oxford, or many other candidates, to interact with the actors outside the theater. They seem to have often either visited the court or played at one of the large estates of a noble. I’d like to see either some documentary proof or circumstantial evidence that absolutely rules out the hypothesis that Shakespeare could have collaborated on a script outside a playhouse. Or otherwise show that the Author wrote in the presence of another playwright that clearly identified who Shakespeare was. If you can’t then the hypothesis that the Author Shakespeare did not need to have “day-to-day dealings with either a theater or other playwrights” is viable. Finally, there is substantially more documentary evidence of Bacon’s knowledge of the craft of play production and his ability to write plays than there is for the Stratford man. Evidence for this statement could be assembled if ever there was a need to.

Let’s now look at the claim that Hand D in Sir Thomas More matches the handwriting of William of Stratford.

We’re told that “the evidence is complex, but finally compelling.” And “The most numerous and most expert studies of the handwriting find strong links between Hand D and the few samples of Shakespeare’s writing in legal documents.” “No remotely comparable affinity has been discovered between Hand D and any other hand.” And “Sir Thomas More establishes a clear documentary connection between William Shakespeare of Stratford and the author of Shakespeare’s plays.”

Now, if you’re not careful, you might find that after reading this long paragraph or two, that something was left out. There’s no direct mention of who are the authorities for the claims stated. But we find in the notes, #12, in the back of the book, that the justification for the claim comes from the chapter author’s own book Sir Thomas More. So it’s his own personal judgment and not anything like that of the entire academic community. You can see this for yourself from this post earlier this year by Independent Scholar Gerald Downs, made in plenty of time to accordingly add some limitation to the claim in the SBD chapter. This is from the Shaksper website and on this very topic:

Let’s break the argument down a little. 1) it’s assumed that Hand D was written by a playwright rather than by a scribe or copyist. But as Downs says, “When yet another succession of scholars argued that D is a copyist they got no reply from the first batch” [of scholars arguing that it was William of Stratford]. 2) the Shakespeare handwriting being used in comparison is only the six signatures and the words “By  me” (which may have been by a copyist); and for the noted ‘spurred’ letter ‘a’—this is found in only one of the signatures. Downs agrees with Tannebaum, (a Stratfordian and self-taught Paleographer)  who didn’t believe Hand D matched the handwriting of the Shakespeare signatures, saying “minimal “conditions are not fulfilled” for even a handwriting comparison to be made in the first place. 3) This Tannebaum also said, regarding Paleographers like those supporting the claim that William was the author, that “Paleographers are not handwriting experts.” He pointed out that while there were 9 claimed points of similarity between the two samples, he had found 25 points of dissimilarity. This helps to explain why Downs writes “The meaningful question is whether Shakespeare can be identified as D; in the long run, he can’t”. 4) the claim that no other handwriting is similar to Hand D is also falsified. Downs describes how Hand C has been thought as resembling Hand D and also says “…two writers in such close proximity having comparable hands suggests the Shakespeare case is overblown.”

Without this linchpin for William’s authorship of Hand D, all other Stratfordian evidence connected to it crumbles. No claim is supported. No evidence in Hand D is connected to William of Stratford. No expert analysis of the handwriting seems even to have been done. So there is still nothing in support of him being “a man of the theater” or “working alongside other playwrights”. But I’m all for an independent analysis of Hand D by modern handwriting experts (not Paleographers) and in comparison with the penmanship of others.  And who knows, there still might yet be some solid evidence for him in later chapters.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 14 - Allusions to Shakespeare

Prof. Stanley Wells in chapter 7 argues that for any alternative nominee to succeed it must first be established that all evidence in support of William of Stratford must be disproven. Personally I don’t see that as a necessity since any strong contrary evidence in favor of a candidate may be enough. And all, or about all, of the evidence supportive of the Stratfordian theory has already been disproved or called into question.

As any reader of the basic anti-Stratfordian evidence would know, any allusion to ‘Shakespeare’ that refers to ‘the Author’, does not necessarily have anything to do with the actor/businessman from Stratford. If it did, then surely the Supreme Court justices would never have bothered with even a mock trial. Furthermore, anyone that did know the actor and who should have been in a position to know if he was also ‘the Author’ must also be shown to not have had any motivation to allow the suggestion that they were the same, if in fact he knew otherwise. Some of us anti-Stratfordians have no problem in seeing a motivation by Jonson, Heminges and Condell to allow a fib.

With these thoughts in mind the doubters would likely dismiss as evidence all of the allusions. They either do not refer to the Stratford actor, or the writer wasn’t in a position to know if he was the Author Shakespeare, or they had a motivation to not bother with the truth, and in the case Heminges and Condell there is the further complication that we don’t know that they did any more than sign their names to what Ben Jonson had written for them.

But I do have a few comments on some of the specific allusions in the book.

First is the allusion from 1599 by John Weever.

The Weever allusion is to his epigram beginning:

“Honey-tongued Shakespeare, when I saw thine issue”.

But he may have made a much more important epigram that came just after this one is his book. This epigram was addressed to Edward Alleyn, the great actor. It goes thus:

‘Rome had her Roscius and her Theater,
Her Terence, Platus, Ennius and Meander;
The first to Allen Phoebus did transfer,
The next Thames Swans receiv’d fore he coulde land her.
Of both more worthy we by Phoebus doome
Then t’ Allen Roscius yield, to London Rome’

We can interpret this as: Roscius was Rome’s famous actor, whose acting spirit in a sense was transferred to Edward Allen. Then before London could have famous playwright/poets like Rome, it needed Dramatic Theaters, which Phoebus Apollo transferred by placing some along the banks of the Thames. These were received by the Thames’ Swans, who represent the theater actors. This is not a reference to dying swans that sing. These are the swans written about in Orlando Furioso, books 34-5, that save from the river Lethe (oblivion) the names of the greatest poets and dramatists, carrying their names inscribed in a medal that hangs by a thread in their mouths to the temple of immortality. Bacon refers to this legend: 

Translations of the Philosophical Works, Volume 1, (Page 307)
By Francis Bacon, James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis
If this link works here you can read it. (or just Google it)

This story is also referred to in the Returne from Parnassus:

“That Ariosto’s old swift paced man,
Whose name is Time, who never lins to run,
Loaden with bundles of decayed names,
The which in Lethe’s lake he doth intombe,
Save only those which swan-like scholars take,”

Though in their rendering of the myth it’s scholars that save great names for immortality. Now the Thames swans (the actors) carry away (by their speeches) the immortal words of the great poet playwrights. Since the swans always carried away another name than their own, the actors did likewise. This we believe is what Ben Jonson could have alluded to by calling the Stratford actor the ‘Sweet Swan of Avon’.  He may also have used it as part of an ambiguous double meaning. Also, there are several ‘Avon’ rivers and since ‘Avon’ derives from Celtic ‘Abona’ then Jonson could also have been using it as a reference to the Thames itself, especially since some theaters like Shakespeare’s Globe were situated by it and because he mentions the Sweet Swan as on the banks of the Thames. He also specifically refers to his actor role “to heare thy Buskin tread, and shake a Stage”.  Many poets of the time (and some Cambridge students) could have discerned this Furioso allusion as they would have read Harington’s translation of Ariosto.

Second, speaking of the Parnassus plays which are also mentioned for their allusion to Shakespeare, there’s an odd bit of phrasing on page 78 when speaking of the third play in the series. The book says “In a later episode, Burbage and Kemp audition recent undergraduates who aspire to a career in the theatre. Kemp, a true professional…”. A casual reader, new to this topic, may forget that these aren’t the real persons Burbage and Kemp who both knew Shakespeare. Prof. Shapiro in Contested Will was more careful when he described the same allusion but phrased it “actors impersonating Burbage and Kemp…”.

Third, is the allusion by Thomas Freeman in 1614 “To Master W. Shakespeare”. There’s been some Baconian analysis that Freeman likely believed that Bacon was Shakespeare when he wrote this. Early in his list of epigrams, Freeman said that “I write in covert and conceal their names”. In one enigmatic epigram he refers to a person as ‘Labeo’. He likely got this from the 1597-98 satires of Hall and Marston and their identification of ‘Labeo’ with Bacon, and as the author of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 13 - Theorizing Shakespeare Authorship

I’ll now take a look at Part II of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt and here we’ll find the bulk of the evidence purporting to prove or at least argue for the Stratfordian model of authorship.

One of the first points that is made in introducing Part II is that “Absence of evidence is never the same as evidence of absence.”  That sounds reasonable on the face of it, but as was pointed out by Diana Price earlier—“the absence of any literary paper trails for Shakespeare’s biography is a unique deficiency.” So though the absence of evidence will not be proof that something did not occur, it can weigh against it.

Chapter 6, ‘Theorizing Shakespeare’s authorship’,

This chapter begins with a discussion of the natural gaps in individual’s known lives. There are many examples given. And though this topic has been addressed, I decided when reviewing the chapter, to look at one in more detail. It was almost by chance but it seemed like it would be a good test. I read how John Lyly was “a major court poet and dramatist” but that “The only expression of Lyly’s literary talent in the last sixteen years of his life appears in the begging letters he wrote to Elizabeth and to the Cecils.” So, to see what else Lyly might have going for him in terms of literary evidence I turned to the new book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?  which I haven’t started on yet, and found Diana Price’s chart of Literary Paper Trails and looked at what it had for Lyly but which wasn’t mentioned in the earlier quote above. For Lyly, Price has checked off that he 1) has evidence of education, 2) has a record of correspondence, especially concerning literary matters, 3) has evidence of a direct relationship with a patron, 4) has handwritten inscriptions, receipts, letters, etc. touching on literary matters, 5) has evidence of commendatory verses, epistles, or epigrams contributed or received, 6) and he was personally referred to as a writer, misc. records. This compares to William of Stratford who is not known to have any of these. One must look to the author ‘Shakespeare’ for some of them.

There is then some discussion of stylometric analysis and one argument stood out to me. On pg. 66-67 there is an example of how Shakespeare displays a usage of ‘do’ in unregulated ways and that varies from scene to scene. It’s said that “In the two plays they (he and Fletcher) wrote together, a clear distinction can be made between scenes which have a high incidence of unregulated usage, which can be attributed to Shakespeare, and ones that are more regulated, which can be assumed to have been written by Fletcher”.  So my thoughts are that 1) it seems that it’s already presumed that they co-wrote the two plays, when that should be a conclusion rather than a premise; 2) if Shakespeare’s usage of ‘do’ can vary from scene to scene in his other plays, why can’t it vary greatly in these two plays? 3) The explanation given for why Fletcher’s supposed scenes are much more regulated than those of Shakespeare is that Fletcher was younger, and university educated (and so ‘better’ educated). The problem with this explanation is that the claim of Shakespeare’s poorer education is unsubstantiated. At least see the counter evidence in the doubter’s SBD? book regarding his ‘vast knowledge’.  The argument above gives the impression that the researcher is fitting the data to the theory. I would imagine that the researcher has good responses to my points here and that the passage may just need to be better thought out. (As an aside, it’s curious why Fletcher, Shakespeare’s colleague, collaborator, and successor with the King’s Men, never seems to have acknowledged his death in 1616.)

A similar argument is used with George Peele who also was ‘highly educated’ and so that explains why scenes with more alliteration and polysyllabic words can be attributed to him. Maybe when Shakespeare’s vast knowledge can be refuted along with his demonstrated mastery of rhetoric, grammar, and verse, then these attributions based on his lesser education will carry more weight with the skeptical and undecided reader.

At least there is a statement admitting that “Such analysis can take us so far but cannot prove beyond any shadow of doubt that Shakespeare wrote every part of every work attributed to him”. The implication is that ‘such analysis’ also cannot do the same for his supposed collaborators. And I’m not knocking such research. But I think I’d be more critical in my review of it based on the bias that appears evident in these analyses. It’s comforting at least to find later in the chapter that “…attempts to attribute them securely are doomed to failure unless failsafe ways of isolating individual stylistic features do eventually emerge”.

I would also take exception to any collaboration characterized as a ‘writing team’ because it conjures up a picture that Shakespeare worked side by side at the same time with one or more collaborators, which cannot just be assumed. As said in other posts there are other ways for co-writing to occur. And if there was no proven face-to-face collaboration then it cannot be taken for granted that any co-author would know who the author Shakespeare actually was.

Another statement to comment on is on page 70, and this is “…we do know that they [the plays] were often written at great speed; that scenes were assigned to different writers and that parts were written for particular actors…” I think this argument needs to separate Shakespeare from other writers since it is only his authorship that we are questioning. So even if other writers often wrote fast or someone assigned scenes to different writers, doesn’t mean that Shakespeare also is known for sure to fit this description, though that he had specific actors in mind does at times seem proved.

Then on page 68 we find this statement “In order for us to believe that there is a case to answer that Shakespeare from Stratford may not have been Shakespeare the author we would need evidence from the period that it was possible for writers to impersonate other people; that they had the motives to do so; and that they had the ability to carry this out.” Though it is then mentioned a little later that William Cecil did employ such a ruse more than once. However it is stated that he or others that hid their identities behind initials like “E.K.” at least “are not borrowing or stealing another man’s identity and passing it off as their own.” This thought is repeated a third time at the end of the chapter: “But we can be certain, beyond any reasonable doubt, that early modern authors did not ever pretend to be other people.”

Again, this is a false statement. We’ll just use Bacon’s own statements for proof though some of it is in the public record. During the time that the Earl of Essex was in rebellion with Queen Elizabeth and was under house arrest, Bacon was working on a way to reconcile him with the Queen. He forged two letters, one as by Essex and the other as by Francis’ brother Anthony. He intended to show them to the Queen to demonstrate Essex’s reformed attitude. Essex, at his trial, tried to use these letters to support his claim against his enemies at court. Here’s part of what Essex said at his trial: “…then Mr. Bacon, who was a daily courtier and had free access to her Majesty, pretending to be my friend, and to be grieved at my misfortunes, undertook to go to the Queen in my behalf. And he drew for me a letter most artificially in my name, and another in his brother Mr. Anthony Bacon’s name; which letters he purposed to show to the queen, and he showed them both to me.”  So here’s evidence that Bacon, as a writer, impersonated other people.

Another interesting observation about this may be made. That is, Bacon was so at ease with these forgeries that he believed that he could write under Essex’s name and then be bold enough to think he could fool the Queen with them, who would be quite familiar with Essex’s handwriting after having within those last few years received many letters from him.

Then also, there was the episode with Sir John Hayward’s The First Part of the Life and Raigne of King Henrie IV with its dedication to the same 2nd Earl of Essex. Bacon wrote of this event in his Apology, touching the late Earl of Essex. In his discussion with the Queen on this book he wrote that “And another time when the  Queen would not be persuaded, that it was his writing whose name was to it, but that it had some more mischievous Author, and said with great indignation, that she would have him racked to produce his Author”.

So here we see that Queen Elizabeth herself believed that it was possible for a writer to impersonate other people. Bacon dissuaded her from torturing Hayward to make him talk. He suggested instead to have Hayward write some more so that he could compare his style to that in the book to judge if he had been the author of it. Obviously, Bacon knew that one’s style could give one away. He should also know then that he may need to conceal his own style, as he did with the two letters earlier, if necessary to hide his authorship of something. 

This story continues. Later, Bacon was part of a group of ‘Councilors, Peers, and Judges’ assigned by the Queen in Essex’s prosecution. Bacon heard that he would be asked to bring up the seditious pamphlet by Hayward. He wanted no part of this because he said “...I having been wronged by bruits [rumors] before, this would expose me to them more; and it would be said I gave in evidence mine own tales”.

Note that Hayward’s book is considered an historical work or treatise, not a tale. So it seems that some of the highest statesmen in the land believed in, and would pass on, some rumors that Bacon was writing tales, not just political tracts, surreptitiously. This is not proof that he was Shakespeare, since it shows others could have done the same as him. But it is more good evidence from the period that a writer could impersonate others. And if the Stratfordian proponents can be so very wrong in this then surely then can be wrong on other of their claims.

Finally, could such concealed authorship have been maintained for a sustained period of time? I believe this has happened at least in more modern times. Still, we can’t say that it couldn’t have happened in Shakespeare’s day since as we’ve heard “Absence of evidence is never the same as evidence of absence.”

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 12 - Claims and Evidence

As I’m skipping the chapters supposedly refuting the cases for Bacon, Marlowe, and Oxford, let’s now take a look at chapter 5 – ‘The unusual suspects’. This chapter has other candidates than the above as its focus but it also has a number of arguments worth reviewing.

The claim is made that, unlike the professional scholars, those favoring any alternative candidate to the man from Stratford, don’t follow the standard scientific method of starting with a hypothesis, then analyzing the data, and then making logical conclusions based on that data.

Unlike the professionals, it’s claimed that the amateurs (a loosely used term since some anti-Stratfordians are professional scholars that publish in this field) begin with an unsubstantiated premise and reason from that. Unfortunately for this argument, it’s both unsubstantiated and false.

It’s unsubstantiated because there is no data presented to demonstrate that none of the proposed candidates have data to support an argument for their premise. In fact, the doubters have been pointing out the lack of corroborating authorship data for the Stratfordian model for decades. But that hasn’t stopped the professionals from assuming their premise that William of Stratford was the writer we know as Shakespeare. There is a pittance of data in the previous three chapters that is claimed to refute the cases for three of the candidates but it’s laughable. And as the doubters have been showing, not only is there a lack of proof of the orthodox position’s premise, they can’t account for much of the data put forth by the opposition of the writer Shakespeare’s qualifications. It’s not a reasonable response, say, to the detailed data showing Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italy, that the author could get it all from books and by casual listening to travelers with first-hand experience in Italy. Which books contain each piece of the data? Or which Italian travelers did William have extensive talks with about their travels? And how did he have this knowledge by the earliest play that contains it?

There is also the claim that “All of these nominations are equally invalid; none has a greater claim than any of the others.” The citation for this claim is the Shakespeare Bites Back: Not So Anonymous ebook, which had each point answered by Exposing an Industry in Denial

Again, the claim that all alternative candidate nominations are equally invalid is not substantiated with any evidence. But it is an interesting question that some anti-Stratfordians have considered. It would be helpful if further research was done to try and come to greater agreement on what qualities the writer Shakespeare can be said to have had and then to sift out as many candidates as possible.   But that would require greater cordiality on the side of mainstream scholars. And since there’s been no comparison (that I know of) of all evidence of the various candidates it’s just a senseless statement to say that none of them has a better case than any of the others. How is that conclusion following the standard scientific method? In fact, there’s the additional claim that, by the doubter’s standards of research, “Nearly any name of any person living in Shakespeare’s day” can be a candidate. Here we can witness some pure irrationality. Who do they think will be convinced by such a statement?

It’s also said that “.. we should want to look at the theoretical framework of each case. What kind of an argument is being made?  …then we will make clear just how each argument does not stand up to historical fact and/or rationality.” That seems sensible, but you should not only look at each theoretical framework and the ‘kind’ of argument used within it, you should also look at, and try to understand from the other side’s viewpoint, the data and reasoning that go with them. After reading the three cases from the earlier chapters it’s obvious that this wasn’t done. And since the author believes that they are ALL EQUALLY invalid, it should follow that they will never actually, that is seriously, examine any contrary evidence.

A final statement to comment on from this chapter is that “Do we not see this as a severe problem, not just for the study of Shakespeare, but more importantly for the very way that we conduct historical research?” From what we’ve already looked at, when Diana Price argued against the Stratfordian acceptance of posthumous assumptions of William’s authorship, the rest of us do have a concern with how some of the Stratfordian academics are doing some of this historical research. Certainly the doubters have some flawed data and arguments, and the worst of it is getting winnowed out over time, but when the scholarly community appears to have abandoned rational research on such a fascinating question, you can only expect that it will be filled by some with fewer resources. It’s impressive then that the so-called amateurs seem to be outpacing traditional scholars in this area.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 11 - Delia Bacon

I have no idea how many chapters in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (SBD) I’ll be commenting upon but one that I would not have thought I’d be writing about is the first, which is on Delia Bacon. When I started reading the Shakespeare authorship literature many years ago I did know of Delia Bacon but I had no interest in reading anything about her. And even now I only read some of it because some other authorship authors are writing about her in these books. My thinking has been that in the 150 years or so that she first wrote on this topic that so much more has been discovered and argued, that the current state of the debate, and the current state of the evidence and arguments, would be far more interesting and valuable than any idea or speculation she would have had back in 1857.

And I think that’s still very true. However, I like history and some of the brief retrospective views on her and her writings have been made interesting reading. And the chapter on her in SBD is one of these and well worth the time. Naturally, the primary idea she argued, that the Stratford man couldn’t have authored the Shakespeare works, is considered wrong.  

Her writing is considered ‘unreadable’ and practically impenetrable, at least nowadays since back then at least she held the interest of some ‘literary giants’ such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I won’t summarize the chapter’s distillation of her ideas since Shakespeare enthusiasts should read both this book and the companion SBD(?) book mentioned previously. But I’d like to list some highlights.

For one, it’s stated that her idea that the Stratford Shakespeare wasn’t up educationally or culturally to writing the plays has been “comprehensively refuted by generations of scholars, biographers and critics” as the SBD book says it will demonstrate. But then it’s said that she had a “remarkably innovative and insightful method of reading the plays, as politically incendiary critiques of power and as prescient visions of human liberty”.  Her recasting of the image of Elizabeth I’s ‘Golden Age’ as “a cruel and violent despotism” now “coincides exactly with that critique of power that became” … “a constitutive element in both New Historicist and cultural materialist criticism of Shakespeare”. Plus, her theory of collaborative authorship “is today becoming an influential paradigm in Shakespeare studies”. In several ways she was “ahead of her time”.

So now, though she is still seen as ‘eccentric’ she did also possess some ‘better wisdom’ and she could have “become a founding mother of political Shakespeare criticism, ideological critique and collaborationist bibliography”.  In fact, she “was a remarkable woman”.

Part of this scholarly rehabilitation includes some rebukes to those, past and present, who “sought to undermine her credibility by characterizing her as a madwoman”. This was ‘shameful’, ‘deeply uncharitable’ and a “shabby treatment of an ‘amateur’ scholar by combative professionals”.

This is all very refreshing. And yet, it all seems something like a sugar coating of some still debatable points of argument which the SBT does not seem to want to mutually examine. She was remarkably insightful, but yet, she never produced anydirect evidence of any kind’ to endorse her authorship doubts. She was ahead of her time, but yet, she never made that great discovery “to prove her case beyond all reasonable doubt”. She was learned and possessive of wisdom, but yet, neither she nor anyone since has produced “the one single piece of evidence that would connect any of these alternative candidates to the works of Shakespeare”.

There is also tossed in there that “Stylistic similarities, verbal echoes, biographical correspondences between the works of these various writers can certainly be found” with the implied assertion that since they are common that then they must necessarily all be trivial and so no research is required to see if any are statistically significant or declared so by subject matter experts. I wonder how other disciplines view this standard of research in the Shakespeare studies programs.

And it just somehow doesn’t seem quite fair to expect someone from 150 years ago with her first hunch and by herself conducting the very beginnings of her research to have to find at that time “direct evidence” or the great discovery to “prove her case” with that “one single piece of evidence” which is needed to absolutely settle the authorship question once and for all to all concerned. Nor do these seem like the same standards that modern Shakespeare scholars operate under. Does a Shakespeare co-author attribution in modern research use only ‘direct’ but no ‘indirect’ evidence? Do their hypotheses need to be ‘proved beyond any shadow of doubt’ or is strong probability ever allowed? Do they require that ‘one single piece of evidence’ or are multiple lines of converging evidence acceptable?

And for such a lowly ‘amateur’ scholar she seems to have now the appreciative recognition of many a ‘combative professional’ for being so far ahead of her time in many ways.

Naturally, this all got me to thinking about The Winter’s Tale, a kind of parable for our times, I suppose. Leontes, King of Sicily, due to a jealous disposition and his overheated imagination, suddenly believes his beautiful and virtuous Queen Hermione has been unfaithful to him through the agency of his lifelong friend Polixenes. But yet only he sees the ‘ample’ evidence of this, proof actually of his accusation. Here, as in other plays, Shakespeare stages a question of belief or of an accusation based on ambiguous evidence. Obviously, Leontes didn’t catch Hermione in an act of infidelity with Polixenes. Yes, he thinks he sees circumstantial evidence which to him is convincing. However, not all the Lords of the realm, which we might think of as the intellectual class, agree with his conviction, as one Lord says “Beseech your highness, call the Queen again.” [to testify for herself]. But the King will not be moved and even his highest and closest servants are at risk to challenge him. At least, the King will consult the Delphic Oracle which he is sure will pronounce him as correct and just.

Is there any similar Oracle nowadays to settle our authorship question? Are the ‘professionals’, those paid to teach and research all things Shakespeare, to be blindly accepted as Oracles? Is that what they all want and expect? To not be questioned, or challenged, or debated by the modern intellectual class of non-paid doubters? [an increasing group with over 800 with advanced degrees and somewhere around 350 with a Ph.D. and so trained in a variety of ways of research, statistics, critical thinking and analysis]. The doubters have some advantage over the professionals in that they are much more independent of the risk of Groupthink or conformity to group norms that protect the professional’s career. Couldn’t some outside expert reviews be valuable? The closest thing to an Oracle nowadays might be a public panel of independent experts on the various subtopics of Shakespearean authorship evidence. But the ignoring of such a healthy tourney, good physic for the realm, will only continue to fester the kingdom. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 10 - Evidence vs Authority

I’m about done with Chaney’s  Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship and there’s one more section in it pertinent to this forum. In his chapter on ‘The profession of consciousness’ which talks much of the play of Hamlet, which he and other scholars are seeing as partly about consciousness in a state of distraction they see staged the political question, relevant at the time, of whether someone should listen to his conscience as the primary voice of authority, as urged by Martin Luther, Or should the intellectual listen to the metaphysically sanctioned voice of the ‘father’ exterior to his consciousness (suggested by his father’s Ghost), lodged at the Vatican in the roman Catholic Church?

This is analogous to the Shakespeare authorship debate since the SBT argues for their sanctioned authority over an individual’s conscience based on a personal examination of evidence. In Hamlet, this interior versus exterior truth is presented, it’s speculated, to help the audience process the great spiritual crisis of the age.

This search for truth is displayed in various scenes and speech parts of the play, as by Polonious when he says I will find / Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed / Within the centre and then devises a meeting with Ophelia to observe him. Claudius also attempts to get at Hamlet’s secret with the aid of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. There is also the prominence of the ideas of doubt and skepticism as in Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia wherein is brought up the Copernicus versus Ptolemaic theories.

Hamlet sought to resolve this question with a test, his Mousetrap play within a play. In other words, he, and the others, sought more evidence. Chaney discusses how Shakespeare stages a similar dilemma in Much Ado About Nothing in which is presented the question of Hero’s supposed unfaithfulness. When she blushes at being accused of sin, her father sees this and he is convinced that the outward blush reveals her inner truth of being unfaithful to Claudio.

But then Friar Francis intervenes as he explains how he has often studied Hero’s face and mark’d A thousand blushing apparitions / to start into her face, a thousand innocent shames.  So, first appearances need to be more fully considered in the light of all available evidence. This is paired with Dogberry’s suggestion for catching a thief (take no note of him…let him show himself what he is, and steal out of your company). Chaney sites another scholar’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s message: a hypothesis must be checked against a sufficient body of confirmatory data.

Then, it seems clear that if Shakespeare himself were asked to testify on how this Shakespeare Authorship question should be approached, he would not come down on the side of ‘authority’, but on the side of reasoned examination of all (or at least a sufficient body of) evidence that either confirms or denies an hypothesis. This would also go along with the intent of study as described at the beginning in Love’s Labour’s Lost, that we should seek to know “Things hid and barred from common sense”.

Ironically, we are told by self-proclaimed sanctioned authorities that this approach is ‘anti-Shakespearean’. Just as self-serving evidence was produced against Hamlet to imply his insanity and send him away, we’ve seen the same strategy against Authorship doubters. It will be interesting to see if such a ‘Claudiusonian’ (a vile word!) maneuver is still being attempted.

So now we (or I, as it looks) will take a closer look at this evidence as it has been presented in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (SBD). Since there havn’t been as many critical reviews as I was expecting, (primarily because a response has already been published as discussed here: ) I may need to lock myself in my study and while marking the passing of time, see if I can hammer out some mini-reviews on my own.    

The beginning of SBD shows some promise of even-handedness. In the General Introduction it states “the authorship discussion is a complex intellectual phenomenon well worthy of objective consideration” and “It raises questions about the nature of historical evidence, the moral responsibility of academic enquiry…” This last question was also raised by doubter Keir Cutler, Ph.D. who in his recent book The Shakespeare Authorship Question: A Crackpot’s View in which he quotes Prof. Shapiro who admitted that the Authorship Question “remains virtually taboo in academic circles”.  Keir wonders why academia would make and keep an historical question ‘taboo’ or “walled off from serious study”?  I wonder how well Shakespeare would think that academia is living up to its moral responsibility of enquiry in this instance?

The first part of SBD is about the ‘Skeptics’ and has chapters on Delia Bacon, and the three most prominent authorship candidates of Marlowe, Bacon, and the Earl of Oxford. I don’t plan on reviewing their portrayal of the evidence for Marlowe or Oxford since their own proponents are far more capable than I would be. And I’ve already given a link to some Marlovian response. If I find a site that responds to the chapter on Oxford then I’ll include a link to it. And after reviewing the general evidence, probably from both SBD books, then I’ll respond to the chapter on Bacon.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 9 -Hidden Authorship

Shakespeares Hidden authorship

Returning to Chaney’s Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship, he writes convincingly that Shakespeare deliberately hid his authorship as part of a long term literary strategy. I’ll just support this with many quotes from his book:

Pg. 3 “Especially when juxtaposed with ‘demi-puppets’, ‘printless foot’ [from The Tempest] comes to stand for an unusual phenomenon neglected in modern Shakespeare scholarship: an invisible poetic authorship produced within the London commercial theatre”.

Pg. 9 Quoting another scholar: “Printed playbooks became respectable reading matter earlier than we have hitherto supposed …” leading Chaney to argue that Shakespeare should be seen as a ‘literary dramatist’ … “composing scripts both for performance and for publication.”

Pg. 11 “…unlike nearly every major author from Virgil to Spenser, Shakespeare rarely presents himself.”

Pg. 11 Quoting Greenblatt “He contrivedto hide himself from view … Shakespeare’s signature characteristic  [was] his astonishing capacity to be everywhere and nowhere …”

Pg. 12 “According to this model, Shakespeare’s genius lies in hiding his authorship in order to foreground his characters, to privilege his actors, and to submit himself genially to the authorial anonymity of the theatrical medium.” And “He remains, in fact, the most anonymous of our great writers…”

[Note: This is his personal hypothesis of why Shakespeare ‘hid his authorship’. From what I’ve read he is nearly completely ignorant of any anti-Stratfordian arguments or evidence, so he’s only thinking based on what he is currently able to imagine.]

Pg. 13 Here Shakespeare is described as a ‘ghost’ and quotes Marjorie Garber “Shakespeare as an author is the person who, were he more completely known, would not be the Shakespeare we know.” [Note: I understand what she means, but can she see a more radical interpretation to her statement?]

Pg. 15 Chaney refers to “Shakespeare’s self-concealing counter-authorship” and quotes Bloom “We all want to find him in the sonnets, but he is too cunning for us.”

Pg. 22 “We might say that the blank at the heart of Shakespearean authorship is a self-erasure that opposes the very presence of Spenserian self-writing.”
[This is another conjecture on Shakespeare’s motive for his self-erasure.]

Pg. 22 quoting R. Wilson “… this author’s vanishing act was a deliberate function of his work: that Shakespeare wrote his plays with the conscious intention of secreting himself.

Pg. 23 “He theorized self-concealment as a political strategy of national leadership.”

Pg. 30 “Shakespeare self-consciously conceals his authorship

Pg. 63 “Shakespeare’s authorship is strange because it deftly conceals the author.” … “Rather than present himself as an author with a literary career in search of fame Shakespeare disappears into the dramaturgy of his works.”

Ironically, while Chaney repeatedly demonstrates and refers to Shakespeare’s deliberate concealment of his authorship status, and at the expense of fame (at least in his lifetime) he still cannot conceive that Shakespeare may not be the actor/businessman from Stratford. It appears he is so immersed in his research, great as it is, that he cannot see outside of the very limiting blinders he’s had on all his life. He doesn’t show any but the most simplistic stereotypical awareness of the authorship skeptic’s evidence and arguments, and none of that from anyone on the doubter’s side of the divide.

I haven’t seen Chaney address the question of why Shakespeare would go to such lengths to hide himself and then not consider how his name, being so prevalent on most of his works, might undermine his self-concealment strategy. [Though I’m only half way through his book so he still might later say something about this anomaly. Perhaps he’d suggest that it’s only his biography  and motives that he wanted to hide, but not his name.]

The last popular myth that’s fading is the story of Will Shakespeare writing plays commercially for fame and fortune.

We’re seeing now from Prof. Cheney and others that Shakespeare was actually doing just the opposite of seeking fame by being ‘Counter’ to expectations for what a laureate or commercial writer would be, especially one that was so concerned about moving up in the world.

“…one of Shakespeare’s major professional goals is to challenge and perhaps supplant the major print-poet of his day.”

Pg. 102 “Shakespeare’s conversation about poetry does not occur in a historical vacuum but responds to a larger conversation about poetry coming out of classical Greece and Rome, migrating to the middle ages, and entering renaissance Europe and England.“  This doesn’t seem to me to fit the idea that he read just to “collect facts and plot ideas” for his commercial labor.

Pg. 118 “Shakespeare is a theatrical man who wrote enduring poems that he himself saw published (or saw published through the agency of others); who engaged vigorously the Western poetic tradition”.

Pg. 125 “The Shakespearean dramatic canon can be said to be about the book of scholarship.” Chaney contrasts this with the prevailing story of Shakespeare being a “poet of nature”. Though he wrote for the theater, Shakespeare had a “career-long commitment to creating memorable theatre out of poetry and books.” That is, Shakespeare was extremely bookish and scholarly and not like a common script writer hacking out a scene with other writer and actor friends at a tavern.

It’s starting to look like there are a group of mainstream Shakespeare scholars that, without realizing it, are about to find themselves standing in doubter territory, if they would ever look at the territory itself.

The Shakespeare scholarly and enthusiast community might be wise to consider if this very bookish, self-concealing author might enjoy jesting more than they have given him credit for; that they are not close to being in his element, and that he might indeed create an ‘improbable fiction’ to entice the world, especially those with a kind of Puritanism in them, into being infected with his device. I think the heart of his mystery is still a ways away from being plucked out! Sport Royal!