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.

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