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.”

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