Sunday, July 7, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - 6 - Stanley Wells vs Diana Price

Part 2  of Wells and Edmondson vs Price
Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson reply ("Beyond Doubt For All Time") on Blogging Shakespeare 13 May 2013.

Diana Price replies to Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson (14 May 2013)

In their blog reply to my response to the BloggingShakespeare 8 May 2013 review of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem (“Beyond Doubt For all Time,” 13 May 2013), Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson acknowledge that writers from the time period are documented to varying degrees, some more, some less. They imply that Shakespeare is in the “some less” category, so there are no grounds for suspicion. As Wells puts it, “The fact that some leave fuller records than others does not invalidate the records of those with a lower score.” Based on surviving evidence that supports his activities as a writer, Shakespeare not only rates a “lower score,” he rates a score of zero. At the time of his death, Shakespeare left behind over 70 documents, including some that tell us what he did professionally. Yet none of those 70+ documents support the statement that he was a writer. From a statistical standpoint, this is an untenable position, as I have argued elsewhere:

Even the most poorly documented writers, those with less than a dozen records in total, still left behind a couple of personal literary paper trails. Based on the average proportions, I would conservatively have expected perhaps a third of Shakespeare’s records, or about two dozen, to shed light on his professional activities. In fact, over half of them, forty-five to be precise, are personal professional paper trails, but they are all evidence of non-literary professions: those of actor, theatrical shareholder, financier, real estate investor, grain-trader, money-lender, and entrepreneur. It is the absence of contemporary personal literary paper trails that forces Shakespeare’s biographers to rely — to an unprecedented degree — on posthumous evidence. (“Evidence For A Literary Biography,” Tennessee Law Review, 147)

While Wells and Edmondson acknowledge that Shakespeare is the only writer from the time period for whom one must rely on posthumous evidence to make the case, Wells disputes my claim that Shakespeare left behind no evidence that he was a writer. The evidence he cites are “the Stratford monument and epitaphs, along with Dugdale’s identification of the monument as a memorial to ‘Shakespeare the poet’, Jonson’s elegy, and others” — all posthumous evidence. On the distinction between contemporaneous and posthumous evidence or testimony, Wells states:

“I do not agree (whatever ‘historians and critics’ may say) that posthumous evidence ‘does not carry the same weight as contemporaneous evidence.’ If we took that to its logical extreme we should not believe that anyone had ever died.”

But historians and biographers routinely cite documentary evidence (burial registers, autopsy reports, death notices, etc.) to report that someone died. Wells may disagree with “whatever ‘historians and critics’ may say,” but I employ the criteria applied by those “historians and critics” who distinguish between contemporaneous and posthumous testimony (e.g., Richard D. Altick & John J. Fenstermaker, H. B. George, Robert D. Hume, Paul Murray Kendall, Harold Love, and Robert C. Williams). Jonson’s eulogy and the rest of the First Folio testimony is posthumous by seven years, and it is the first in print to identify Shakespeare of Stratford as the dramatist. Posthumous or not, this testimony therefore demands close scrutiny. And I find in the First Folio front matter numerous misleading statements, ambiguities, and outright contradictions. I am not alone. For example, concerning the two introductory epistles, Gary Taylor expresses caution about taking the “ambiguous oracles of the First Folio” at face value (Wells et al., Textual Companion, 18). Cumulatively, the misleading, ambiguous, and contradictory statements render the First Folio testimony, including the attribution to Shakespeare of Stratford, vulnerable to question. From my earlier response:

Wells concludes that “of course, she can produce not a single scrap of positive evidence to prove her claims; all she can do is systematically to deny the evidence that is there.” Questioning the evidentiary value of existing documentation is not the same thing as denying that documentation. It is true: I cannot prove that the man from Stratford was not the writer the title pages proclaim him to be, because one cannot prove a negative.

Prof. Wells now counters that:

“Price defends her attitude by saying ‘one cannot prove a negative case.’ Why not? It is surely possible to prove that for example Queen Elizabeth 1 was not alive in 1604 or that Sir Philip Sidney did not write King Lear or that Professor Price does not believe that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote Shakespeare.”

Price responds:  There is affirmative evidence that Queen Elizabeth died in 1603. Even allowing for uncertainties in traditional chronology, King Lear was written years after Sidney died in 1586. David Hackett Fischer elaborates on the logical fallacy of “proving” a negative when no affirmative evidence exists (Historians’ Fallacies, 1970, p. 62), and it is in that sense that I state that “one cannot prove a negative.” If there were explicit affirmative evidence that Shakespeare wrote for a living, there could be no authorship debate. 

[Price:] Please note: I am not a professor.

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