Saturday, July 6, 2013

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (SBD) - 1 Introduction

Here begins a series of posts on the new book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (2013) from a cadre of Shakespeare scholars purporting to demonstrate that the man from Stratford, and only him, could have been the primary author of the Shakespeare works.

Long ago in one of my posts here I wrote that the evidence for the Stratford actor/businessman must be hidden away in some secret vault where only establishment scholars could come and view the unassailable proof of his authorship. This was because so many highly educated Shakespeare enthusiasts that had actually examined the available evidence found it far too lacking as any kind of proof to overcome the apparent chasm of the Stratford man’s life and, as the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt says: “Shakespeare’s works that show extensive knowledge of law, philosophy, classical literature, ancient and modern history, mathematics, astronomy, art, music, medicine, horticulture, heraldry, military and naval terminology and tactics; etiquette and manners of the nobility; English, French and Italian court life; Italy; and aristocratic pastimes such as falconry, equestrian sports and royal tennis.”

Finally, we are told, we will be provided the evidence and arguments from some of the most authoritative Shakespearean scholars in the world that will prove why the Stratfordian model is beyond any ‘Reasonable Doubt’. There have been previous books attempting to prove the Stratford man’s authorship. The best I think is by Irvin Leigh Matus in Shakespeare, IN FACT, 1994. But I found nothing in it that precluded the alternative scenario of a hidden author using the businessman/actor from acting as a front man. And even he had pointed out how very few Shakespeare scholars had yet examined any of the authorship evidence themselves.

So it still may seem somewhat new to them if they have not yet delved into the matter thoroughly. In any case, this new book, by several scholars this time, again attempts to make modern and familiar what appears to many as supernatural, and to ensconce ourselves in the reasonableness of what Shakespeare might, in a jest, call “A showing of a heavenly effect in an earthly actor”.

We now find that both sides of the dispute are in agreement that ‘the authorship question’ is important. Professor Shapiro lamented the lack of scholarly interest in the topic; the stylometric analysts Elliott and Valenza agreed, the leaders of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust now say it’s important, and now also many other scholars supporting them say it’s important. So, from any Shakespeare enthusiast, we shouldn’t hear “it’s [the authorship question] not important” or “it doesn’t matter who wrote them”. Now, more Shakespeare enthusiasts, are likely to become at least somewhat knowledgeable about the basic arguments on both sides of the question. Just gathering one-sided arguments to use as ‘ammunition’ is not going to show any intellectual maturity. The main problem is that perhaps no one can review close to what all has been written about so many alternative candidates. Fortunately, the response [by The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition] to the orthodox side has also just now been published so the two viewpoints can be contrasted, even though it can’t possibly contain all the detailed evidence for any alternative candidate. This book is also called “Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?” (but it ends with a question mark. It’s primary authors are John Shahan and Alexander Waugh.

We hope also that we are finally moving beyond the name calling, slanders, and insinuations that ‘doubters’ are  ‘Holocaust deniers’, vampires, psychologically aberrant, mentally deficient, etc. Why would anyone have implied such a characteristic to so many high-achieving intellectuals like Henry James, Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mortimer Adler, Harry Blackmun, leading Shakespearean actors such as Sir Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, and some modern authors on this topic like Peter Usher, Ph.D, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, Peter Sturrock, Ph.D, a Stanford astrophysicist, and Barry Clarke, a writer of logic puzzles for MENSA? These are not people who should be in strait-jackets and locked in dark rooms, just because, like Galileo, they “looked through the telescope”!

More recently, on the mainstream or establishment side of the debate, there is the emphasis on not questioning any approved ‘authority’ on the topic. For instance, Paul Edmondson of the SBT wrote:  “There is the loaded assumption that even though one may lack the necessary knowledge and expertise, it is always acceptable to challenge or contradict a knowledgeable and expert authority. It is not. (If the focus of this volume [SBD] were about a specialized area of nuclear physics those last two sentences would not even have been necessary.) But one characteristic of the Shakespeare authorship discussion is its apparent generosity of scope in which everyone can have their say, ignore the evidence for Shakespeare, propose alternative nominees, contradict authorities and feel empowered.”

One response to this argument would be: On what basis are the mainstream Shakespeare scholars ‘authorities’ on the authorship question? There have been doubters who have spent 20 years or more on the authorship question, or more specifically, on just one aspect of this question. Have any of the mainstream scholars researched the authorship question for that length of time? In addition, why could not an expert, of Shakespeare’s time, in the law, astronomy, music, medicine, seamanship, Italy, and such, challenge a non-expert of these fields but who is a Shakespeare scholar? And what about the beliefs of those tenured professors, like one of mine, who, on the last day of class, said “If you learn ANYTHING in all of your college years, you should at least have learned to question Authority”. Or is intellectual curiosity and independence to be discouraged and suppressed?

In astrophysics Professor Peter Sturrock’s new book, AKA Shakespeare: A Scientific Approach to the Authorship Question, he suggests an intellectual attitude with these precepts:

·  All beliefs in whatever realm are theories at some level. (Stephen Schneider)
·  Do not condemn the judgment of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong. (Dandemis)
·  Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. (Francis Bacon)
·  Never fall in love with your hypothesis. (Peter Medawar)
·  It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. (Arthur Conan Doyle)
·  A theory should not attempt to explain all the facts, because some of the facts are wrong. (Francis Crick)
·  The thing that doesn’t fit is the thing that is most interesting. (Richard Feynman)
·  To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact. (Charles Darwin)
·  It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. (Mark Twain)
·  Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong. (Thomas Jefferson)
·  All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second, it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)

Does anyone really think that Prof. Sturrock would act as Paul Edmondson claims--that such a scholar would never listen to or consider an objection by a well-informed non-professor on some specific question within that field? And that he would be totally closed-minded to everyone outside of the approved in-group of academic astrophysics researchers? If so, why would scholars like him write books out of their specialty in the first place?

The Declaration of Reasonable Doubt has some commonality to the U.S. Declaration of Independence in the 18th century. Then the American scientist, statesman, and diplomatic leader Benjamin Franklin, who was in France seeking support for the American cause, was demonized by the then propaganda as a “traitor to his king”, the “dean of all charlatans,” who “deceived the good with his white hairs, and fools with his spectacles”. It kind of makes it seem like he was a part of some feeble-minded conspiracy than one of many individuals that disagreed with a group with great power and self-claimed ‘authority’.

So it looks now that we’re moving into arguments by evidence, which is where the question should be examined. We can imagine the two sides as something like Elizabethan jousters who will take to the field and then have their turns “shaking their lances” at their opponent’s perceived ignorance. I imagine it will be as entertaining as it will be educational for any Shakespeare enthusiast.

Next, we’ll look at some preliminary exchanges.

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