Sunday, April 16, 2017

Stratfordian 'Proof' that William Shaksper was Shake-Speare

The latest Stratfordian “Proof” that William of Stratford was Shakespeare the Author

Note: this counter argument was discussed recently by Oxfordian Alex McNeil in the Winter 2017 edition of the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter and I’m grateful for his summary and thoughts that I am adding to.

So, in January of this year, there was news and discussion that a researcher at the Folger, Heather Wolfe, and Folger director Michael Whitmore, had sought and found “documentary evidence produced during Shakespeare’s lifetime that unambiguously links the actor and shareholder to the famous playwright and poet.” And that this would address the non-Stratfordian requirements for proof of authorship.

Before we review it let’s first review a little background of why they thought this was necessary.

Prof. Stephen Greenblatt is quoted as saying:
“... the process of writing the book ... has made me respect that preposterous fantasy [of the authorship question], if I may say so, rather more than when I began ... because I have now taken several years of hard work and 40 years of serious academic training to grapple with the difficulty of making the connections meaningful and compelling between the life of this writer and the works that he produced.”

So he admitted that after all his decades of study he still found it difficult to make any meaningful connection between the Stratford man and the author Shakespeare.

Also, Prof. James Shapiro has said:
“Circumstantial biographical evidence has certainly been wielded more effectively by anti-Stratfordians. You can bet Stratfordians would make the most of 'autobiographical readings' if they had themWill does not have a biographical record (like) his challengers have.”

And when Prof. Stanley Wells talked about the authorship issue and he considered what would settle this question for good, he replied “I would love to find a contemporary document that said William Shakespeare was the dramatist of Stratford-upon-Avon written during his lifetime,”  “There’s lots and lots of unexamined legal records rotting away in the national archives; it is just possible something will one day turn up. That would shut the buggers up!” [emphasis added]

So it would appear that Wolfe and Whitmore are claiming to have answered this great requirement. You can find their article here:

They too started by admitting that:

  • ·         Written by William Shakespeare” on the title pages of his plays in his lifetime is not enough”.
  • ·         “William Basse’s elegy to William Shakespeare written between 1618-20, which refers to his monument at Holy Trinity Church (“Vnder this carued marble of thine owne / Sleepe rare Tragoedian Shakespeare, sleep alone”) and alluded to by Ben Jonson in the First Folio of 1623 is not enough.”
  • ·         “Ben Jonson’s reference to Shakespeare as the “Sweet Swan of Avon” on those same pages is not enough.”

The evidence needs to be provided by a witness prior to Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616. This witness must  have direct knowledge of William Shakespeare, and needs to declare that William Shakespeare, the actor and gentleman from Stratford-upon-Avon, is also the exalted poet.

So Folger Wolfe found a Shakespeare coat of arms document demonstrating his status as “gentleman” before 1615. Further, they make a point that when a herald (Brooke) had earlier attacked the granting of the coat of arms, it was done by referring to William as “Shakespear ye player by garter”, that is, he was not a playwright and poet but merely a lowly actor. And the logic is that since this herald attacked other applicants with derogatory references that minimized their occupation, that he was also minimizing the occupation of Shakespear. This, they reason, demonstrates that the hearalds knew he was a poet and playwright! One should wonder, however, that if William actually was merely a lowly actor, then how would this herald attack him by diminishing his occupation when it could hardly be diminished any further? I’d say they don’t score anything with that argument.

But wait, they also recalled a reference from “an edition of Stow’s Chronicles printed in 1615. In this book, the chronicler Edmund Howes refers to “Master W. Shakespeare as both a “gentleman” and one of “our moderne, and present excellent poets.”

Not only that, but Howes “claims personal knowledge” of Master W. Shakespeare as a poet because he (Howes) referred to him “in my owne knowledge”.

Therefore, they claim to have satisfied the non-Stratfordian requirements through the logical equation derived from contemporary documents and personal testimony, so that

“we have William Shakespeare + gentleman + poet in a printed book in 1615. Unless there is more than one William Shakespeare who has a coat of arms and is referred to as a gentleman in the early 1600s, the poet and the Stratford gentleman actor are one and the same man.”

Now, here are the problems with their ‘proof’:

That William Shaksper of Stratford had been granted a coat of arms in his lifetime is not in dispute. We don’t have a problem with others acknowledging him as a ‘gentleman’. It doesn’t even seem farfetched that he acquired this title by 1602 and that it was under review before then  since his father had submitted the original application. In fact, it has long been argued (and accepted by many Stratfordians) that Ben Jonson likely satirized this in his 1599 play Every Man Out of his Humour with the passages relating to Sogliardo and his ‘arms’ including ‘Let the word [motto] be, Not without mustard: your crest is very rare, sir.’ This likely being a reference to ‘NON SANZ DROICT’ (‘NOT WITHOUT RIGHT’).

The Edmund Howes evidence was discussed in Ros Barber’s Shakespeare: The Evidence, p. 105. She summarizes the counter-argument as:

  •           This is not a personal reference; as with all the other impersonal references in this section, it is only evidence that a contemporary writer knows the works published under the name William Shakespeare.
  •        The title gentleman suggests he associates the author with the theatre shareholder Shakspere, who was eligible to use this title, but there is no evidence Howes had personal knowledge of the author, or of Shakspere.

In other words, Wolfe and Whitmore, are equating “in my owne knowledge” with “direct observation” of William writing poetry or plays. If he didn’t have such direct observation then at best he met and asked William if he wrote a particular poem or play and William answered yes, which wouldn’t prove that he did because, as has long been hypothesized, Will could have agreed to act as a type of frontman for the real author. If this were the case then it likely would have been a fairly passive act since if he wasn’t the real author and yet boldly acted as such then everyone essentially would see through the charade. But a fairly passive act could suffice for the role and we’d still have some insiders and sharp writers like Ben Jonson who could quietly mock him but keep the real author hidden.

But is the non-Stratfordian interpretation of Howe’s “in my owne knowledge” more probable than the Stratfordian interpretation? Well, consider the context of Howe’s statement. All he did was to list who all he understood to be “Our modern, and present excellent Poets”. There were 27 listed. The important passage is “all of them in my owne knowledge lived together in this Queen’s reign”. So did he mean by “lived together” that they all lived in the same house?” Of course not! Did he spend time with each of them? Not a hint of evidence of this and extremely unlikely! Otherwise he likely would have wrote something somewhere of these interactions or of these interesting and accomplished persons. Instead, all he does is list them by name and precedence in rank. And even if he did have personal knowledge of Shaksper and knew that he wasn’t a poet, someone like Jonson or even Bacon who also was an antiquary, could have asked Howe to keep William on the list for the sake of the hidden author.

Where then did he get this list of names? We don’t know. He may have made an enquiry to two or three persons familiar with the writers of Queen Elizabeth’s era. Or he may have just asked for the opinion of one single person who seemed to have that knowledge and that sufficed for his “own knowledge”. How scientific or historically accurate can we expect that to be? We can only trust our assumptions somewhat if we can find confirming evidence for them, like, say, a literary trail. Oh, that test has already been done and Willi of Stratford failed it. But if we need to find confirming evidence for what was supposed to be confirming evidence itself, then that piece of evidence is already disproven as confirming.

So the Folger key witness, Edmund Howe, is NOT known to have had any “Direct Knowledge” of the Stratford William as a poet or playwright. Therefore their ‘thought experiment’ and ‘proof’ fails. Remember also that they agreed that any evidence they provide for their proof must “unambiguously link the actor and shareholder to the famous playwright and poet”. The other pieces of evidence that they cited as “not being enough” failed because they were all ambiguous. And it’s actually difficult to believe that they didn’t suspect that their new link from Howe’s phrase “in my owne knowledge” was also not unambiguous since they first took it out of its context and then never attempted to justify how it qualified as being equivalent to “direct knowledge”.

Furthermore, their goal, as they stated, was to find “a novel way of addressing the anti-Shakespearian requirements.” And in their minds they went “through the thought exercise of considering the views of skeptics”.

Actually, they did neither. They did not consider more than a very few views of us skeptics. And the ‘requirements’ that would satisfy most of us are probably pretty lengthy. Once more, they seem to even know this to some extent too since they also say “To our minds, the ideal explanation of documentary evidence is the one that explains more by assuming less.”  So they acknowledge that in whatever argument they make, at the very least in the absence of unambiguous direct knowledge, they can’t just assume William of Stratford had a great elementary education, was a genius of any sort, learned to read multiple languages, had a very deep knowledge of law, music, medicine, Italy, France, art, naval terminology, had access to very rare books, etc. etc. Otherwise they would be assuming way too much and this would instantly invalidate their argument from the perspective of the principle of Occam’s razor to which they alluded.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Responses to a Shakespeare Enthusiast - Authorship, Othello, Venice

Here's my response to some recent comments:

--Yes, it really does take a fair amount of time to gain a decent understanding of the relevant evidence and arguments. Too often people who have read very little of what is really a great amount of material, will make some comment as if it’s some decisive point. They don’t realize that there are hundreds of books and many, many thousands of articles written on the authorship topic, mostly all by non-Stratfordians. I have yet to come across a single Stratfordian that has read even the basics of this literature. Only a very few have read a fair amount and then it’s just enough for them to come up with some counter arguments which do serve the debate well but then they drop it, especially after they’ve been rebutted. So I’m always encouraging people to try and maintain an open mind, and preferably develop an educated opinion by reading quite a bit.

--I certainly have no problem with Shakespeare enthusiasts not wanting to spend the time to really know the authorship subject. It’s one of those things that has to kind of grab a hold of your interest. I wasn’t very interested for some time until I saw some self-proclaimed expert spewing some ridiculous nonsense about Francis Bacon. I just happened to have a lot of counter information at my fingertips then and could easily rebut everything. And then I just continued on from there since I saw that most people really didn’t know anything about his case or the authorship question in general. Also, I had good training in research and saw some of the worst aspects of academia so it’s sheen had completely worn off and I could look at evidence and arguments with my own eyes.

--Yes, Stratfordianism is a rather straightforward theory. And it can seem obvious at first glance. But think of it this way. I see it as one of those perception illusions that seem obvious at first, but the more closely you look at it, the less obvious it becomes as other features begin to stand out. There are many, many such examples of visual ambiguities. One of the best is the young vs old woman in the drawing. Which do you see?

--Many people have to stare quite a while before they see more than what first seemed to be true to them. It takes the mind awhile to be able to see both or multiple perspectives. Same with the authorship question. It may seem obvious at first, but if you carefully and patiently examine other pieces of evidence and perspectives you will eventually begin to see a kind of alternate reality that for many of us, makes more obvious or logical sense than the original perspective. But only a minority of people bother to do this and the majority still see the original surface appearance.

--Now let’s look closer at your ‘obvious’ theory for a moment. First, “the man from Stratford who became a player”. Do you realize that there’s really very little proof of this? From what evidence has been carefully examined, it seems the best we can say is that he might have been a minor player in some plays. There’s little or maybe no confirmatory evidence of him being like a well-known actor. Yes, he was called a player on some documents, but that could also be because he was associated with the main troupe even though it might have been primarily in a business sense than as an actor. He may primarily have been a broker and financial deal-maker. Ben Jonson lists him as an actor, and spoke of him as such but Jonson is thought to have been in on the joke, or whatever the deception might be called. Second, “evolved into a playwright”. This is the primary failing of the traditional theory. There is no proof that he wrote the Shakespeare works, even when there are many probable places for this proof to have been easily found. But the proof keeps being evasive. Is that just by chance? Thirdand wrote the plays attributed to him, and was indeed the subject of the accolades bestowed upon him by his contemporaries”. You have to keep in mind that most of these attributions and accolades are to ‘the author Shakespeare’ whoever he was. Most contemporaries, maybe nearly all, show no evidence of actually knowing the author personally, or knowing the man from Stratford personally. Some who knew the man from Stratford personally also do not seem to have considered him a poet or playwright. And perhaps only Ben Jonson seems to present evidence of knowing the Stratford man and the author, but not necessarily as being the same person. More poets and playwrights should have known the poet/playwright personally, but we don’t find strong evidence of that, as we think we should. Even mainstream scholars often write about Shakespeare as a kind of ghost or a reclusive that no one can say much of anything about. Keep  in mind also that many scholars doubt that Hemings and Condell wrote the passages where their names are attached.

Stratfordian: The arguments against the Stratford man seem to me to always boil down to that he was insufficiently educated, or aristocratic, or familiar with the politically powerful, or Italian, etc. to have written these plays. For me these are insufficient arguments, the real question being not how could the man from Stratford have written these plays but how could ANYONE have written these plays and poems!

[My Response]--That’s a very good and important question! And much of the research beginning from over a century ago continues to grow showing how the author was not only a great poet, but highly connected with about everyone of any note in London and exceptionally knowledgeable, such that only a very few can be argued to be well able to meet his qualifications. For many, not just the Stratford man, but even for Marlowe, it has to be imagined how he could have become so  knowledgeable about, say, law, medicine, and the high-politics of the realm. Genius by itself is not a sufficient explanation.

--When I watch the plays I watch them purely for the pleasure, with no thought of the authorship question. When I read them it’s primarily for the pleasure but then I’m also able to pick up on points relevant to the authorship question. Right now I’m reading Othello and even just up through Act 2, scene 1, I’ve come across these points:

Act 1.1.7
1.      In the first scene Iago mentions “Despise me if I do not. Three great ones of the city…”

The Arden footnote to this is:
Great ones: Did Shakespeare know of Venice’s Savii Grandi (elected by the Senate to superintend boards beneath it, in effect ministers of state)? See Wotton, 1.413n.

Henry Wotton mentioned the Savii Grandi in a letter.

Wotton was the English Ambassador to Venice and as well a longtime friend of Francis Bacon.

2.      At the start of scene 1.3 there is the Duke and some Senators discussing the varied news reports they’ve received on the size of the Turkish fleet.

The Arden note is: Before modern methods of communication were invented the movements of foreign armies and navies were reported to the Privy Council (or guessed at) exactly as here. Cf. HMC, Hatfield House.

Again, William of Stratford would have no direct knowledge of how the Privy Council worked or received war news. Nor do we know of any connection he had with any member of the Privy Council. But the Earl of Oxford was a member of the Privy council as was Francis Bacon later and before that his father was active in these serious state affairs.

3.      Later in this same scene, at lines 34-36 we have:

   The Ottomites, reverend and gracious,
   Steering with due course toward the isle of Rhodes,
   Have there injointed with an after fleet –

The Arden note says: In 1570 a Turkish fleet sailed towards Rhodes, then joined another fleet to attack Cyprus, as here; Shakespeare must have known this (see Honigmann, ‘Date of Othello, 218-19).

As before, there’s no reason to believe that William of Stratford would have learned of this. However, a political insider, especially having served on the Privy Council, would be familiar with this history.

Then, most interesting, Shakespeare gives a perfect illustration for handling the Authorship question. In scene 1.3 Desdemona’s father Brabantio asks the Venice ‘Great ones’ to haul Othello off to prison for using witchcraft spells and potions to abuse and steal his daughter. Othello makes his case against this and Brabantio responds again to the Duke. So who to believe?

Then the Duke says:
“To vouch this is no proof,
“Without more certain and more overt test
Than these thin habits and poor likelihoods
Of modern seeming do prefer against him.”

From the Arden notes this can be glossed or paraphrased something like this:

“Suspicion or accusation is no proof,
Without more certain and more clearly proved evidence
Than these implausible suggestions and weak probabilities
Of commonplace appearances brought against him.”

--So then Desdemona arrives and says she voluntarily loves Othello, etc.
The point then is this—Shakespeare demonstrates a case of allegations, suspicions and ambiguity of evidence among disputants, much like with the authorship question. There are ‘commonplace appearances’ which could called prima facie evidence. To resolve it he further illustrates and dramatizes the process of having both sides present their testimony, along with whatever witnesses can be brought up. This is all done before a panel of supreme and independent judges who are best qualified to adjudicate the issue.

Then, if Shakespeare offers this method to resolve an important dispute, and educates us on it, then how can Stratfordians, if they are also Shakespeareans, justify their unwillingness to likewise use Shakespeare’s approach to resolve this dispute, given that it’s an important historical question that deserves such attention? I mean, isn't it also of historical interest to both scholars and lay people to know who Michelangelo and Da Vinci were?

-------------------    -
--Then I’m also reading a great book which I highly recommend: Profoundly Entertaining: An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Artistry by Herbert B. Rothschild Jr., 2006. It has nothing overtly to do with the Authorship question, at least so far as I have read. However, in chapter 5 where he’s writing about Twelfth Night and he is discussing whether or  not the director should dress Viola and Sebastian as exact twins, he writes:

“Until the very end of the play, no other character knows that there are two of these siblings abroad in Illyria, so none of them would be looking to discern any difference between them. A similarity of appearance rather than an exact copy would suffice to create the mistaken identifications.”

--And that can relate to the authorship question because non-Stratfordian theory argues or suggests that the real author has been made to appear like the supposed author in order to deliberately create mistaken identification among the audience – that is -- us future readers of the works and those who have questions about the author. The author seems often to play with the audience’s semi-participation in the plays in terms of guiding them in using their imagination to pretend that the characters are real people or alternatively, reminding them, that they are not. And Shakespeare doesn’t seem to be alone in this. So why couldn’t it be possible that he or his fellow Ben Jonson would want to continue such a charade that they have often employed during their careers? It may seem incredible at first thought. But there are actually good reasons for this to have been done and some suggestions it was planned well in advance.