Saturday, September 16, 2017

Folger Shakespeare - a ridiculous institution?

Could the Folger Shakespeare Library be a ‘ridiculous institution’?

One writer thinks it could be, or that the directors of the institute are worried that they might be seen as such. But why?

Well, as the writer mentions—the field of Shakespeare Scholarship has persisting within it “a thousand controversies’. And the “hottest of these is the so-called Authorship Question – the question of whether Shakespeare [meaning Shaksper of Stratford] wrote Shakespeare.”

Apparently, the directors of the Folger Library through the decades have been thinking the unthinkable, because it seems, the unthinkable could happen. We might even say they have been thinking for themselves. This hot controversy could be “resolved in favour of one of the many claimants”.

Let’s pause and think about this a little ourselves. Publicly the library only gives lip service to the authorship debate. But we know that quite recently one of its shining scholars attempted valiantly to argue she had proved that Shaksper did indeed write the Shakespeare works. But we know that it was a feeble attempt, and the Folger leaders must recognize that also since they continue to see the need for “risk mitigation strategies” to survive the unthinkable.

One would have thought though that they must have received ‘the memo’ from the Stratford Birthplace Trust or some of the leading scholars in the field that their guy really was the great author, ‘beyond doubt’ . And that they, the Folger Directors, should just trust them about it.

But no, too dang risky, apparently. Even a little doubt, in this case, is too much. The heretics could actually be right. So, quietly, privately, they have their strategies ready to mitigate this frightful risk. Ready even to--change their business cards, letterhead, etc. if the unthinkable event they’ve spent some time thinking about happens.

So if the Folger Library has its doubts, and it strives “to be the “go to” place for debating and deliberating on Shakespearean controversies”, doesn’t it seem rational for everyone else (not dependent on the traditional story for their livelihood) to also be open to doubt?

Henry Folger, it turns out, was a big collector of Baconiana and had been “a long standing member of the Bacon Society of America”. If he was alive today he might also be known as a member of one of the Oxfordian societies.

And perhaps Henry Folger knew that it was quite possible for a hidden but connected writer to work concealed and undiscovered.

This is described by Oxfordian Michael Dudley in an earlier article:

“Perhaps the most significant lesson authorship skeptics may draw from the story of Henry Folger is that, as a case study, it serves to demolish any attempt to ridicule the Oxfordian case as a “conspiracy theory”, one about which “too many people” would have needed to have known. We must understand that Henry and Emily Folger and a close circle of confederates were able to operate an enterprise on a global scale in secret and at the same time kept his name out of the newspapers for the better part of four decades – and all this in an age of mass media, with British newspapers responding with outrage to the loss of their printed heritage at auctions to a faceless American millionaire. If, with the right mix of power and influence this could be accomplished in a democracy during the 20th Century, how much more likely is it that a similarly secretive and powerful man in an authoritarian 16th Century could have disguised his actions to contemporary observers—and thus to history?”

More food for thought I’d say.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Great Debate of Sept. 21 - Bate vs Waugh

Well, we are now approaching The Great (or A Great) Debate: Who wrote Shakespeare? Between Arch Stratfordian Jonathan Bate and Arch non-Stratfordian Alexander Waugh, on Sept. 21.
I wish that I could attend, but alas, it’s a long distance away!

So, in anticipation of this enjoyable event, I’ve read Bate’s The Genius of Shakespeare, 1997, and made some notes and comments on parts of it.

But first, as a prelude, allow me to present some pertinent quotes from recent online articles on totally unrelated topics:

Monuments, under this definition, are not history. Monuments are memory-makers, celebratory edifices erected to hide History’s complexity, drown curiosity, and feed the simple in the present and in the future.” “Their rhetoric of Heritage is pure myth, a fabrication of a false past, creating memory where none existed.”

‘History is neither preordained truth, nor is it a prepackaged commodity. Its record must grow out of debate, not professional hierarchies or easy compromises. While the art of debate without acrimony seems out of reach in an age when opinion exchanges escalate to ad hominem attacks within seconds, controversy used to be the salt of social life during centuries past, restricted though it would have been by social class, gender, race, and religion. Newspapers specialized in polemics. Debating societies thrived. University students and professors were required to exchange positions in the format of disputatio. Why have we stopped now that the venues are open to all?”

‘… at least some non-academics really do want to get the answer right, if for no other reason than the intrinsic satisfaction of grounding their beliefs in the best available evidence. As a result, we in the academy have an obligation to promulgate the best evidence we have on a given subject.”
“Now, presumably, we want the lay public to come along with us. We want to convince them that we have considered all sides of the debate, weighed all of the evidence, openly debated it, and arrived at a careful, empirically tested consensus. How can we do that if the public sees us trying to shroud this debate in secrecy? How can we hope to say, “Look, we shouldn’t talk about this,” and then, in five or ten years, say, “Look, that topic we didn’t want to talk about, well it turns out the debate is over”? They would rightly want to challenge us; they would want to be read in to the evidence on file. Science is a public endeavor. We are not a private clergy dispensing wisdom as we see fit. If we want any hope of convincing well-meaning truth seekers, we have to talk about this openly.”

------------------- -

And now my thoughts on Bate’s The Genius of Shakespeare.

--p. 45  “These facts … do show that Elizabethan sonneteering makes uses of personal material as well as rhetorical convention.”
--p. 47 he acknowledges the principle of Occam’s Razor: “for purposes of explanation things not known to exist should not, unless it is absolutely necessary, be postulated as existing.” -- Maybe he could remember this when he postulates about the Stratford man’s schooling, self-education, connections to the nobility, etc, etc. which many other candidates don’t need to have postulated.
--p. 67 “But a much more striking fact is that no major actor has ever been attracted to non-Stratfordianism.” -- Big Oops. Maybe he should have taken a poll first. At least two major Shakespearean actors, Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi are also major non-Stratfordians.
--p. 81 “The fact of collaboration is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that the author of Shakespeare’s plays was, like the authors of all other public plays of the period, a professional writer, not an aristocrat.”  -- The degree of collaboration is postulated, not proven. Still, I would venture that most of the major alternate contenders have more proven connections to the sophisticated literati as well as professional playwrights than does the Stratford man.
--p. 90 “It is absurd to suppose that any Elizabethan play might contain satiric reference to particular aristocrats of the day. Polonius cannot be a satirical portrait of Lord Burghley for the simple reason that if he were, the author of the portrait would have found himself in prison before he could turn round. Dramatists ran the risk of censorship when they portrayed even relatively obscure long-dead aristocrats, like Sir John Oldcastle.” -- Pure speculation. It’s more likely than non-aristocrat dramatists would have such risk. But aristocrat dramatists that satirized other aristocrat’s dead relatives, or possibly even other living aristocrats, as long as there was some plausible deniability of the portrayal, and/or protection from Queen Elizabeth, whom seemed to delight in this, could reasonably get away with it. And evidence of the boldness of dramatists comes from the late Earl of  Essex after his house arrest from returning early from Ireland:
“The prating tavern haunter speaks of me what he lists; the frantic libeler writes of me what he lists; already they print me and make me speak to the world, and shortly they will play me in what forms they list upon the stage. The least of these is a thousand times worse than death.”
Four Centuries of English Letters, edited by William Baptiste Scoones, 1893. P. 51.

--In addition, Bates later refutes his own assertion. On page 219 he discusses Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, where Bates discusses Shakespeare’s “characteristic wiliness”. “Chapman had dedicated his translation to Essex; it carried a preface claiming that the Earl was a reincarnation of Achilles. Essex’s hallmark was the chivalric code, the cult of honour. Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida tears that code to shreds and makes Achilles into a figure more interested in sharing camp theatricals with his gay lover Patroclus than performing heroically on the battlefield. This looks like quite a good way of brushing off any association with the Essex who, at the probable date of Troilus’ composition, was languishing in the Tower awaiting execution.” -- Then he further refutes his own principle when he continues with “But in making this link I am indulging in unsubstantiated speculation; looking for nudges and winks on Shakespeare’s part.” -- Actually, I doubt that many readers were bothered by this indulgence. He should at least then not complain when other writers on the authorship topic indulge in reasoned speculation since a value in this is that it can provide ideas for further research.

--p. 265 Bates here is discussing some of Freud’s analysis of Hamlet. “Freud has seen that the play refuses to give its own answers. The phenomenon is similar to that of the sonnets’ refusal to tell us to what extent they are autobiographical and to what extent they are fictive.” -- This is another instance where Bates acknowledges that the Shakespeare works have autobiographical elements in them, but that they are often so subtly couched that they cannot be verified with confidence.

--P. 274 On this page Bates points out in regards to a Macbeth scene that “Each of the weird sisters points with her right hand. The index finger of each left (sinister) hand is raised to the lips. Macbeth’s finger is in the same positionas was Lady Macbeth’s in the painting of the night of the murder. The gesture connotes the unspeakable, the deed without a name, the dark theme of the drama….the power and the paradox, the fairness and the foulness, of the weird sisters is that at one and the same time they answer Macbeth’s questions and leave the question of his ending unanswered. It is only at the moment of ending itself that he discovers the meaning of their riddles.” -- So, riddle me this, why does the First Folio portrait of Shakespeare show him wearing a doublet with both a left front and a left back to it? Could it not suggest some unspeakable deed related to the man or the author?

--p. 316 At this point in his book Bates is admiring the work of William Empson who found multiple meanings he believes Shakespeare regularly employed to show in his works, like his Cleopatra, “infinite variety”. Bates then writes “It enabled Empson to apply an ‘uncertainty principle’ to every aspect of Shakespeare.” -- Logically, since to him Shakespeare “is the premise for genius” this uncertainty principle would apply to his speculated identity. Bates should actually welcome such discussion if he believes what he himself writes.

--p. 326 Bates again points out that “Of course my readings of Shakespeare are autobiographical.” -- Fair enough.
--p. 327 he writes “ ’Shakespeare’ may be thought of as a vast collection of games.” -- And non-Stratfodians merely extend this thought to his identity.
--Also p. 327 “The first law is that truth is not singular.” -- Indeed, we say that Shakespeare, to Shakespeare, could simultaneously be a ‘rural fellow’ as well as possibly an aristocrat or noble or spy or some other type of personality.
--p. 328 In this page Bates describes visually this idea of multiple truths with his use of a figure found in Gestalt psychology of the duck/rabbit drawing. I wrote about this concept not long ago in a post here. If you look at the drawing you may see a duck but not the rabbit, or vice versa. But you probably can’t seem them both simultaneously. Yet, if you take the time and look ‘askance’ at the drawing you then can see the ‘alternate’ character. With regards to the Shakespeare Authorship question this change in perspective is happening on a regular basis. The number of declared non-Stratfordians marches forward. I estimate, that for this year, it’s been averaging a rate of 2-4 Shakespeareans per week that we see abandoning the old Stratfordian model and joining the non-Stratfordian perspective. Never that I know of has there been a non-Stratfordian that has changed back over to the Stratfordian theory.

Now some additional thoughts after reading Anthony and Cleopatra:

In Act 5.2:
Caesar suspects Cleopatra may commit suicide to evade his use of her in his upcoming triumph back in Rome. She deceives him with her own theatrics. Here’s note from the Oxfordian edition, 2015:

“Plutarch hints that Caesar was “deceived,” and in North’s margin comment, “Cleopatra finely deceived Octavius Caesar, as though she desired to live.” Goddard explains, “What has happened is that a new Cleopatra is now using the old Cleopatra as her instrument … The fact is that the new Cleopatra, with all the histrionic devices of the old Cleopatra at her command, acts so consummately in these last hours of her life that she deceives not only Octavius Caesar but full half the readers of the play”. Bloom adds, “You could argue that the Cleopatra of Act V is not only a greater actress than she was before, but also that she becomes a playwright, exercising a talent released in her by Antony’s death”.  -- Also noted is that Cleopatra’s ladies, Charmian and Iras, also played their parts in this deception. Ooh, another Shakespeare conspiracy! So the author created a character that, within the story of her own life, altered her life script as it was perceived by those who imagined themselves as more wily that her. Perhaps, then, such a bold genius, as is Bate’s Shakespeare, could likewise alter the imagined script of his own theatrical life.

Also interesting is the ‘rural fellow’ that brings in the basket of figs and the asps. “What poor an instrument may do a noble deed!”  - parallels the non-Stratfordian idea that the Stratford man, considered as a poorly educated rural fellow, would well serve as such an instrument for a higher educated and connected hidden playwright.

Another note for Act 5 from the Arden edition regarding Cleopatra’s line:

“Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
O’th’ posture of a whore.”

The Arden Note is: “Shakespeare shows extraordinary boldness in giving these lines to a boy actor who must, presumably, have done justice to the role of  Cleopatra”.

These observations of the playwright’s sophisticated meta-theatrical awareness and ‘boldness’ aligns with the non-Stratfordian theory of his outwitting, say, a ‘full half’ his readers over his own identity and the script of his own life.

And finally, an ending quote from a non-Shakespeare source:
Fifteen highly accomplished scholars who teach at Yale, Princeton, and Harvard published a letter Monday with advice for young people who are headed off to college: Though it will require self-discipline and perhaps even courage, “Think for yourself.” “The “vice of conformism” is a temptation for all faculty and students, they argue, due to a climate rife with group think, where it is “all-too-easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion” on a campus or in academia generally.”

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.