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Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? -- Exposing an Industry in Denial Paperback – May 23, 2013
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'Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?' makes a persuasive case that Gulielmus Shakspere indeed had nothing to do with writing the canon. By implication, this was the biggest hoax in the history of Western literature, one that became expedient during the unstable Jacobean regime.
The majority of the included writers are convinced Oxfordians. But they do not go on to fill in the rest of the story--that Shakspere's posthumous identity, i.e., his name and former proximity to the London theater, were used as pawns in a highly placed political strategy. Which is why the hoax succeeded. Power trumped truth in the arena of political conflict, at least for a while. Then the deception became tradition.
The book, even with one hand tied behind its back, has considerable academic merit. A.J. Pointon sets the stage by showing there is no relationship between the name Shakspere and the literary moniker Shakespeare. Frank Davis demonstrates that Shakspere's signatures are proof of an illiterate individual. Diana Price's paper trail of numerous Elizabethan authors cannot include Shakspere, because he had no literary record.
In the most incisive essay, Ramon Jimenez traces ten people who knew either Shakspere or "Shakespeare" or both, but emphatically not one made the connection. Bonner Miller Cutting follows with a detailed argument that Shakspere's will illustrated the fact that he had no cultural familiarity or interest, odd characteristics for the mind of the age.
The center section of the book attacks the long-held bias that the Shakspere biography fits the literary works. Alexander Waugh, assenting to Richard Roe's research while adding some of his own, explodes the platitude that a third of the Shakespeare plays--each set in the Mediterranean--were geographical fiction. Similar corrections result from Thomas Regnier's discussion of profound legal knowledge in the works, and Earl Showerman's survey of their medical knowledge. The author clearly had a superb Renaissance educational background, but Shakspere presented no record of one.
As a last touch, John Rollett and Richard Whalen amply demonstrate the Shakespeare Monument and the First Folio front matter were self-contradictory contrivances.
A significant portion of the book contains doubting responses to the Stratfordian putsch a couple of years ago, seeking to silence authorship doubt once and for all. They are literate and informed answers that shame the original statements of the academics, which were blithely propounded as definitive scholarship.
The appendices are quite interesting and should have been set earlier in the contents. Particularly compelling is the late Donald P. Hayes's essay about "Social Network Theory and Shakespeare". He showed that if Shakspere were "Shakespeare", he would have been acknowledged by contemporary authors when he died. No such thing happened, so Shakspere couldn't have been their colleague.
The subtext of 'Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?' is an essential evidentiary principle. Is it acceptable in scholarship to insinuate as facts the strained inferences that derive from an a priori set of assumptions? In any other field, the answer is unequivocably no. But to date that is the nature of orthodox Shakespeare biographical studies, --a circumstance that tells us why an increasing number of sincere and conscientious thinkers have found reason to doubt the received and now stubbornly entrenched fable.
As a dispassionate observer of the Authorship debate and as a researcher by profession, I am amazed at the rather poor quality of some of the research in this field, on both sides. Anti-Stratfordians (those who believe that Shakspere did not write Shakespeare) can very often be accused of what scientists call "type I error" in which they draw conclusions from what may be simple coincidences. However, many Stratfordians (those who believe Shakspere wrote Shakespeare), some of whom are eminent academics, have resorted to ad-hominem arguments in defence of their thesis. Also common is the technique of misrepresenting the position of the other side (e.g. pushing the idea that the anti-Stratfordian case rests mostly on the issue of Shakspere's level of education). Neither group does its side a favour by presenting arguments in this fashion. Ill informed opinion has been one of the biggest obstacles to effective debate.
Therefore, this book is a welcome addition to the authorship discussion, although, as I will explain, the strength of the book may be, in part, its greatest weakness. The authors have gone out of their way only to consider the strongest points of the anti-Stratfordian argument. Justifiably, they have avoided getting mired in a debate about who may have written the Shakespeare plays and poems, if not the Stratford man. The strength of their argument is that the evidence in favour of Shakespeare is weak. Shakespeare stands out from all of his contemporaries in this regard. This point is most clearly made in Diana Price's excellent book entitled "Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography". For those of you who are interested in this topic, I would encourage you to read it. It is the best piece of writing in this field. Those of you who feel that the anti-Stratfordian argument is poorly made should read Price's book before commenting further.
Briefly, the argument in favour of Shakespeare can be summarized in 3 statements (and I hope I am representing Stratfordian position correctly). First, Shakespeare's name is on the plays and poems. The First Folio published in 1623 stands as one of two pillars of the Stratfordian case. Second, acknowledgement was made of "Shakespeare" as a writer during the lifetime of Shakspere. Third, he is acknowledged as an author on the Stratford memorial. The Stratford Monument is the second major pillar of the Stratfordian case. There are certainly other arguments in favour of Shakspere as the author of Shakespeare, but these are the main ones.
The book discusses two of these points quite well, demonstrating that we have strong reasons to question whether the Shakespeare monument and the First Folio are all that they appear to be on the surface. The fact that Shakespeare's name is on the plays and poems is less completely dealt with, and I would have liked to have seen a discussion about the Shakespeare works (apocrypha) that most mainstream academics conclude are *not* the work of the man from Stratford.
The chapter on Shakespeare's knowledge of Italy and his setting of so many plays in Italy is probably one of the best chapters of the book. I would recommend Richard Paul Roe's excellent book on this subject: The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard's Unknown Travels. This is an issue that is often mis-represented by Stratfordians. The issue here is not whether Shakespeare could have learnt so much intimate knowledge about Italy without having travelled to Italy (perhaps he could have), but rather why he showed such a fascination with Italy. The lack of correspondence between the biography of the Stratford man and the writer of the plays and poems is the problem and is at the heart of the authorship debate.
The weakness of the book is that some of the more interesting (less clear-cut) ideas are not given a sufficient airing. Ben Jonson's preface to the First Folio, for example, is full of double meaning and ambiguity and to read it as simple praise for Shakspere seems problematic, especially as it is written by an author known for the careful way he chose his words. An detailed analysis of this text, although easy to criticise, might have been worth including. Why would Ben Jonson leave any doubt about his meaning? The issue about what contemporary writers may have thought about the Stratford man in other writings is also not explored in detail. There are clues that many contemporary figures (such as Ben Jonson, Robert Greene etc.) knew that Shakspere of Stratford was not the true author. In an age where writing the wrong thing could land you in gaol (or worse), these authors were forced to use ambiguity and innuendo to make their case. Again, these points are dealt with in Price's book, but less well developed in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? Clearly, the authors of the current book wanted to be on solid ground and did not want to be criticized for presenting evidence that was more hint than fact. But it is the sheer weight of all the contemporary ambiguity, hints and innuendo about Shakespeare that is impressive.
If you have an open mind about the authorship issue, I strongly recommend this book to you, although I would suggest you also buy Diana Price's book as well Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem, which complements this one very well. I also recommend that you buy Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy so that you can decide for yourself after reading both sides of the issue. A balanced approach to scholarship is needed in this most unbalanced debate.