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Required Reading! Diana Price, Author of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, Reviews Shakespeare Beyond Doubt Edited by Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson

Everybody who is interested in the Shakespeare authorship question should read Diana Price’s entire review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt.  I’m pasting below a long section from Diana Price’s review.  To read the entire review, please visit Diana’s website (http://www.shakespeare-authorship.com) or click on this link:  http://shakespeare-authorship.com/Articles/Shakespeare%20Beyond%20Doubt%20review%20website.htm.

A long section of Diana Price’s review follows.  I encourage you to read the entire review.  It’s well worth a careful read.

*****

i.

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy is a collection of essays that purports to put an end to the so-called Shakespeare Authorship Question, once and for all. Its editors, Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson, recruited 20 contributors, most of whom also contributed to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s “60 Minutes with Shakespeare,” a project that provided 60 seconds each to 60 scholars addressing various topics, most with significance for the authorship question.

The essay collection was prompted in part by the release of Roland Emmerich’s 2011 film Anonymous (a box office flop dramatizing a fringe version of a “royal birth” theory positing the earl of Oxford as the real Shakespeare) and the “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” (now signed by over 2,700 individuals) published on the website DoubtAboutWill. The substance of the Declaration is, in some measure, based on the research in my own book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem. It was the first book challenging the traditional biography to be published by a mainstream publisher in a peer-reviewed series (Greenwood Press, 2001, “Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies” no. 94; now revised and published in paperback by shakespeare-authorship.com, 2012). A major argument in the book is based on a comparative analysis of documentary evidence left behind by Shakespeare and two dozen writers active during his lifetime. The results of that analysis demonstrate that Shakespeare is the only alleged writer of consequence from the time period who left behind no evidence that he wrote for a living, or even as a vocation.

At the April 2013 launch of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt in Stratford-on-Avon, Ros Barber (author of the prize-winning The Marlowe Papers, a fictionalized case for Marlowe’s authorship) criticized the editors of the essay collection for failing to contend with their peer-reviewed opposition. In this review essay, I focus on particular contributors who defend the traditional biography, with the hope that my critique will move the debate forward.

As a general comment, it is unfortunate that a decision on nomenclature was made in this collection to re-label authorship skeptics as “anti-Shakespeareans,” rather than the more accurately descriptive “anti-Stratfordians. “Anti-Shakespearean” is unnecessarily pejorative (and it was a relief to read James Shapiro’s reversion to the term “anti-Stratfordian” in his Afterword). Also, in several places, some contributors assert that the authorship question first emerged, not during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but in 1856-57, when Delia Bacon published her unreadable tome (2, 87, 246). But Miss Bacon was not the first to ask questions about Shakespeare’s authorship. She was the first to formalize the question. Expressions of confusion about Shakespeare’s authorship were recorded during Shakespeare’s lifetime by Thomas Edwards, the Parnassus authors, Gabriel Harvey, and John Davies of Hereford, among others.

Now to particulars.

ii.

Andrew Hadfield is the author of the recent and well-received biography of Edmund Spenser. Spenser left behind good evidence of his literary interests and activities, the evidence that I call personal literary paper trails. These include books exchanged with his friend, Gabriel Harvey, his handwritten transcription of a Latin poem, and records of his education. Despite such evidence for Spenser, in his essay “Theorizing Shakespeare’s authorship,” Hadfield attempts to lower his reader’s expectations for evidence surviving for writers from the time period, essentially excusing the absence of literary paper trails for Shakespeare:

Even a superficial trawl through the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography will reveal how little we know about many important figures, making the gaps in the biographical records of Shakespeare seem typical rather than unusual and therefore in no need of explanation. . . What are left are scraps, fragments, and clues in parish registers, court records, and probate offices” (65, 66).

To which list I would add personal literary paper trails.

Hadfield admits that “there are virtually no literary remains left behind by Shakespeare” (66), but he also claims that in that sense, Shakespeare is no different than other writers, such as Henry Chettle, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Middleton, Anthony Munday, and Thomas Nashe, among others (66). While the canons of these writers, like Shakespeare’s, present various attribution or authenticity problems, unlike Shakespeare, these writers left behind solid records of their activities as writers. To take one example (chosen here because Hadfield singled out Nashe in his 60 seconds contribution to the SBT program), among the personal literary paper trails for Nashe are an autograph poem from his days at Cambridge; a record of how much he was rewarded for writing by one of his patrons, as specified in a letter from Sir George Carey to his wife (the dedicatee of the pamphlet in question); and a letter to Carey’s servant describing his difficulties “writing for the stage and for the press.” Despite the survival of that letter, Hadfield claims that “personal letters did not survive in an age when paper was scarce and expensive” (64). Yet additional autograph letters DO survive for, among others, George Chapman, Ben Jonson, John Marston, and Michael Drayton, and all of them contain reference to literary topics (Price, Unorthodox, 314-18). There are no comparable records for Shakespeare, so Hadfield’s claims do not hold up. The deficiency of personal literary paper trails for a writer from the time period is not an expected or common phenomenon; the deficiency is unique to Shakespeare.

iii.

David Kathman’s essay “Shakespeare and Warwickshire” attempts to situate Shakespeare in the intellectual and literary communities in Stratford-on-Avon, investing him with intellectual credentials in a sort of literacy-by-association. Yet his sections on Shakespeare’s Stratford associates do nothing to establish Shakespeare as a man interested in literary matters. Identifying neighbors, such as Richard Quiney or Abraham Sturley, who read books or wrote letters, sometimes in Latin, is not evidence that Shakespeare read books or wrote letters. Indeed, the reason Kathman can state categorically that Quiney or Sturley read books or wrote letters is because letters survive to support those statements (124-27). No comparable evidence survives for Shakespeare.

Kathman claims that the plays “include numerous offhand references to people and places from the area around Stratford” (129). But those “numerous” Warwickshire characters and locations appear in only two plays, Henry IV (2) and The Taming of the Shrew. He further claims that the plays “are peppered with dialect words from Warwickshire and the West Midlands” (129). He cites three sources in his endnote, primarily C.T. Onions, and also R.C. Churchill (actually Ivor Brown’s introduction) and Hilda M. Hulme. Not only do these sources fail to verify all his claims, he omits other resources that would compromise or invalidate several of them. After consulting Joseph Wright’s still valuable six-volume The English Dialect Dictionary, James Orchard Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic Words, James Appleton Morgan’s Warwickshire Glossary, and the OED, I would propose that at least five of the nine words Kathman mentions don’t belong on his list.

For example, Kathman defines a “ballowas a ‘cudgel,’ which Onions locates in the north Midlands (12). But the texts of King Lear (IV.vi.238) read, variously, “battero” (Qq), “bat” (Q1 and Q2), and “ballow” (F), so there is not even a secure basis for accepting “ballow” as the intended word. The OED elaborates:

Only in the Shakes. Folio of 1623, and subseq. editions, in loc. cit., where the Quartos have battero, and bat (stick, rough walking-stick); besides which, batton, battoun, ‘stick, cudgel’ obs. f. baton n. (q.v.) is a probable emendation. Bailey (1742) has ‘Ballow, a pole, a long stick, quarter-staff, etc. Shakesp.’ (quoted by Halliwell as ‘Northern’): but no such word seems to exist, or to have any etymological justification.

The Arden 2 editor goes with “ballow” and cites Wright’s entry (1:145) for the word as common to Nottinghamshire (Muir, 173; Wright also specifies the word as in use in the shire of Kent). The Arden 3 editor goes with “baton,” rejecting the Folio reading of “ballow” since he could find “no convincing parallels” (Foakes, 346).

According to Onions, “potch,” meaning to thrust, “survives in Warwickshire” (165). Wright lists the word “potch” as a variant form of “poach” (4:562), defines “poach” (and its variant spellings) as “to poke, esp. with the fingers; to thrust, push suddenly,” etc., and locates the variant “potch” not only in Warwickshire, but also in Staffordshire, Shropshire, and Gloucestershire. The Arden 2 editor of Coriolanus glosses potch as “jab, poke” but is silent on the matter of dialect (Brockbank, 149), as are the editors of recent Oxford and Cambridge editions, as well as Halliwell. Morgan’s Glossary contains neither “poach” nor “potch.”

The word “batlet,” meaning ‘club (for washing)’ is described by Onions as “current recently in Yorks[hire] and Warwick[shire] (13). “Batler” is in the OED with reference to the modified word “batlet” in modern editions of As You Like It, but no dialect is mentioned. The word in the Arden 2 edition of As You Like It (II.iv.46) reads “batler.” Halliwell lists “batler” but does not assign a shire of origin or use (149). The New Variorum editor (Knowles, 93) cites [John R.] Wise’s list of Warwickshire words, but also cites Wright, who specifies Yorkshire and Warwickshire (per Wise’s list) and adds a disclaimer: “not known to our correspondents in Warwickshire” (1:186). Morgan’s glossary contains only “batten,” defined as “a stick used in washing clothes” (76), but provides no examples in the Shakespeare canon.

At least two other words in Kathman’s list, “pash” and “tarre,” fare no better. Of the nine dialect words cited by Kathman, only four may withstand scrutiny. Kathman acknowledges that while the dialect words that he cites “don’t prove anything,” they are “consistent” with the Stratford man’s authorship (129). But they are not. In order to make that case, he would need to show  (1) that Warwickshire and West Midlands dialect words are particular to, or better yet, usually exclusive to, those shires, and  (2) that the Shakespeare canon contains disproportionately higher numbers of dialect words from those regions. When a word such as “batlet” is found in Yorkshire as well as (possibly) Warwickshire, Kathman’s argument is weakened. It is further diluted as the known use of a word is discovered in additional shires or regions. It is difficult to give credence to words that he claims as Warwickshire dialect, even those found in Onions’s Glossary, when there is no further support or corroboration from Halliwell, Morgan, the OED, various critical editions, or especially Wright.

It is puzzling that Kathman cites Hulme’s research in his endnote. Her examples of Warwickshire or Midlands dialects are either qualified or introduced as speculative. She also shares the skeptical opinion that future research will likely “establish as more widely current such elements of apparently ‘Stratford’ language as occur in his text” and cites G.D. Willcock’s opinion that the Shakespeare corpus “shows no sign of surviving local patriotism” (316, 315). Hulme cites some idiosyncratic Shakespearean spellings consistent with, if not unique to, Warwickshire spellings (316, 318), but some of her citations depend upon the unfounded assumption that the printing house’s orthography faithfully followed the author’s manuscript (the hypothetical ‘foul papers’), when spellings are more likely scribal, compositorial, or editorial.

The last section in Kathman’s chapter is about “Shakespeare and Stratford after 1616,” in which he claims that “a wealth of evidence from the decade after Shakespeare’s death illustrates Stratford’s fame” (130). That “wealth of evidence” is, by definition, posthumous. The first testimony in the historic record explicitly identifying Shakespeare of Stratford as the dramatist appeared in the 1623 First Folio, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. Kathman failed to establish any significant connection between the author of Shakespeare’s canon and Warwickshire during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

*****

To read the rest of Diana Price’s excellent, insightful, well-argued review of SBD, please click on this link:

http://shakespeare-authorship.com/Articles/Shakespeare%20Beyond%20Doubt%20review%20website.htm

About Matthew Cossolotto

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