Home / News / Still Plenty Of Room For Doubt — “Macduff’s” Insightful Review On Amazon.com Of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy

Still Plenty Of Room For Doubt — “Macduff’s” Insightful Review On Amazon.com Of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy

The following review, penned by “Macduff,” is certainly worth reading.  Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A6LSWAP1OPLEB/ref=cm_pdp_rev_title_2?ie=UTF8&sort_by=MostRecentReview#R2AHSYAEJA9BMW

Review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy by Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson

This book’s overriding theme is that readers should stop thinking for themselves and accept the word of “authority” when it comes to the Shakespeare authorship question. It disparages open-mindedness, belittles its ideological adversaries, presupposes the truth of the thesis for which it is purportedly presenting evidence, ignores its most able opponents while making mincemeat of weaker opponents, dodges some of the most critical questions regarding the Shakespeare authorship question, and attempts to shame the reader away from even considering the possibility that the traditional authorship theory might be flawed. And yet this book accuses its opponents of being dogmatic and unreasonable.

Anonymity and use of pseudonyms were common among writers in Elizabethan times, when people could be punished for expressing views that offended the authorities. Furthermore, as George Puttenham wrote in 1589, many noblemen wrote literary works, including plays, but would not allow them to be published under their own names because writing for publication was regarded as beneath a nobleman’s dignity. Such facts make it reasonable to entertain the possibility that “William Shakespeare” was a pen name. Yet Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (SBD) summarily considers that hypothesis out of the question.

SBD never once mentions Diana Price’s seminal 2001 book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem, which demonstrated that the Stratford man, whose name was spelled “William Shakspere,” left no literary paper trail during his lifetime: out of the 70 or so existing documents from the Stratford man’s life, not one identifies him personally as a writer of any kind or links him to the works published and performed under the name “William Shakespeare.” Price looked for a literary paper trail for 24 other Elizabethan writers and found evidence identifying each one personally as a writer during his lifetime, but found no such evidence for Shakspere.

But even though SBD doesn’t mention Price’s book, it more or less concedes her point. Stanley Wells admits in chapter 7 that no reference to the works of “William Shakespeare” before 1623, when the First Folio was published, explicitly identifies the writer with Stratford. SBD has no plausible explanation for the fact that the Stratford man’s death in 1616 was greeted by complete silence from the literary world, the nobility, and the public. Is it possible that no one at that time connected the Stratford man to the works of Shakespeare? Likewise, in chapter 6, Andrew Hadfield concedes that “there are virtually no literary remains left behind by Shakespeare outside his published works, and most of the surviving records deal with property and legal disputes.” Yet SBD insists that documentary evidence proves “beyond doubt” that the Stratford man was the true Bard.

While SBD ignores Price and other serious anti-Stratfordian scholars, such as George Greenwood, The Shakespeare Problem Restated, Mark Anderson, Shakespeare By Another Name, and Tony Pointon, The Man Who Was Never Shakespeare: The Theft of William Shakspeare’s Identity, it devotes three chapters to Delia Bacon, who wrote an unreadable book about the authorship controversy in the 19th century and later went mad. While no serious authorship skeptic of the past century relies on Delia Bacon’s work, she is an easy target for the authors of SBD. Its stratagem is to paint all doubters with the same brush as Delia Bacon and make the reader think that she epitomizes anti-Stratfordianism.

SBD categorically dismisses the idea of looking for a connection between the author’s life and his works. Matt Kubus in chapter 5 insists that there is no “inherent connection” between an author and “the content of his works.” While not all literature is thinly disguised autobiography, isn’t it reasonable to suppose that a writer might inadvertently reveal something about himself in the stories he chooses to tell? This should be an open question, one for debate and discussion, but the Stratfordians do not seem interested in discussion.

MacDonald P. Jackson in chapter 9 discusses stylometrics, the use of computer analysis of grammatical patterns and word usage, which allegedly shows that the Stratford man wrote the majority of Shakespeare’s plays with a little help from other playwrights of his time. But stylometrics is not a science: different stylometrics analyses come out with different answers as to who wrote what. Besides, the most that stylometric studies show is that the person who wrote the bulk of the plays (whoever that was) sometimes collaborated with others. They cannot prove that that central figure was the Stratford man because there is no known writing unquestionably belonging to the Stratford man to be used as a standard. Stylometrics may be a useful tool, but it cannot provide the total answer to the authorship question.

SBD never addresses the question of how the Stratford man acquired the vast knowledge of law, philosophy, classical literature, ancient and modern history, mathematics, astronomy, art, music, medicine, horticulture, heraldry, the military; etiquette and manners of the nobility; English, French and Italian court life; Italy; and aristocratic pastimes such as falconry, equestrian sports, and royal tennis, that is seen in the plays. Many books and articles have been written on Shakespeare’s intimate knowledge of these and other subjects. The author must have had extensive formal education, easy access to books, abundant leisure time to study on his own, and wide experience of the world gained through travel. This simply does not fit with the life of the Stratford man, who may or may not have had a few years of a grammar school education (documentary evidence is completely lacking on that subject), yet SBD makes no attempt to answer this anomaly.

Finally, and most disgracefully, SBD never ceases to use shaming techniques to frighten the reader away from questioning orthodoxy. One of its most unattractive ploys is to label anti-Stratfordians as “anti-Shakespearians.” As Edmondson and Wells explain in their introduction, the authors employ that word because “anti-Stratfordian . . . allows the work attributed to Shakespeare to be separated from the social and cultural context of its author.” How’s that for circular reasoning? It assumes that the Stratford man was the true author and implies that anyone who disagrees opposes the great playwright and all he stands for. Edmondson, in chapter 19, says that “open-mindedness” is merely a rhetorical maneuver and should be allowed only after the evidence for Shakespeare has been disproven, not (as Edmondson says) “merely ignored.” If Edmondson had read the better anti-Stratfordian writers, he would know that they have not ignored the evidence; rather, they have examined it and found serious flaws in it. “There is, too,” says Edmondson, “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.”

That is the message of SBD: don’t question the authorities, who know better than you; don’t be open-minded; don’t read anti-Stratfordian books because you’ll go mad like Delia Bacon. It is an attempt to lull the reader into drowsy acceptance of authority. I hope that readers of SBD will resist its call for intellectual servitude, will explore the subject on their own, and will reach their own conclusions. Any reader who likes to hear both sides of an argument before making up his or her mind is encouraged to read Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? — Exposing an Industry in Denial.

About Matthew Cossolotto

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