Friday, March 21, 2008

Open letter to a vehement Stratfordian


[Editor's note: Book blogger Bill Peschel weighed in earlier this week with a review of Bill Bryson's recent biography Shakespeare: The Man Behind The Stage, half of which is spent taking on what Peschel calls "the anti-Shakespeare crowd." For instance, Peschel writes, "In fact, the... evidence on the anti-Shakespeare side [is] so weak, that it should be considered a measure of a person's intelligence and reasoning ability. If you believe that Shakespeare didn't exist, you're an idiot. It's comforting know there's some certainly in this world."]

Below is this blogger's response:

An open letter to Bill Peschel:

In April of last year,
The New York Times conducted a survey of all Shakespeare professors around the country and found that one out of six who responded said there appears to be ample cause for doubt about William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author of the plays and poems conventionally attributed to him. Polemics, such as yours, against such "non-believers" are of course nothing new. A century ago, incredibly nasty screeds were leveled at another group of heretics who only had a handful of arguments for their crazed ideas -- challenging the self-evident notion that the Earth's continents were fixed in place. In fact, it took generations of accumulated circumstantial evidence before the theory of continental drift became accepted. Continental drift (a.k.a. plate tectonics) is today as widely accepted a scientific theory as is Darwinian evolution or Newton's theory of gravity. A closer look at the history of practically any field of study, in fact, reveals this same story being told over and over again.

Don't rest so confidently in the majority opinion on your side today, Mr. Peschel. The Shakespeare skeptics and heretics undoubtedly stake out a minority position among Shakespeare experts today. One out of six is still just one out of six.

But the real debate, should you ever choose to engage it with any credibility, begins with actually bothering to understand the opposing side's point of view. (It is indeed blinkered nonsense to suggest that no one named Shakespeare ever existed. That's a classic straw-man. No one's suggesting that.)

Here are two good websites promoting the argument for Edward de Vere as "Shakespeare" (one ... two). And, to be fair, here are two websites advocating your point-of-view that actually engage the Oxfordians in evidence-based arguments, not just vapid name-calling. (One ... two)

Finally, here's a book. It argues for the heretical point of view based on historical and literary evidence. Plenty of it.

Next time, a brief survey of some actual facts of the Shakespeare authorship case would be advisable before simply labeling all doubters "idiots."

Glass houses, Mr. Peschel. Glass houses.


[This post edited April 26, 2008. See comment thread.]

11 comments:

ben-Jonson said...

Good letter, Mark. I'll be curious to see how Peschel responds. Unfortunately, the orthodox paradigm is so entrenched in our culture, that many well-intentioned and bright people fall into the trap of going public with this sort of rant before they've even had a chance to examine the evidence -- which Peschel clearly has not.

At any rate, you did a good job of letting him down gently, considering the tone of his post and the complete lack of substantiation for some of his wilder allegations.

Thomism said...

"At first blush the idea that either of these strange geometries could possibly supersede Euclidean geometry seems absurd. That Euclidean geometry is the geometry of physical space, that it is the truth about sapce is so ingrained in people's minds that any contrary thoughts are rejected. The mathematician Georg Cantor spoke of a law of conservation of ignorance. A false conclusion once arrived at is not easily dislodged. And the less it is understood, the more tenaciously it is held. In fact, for a long time non-Euclidean geometry was regarded as a logical curiosity. Its existence could not be denied, but mathematicians maintained that the real geometry, the geometry of the physical world, was Euclidean. They refused to take seriously the thought that any other geometry could be applied. However, they ultimately realized that their insistence on Euclidean geometry was merely a habit of thought and not at all a necessary belief. Those few who failed to see this were shocked into the realization when the theory of relativity actually made use of non-Euclidean geometry".

Morris Kline. Mathematics for the Non-mathematician, p. 462.

Tom Reedy said...

If anyone did a survey of "all Shakespeare professors around the
country," that is news to me. This is a typical antistrat statement, with the typical mixture of bluster and misstatements we have all come to know and love so well.

Thomism said...

Tom,

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/education/shakespeare.html

"In an Education Life survey of American professors of Shakespeare, 82 percent said there is no good reason to question whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon was the principal author of the poems and plays in the canon; 6 percent said there is good reason, while 11 percent saw possibly good reason."

6 percent plus 11 percent is roughly 1/6.

Hope that helps,
DJ Thomism

Thomism said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dominic said...

I don't want to speak for Mr. Reedy, but I think what he is objecting to is the contention that the poll surveyed "ALL Shakespeare professors around the
country." According to the article: "The Times survey of professors of Shakespeare, conducted March 5 though 29, is based on a random sample of colleges and universities in the United States that offer degree programs in English. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 5 percentage points. Professors were sent an e-mail invitation to complete the survey online."

The survey conducted was not addressed to ALL professors of Shakespeare, only those in a random sample who took the time to respond to an e-mail.

Thomism said...

"I don't want to speak for Mr. Reedy, but I think what he is objecting to is the contention that the poll surveyed 'ALL Shakespeare professors around the
country.'"

I figured that that was NOT what he was objecting to, because that simply seemed like useless quibbling. You're free to advance it though.

Dominic said...

It would seem to me, and thank you for allowing me the freedom to advance an opinion, that Oxfordians who criticize the exaggerations and misleading statements of their opponents would want to be scrupulously accurate in their own statements, but I see that is not the case here. The difference between 265 professors and ALL of the Shakespeare professors in the country is just a “useless quibble” for you.


I’m sure you’ll claim that it is only another useless quibble, but Mr. Reedy may also have been objecting to the statement that 1 in 6 (17%) of the professors expressed “ample cause for doubt” in this instance, since, in answer to the question, "Do you think that there is good reason to question whether William Shakespeare of Stratford is the principal author of the plays and poems in the canon," only 6% said “yes” (there is good reason to question), and 11% said “possibly”. As a matter of fact, those statistics do not equate to 1 in 6 of the professors opining that there is “ample” cause for doubt, unless the definition of the word “ample” is to be ignored or utterly obliterated.

It is probably another useless quibble to you, but Mr. Reedy may also have been disputing the assertion that “Half of that number (the 17%) said they were certain he was not the author.” This statement is blatantly false. Nowhere in the survey, as it is posted in the NY Times article, is any claim made that any of the professors who answered the survey are “certain” that William Shakespeare was not the author of the canon. One man's "useless quibbles" are another man's misrepresentations.

Glass Houses, Thomism. Glass houses.

Thomism said...

I would say that any attempt to prove or disprove whether de Vere was Shake-speare by parsing sentences over the internet is useless quibbling.
That should clarify things for you.

Now I'll leave you the last word, since I know you so desperately want it.

Good day to you.

Dominic said...

>>That should clarify things for you.

Not really. Instead of clarifying things you've merely muddled them further. I don't know why you would think we were engagged in "any attempt to prove or disprove whether de Vere was Shake-speare by parsing sentences over the internet." We were discussing a blog post purporting to explain a survey of Shakespeare professors, not the authorship question itself. Reading is fundamental.

In addition, we were not "parsing sentences" -- I was pointing out the obvious exaggerations and blatant inaccuracies contained in the blog post and you were attempting to minimize those mistakes or ignoring them completetly.

>>Now I'll leave you the last word, since I know you so desperately want it.

Have we met? Your pretensions to omniscience here are humorous. I'll be happy to stop replying if you'll stop making errors.

>>Good day to you.

And a quibble-free morrow to you.

Mark said...

Note: Re the comments above, I edited the post today to add the words "who responded" and "appears to be" to the following sentence:

"In April of last year, The New York Times conducted a survey of all Shakespeare professors around the country and found that one out of six who responded said there appears to be ample cause for doubt about William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author of the plays and poems conventionally attributed to him."

I also took out any reference to "certainty" on the part of the survey participants. The New York Times survey I quoted, indeed, did not cover that. Fair enough.

Thanks to my Stratfordian critics who pointed out this error. Always good to be kept on one's toes.