Monday, November 30, 2009

BBC: Stratford partisans "arguing by adjective"


Over the past (U.S.) holiday weekend, the BBC ran a superb long-form article on their website about Edward de Vere as "Shakespeare."

It gave Oxfordians (such as your correspondent) ample opportunity to make our case and allowed orthodox scholars such as de Vere biographer Alan Nelson (Monstrous Adversary) and Oxford University English professor Emma Smith ample opportunity to say we're completely nuts.

This is, unfortunately, a microcosm of the state of the authorship debate today. We want to talk evidence, and they want to fling mud. And with the April publication of best-selling author James Shapiro's hatchet-job book Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, it's probably only going to get worse.

Thankfully, the BBC correspondent also allowed the heretics ample opportunity to point this very fact out.

Michael Egan, editor of the journal The Oxfordian told the BBC's Dave Gilyeat "One of the most disturbing aspects of the whole debate is the way the anti-Stratfordians are silenced. There isn't any real attempt to confront the arguments. There's just a general mocking and ridiculing strategy -- what I call arguing by adjective... "ridiculous, absurd" and so on."

Smith made one of the most curious anti-Oxfordian arguments in the article, stating, "There seems to be absolutely no evidence that the Earl of Oxford was a literary genius and had the ability to write and that seems a much more important criterion for writing Shakespeare's works."

Wow, the hurdles have changed! Time used to be we were just kooks and booby-heads. Now we must adduce evidence that Edward de Vere was a literary genius.

No matter.

John Shahan, head of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition responded to Smith with an email which Shahan has kindly given permission to excerpt here.

[Begin Shahan letter]

Four of [de Vere's] contemporaries -- Gabriel Harvey, William Webbe, the anonymous author of The Art of English Poesie (George Puttenham?) and Francis Meres -- all had high praise for Oxford's writing. Long after he died, in The Complete Gentleman (1622), Henry Peacham included Oxford on a list of six poets who had made Elizabeth's reign a "golden age" for poetry, while omitting "Shakespeare" from the list. You may dispute the evidence, but the evidence certainly exists.

Furthermore, modern behavioral science research on the nature of creativity and genius reveals that it is Oxford who has the characteristics typical of a great literary genius, not Stratford's Mr. Shakspere.

I [recently] wrote [a book review] (Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Fall 2001) of
Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity by Dean Keith Simonton (Oxford University Press, 1999). The review outlines the developmental and character traits that Simonton and others found to be associated with genius, including literary genius. The Earl of Oxford matches the expected profile of a literary genius perfectly, while the Stratford man fits hardly at all. Mr. Shakspere's father did experience some "family reversal of fortune;" but nothing like what Oxford experienced, including being orphaned, which Shakspere was not. It is remarkable how clearly the research on genius points to Oxford, and away from Shakspere. Again, you may dispute the evidence, but the evidence certainly exists.

Simonton is one of the world's leading experts on creativity and genius, and a signer of the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare (www.doubtaboutwill.org/declaration). Perhaps you could tell me, him, and the others above, why you say there is "absolutely no evidence" Oxford was a literary genius.


[End letter]

Last I heard, Smith hasn't replied.

UPDATE (Dec. 1): Dr. Smith did reply to her correspondent with a two sentence email. "Thanks for this. I think we will have to agree to disagree."

12 comments:

jhm said...

Thanks for the post. My only quibble would be that the word 'today' should be stricken from the sentence: "This is, unfortunately, a microcosm of the state of the authorship debate today." Although I would not try to claim a deeper knowledge of the issue than you possess, I'm curious as to when it was that this was not the state of the 'debate.'

Caroline Ratner said...

Shakespearean actor Jonathan Bond's new book - the De Vere Code www.deverecode.com reveals evidential proof that Edward De Vere/Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's sonnets

Jonathan, studied maths and philosophy at London and Cambridge Universities was always fairly interestd in the authorship debate but then as he began looking into it discovered that there was indeed a cypher/code hidden in the dedication to the sonnets which prove De Vere's authorship. Bond explains in detail in the book how he cracked the code.

Elizabethan's used code all the time, as society was extremely restrictive in what people, especially noblemen who were close to the Queen, could say and do and it was commonplace to "hide" the true identity of people and send secret messages in code in tht period. This was especially true regarding the code because the "fair youth" referred to in the sonnets was a man and these are very obviously love poems and it would have been unacceptable for a member of the Court to declare his love for another man, so his identity and the recipients of the sonnets identity was hidden in code which Bond has discovered and reveals in the book.

Mark Rylance and Charles Beauclerk have endorsed the book.

It would be great if you could put something about the book on your fantastic blog. My email is caroline@carolinecomms.com, it would be great to hear from you and I'll send you a press release.

Peter said...

You said... This is, unfortunately, a microcosm of the state of the authorship debate today. We want to talk evidence, and they want to fling mud.

The problem my own experience has revealed is that a chance to "talk evidence" offered by anyone other than Stratfordians (by me for example) has Oxfordians heading for the hills.

I have recently offered what I believe to be fairly powerful evidence against the Oxfordian claim (see my essays "Oxfordians and the 1604 Question", "Questions that Oxfordians Must Answer" and "The Wrong Candidate?" all featured or linked to in the "Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection" blog at http://marlowe-shakespeare.blogspot.com/). Yet the discussion both on the blog itself and at the Shakespeare Fellowship forum (http://tinyurl.com/y9otlfp) has been very disappointing, as you may see.

I do understand that the mere sight of a graph sends all sorts of otherwise quite sensible people into a decline, but I would have hoped that someone with a Masters in astrophysics might have less trouble! I would therefore be delighted if you'd take a look.

Peter Farey

後來 said...
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Mark said...

Good point, JHM. The authorship has had no shortage of mud kicked up throughout its history.

Caroline: I would direct readers interested in Mr. Bond's book to what I take to be the press release to which you refer: http://is.gd/5dBYX

Peter: I've seen your blog posts before, yes. No one is running for the hills here. My first reaction is I hope you appreciate the deep irony of a Marlovian lecturing Oxfordians about chronology problems.

Second, in putting forth what your blog claims are "Questions All Oxfordians Must Answer," you should know they were answered before you even started the Marlowe-Shakespeare blog last year. Your Questions are recycled versions of Elliot and Valenza's computer stylometric studies of the 1990s, ones which Richard Whalen and John Shahan capably answered in their article “Apples to Oranges in Bard Stylometrics.” (The Oxfordian: IX, 2006)

A few googles turned up at least the first few paragraphs of Whalen and Shahan's article http://is.gd/5dCPc

I wish it were available in a more mainstream journal. But as you no doubt know from personal experience, the moment you say "Will was no Shake-speare" is the moment the editors of the big journals stop replying to your emails.

Peter said...

Mark said...
Peter: I've seen your blog posts before, yes. No one is running for the hills here. My first reaction is I hope you appreciate the deep irony of a Marlovian lecturing Oxfordians about chronology problems.

Yes indeed. The rhetorical tu quoque is always handy. And should you ever want to discuss where my case for Marlowe's surviving 1593 goes wrong (e.g. see the latest issue of The Oxfordian) I'd be only too delighted.

Mark said...
Second, in putting forth what your blog claims are "Questions All Oxfordians Must Answer," you should know they were answered before you even started the Marlowe-Shakespeare blog last year. Your Questions are recycled versions of Elliot and Valenza's computer stylometric studies of the 1990s, ones which Richard Whalen and John Shahan capably answered in their article "Apples to Oranges in Bard Stylometrics." (The Oxfordian: IX, 2006)

Thanks for reminding me, Mark. The article is online at http://tinyurl.com/ya6tuca
but has no more to say about the questions I posed than anything written by Elliott and Valenza ever did. Their whole approach, and Shahan and Whalen's response, is to do with a comparison of the styles of Oxford and Shakespeare. Mine says nothing at all about this, but concerns the way in which line endings changed over the period in question and the impact this change appears to me to have on the Oxfordian theory.

Seriously, I would really like to know either where my approach is wrong (as Paul Crowley keeps on claiming) or how you would answer those two questions of mine.

Thanks for responding, though.

Peter F.

Peter said...

Mark said...
My first reaction is I hope you appreciate the deep irony of a Marlovian lecturing Oxfordians about chronology problems.

Just another thought on this, if I may?

I don't really see myself as "lecturing" anyone. When I say that these are "Questions All Oxfordians Must Answer" I am saying that they are ones which really cannot be avoided, just as the question of how Marlowe would have been able to write the works when all the evidence says he was dead is one that supporters of the Marlovian theory simply cannot avoid.

Yet despite my having first pointed this issue out to some Oxfordians (not you, I know) quite a long time ago, not one of them has apparently made any attempt to deal with it. And I think you must accept that your Appendix C on "The 1604 Question" doesn't really address this sort of question either?

Peter F.

Mark said...

Peter: I cannot answer for any other Oxfordian than myself. For my part, I _do_ think it's an important point to remind readers that Marlovians have, by virtue of denying the records of their candidate's death, effectively given themselves the liberty of being able to cherry-pick the date of their man's "real" death. An enviable place to be in, I'm sure.

Second, to be frank, this latest use of Elloitt & Valenza's data wields numbers and graphs, I think, more to impress than to elucidate. Strip away the technical jargon and scatter plots and one finds something that's actually quite unoriginal and can be easily said without any graphs, charts or equations: The maturation of Shakespeare's voice can, in part, be seen as going from a rigid adherence to iambic pentameter (early style) to an occasional loosening of iambic pentameter's bounds (late style).

This is an unsurprising result. In even less technical terms, it's tantamount to saying the author became increasingly familiar and comfortable with his form as he matured.

The lengthy posts and plots that I've seen so far -- those Questions All Oxfordians Must Answer -- seem to me to be readily summarized by the above statement with the added twist of a red herring known as Francis Meres.

Stratfordians canonize Meres because he's just about the only thing of any substance that they have from the 1590s. But any careful, objective analysis of Meres (e.g. here) reveals just what an unreliable and questionable witness his book is. I'll excerpt a few grafs about Meres from "Shakespeare" By Another Name in a separate post.

The take-away, though, is that Meres tells us very little of significance about the Shakespeare chronology. His mention of a dozen Shakespeare plays in 1598, of course, means those plays must have been performed or printed by then. But Meres' lack of mention of a play tells us nothing. It may have been written by 1598, it may not have. Meres was not in a position to know or likely even care.

Cut the E&V data away from the Meres moorings, and you have a floating sea of mostly extraneous information concerning a canon that could be fit entirely within the lifetime of an author who died in 1604. Or not.

The data, in other words, yields the null conclusion. I'm sorry. But it fails to impress me as anything anyone has to answer -- Stratfordians, Oxfordians or otherwise.

Mark said...

from pp. 306-7 of "Shakespeare" By Another Name

In the fall of [1598], [publisher Cuthbert] Burby published another book crucial to the genesis of Shake-speare. This one was approved by the state censors. The prelate Francis Meres’s Palladis Tamia...: A Treasury of Divine, Moral and Philosophical Similes and Sentences, Generally Useful (1598) served as something of a Farmer’s Almanac for the educated and well-to-do Londoner.

One chapter of Palladis Tamia gathers an assortment of 16th century English literary criticism, drawing heavily from the anonymous 1589 book The Arte of English Poesie -- the one that praised de Vere’s skills as a comic playwright and secret court poet. Meres makes slavish analogies between the ancients and the latter-day English writers. For instance:

As the Greek tongue is made famous and eloquent by Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Pindarus, Phocylides and Aristophanes and the Latin tongue by Virgil, Ovid, Horace... [etc.] so the English tongue is mightily enriched and gorgeously invested in rare ornaments and resplendent habiliments by Sir Philip Sidney, [Edmund] Spenser, [Samuel] Daniel, [Michael] Drayton, [W.] Warner, Shakespeare, [Christopher] Marlowe and [George] Chapman.

In the words of Don Cameron Allen, the editor of the modern edition of Meres’ treatise, Palladis Tamia’s chapter on poetry is “pseudo-erudition and bluff.” Meres’ compilation would never merit consideration today were it not for one additional fact: Palladis Tamia is the first book of literary criticism that mentioned Shake-speare as a dramatist.


As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare: Witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugared sonnets among his private friends, &c.
As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage: Witness for comedy Gentlemen of Verona, Errors, Love’s Labor’s Lost, Love’s Labor’s Won, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merchant of Venice. For tragedy: Richard the 2, Richard the 3, Henry the 4, King John, Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet.


This list of eleven Shake-speare plays plus the mysterious “Love’s Labor’s Won,” like the “upstart crow” passage in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, is in practically every Shake-speare textbook ever written.

Orthodox scholars treat the above passage as if it were a comprehensive listing of the entirety of the Shake-speare canon in 1598 -- as if plays that Meres did not mention must ipso facto have been written sometime after Meres’s book was published.

Yet by 1598, the poet Michael Drayton had written at least nine works; Meres neglects to mention four of them. More generally, Meres was hardly in a position to make original observations about any author. Meres’s treatise on poetry was only one small part of a 700-page book. As Meres’s modern editor has demonstrated, Meres’s classical quotes came from a quotation dictionary; his information about classical and neo-classical authors came from a schoolboy’s textbook; practically every statement Meres made about an English author came from another critic; and Meres doesn’t seem to have minded that inevitable clashes of opinion and fact arose from his multiple and conflicting sources.

Peter said...

Mark: Thanks for your comments.

My words were: "Seriously, I would really like to know either where my approach is wrong (as Paul Crowley keeps on claiming) or how you would answer those two questions of mine."

The two questions are:

1) As most Oxfordians claim that the majority of Shakespeare’s plays had been written by 1598, what explanation would you give for Meres including in his list, published that year, only those with the lowest frequency of open lines and feminine endings?

2) As the use of open lines and feminine endings is no longer of any real significance in the way plays are dated by Shakespearean scholars, what explanation would you give for all 11 plays given a "post-1604" date by Elliott and Valenza appearing among the 13 plays with the highest usage rates?

You already knew that Shakespeare's voice went "from a rigid adherence to iambic pentameter (early style) to an occasional loosening of iambic pentameter's bounds (late style)," and say you needed no graphs or tabulations of mine come from the grave to tell you this. You must also be numerate enough to know that neither of those two phenomena identified in my questions can have happened by chance. You cannot therefore claim not to have understood precisely what I was asking in each case.

I therefore think I can understand the reason for your refusal to address either of them, and assume that anyone else reading your response will (if able to look at it in an unbiased way) have no trouble in understanding it either. Just as long as you understand it too, I'll be quite satisfied, and will leave you in peace (for now!) :o)

Peter F.

Mark said...

One last go-round and I hope we can leave it at what's been said, Peter:

1) Meres is, I think I've established pretty well in the above, not an authority on literary matters in his time. "Pseudo-erudition and bluff" is Don C. Allen's description of Meres' literary statements from his thorough study of Meres' book. It's practically a foregone conclusion -- given how little if any original work he did -- that Meres drew considerably from older sources for his statements about literary figures and their works. (One of his main sources, though certainly not for the list of Shakespeare plays, dates to 1589.) So if there's an inherent lag time built in to Meres, one would a priori expect Meres to be naming "early" Shakespeare plays -- those that would display that more rigid adherence to iambic pentameter.

2) Again, big picture: We have simply a canon of works that whatever its date of composition evolves from an "early" style (strict iambic pentameter adherence) to a "late" style (occasional breakings of iambic pentameter meter).

I don't think it's a controversial statement to claim that whoever wrote these works was one of the most innovative poetic and dramatic minds of all time. He (whoever one thinks "he" was) was perfectly capable of evolving and maturing out of the more slavish devotion to strict iambic pentameter and into a more comfortable form that broke the rules from time to time. He didn't need coaxing from peers, colleagues or others to do that.

All these unnecessary graphs and charts are, again, simply restating (and, to my mind, often obfuscating) the otherwise uninteresting point that "Shakespeare"'s voice matured as time went on. His earlier stuff held tighter to accepted forms; his later stuff didn't.

Strip away the (to some) intimidating charts and graphs and technocratic mumbo-jumbo, and what is left? It's really not much. A canon that has a general pattern, identified above, that allows one to date one play relative to another. And no definitive means of establishing absolute dates of composition.

So we're back to where we started: A canon in chronological limbo.

The Questions All Oxfordians Must Answer is a dish full of red herrings. Caveat emptor.

Peter said...

Mark: The only red herrings I see are your apparent antipathy to information presented graphically, and the question of Meres's competence as a commentator, neither of which has any relevance to the essentially statistical point being made.

Your answer to my questions is apparently that the whole canon was written in a sufficiently similar order to the orthodox one to maintain the trend, only a few years earlier, and that Meres's list is not the impediment to such a suggestion that I say it is.

I find the logic of this very difficult to understand. Let me explain.

The plays in Meres's list either were or were not known to be in Lord Hunsden's (later the Lord Chamberlain's) Men's repertoire at the time they were listed.

If they were in the repertoire, they would according to your answer have been accompanied by such other plays as Merry Wives, 2 Henry IV, Julius Caesar, Much Ado, Henry V, As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelth Night, Troilus & Cressida, Measure for Measure, All's Well That Ends Well and maybe even Othello. In this case, therefore, how does one explain Meres selecting only those with the lowest rate of open and feminine endings, and ignoring the far better examples of both comedy and tragedy in their repertoire?

If they were not in the repertoire, and bearing in mind the complete lack of any evidence of a William Shakespeare associated with the theatre before 1594 (and the examples of the "missing" Shrew and Henry VI plays), how would he have known or expected others to have known that they were written by "Shakespeare"?

Peter F.