Friday, August 07, 2009

Order in the Courthouse: The Wrath of Kahn

The legal newswire syndicate Courthouse News Service today ran a column taking on the Oxfordians and "Shakespeare" By Another Name in particular. And while I try to resist the temptation of answering critics at every turn, this particular columnist -- Robert Kahn -- cranked out some factually dubious and just-plain-untrue statements that deserved some kind of recognition.

Kahn leads off his opening argument with the remark that "[Oxfordian] U.S. Supreme Court Justice... John Paul Stevens doesn't know Shakespeare from a goose."

Attempting to correct the record, Kahn goes on to goose up some of his own Shakespearean claims. "We know that Shakespeare acted in Macbeth before King James II [sic]," Kahn says. (There actually are no records of any performance of Macbeth for the first King James. A restoration version of the Scots play may have been performed for James II, but unless Kahn's Bard was also a vampire, it's unlikely that the 123-year-old Stratford actor would have been doing much when the restoration Macbeth treaded the boards c. 1687.)

We also know, Kahn says, "that someone knocked out 'the Scottish play' in a few weeks especially for the new king, who liked ghost stories."

Um... nice try. James I may have liked ghost stories, but the other bit about the Scots play isn't true either.

A few potshots ensue about SBAN and the "dreck" of de Vere's early song lyrics. (I'd be curious to know if the columnist has read any great authors' juvenilia, such as the Bronte sisters' none-too-soaring early works.)

But then come Kahn's two real howlers. First that Mark Twain only believed that "someone else wrote Shakespeare -- who also happened to be named William Shakespeare." (Yours truly, Kahn says, "cheats" by supposedly falsely stating that Twain was an anti-Stratfordian.)

Again: Wow. Kahn is just plain wrong. He seems to be a witty guy who might enjoy a good read. Mark Twain's 1909 anti-Stratfordian opus Is Shakespeare Dead? comes highly recommended.

Last but not least, Kahn states that SBAN is itself fundamentally flawed, because, "The notion that the man who may have been the greatest creative genius the world has ever known would spend his old age rewriting his old plays over and over, after they already had been acted, is psychologically ridiculous."

"A creative genius," he says, "does not spend his old age polishing up stuff he wrote as a pup."

By way of counter-example, one might point the wayward jurist in the direction of a man who in fact did just that. Many consider the man to be a "creative genius." Some, in fact, consider the man to be the closest America has ever come to our own Shakespeare.

Whatever the case, this "creative genius" did spend his latter years, into old age, revising and re-revising his own masterwork.

His name was Walt Whitman.

And bonus round, Mr. Kahn: Whitman was an anti-Stratfordian too.

[Creative Commons image by Thomas Roche]


Lee said...

Hi Mark,
FYI the below url goes to the Hampton Court portrait of Shakespeare in The Royal Collection. (I finally got a curator to locate it for me.) You describe this portrait in your book regarding, I believe, de Vere's desire to promote himself as a general. You'll note the impressive sword (of state?) has now disappeared entirely from the portrait while under royal care.

Lee said...

After I wrote them my concerns, the Royal Collection agreed to x-ray the Hampton Court Portrait of Shakespeare in September. Sometimes you just gotta ask. Mr. Barrell would be pleased.

Michael Prescott said...

Excellent demolition of Kahn's absurd article. It amazes me that someone who obviously knows next to nothing about the issue would write about it for publication.

Kahn tells another whopper: "Nor do we know why Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth herself and everyone else who the Shakespeare-deniers prefer never claimed credit for any of his plays or sonnets."

Actually we know - or can easily surmise - precisely why Oxford never claimed credit, as SBAN makes clear. Did Kahn even read the book?

Mark said...

Hello, Malvolio, Michael.

Taking the comments in reverse order... Michael, thank you, and you do make a good point that the "why" question is addressed in my book. I should note, to be fair, though, that the "why" question is also one of the toughest ones, imo, that Oxfordians have to deal with. We're still a long way from a complete answer. Although I think it begins with the factors I outline in SBAN: politics, prestige, shame and scandal -- rough hew them how we will.

Malvolio: I have to say I'm still quite skeptical of your claims of Edward de Vere as the original sitter for a number of the portraits you've now blogged about. The two de Vere portraits that are pretty widely considered to be authentic are the Wellbeck, painted in 1575 and the Gheeraedts, thought to be painted sometime in the 1590s or early 1600s. But even the Gheeradets has its doubers. (The argument goes that the costuming is antiquated and so even though the painting itself says "17th Earl of Oxford," it may actually be of Edward's father the 16th earl.) I'm not particularly persuaded by that argument, but there it is.

The Ashbourne portrait, which is the other half of the book cover of "Shakespeare" By Another Name (the Wellbeck being the first half), has a long history [PDF] of scholarship [PDF] -- throughout which the resemblance of the sitter is only one component of the argument for de Vere.

Check out those links above. That's a lot closer to meeting the standard of proof that a rigorous claim of discovering a new Edward de Vere portrait would need to withstand.

Mark said...

PS, Malvoio -- If I had to wager for de Vere as the sitter in just one of the portraits you've blogged about, it'd be the Elizabethan sitter in a "Henry IV" costume. (One that I've wondered over myself for years.) That one, especially, I think, deserves a lot more serious attention and hard work.

Of course, it's tantalizing to consider the possibility of firmly establishing (again, not just via facial resemblance but also provenance, scientific/forensic tests, etc.) that Edward de Vere had his picture painted when he was dressed in a, oh-say, theatrical costume of Henry IV?? Wouldn't that be interesting....

Thomism said...

"While the skill that marks the author's later work is evident in the unfinished novella, Gallix says that The Empty Chair is not easily identifiable as a work by [Graham] Greene. (This fact was borne out in December, when The Times of London published the first chapter of the manuscript without a byline — accompanied by a challenge to readers to identify the unnamed author. Three experts weighed in, and none of them guessed Greene.)"

So the experts could not identify an early work of the author as his own. Sound like anyone else we know?