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An excellent book about the Shakespeare authorship controversy, which was a topic I once wasted quite a lot of online time on (between about 2000 and 2004). Shapiro is not really writing about the balance of evidence on either side, though he makes it clear that his sympathies are with the Stratford man rather than with Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford. His subject is more an attempt to work out why various highly regarded intellects (Mark Twain and Helen Keller for Bacon, Sigmund Freud for Oxford) should be attracted by such peculiar theories. His answer is that, for Twain and Freud in particular, it was emotionally important to see the plays and sonnets as autobiographical and revealing of their author's state of mind, even though this is completely anachronistic in terms of how Shakespeare and his contemporaries wrote and thought about writing.

The grand Oxford conspiracy theory (which in its wilder variations has the Earl as both son and lover of Queen Elizabeth, as well as being the author of the works of Shakespeare, Marlowe and many more) then happened to hit the Zeitgeist of the last few decades, when we have learned that governments often do lie to us about more important issues than who wrote a play, and questioning received wisdom has become habitual.

Finally, Shapiro points out that Shakespeare's claim to sole authorship of all the plays is no longer accepted by mainstream scholars, in that several of the plays are in fact collaborations (with Fletcher, Middleton, Wilkins and Peele; and he omits Kyd and Edward III). The idea that even a small part of Shakespeare might not be by Shakespeare was heretical until surprisingly recently. But real research, unlike Oxfordianism or Baconianism, moves on.

A good book to read as I crystallize my own biographical endeavours.

Comments

( 64 comments — Leave a comment )
unwholesome_fen
Mar. 29th, 2011 06:28 pm (UTC)
I think there was also a pendulum swing in reaction to what is sometimes termed bardolatry in the 18th and 19th centuries.
wshaffer
Mar. 29th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
That sounds interesting - I've always been a lot more fascinated by why people feel so compelled to attribute Shakespeare's plays to someone else than by any of the actual theories about alternative attribution. (When I was in college the current Earl of Oxford visited and gave a lecture making the case for his illustrious forbear. I wasn't overly impressed, although I was probably heavily influenced by the fact that several of my professors were obviously unimpressed.)

How much detail does Shapiro go into about the collaborations? I've read a little Middleton and bit more Shakespeare, and I'd love to see someone try to unpick which parts of their collaborations were by whom. (Possibly a vain endeavor, but I'd still like to see it.)
nwhyte
Mar. 29th, 2011 07:43 pm (UTC)
Shapiro doesn't go into the full detail of the collaborations, but he gives enough detail to make one curious for more, and indeed gives the impression that there is a fairly strong scholarly consensus about which bits are by whom (I suspect it may not be quite as cut and dried). In most cases the honours are fairly even between Shakespeare and the other author.
(no subject) - gareth_rees - Mar. 30th, 2011 09:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nwhyte - Mar. 30th, 2011 11:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - londonkds - Mar. 30th, 2011 11:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gareth_rees - Mar. 30th, 2011 07:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nickbarnes - Apr. 1st, 2011 08:58 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - unwholesome_fen - Mar. 30th, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
nickbarnes
Mar. 29th, 2011 11:03 pm (UTC)
What biographical endeavours?
nwhyte
Mar. 30th, 2011 11:06 am (UTC)
spikewriter
Mar. 30th, 2011 02:13 am (UTC)
I thought it was amusing to discover that the Humanist Society fractured over the authorship question at one point. Greatly enjoyed this.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 31st, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC)
Fantasy not genius
Concluding that a man who had little or no education, whose children were illiterate, who never left any writing other than six unreadable signatures with his name spelled differently in each one, who never traveled outside of London, who spent much time and effort engaging in petty lawsuits, who could not read books in French, Italian, or Spanish yet used untranslated materials as his sources, who never left any books in his will, who left no letters, no correspondence, who did not elicit a single eulogy at his death is about one word and it’s not genius. The word is: FANTASY
nwhyte
Mar. 31st, 2011 07:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Fantasy not genius
Wow. A brilliant illustration of the fantasies of the Oxfordian/Baconian crowd.
Re: Fantasy not genius - (Anonymous) - Mar. 31st, 2011 11:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fantasy not genius - nwhyte - Apr. 1st, 2011 05:39 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fantasy not genius - matgb - Apr. 1st, 2011 02:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fantasy not genius - nwhyte - Apr. 2nd, 2011 08:13 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fantasy not genius - (Anonymous) - Apr. 21st, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fantasy not genius - nwhyte - Apr. 22nd, 2011 06:27 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fantasy not genius - nickbarnes - Apr. 1st, 2011 09:02 am (UTC) - Expand
hschumann
Apr. 1st, 2011 02:49 am (UTC)
Incongruous
I hear about so much evidence for the man from Stratford being the author, but I have never seen it. Check the following categories with what is known by lesser writers of the period and it becomes incongruous that the greatest writer in the English language would have none of the following records:

1. Evidence of education - None
2. Record of correspondence, especially concerning literary matters.- None
3. Evidence of having been paid to write. - None
4. Evidence of a direct relationship with a patron. - None
5. Extant original manuscript - None
6. Handwritten inscriptions, receipts, letters, etc., touching on literary matters.- None
7. Commendatory verses, epistles, or epigrams contributed or received.- None
8. Miscellaneous records (e.g., referred to personally as a writer. - None
9. Evidence of books owned, written in, borrowed, or given.- None
10. Notice at death as a writer. - None
nwhyte
Apr. 1st, 2011 05:47 am (UTC)
Re: Incongruous
I hope Alan Nelson will not mind my cutting and pasting his response to this list, generated by Diana Price and used by you here without attribution:
Since I don't have the patience to go into every tired but discredited argument, every instance of special pleading, and every incorrect statement or overlooked document in her book, I will simply give my own answers to Price's list of "paper-trail" topics:
  1. Evidence of Education: Yes. Since his father was an alderman and burgess of Stratford, Shakespeare would certainly have attended the school at Stratford which was given active support by the aldermen and burgesses of Stratford for the education of their sons...
  2. Record of correspondence, especially concerning literary matters: Yes, a letter was addressed to Shakespeare by Richard Quiney (1598). (The letter is not about literature, and therefore does not qualify for Price's "especially" clause, but it does indicate that Mr. William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon was capable of reading a letter addressed to him and was thus literate).
  3. Evidence of having been paid to write: Yes. The fact that he dedicated a second book to the Earl of Southampton is evidence that he received a reward for having written the first; moreover, he was paid for an impresa in 1613, clearly as an author, since Burbage was a painter and would have done the artwork...
  4. Evidence of a direct relationship with a patron: Yes, the Earl of Southampton.
  5. Extant original manuscript: Yes, if Hand D in The Book of Sir Thomas More is his.
  6. Handwritten inscriptions, receipts, letters, etc., touching on literary matters. Yes. In a sense this category merely repeats "Record of correspondence" above. But a letter survives in the hand of Leonard Digges, who in 1613 compared the sonnets of Lope de Vega to those of "our Will Shakespeare" - notice the use of the familiar "Will" by a close neighbor of Shakespeare's in both Aldermarston and in London.
  7. Commendatory verses, epistles, or epigrams contributed or received: Yes, first and foremost in the First Folio, but also in numerous contemporary manuscripts and printed books.
  8. Miscellaneous records (e.g., referred to personally as a writer): Yes, many such records in print, including Meres (1598) who reports that Shakespeare's sonnets were circulating among his private friends (an astonishingly personalized revelation!), and Thomas Heywood's reference (1612) to Shakespeare's being upset over a book of poems published by Jaggard.
  9. Evidence of books owned, written in, borrowed, or given: Yes, possibly, in a book now at Stratford and in another at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. (This category perhaps deserves a blank, but it does not merit a positive "No.")
  10. Notice at death as a writer: Yes, positively and abundantly, in a poem written by William Basse; the literary allusions (including to Virgil) in the Funeral Monument; and above all in the First Folio, which is the greatest tribute to a recently-deceased writer in all of English literature.

You will note, if you have read Price's book with care, how hard she has worked to discount all evidence which could possibly contribute to a "Yes" response for Shakespeare in any of her categories. In fact, the selective demolition of evidence is what her entire book is about. If Price had worked with equal diligence to discredit the evidence which applies to other writers of the period, she would have succeeded in reducing all historical evidence of any kind whatsoever to utter meaninglessness. Fortunately, all one has to do is to watch for Price's instances of special pleading, dismiss any associated arguments, and let the documentation which survives this exercise speak for itself.
I urge you to also check the records of any other writer of the period and try to get an appreciation of how lucky we are that anything at all in any of these categories survives for any of them.

Edited at 2011-04-01 05:48 am (UTC)
Re: Incongruous - peterbirks - Apr. 1st, 2011 12:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Incongruous - matgb - Apr. 1st, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Incongruous - hschumann - Apr. 1st, 2011 07:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Incongruous - nwhyte - Apr. 1st, 2011 08:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Re: Incongruous - (Anonymous) - Apr. 19th, 2011 11:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Re: Incongruous - nwhyte - Apr. 20th, 2011 07:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
hschumann
Apr. 1st, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
The big picture
I don't have the time or energy to devote to any more fruitless discussions. Like most Stratfordians, you have an answer for everything, whether it offends logic and common sense or not.

My suggestion to you is look at the big picture: the evidence of the aristocratic bent of the plays, the fact that the poems and plays mirror events in Oxford's life, the incongruity that the greatest writer in the English language would leave his daughters illiterate, the Sonnets about shame and disgrace to name and reputation that leave Shakespeare's biographers with nothing to go on, and the almost complete lack of documentation that William of Stratford ever wrote anything.

"Denial, ridicule and entrenched belief systems are extremely potent defenders of the status quo."

nwhyte
Apr. 1st, 2011 10:50 pm (UTC)
Re: The big picture
I do actually have questions as well as answers. My questions include:

Can you find a single example of this list of ten criteria being used outside the so-called Shakespeare authorship debate?

Who paid Oxford to write?

Who was Oxford's patron? And what is the evidence for that?

Where are the original Oxford play scripts?

What did Oxford's obituarists say about his writing?

Let the record show that I did my best to answer your questions, but you responded to mine with precisely the sort of psychological fantasy that Shapiro dissects so well in his book, referring also to a supposed "lack of documentation" - as if the man's name did not inconveniently appear on all those title pages.

Incidentally I love the way you put that final sentence in quotation marks, in order to give the impression that you are quoting someone other than yourself.
Re: The big picture - hschumann - Apr. 2nd, 2011 12:18 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: The big picture - nwhyte - Apr. 2nd, 2011 07:55 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: The big picture - hschumann - Apr. 2nd, 2011 01:16 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: The big picture - nwhyte - Apr. 2nd, 2011 07:56 am (UTC) - Expand
altariel
Apr. 2nd, 2011 09:03 am (UTC)
With notably rare exceptions, Shakespeare couldn't write.

Edited at 2011-04-02 09:06 am (UTC)
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nwhyte
May. 1st, 2011 08:12 am (UTC)
Re: On-going Discussion is Bogging Down
Thanks for your comments. As noted above I have unfortunately lost my own copy of the book. But on the first and third points, I don't think you represent Shapiro fairly. On the first point, my memory is that he doesn't claim scholarly priority for solving the Wilmot-Cowell forgery, he is writing more about how he discovered it for himself.

Your third point is an obvious straw man. You criticise Shapiro for not coming to a conclusion with which you disagree; the poor guy can't win. As for evidence of collaboration, for The Two Noble Kinsmen at least there is the title page.

On hyphenation, while I am uninformed about the specifics of Venus and Adonis, I have read enough original material from the period to know that there is absolutely no story there; sometimes long names get hyphenated, sometimes they don't. I don't buy the argument that slugs to space the letters are the obvious solution for the printer either; no doubt some printers might use them, but that makes two words out of one which is a step too far for most people. Kathman and Ross summarise the evidence of hyphenation well here; they conclude that "there is no evidence to support the Oxfordian assertion that the occasional hyphenation of the name Shakespeare means that people thought of it as a pseudonym. Real names were occasionally hyphenated when they could be divided into two parts; the same is true of fictitious names. The best-known pseudonym of the time, Martin Marprelate, was only occasionally hyphenated, while names of several real people (such as Charles Fitz-geffrey and Robert Walde-grave) were hyphenated with great regularity." To demonstrate that it matters, you need to be able to show a strong correlation between hyphentaion and pseudonyms, and you can't.

Edited at 2011-05-01 08:43 am (UTC)
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Re: On-going Discussion is Bogging Down - nwhyte - May. 2nd, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(Anonymous)
Aug. 9th, 2011 07:36 pm (UTC)
Contested Will
Nicholas,since you've misplaced your copy of "Contested Will",I won't plague you with the difference between Shapiro's twaddle and what you believe that he is twaddling about.However,Harold has recently announced that he regards "The Lodger" which is about Shakspere among the pimps and whores as the way to go.
The trail blazer on Shakspere as pimp was former Harvard professor Alden Brooks in three trail blazing works "Will Shakspere,Factotum and Agent,","Will Shakspere and the Dyer's Hand" and "The Other Side of Shakespeare".The first of these was selected by the New York Times in 1937 as one of the two best books on Shakespeare of the year and it is delightful to find "real research" finally catching up with Brooks(and John Michell and me)on two sets of documents which have been available since 1910 and circa 1930.In fact these are the only two documentary discoveries about Shakspere since the nineteenth century and both link him squarely to the skin trade.He trafficked in both young mistresses and aging geniuses.
Your former colleagues in intellectual mayhem over at the HLAS Shakespeare Authorship blog were still in a state of denial about this a couple of years back.But with Shapiro throwing his weight behind it,they will probably come around.
nwhyte
Aug. 9th, 2011 11:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Contested Will
I don't know who you are (or who 'Harold' is). Thanks for alerting me to the works of Alden Brooks, though I think you have mis-spelt their titles. Do you agree with him that the true author was the obscure Sir Edward Dyer?
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