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View Full Version : Anti-Stratfordians vs Stradfordians -- Shakespeare studies' creationists



ColoradoGuy
05-06-2010, 05:55 AM
The desire of people to attribute Shakespeare's plays to somebody besides a simple glover's son from the Midlands is an old one. The usual justification was/is that such a person could not possibly have possessed the subtle insights and knowledge to write such astonishing plays. It's fundamentally a class bias argument. There's an interesting recent review here (http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/tls_selections/literature_and_criticism/article7103578.ece) in the Times Literary Supplement about the historiography of the argument. It's not so much about the question itself, but rather why the question has been so persistently asked. The author of the review makes an interesting comparison to the debate over creationism -- that something so wonderful, so subtle, as Shakespeare's plays must, by definition, be the product of a higher intelligence. And the call for a "fair debate" by the anti-Stratfordians (as they are called) vexes mainstream literary scholars in the same way that creationists vex evolutionary biologists.

One tidbit I did not know is that Freud was a confirmed anti-Stratfordian, using Hamlet (as a variety of Oedipal drama) as his principal evidence.

Interesting essay.

the addster
05-06-2010, 05:28 PM
Yes, very interesting.

I've been seeing this debate bubbling back up here and there recently. I'd like to read Shapiro's take on the history.

I'm no expert, but I've always thought that Willie wrote them all.

Medievalist
05-06-2010, 10:06 PM
Shapiro's Contested Will looks at the reasons behind the question--as he puts it "about when and why many people began to question whether William Shakespeare wrote the plays long attributed to him, and, if he didn't write them, who did?"

As soon as my review is posted, I'll add a link, but I like Shapiro's take quite a lot.

That said, the arguments against "the man from Stratford" are all based on class, and they're primarily made by people who, while they've read Shakespeare a lot, and the work of whatever alternate candidate they have in mind, they haven't read deeply in Elizabethan and Jacobean texts.

Nor do they deal with all the references and knowledge displayed about glove making, and grain-dealing, two occupations that William's father engaged in quite successfully.

Nor do they explain why, if class means that "the man from Stratford" can't be the author of Shakespeare's works, why aren't the writers who have artistocratic backgrounds and fine educations perceived, even in their own lifetimes, as "as good as" if not "better" or more popular than Shakespeare?

Phillip Sidney, for instance, or John Donne, should be more successful, now, and then, than they were.

Over and over again, they bring up two issues: education, and social rank, arguing that "the Stratford man" lacked basics of both.

I note that he would have received an education that was quite good at the Stratford grammar school, including a great deal of basic Latin, and a grounding in rhetorical commonplaces.

There's a reason you see Beatrice and Benedict mocking texts like "A Hundred Merry Tales." It's because they were widely available, and very successful. You didn't have to be a Milton to be considered well-read, and the poet and playwright is clearly well-versed in the commonplaces, the "Readers Digest Condensed" versions of what was the canon for his era.

They also never note that the playwright is equally well-versed with the modes of the lower-classes, but don't seem to be troubled by the inability of Bacon, or the Earl of Oxford to cope with them.

Except for a few bits by other playwrights, I'm firmly convinced that William Shakepeare is the son of well-to-do litigious gentleman farmer and glover from Stratford Upon Avon, and author of the poems and plays of Shakespeare.

Medievalist
05-06-2010, 10:08 PM
One tidbit I did not know is that Freud was a confirmed anti-Stratfordian, using Hamlet (as a variety of Oedipal drama) as his principal evidence.

Via Ernest Jones who tells us more about his and Freud's obsessions in their reading of Hamlet than about Hamlet or Shakespeare.

I note that one of the problems with Looney, Twain, and Freud's examination of the plays as "evidence" is that they keep misreading the plays at the level of language.

ColoradoGuy
05-06-2010, 10:35 PM
The comment trail to the TLS piece is interesting. The Marlowe-wrote-the-plays flying squad is there in force, plus one de Vere disciple (thus far).

Medievalist
05-06-2010, 10:39 PM
The comment trail to the TLS piece is interesting. The Marlowe-wrote-the-plays flying squad is there in force.

He's the only potentially viable alternate, but aside from the "he's dead, Jim" problem, the styles of the two are markedly different.

They are emphatically not the same person. (But damn, I'd like to go to a bar with the two of them!)

I note, by the way, that modern text analysis via computer pattern comparisons confirms that with the exception of specific passages, Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

Medievalist
05-07-2010, 12:28 AM
My review of James Shapiro's Contested Will (http://english-bookclub.com/news/contested-will-james-shapiro).

ColoradoGuy
05-07-2010, 12:44 AM
Very nice. Thanks.

robeiae
05-07-2010, 07:37 PM
Freud is an Austrian. Enough said.

There are so many wonderfully perceptive broadsides and the like that emanated from the "lower" classes in the 16th and 17th centuries that the entire argument for another author seems silly to me.

ColoradoGuy
05-07-2010, 10:58 PM
Freud is an Austrian. Enough said.
Thankfully, not an Austrian economist.

But yes, argument is silly. There are other examples closer to home of how a relatively poorly-schooled person can write extraordinarily eloquently -- Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas are two examples I can think of offhand.

ColoradoGuy
05-11-2010, 07:33 AM
And now the New York Review of Books has a review up of Shapiro's book. You can read it here (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/may/27/plotting-against-stratford-man/).

Mac H.
05-11-2010, 11:21 AM
The other non-class argument I've seen against Shakespeare is also bizarrely ludicrous.

People go through the plays and try and decide why he chose to do a romance at that time, and tragedy at another - and then horrified to find that it doesn't match times that Shakespeare would have been inclined to write on those subjects.

It seems to be the equivalent of saying that a successful TV writer was doing Westerns in the 1960s and Buddy Cop dramas in the 1970s ... so must have a deep emotional reason to do with hating horses and finding a buddy on the 1st January 1970.

Put in those terms - it is bizarre. Yet people do it - they seem to think that everything a popular writer creates is entirely driven by their subconscious and would *NEVER* be to do with popular tastes at the time !

It's the kind of inane conclusion that Freud came to with 'Little Hans'. A four year old kid sees a massive horse panic and bite someone - yet Freud came to the conclusion that the kid's fear of horses had nothing to do with that - but was a subtle psychological reason to do with jealousy of his sister and wanting to replace his father and bonk his mother!!!

Sometimes writing for an audience is just writing for an audience.

Mac

Ruv Draba
05-12-2010, 12:16 PM
I've always felt that even if it wasn't Shakespeare who wrote Shakespeare, it was probably someone else of that name.

Rufus Coppertop
05-22-2010, 07:43 PM
Why do people assume his education was sub standard? What about books?

It's known that he used Holinshed's Chronicles for Macbeth at least.

Why assume that he stopped learning when he left the Stratford grammar school? Don't these someone-else-did-it people imagine that a person can continue to educate themselves by reading?

And do you have to be born into the aristocracy to have insight into human nature?

AgentJade
05-24-2010, 07:33 AM
Thanks for sharing the reviews — picked up an exam copy of Shapiro's book at the MLA last December but haven't gotten around to reading it yet (and was wondering if it would be worth it...as someone previously mentioned, it's odd that this debate surfaces so frequently).

I think that the timeless nature of his plotlines also contributes to some of the doubt swirling around authorship. I think that people find it difficult to believe that someone could write so many plays that are still read hundreds of years later...forgetting that Shakespeare of course stole liberally from poetic and dramatic sources when creating basic storylines for much of his work (e.g., Romeo and Juliet).

ComicBent
05-25-2010, 08:45 AM
I have never seen any evidence to doubt that Will wrote the plays or at least had the major hand in most of them. But this old question just will not go away. It is like Barack Obama's birth certificate.

No one disputes that Shakespeare worked in the theater, but some people cannot believe that he was a writer.

It is remarkable that cultural figures like Henry James, Twain, Freud, and G. B. Shaw would hold "anti-Stratfordian" views, but when you look at some of these people you realize that they were themselves cranks or misfits. I think that their views came out a bit warped on a number of things.

Nice review, Medievalist.

Mac H.
05-26-2010, 12:37 PM
But Daewon - Creationism seems to match this perfectly.

The basic concept is 'Something this beautiful and complex cannot have come from such drab a source'.

And the 'debate' will never be resolved - nor does it make sense that people believe that there is a 'debate' at all.

And 'hired others to do it' ? Is anyone seriously arguing that a poor thespian like Shakespeare hired Sir Francis Bacon to ghostwrite his plays !

Mac

Shakesbear
05-26-2010, 12:45 PM
I have read all the plays and seen them all on stage. Some of them e.g. King John, Titus Andronicus only once, some of them many times e.g Hamlet, Twelfth Night, MacBeth. I've read the sonnets and the poems. They were all written by the same person - there is a feel to them, a sense of unity of writing, that, imo, makes it impossible for them to have been written by various people. I know that Shakespeare did collaborate - but I feel very strongly that his was the directing hand.

The argument that the son of a glover from Stratford-upon-Avon could not have written such plays is intellectual snobbery of the worst kind. Why not? Did intelligence, insight and skill only visit the aristocracy in Tudor England? Tudor England saw the start of meritocracy - a butchers son could become a Cardinal, the son of a lawyer became Lord Chancellor and a Saint, - where men from ordinary backgrounds had extraordinary skills and talents that took them way above the station in life that they were born into. The suggestion that 'someone else' wrote the plays, sonnets and poems is also to suggest a conspiracy that would make the Kennedy Conspiracy seem tiny.

Rufus Coppertop
05-28-2010, 04:48 AM
The argument that the son of a glover from Stratford-upon-Avon could not have written such plays is intellectual snobbery of the worst kind. Why not? Did intelligence, insight and skill only visit the aristocracy in Tudor England? Tudor England saw the start of meritocracy - a butchers son could become a Cardinal, the son of a lawyer became Lord Chancellor and a Saint, - where men from ordinary backgrounds had extraordinary skills and talents that took them way above the station in life that they were born into. The suggestion that 'someone else' wrote the plays, sonnets and poems is also to suggest a conspiracy that would make the Kennedy Conspiracy seem tiny.

When people actively and militantly disbelieve that a creative and intelligent person could continue to educate themself post formal schooling, they say much about themselves and nothing at all about the subject of their disbelief.

Medievalist
05-28-2010, 04:53 AM
I always had a hard time understanding Shakespeare’s plays. I mean, I know they’re great—just wish I could do justice to them. I need help!

Just watch 'em. They're not meant to be read, they're meant to be seen.

Then, after seeing them, maybe read them.

But watch them; preferably live, but if not, on film.

Kitty Pryde
05-28-2010, 05:13 AM
Oh! I just read an article claiming that a woman named Amelia Bassano Lanier wrote the works. She was the daughter of a court musician, and the mistress to the queen's head falconer, so nicely poised between the upper class and lower class it seems. Since she was a chick, and Jewish, she would not have been able to write much under her own name.

Anyway! I haven't read every side of the argument, but I thought this one was at least interesting, and convincing-sounding. I can't find a book about it, but I guess John Hudson is the main proponent.

Medievalist
05-28-2010, 05:31 AM
Anyway! I haven't read every side of the argument, but I thought this one was at least interesting, and convincing-sounding. I can't find a book about it, but I guess John Hudson is the main proponent.

She wrote some sonnets under her own name, and was once proposed as the "Dark Lady" of the sonnets.

Kitty Pryde
05-28-2010, 05:40 AM
She wrote some sonnets under her own name, and was once proposed as the "Dark Lady" of the sonnets.

Yeah, that's her! The article proposed a complicated code via which she had inserted her name into the plays--I thought that bit was either a genius deduction or pure craziness. Hard for me to tell. Article here (http://reformjudaismmag.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=1584).

Medievalist
05-28-2010, 06:19 AM
Yeah, that's her! The article proposed a complicated code via which she had inserted her name into the plays--I thought that bit was either a genius deduction or pure craziness. Hard for me to tell. Article here (http://reformjudaismmag.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=1584).

It's crazieness; all the cryptography stuff is craziness.

I think she's an interesting woman, but she's not even at the level of the Elizabethan sonnetteers, never mind Shakespeare.

Moreover, she has a restricted vocabulary--a remarkably limited range of words she uses--whereas Shakespeare's is surpassed only by Milton.

Shakesbear
05-28-2010, 11:21 AM
Aplogies if anyone has already posted a link to this article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/mar/14/who-wrote-shakespeare-james-shapiro


I found the interviews with Sir Peter Hall and Sir Trevor Nunn very interesting.

Viking
06-28-2010, 06:04 AM
Oh! I just read an article claiming that a woman named Amelia Bassano Lanier wrote the works. She was the daughter of a court musician, and the mistress to the queen's head falconer, so nicely poised between the upper class and lower class it seems. Since she was a chick, and Jewish, she would not have been able to write much under her own name.

Anyway! I haven't read every side of the argument, but I thought this one was at least interesting, and convincing-sounding. I can't find a book about it, but I guess John Hudson is the main proponent.

You should read Contested Will for background on the paranoid fantasies of people claiming Shakespeare didn't write the plays. More specifically, the Hudson theory about Lanier is utterly and completely bogus. She wasn't even Jewish, and there are many more flaws with the story, as discussed in the on-line literary magazine Bibliobuffet.com:

http://www.bibliobuffet.com/book-brunch-columns-322

Hudson's theory is superficially very convincing, but doesn't hold up when you examine it closely, which most people don't have the time or background to do.

DavidZahir
07-03-2010, 12:02 PM
I consider the Anti-Stratfordians to be very much like Birthers. A truly excellent examination of the issue is this website (http://shakespeareauthorship.com/). Quite simply, these are folks who know very little about history or about the Elizabethan era. They also twist the facts, often lying about details. Meanwhile, lots of important facts get ignored--like Shakespeare's mother whose family was somewhat "posh" by standards of the time, while the teachers at the Stratford School were both excellent as well as being from London! Meanwhile, they assume absolute authority to fill in any unanswered questions with their own prejudices!

Yeah, these people tick me off. Can you tell?

robeiae
07-05-2010, 11:16 PM
You should read Contested Will for background on the paranoid fantasies of people claiming Shakespeare didn't write the plays. More specifically, the Hudson theory about Lanier is utterly and completely bogus. She wasn't even Jewish, and there are many more flaws with the story, as discussed in the on-line literary magazine Bibliobuffet.com:

http://www.bibliobuffet.com/book-brunch-columns-322

Hudson's theory is superficially very convincing, but doesn't hold up when you examine it closely, which most people don't have the time or background to do.
Thanks for this, both the book recommendation and the essay. Good stuff.

Viking
07-07-2010, 02:20 PM
I consider the Anti-Stratfordians to be very much like Birthers. A truly excellent examination of the issue is this website (http://shakespeareauthorship.com/). Quite simply, these are folks who know very little about history or about the Elizabethan era. They also twist the facts, often lying about details. Meanwhile, lots of important facts get ignored--like Shakespeare's mother whose family was somewhat "posh" by standards of the time, while the teachers at the Stratford School were both excellent as well as being from London! Meanwhile, they assume absolute authority to fill in any unanswered questions with their own prejudices!

Yeah, these people tick me off. Can you tell?

They tick me off too, and Birthers are a perfect analogy because they will never, ever believe the truth. you can't argue with them because they have a closed, paranoid system that defies reality. Taking the large view, nobody in Shakespeare's day ever raised a question about authorship--this only took root two hundred years after his death. Looking more closely at one recently-touted candidate, consider the claim that Amelia Bassano Lanier who supposedly wrote the plays was Jewish. Well her mother wasn't, so duh! They argue: her father was a hidden Jew. But in Jewish culture at the time, you were Jewish if your mother was, so other Jews wouldn't have considered her Jewish (and why would she?) and if her father was so Jewishly-oriented, why would he marry a Gentile? There's no absolute proof he was a hidden Jew anyway. Every claim about Bassano falls apart when you look at it closely, as a reviewer does here:

http://www.bibliobuffet.com/book-brunch-columns-322/1304-anyone-but-shakespeare-062010

What's sad is that a magazine with one million circulation, Reform Judaism, would give the Lanier theory a cover story this summer, promoting the work of an overly credulous journalist and a lost-in-his-conspiracy writer,
John Hudson. Sensationalism sells.