Skeptical Humanities on The Token Skeptic Podcast

December 31, 2011

Even and I were recently interviewed by Kylie Sturgess, whose work we admire immoderately. Her podcast is The Token Skeptic, and the episode in question is about the film Anonymous:

http://tokenskeptic.org/?powerpress_embed=1450-podcast&powerpress_player=default

We’ve worked with Kylie in the past. We were on a couple of panels together at this year’s Dragon*Con. She’s also the editor of the Young Australian Skeptics’ only recently published Skeptical Blog Anthology, and we have a piece in there. GO BUY IT NAOW! While it’s great that a lot of the big names are represented, they also give voice to a number of clever and insightful yet less well-known skeptics. An excellent snapshot of an important period in skeptical history, I think. Check it out!

RJB


This Week in Conspiracy (20 Nov 2011)

November 22, 2011

It was a crazily jam-packed weekend for those of us at Skeptical Humanities, so this is a little late and a little short. On Saturday, Eve and I put on our thinking helmets (sometimes you just need the extra protection) and attended an event by paranormal enthusiasts. One of us will be writing about it soon, I’m sure. We were so tired at the end of the day, I think we missed our first skeptics in the pub event since…ever.

This morning, we were out again. I had been invited by the Alabama Freethought Association to talk about conspiracy theories. About 20 people showed up, and Lake Hypatia seems to be a sort of Mecca for southern atheists.

Speaking of Mecca, when we got there, an hour early (stupid time change), in one of the sitting areas on the lovely campus, we found a Koran under the bench. We pointed it out when our hosts arrived, and they brought it inside because someone might think that leaving it outside would be a desecration. That’s class, people. Learn from them.

Onto the week that was weak!

Conspiracy Theory of the Week:

That’s all for now, m’laddies. I’ve got lots more, but not a lot of time at the moment. So, keep your eyes open for more from this week in next week’s edition.

RJB


This Week in Conspiracy (7 Nov 2011)

November 7, 2011

We survived CSICon, and the audience survived my epic spiel (which was never certain). I met some pretty fab folks and enjoyed myself mightily. Eve did too. But just because we played hooky for a few days doesn’t mean that I could help but see the crazy stuff that streamed in on my mail, twitter, and reader feeds.

Let get it on.

This Week in I Made More as a Graduate Student than Anonymous Has Pulled In

I’m pretty sure that Anonymous is losing money hand over fist in the American market. This is as it should be.

And the other crazy:

Twit of the week:

This came from the @poopy_poo, who is the soul of the age: “@davidicke I hope all your 13,000 followers will be attending wembley next year mr Icke, very excited to be coming :-)”

RJB


Review of “Anonymous:” The Essex Rebellion Was an Inside Job

November 7, 2011

So, we finally saw Anonymous. To begin with, the traffic sucked, the popcorn was disappointing and the soda machines refused to give me an adequate diet Coke (machine 1 was a mix of diet Coke and some red Hi-C-like substance; machine 2 mostly just gave me carbonated water). I suppose I can’t blame Roland Emmerich and John Orloff for these problems, but I’m not feeling generous.

One of the previews was for “William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus,” directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes. Shakespeare is listed as a writer on the IMDB page. Edward de Vere, seventeenth earl of Oxford, is not.

Anonymous begins with Shakespeare-denier Sir Derek Jacobi entering a modern-day theater (that sports “Anonymous” on its sign) and beginning to recite one of Ben Jonson’s poems in praise of Shakespeare in big-time over-the-top fashion. Then he stops and questions Shakespeare’s identity. He first lists the works attributed to Shakespeare, including “thirty-seven plays.” Almost all scholars now count thirty-eight plays. Why no love for Two Noble Kinsmen? Perhaps because it was written long after Oxford’s death?

All these plays, sonnets and miscellaneous poems and “not a single manuscript in Shakespeare’s hand.” Except–quite possibly–Hand D of Sir Thomas More, of course (which, naturally, Sir Derek doesn’t mention). All we have, says Sir Derek, are six barely legible signatures, each one spelled differently. We’ve been over this one repeatedly. See the fourth reason that Roland Emmerich is an idiot.

Shakespeare was the son of a glove-maker and had a grammar school education. Sir Derek doesn’t draw any conclusions from this, but the snobby implication is that it is unlikely that such a person could write the works attributed to Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s daughters were “irrefutably illiterate.” Emmerich mentions this in his ten reasons Shakespeare is a fraud. I had a niggling suspicion about this, but since Susanna and Judith’s literacy has nothing to do with the authorship of their father’s works, I lazily ignored it. In the comments, Fretful Porpentine pointed out Emmerich’s error. Here is the signature of Susanna Hall (née Shakespeare). So, Sir Derek was irrefutably spouting a lie. Oh, but little facts don’t stop Shakespeare deniers. Apparently her signature is “painfully formed,” and she uses three different versions of the letter “a.” Thus she, like her sister, was functionally illiterate. Now since, as Fretful Porpentine notes and even Anonymous admits, reading and writing were two separate skills in Tudor England, this is highly dubious. If Susanna could write her name, she could read. One website contrasts the handwriting of Susanna and her father with that of her husband, John Hall: “His signature is what one would expect from a man who wrote in a clear Italian hand. Would that his father-in-law’s signatures had had such clarity and consistency.” John Hall wrote in an italic hand. Clearly, he was highly literate. Susanna and Shakespeare wrote in Secretary Hand. Clearly, they were functionally illiterate boobs.

Finally, Sir Derek brings up the will, which doesn’t mention Shakespeare’s plays or books. See reason 10 here. So, Sir Derek proposes to offer us a different story. At this point the film moves into the past. I should point out that I took copious notes, but even at the best of times, my handwriting is pretty horrible. That’s right: I am functionally illiterate. When I’m writing in a darkened movie theater, I am even more illiterater (see?).

The cinematography is rather beautiful, especially the scene of Elizabeth’s funeral procession. The facial hair is also extremely impressive. Also, the movie makes no fucking sense. It moves backward and forward in time, but Ben Jonson stays the same age and other characters age at significantly different rates. In particular, Elizabeth and William Cecil, Lord Burghley, seem to age at roughly 3 times the rate of everyone else. This is confusing.

In an early scene, when the queen is very old, she is told that she is to be presented with a play written by “[pregnant pause] Anonymous.” She’s thrilled because she loves plays and “[pregnant pause] Anonymous.” I suppose this is the justification for the film’s title (rather than the more appropriate Pseudonymous). Except it doesn’t make any fucking sense. The play in question is Midsummer Night’s Dream, which, it transpires, Oxford wrote for the court when he was an adolescent. He also played Puck. Everyone at court knows he wrote the play. There was nothing hidden about it. It seems Oxford wrote a whole bunch of plays for court in his youth, including the Prince Hal plays. Again, none of this is hidden, so there is no real reason to refer to him as “[pregnant pause] Anonymous.”

At some point, Oxford attends a public performance of a Jonson play with Southampton (who, we will eventually discover, is his son by Elizabeth; Oxford is also Elizabeth’s son [ick], as is Essex). Shakespeare is AWI (Acting While Intoxicated). Christopher Marlowe has the hots for Southampton. Playwrights Thomas Nashe and Thomas Dekker are essentially non-entities: one’s fat and the other’s skinny, if that helps. All the playwrights, including the highly educated Marlowe, have noticeably less educated-sounding accents than the court characters. All the playwrights seem to be untalented hacks compared to the Incomparable Genius that is Oxford. Marlowe’s a conniving dick; Jonson is kind of a sniveling weasel, although he has integrity and a genuine love of great poetry (i. e. Oxford’s).

Perhaps now is the time to mention how excessively unpleasant all the characters are. Elizabeth is petty and solely driven by emotion. When she discovers that she is pregnant by [her son] Oxford, she declares that she will marry him, even though he is already married: “I LOVE HIM!!!! she screeches, in all caps). She seems utterly useless at statecraft, no more than a pawn of the Cecils. The Cecils (William,  Lord Burghley, and his son Robert) are practically mustache-twirling villains (they plot to murder Oxford, Essex and Southampton; when that fails, they connive to make it appear that Essex and Southampton are in open rebellion against the queen. That’s right, the Essex Rebellion was an inside job). They are also poetry/pleasure-loathing Puritans (“plays are the work of the devil,” says Burghley), a characterization that is simply incorrect, as far as I can tell. Southampton and Essex are pretty and uninteresting (the same is largely true of Oxford as a young man, but he is more actively unpleasant).

And then there’s Shakespeare. He is a drunken, unscrupulous, moronic, conniving, self-aggrandizing, semi-literate (can read but can’t write), inarticulate, barely coherent, petty, malicious, blackmailing, murderous (kills Marlowe for threatening to expose him) little toad. It’s hard to imagine anyone more unappealing. Yet, somehow Oxford manages to be worse. I suppose what makes Oxford so thoroughly reprehensible is the filmmakers’ attempts to make him seem a paragon of, well, everything. Oxford certainly seems to think he’s wonderful. Toward the end of the film, he admits that he’s failed at pretty much everything. But it’s not really his fault, you see. It’s the Cecils’ fault. Also, it’s because of his single-minded devotion to his poetry. The only thing he didn’t fail at is the one thing he didn’t do (write Shakespeare’s poetry). He points out that he had been one of the richest peers in England, but at the end of his life, he is impoverished. Why? Because of his devotion to his Muse. How the fuck much did parchment cost in Elizabethan England? Oh, also he claims Burghley stole his inheritance. Whatever. When he witnesses a performance of Henry V, he silently mouths the St. Crispin’s Day speech and weeps at the beauty of his own words. Barf.

Anyway, after seeing the Jonson play, he has an idea: he can use the public theater to spread his ideas and, somehow, win a kingdom for his son. In this, of course, he fails miserably. Oxford wants Jonson to produce the plays under his (Jonson’s) name. Oxford can’t be seen to write plays in his position (except for all those plays he’s already known for writing; sure, they were written as court entertainments, but you’d think someone might notice some similarity. Nuppers).

Oxford assures Jonson that his plays will make him the richest and most popular playwright in London. He’s modest like that. Jonson doesn’t really want to do it. He has integrity, you’ll remember, and he wants to be known for his own work. But for the sake of the wonderful plays, Jonson agrees. Shakespeare, of course, has no integrity, and when the crowd begins chanting “playwright, playwright” after Henry V, Shakespeare leaps forward and takes credit, to Oxford’s horror: “An actor, for God’s sake.”  Jonson, of course, was also an actor for a time (in real life), but in the film, he tells Shakespeare that playwrights don’t have time to act. Tell that to Nathan Field.

Oxford’s next play is Romeo and Juliet. He announces to Jonson that it’s in iambic pentameter. “What, all of it?” exclaims Jonson, “Is that possible?” Everyone’s amazed that it’s completely in verse. It’s not, of course. And A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was ostensibly written decades earlier, is also predominantly in verse (in reality, the two plays were probably written close together in time, along with Richard II). There were plenty of plays before Shakespeare that were in iambic pentameter, as well. The first English drama in blank verse was Gorboduc or Ferrex and Porrex from 1561.

Some other stupid things: I’ve hinted that there are some problems with the chronology of the plays. Here are some more: Hamlet appears to be written shortly after Romeo and Juliet, and Marlowe is still alive when it is performed. He sneaks off to tattle to Robert Cecil about it. Everyone explicitly makes a connection between the character of Polonius and Lord Burghley. Later, Jonson will similarly tattle about Richard III (which therefore must have been written after Hamlet), though he agonizes over what he’s done. Richard III is supposed to satirize Robert Cecil, who was apparently somewhat hunchbacked. The film suggests that Richard was never portrayed as hunchbacked before the play.

This tendency of rival poets to go around accusing Shakespeare/Oxford of writing seditious plays is, of course, preposterous. Edmund Tilney held the position of Master of the Revels. He was the official censor, and all plays had to be approved by him. If the plays were as obviously seditious as the film suggests, Tilney would never have approved them.

Oxford writes Richard III specifically to achieve…I have no idea what…in his struggles against the Cecils and his plots to promote his son. His plan backfires spectacularly, and the Cecils use it to manufacture the Essex Rebellion. In fact, shortly before the rebellion, some of the conspirators paid the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to perform Richard II (that’s 2nd, not 3rd) at the Globe. The play was not new at the time. Augustine Phillips, a member of the company, testified at Essex’s trial.

There are more things in the movie that are stupid. So many more. But thinking about it makes me sad and stabby, so I’ll leave you with this brief précis of stupidity.

But remember,

The Essex Rebellion Was an Inside Job!


A Review of Anonymous, Commonly Attributed to John Orloff

November 7, 2011

As the closing credits rolled on Anonymous and Eve and I shouted our disapproval at the names that appeared on the screen (“Shame!” “Fail!” “Weak!”), a pair of old ladies in front of us started laughing.

“We were here for the 3:00 show,” one of them told us, “but the power went out. So they gave us free passes to see it again. I’m glad they did because I didn’t know what was going on the first time I saw it!”

And that’s the movie in a nutshell, a turd in a teapot, a tale told by an idiot, directed by a total spazz, and performed by a troupe of misguided failures.

The story was incoherent. Queen Elizabeth is a total ho, boinking everything that moves in her court. This includes her bastard son, the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. Yuck and REALLY? (Several times in the movie, as Elizabeth was having a snit fit, Eve and I would turn to each other and say in our Queenie voice, “Who’s Queen?” Only really super cool people will laugh at that joke.)

The story was not told chronologically, which was a problem. It starts in the modern era, at a play or a lecture or something called “Anonymous.” It’s not clear. But what you do get, right out of the gate, is a completely useless series of questions by the character Underinformed Git (played by himself, Derek Jacobi), “Why aren’t books mentioned in Shakespeare’s will?” (What part of the “the whole damned estate” don’t you get, Rollo?) So, we were 2 minutes in, and I already wanted to kick a puppy.

Then we go almost to the end of the narrative proper, when Ben Jonson is getting done over good by the local constabulary for reasons that are not clear until the end. He’s hiding the plays written by de Vere-as-Shake-Speare. Jonson must be in on it because he is someone with credibility whose actual work (his elegy on Shakespeare faces the famous woodcut in the First Folio) totally f’in demolishes the Oxfordian fantasy before it got started. And then there is the little problem of the “Sweet Swan of Avon” elegy written, also by Jonson. Oh and the fact that Shakespeare was publishing long after de Vere was worm food. The solution? Make Jonson a conspirator and give him all of the plays to leak to Shakespeare slowly after de Vere’s death. Aaand your evidence for this is….apparently that you need it to be just so.

So, uh, then they are performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and everyone in court knows that it was written by a Bieber-aged de Vere…but then they all apparently forget that. My horse-drawn carriage has already thrown a wheel in that plot-hole.

Oxford is orphaned and raised by the Cecils who are advisors to the Queen. Turns out, go figure, that de Vere is smarter than all his tutors. The scene in which we are introduced to his Greek tutor, Latin tutor, cosmology tutor, etc. serves no functional purpose to the plot; it actually only underlines for Oxfordian cultists that de Vere had exactly the type of education they think that you need to write Shakespeare’s work. There were little nods to the in-group like that throughout the movie. For instance, you pan across Oxford’s office and see a falcon, you can almost hear Emmerich wondering out loud about how Shakespeare could know the vocabulary related to falconry if he was a bumpkin. And then you can almost hear a whoosh and a smack as I lose it.

OH! The movie is so insulting to the playwrights of the age. They were basically all hacks and they sat together in the peanut gallery. The treatment of Shakespeare was basically defamation. Shakespeare was slightly less fluent in English than Jesse Ventura, perpetually drunk, and usually whoring. They even suggested that Shakespeare killed Christopher Marlowe! Anything you can do to make him look bad, s’pose. At one point the playwrights are at their whore-and-ale house, the Randy Badger (or something), and Jonson throws down, daring Shakespeare to write his name. Lamest. Challenge. Ever.

Did I mention that it made no sense and that it left two old ladies very confused?

There was one really phenomenal aspect to the film, however, the mustaches. Whoever did the facial arrangements should get an Oscar(tm). If you could roll that clip I brought…..

“F’in roses how do they work?” –Wm. Shkspere

First the Queen dumps him and then there’s a rebellion. Ed’s having a crappy day.

It’s been only 3 days, and I forget who this is. Well acted, my friend. But look at that beard!

Bad guy who is not Shakespeare.

“Fauntleroy, why do you never return my text messages?”

Lord Melchett: “BAAAAAAAAAA!”

“What would you, the audience, do?”

Seriously, Shakespeare’s facial wig carries the performance.

If they had spent half as much time grooming the plot as they did these guys’ upper lips, the movie would have passed. But it was badly told to the point that only a true believer could possibly invest in it. The infuriating thing at the end, however, was not that it crapped on the Bard, who can take care of himself, but that the little old ladies in front of us wondered out loud if their understanding of history had always been that bad. “No,” I assured them. “Roland Emmerich is just a bad person.”

RJB


The Week in Conspiracy (31 Oct 2011 edition)

October 31, 2011

Hello, hello from the city where pants are optional, New Orleans. I gave my talk about anti-Jesuit and anti-Catholic conspiracy theories yesterday, and then we bopped along Canal Street to the Smarti Gras party.

  • I know that when I need medical advice, I go to a strung-out, obviously intoxicated rapper. I mean, not me, Vigilant Citizen:

This week in straight to DVD:

Here is a compilation of reviews of Anonymous, a film in which Roland Emmerich does to Shakespeare what he does to little models of the White House.

“In London, the Flat Earth Society explains that we live on a giant disk. In Petersburg, Ky., the Creation Museum shows cave men and dinosaurs frolicking together. And in a movie theater near you, “Anonymous,” which opened Friday, reveals how the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays.”

No week in conspiracy this week, folks! Tomorrow, I’ll be talking to Jon Ronson, who is Skyping into a few classes at Georgia Tech. Pretty exciting!

RJB


The Other 5 Reasons Roland Emmerich is an Idiot

October 24, 2011

Here beginneth Part the Second (see here for Part the First):

6. Not edumucated enough.

Considering the anti-intellectual slant of Shakespeare-deniers (expressed by a comment on this post from screenwriter John Orloff), this one is rich.  As Emmerich says, “no records prove that Shakespeare ever attended the Stratford Grammar School.” True, no records survive before the nineteenth century. “Yet the work of William Shakespeare the writer shows extensive knowledge of [a bunch of stuff] as well as aristocratic activities such as royal tennis and falconry. Call me a snob….” Yup, you’re a big snob…. “but even if he was a genius, he couldn’t have pulled that one off without leaving a trace of his learning.” I don’t get it. Aren’t all those examples Emmerich provided evidence of Shakespeare’s learning? Not just formal education, but a continuing interest in learning things and, you know, reading stuff? “William Shakespeare had the largest English vocabulary of any writer in history. Not quite grammar school level I would say.” Well, then, you would be wrong. Again. First of all, “education” in Shakespeare’s day meant classical education: Latin and Greek. They weren’t learning English composition, much less creative writing. Second, as Shakespeare scholars have pointed out repeatedly, Shakespeare’s education was perfectly sufficient. James Shapiro notes that a grammar school education “was roughly equivalent to a university degree today, with a better facility in Latin than that of a typical classics major” (Contested Will, p. 276).

And let us not forget the things Shakespeare got wrong. In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare provided Bohemia with a coastline and a desert that it doesn’t actually have. Ben Jonson considered such mistakes risible. If you click the link above, you can see how Oxfordians have danced around this issue, and, if you scroll down a bit, you can see the history of the word “dildos.” It has nothing to do with the authorship question, but it’s fun. Shakespeare also kindly bestowed a harbor on Padua in The Taming of the Shrew.

7.  “Here is a big one:” if Emmerich had been Shakespeare, he wouldn’t have retired so early.

So what? What does Emmerich’s interminable drive to make splashy, bad movies have to do with Shakespeare? Emmerich adds that, after Shakespeare retired to Stratford (which was not the tiny town Emmerich makes it out to be), he never wrote “a single poem, play or sonnet again.” Okay, first, sonnets are poems. Second, argument from ignorance. How do you know he didn’t write anything ever again? Just because they don’t survive doesn’t mean they never existed. Finally, Shakespeare’s last plays (all collaborations) were probably written after after Shakespeare had largely retired and been replaced as principle playwright by John Fletcher.

“I would never compare myself to Shakespeare.” Oh, good, then shut up. “But to me the idea of retiring from directing and moving back to my hometown and never to be associated with movies again is just completely unthinkable.” Do you have a wife and kids in your hometown? And as we’ve seen, Shakespeare did continue to be associated with the theater (see more here). So, no, the explanation is not that he ran out of “idears.”

8. There is no record of Shakespeare traveling abroad, but he mentions Italy and other foreign lands a lot in his plays.

Argument from ignorance: we have no records of Shakespeare traveling abroad; therefore he must never have traveled abroad. Actually, we just don’t know. Even if he never left England, there were ways of finding out stuff about other countries. In the Renaissance they had a primitive version of Google earth.  It was called a “map.” And while Shakespeare didn’t have access to Wikipedia, there were these things called “books.” Oh, and while he couldn’t watch the Travel Channel (Emmerich actually sarcastically suggests this) there were travelers that he could talk to. And let us not forget Bohemia’s coastline and desert and Padua’s harbor.

9. The Stratford monument may have been altered to show Shakespeare as a writer.

Shakespeare’s monument was erected sometime between his death in 1616 and the publication of the First Folio in 1623 (the Folio mentions the monument). It shows Shakespeare with his arms resting on a cushion and holding a quill in one hand and a piece of paper in the other.

Emmerich points out that there were renovations to the monument. This is true. It was also repainted several times. He points out that in an early “engravement,” Shakespeare isn’t holding quill and paper; instead he is holding a “sack of grain.” The engraving appeared in William Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire published in 1656. Here it is:

First of all, while historians agree that the monument was renovated, I don’t think they believe it was renovated as early as 1656 (only a few decades after its erection). Secondly, the “sack of grain” is pretty clearly an awkward representation of the cushion, which is cut from the same hunk of stone as the bust (including the forearms and hands that rest on it). Why there is no quill and paper, I don’t know. Here is a discussion of the Dugdale engraving.

Also, you will notice that, even in the engraving, there is an inscription beneath the bust. This is what it says: “IVDICIO PYLIVM, GENIO SOCRATEM, ARTE MARONEM, TERRA TEGIT, POPVLVS MÆRET, OLYMPVS HABET.” Translation, “In judgment a Pylius [Nestor], in wit a Socrates, in art a Maro [Virgil]; the earth buries [him], the people mourn [him], Olympus possesses [him].” Not the inscription of a grain merchant. Although it is not visible in the engraving, there is also an English epithet (on the same slab as the Latin and so necessarily contemporary with it). It says (in modernized spelling): “Stay passenger, why goest thou by so fast? Read if thou canst, whom envious Death hath placed within this monument, Shakespeare, with whom quick nature died, whose name doth deck the tomb far more than cost, sith all that he hath writ leaves living art, but page, to serve his wit.” In other words, quill or no, the monument absolutely identifies Shakespeare as a writer, as is clear even in Dugdale’s rather bad drawing.

10. The bloody will.

“Can you believe that the last will of William Shakespeare of Stratford does not mention any books or manuscripts?” Why, yes, Roland: I can believe that, and if you can’t, your disbelief is merely an argument from incredulity. “Didn’t he care what would happen to his life’s work after his death?” Okay, I’m just going to copy and paste what I said about the will in my first post on this blog:

As for the will…well, Oxfordians get very excited about the will.  Shakespeare doesn’t mention his library, his books or his plays.  True, but he didn’t personally own the plays: they belonged to the acting company.  Those that were published became the property of the publisher.  He doesn’t mention books, but nor does he mention many specific items: the bulk of his estate was entailed.  Shapiro, citing  James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, notes that when Shakespeare’s son-in-law John Hall went to prove Shakespeare’s will, he apparently had with him “an inventory of the testator’s household effects” (qtd. in Shapiro, p. 50).  Shapiro continues:

Whatever valuable books, manuscripts, or letters Shakespeare owned and was bequeathing to his heirs would have been listed in this inventory rather than in the will itself (which explains, as Jonathan Bate has observed, why the surviving wills of such Elizabethan notables as the leading theologian Richard Hooker and the poet Samuel Daniel fail, like Shakespeare’s, to list any books at all).  (p. 50)

So, there you have it: arguments from ignorance, arguments from incredulity, arguments from snobbery and romanticism and arguments from what Roland Emmerich would have done if he’d been Shakespeare. And not a single iota of evidence to support the case for another author. [Emmerich mode] I chust don’t buy it [/Emmerich mode].

ES

RESOURCES:

The Norton Shakespeare.  Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt.  New York and London: Norton, 1997.  Texts based on the Oxford Edition, gen. eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor.

The Riverside Shakespeare.  2nd ed.  Text. ed. G. Blakemore Evans.  Boston: Houghton, 1997.

Shakespeare: Life and Times. Palomar College. http://shakespeare.palomar.edu/life.htm.

Shapiro, James.  Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare.  New York: Simon, 2010.

Shapiro, James. “Hollywood Dishonors the Bard.” New York Times 16 Oct. 2011

Wells, Stanley.  Shakespeare & Co.: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher, and the Other Players in His Story.  New York: Vintage, 2006.


This Week in Conspiracy (23 Oct 2011)

October 23, 2011

I won’t have time to do everything that I need to in the few days that I have before CSICon. But I make a point of doing this, even if it hurts a little.

So, given the time crunch, I’m going to do as much as I can in an hour. GO!

  • In additional Shakespeare news, Forbes’s Alex Knapp wrote a piece, “Yes, Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare” and got inundated with…enthusiastic correspondence. He contacted me and Eve about coming up with a reply to the specific claims of Shakespeare deniers, and we’re happy to help. Also, John Orloff, the screenwriter of Anonymous, left a smudge in the comments on my post about his indignation at the HuffPo.
  • Holy crap! I thought Ron Paul reminded me of someone! It’s Pat Buchanan!
  • Godlike Productions stepped in it this week when they tweeted:

They actually tweeted the word "Negro".

Conspiracy Theory of the Week:

You win! Please! Stop sending me this! Everyone I have ever met since I got out of short-pants has sent me this at least twice! Are you guys coordinating this??? Hey, I’m “just asking questions.”

Hey, not bad for an hour.

RJB


The First Five Reasons Roland Emmerich Is an Idiot

October 23, 2011

Roland Emmerich, as you may know, is coming out with an interpretation of a screenplay that many in academia say was written by John Orloff (but we’re not sure). It will be called Anonymous. And other things. We have already linked to Roland Emmerich’s promotional video “10 reasons  why (Roland Emmerich believes) Shakespeare is a fraud.” Here it is again. Sorry. In previous posts on the subject of Shakespeare denialism, we have answered most of his ten reasons; however, it seems pertinent to go through the arguments point by point.

We should first address the elephant in the room: Shakespeare denialists sometimes claim that Shakespeare scholars have an invested interest in the Official Story. We want to be clear that we receive no monetary benefit from Big Shakespeare: Bob is an Americanist who becomes queasy when he sees the word “color” spelled with a “u;” Eve is a medievalist who considers Shakespeare to be dangerously modern. We do our shilling for free in our spare time.

Emmerich’s ten reasons are punctuated by animation. A memorial statue of Shakespeare is being tended to by a love-struck duck (or possibly a pigeon) in an academic cap and bow tie. After Emmerich makes each specious point, he throws a black quill. The real quill becomes animated and does surprising damage to the monument, causing the increasingly hysterical duck to apply emergency medical assistance. By the end of the video, the duck walks off in high dudgeon, giving the Bronx cheer to a now-animated Emmerich. Emmerich is twirling a quill and looking as smug as he does in real life. He blows on the monument, and it collapses, revealing the poster for Anonymous. This seems to be Emmerich’s opinion of scholars: hysterical ducks in bow ties.

So, let’s look at his devastating arguments against Shakespeare:

1. No manuscript or poem exists in Shakespeare’s own handwriting, not even a letter.

Very few Elizabethan/Jacobean plays exist in authorial manuscripts. As we have mentioned repeatedly, one of the few exceptions is the play-by-committee, Sir Thomas More. Hand D is an authorial hand; it is very possible that that hand is Shakespeare’s.

Emmerich suggests that because Shakespeare lived in London while his wife and children lived in Stratford, he would have produced “a vast amount of correspondence.” Of course, as Emmerich will later point out, Shakespeare’s wife, daughters and parents were all illiterate, and his son died at the age of eleven. The fact that his family members were illiterate doesn’t mean that Shakespeare couldn’t have written letters to them. A literate person could have read the letters to Shakespeare’s wife and family. Similarly, a literate person could have written messages to Shakespeare from his wife. We know, for instance, that actor Edward Alleyn wrote to his illiterate wife. These were included in letters to her father, theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe. But why would we necessarily expect Shakespeare’s letters to survive? Shakespeare’s direct line died out with his granddaughter Elizabeth. His house was sold and eventually demolished.

Emmerich says, “the largest literary hand in history produced not a single handwritten note of William Shakespeare.” Ignoring for the moment the awkwardness of this sentence, the statement is not true, or is, at least, an argument from ignorance. The fact that we haven’t found any letters does not mean that there were no letters. It simply means that we have found no letters.

2. Shakespeare’s daughters Susanna and Judith were illiterate.

Emmerich muses that it seems incredible that Shakespeare wouldn’t want his children to read his works. “Doesn’t work for me,” he says. Whether it works for Emmerich or not is really irrelevant. The illiteracy of Shakespeare’s family has no bearing on the question of Shakespeare’s authorship. Is it disappointing that the creator of some great (literate) female characters didn’t teach his daughters to read? Perhaps, but it was pretty typical. Women of Shakespeare’s class were not routinely given extensive formal education. The school Shakespeare presumably attended would not have been open to his daughters. I assume that a tutor would have been necessary had Shakespeare decided to educate his daughters. I suppose Shakespeare could have afforded a tutor, but he seems not to have employed one–again, this is fairly typical for his class. And again, it has absolutely no bearing on the authorship of the works attributed to Shakespeare.

3. Shakespeare wrote “obsessively” and knowledgeably about the aristocracy.

First of all, not all of Shakespeare’s plays center on royalty and nobility: Merry Wives of Windsor focuses on middle-class characters. The main characters of The  Comedy of Errors and The Merchant of Venice are also non-noble. It is true, however, that a majority of Shakespeare’s plays feature royal and aristocratic characters. It is also true that some of his contemporaries (particularly later contemporaries) did focus more on the middle classes in, for instance, city comedies and satires.

So what does this prove? Exactly nothing. Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd also seem to have focused primarily on the upper classes (although Kyd is usually named as the author of the domestic tragedy, Arden of Faversham. According to some scholars, particularly Arthur Kinney, Shakespeare is responsible for portions of this play).

If Emmerich is suggesting that Shakespeare didn’t have sufficient knowledge to write about the aristocracy and court life, then he is wrong. Shakespeare could have gained the knowledge he needed by study, observation and rumor. But privileged knowledge isn’t what Emmerich is primarily concerned about. Instead, he wants to start some kind of Renaissance class war. He contrasts Shakespeare to Ben Jonson whose works “pretty much reflect the perspective of the working man.” I guess Emmerich forgot all those Jonson masques that were written for and performed by members of the royal court. Shakespeare, says Emmerich, “apparently mocks his peers by giving them silly names, like Bottom, Dull, Mistress Overdone. Was Shakespeare a traitor to his own class? No way.”

I agree: Shakespeare was not a class-traitor. The tradition of giving silly and descriptive names to comic characters, usually (though not always) of lower social rank is a very old one. But surely Ben Jonson, Mr. Middle Class, wouldn’t do something like that. Let’s see, what are some of the character names in Bartholomew Fair? Well, there’s Littlewit, Quarlous, Winwife, Grace Wellborn, Adam Overdo and Dame Purecraft. Oh dear. Well, how about The Alchemist? There’s Lovewit, Subtle, Face, Dapper, Drugger, Sir Epicure Mammon (a nobleman), Surly, Dame Pliant and Dol Common. Feel free to peruse the name in Every Man in His Humour and Volpone for yourselves.

4. “Check this one out:” Shakespeare had bad handwriting and couldn’t spell his name.

We’ve been over this one several times, so briefly: 1. secretary hand 2. non-standardized spellings. Here is a signature of Sir Walter Raleigh:

The spelling is “W. Ralegh.” Here he signed his name “W. Rawley.” Illiterate yobbo swine. Also notice the handwriting of the document: it’s quite neat, but very hard to read. It may also be useful to compare the one letter addressed to William Shakespeare (original here; facsimile here): more hard-to-read secretary hand. And just one more–the handwriting of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder.

5. “I believe writing comes from the heart,” and Shakespeare’s writing doesn’t reflect that.

“Call me a romantic, but I believe great artists are inspired by their life” Emmerich says. Well, okay, I can think of other words, but for now I’ll just say, yes, your notions of authorship reflect concepts that arose in the Romantic Era.

Emmerich complains that Shakespeare didn’t write a poem on the death of his son. Jonson wrote about his dead kid, after all. Well, if Ben Jonson jumped off London Bridge….never mind. Of course, it’s possible that Shakespeare did write about his son’s death but that the poem was never published and did not survive. Maybe he decided to keep his personal poems personal. Or maybe he didn’t write about his son at all. We don’t know. And guess what? It has nothing to do with the authorship question.

But, just for the moment, let’s follow Emmerich’s thought-process: the fact that the plays and poems don’t reveal Shakespeare’s innermost feelings proves that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. Okay. So, what about the guy who did write the works? If the works don’t reveal Shakespeare’s inner life, how is it that they do reveal the inner man if that inner man is someone else? I guess the works do reveal the inner life of the “real” author if we just read them the correct way, which, I presume, is cross-eyed and and hanging upside down.

Here endeth Part the First.

ES/RJB


“Anonymous” Screenwriter John Orloff: Name Dropping and Wrong

October 18, 2011

John Orloff, who wrote the screenplay for the badly titled Anonymous (as Eve points out, it should be Pseudonymousout-stupided the Huffington Post on their own turf, which is no mean feat. He took issue with the phrase “urban legend.” I agree. They should have used the phrase, “unfettered clacking bollocks.” I intend to use his little screed in future classes to teach logical fallacies. His letter went as follows:

I’d like to think current and past US Supreme Court Justices don’t believe in Urban Legends. Namely, Justices Stevens, Blackmun, O’Connor and Scalia all think there is reason to doubt the validity of the actor William Shakespeare having written the plays history ascribes to him.

Wow. Not a Shakespearean scholar among them. Ok, you’re name dropping, but the sad fact is that just because you don’t like to think about it doesn’t mean it’s not true. This is the appeal to personal incredulity. “I can’t believe that these smart people would believe an urban legend, therefore, Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare.”

As does historian David McCullough. As do authors such as Mark Twain (whose last book, “Is Shakespeare Dead” is dedicated to the issue), Henry James (who said he was “haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting Public”), and Walt Whitman (to name a few).

This is a classic appeal to false authority. You could fart sonnets like an angel and still not have a rollicking clue about the reams of scholarship backing the mainstream view.

As do Shakespearean actors Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Orson Welles (who directed and starred in several Shakespeare plays).

Yawn. Appeal to false authority. Sorry.

And Mark Rylance, who is not only perhaps the greatest Shakespearean actor of his generation, but a man who was also the Artistic Director of the Globe Theater in London for ten years. Think about that last name; the man who ran the Globe theater for a decade doesn’t think Shakespeare wrote a single word.

Wow. I’m willing to bet if I look in my university databases I’ll find he never had to publish a goddamned thing under peer review:

  • Academic Search Complete ( 0 )
  • Research Library ( 0 )
  • Project Muse ( 0 )
  • MLA International Bibliography ( 1 )
  • Essay & General Literature Index ( 0 )
  • Arts & Humanities Citation Index ( 0 )
  • Humanities Int’l Index ( 0 )

That single entry is in a book about the resurrection of the Globe Theater, and it does not address authorship. And it’s not you like are citing an independent authority, since he’s in the freaking movie. “Well, my friends think so,” is as unconvincing as, “My mom says I’m smart.”

And we can add Sigmund Freud in there as well.

SO!?!

An Urban Myth is something proven to be false. I’m not sure we’re there on this particular issue.

Well, I disagree with your definition of urban myth, but the burden of proof is not on mainstream academia. We don’t default to the position that you know your head from your ham hocks.

And how do you know that someone wasn’t scared by Eddie Murphy in an elevator?

Either way, I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s statement on the subject when he was asked about the Authorship Issue. His response? He replied he wasn’t that interested in Oxford because, in his words: “I don’t like to have my myths tampered with”.

He meant the Shakespeare myth.

He meant, “Get stuffed, bozo. I’m not interested.” It doesn’t matter how many amateurs you say you surround yourself with, you’re still sitting on the short bus. (Yes, the actors and directors have a skill set that is completely unrelated to scholarship.)

Your software is broken, kiddo. Don’t try to contribute to the Great Discussion, because you’ll only embarrass yourself.

RJB


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,165 other followers