Review of Shakespeare’s Beehive, Part 1

April 26, 2014

George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler. Shakepeare’s Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light. New York: Axeltree Books, 2014. Kindle ed.

beehive-title

Last week, Shakespeare fans celebrated the Bard’s 450th birthday, and two New York antiquarian booksellers announced that they had discovered a copy of an Elizabethan dictionary annotated by the birthday boy.

In 2008, George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler purchased a copy of the second edition of John Baret’s Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie, containing four sundrie tongues: namelie English, Latine, Greeke and French on Ebay for over $4000. This copy was annotated in what Koppelman and Wechsler believe is a late Elizabethan or early Jacobean hand.

alvearie

Over the years, several scholars, particularly T. W. Baldwin (in William Shakespeare’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke) have suggested that Shakespeare was probably familiar with and may have owned a copy of Baret’s Alvearie*, along with Thomas Cooper’s Thesaurus. Koppelman and Wechsler go one step farther: they believe Shakespeare owned their copy of the Alvearie and that the annotations are in his hand. If this were true, the volume would be of immeasurable value to Shakespeare scholars; in a more literal, monetary sense, it would also be of immeasurable value to Koppelman and Wechsler.

Baret defines each word or phrase in English, then provides the equivalents in Latin, French and Greek. He also includes quotations and aphorisms in all languages. The annotator has added two types of annotations. Koppelman and Wechsler call the first type “mute” and the second “spoken.” The mute annotations include underlined words and phrases, slash marks by major headwords, circles by subsidiary headwords, and other marks. The spoken annotations are additions: words and phrases as cross-references to other entries, corrections, or additional quotations and aphorisms, including biblical quotations in English.

On their website, shakespearesbeehive.com (free registration required), Koppelman and Wechsler have provided a zoomable digitized copy of the Alvearie, as well as a compilation of all the annotations. Regardless of the identity of the annotator, this is of huge value to scholars. A complete digitized copy is useful in itself, and the annotations provide valuable insights about how such a dictionary was used in the Early Modern period.

Why do Koppelman believe the annotator was Shakespeare, and how strong is their evidence? They present their case in their newly published book, also called Shakespeare’s Beehive, which they present as an (extremely) extended catalog description of the their copy of Baret.

Although I wrote my MA thesis on The Tempest, and Shakespeare was a test area on my Ph.D. written and oral exams, Shakespeare and Renaissance literature are not my primary areas of study. I am not an expert on paleography or textual studies. However, I know enough to be profoundly skeptical of Koppelman and Wechsler’s argument and deeply unimpressed by their evidence. Even before examining the evidence in detail, I noticed some red flags that caused me to question their methodology. In their introductory chapters, they are extremely defensive about arguments that no one, as far as I know, has actually made. Of course, when mounting an argument, it is necessary to anticipate possible objections, but Koppelman and Wechsler’s arguments have a strong whiff of straw about them.

For instance, Wechsler is quoted in several stories as saying that scholars “were extremely helpful giving advice, but it was also clear that they weren’t about to jeopardise their reputations with such a claim.” He and Koppelman make similar comments in their book. They even suggest that they won’t be taken seriously because they are booksellers, not scholars:

For two booksellers in Manhattan to purchase, out of the blue, a heavily annotated book from the library of all libraries, on Ebay… it’s understandable that no one would give that a chance.

Much the same thing is said by proponents of Bigfoot, Young Earth Creationism, psychics, Reiki, or any other fringe belief. Why don’t experts in the relevant field back the fringe-proponent up? Because they wouldn’t get tenure, they wouldn’t get published, they’d be mocked and ostracized, they’re in on it, they’re pawns of Big Whatever, they’re closed-minded, they don’t pay attention to amateurs.

But who are these scholars who won’t support Koppelman and Wechsler? They don’t say. In general, they have gotten sympathetic coverage, and scholars have been cautious but not dismissive. Stephen Greenblatt is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “It would reinforce, in a fascinating way, Shakespeare’s passion for language. We know that Shakespeare had an eye out for unusual words – but we have only limited knowledge of where he went to find them.” He adds, however, that he has “not had time to weigh the evidence.” Shakespeare scholars would love to find a copy of absolutely anything annotated by Shakespeare. Seriously, they would be absolutely giddy with delight over the Elizabethan equivalent of “roflmao” next to a dirty joke.

But just because they want something to be true doesn’t mean it is true. Good scholars are cautious. Good scholars do not accept an extraordinary claim within days of its announcement. Michael Witmore and Heather Wolfe of the Folger Shakespeare Library responded to Koppelman and Wechsler’s announcement:

Even the most skeptical scholar would be thrilled to find a new piece of documentary evidence about William Shakespeare. Scholars, however, will only support the identification of Shakespeare as annotator if they feel it would be unreasonable to doubt that identification. This is a fairly high evidentiary standard, since it requires on to treat skeptically the idea that this handwriting is Shakespeare’s and to seek out counterexamples that might prove it false.

This is exactly how scholars in any field should respond to an extraordinary claim. They go on to explain the research methods that will likely be used to assess Koppelman and Wechlser’s claims. These are rigorous and time-consuming, as they should be. Such a high evidentiary bar diminishes the possibility of confirmation bias and cherry picking.

Koppelman and Wechsler also use straw man arguments when discussing the the handwriting of the annotator. The only universally accepted genuine examples of Shakespeare’s handwriting are six signatures on legal documents. All of the signatures are in Secretary hand. Other examples of handwriting that are sometimes attributed to Shakespeare–some other signatures, including signatures in books, and Hand D of the manuscript of the collaborative play Sir Thomas More–are also in Secretary hand. Most of the “spoken” annotations in the Alvearie (and almost all of the annotations in English) are in Italic script. As far as paleography is concerned, this is problematic, but not in the way Koppelman and Wechsler suggest. They argue at length against the suggestion that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have been capable of writing in Italic script. They don’t, however, quote or cite anyone who has actually made this argument.

They even compare this supposed insistence on Shakespeare’s exclusive use of Secretary hand with those who deny Shakespeare’s authorship:

The overriding question…is whether Shakespeare should forever be categorically denied an ability to use both scripts based principally on his Stratford background. Does this not seem oddly in perverse harmony with someone who argues that a provincial boy from Stratford as author is incompatible with one of the great speeches in, say, Henry V?

I suppose it is possible that scholars have argued that Shakespeare couldn’t have ever used Italic script because of his humble background, but Koppelman and Wechsler provide no evidence that this is so. The association between conventional scholars and Shakespeare-deniers is particularly ironic, since Shakespeare-deniers rely, to a large extent, on confirmation bias and cherry-picked evidence. As we shall see, these are techniques at which Koppelman and Wechsler also excel.

This straw man argument also disguises the real paleographic problem: it is very difficult to compare two different styles of handwriting. With only six rather variable signatures to use as comparison, study of Shakespeare’s handwriting is ridiculously difficult anyway. But Koppelman and Wechsler skirt the issue by focusing on irrelevancies and side issues. They lament, for instance, that people (presumably scholars) will demand scientific proof. They also hint that the general public may be more sympathetic:

Understandably, things bend heavily, even necessarily, under the burden of proof in the quest for any namable [sic] annotator, because we live in an age where an enormous amount of trust is placed in the ability to test and prove something scientifically. In the absence of scientific proof, evidence – no matter the strength – is often deemed unreliable, regardless of how it registers in the court of public opinion. It follows, then, that an inability to precisely test ink from the Elizabethan period will make for a wobbly case in the quest for answers as to the exact age of the annotations in our Baret, let alone to the still more complicated determination of who has added the ink to the pages.

I hardly know where to begin. There is the idea that “scientific proof” is somehow different from–and more definitive than–“evidence.” When a formal distinction is made between “proof” and “evidence,” mathematics and law usually get custody of “proof.” Scientific conclusions–no matter the strength of the evidence–are always provisional. In addition, why would anyone expect “scientific proof” when the relevant field is not a science? One could certainly make the case that the methods and evidence used in the Humanities are often unfairly denigrated in comparison to those used in the sciences, but that is not the issue here.

Scientific testing of the ink would only be relevant if the annotations were suspected forgeries. Again, this does not seem to be the case. Even so, scientific testing would be of limited value–it could show a forger used ink not available during the Renaissance, but precise dating of the ink would be much trickier. There are many non-scientific methods for dating texts, manuscripts, literary works, and handwriting. They have been around for ages and have become refined over time. They do not rely on scientific testing. They are not always 100% reliable, but they work fairly well. In some cases they can provide a narrower date than C14 dating, and they are less destructive. Again, this focus on science is a straw man.

The real issue is the difficulty of comparing Shakespeare’s hand to the annotator’s hand. Because of the different scripts, the comparison may be impossible. More accurately, it may be possible to say with a degree of certainty that Shakespeare did not write the annotations, but the chances are vanishingly small that an examination of the writing will suggest the likelihood that Shakespeare is the annotator.

Let’s consider why the accepted signatures are accepted: they are on official legal documents. That’s pretty much it. It’s the nature of the documents that assures authenticity. They form a pathetically small and poor sample for handwriting comparison. No other alleged example of Shakespeare’s handwriting has been accepted based on a comparison with the signatures. Let us look for a moment at Hand D in Sir Thomas More. For many years, many scholars have suggested that this handwritten passage is the work of Shakespeare: that it matches his style and some of his idiosyncratic spellings, and that it is consistent with his handwriting. The corrections suggest that it is an authorial hand: if Shakespeare is the author, it is his hand; if it is his hand, Shakespeare is the author.

Hand D has been studied and studied and studied. It has been subjected to two computational stylometric studies (that’s sciencey). One, by Hugh Craig and Arthur Kinney, concluded that it was the work of Shakespeare; the other, by Ward E. Elliott and Robert J. Valenza of the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic, concluded that it was not.** All that study, and the jury is still out.

That’s how high the evidentiary bar is. That is how high it should be. Koppelman and Wechsler’s straw man arguments attempt to lower the bar, to trump objections that haven’t even been made yet. Bias in favor of science or against amateur booksellers doesn’t matter. Evidence matters. In my next post, we will examine the evidence.

*Latin for beehive. His students, like bees, went off to find the nectar of words and then returned to him with the fruits of their labor.

**For a discussion of the stylometric studies, see MacDonald P. Jackson, “Authorship and the evidence of stylometric,” in Shakespeare beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, ed. Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells. Cambridge UP, 2013.

ES

Note: this essay is cross-posted at Skepticality.


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 (11 December 2011)

December 12, 2011

I sit here a sparrowfart away from death, but not even my impending demise will stop me from bringing you another week in conspiracy.

While it is perfectly obvious to everyone that Ben Jonson wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays, it is less known that Ben Jonson’s plays were written by a teen-age girl in Sunderland, who mysteriously disappeared, leaving no trace of her existence, which is clear proof that she wrote them. The plays of Marlowe were actually written by a chambermaid named Marlene, who faked her own orgasm, and then her own death in a Deptford tavern brawl. Queen Elizabeth, who was obviously a man, conspired to have Shakespeare named as the author of his plays, because how could a man who had only a grammar-school education and spoke Latin and a little Greek possibly have written something as bad as “All’s Well That Ends Well”? It makes no sense. It was obviously an upper-class twit who wished to disguise his identity so that Vanessa Redgrave could get a job in her old age.

My fave Pak conspiracy theory was from a respected journo: “But who is behind the theory about Pakistanis loving conspiracy theories?” @jemima_khan

Conspiracy Theory of the Week:

This is not really a conspiracy theory of the week. It just needed to be sectioned off from the rest of the round-up. You see, Luke Rudkowski went to the dentist. He was a sexist, horrid, pig-ignorant prick at all points:

  • LukeRudkowski: dentist was dumb but she was cute and for some strange reason was rubbing her boobs in my face. awkward, did that ever happen to anyone Original Tweet: http://twitter.com/LukeRudkowski/status/144181007602561026
  • LukeRudkowski: the dentist tried to tell me that mercury is not bad for me, i told her to break a mercury thermometer and put it her month Original Tweet: http://twitter.com/LukeRudkowski/status/144178571911495681
  • Luke Rudkowski Been radiated 14 times by this 1970s looking Machine. Anyway i can avoid it twitpic.com/7pfjco2 minutes ago
  • mrthatguydude Dave @LukeRudkowski twitpic.com/7pf6t4 – 10x the mind control. 25 minutes ago Retweeted by LukeRudkowski
  • LukeRudkowski Starting to think the dential industry is apart of the nwo eugenics plan. Lol but seriously radiation mercury and fluoride wtf 22 minutes ago
  • LukeRudkowski Luke Rudkowski Not a good sight when your sitting in a dentists chair twitpic.com/7pf6t4 30 minutes ago

Yeah, I’m sure she wanted to get with the tinfoil wearing man-pig in her chair. LOL.

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


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


Good news! Roland Emmerich’s stinker Anonymous release limited!

October 24, 2011

Heheh. I just saw news that the release of Anonymous has gone from 2000 theaters to 250. Eve and I would be happy to take credit for this if it weren’t for the fact that the whole world instantly realized that the entire premise was ridiculous. Also, I haven’t seen a positive review yet. Rollo is saying that it’s his idea. Go with that, kiddo. Embrace the fail.

So, what is to be made of this apparent straight-to-DVD upcoming box office failure? Other than “fun of”?

RJB


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


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