Tuesday, July 27, 2010

OK, Everybody Line Up Behind Stanley

(This particular link made the rounds on Twitter already, but it's definitely worth sharing far and wide.)

I'm not particularly enamored with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's new "Blogging Shakespeare" site which, five-plus years late to the party, seems to be positioning itself as the only Shakespeare blog in town.  Since it's a new project (just a month or two old) perhaps they'll put up a Blogroll or some other link section and give a little acknowledgement to the now wide variety of other blogs that have been "embracing Shakespeare conversation in a digital age" for quite some time now. If their desire is truly to provoke conversation and foster community they might do well to start by engaging in some of the conversation already taking place in the already large community.  I'll be the first to admit that I need to link more blogs myself. I link a bunch, primarily for those authors who are regular contributors to the site, but I'm well aware that there are many I'm missing.

However, having said that I can't help but be jealous that they've got Professor Stanley Wells blogging for them, and he writes gold like this about the new movie Anonymous, and the authorship question in general. We can all sit here behind our blog editors and take our pot shots from a distance, calling the anti-Stratfordians "loony" and getting all patronizing and eye-rolly ... but Professor Wells is the guy who sits in the room with them and gets interrogated for hours on end.  Literally. I don't know that any of us could stand up to that for very long, at least without it breaking down into name calling and chairs flying.

Two specific points come out of this post that make me feel less anxious about the new movie.  First, as Wells points out, this is not being positioned as a documentary, it's going to be something more like Shakespeare in Love.  I think very few of us had to explain to random movie-goers that Romeo and Juliet didn't really go down like that.  Second, and this from the comments, is that the actual theory being hyped - the one where Oxford is both Queen Elizabeth's son and lover (ewww), might well end up looking so crazy that it works against the Oxfordians.  So, that's never a bad thing either.

Authorship is just one of those nagging conspiracies that I don't think will ever go away. You'll still find people who want to engage with you about who shot Kennedy, who was the mastermind behind 9/11, what Obama's real birth certificate says ... We as Shakespeare geeks can choose to ignore it, or we can dive into the conversation and try to give as good as we get in what will soon become a series of very personal attacks.  It's nice to take a moment, though, and remember that there are real people who do this for a living (although, as Wells says, they didn't pay him for his interrogation while he sat on his "distinctly uncomfortable bench" :) ).  Their job is harder, and they deserve some credit and respect for leading the charge into battle.

9 comments:

JM said...

Will Sutton has also taken up the fight on his blog I Love Shakespeare and does a great job of refuting the Oxfordian claptrap with a seemingly endless list of facts backed by real scholarship. I tip my hat to him, but as I was quick to tell him, the whole thing begins to exhaust me after not too much inquiry. But still, I'm glad there are those with the intestinal fortitude to tackle the issue so assiduously.

Ren du Braque said...

Here a link to a NYT's book review of Contested Will. Personally, it's pornographic to will oneself into possession of Shakespeare's identity and cold-hearted to re-write and weave what one thinks is Shakespeare into his plays. Perhaps the man was blessed with an amazingly clear vision of humanity and an uncanny skill to put it into verse and theater. Whatever happened to just reading the text and interpreting it the best one can?

I almost forgot why I mentioned the book review. James Shapiro has a conspiracy theory about the conspirators. They project their own failings onto the construction of the Shakespeare icon. Unfortunately, Shakespeare is so famous that it drives people nuts. We may be a little to blame for this. Our enthusiasm may push them to steal some of our admiration.

JM said...

Ren du Braque said..."Whatever happened to just reading the text and interpreting it the best one can?"

My sentiments exactly. And I think Shapiro is right. I've always said it's ABOUT THEM, not about who wrote the Works.
And Ren, they can call us "Bardolators" all they please, it still doesn't justify their--as you so aptly put it--pornography. Some of their tactics in the manipulation of the facts we do have are unconscionable in my view. And if they want (crave) admiration for something...anything worthwhile, let them earn it some other way than trying to denigrate and steal it from someone else's already justifiable notoriety.

catkins said...

As I mentioned in a previous post, I spent an uncomfortable hour myself being interrogated by the screenwriter of "Anonymous" at a dinner party. Not only was it clear that there was no way I could change his mind, but it was obvious that the other guests simply could not follow our arguments. One of them commented that it appeared to her like a religious argument. And there is something to that, since we were not arguing facts, just their interpretation. There are some things that need to be explained. How did Shakespeare know what he knew? How did he get a hold of his source material? Why do we know so little about him? From a Stratfordian point of view, none of these are hard to explain, but they need explaining. To an anti-Stradforian they are fodder for conspiracy theories.

It is bothersome, but apparently true, that with smoke and mirrors, it is possible to make it seem reasonable to the uninitiated that a nobleman would want to write poems and plays, be afraid to make them public, choose to use an actor to be his "beard", be able to keep this a secret from everyone else, have the actor acclaimed by his contemporaries as a great writer, and never let the world know the truth. Furthermore, it is apparently possible to make this theory seem more probable than the idea that the person that was stated in writing to be the author of the poems and plays actually was the author.

It is perhaps sobering to consider that the average IQ is 100.

--Carl

Ren du Braque said...

@Carl, I've recently heard that Proust once wrote that nitwits can be diabolically clever, intelligent people fools, the greatest snobs can sometimes display the most profound simpleness and naivety, and the supposedly very simple can be down-right snobby. Your night out sounds like you were surrounded by these multifaceted and highly conflicted types.

If I ever find the time, I have to squeeze in Proust.

@JM, I wish I was called a bardolator. It's not as bad as what I've been called. The epithet of choice from those who are obviously more tolerant and accepting is snob. They tend to hurl it in my face during a conversation about literature in crowded rooms, and then walk away feeling very morally satisfied. I still haven't figured out how to approach them. I may have just given up. On the other hand, I've become immune to those that simply say, "Shakespeare's scum" or something of the same ilk. I go on with my point as if I never heard them, in the same manner they pronounce their hierarchy of distaste given their ignorance of Shakespeare.

I think we've concluded that it's not easy.

william sutton said...

I agree with Carl that we should have a list of commonly used arguments against Sh. with their rebuttals. The name, the education, the lack of books, travel, languages etc.

These aren't stupid people but they do argue in a religious way. Facts are theirs to manipulate. Facts are ours to state our case.

'I don't believe you' is probably the best way to deal with them. Followed by 'it doesn't really matter', which gets them foaming at the mouth. They use our facts to bolster their case anyway.

Dave Kathman argues cogently to my mind on his authorship page. The dyed in the wool conspirators all know him and condemn his arguments in favour of their interpretation of the facts.

The Stromata blog by Tom Veal also contains excellent rebuttals of their different cases. Professor Alan H. Nelson has been fighting with them for years. He even wrote a biography about Oxford that didn't make them happy.

Dr Daphne Pearson was an Oxfordian and she too wrote a book on Oxford's wardship after her re-conversion back. Before them it was B.M. Ward in 1928. There are no other biographers of Oxford really outside of the Oxfordians themselves and we know their conclusion.

I don't think arguing head-on has any effect whatsoever. Perhaps we should be like Ann Coulter is with Democrats and belittle them at every step of their thinking process.

Switch candidates on them half way through, suddenly see the light and become a Baconian or Rutlandite or pose Henry Neville or take the feminine route and argue for Mary Pembroke, or Aemilia Bassanio, or even Anne Hathaway!

Surely they can't all be right? But triumphantly they will say, So there is room for doubt?

I started my SH studies uninitiated and was almost convinced until I started to read the sources they used and found they weren't telling the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Don't give up, fight back! A love for SHakespeare doesn't need to include the author's biography.

Wish I could have been at that dinner with the screenwriter!

catkins said...

Oh, I would have rather been anywhere but at that dinner with the screenwriter! It would not have been so bad to discuss the authorship issue one-on-one with him, but there were 5 other people there (not counting my wife, bless her soul) who were looking at us as if we were raving lunatics arguing about the proper way to conduct a Klingon ritual while circling the planet Vulcan.
And go ahead and joke about all the potential candidates making anti-Stradfordians look silly, but the screenwriter actually admitted that he vacillated between Bacon and Oxford as the true author of Shakespeare's works and it did not affect his credibility at the table one whit!
I think it's all about the sexiness and anti-establishment twist of the conspiracy theory crowd. Posit something different from the obvious, and the more the opposition protests, the more suspect they are because they are "protecting their turf." I see the same thing in medicine with the proponents of alternative medicine. Facts, logic, reason, intelligence--they all go out the window.
--Carl

JM said...

Carl & Ren have reminded me...And now I have to become more familiar with Proust. I've argued for years, unsuccessfully most of the time, that success and fame--(in this country synonymous with monetary wealth), many times arrived at with pure guile, luck, dishonesty, craft (already devised formulae by someone who might have been really smart), headstrong focus and determination,--don't necessarily equal intelligence. :)

william sutton said...

sexiness and anti-establishment twist is what i think sh was all about.

The stratford guy certainly lead an incredible anonymous artistic life on his own artistic terms. We just don't know the details of it.

Oxford as Nobility is documented far better. We have his letters. So where's the book called Shakespeare's letters?

Am I wrong or would every lover of shakespeare love to get their hands on his correspondence?

There is such an Oxfordian book I think but obviously it doesn't shed much light or we'd 've heard about it.

As a friend said to me today, it's a tribute to how much free time civilisation has created that we can have this discussion at all. In earlier societies (and some today) this personal intellectual freedom didn't exist.

But then how many humans are motivated by facts, logic, reason, intelligence over and above their opposites as we shuffle off this mortal coil?

Wonder how much he made for that script?

(the other reason SH was good).


yours
will