Thursday, September 01, 2011

60 Minutes With Shakespeare

September is now upon us and, as promised, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has released 60 Minutes With Shakespeare, which should stand up as the definitive resource for smacking down the Authorship debate once and for all.  60 questions, 60 Shakespearean scholars from around the world.  Amazing amount of work went into this.  Heck, they even got Roland Emmerich himself - the director of the movie Anonymous which seems to be the driving point behind this recent push - to answer a question.  

Having said all that, here's my thoughts. I appreciate that there are people who question authorship, and thus the Stratford position needs to be defended, especially by the people who are caretakers of history.  It just doesn't interest me, as a debate.  Of course the Stratford folks get together and answer 60 questions that "prove" Shakespeare wrote his works. But you know what? I completely believe that an Oxfordian group could get together and create this exact same site, and pull out 60 of their own experts (using that term loosely) to answer 60 questions that claim to prove that Oxford did it.  I'm not taking sides - I'm simply pointing out what appears obvious, that if you are clearly on either side, then no amount of proof that you offer can ever be seen as anything but completely biased.

Make up your own mind.  Go listen.  Pick out the questions you're most interested in, or hunt down the experts you most want to hear from.  I'm going to end up listening to all of them, I'm sure.  But if I'm going into it as secure in the knowledge that Shakespeare wrote his works as I am that the sun is going to rise in the morning, I'm just not quite sure what I'm supposed to get out of it.


JM said...

I've been through 20 or so of the comments. So far, in skimming through others, it's pretty much a 101 general knowledge course on the issue. If you've been exposed to the hubbub over the years, the questions and answers aren't surprising. It's nice, though, to have so many prominent personages address the issue in one place, and to hear some of the well-known (and in my book, convincing) arguments voiced directly by them.

kj said...

I hate to correct you, but there are only 59 Shakespeare scholars on the site. Fifty-nine Shakespeare scholars—and Roland Emmerich.


CRS said...

Empirical evidence is empirical.

If someone else believes the sun will not rise tomorrow, and believes it strongly, are you saying there is no way to discover the truth? That they are justified in ignoring any evidence you give them, citing bias? Just because one holds a strong belief does not mean no objective observation is possible.

I believe Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him, but I do not have nearly as much empirical evidence to support that belief as I do that the sun will rise tomorrow. If someone were to present me with any good, contrary data - on either matter - I would have no choice but to change my belief.

If NASA's expert astronomers held a conference and explained in detail why they believed the sun would not rise tomorrow, and if the evidence were indeed empirical and objective, don't you think at least *some* people would trust them and adjust their worldview to accommodate the new data? I know I probably would. The next day when the sun didn't rise, wouldn't it be intellectually dishonest to say that it did? When the NASA experts pointed to the sky and said, "See it is still dark", how could one think "That's just biased evidence"?

I understand that the debate seems to have hit a stalemate, but I think it is an abdication to say that because the other side won't change their minds based on my evidence, and because their evidence has not changed my mind, then there is no possible evidence that would change anyone's mind.

If you are interested in knowing the truth, there is always something to be gained by re-examining the evidence you have, listening to new evidence, and reconsidering your position.

It is true that if you have already made up your mind to ignore all evidence that doesn't match what you already believe, then there is nothing you can get out of the conversation. In that case, there is also nothing you can contribute.

The biggest problem I see in this debate, and perhaps the reason it feels so futile to some, is that nobody is presenting any empirical evidence. It's all just inference and hunches. Nobody's mind is going to be changed just because someone else has a hunch. The search for truth in this debate doesn't really belong to literary scholars. It belongs to scientists, archaeologists, linguists, and everyone else who can produce actual data to support one side or the other.

Now I will throw out my own semi-controversial pondering: Even if someone finally does solve the authorship mystery once and for all, I'm just not quite sure what I'm supposed to get out of it.

Any thoughts?

Duane said...

I think, CRS, that you nail it toward the end - the fact that the truth is so long ago means that no actual testing of hypotheses can take place, and any "evidence" is subject to interpretation and debate.

I mean, think about it - we have documentation, from the period, that attaches Shakespeare's name to the plays. But anti-Shakespeareans will just say "So? That doesn't mean anything." You can do that with anything. If tomorrow a book is discovered that has Oxford's name on it instead we could say the exact same thing. Granted, every Oxfordian in the known universe would just clamp their hands down over their ears and start yelling LALALALALALACANTHEARYOULALALALALA but that's beside the point.

I'm of the belief that to attach strict biographical details to the plays is to do them a disservice. Does Taming of the Shrew represent how Shakespeare felt about his wife? Or Merchant of Venice how he felt about all Jews? If that was all there is to it, I don't think that we'd still be talking about them today. I think it would have been a case of this guy doing the same stuff everybody else was doing.

JM said...

The only intriguing thing to me about all of this is the psychological angle; why someone would want to initiate a grand "debate" without any empirical evidence whatsoever as a catalyst and how in hell they manage to accrue so many adherents to a pie-in-the-sky theory. Their "theory" is based on disbelief, invention, prejudice, and conjecture, and flies in the face of what physical evidence does exist--all of which serves, however little or much, to discredit their claims. What other "issues" might be at work here?

CRS said...


Yes I think we're on the same page. The problem I see is that any documentation is by nature only anecdotal evidence of that which it claims to document. We need empirical evidence to move this conversation forward.


Yes I think you're right. In fact question #42 addresses that idea exactly.

I would be interested to see a study of the correlation between people who take the Oxfordian stance and people who believe in UFO coverups, or that Elvis is alive, or whatever.

I wonder whether there are different categories of conspiracy theory that tend to be taken together in clumps. UFOs and JFK theories seem like one thing to me, whereas climate change denialists and Oxfordians seem like something else, but related to each other.

Again, this is probably a question for psychology and neurophysiology to answer, but it's interesting to think about.