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That was funny, and he made some excellent points. Perhaps the truth, as in so many things, is just that complicated.

Mr. Holderness. With all due respect, you were right the first time. Major themes in the plays and sonnets are also prominent themes in Oxford's life. Coincidence, perhaps? I think not.

It’s become clear to me over the passing years that the real problem we have with the English Departments is that they don’t care who wrote Shakespeare because what they really care about is the text and only the text. Had they cared they would not have succumbed to the inanities of the deconstruction fad of some decades ago, whereby it became dogma (for a time) that the author and his or her intentions are of no importance.

Holderness may have made an unfortunate (for him) slip of the tongue in seeming to endorse Oxford, but now he puts us straight. Nope, like all the other Holoferneses in this scholarly drama, all he cares about is the canon itself. It would make no difference to him “if it was written by a tinker.” Are we to be surprised by this? Didn’t Fred Boas remind us some time ago that it took the English Departments of Cambridge and Oxford 200 years before they would even allow Shakespeare to be performed on campus, much less taught?

I agree with Holderness that Nicholas Rowe should be trusted and also that “The more authentic and credible Rowe becomes, the less likely it is that this Stratford man is the true author.” Of course Rowe got the genuine lowdown on William. Everything in his story confirms who he was. That he was also the world’s most erudite and sophisticated playwright is what requires a death-defying leap of faith, but when one is surrounded by an entire community all taking the same leap (a sort of scholarly “Rapture”), it doesn’t seem so bizarre. Holderness goes on to reverse himself, of course. It’s always interesting to see an academic twisting in the wind of his own thought processses.

Ultimately it’s we the independent scholars who will turn the tide, as we have from the start. All the great Shakespeareans (but one) were unaffiliated independents: Malone, Halliday-Phillips, Chambers (I include the one academic, T.W. Baldwin). Once we’ve turned the corner (and the old guard has died out) the English Departments will simply adopt our discoveries as though there was never a problem, just as they have the works themselves. If they’d only read a little history and get a sense of the political climate at the time, they might find the transition somewhat easier.

Stephanie Hopkins Hughes

"It’s become clear to me over the passing years that the real problem we have with the English Departments is that they don’t care who wrote Shakespeare because what they really care about is the text and only the text. Had they cared they would not have succumbed to the inanities of the deconstruction fad of some decades ago, whereby it became dogma (for a time) that the author and his or her intentions are of no importance."

Aha! Stephanie. You can say that again. O wait, you already did....:)

Couldn't there have been a team of scriptwriters? Has anyone argued for this?

Perhaps this is not much favored because it offends our image of the creative genius when it turns out after the fact that an editor has very substantially improved a famous author's works. Examples are Thomas Wolfe and Raymond Carver (very heavily modified by his editor Liss (I think the name is)).

I think it behoves those of us who are Oxfordians to be a bit more gracious towards Graham Holderness and the issues he raises. In that respect I honour Michael Prescott for giving Graham the space to clarify his position. In the first place, though Oxfordians believe there is strong circumstantial evidence for Oxford's authorship, as far as I know no one believes there is a genuine knock out piece of evidence or smoking gun. And Graham is accepting that there are difficulties in the orthodox attribution, in other words, that it too is circumstantial. This is an important implicit acceptance.

In the second place, it does not seem to me that Oxfordians, of all people, should be cavalier towards anyone who holds that the relationship between author and work is not at all a simple biographical/psychological one. The relationship between an author and a pseudonym is a very subtle one, as Doris Lessing testified in relation to her experience of writing the Jane Somers novels, and Oxfordians are claiming precisely that this authorship was presented under a pseudonym. Further, some of us think that this was unlikely to have been the first pseudonym that Oxford used. Indeed, the Derridean slogan that 'il n'y a d hors texte', properly understood in its true meaning that the relationship between world and text is indissoluble, is highly relevant to elucidating the complex relationship which has to be posited between Oxford and his writings.

It is a relationship which is not without analogies to that between a double agent and his/her alternate identity, the peculiarities of which are touched on in Erving Goffman's magnum opus Frame Analysis, and which some have argued also applied to Oxford.

I don't have a dog in this fight. So speaking as an outsider to the controversy I can say that what Holderness is saying makes sense to me.

For what it's worth.

Some authorship proponents are indeed interested in pursuing those “profound questions about life and writing, the self and identity, personal expression and impersonal artistry.” So I welcome Prof. Holderness’ offer of “common ground for debate.” The problem is that these issues concerning Shakespeare inevitably lead to inquiries into his identity. Nothing obsessive about it. No lobbying. Just the questions which quite naturally arise from the evidence of the works themselves. The intent of these questions, as products of open, inquiring minds, may not even be to discredit the man from Stratford. But if that does happen, does the discussion grind to a halt because “there really won’t be all that much to talk about”? Or will Prof. Holderness, who in a previously, highlighted paragraph, identified himself as “interested in reasonable doubt,” be ready and willing to tred those forbidden paths of academia and follow open-minded, responsible inquiry where it may lead?

Kudos to Michael Prescott for hosting this discussion. And kudos to Prof. Graham Holderness for engaging in a thoughtful discussion about the authorship issue and for stating clearly and unambiguously that he is interested in reasonable doubt.
In addition, I applaud Prof. Holderness for saying the following: "Insofar as Shakespeare Authorship inquiry is interested in pursuing these profound questions about life and writing, the self and identity, personal expression and impersonal artistry (and I know that some authorship doubters are interested in such matters), then there is common ground for debate."
This strikes me as the attitude of a true scholar -- somenone who has not closed his/her mind to reasonable debate and to evidence that may not necessarily fit into a neat and tidy case for one authorship candidate or another. A closed mind is a terrible thing.
But the good Professor makes a few statements that deserve to be challenged. I'll only mention one in particular. He makes the following assertion: "To assert, as Oxfordians invariably assert, that only an aristocrat could have mastered such learning, acquired such favour and displayed such genius is surely to underestimate the lower orders, and to overestimate the upper class."
This statement is one of two things. It is either a willful mischaracterization of the "Oxfordian" position or it belies a complete misunderstanding of what many Oxfordians have said (I hestitate to claim that all Oxfordians "invariably assert" anything because there are many variations and nuances within the Oxfordian community.)
I can't think of any Oxfordian who has made such an assertion. This, of course, is a variation on the "snobbery" argument that often comes up against so-called "anti-Stratfordians" -- I prefer the term "pro-Shakespearans." I am decidedly "pro-Shakespeare" -- I want the correct or true Shakespeare to get the credit. On this I would think all parties in the discussion should be able to agree.
Nobody that I know of has suggested that only an aristocrat "could have mastered such learning ... displayed such genius, etc." That is false and indeed silly. The issue at hand is that the works display such a vast amount of learning and experience in so many specialized fields that the author would have to be someone with a vast knowledge base -- including languages, medicine, military affairs, court intrigue, horticulture, art and music, etc. One would think that members of academia would be the first to champion the need for educational acheivement and years of study.
And yet William of Stratford does not have any documented educational achievements. None. Nada. Zilch. When did he learn how to speak/write Italian or French? When did he learn about Venice or music or medicine? The Stratfordian position seems to boil down to a kind of "immacuate genius" theory in which all of this learning is somehow magically implanted and accepted as fact without any evidence ... and contrary evidence is ignored (absence of any letters or manuscripts, lack of any documented ownership of a single book, difficulty writing his own name, raising two illiterate or at best semi-literate daughters, not a single letter to or from a contemporary literary figure, etc.)
There is a narrower point here. The Shakespeare plays and poems do seem to betray something of an aristocratic worldview ... which is why Walt Whitman believed the real Shakespeare was one of the "wolfish Earls" in Elizabeth's court. But that's a different kind of assertion than what Prof. Holderness suggests. It relies on looking at the evidence before us -- the plays and poems themselves -- and noticing what level of knowledge, learning, and experience (including travel) the author demonstrates. Stratfordians seem content to ignore this evidence or deny it's importance. Is it reasonable to expect that "Shakespeare" -- whoever he/she was -- would require years of painstaking study to acquire the vast knowledge displayed in the works -- and to perfect the poetic and theatrical skills necessary to create the greatest literature in the the English language? I think it is entirely reasonable.

Seeing that this blog is supposed to present the "Occasional thoughts" of Michael Prescott, it's rather surprising that he doesn't really contribute anything aside from a brief introduction. Opinions, Michael?

"Opinions, Michael?"

I'm an Oxfordian. If you click on the "Shakespeare" tag at the bottom of the main post, you'll find my other posts on this subject.

Otherwise, I agree with Matthew Cossolotto's viewpoint (above). And like him, I applaud Prof. Holderness for taking the time to expand on his position so eloquently.

"...the political content and geographical location of the plays are a perfect reflection of the known travels and adventures of Neville, a highly educated diplomat and politician from Berkshire who lived from 1562 to 1615
The plays also portray many of Neville's royal and other ancestors — John of Gaunt in Richard II, Warwick the King Maker in Henry VI part II and King Duncan of Scotland in Macbeth — in a particularly favourable light
A further piece of evidence is a document, now known to have been written by Neville while a prisoner in the Tower of London, which contains detailed notes, the contents of which ended up being used in Henry VIII
There are also striking similarities of style and vocabulary between Neville's private and diplomatic letters and the Shakespeare plays and poems. Word frequency analysis also reveals a statistical correlation.
Finally, in a document discovered in 1867, Neville practised faking William Shakespeare's signature. The document, in Neville's hand and with his name at the top, features 17 attempts at various forms of Shakespeare's signature...."

This Neville fellow is the person I had in mind (although I had forgotten his name) and referred to last year sometime when I wrote that a scholarly investigator had turned up someone who was a better match than Oxford.

But now I'm thinking that both these people, and maybe more, were contributors of scripts to a team of script-writers and script-doctors under the Stratford man's control in London.

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