Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Year of Mary Sidney

Omigosh the past six months were hellacious, but I just sent off The Last Computer Book I Will Ever Write and am dedicated to spending the next thirteen months on nothing but Mary Sidney and the Shakespearean works. I just got back from doing four presentations and a quiz show on the Shakespeare at Sea cruise which was so successful they are already booking for next year. I was not allowed to talk about Mary Sidney or authorship at all, but that's okay because it was more important on this venture to establish my knowledge of the Shakespearean works and my presentation/teaching skills on that subject.

A couple of documentaries are in progress about Mary Sidney; I'm doing a talk about her at the Newberry Library in Chicago and to the UCLA affiliates in Los Angeles in May; Wiltshire Life magazine, where Mary's estate of Wilton House is located, has asked me to write an article for the magazine; the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival has asked me to come out and do a talk this summer; and more. I'll put up details in the next few days. I also plan to start a Google news group so all those of us interested can share information more readily. And I must update the and sites! So much to do! More anon!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reasonable Doubt

The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition has formulated the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare. It’s a document expressing the bona fide issues with the authorship (not actually the identity of the man named William Shakespeare) to educate people about the discussion and to advocate an open-minded examination. As the last line states, “We hereby declare that the identity of William Shakespeare should, henceforth, be regarded in academia as a legitimate issue for research and publication, and an appropriate topic for instruction and discussion in classrooms.”

As you may well know, the subject of authorship is strictly taboo in most colleges and universities—an odd contradiction in institutions that are supposed to explore and question and teach us to think for ourselves.


But you have a chance to change all this! You are encouraged to sign the declaration yourself. If you do it by midnight (London time) on April 21, 2007, you will be on the historical list of initial signers. Your name will go down in history. Go to their web site: and sign on!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Why English Professors Are Particularly Ill-Suited To Examine The Authorship Question

The following is a guest blog from Ross Carter.

As we know, most English professors -- I shall call them EPs -- are quick to dismiss anyone who lacks university credentials, as if their particular sect of scholarship represents the One True Way and followers of anything else are infidels. I won't deny that EPs working within the confines of their profession perform a valuable service; while I haven't yet figured out what it is, nevertheless I grant the possibility that they in fact do something worthwhile. But their profession has nothing to do with deductive reasoning, and that is what the Question is all about.

My point goes further than the simple fact that EPs have no special ability that makes them best suited to examine the Question. I contend that the nature of their work in fact renders them the least capable.

EPs live -- or at least work -- in a world where fact is secondary to supposition. What do EPs do? They publish articles that argue for or against some interpretation of a literary work. The principal source is the text of the work itself. The objective of the article is simply to get published, which essentially means writing something that peers who do the peer-reviewing will approve. It is a closed system. The EPs reach into the real world long enough to grab a literary work and then retreat into their private conclave, opinionating among themselves, writing articles that are incapable of verification or disproof. The only judges of their work are their own kinsmen.

As revealing as what EPs do is what they don't do. They don't, as far as I am aware, develop research techniques that enable them to interview living writers and discern what an actual author intended her work to convey. They don't investigate the creative processes that actual writers use. They don't compile data that will be of use to other scholars. In short they make no attempt to correlate their conclusions with the actual facts regarding what a writer intended to communicate; they do not even have research protocols developed for that purpose.

The EPs' world is entirely subjective. It is all argumentation about opinions that can never be verified or disproved. The fruit of an EP's labor is tested only as to its plausibility among compatriots. It is not fired in a crucible of observable fact, as in most other scholarly disciplines.

Back here in the real world, where EPs seldom venture, that crucible culls our every effort. Take for example a lawyer. His success depends not on what other lawyers think of him, but on his abilities, including above all his ability to make the right judgment from among an expanse of alternatives. Or take, say, a highly successful author of computer books. She could not have sold a gazillion fact-filled books if those facts were not accurate. In their careers, these people have to be right; not just plausible or provocative but right. They look at the facts available to them and make deductive judgments that are subjected to make-or-break dissection by disinterested or even hostile arbiters.

It should be clear to all who study the Authorship Question that it requires precisely that kind of ability. From available facts, the scholar submits a hypothesis that can be disproved or validated by the examination of other facts not known to the scholar when the hypothesis was offered. In this manner each scholar's effort contributes to our progressive knowledge.

The most important voices on the Authorship Question are those of people who have demonstrated success in the application of deductive reasoning. EPs can demonstrate nothing more than success in placating their colleagues. Those who are interested in the Question should regard lack of university credentials in English Literature as a credential in itself.

Ross Carter

From Robin: As Don Foster (the Vassar professor who "proved" the Funeral Elegy was written by Shakespeare and later someone else "proved" Shakespeare didn't write it) states, "In my field, no one is required to actually "prove" anything. We merely write incredibly clever commentary."

Friday, January 12, 2007

It’s an American question.

Two Brits have coldly admonished me, with sniffs and noses in the air, that the Shakespearean Authorship Question is “merely an American question.” End of discussion. And that is one of Peter Holland’s two “arguments” against the authorship issue in his article about WS in the Dictionary of National [British] Biography (his other argument is, “You’re just a snob”).

Claiming it to be merely an American question (because Americans are somehow prone as a nation to conspiracy theories, Holland claims) seems to be almost as popular a line as “You're just a snob,” particular with the British. It’s also an ad hominem argument, as if somehow being an “American question” automatically makes it an inferior or stupid question or you are an inferior or stupid American for thinking such a thing (and consequently, the speaker is the superior English person). AND IT DOES NOT ADDRESS THE ISSUE.

And like “You’re just a snob,” it skirts the issue without the speaker having to know anything about the question at all. Very convenient.

Funny, the Brits who told me this and the British Peter Holland all live in America.

You’re just a snob.

“You’re just a snob” if you think Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. Criminy, how many times have I heard or read that stupid line. It’s the first and favorite thing a Shakespearean will tell you if you dare bring up the authorship issue. And I repeat: it’s a stupid line. And a rude one. “You’re just a snob” is an ad hominem argument; ad hominem means “to the man.” That is, it personally attacks the person bringing up the inquiry — IT DOES NOT ADDRESS THE ISSUE. It is a rude statement that is designed to make the person discussing authorship feel like a low-class, immoral elitist, but it has NOTHING to do with the very real issues surrounding the authorship. Here’s an equivalent argument: She says, “Santa Fe has an average of 300 sunny days a year.” He says, “You're just a slut.” Ad hominem.

Shakespeareans use that line regularly because it is an easy way to skirt the problems (and make you feel crummy and themselves feel superior). I particularly take offense at being told this for two reasons.
1. In my book, Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare?, my argument is NOT that Shakespeare didn’t have any record of an education or a presence at court and therefore wasn’t qualified to write these works. My argument is that there is no clear documentation that he was a writer, along the lines of Diana Price’s book, Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography. So don’t yell at me for claiming WS couldn’t have written them without the education and background, because I don’t claim that. Of course he might have had an education “that would put many college graduates to shame today” and he might have had friends in the literati and he might have hung around at court and he might have studied rhetoric and poetry and French and Italian and alchemy, etc. etc. etc. It’s certainly possible that he might have done all these things.

2. Why on earth would *I* claim someone couldn't do something that they don’t have “appropriate credentials” for? H*ll, my first computer book was turned down by ten publishers because I don’t have a degree in computers. I had to self-publish my first two computer books which have now sold more than two million copies and are in many different languages. I had the same problem with the Sweet Swan of Avon — I don’t have the “appropriate background” in Shakespeare studies and had to essentially self-publish it. So far be it from ME to claim William Shakespeare didn't have the appropriate background.

The funny thing is that the author of the Shakespearean works is a huge snob. The lower classes are consistently belittled; the upper classes naturally speak better and are more refined and somehow very well educated even if they’ve grown up in a shepherd’s hut or in a cave. (I’m working on an essay about that and will eventually post it here.)

The brilliant writer Elliot Baker sent me a copy of a published letter of Delia Bacon’s in which she told someone sputtering about Shakespeare, “You do not know what is in those Plays if you think that booby wrote them.” I have to agree with her.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Conspiracy? Hardly.

This posting is from Jim Norrena, a guest blogger for Mary Sidney:

I do love a good mystery! Yet for all the hoopla about Robin Williams’ Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? and how she brings to light “a new conspiracy theory” upholding Mary Sidney Herbert to be the author of the Shakespearean works, I disagree that any so-called conspiracy exists in this fascinating research.

According to Williams’ research, The Countess of Pembroke didn’t gain a stitch in concealing her endeavors (intentionally or otherwise); no choice existed in the matter. Mary Sidney was not permitted to write in such a manner—to do so would contradict the social order, thus defying God’s will.

Should William, Mary Sidney’s oldest son and Lord Chamberlain, have endeavored to conceal his mother’s work (to protect not only her but also himself), it would most logically have been done to protect the family’s noble standing—not to gain additional riches or prestige.

Conspiracy? Hardly. To study Mary Sidney’s life is to further understand just how extraordinary this woman was from a literary, intellectual, and historical perspective. She could do almost anything she wanted, and she did, but her one true desire—to write the greatest works in the English language—was thwarted by the established reigning proprieties of the era.

What Williams uncovers about Mary Sidney is far better described as an unmasking of social oppression. Rather than approach this subject matter with the idea that somehow Mary plotted and schemed to conceal her authorship of the plays and sonnets, I suggest reading Sweet Swan of Avon as a history lesson about a time and place where women could not shine as bright as they were, but did so at their own expense, such as illustrated by Mary Sidney’s anonymous (and credited) contributions to a society that was denied the chance to fully embrace her greatness.

Conspiracy? Try payback.