University of Warwick doctoral researcher Peter Kirwan posted a commentary about a new book edited by William Leahy, Shakespeare and his Authors: Critical Perspectives on the Authorship Question, on his Shakespeare Apocrapha blog dated April 1, 2010.
Before offering his insights on Leahy’s collection of essays, Kirwan made this statement of his viewpoint regarding two key issues in the Shakespeare authorship scrum:
1) That academic institutions - and English Literature departments in particular - are deliberately and systematically dedicated to the silencing (as opposed to answering) of anti-Stratfordians, or in fact anyone who expresses doubt. This is something I'm very happy to concede. The book collates some shockingly extreme and offensive language applied to anti-Stratfordians that compares them to Holocaust deniers or Creationists. The violence of the academy towards anti-Stratfordians, to my mind, is ill-judged, unprofessional and very troublesome. There is nothing morally wrong in questioning Shakespearean authorship. Universities try to shout down authorship questioners rather than answer them; not only is this poor academic practice, but it also fosters a martyr-like atmosphere of persecution that turns anti-Stratfordians into righteous underdogs. James Shapiro's new book, which came out after this volume, is hopefully a step towards the informed counter-argument rather than the tyrannous subjugation. I say all this because I am a member of an English Literature department in a Russell Group University, and thus am speaking from an establishment position; however, I do not accept that that necessarily means I have a priori views from which I cannot be persuaded.
2) That there is an intrinsic problem with Shakespearean biography, as exemplified primarily by Stephen Greenblatt and Jonathan Bate, the latter of whom is of course my supervisor. I have no innate felt need to defend Shakespearean biographers, however, and several of the essays (on both sides of the debate) identify real and genuine problems with Shakespearean biography: it is almost entirely the domain of English Lit. academics, it is necessarily largely speculative (though rooted in much stronger evidence than several of the writers here would care to admit) and it can be extremely repetitive. It also inevitably puts a lot of importance on the Man From Stratford, which provokes the anti-Stratfordian counter-arguments. Even in the poorest essays here, there are strong arguments about orthodox biography showing them to be, in large part, often no less rooted in fiction and personal opinion than those of the anti-Stratfordians, and that's an important contribution made by the volume.
Kirwan’s complete review may be viewed at “Review: Shakespeare and his authors”.
Shakespeare and his Authors editor William Leahy is Head of the School of Arts and founder of the masters program in Shakespeare authorship studies at Brunel University, UK. His book was published in April by Continuum Books. According to the publishers website: “This collection brings together leading literary and cultural critics to explore the Authorship question as a social, cultural and even theological phenomenon and consider it in all its rich diversity and significance.” The contents include:
- On not knowing Shakespeare (and on Shakespeare not knowing): Romanticism, the authorship question, and English Literature, Andrew Bennett (University of Bristol, UK)
- Malfolio: foul papers on the Shakespeare authorship question, Willy Maley (University of Glasgow, UK)
- The authorship question: an historian’s perspective, William D. Rubinstein (University of Aberystwyth, UK)
- The distraction of ‘Freud’: Literature, Psychoanalysis and the Bacon–Shakespeare controversy, Nicholas Royle (University of Sussex, UK)
- No biography: Shakespeare, author, Sean Gaston (Brunel University, UK)
- Shakespearean selves, Graham Holderness (University of Hertfordshire, UK)
- Shakinomics; or, the Shakespeare authorship question and the undermining of traditional authority, William Leahy (Brunel University, UK)
- Fighting over Shakespeare’s authorship: identity, power and academic Debate, Sandra G. L. Schruijer (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
- Mark Rylance (Former Artistic Director, Globe Theatre, London), Interviewed by William Leahy (Brunel University, UK)
- Dominic Dromgoole (Artistic Director, Globe Theatre, London), Interviewed by William Leahy (Brunel University, UK)