Sunday, August 1, 2010

Handley says anti-Strat position is "irrefutable" -- Beauclerk? not so much

Reviewer Garrett Handley skewers Charles Beauclerk for his presumption in Handley's review of Beauclerk's Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom: the True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth (Grove Press, 2010). Handley's review "The Ass Made Proud" , is published in the August 2010 issue of Open Letters Monthly: an Arts and Literature Review.

Handley says the anti-Stratfordian viewpoint is valid, but Beauclerk -- like many other anti-Stratfordians -- refuses to quit while he's ahead:
What [Beauclerk is] saying is simple and (at least at the beginning) irrefutable: the sheer amount of specialized learning and epitomized world-experience in Shakespeare’s plays is not just vast but extraordinarily so.
The basic articulation of his point is this: lacking any autographed copies, it’s a much, much greater leap to attribute those plays to somebody like William Shakespeare than it is to attribute them to somebody else. If you do as Beauclerk asks, if you divest your estimate of all tradition and received opinion and simply match the works to the man, if you pretend for a moment that there is no contemporary evidence that seems to link a man named William Shakespeare to the works we know under his name, the matter couldn’t really be much clearer. As Mark Twain pointed out a century ago, there’s no evidence the man from Stratford ever read a book, much less owned one – and there’s much evidence of posthumous tampering with his reputation. Occam’s Razor leaves the man from Stratford in ribbons.
If the anti-Stratfordians – if any anti-Stratfordian – stopped right there, they would stand on firm ground. If they stopped right there, all they’d have to explain are a few apparent factual discrepancies, if that (the dates traditionally given for some dozen plays, for instance, fall after the death-date of the Earl of Oxford). But they never stop right there.
Beauclerk certainly doesn’t. His mental exercise is perfectly telling: if we were told that a pipe-fitter’s son with a grammar school education and some rental properties to his name was also the author of the collected works of Lionel Trilling – if we were told to believe it simply on the basis of tradition and a few scraps of ambiguous corroboration (did Trilling once mention pipe-fitting in an essay? Or perhaps a contemporary satirist made a jeer about an author ‘trilling’ a new song?), we would quite rightly refuse. We would say, “Look, I’m not a snob, but the plain fact is, that guy couldn’t have written the works in question … he didn’t know any of the matter involved, didn’t speak or read any of the languages quoted, hadn’t – and couldn’t – read any of the hundreds of books quoted and paraphrased, hadn’t met any of the people or the kind of people described, and most importantly, hadn’t achieved the breadth of mind that a lifetime of rigorous scholarship – and world citizenship – can impart.” And we’d be right to say it. Beauclerk says it, and he’s quite convincing. The problem is, he says a lot more.
 The entire review is available on the web at: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/the-ass-made-proud/

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