The Shakespeare authorship controversy will be discussed in two, new classes at eastern universities in the new year:
- Harvard Extension School lecturer Donald Ostrowski, PhD, will teach a four-credit class titled “Historical Controversies” Jan. 4-17, 2011 in Harvard Hall, Boston and
- detective fiction critic B.J. Rahn will teach a non-credit class titled “What's in a Name? The Shakespeare Authorship Debate Investigated” April 6- May 11, 2011 at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies in New York City.
In Ostrowski’s class the Shakespeare authorship controversy will be one among many issues the class will investigate. Ostrowski will not attempt to resolve controversies; he will use them to enlighten his students on the topic of scholarly debate. From Ostrowski’s "Historical Controversies" syllabus:
My intent in offering this course and in is to deﬁne a number of controversies that are currently exercising scholarly ingenuity and to analyze each of these controversies by means of three criteria of historical study: accurate representation of the evidence, logical argument, and conceptually elegant interpretation. As the course description says, I wanted to choose controversies that were clearly dividing scholarship and especially those that were generating some emotional heat. Such “hot topics” motivate scholars to dig deeper for more evidence and better arguments, but they also often expose the weaknesses of scholarly contention. My thinking is that students would ﬁnd more interesting scholarly conﬂicts that remain open than those that have already been resolved. Thus, these treatments are not attempting a historiographical survey of each controversy but more a general introduction to the controversy and an analysis of the “sticking points,” the bones of contention. . . .
In presenting controversies for use in the classroom, I am placing myself ﬁrmly on the side of those who ﬁnd discussing the parameters of scholarly debate a remarkably effective method for involving students in the material. I know instructors who say that they cannot even get their students to understand one point of view, let alone two or three on a particular topic. “It would just confuse them further,” they say. The fault, however, is not with their students. Merely presenting one point of view is a sure way to dampen whatever interest students may have for the subject. There is no way for them to get involved with the material when they have only one interpretation to contend with, that of the teacher or the textbook. With two or more viewpoints, students can then test one against the other(s). They can get some leverage on the material, which in turn leads to critical thinking and teaches them to be better citizens. They learn to decide between different arguments whether among candidates for ofﬁce in a political campaign or among lawyers and “expert” witnesses in a jury trial. Trying to teach them only one “correct” opinion does none of these things.
“Normal science,” the term used by Thomas Kuhn to designate when a particular paradigm prevails, occurs either when the preponderance of evidence and analysis leads to one overriding interpretation or when a scholar or group of scholars exercise such authority in their ﬁeld that few dare challenge them and their views. When such challenges occur, the usual response is to attempt to marginalize the challengers and their ideas. Sometimes these challenges become the next paradigm; more often they do not because they are not as good at explaining the evidence as the old paradigm.
A paper due at the end of Ostrowski's class requires students to update one of the topics from Paul Aron’s Unsolved Mysteries of History, or to improve a controversy’s Wikipedia entry. Ostrowski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At NYU, former Hunter College professor and expert in the field of detective fiction B.J. Rahn will use her experience in crime solving to address the topic of the Shakespeare authorship question. The "What's in a Name: the Shakespeare Authorship Debate Investigated" class description says:
Doubts about the authorship of the plays published under the name "William Shakespeare" were first expressed at the end of the 18th century, and the debate has gathered momentum over the ensuing 200 years. Using a detective's logical analysis in the hope of discovering a "smoking gun" and solving the case definitively, review the principal evidence gathered by observation, interviews, and research that points to the four most likely suspects: Francis Bacon; the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere; Christopher Marlowe; and "the Man from Stratford" himself. Readings and lectures include historical and contemporary sources.