The second issue of Brief Chronicles (www.briefchronicles.com), a peer reviewed journal of Shakespeare studies, has been distributed to 725 members of the American Historical Association teaching Early Modern Europe at US universities, with an invitation to help resolve the Shakespeare Authorship Question.
“Very few academic historians have written about the Shakespearean Question,” said Professor Roger Stritmatter of Coppin State University, general editor of Brief Chronicles. “We find this situation unfortunate because the issue of who wrote Shakespeare’s works is as much historical as it is literary, and the required investigation raises basic questions of epistemology and method requiring collaboration between historians and literary scholars. We therefore believe that early modern historians are qualified by training to make a significant contribution to the exploration of this question, which is so central to the self-conception of Anglo-American culture.”
There are several reasons why an authorship issue continues 400 years after Shakespeare’s death in 1616. First, no documentary sources from the period during which the works were written unequivocally confirm that the Stratford Shakespeare was the author of his supposed works – only that he was an actor and theater investor. Moreover, said Gary Goldstein, the journal’s managing editor: “He almost certainly lacked the experience required by the author of the works--travel to Italy, ability to read the known sources of his plays in French, Italian and Spanish, knowledge about astronomy, falconry, horticulture and law, as well as pursuit of a joint career as actor and prolific playwright.”
Further, there is no mesh between his life and the evolutionary trajectory of his works, accepting the orthodox chronology of when they were written. What little is known about Shakespeare's biography has virtually no explanatory power in understanding why he wrote a particular work when he did.
Contrast, for example, playwright Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s contemporary, whose biography is documented in a library numbering in the hundreds of books, an epistolary trail including several letters, and numerous examples of literary holographs such as book dedications to friends.
For these reasons, the more a critic trades in Shakespearean biography, the less he can tell us about the works themselves. W. H. Furness, the father of the editor of the Second Variorum Shakespeare, stated this more than a century and a half ago: “I am one of the many who has never been able to bring the life of William Shakespeare within planetary space of the plays. Are there any two things in the world more incongruous?”
In the second issue of Brief Chronicles are ten research papers and five book reviews that supply some first steps towards constructing an inter-disciplinary inquiry on the Shakespearean question. “To us,” said Stritmatter, “this issue is the most exciting and challenging topic in a modern Humanities curriculum, and we hope historians will join us in our enquiry.”
Indexed by the MLA International Bibliography and the World Shakespeare Bibliography, Brief Chronicles is an annual journal of research, authorship studies and the Tudor and Jacobean periods, with an inter-disciplinary Editorial Board of scholars in Economics, English, History, Law, Psychiatry, and Theater. The journal is published online each autumn at www.briefchronicles.com free of charge. -- Gary Goldstein