Friday, June 10, 2011

Strats and anti-Strats collide in London

While the public waits for Sony to approve release of “The Shakespeare Authorship Debate with Roland Emmerich” video recorded live at the English-Speaking Union (ESU) in London on June 6, 2011, interested readers may read Stanley Wells’ and Paul Edmondson’s debate speeches on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s site, Blogging Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust chairman Professor Stanley Wells CBE and trust education director Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson along with University of London professor Michael Dobson formed the Stratfordian triumvirate at the ESU debate. Anonymous director Roland Emmerich, author Charles Beauclerk, and Dr. William Leahy who is head of the English Dept. at Brunel University where he runs the graduate program in Shakespeare authorship studies defended the anti-Stratfordian position. 

The debate chairman was former head of speech and debate at ESU, James Probert, who congenially refereed the proposition: "This House Believes that William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon wrote the plays and poems attributed to him." All six participants were allowed a five-minute speech to be followed by questions from the audience. The impressive teaser-trailer from Roland Emmerich's film of the Shakespeare authorship, Anonymous, kicked off the event. 

Roland Emmerich began the program with a description of his artistic process in bringing the story of the Shakespeare authorship to life.
The more I got into it, I realized there is a whole trove of unknown facts which could be unearthed. It makes a good story. And I’m a storyteller. As a storyteller you want to make something incredibly eye opening for the audience. I would say that Shakespeare didn’t wrote the play is only one scandal that this movie unearths. 


Emmerich expressed surprise at Stratfordian name-calling tactics when defending their candidate, and in general represented a neutral, but curious-minded point-of-view. In this viewer's opinion, Emmerich was the most natural and compelling speaker at the event. Stanley Wells opened the debate with the standard "unimpeachable evidence" and defended posthumously derived evidence. His clear and forceful report may be read in total hereBeauclerk's five-minute reply emphasized the autobiographical nature of Shakespeare's work. There was no rebuttal of any of Stanley Wells assertions. 

Michael Dobson gave a clear and interesting Stratfordian view of the study of Shakespeare's authorship. He said he didn't " . . . have time to explain how a drama can be good and sincere without it being a personal memoir." -- which is a good thing since he would also have to explain how a dramatist comes to write in his native tongue if his biography has no impact on his work. Dobson concluded by saying he was grateful to Emmerich for making "Anonymous", adding the stinger, "It is no less and no more than an absolutely terrific plot for a B movie." 

William Leahy presented a reasoned and rational anti-Stratfordian alternative that he called "a complex truth" of an unattractive Shaksper who wrote "like a chimpanzee wearing oven gloves" and who stole the work of many other playwrights. He derided the mythical explanation of Shakespeare's genius by saying: 
This is a mythical explanation. You accept it if you buy into that mythological way of seeing the world. In the end it explains nothing about William Shakespeare but everything about those who believe it.
The Stratfordians concluded with an arch presentation by Paul Edmondson in which he opined: "I do think there is an implicit snobbery at work here. Their [anti-Strat] proponents . . . ignore the high quality of the Elizabethan grammar school." Edmonson's speech may be read in full here.

Unfortunately, no one mentioned the absence of any documents showing that Shaksper from Stratford ever attended this wondrous Elizabethan university of the mind.

Several questions followed including comments from American authorship researcher Paul Streitz and British actress Janet Suzman. At one point during the Q&A Emmerich commented on the unpleasant nature of the authorship debate:
It’s a lot about authority because what's being challenged is conventional knowledge. They get angry; they get pompous; they begin to ridicule. It says a lot about English academia because they feel justified in taking such an [unclear word, possibly 'arrogant'] stance.
After a lengthy Q&A session, chairman Probert called for a voice vote, and despite an evenly voiced response, declared the Stratfordians victors. The ESU's report of the event on their website said:
While a vote indicated a resounding win for the proposition, the conversations being had as the audience left Dartmouth House indicated that there was far more to discuss, and that the question of the authorship of Shakespeare's plays is far from resolved. The event was recorded and will be available soon. Join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to be informed as soon as the video is online.
Anti-Stratfordian reaction
Seattle resident and Seattle Shakespeare Oxford Society member Jennifer Newton watched the debate via live-streaming on the Internet, and shared her first reaction musings with Oberon:
I caught this live and was a bit disappointed in the arguments made by the “Anti” team. Especially William Leahy’s focus on the Stratford man’s litigiousness and grain-hoarding, and the ungainliness of the Droeshout portrait. There are plenty of bad citizens and mean people (and perhaps even folks who look like "chimps in a sack") who have nevertheless given us great art. To me, this approach failed to convey the essential gaps that create reasonable doubt about Shaksper’s authorship.
In my opinion, a stronger argument would have been to address either why the Stratford man was unlikely to be the author (no books/letters/manuscripts, illiterate children, lack of access to source documents, foreign language and travel issues), and/or why someone else probably was (specific court in-jokes and parallels, earlier dates for plays -- those alleged “ur”-versions, deep knowledge of subjects such as law, classics, contemporary astronomy, horticulture, court ways, etc. that could not all be gleaned from tavern-gossip). Five minutes is brief for such a complex subject, but I do think the time could have been better used. 
Of course, the Stratford three weren't so hot. Wells trotted out the same old references to Francis Meres and Robert Greene that have been ably countered/questioned by authorship doubters for ages. And the other two were rather bitchy and sniping, mainly serving up ad-hominem attacks (Snobbery and Conspiracy Theory made repeated appearances) and invoking Delia Bacon's declining years spent in an asylum. Though, in their favor, they did not make fun of Looney's name -- surely a Stratfordian first? But they still imagine they can afford to say nothing -- and are free to say it snidely -- because they have tradition on their side, and nothing at all to prove. For now.
Retired actor Natalie Miller, who lives on Cape Cod and is a member of Richard Whalen's Shakespeare authorship group there, shared her response to the streamed debate:
I got to see the whole thing yesterday, and I'd say it was a perfectly respectable promo for the film and little else. No new information.  The 'same-old same-old' from both sides. I thought that Professor Leahy was the most feisty — and effective — speaker on our side, despite his being a "group-ist". Beauclerk was okay but unexciting, and Emmerich might as well have stayed home. But it wasn't a truly serious debate, after all—it was hype for the movie. The audience was closely divided between the two camps and I'm sure nobody had their minds changed.
Heward Wilkinson, a UK psychotherapist and Oxfordian scholar who
has just completed an Oxfordian doctorate in psychotherapy at
Middlesex University, shared the following assessment -- some of which originally appeared on Nina Green's Phaeton email list: 
If we were to see it as a boxing match, I thought the Stratfordians won by a small margin on points but the fight went the whole distance and the margins were close right to the end. This despite the facts:1. that the 'anti' group comprised two entirely PT [Prince Tudor theory] Oxfordians, Emmerich (who was polemically lightweight, though effective at advertising) and Charles Beauclerk who JUST at one point managed to steer away from the incest theme and consequently WAS able to remain effective, but it was a close run thing -- and Bill Leahy, who clearly takes a sort of groupist position, but was forcefully effective, and was clearly disunited with his two colleagues.2. that anti-PT mockery was used effectively on the Stratordian side several times. 
The Chair managed to make the discussion good natured by being lighthearted and deliberately a bit irrelevant. In combination one 'English Rose' lady managed to ask a very good 'innocent question' about whether it matters -- and this in a way brought everyone together because ALL PRESENT felt that it mattered. The net overall result was that the impression in the room was of two NEARLY EQUAL points of view, which will both have to be taken seriously and be together in the field for a long time to come.

I thought, therefore, overall, it was a good result for us. As one who, 
I thought, therefore, overall, it was a good result for us. As one who, as I indicated in my discussion of Shapiro [http://hewardwilkinson.wordpress.com/2010/04/] is an Oxfordian six days of the week and a Stratfordian on the seventh, that is, someone for whom the Oxfordian hypothesis is a strongly circumstantial hypothesis which is nevertheless attended by doubt and disbelief, it was actually solidly reassuring to witness versions of the Oxfordian and non-Stratfordian thesis standing up so well against some robust if, on this occasion, quite good-humoured derision and opposition, and versions of the Stratordian belief system. It was also quite a startling and disconcerting revelation to realise that the Stratfordians are actually just as much invested in this film 'flying' as are Oxfordians and authorship sceptics, and that they, too, are 
hanging on to its coat-tails and milking it for as much publicity as they can. 

Reources:

BBC News report by entertainment and arts correspondent Tim Masters June 7, 2011:
ESU report:
The Guardian report:
Paul edmondson's speech:
Stanley Wells speech:
Heward Wilkinson's chapter on King Lear from his book The Muse as Therapist at Brief Chronicles IIhttp://www.briefchronicles.com/ojs/index.php/bc/article/view/71.)