Sunday, August 18, 2013

Stanley and Paul visit Ontario

We happy few prior to Wells' event Aug. 16, 2013 in Stratford, Ontario: George and Sharon Hunter, Tom and Joy Townsend, Pam Verlone (hidden), Rosey Hunter, Richard Joyrich, Rey Perez, Linda Theil

By Linda Theil

Several members of the Oberon Shakespeare Study Group visited Stratford, Ontario this weekend to hear Shakespeare Birthplace Trust life trustee and former chairman Stanley Wells give a talk at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival on August 16, 2013.

We found Wells a masterful speaker. A fine-looking man, with a shock of white hair and emphatic white brows, tie-less in a grey suit and wearing his signature pink dress shirt with flesh-colored stockings and oxfords, he read from a superb, prepared text on “Sex and Love in Verona, Venice and Vienna”.

In the question and answer session post-presentation, therefore, it came as a shock to hear this elegant, accomplished gentleman lead the audience in jeering laughter against those, like my friends and I who question the Stratfordian authorship attribution, refer to as “anti-Shakespeareans” – a name none of us would choose for ourselves.

In monetary terms, alone – terms we surmise the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust finds compelling – our contribution to the Shakespeare enterprise -- in book-buying, ticket-buying, and travel – is enormous. This weekend’s jaunt cost over $2000 for play tickets and another $1500 for rooms and food. All of us devote extraordinary amounts of time and money to our passion for the great work of Shakespeare.

To throw this kind of this kind of devotion out the window and label it anti-Shakespearean strikes us as the height of folly. But name-calling is the resort of many Stratfordians who cannot resist venting their fury at those who question the authorship of the Stratfordian candidate.

A recent example of this type of Stratfordian strategy appears in the comments section of Wells’ review of John Shahan’s Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? Exposing an Industry in Denial where a commentator provided an assessment of those who dare to doubt the Stratford candidate’s validity as the author of Shakespeare’s works, comparing anti-Strat Oxfordians to the apartied regime in South Africa. Alasdair Brown on Aug. 13, 2013 said:
 . . . There’s the same meanness of spirit. The same depressing view of humanity. The same anti-democratic impulses. The same construction of fundamental human differences. The same smug sense of superiority. The same perception of a divinely sanctioned order of things. The same distortion of history. The same denial of human capability and potential. We’re not just talking about people who are bonkers or intellectually challenged. We are talking about people whose ideas are insidious, reactionary and dangerous. . . .
This type of spittle-filled invective is, in my experience, typical of Stratfordian discourse.

Having this tactic of ridicule repeated this weekend at the great Ontario festival -- where my friends and I have gone year after year to learn about Shakespeare’s great art -- was painful. All of us are professionals, most hold advanced degrees. In everyday life, none of us is commonly abused for inadequate intellectual capabilities.

Yet, when Wells finished his talk, and an audience-member opened the discussion with the question: “Would you comment on the perpetuation of Shakespeare deniers despite scholars like yourself who have settled the matter?” Wells replied: “Human folly goes on, despite every effort . . .” raising a derisive laugh from the audience.

Ridicule is intended to give pain. Perhaps perpetrators such as Wells consider this pain is deserved and/or instructive, but regardless of the justification, the intention is the same – hurt the bad people; make them too ashamed to continue their “folly”.

Shaming is a very effective tactic against humans. When Wells equates anti-Stratfordians with holocaust deniers as he did yesterday, as James Shapiro did previously in this same venue, and as many others have done elsewhere, I am personally repelled. If causing pain is their goal, they have succeeded; but bullying is not an argument, and if their goal is to convince me that Shaksper from Stratford is the author of Shakespeare’s work, by using this tactic they are the ones engaged in folly, not I.

I would have answered that audience member’s question differently. I would have told him that -- for me -- the question of the Shakespeare authorship is far from settled.

And why, indeed, should I be ridiculed for my position? Since when has research and study become an abomination? Since Stanley Wells says it has? Why should I bow to Professor Wells’ authority when all my life I have been taught that thinking and learning, considering, and judging for myself is my personal responsibility?

At the end of his presentation, Wells was joined by Paul Edmondson, co-author of their recent book, Shakespeare Beyond Doubt – a compendium of commentary attempting to refute questions about the Stratfordian attribution of Shakespeare’s works.

They said they wrote their book:

  • in response to questions about the authorship controversy from visitors to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford, England;
  • in response to Roland Emmerich's 2011 anti-Stratfordian film Anonymous;
  • and in response to university courses on Shakespeare authorship being taught at London’s Brunel University and Portland Oregon’s Concordia University – a development they clearly consider an abomination.

They opined the authorship contagion may have spread elsewhere, perhaps not aware that Don Rubin who had convened a class on Shakespeare authorship last year at Toronto’s York University was in their audience.

During the discussion, Edmondson  promoted the idea of collaborative authorship as the future of Shakespearean studies.

“Collaboration puts paid to the theory that any single nominee falls by the wayside, don’t they?” Edmondson said. “. . . Collaborative authorship studies is a new way of thinking about this discussion. There’s something significant and serious about this discussion (of collaboration).”

Edmondson clearly, by these and other comments yesterday, supports the recent and growing interest in collaboration as a viable Shakespeare authorship theory.

I personally view the recent interest in collaboration as an attempt to keep the Stratfordian candidate viable in the face of increasing critical pressure on his lack of credential in terms of knowledge and experience.

While continuing to insist on the Stratfordian candidate’s adequacy, Stratfordian supporters studying Shakespearean collaboration, nevertheless, shore up his bonifides with assist from other sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers; similar, or so I have read recently, to a stable of writers working on a TV sitcom – a position I find pathetically anachronistic.

But this tacit admission of an authorship problem is encouraging to anti-Strats, and will no doubt lead to a gradual diminishment of the Stratfordian candidate. In Edmondson’s ungrammatical, but potent, remark that collaboration theory “puts paid” to “any single nominee” – which is presumably a blow to anti-Strat aspirations – Edmondson neglects to comprehend that destroying “any single nominee” includes the destruction of the Stratford candidate, since he is also a “single nominee”.

Edmondson also doesn’t seem to be aware that William Leahy, creator of the despised Shakespeare authorship studies program at Brunel, is himself an advocate of a collaboration theory of authorship. So we have the ludicrous image of furious contestants on both sides of the authorship battle agreeing on a theory of authorship.

Does this mean the war is won?

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival,
Wells' review of Shahan's Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? Exposing an Industry in Denial,
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's free booklet "Shakespeare Bites Back" reposte to authorship questions,
Proving Shakespeare webinar with Marlovian anti-Strat Ros Barber,
Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? Exposing an Industry in Denial edited by John Shahan and Alexander Waugh,
Don Rubin at York University, Toronto,
June 6, 2011 authorship debate with Wells, Edmondson, and Leahy,


Heward Wilkinson said...

Linda hi! one does not set out to destroy opponents who are NOT dangerous. I think it may well be the case that, as the threat to orthodoxy becomes more and more potent, as it is doing, the attacks will become more vicious. We have to be prepared for this. It is also important that our own street cred. is as nearly intact as it can be. We do, after all, offer a theory of a conspiracy, and such has always attracted cultic elements. (The fact that Stratford is in many ways a cult will not be taken into account!)
We should not be surprised or shocked at any of this. Utopia may be on the map of the world, but it is a very long way away!!! We need to gird our loins and be ready for battle.

Linda Theil said...

Thanks for your comment, Heward; you know I am your very big fan on this side of the pond : )

William Ray said...

I am sorry that you and your colleagues endured the shameful behavior of people who were clearly uninformed on the issue and so conditioned as to not even consider it an issue.

We are herd animals and look to leaders of the herd to make sudden starts and turns when there is danger afoot. That Wells is over the hill as a thinker and Edmondson a lackey with considerable bile in his soul tells me this generation of scholars is not up to the challenge of doing more work and uniting fields of knowledge into a coherent uncontradictory theory on the question. They fail as leaders.

As you may recall, my essay on Wells was singled out for shameful notice by Edmondson in his puff piece for the Stratford book. Wells himself was faux-gracious in saying it was a very intelligent piece but of course he believed it was completely misguided and wrong. This is the English gentleman's use of the stiletto back of the handshake. The action unfortunately of an intellectual coward.

It is some small comfort that the wrong people do not support the present inquiry, indicating it has substance. I have found that by and large, most people now believe that the earth is a sphere and that it turns in the direction of a centralized star.

with best wishes,

William Ray

Wordmaster Helen said...

Excellent post, Linda. I'm subscribing to your blog to help me keep abreast of the best thinking on the Oxfordian issues. I loved the documentary "Last Will.and Testament" which I note is being debuted in Canada at the Toronto Festival. I hope the anti-PT factions in the Oxfordian ranks will treat it with the respect it deserves. The Film "Anonymous" (which I loved)has been attacked mean-spiritedly even by prominent Oxfordians. I'm afraid this PT animosity will get ugly at the Toronto Conference. Please encourage fairness among your group and the attendees at Toronto. Best regards,
Helen H. Gordon, author of "The Secret Love Story in Shakespeare's Snnets [2008]