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Ros Barber visits the USofA

Margrethe Jolly, PhD; Kevin Gilvary, PhD; Alexander Waugh, Wally Hurst, JD; Ros Barber,PhD;
and Earl Showerman, MD; gather before the JPR radio talk-show on Sept. 23, 2015 in Ashland, Oregon.
Photo credit: Julia Cleave.

by Linda Theil

Ros Barber, PhD,  author of The Marlowe Papers, Shakespeare: the Evidence, and the forthcoming novel, Devotion, was one of six British scholars who presented at the 2015 Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship conference in Ashland, Oregon Sept. 24-17, 2015. We asked Barber to talk about her conference experience, and share impressions from her trip.

Barber’s synopsized her paper, “The Value of Uncertainty”, for the conference proceedings. 
Barber: Stratfordians are certain that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the works attributed to him. Most non-Stratfordians are equally certain that he didn’t. This paper explores the benefits of uncertainty. Uncertainty not only allows us to be collegial, reducing the likelihood of stressful and energy-sapping personal battles, but by opening our minds to evidence and counter-arguments which undermine our position it allows us to discard weak arguments and concentrate on those which extend and deepen the challenge to orthodox thinking. Perhaps counter-intuitively, uncertainty also offers non-Stratfordians the possibility of gaining academic legitimacy for the Shakespeare authorship question. Using concrete examples of arguments and counter-arguments derived from researching and writing Shakespeare: The Evidence, this paper demonstrates why the apparently weak position of uncertainty is actually the strongest, most beneficial position a non-Stratfordian can adopt.

Given the content of your presentation, do you feel that you reached any people in the audience? What is your assessment of the current state of the debate and the degree to which your point-of-view may be gaining adherents?
Barber: It went down pretty well, I think. Lots of people came up to speak to me about it and it was referenced repeatedly in the presentations that followed. The current state of the debate is that it continues to be antagonistic and deadlocked. Although non-Stratfordians might feel they have made some headway in the last few years, Stratfordians remain in control of the way doubters, and the authorship question, are viewed; and as long as Shakespeare sceptics continue to fight fire with fire — rather than the cool water of rationality — the authorship question is unlikely to break into mainstream acceptance.

What did you think of the JPR radio program Wednesday morning?
Barber: The interview itself went very well, I think. But I was very unhappy about the web-page it was featured on: a clearly biased headline aligning authorship doubters with conspiracy theorists, a similarly ignorant slant in the text, and of course the usual antagonism and name-calling in the comments. Since I believe such things are best experienced in a neutral environment, I have uploaded the full interview to the SAT’s YouTube channel:  to where non-Stratfordians can safely direct friends and interested strangers.

How did the Wednesday afternoon OLLI panel (Barber; Kevin Gilvary, PhD; Julia Cleave, MA (Oxon.); Alexander Waugh, and Margrethe Jolly, PhD) go?
Barber: The turnout, at around 140, was the highest of any talk hosted by OLLI — the Oregon Lifelong Learning Institute — we were told. The talks were well received but I felt five speakers was probably too many, and proceeding through all five without a break probably a mistake! Nevertheless the vast majority of the audience stayed to the end, despite the heat. It was just a shame there was no time left for questions.

Anything stand out in your mind?
Barber: Someone made a comment to me after the OLLI panel that I should make the core of that talk available as a presentation which others could use. Or load up the slides and commentary onto YouTube. That’s something I would like to find the space for, perhaps in the Christmas holidays. I was also advised to visit Crater Lake, which I did, and was very glad of the tip.

Ros Barber's view of Crater Lake. Photo credit: Ros Barber

Have you been to US before?
Barber: I was born in the US — Washington DC. I lived in in the [San Francisco] Bay area for a year when I was six and seven [years old]. I was in New York two weeks after Nine Eleven to do a poetry reading at the mid-Manhattan library; a very strange time for my first trip to NYC. My last to trip to the States was June 2013 when I presented a paper at the Marlowe Society of America conference. I took the opportunity to visit [Washington] DC for the first time since I was a baby, staying in a hotel two blocks from where I was born.

Did you have a specific goal for this trip?
Barber: Not really. I hoped to deliver a useful paper, meet a few people in real life that I only knew through e-mail correspondence, and while I was Stateside, spend a weekend in Berkeley exploring my childhood haunts, and take in something of California and Oregon - the giant redwoods, and the Pacific coast along the way.

Did you achieve it?
Barber: I’d say so.

What did you think of Ashland?
Barber: Lovely little place. Probably a great place to go shopping if you had that kind of money. Classy hotel with genuinely lovely staff.

Best meal?
Barber: Lee Showerman’s chowder. [See sidebar for recipe, Ed.]

What did you think of the Ashland festival?
Barber: Pretty impressive having those three theaters all gathered in the same spot. Two out of three of the productions were also spot-on. I would have been happier if they’d had more than three Shakespeare plays on the roster, though. I fell in love with one of the OSF actors, Rex Young. He was a monumental Dogberry (on a Segway), and his Lepidus was the single most brilliant thing in Anthony & Cleopatra.

Rex Young as Dogberry and Lucas Lee Caldwell as Seacole in OSF Much Ado 2015. 
Photo courtesy Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Best play?
Barber: Pericles, maybe. Much Ado a close second but I hadn’t seen a live production of Pericles before and thought it very rich and moving. The use of music was particularly strong.

Most painful/annoying?
Barber: [People saying] “When Oxford wrote Hamlet . . .”, and any similar statement which takes Oxford’s authorship as a fact rather than a theory.  Nothing against Oxford — I feel the same about this kind of certainty no matter which candidate’s name is inserted. The only name we can properly use, to my mind, is “Shakespeare” — the author’s name, or pen-name. It is still the Shakespeare authorship question. It has not been answered. The certainty contained in statements like “When Oxford wrote Hamlet . . .” not only alienates those whom one might persuade, it makes a person prey to confirmation bias, and thus likely to commit exactly the same errors as the Stratfordians, and certainty almost invariably leads to flawed argument and lower scholarly standards.

Are you exhausted?
Barber: Nope!  Of course I’m answering this two weeks after getting back. But actually I slept off my jet lag in San Francisco and during the conference was in bed by 11pm.

You didn't talk all night in the hotel bar?
Barber: We were all staying in people’s homes rather than the hotel, so tended to disperse after the theater shows. In any case, I’m not much of a drinker, and more of a lark these days than an owl.

Any surprises?
Barber: Our Ashland host, Connie Stallings, had gone to a great deal of trouble to source a teapot and some real English breakfast tea. I wasn’t expecting to get a good cup of tea in America. I was moved by her efforts on our behalf.

Any treats?
Barber: Staying with Earl and Lee Showerman in Applegate was a treat, for sure. Wonderful hosts, wonderful place, wonderful food. [Barber stayed in Applegate with the Showermans before and immediately after the SOF conference in Ashland. Ed.]

What is your response to fellow Brit, Alexander Waugh, getting the SOF Oxfordian of Year award?
Barber: He thoroughly deserves it. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I have a real soft spot for Alexander.

How is being an anti-Strat different in the US from the EU? 
Barber: I can’t speak for the the EU! If I can reduce that down to Britain, it’s still pretty hard to answer the question. Undoubtedly Shakespeare is a British icon, and maybe more of sacred cow here than in the US. But I sense there is just as much opposition to doubt on that side of the pond, in certain quarters. I should also add I don’t call myself an anti-Stratfordian, but a non-Stratfordian. ‘Anti-’, to me, represents the kind of battle mentality which I am trying to side-step, in a wish to progress towards more a more reasoned and reasonable debate.

How is the Leanpub serial, electronic book doing? Are you happy with the project, progress, and process?
Barber: Shakespeare: The Evidence has become highly regarded, it seems, at least among its non-Stratfordian readers. I get a lot of good feedback. I’m pleased with the process: the level of reader participation (and correction/amendment!) that the Leanpub publishing platform allows. Progress has slowed this year due to the additional workload of my university post, and another Shakespeare-related project that I needed to complete ahead of the 2016 anniversary, but a great deal of research was done during that project that is ready for converting into the bullet-point format for Shakespeare: The Evidence. I’m being held up on the next issue, again by academic duties, but it remains my priority in the area of the authorship question: the backbone of everything else that I do.

More on the 2016 Shakespeare project?
Barber: Sadly can't say more at the mo' — still in the balance, may not come off!

You have a new book out last month that you have edited and co-authored — 30-Second Shakespeare: 50 Key Aspects of His Works, Life and Legacy, Each Explained in Half a Minute . Can you tell us about that?
Barber: 30-Second Shakespeare isn't an 'authorship' book. But it is perhaps the first mainstream Shakespeare book to take a completely neutral view of the authorship. Focusing on the plays themselves (and on the phenomenon of 'Shakespeare') it aims to be a complete pleasure for all Shakespeare lovers, whether believers in the traditional story, or supporters of alternative candidates. There are no biographical assumptions. The chapters are written by both Stratfordian and non-Stratfordian scholars, written so as to be easily digestible for those who know little about Shakespeare, but full of juicy in-depth information that will surprise and delight even the most knowledgeable and ardent of Shakespeare enthusiasts. I was very impressed by the quality of the contributions. There's also an excellent foreword by Mark Rylance.

Any breaking news?
Barber: My new novel, Devotion, which was published in the UK in August and comes out in May in the US, has been getting some great reviews. It’s not out in the US now, but The Book Depository ships free worldwide.

A stage version of The Marlowe Papers is in rehearsals. The play will run 26-31 January 2016 at Otherplace in Brighton, UK for initial week-long run — hopefully to transfer to London, assuming success! I adapted the play from the book with the help of the director, Nicola Haydn. No links are available yet; I’m hoping to get the publicity materials together in the next few weeks.

How would you characterize your USA trip. and how have you changed?
Barber: The largest aspect of the trip was very personal, and nothing to do with the conference. The highlight was the car that was my companion for 10 days.  I’m a sports car fanatic, and the Ford Mustang convertible I had booked was upgraded at the airport to a copper-red Mazda MX-5 convertible, which you guys call a Miata. I fell completely in love with my Miata. I’ve never driven a car with steering-wheel paddle-shift, and it was glorious. Winding at speed through the mountains in southern Oregon as dusk fell with not another car on the road will stay with me.

Ros Barber's red convertible on Avenue of the Giants, US Highway 101. Photo credit: Ros Barber

Was it worth it?
Barber: Certainly. I had a blast.


Ros Barber is a Lecturer in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and author of the award-winning verse novel, The Marlowe Papers (2012), Shakespeare: The Evidence (2013), and Devotion (2015). She is the editor and co-author of 30-Second Shakespeare (2015). Her most recent publications include two articles in Notes & Queries [See links below. Ed.] and she has a forthcoming article titled "Shakespeare and Warwickshire Dialect" in a special April 2016 "Shakespeare" edition of the Journal of Early Modern Studies
She is Director of Research of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (London). 

Shakespeare’s ‘Honey-stalks’ N&Q 2015 62/1 92-93

Bardolph and Poins N&Q 2015 62/1 104-107


Lee Showerman’s Salmon Chowder
shared with British scholars on the last night of their Oregon visit Sept 27, '15:
I would love to share [my salmon chowder recipe] with you, but the truth is: I’m not sure I remember it completely! The way I cook tends to be determined by what I have on hand. There was a lot of fresh grilled wild Pacific salmon — approximately five filets — that were used so it was a very dense chowder and — I have to admit — the best I ever made. 
Seems to me I sautéed onions and celery maybe a few garden tomatoes in coconut oil, then added either cauliflower or potatoes (can’t remember), maybe some green beans and 2 [13.5 oz.] cans of organic coconut milk, a liter of organic chicken broth, various spices and herbs, broke up the fish into it all and when it started to come to a boil I put either chopped chard (bunch) or spinach in and turn the heat off and left it alone for 15 minutes. Voila! a simple creation that turned out really well. I may have added a touch of chipotle pepper powder for a little bite, too. 
 Sorry I couldn’t be more precise. It is  once in a lifetime that I would have that much fish cooked and ready to go. Usually I start with an uncooked filet and create the broth with it along with an onion and celery, simmer until just about done. Remove the fish and skin and sauté veggies separately and then add all back together with herbs and coconut milk. 
 Good luck! 
 Best, Lee Showerman -- Applegate, Oregon

UPDATE March 22, 2016: Become a patron of Ros Barber's work at Patreon

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