As you no doubt are aware by now, my scenario for the authorship of the Shakespeare canon is not the standard view. The standard view is the one most people have grown up with, the one that sees William of Stratford as the author of the works of Shakespeare, the view backed by university academics, even more so by their supporters, the ones who write most of the articles in response to our questions, and most of all by pop biographers, who, lacking anything substantive, garnish theirs with what they hope are zesty details of life in 16th-century Warwickshire and London.
Ours is so much a better story, why won’t they listen?
For the most part, academics are a very different strain from the artists that they study. If the facts as they are presented don’t add up, they don’t see it because they don’t understand what makes their subject tick. Focused on the trees, they hardly know there is such a thing as the forest. And once having arrived at the pinnacle of Shakespeare studies, the very button on the cap of the Humanities, they are not about to question what lies (pun intended) beneath that pinnacle. One recent literary “historian” got, so we’re told, a million dollar advance on his glossy version of the Stratford myth.
There’s nothing strange about this. In every area of human endeavor there are those who more or less blindly follow tradition and its rules without allowing themselves (or anyone else) to question them. As for Shakespeare, most academics don’t really care who he was; it’s the text that interests them, not the author; as far as they’re concerned, the less about him the better. When, after 300 years of ignoring him, the universities finally accepted his plays as worthy of their attention, they were perfectly happy with the author as presented to posterity by Ben Jonson, the lifeless woolman stuffed into artist clothing, stuck on a pole, his propped arm pointing towards Stratford.
Academics get to the positions of authority they occupy by being well-behaved all through school, getting good grades by giving their mentors the answers they want to hear, then getting them to sign on as advisors on their dissertation committees so they can get their PhDs and all that goes with it. Once tenured, they produce books in which they dedicate their examination of the symbolism of “eye of newt” to these same mentors. By the time they’ve reached a point where thinking for themselves is no longer a threat, they’ve forgotten how, that is, if they ever knew. And if the questions do begin to eat away at the edges of the Stratford myth, they’ve become too committed to Stratford through the books and articles they’ve published to allow them entry. How ironic that Shakespeare’s “alms for oblivion” got nothing better for him than these latter day Holofernes.
They get away with it by ignoring the big arguments––like why there’s nothing in this supposed great writer’s handwriting but six clumsy legal signatures––while focusing on details. For instance they defend the Stratford story by saying, “contrary to authorship views, there’s more than enough evidence that William Shakespeare wrote the works.” What they mean by this is that the name Shakespeare is on various title pages, while documents in Stratford testify that someone of that name lived and died there and sued his neighbors. What they don’t tell you is that there is nothing solid to connect the title pages with the man who lived in Stratford. Or with the man who spent a few months in rented quarters in two different neighborhoods in London. Or with Jonson’s Sogliardo. Nothing times a thousand still equals nothing.
The ultimate irony of course is the obvious fact that we need the academics. Or, perhaps I should say that we need authorship scholars in academia. The excruciating amount of time, effort, and money it takes to track down documentation in the English libraries and archives requires that this be taken on by professionals, either backed by a university or by patrons who are not seeking some particular result. How many archived references to the Earl of Oxford have academics ignored since the authorship question first raised its annoying head a century and a half ago? How many during the century before that, since he was not the focus of their inquiry? Until the universities open their doors to the question or enough disinterested, deep-pocketed patrons appear, we must struggle along with only our God-given common sense and what facts have slipped past, first the 16th and 17th-century censors, and now the Stratfordian defense.
We also have another sort of adversary. Almost as much of a barrier as the academic who has no understanding of artists or interest in a realistic biography is the Oxfordian who has no understanding of history. If we do not honor the truths of history, if we continue to be enchanted by soap opera fantasies that do violence to genuine historical and psychological truth, we will never gain the respect of the History departments, who realistically are the only ones in any position to do the necessary research, since the English departments simply don’t care.
How was it he put it? “If circumstances lead me, I will find where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed within the center.”
Amen to that.