I didn’t review Shapiro because I didn’t read his book.
I used to pay attention to Stratfordians. I’d argue with them, pointing out the holes in their logic, pointing to the facts, the “smoking guns,” that require a courtier, a more sensible dating scheme, an explanation for the gaping anomalies in the Stratford biography. When they ridiculed the Shakespeare authorship question I got serious. When they purposely misinterpreted facts I got angry. When they refused to listen I got sad.
Round and round I went on SHAKSPER with the postdocs and pseudo-scholars as they tirelessly repeated the mantras instilled in them by their professors. When finally they began beating the drum for the notion that great fiction doesn’t have to arise from personal experience, I should have realized that it was an exercise in futility, but I soldiered on, thinking that there might be lurkers whose minds were less closed to reality. If so I never saw any hint of it.
Then of course there was HLAS, created in part by Oxfordians Bill Boyle and Marty Hyatt as a forum for an open online discussion, which soon turned into a verbal Fight Club, with the Shakespeare authorship question nothing more than a focal point for the verbal art of ad hominem vilification. If HLAS (humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare) is still in operation I’d be very much surprised to hear that it’s changed. Fighting is always so much more exciting than reasoning.
When they said Oxford’s poetry was terrible I demonstrated how different it was even then from the morose tone of the poetry being written at the time and known to literary historians as “the drab era.” If any of them had ever bothered to read this stuff, to actually compare Oxford’s poetry with Turberville or Churchyard, they never uttered a peep.
When they brushed off Oxford as dying before The Tempest was written I pointed to the obvious factors that link that play to the 1595 marriage of his daughter to the Earl of Derby (since then Stritmatter and Kositsky have shown even earlier origins); to the fact that back in the 1570s it was his tutor, Sir Thomas Smith, whose plan for colonizing Ireland is considered by historians today to be the starting point for all subsequent plans to colonize America (Quinn 103, Armitage xx), including Jamestown, where the ship was headed that was wrecked in Bermuda, the supposed source of the 1611 Strachey letter; to the fact that Smith’s family were close friends with the Stracheys in their hometown of Saffron Walden, Essex (it was their grandson who wrote the famous letter); and so on. It hasn’t changed a thing. We continue to hear, ad infinitum, how The Tempest and any number of other plays (never enumerated) were written too late to be by Oxford.
When they claim that knowing nothing about Shakespeare is perfectly understandable––since so little is known about writers like Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, or John Webster, why should we know any more about Shakespeare than we do about them?––I never dared to explain how Greene was early Shakespeare, Nashe was early Francis Bacon, and Webster Mary Sidney. I may be willing to stick my chin out now and then, but I’m not insane.
How they love to ridicule the fact that there are so many candidates. Francis Bacon? No way. Christopher Marlowe? Un-uh. Mary Sidney? C’est ridicule! Yet the historic picture based on the fact that there is no evidence that these writers even knew each other never raises a single eyebrow. Do they actually know any great writers personally? Have they ever researched the lives of other great writers in the kind of depth that would cause them to wonder why this group was so different? No, because to a left-brainer, the only reality is the one written down on paper. To admit that there might be something else is to open a can of really evil, dangerous right-brain worms. Run away! Run away!
Their favorite tactic of course is to call us “snobs” for thinking that only an earl could have had the kind of education revealed by Shakespeare’s works. There’s really no rejoinder to the stupidity of this, except to point out that if in fact William of Stratford had had such an education, we’d surely know about it, just as we know about the educations of Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson, neither one of them earls or even close.
The major problem, as I have come to realize, is that students of literature never attempt to relate what they know of the history of the period (not so much nowadays it would appear) to its literature, its writers, their publishers and printers, nor do they think to relate the mysteries of an earlier period with similar situations closer to us in time. This disconnect begins in school where, in history class, sound-bytes on the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic counter-reformation, the Inquisition, the burning of witches (i.e. women) in France and heretics (i.e. scientists) in Italy and Spain, are forgotten the day after the quiz, while in English class they learn that Shakespeare was “above” writing about current events or using his life as a background to his works. Two little boxes, side by side on a mental shelf, one labelled History, one Literature––never the twain to meet.
I used to think this was more or less purposeful, that “none are so blind as those who will not see,” but now I think it’s not so much that they won’t see than that they simply can’t. Raised from childhood on multiple choice questions and term papers that rarely require anything more than regurgitating a teacher’s favorite ideas, most academics become so immersed in a left brain approach to everything they deal with that by the time they write their dissertations and their introductions to new editions of Shakespeare, their right brains have pretty much dried up and blown away. This is bad news for the culture at large, as nature clearly intended the left brain to function as the servant to the right brain. It’s a killer for those questions that require cross-disciplinary thinking. It’s interesting that current studies suggest that animals use their left brains mostly for locating food, their right brains for warning of the approach of predators. Substitute tenured professorships for food and the Beatles’s apple bonkers for predators, and you have a nice little metaphor for our present predicament.
Luckily, now that we have google and the internet, we can simply ignore them. Already Shapiro’s book is fading from view. Google alerts hasn’t turned up a new review in a couple of weeks. No biggie, for the left-brainers will have a new one out in no time, written by and for the academics and their admirers, as they continue to reassure themselves that the Shakespeare authorship question is only for the lunatic fringe.
I respect the efforts of the Oxfordians who continue to take them on. More power to them, though I doubt that it will make a dent in their thinking or in the thinking of those who lay out good money for their books. The French Impressionists did not take the art world by storm by meeting the Royal academicians on their own turf. No revolution, whether bloody or merely intellectual, ever began by playing footsie with the establishment, and the revolution we call the English Literary Renaissance was both intellectual and bloody. And a hell of a lot more interesting than either the Stratford story or the hyperbole of its proponents.