Monday, November 21, 2011

Doubters Rebut Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's Attack

On the first of September there appeared in The Stage magazine an announcement from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust that it was launching a campaign "to debunk the conspiracy theories surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare's works." It was of course timed to be up and running before the release of Roland Emmerich's film Anonymous on 28 October.

The campaign began that day with a new website, 60 Minutes with Shakespeare, featuring an impressive collection of actors, writers and scholars, whose photographs and credentials are laid out before us on the home page. "Was Shakespeare a Fraud?" it asks, "Sixty questions, sixty scholars, sixty seconds each." To find out just what question each of them was asked and to hear an audio recording of their answer you must "sign up" with your name and email address. It is then also possible to obtain a transcript of the response in each case.

This hurdle makes it fairly clear that the main intent is for the majority of people not to bother with the actual details on offer, but to be so impressed with the array of "experts" - all (except Roland Emmerich) apparently on the side of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in this matter - that they will simply assume not only that these people must be right, but that those who suggest that Shakespeare was a "fraud" must be wrong.

That the Birthplace Trust has gone so public in this way, however, gives those who doubt the Shakespeare authorship an unprecedented opportunity to respond. Within a week, therefore, the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition began in relative secrecy to coordinate a response by representatives of most of the main authorship organizations, including the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, giving a definitive rebuttal for each of the "60 Minutes." We have provided responses for the items (by Antony Sher and Charles Nicholl) specifically attacking the Marlovian theory, and have had the opportunity to make comments on everything else that's been submitted, most of which have been acted upon.

The result of this collaboration is a report entitled Exposing an Industry in Denial, the purpose of which is to present those rebuttals, and to challenge the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to write a single definitive declaration of the reasons why they claim that there is no room for doubt about the identity of the author of the plays and poems of William Shakespeare.

Given the differences between the beliefs of the various organizations taking part, it was inevitable that not all members of the group would be able to go along with everything written by the others, but in the event such differences are really quite surprisingly few. There is indeed far more in it to be praised than to be pardoned, and we heartily commend it to everyone's attention. It can be found here.

© The International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, 2011

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.THE MARLOWE PAPERS


RRaymo said...

Excellent work to all the anti-Stratfordian organizations.

daver852 said...

An interesting read! The only thing that I was disappointed in was the attention paid to Shakespeare's "signatures." I thought that by now it would be common knowledge that only one of the six alleged "signatures" of Shakespeare has any claim to be a signature at all, namely, the third signature on his will, the one preceeded by the words "by me." And even here the word "William" was written by the clerk drawing up the will, and followed by an almost illegible "Shakspere." The other "signatures" are just instances of law clerks writing his name on parchment tabs to identify his seal. See:

Peter Farey said...

daver852 said... "I thought that by now it would be common knowledge that only one of the six alleged "signatures" of Shakespeare has any claim to be a signature at all..."

I'm not sure that I would call it common knowledge. It was certainly stated as her opinion by Jane Cox in the PRO's Shakespeare in the Public Records (1985), but I can't recall any Shakespeare biographer openly expressing their acceptance of it since then, most of them still apparently taking it as read that they were all his.

On the other hand, I do know of one that definitely didn't agree with her, Eric Sams, who waged a personal and unsuccessful campaign to get the pamphlet changed. See .

Anti-Stratfordians are another matter. Several have jumped upon this idea with glee, including your Baconian (and apparently "9/11 truther") source Walter Saunders, although I'm not sure why. Seems to me that a pretty good anti-Statfordian argument can be made whether they were actually by him or not.


tim.nash said...

The study of English literature and the authorship question is not a Science where reasonable doubt would spur research in Universities. On the appointments and tenure committees for most, if not all, English departments there will be at least one professor who has written papers on Shakespeare. A strong case for an alternative author makes those papers largely worthless. So for those in academia who nurse secret doubts, there is little or no future in publishing them, and publication is how researchers get tenured posts at Universities. Unfortunately this means the academic Shakespeare industry will be in denial for the foreseeable future.

Dan Sayers said...

Peter, thanks for that Sams PDF - very amusing.

To me there is a certain value to anti-Stratfordians in the arguments regarding Shakespeare's signature, as they are very poorly formed. Plus if he wasn't the one who signed these documents, it does lead one to wonder, with Jane Cox, if he was able to write at all.

You say "Seems to me that a pretty good anti-Statfordian argument can be made whether they were actually by him or not" - I'm intrigued to know what you think the pillars of a good anti-Stratfordian (rather than pro-Marlovian) case might be. To me it seems, much as I'd rather it wasn't, the anti-Stratfordian case is largely circumstantial. It primarily rests on such issues as the will, his lack of university education and illiteracy in his immediate family - as well as what Stratfordians correctly label "absence of evidence".

Anthony Kellett said...


“To me it seems, much as I'd rather it wasn't, the anti-Stratfordian case is largely circumstantial. It primarily rests on such issues as the will, his lack of university education and illiteracy in his immediate family - as well as what Stratfordians correctly label ‘absence of evidence’”

I can understand perfectly why you say this. It is difficult to contest, certainly. However, the first thing I would say is that most of the evidence is circumstantial, for this period; so it is not really surprising. Indeed, if the evidence was not “circumstantial”, there might not be an authorship debate at all. Having said that, the evidence for Marlowe’s death seems the most definite thing we have; yet here we are, debating it.

More importantly, my main gripe (with this catch-all “absence of evidence” argument) is that it is thrown about, indiscriminately, as a cheap way to fob off ‘dissenters’; as are the phrases “conspiracy theorists” or “akin to supporters of intelligent design”. However, I do not think that absence of evidence is always as easy a ‘get-out’ for Stratfordians.

You would be hard pushed to find evidence that I was born in the Amazonian jungle; and that (after the tragic death of my parents, when I was not one year old) I was raised by two bald-headed uakari, named Warren and Shirley. Now, one would assume that, if this was true, there would be stories of the ‘wonder-kid’; found living like some latter-day Tarzan, emblazoned across tabloid newspapers. The absence of these articles, alone, makes this story unlikely. One way or another, you would think that you would have come across this tale; certainly if you searched for it. It is not sufficient to simply say that, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. Credibility, and the likelihood of evidence being found, in particular places, must be a factor in assessing such claims.

If I relate this to Shakespeare’s ‘story’, there are several examples that spring to mind; but, for brevity, I will deal with one...

Anthony Kellett said...


Michael Drayton was a Warwickshire man, who must, surely, have known Shakespeare. They were contemporaries, playwrights and sonnet writers; and in 1599, Drayton (in a team) wrote ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, supposedly a response to Shakespeare’s plays about Falstaff. In 1612 Drayton published Poly-Olbion, part 1; a poetical county-by-county history that included references to many English poets. In his section on Warwickshire, Drayton never mentioned Stratford-upon-Avon or Shakespeare; and it seems that Drayton never connected the writer to the William Shakespeare, he must have known, in Stratford-upon-Avon. This is supposedly the Drayton who had that “merry meeting” reported in the 1660s by John Ward, the vicar of Stratford; or the ‘rival poet’ according to some Stratfordians. This is also the Drayton whose work, ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, was printed as being by Shakespeare, in 1619; and yet in five volumes of correspondence, by Drayton, he never mentions the man, except to say he was a good comedian, ten years after Shakespeare’s death.

Drayton was also a friend of the local Rainsford family, and he was treated by the Rainsford family doctor, when Drayton suffered a fever; the doctor being a Dr John Hall; Shakespeare’s son-in-law; who noted in his journal that Drayton was an excellent poet. Is it not strange how both Drayton, and Shakespeare’s own son-in-law, neglected to mention the great and, according to Stratfordians, “famous” Shakespeare, in a similar vein? This is “absent evidence”. However, we have the books in which that evidence should have been included. It is not as if we have lost the journals in which the evidence should appear. To suggest this “absence of evidence” is not valid, as a test, seems to me to be like reading a book with pages 200 – 221 missing, and someone trying to persuade you that the strange numbering sequence does not prove there are pages ‘absent’. Don’t get me wrong, they would be correct, that it is not proof; but the pages stopping at 199 and recommencing at 222, does make one draw that reasonable conclusion.

At the end of the day, there seems to be sufficient “absence of evidence” to doubt the author was Shaksper of Stratford; sufficient to warrant a scholarly debate of the subject, at least.

Peter Farey said...

Dan said... "I'm intrigued to know what you think the pillars of a good anti-Stratfordian (rather than pro-Marlovian) case might be."

I think that Anthony has given us one of them pretty well. The absence of evidence where there ought to be some is not the same as a simple lack of it. As Ros has reminded us, it is like the Sherlock Holmes dog that didn't bark in the night-time when it should have done. This is something which I think is also dealt with pretty well in the "60 Minutes" rebuttal, both in the response to Andrew Hadfield's Question #16 and by Ramon Jiménez's answer to Key Question #5 at the end.

Conversely, the absence of direct evidence of Marlowe's survival after 1593 is exactly what we should expect, since great efforts would have been made to ensure that there wasn't any. Yet this (and the "evidence" for his death) is really the only reason offered by (e.g.) Charles Nicholl for rejecting any suggestion that he may have survived.

Beyond that, I would certainly pick out the difficulty in finding any opportunities William could have had to acquire such a breadth of knowledge. It seems to me that whoever wrote it must have had a fantastic memory for countless books read and for languages learned, as well as for things said to him and personal experiences had by him at all levels of society and in many different cultures. How could William have possibly done it?


Peter Farey said...

P.S. What I believe to be the true meaning of the poem on the Stratford monument to Shakspeare, regardless of whose name we might have found to be "in" the monument with him, seems to me to provide a pretty good "anti-Stratfordian (rather than pro-Marlovian) case" too.


daver852 said...

I think the reason that Shakespeare's "signatures" are important is that they draw into question whether the man from Stratford was actually literate. Evidence suggests that neither his parents nor his children were. It doesn't take a graphologist to tell that the alleged signatures on the Mountjoy deposition and the Blackfriars mortgage were not written by the same hand; they were undoubtedly written by law clerks. Whether all of the signatures on his will are his or not is open to question; I am of the opinion that only one partial signature was written by him. It is argued that his brother, Gilbert, was literate since he served as a witness to a will, and since Gilbert could write his name and was preumably literate, so was William. But I find it very curious that Gilbert Shakespeare wrote his signature in an Italian hand, and the alleged signatures of William Shakespeare are in Secretary hand. I have been unable to find a facsimile of the will that Gilbert Shakespeare witnessed, but I would be willing to wager that this alleged signature is also in the same hand that drew up the will, i.e., that it is not a real signature at all. If you would like to examine the Shakespeare signatures, here they are:

Matthew Wright said...

Surely everybody knows that Shakespeare's plays were not written by the bard, but by somebody else with the same name? Seriously, though, to me the debate encapsulates not so much historical truth as a good deal about the way we see history - and argue over it. As a historian myself I am only too well aware of the technical dificulties and necessary analytical techniques demanded of investigation into the documentation, particularly given the context of the police state of Elizabeth I.

My question, as a qualified and extensively published historian (see lists on my website), is whether the authorship - one way or another - diminishes or alters our enjoyment of the plays?

Matthew Wright, FRHistS.