« Who's Afraid of Beowulf? | Main | Virtuousity in Business -- Now Available »

November 01, 2011


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


For Stratfordians, engaging in open and adventurous thinking doesn’t mean we “condone myths.” The process of authenticating potential Shakespeare documents can take generations (e.g., Hand D); however, no discovery would ever come to fruition if scholars didn’t go out on a limb in the first place. By lumping together the free-range fantasies of Oxfordians with the tangible-but-not-quite-confirmed efforts of Shakespeareans, Prof. Marino does a disservice to bona fide scholarship.


Lantern Leatherhead

Cobweb, I think you're missing the forest for the trees. Dr. Marino's article isn't just about the Cobbe portrait, and he doesn't liken mainstream scholars to Oxfordians for the 'adventurousness' of their theories. Ultimately, he argues, their greatest affinity is in their un-adventurousness, in the deep ideological conservatism that frames research on both sides. When we promote the cliched image of Shakespeare as a Romantic, bookish, otherworldly genius -- whether it's to pander to our students or to the public -- we tacitly encourage those who, out of elitism or ignorance or sheer lack of anything else to do, insist on making him aristocratic, and hence someone else, and getting lost down that rabbithole. This popular image is the seed of the (ironicaly un-populist) delusion, and every time we endorse or perpetuate it, we water the seed. And then we're exasperated when we find the garden full of weeds each morning.

So the point is not finally the relative evidentiary validity of "Stratfordian" arguments about manuscript hands or portraits, against "Oxfordian" arguments about the author's knowledge of arcane royal ceremony. The point is that "Shakespeare," however you chase him and under whatever name, is in itself not really a valid object of study in the first place. It's just a way to avoid actually *reading the plays* -- let alone those of his contemporaries, which are sometimes way better -- and truly engaging with them as history, as culture, or as art. Because, after all, that takes a lot more work, and risks planting an entirely different kind of seed in our heads: ideas.


Oh, Leatherhead, with these reductive arguments you risk planting the seeds of stoic indifference to progressive scholarship (which, oddly, you seem to share so closely with Prof. Marino) in our heads, and you’re missing the tree of life for some ethereal forest.

So, Shakespeare, himself, is “not really a valid object of study”? Please. If we can agree that the Shakespeare canon has provided some of the key legal and literary foundations of our modern existence, then researching and documenting discoveries such as the Cobbe portrait or the annotated Eirenarcha are not only valid pursuits, but necessary ones, in order for us to be “truly engaging” with the plays “as history,” to use your words.

If, for example, the Cobbe portrait is a true likeness, it unleashes a torrent of information vis-à-vis the psychological dimension of the Poet’s struggles to have his ideas heard whilst trying to function within a class system that socially and legally marginalized actors as “rogues.” With this discovery, Stanley Wells hasn’t tried to make Shakespeare an aristocrat; however, he does show us that Shakespeare himself apparently tried to present himself, if not as an aristocrat, then at least as a gentleman, as he did with his application for a coat of arms. Ironically, in attempting to stifle this line of research, it is you and Prof. Marino who are the ideological conservatives!

Similarly, if the Eirenarcha annotations can be authenticated, this discovery will add much to that same body of tangible research. Specifically, it will inform us about the Poet’s apparent motivation to seek out equity for common law, and about his remarkable skill at communicating this goal to the both the Sovereign and the commonalty alike, through his plays.

In dating this Eirenarcha’s annotations, and thus the writing of plays such as Q2 Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, and Sir Thomas More to the specific time of the Gunpowder Plot, we come to know Shakespeare anew in many more rich, deep and varied ways: from the seeds of his development of the unnamed “servant that will not serve” in Lear who “stands up thus” against legalized immorality; from his example, presented to James I, of a king in Lear who could have done more to “nominate overseers for the poor”; from his willingness to address the draconian, unjust treatment of illegitimacy (“bastards”) and suicide (“felo de se”) in common law; and from his bravery in rekindling a protest against the fossilized Oath of Supremacy (“oath of the undersheriff”). From that last point alone, is it any wonder he apparently chose to keep his head and hide himself under the Shakeshaftean cloak of “Trymbelrod”? Ultimately, though, inasmuch as I’m not much more than an accidental rare book owner, I’m relying on all Shakespeareans, including you, Leatherhead, to share your knowledge, expertise and love of Shakespeare's works to help bring this potentially great discovery to light. Surely, that would be

“A course more promising than a wild dedication to unpathed waters, undreamed shores . . .”


James J Marino

Greetings, Cobweb. (May I call you Monsieur?)

I certainly don't think I'm against adventurous scholarship. What I object to are shaky and unexamined conclusions that become "facts" through repetition, and thus obstacles to fresh thinking because scholarship is cluttered with things that we "know" about Shakespeare but which are, alas, not true.

Biographies of Shakespeare are especially full of such pseudo-facts, some old chestnuts and some biographers' fresh inventions. Those pseudo-facts are obstacles to adventurous thought, because they give us a false sense of knowledge.

As for the Cobbe portrait specifically, I have no complaint against *exploring* its possible links to Shakespeare. But I am bothered by the way in which its new attribution has been prematurely presented as an established fact to the press and to thousands of visiting tourists and schoolchildren. The claim is not that it might be Shakespeare, but that it is.(Indeed, some of its proponents have recklessly claimed that the Cobbe portrait is *more* authentic than the two authenticated likenesses.) I don't object to daring hypotheses. I object to premature conclusions, and especially to using those unsubstantiated "facts" to rule out future hypotheses.

I don't think the author's life is an illegitimate field of study, but it's not the only field of study or the most important one, and undue focus on the author often keeps us from thinking usefully about other things. For example, trying to reconstruct Shakespeare's psychology should not distract us from research into, say, his acting partners. Oxfordians will rule out the rest of Shakespeare's acting companies completely. (Some will even make the mad claim that none of these plays were written for the public playhouses, and that the actors had nothing to do with them.) Shakespeareans aren't as mad as that, but many do get so focused on Shakespeare himself that they begin to tell a story with only a single character. And that is slipshod. It distorts the truth. It leads us to misunderstand the works we claim that we want to understand.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)