Home / News / John Shahan Responds to Skeptic.com Blog on Authorship Question

John Shahan Responds to Skeptic.com Blog on Authorship Question

On February 3, 2015, Eve Siebert posted a blog on the Skeptic.com website, called False Balance and the Shakespeare Authorship “Debate.” In her blog Siebert stated, among other things, “There is a mountain of evidence for Shakespeare’s authorship, no evidence that he didn’t or couldn’t have written the works, and a bunch of weak and contradictory evidence for other authors.” John Shahan, Chairman of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, wrote the following response, which he sent on February 10 to Michael Shermer, Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine. As of February 20, Mr. Shahan had not received any response from either Shermer or Siebert. The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship thanks Mr. Shahan for allowing us to publish his response.

John Shahan explains the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition's Declaration of Reasonable Doubt

John Shahan explains the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition’s Declaration of Reasonable Doubt

Letter from SAC chairman John Shahan to Skeptic magazine editor Michael Shermer in response to a Skeptic blog posting critical of Robert Gore-Langton’s article in Newsweek

February 10, 2015

Dear Michael,

I’m writing to complain about Eve Siebert’s Insight blog, False Balance and the Shakespeare Authorship “Debate,” which includes several false and/or misleading claims. I submitted two detailed comments in response, and I think they warranted replies. She hasn’t replied to mine, or to several other comments that I think warranted replies. It’s very unimpressive that she fails to respond when challenged, and especially that she did not acknowledge and correct her false description of the outcome of the 1987 moot court trial before three U.S. Supreme Court Justices at American University in Washington, D.C. I’ve copied my two comments at the end of this for your convenience.

Note that I call attention in them to two examples of falsification of evidence in the book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy (SBD), edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. It is an especially egregious offense to falsify evidence in a book like SBD, which purports to be the definitive statement on the subject by orthodox academics. In fact, it is no such thing, as pointed out in this review by Thomas Regnier. Sadly, it is increasingly apparent that the Birthplace Trust has a habit of making false claims. As a leading tourist destination, they have always had a conflict of interest. What we didn’t know until recently is the extent to which their Shakespeare theme park (Disneyland for Shakespeare is an apt description) is based on fraudulent claims.

Siebert’s article briefly mentions that the Newsweek article by Robert Gore-Langton was prompted by Alexander Waugh’s recent e-book by Kindle, Shakespeare in Court. But she never talks about the book and probably did not read it. She should have. It’s quite an eye-opener. It is mainly about a fictional mock trial of the authorship issue, but in Part I Waugh first identifies the parties to the dispute. He introduces the Birthplace Trust by quoting the descriptions of five of their properties – tourist attractions – and then giving a detailed history of each property based on documents found in the Birthplace Trust’s own archives. Not one of the five properties is what they claim it is. Nothing shows that what they call Shakespeare’s “Birthplace” is where Shakspere was born. What they call “Anne Hathaway’s Cottage” isn’t where Anne Hathaway lived. What they call “Mary Arden’s Farm” isn’t the farm where Shakspere’s mother lived. The building called “Hall’s Croft” isn’t, as they say, where John and Susanna Hall lived. What they call ”Tom Nash’s House” wasn’t.

There is a clear pattern of false claims about their tourist attractions, quite apart from whether Shakspere was the author. It is these false claims by the Trust that would be the focus of any legal action, and not just the fact that they refused our mock trial challenge and £40,000 donation offer. The Trust has a lot to hide, and they’ve gotten away with it for so long that they seem to feel totally unaccountable. So they also falsified evidence in their book, SBD. This is scandalous, but most people are blind to it and just accept what these “experts” say.

Other misleading claims by Dr. Siebert:

1. “It is true that Shakespeare doesn’t mention plays or books in his will, but he entailed the bulk of his estate, including his primary residence, New Place, and its contents. He didn’t need to mention plays or poems.”

 Mr. Shakspere’s will is relatively long and detailed for the time. He mentioned many other very minor personal possessions, rather than just “entailing” them to his heirs. Books were valuable possessions at the time, and especially many of the rare books Shakespeare used as sources. It makes no sense that he would not mention them but that he would mention many less valuable items. Is this the behavior of a man who loved books and lived by them? Why didn’t he leave any of his most prized books, or anything else, to some fellow writer, collaborator, or to his alleged patron, the Earl of Southampton? And what happened to the alleged books after they were “entailed”? Why do they all seem to have totally disappeared? Not a single book that Mr. Shakspere owned, or that is known to have been in his possession, has ever been found.

More importantly, focusing only on books is misleading. It suggests that the absence of books is the only issue with the will and everything else is as one would expect. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not one thing about the will suggests in any way that it is the product of the mind that produced the works of William Shakespeare. Not only does he not mention that he has been a writer, he neither names nor quotes from any of the works, and not a single turn of phrase is reminiscent of any of them. He left no intellectual property! Nothing about it suggests a man who lived an intellectual life. On the contrary, it tends to confirm everything else that suggests he did not.

On a website titled ”60 Minutes with Shakespeare,” Birthplace Trust trustee Michael Wood says that “To deny Shakespeare’s authorship is to deny the primary sources, above all his will.” In reality, the will is the one primary source document that is most damaging to his claim. In Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? (Shahan and Waugh, eds.), we included an entire chapter on the will, explaining in detail why it isn’t the author’s will, and we included a transcript. We also predicted, correctly, that, despite Wood’s claim, the Trust wouldn’t talk about the will in SBD. It is clear, solid evidence against Shakspere. Just read it. Or, better yet, read Chapter 5 in our book, SBD?. How does Dr. Siebert explain the fact that the Birthplace Trust first claimed that the will is “above all” primary source evidence for Shakspere, then left it out of their book when it came time to present the definitive case for his authorship? They could have reproduced the entire will for all to see and let it speak for itself. They didn’t. We did. Who are the real “deniers” here?

2. “It might be true that no poem or play survives in Shakespeare’s hand, but that is not unusual among Elizabethan/Jacobean poets.”

It’s true that we have manuscripts for only about ten writers of the period, but Shakespeare was prolific and his works were admired; so it’s odd that we have none for him. But more telling than the absence of manuscripts of plays or poems is the complete absence of any letters he wrote. That is very unusual for a major writer of the period. It’s especially odd for a man who divided his time between London and Stratford – a situation conducive to correspondence. What about all of his many collaborators? How is it possible that many of their letters survived but none for the greatest writer of all? The author must have written hundreds of letters. Why none for Mr. Shakspere? His six alleged signatures offer an explanation.

 3. “Moreover, Hand D of the play Sir Thomas More may be in his handwriting (see image, right).”

 Notice the weasel words “may be,” and then she shows the image of the Hand D manuscript as if to suggest that it is in his hand. There is no way to say that the Hand D writing is in Mr. Shakspere’s hand because there’s no valid sample of his handwriting against which to compare it. The only generally-accepted writings in his hand are six signatures on legal documents, each spelled differently, and in the view of Jane Cox, Custodian of Wills at the Public Records Office,

“It is obvious at a glance that these signatures, with the exception of the last two [the Blackfriar signatures] are not the signatures of the same man. Almost every letter is formed in a different way in each. Literate men in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries developed personalized signatures much as people do today and it is unthinkable that Shakespeare did not.”

Perhaps Dr. Siebert can explain on what basis she speculates that Hand D is in Shakspere’s hand if no two letters in his six signatures are formed the same way. (For a study comparing Shakspere’s alleged signatures to those of other contemporary writers and actors, see Chapter 2 in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? ).

Here’s an alternative hypothesis about where Hand D comes from: We know that the main body of The Book of Sir Thomas More is in the hand of one Anthony Munday. But Munday was not the author of the play because he makes transcription errors that the author wouldn’t have made. So he was apparently a scribe for the real author. So who was Anthony Munday? He was secretary to the leading alternative authorship candidate, Edward de Vere, possibly about the time Sir Thomas More was written. So even if Hand D represents the revisions of Shakespeare himself, there is no way to prove the handwriting is Mr. Shakspere’s and not that of another scribe of de Vere. Stratfordians avoid mentioning that Munday was Oxford’s secretary.

 4. “Most crucially, Shakespeare absolutely was recognized as an author during his lifetime. About half of Shakespeare’s plays were printed during his lifetime. Many of those list his name as author on the title page…. The problem isn’t that documentary evidence doesn’t exist. The problem is that Shakespeare deniers claim that somehow these references to William Shakespeare don’t actually refer to William Shakespeare, the actor from Stratford, but to a pseudonym of another person. To say that these references don’t exist, however, is simply false.”

First, even Stanley Wells of the Birthplace Trust now says that none of the many references to the author “Shakespeare” during the lifetime of the Stratford man identifies him as being from Stratford-upon-Avon (Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare, Kindle Single, Stanley Wells, 2014). Not until seven years after he died did anyone suggest that he had been the author Shakespeare, in the First Folio. Only if one assumes that every appearance of the name “Shakespeare” refers to the Stratford man can it be said that they are evidence for him during his lifetime. It’s not a safe assumption. One problem is that he never spelled his name “Shakespeare” in his life, and it probably was not pronounced the same as the author’s name. Another problem is that nobody who referred to the author during Mr. Shakspere’s lifetime indicated that they knew him. Another problem is that at least ten people have been identified who clearly knew Shakspere, and [knew about] the author “Shakespeare,” but never connected the two. The evidence for him as author is so thin that it even undermines the theory he was a front man for the real author. If he had been, then more evidence would point to him.

Second, notice that Siebert contradicts herself when she first says that authorship doubters think the appearances of the name are explainable as being a “pseudonym,” and then suggests that we deny the existence of the documents. If we deny the existence of documents, how do we propose that a non-existent name is a pseudonym? Notice also that she doesn’t actually quote any doubter who claims that the documents don’t exist. I know of no authorship doubter who has ever denied the documents. This is an example of the Stratfordian tactic of setting up a false straw-man argument, attributing it to us, and knocking it down. It’s dishonest, and they do it all the time.

 5. “There is a mountain of evidence for Shakespeare’s authorship”

 This statement is totally false. There is no “mountain of evidence” for Shakspere, especially not from his lifetime, as even increasing numbers of Stratfordians now admit. If there were, the Birthplace Trust would not hesitate for a moment to accept our mock trial challenge, collect our £40,000 donation and put the controversy behind them. The fact that they are unwilling to defend the claim in the title of their book, Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, speaks volumes. At least we have the courage of our convictions. They don’t. If there is a “mountain of evidence,” fine: put up or shut up. They didn’t put up any mountain of evidence in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, and that would have been the place to do it. Instead, here’s how attorney Thomas Regnier characterizes SBD in the final paragraph of his review:

One might have thought that, given the chance to put the authorship controversy to rest once and for all, the authors and editors of SBD would have laid out their evidence in all its glory, with clear, cogent explanations of its significance and coolly reasoned rebuttals to any arguments questioning its authenticity. That they have chosen instead to assert authority, disparage open-mindedness, and belittle adversaries says a great deal about the mindset and the state of scholarship, as it regards the authorship question, of the Shakespeare establishment.

6. “There’s … no evidence that he didn’t or couldn’t have written the works”

 False again. A key example of evidence that he didn’t [write the works] is the evidence Wells omitted from SBD — evidence which virtually rules out Shakspere as the author (below).

I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. Sorry about the length of this, but it’s difficult to be succinct with such detailed material. I’ll be happy to try to answer any questions.

Very sincerely,

John

John M. Shahan, Chairman & CEO
Shakespeare Authorship Coalition
310 North Indian Hill Blvd, #200
Claremont, CA 91711 – U.S.A.

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?

www.DoubtAboutWill.org

Shakespeare in Court

**************************

My two Insight blog comments:

Dear Dr. Siebert,

You wrote: “On September 25, 1987, three sitting US Supreme Court justices–William Brennan, Harry Blackmun, and John Paul Stevens–heard arguments supporting the claims of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. The justices ruled in Shakespeare’s favor.”

No, the justices did NOT rule that Shakspere of Stratford wrote the works! At the start of the trial, Justice Brennan ruled that, due to the weight of tradition, the burden of proof was on the Oxfordian side to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. That meant that they had to prove both that Shakspere didn’t write the works and Oxford did, both beyond a reasonable doubt, and both in an hour. Given the format, the outcome was hardly surprising. Even so, the three Supremes did NOT rule that Shakspere was the author. Instead they rendered a Scottish verdict of “not proven” (not proven either way). So please stop mischaracterizing the outcome of that trial.

Re: that same trial, you also wrote: “The Oxfordians didn’t bow to the wisdom of some of the greatest legal minds of the English-speaking world. Instead, they continued their campaign…. Eventually, they even swayed some Supreme Court justices. For instance, former Justice Stevens later became convinced that Oxford had written Shakespeare based on depressingly fallacious reasoning.”

So Stevens and Blackmun, when you agree with them, are among the “greatest legal minds of the English-speaking world,” but when you don’t agree with them, then suddenly they’re not so great and their views are based on “fallacious reasoning.” You’re not making sense here. Why should Oxfordians bow to the wisdom of these great legal minds if you don’t? I say they got it right on the second try, not the first. (BTW, at least five U.S. Supreme Court Justices – those great legal minds – have been authorship doubters: Blackmun, Stevens, Powell, O’Connor and Scalia.)

In 2013, Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-on-Avon published Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy (SBD) in which they claimed that the authorship is, well, “beyond doubt.” It’s that claim that Alexander Waugh questions in issuing his challenge to the Birthplace Trust to participate in a mock trial – whether they can prove their claim that the Stratford man was the author beyond reasonable doubt. Since the Birthplace Trust put it in those terms, using legal language (“beyond doubt”), I think it’s legitimate for Waugh to challenge their claim, and I find it odd that the Birthplace Trust refuses to participate. If the issue is really “beyond doubt,” what are they so afraid of? Why are they unwilling to stand and back up the claim they made in the title of their book?

Waugh proposes that the question to be tried is this: “If writing the works were a crime, is there enough evidence to convict Shakspere of having done it beyond a reasonable doubt?” The burden of proof would be on the Stratfordian side, which would prosecute, while the doubter side would be defending him from the charge. There would be no alternative candidate. Judges and juries hear and rule in such cases all the time, and I see no reason why it should be inappropriate in this case. Yet you and your English professor colleagues think you are so exceptional that we should just take your word for it and no one has any right to question your authority. And you accuse anyone who doubts the authorship of being motivated by snobbery. Who are the real snobs here?

You quote Stanley Wells saying “Public debates are an exercise of forensic skill rather than an intellectual scholarly exercise.” But Waugh didn’t challenge him to a “debate.” He challenged him to a “mock trial,” and trials are about evidence, with a presiding judge ruling on relevance and admissibility. Even if it were just a debate, first you suggest that doubters are incompetent, and then that we are so clever that our “forensic skills” would win out over you professors and your “intellectual scholarly exercise.” Can you explain why you English professors, of all people, would be incapable of communicating your position persuasively to judges and jurors in a mock trial? It sounds to me like you just don’t want a fair contest on a level playing field. You also don’t want the public to learn about the issue; you just want to suppress it.

I’ll give you another reason why Stanley Wells refuses to participate in a mock trial. He knows he would lose, because the evidence doesn’t support the claim in his book. He even went so far as to falsify relevant evidence in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt. I’ll be happy to give you some examples if you like.

*************

Dear Dr. Siebert,

Since you seem reluctant to reply (see comment above), I’ll go ahead and give examples of Professor Stanley Wells, Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, falsifying and omitting evidence in his book Shakspeare Beyond Doubt (SBD).

1. Not only does SBD misspell the Stratford man’s name “Shakespeare” throughout (he never used that spelling, nor does it appear in the Stratford parish records for any of his immediate family), both Wells (p. 81) and David Kathman (p. 125) misrepresent the spelling of the name in the church register as “Shakespeare,” putting it in quotes, when it is clearly “Shakspere” in both cases. This is not a trivial issue. Whether the Stratford man’s name was the same as the author’s is extremely important. It is one thing to claim that spellings were not standardized at the time (which is true), and quite another to falsify spellings and put them in quotes. There is a clear, consistent difference between the spelling of Mr. Shakspere’s name and the poet’s.

What do you think of Wells falsifying the spelling of the name and putting it in quotes?

2. In his chapter titled “Allusions to Shakespeare to 1642,” Wells says that he aimed to list “all explicit references [to the author] surviving up to the closing of the theatres in 1642” (p. 74, emphasis added). In fact, he omitted several references to Shakespeare, and nearly all of them seem to cast doubt on Shakspere’s authorship.

A key example: In 1635, Cuthbert Burbage, brother of Richard Burbage, petitioned Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, in a legal case. The Burbages were the founder-investors in the Globe Theatre, and Mr. Shakspere was a sharer. Cuthbert surely knew the role Shakspere played in the acting company. In the petition, Cuthbert names the investors in the Globe, referring to “Shakspere,” and “Shakspeare,” as one of several “deserving men” and as one of several “men players.” These terms do not suggest that Cuthbert thought of him as the author Shakespeare, just another member of the acting company.

By 1635, after the publication of the first two Folios, the name “Shakespeare” was very well known, and it would always have been spelled that way in print. Further, the man to whom Cuthbert was writing – Philip Herbert – was a dedicatee, with his brother William, of the two published Folios. If Cuthbert knew that the “deserving man” and “man player” was also their playwright, he would have (1) spelled his name “Shakespeare,” and (2) mentioned that this Shakespeare was the author immortalized in the first and second Folios. This would have greatly strengthened his petition. The fact that he did not do this suggests that he knew his fellow actor-sharer was not the author Shakespeare.

So here we have virtually “smoking gun” evidence that Mr. Shakspere was not the author William Shakespeare, and Wells omits it! And he did it after saying he meant to include all such references. How could a leading scholar like Stanley Wells make such a mistake just by accident? And as I said, this is just one example. Do let me know if you would like to see more.

So here we see the real reason why Wells refuses to participate in Mr. Waugh’s mock trial. He knows he would be exposed under cross-examination for misrepresenting evidence. Rather than collecting 40,000 pounds for winning, Wells & Co. would lose.

What do you make of this, Dr. Siebert? How do you feel about falsifying the record?

[posted February 21, 2015]