By Richard M. Waugaman, M.D.
The Year’s Work in English Studies [YWES], a publication of the Oxford University Press, is the most comprehensive and oldest annual critical review of scholarship on English literature. In past years, Shakespeare authorship skeptics have not fared well in its pages when their work has been reviewed. With the current issue, that has changed.
Let us hope that YWES‘s review of Roger Stritmatter and Lynne Kositsky’s book on The Tempest (pictured, right) is one of the tipping points we have been seeing, where the old taboo against discussing the authorship question is finally giving way. Once scholars actually read our work objectively, they will realize that their past taboo against allowing us to be heard is a flagrant violation of academic freedom. And their claim that we have “no evidence” will be exposed as a projection of the weakness of their own authorship theory.
Even J. Thomas Looney did not believe that de Vere wrote The Tempest. A major argument against de Vere’s authorship is the unproven allegation that William Strachey’s account of a 1609 shipwreck in Bermuda was a major source for the play. However, as YWES states,
The problematic dating of Strachey’s letter, and the question of whether it influenced other publications on the Bermuda shipwreck and The Tempest, or if instead it was composed in its published form some time after the other accounts and the play, is the central theme of chapter 19, ‘The Myth of Strachey’s Influence.’ It is here that Kositsky and Stritmatter’s forensic examination of the evidence reaches its height. They argue that ‘Shakespearian traditionalists’ such as Alden Vaughan and Tom Reedy are relying on supposition and assumption when they discuss the intertextual references as evidence without an examination of the historical probability that Strachey might have composed his account later than 1609. In a stinging attack on the assumptions underlying Vaughan’s and Reedy’s works, Kositsky and Stritmatter point to the lack of evidence for any version of Strachey’s account prior to Shakespeare writing The Tempest, and the very problematic assumption that the letter, if it did exist, was available to Shakespeare in manuscript form. They also cite the extensive evidence for Strachey’s plagiarism from other sources, and the potential for the noted intertextuality between The Tempest and Strachey to actually be in the other direction, with Strachey copying from either the play or a mutual source [emphases added].
The review ends with an optimistic assertion—“No doubt Kositsky and Stritmatter’s informative and well-written work will spark renewed debate and discussion of this topic.” For contrast, here is how the online Oxfraud review of the book begins, “This book is not about The Tempest. Not a word of it” (“Redating The Tempest 1”). The understandably pseudonymous “Headlight” claims the book has been “unable to cite a single fact supporting [their] case.” And Oxfraud agrees with one of the traditionalists’ staunchest defenders—they quote former Folger Shakespeare Library director Gail Kern Paster’s slander that authorship skeptics are like creation scientists. Although she compares herself to a paleontologist, Paster is looking more like a fossil herself, as she leads the tottering Stratfordian chorus in vicious ad hominem attacks against us. As editor of the Shakespeare Quarterly, she reacted to Kositsky and Stritmatter’s earlier article on The Tempest by publishing an unscholarly effort to rebut it by Alden Vaughan himself. Paster clearly favors groupthink over true scholarship, which by definition must be open to new evidence that challenges cherished theories, no matter how ancient they may be.
Kositsky said that she and Stritmatter were thrilled to receive a fair and honest review from an orthodox publication of the Oxford University Press, and she thanked the reviewer for reporting on their book with intelligence and clarity. For more on Stritmatter and Kositsky’s response, see their shakespearestempest.com website.
YWES should be commended for its courage in giving Kositsky and Stritmatter’s book the objective attention it deserves, as a pivotal refutation of a major if dishonest attempt to discredit de Vere’s authorship of the Shakespeare canon.
Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University. His two ebooks on Shake-Speare are available from Amazon.