Non-Stratfordians Diana Price, Rosalind Barber, and William Leahy have written formidable critiques of various aspects of Stratfordian lore in the latest issue of the Journal of Early Modern Studies, which is described on its website as “an open access peer-reviewed international journal that promotes interdisciplinary research and discussion on issues concerning all aspects of early modern European culture. It provides a platform for international scholarly debate through the publication of outstanding work over a wide disciplinary spectrum: literature, language, art, history, politics, sociology, religion and cultural studies.” It is published by the Firenze (Florence, Italy) University Press.
Ironically, the 2016 issue also contains an article by Stratfordian professor Gary Taylor, who stirred up some controversy in 2014 when he withdrew an offer of publication by the Italian journal Memoria di Shakespeare to Oxfordian Dr. Richard Waugaman. In doing so, Taylor compared anti-Stratfordians to holocaust deniers. Stratfordian Andrew Hadfield, a contributor to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, is also represented in the 2016 issue of the Journal of Early Modern Studies, so the Journal is clearly willing to give a platform to partisans of differing views on the authorship question.
Price on Hand D in Sir Thomas More
Diana Price, author of the seminal anti-Stratfordian book Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, takes on the often-asserted premise that “Hand D” in the Elizabethan manuscript of The Book of Sir Thomas More represents the handwriting of William Shakspere of Stratford. Price’s article, “Hand D and Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Literary Paper Trail,” relentlessly deconstructs the Stratfordian case for Hand D. The Stratfordians, Price argues, have broken all the rules about identifying handwriting when it comes to claiming that Hand D is Shakspere’s handwriting.
First, they start with too small a sample, since all they have to compare Hand D to are the six accepted signatures of the Stratford man and the words “By me” on his will. Taken together, these samples do not provide exemplars for even half of the letters of the alphabet. Second, many of the signatures look so different from each other that it suggests that some signatures, or parts of them, may have been written on Shakspere’s behalf by others. Price quotes one expert as stating that if the signature on the Blackfriars purchase had been the only one to survive, Shakspere’s handwriting would appear to be “that of an imperfectly educated man of inferior rank.” Furthermore,the signatures are very difficult to read, and experts disagree among themselves as to exactly which letters are inscribed in individual signatures. Finally, there may well be a gap of a decade or more between the time that the Thomas More manuscript was written and the times that the Shakspere signatures were created. Because a person’s handwriting changes over time, careful handwriting experts would not venture to compare samples that are made so many years apart. Yet in order to reach the desired conclusion, Stratfordians bend the rules so that what is really a very shaky proposition becomes an accepted fact.
As Price states in her conclusion, “In the years since 1923, many scholars, editors, and critics have claimed Hand D as Shakespeare’s, and the mere repetition of that claim has bestowed on it a misplaced legitimacy. David Hackett Fischer identifies the logical fallacy as ‘proof by repetition’ . . . . Yet despite deficient evidence and faulty arguments, the case for Hand D not only has survived, as of 2015, it is thriving . . . .”
There is much more to Price’s fascinating argument, and readers are encouraged to download and read the entire article.[Note: Readers who wish to explore further the mystery of The Book of Sir Thomas More and Hand D may want to read Fran Gidley’s excellent article in The Oxfordian Volume 6, “Shakespeare in Composition: Evidence for Oxford’s Authorship of The Book of Sir Thomas More,” in which Gidley notes that the majority of the handwriting in the Thomas More manuscript is that of Anthony Munday, Oxford’s secretary, and argues that Oxford dictated most of the play to Munday.]
Barber on Shakespeare’s “Warwickshire Dialect”
In “Shakespeare and Warwickshire Dialect,” Rosalind Barber, who teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, and spoke at the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship conference in Ashland, Oregon in 2015, investigates whether Shakespeare used the dialect of Warwickshire and surrounding areas. Since Stratford is located in Warwickshire, an abundance of words and phrases that are peculiar to that area would support the Stratfordian theory of authorship. Barber focuses on the sources of recent claims by Bate, Kathman and Wood, most of which derive from early dialect dictionaries compiled by 18th and 19th century antiquarians.
Barber determines that all of these claims—frequently used as a defense of the Stratfordian theory—fall into four categories: those based on errors of fact, well-known or widely-used words, poetic inventions, and those derived through circular reasoning. Barber identifies two problems. Firstly, the source texts on which these dialect claims rest were written two to three hundred years after the plays, by which time language use would not only have evolved, but would have been influenced by Shakespeare. Secondly, the continuing academic taboo surrounding the authorship question has meant that these claims, though easily refuted by searching the Oxford English Dictionary and the digitized texts of Early English Books Online, have gone unchallenged in academia. Barber demonstrates that querying the validity of arguments derived from an assumed biography can lead to a better understanding of the way Shakespeare actually used language, and the meanings he intended.
Leahy on Shakespearean Biography
William Leahy, a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Brunel University in London, has contributed “‘the dreamscape of nostalgia’: Shakespearean Biography: Too Much Information (but not about Shakespeare)” to the 2016 issue of the Journal of Early Modern Studies. Leahy notes that a new Shakespearean biography is published at least once a year. Yet, the records are hardly full of details of his life and are indeed almost non-existent with regard to his writing life. If this is the case, wonders Leahy, then what are these various biographies made up of? What are they constituted by given that, it seems, their basic foundations are absent? Leahy’s essay considers these questions in the context of what he considers the most important intervention in the field of Shakespearean biography in recent years, Brian Cummings’ essay ‘Shakespeare, Biography and Anti-Biography.’ The conclusion he reaches is that the entire sub-genre can be regarded as ‘the dreamscape of nostalgia,’ constituted by works of fictional narcissism.
The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship salutes the Journal of Early Modern Studies for providing an open forum for alternative viewpoints on the Shakespeare authorship question.