Two new books take on the Shakespeare Authorship Question.
The spring of 2013 saw the publication of two books about the Shakespeare Authorship Question with deliberately similar titles. First to appear was Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, published by Cambridge University Press. The second, coming only a few weeks later, was Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? Exposing an Industry in Denial, edited by John Shahan, founder and chairman of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, and British author and researcher Alexander Waugh, published by Llumina Press.
While the two books are similar in format, each with chapters on specific aspects of the SAQ from various contributors, it is no surprise that they reach opposite conclusions about the true identity of William Shakespeare. While Shakespeare Beyond Doubt purports (according to its press releases) to examine the authorship issue objectively, it comes to the predetermined conclusion that there can be no doubt that Will Shaksper of Stratford-on-Avon and the writer William Shakespeare are indeed one and the same. Although it boasts that 23 “distinguished scholars” contributed, including such familiar names as Alan Nelson, David Kathman, and James Shapiro, the same old arguments are reiterated; no new scholarship is presented.
The rival volume Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? does not advocate for a particular alternative candidate, but instead is intended specifically to establish the existence of doubt about the Stratford man’s candidacy by showing the many weaknesses of the traditional case. One reason Shahan and Waugh chose to title their book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? was that they hoped it would lead to press coverage of it side-by-side with the Edmondson-Wells book. That strategy seems to be bearing fruit. Both books were discussed together on CBC national radio in Canada in early July. On July 4 the Daily Mail and the Guardian both ran interviews with Waugh and Wells.
Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? contains 12 chapters and 4 appendices, representing the contributions of 13 different writers. Readers who are knowledgeable about the issue will be familiar with many of the arguments, but will also find some new examples of scholarship. For example, Alexander Waugh’s chapter “Keeping Shakespeare out of Italy” not only shows that the true Shakespeare had to have visited Italy, but also details the blunders traditional scholars have made in trying to maintain that he didn’t. Similarly, “Social Network Theory and Shakespeare,” by the late Donald P. Hayes of Cornell University, employs new statistical methods to show that it is extremely unlikely that Shaksper was Shakespeare, based on the paucity of references to him made by literary contemporaries.
Both books are available in print, Kindle and Nook editions, through the usual online outlets.
The above article was excerpted from “Shakespeare Beyond Doubt or Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? You Decide,” first printed in the Summer 2013 (vol. 12.3) issue of Shakespeare Matters.