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SOF Responds to Omission of Authorship Book from Mark Twain Project

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship recently objected to the current omission of Mark Twain’s masterpiece of Shakespeare authorship skepticism, Is Shakespeare Dead? from the University of California at Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project Online. Is Shakespeare Dead? is the book in which Twain famously compared the biography of the Stratford man to “a Brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of paris.” Linda Theil of the Oberon Shakespeare Study Group in Michigan, brought this matter to the SOF’s attention through a blogpost, Mark Twain’s Benighted Book, on the Oberon website.

The Mark Twain Project Online states that its “ultimate purpose is to produce a digital critical edition, fully annotated, of everything Mark Twain wrote.” MTPO is produced by the Mark Twain Papers and Project of The Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley. The MTPO is a favored project of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which has provided over $4 million in funding for the project.

But as Ms. Theil points out: “Mark Twain’s treatise on the Shakespeare authorship question, Is Shakespeare Dead?, appears nowhere in this monumental endeavor. If you query the massive trove on the title Is Shakespeare Dead? you will be rewarded with exactly nothing.”

After communicating with MTPO personnel, Ms. Theil came to the following conclusions:

If we understand correctly, according to these communiques there are several reasons why Is Shakespeare Dead? does not appear in Autobiography of Mark Twain or the Mark Twain Project Online:

  • Is Shakespeare Dead? has to be edited before it can be included; but there are no plans to edit it.
  • The editors don’t know where to put Is Shakespeare Dead?
  • Is Shakespeare Dead? is widely available elsewhere so does not need to appear in the Mark Twain Project Online.
  • 1909 publication represented Mark Twain’s final intention for Is Shakespeare Dead?

This seems so patently nonsensical that we have delayed commenting for fear we had missed some essential nuance of reasoning, but we can delay no longer because we don’t think we will ever understand why Is Shakespeare Dead? has been eliminated from Mark Twain’s life work.

In light of these circumstances, the SOF Board voted to send a letter to Elaine Tennant, director of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, with a copy to William Adams, Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The letter, signed by SOF president Tom Regnier, cited the work of a UC Berkeley professor of psychology:

Dear Ms. Tennant,

I am writing you on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship to urge you to include Samuel Clemens’ monograph Is Shakespeare Dead? From my Autobiography (Harper & Bros., 1909) in the Autobiography in the Mark Twain Project Online. If you do not include it in the Autobiography, we hope that you will at least make definite plans to edit it in the near future and give it a prominent place in the MTPO.

Is Shakespeare Dead? explores a topic that is infuriating to many, and this may be one of the very best reasons why it should be honored with inclusion — it represents the authentic voice of dissent. Charlan J. Nemeth, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at University of California at Berkeley, has extolled the value of dissent: “[D]issent stimulates thought that is broader, that takes in more information and that, on balance, leads to better decisions and more creative solutions. . . . In general, no role playing technique stimulates divergent thinking as does authentic dissent.” (http://psychology.berkeley.edu/people/charlan-j-nemeth).

While you may not agree with Samuel Clemens’ viewpoint on the authorship question, we believe that this short work is:

  • a treasure of historic perspective on the subject of the Shakespeare authorship controversy,
  • a vital view of Clemens’ psychology and personality,
  • and an artistic triumph of comic literature.

Furthermore, Twain’s view of the authorship question is echoed today by people such as Shakespearean actors Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi, former Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O’Connor, and Physics Professor Emeritus Peter Sturrock of Stanford. To excise this work from the trove that is the Mark Twain Project Online because of its controversial nature would be a lamentable omission.

We hope that you will give this unique gem from the mind of the great genius and original thinker Mark Twain the recognition that it deserves by according it a place of honor in the MTPO.

Yours truly,

Thomas Regnier, J.D., LL.M.
President, Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship

Those of you who wish to write your own letters to Ms. Tennant and Mr. Adams may do so at the following addresses:

Elaine Tennant, Director
The Bancroft Library
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-6000

William Adams, Chair
National Endowment for the Humanities
400 7th Street SW
Washington, DC 20506

Fortunately, Mark Twain’s Is Shakespeare Dead? remains freely available online, although not, ironically, as part of the Mark Twain Project Online.

[posted May 12, 2016]
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