Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Shakespeare beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Shakespeare beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy

Article excerpt

Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, eds, Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). 284pp. ISBN 978 1 1076 0328 8.

This book is a collection of essays about the debate over the authorship of Shakespeare's plays and poems, and one which employs specific terminology: when writing of those who are sceptical about Shakespeare's authorship, the editors have chosen to replace the term 'anti-Stratfordian' with 'anti-Shakespearian', and, for the sake of consistency, I shall use the term 'anti-Shakespearian' in this review.1 There is a recent and cogent history of anti-Shakespearian writings in James Shapiro's Contested Will (2010), but this present collection, whilst covering some of this same historical ground (without dwelling on such figures as Twain or Freud) is primarily concerned with more recent history. Its animus is largely directed at more contemporary targets. There are three principal impetuses which give rise to this book: the establishment of university courses which study the issue of the authorship of Shakespeare's plays (given short shriftand dismissed in a couple of pages); the 2011 film Anonymous, which characterized the Earl of Oxford as the author of Shakespeare's plays; and the petition 'Declaration of Reasonable Doubt', launched in 2007, 'whose signatories assert that there is reasonable doubt that William Shakespeare was the true author of the plays attributed to him' (p. 201).

I should like to begin this review with some general observations about the book and its methodology. Written on behalf of the Birthplace Trust, this is an angry book, which attacks not only these specific anti-Shakespearian targets, but also pro-Shakespeare organisations which one might have assumed were allied with the Birthplace Trust, but which are criticised here by the editors for their failure to respond to these attacks upon the idea that Shakespeare wrote the works commonly attributed to him (see, for example, 'None of ...The Folger Shakespeare Library, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare's Globe ... seemed to wish to do anything in response to Emmerich's film', p. 229). It is not clear that all the contributors to this volume share the same level of ire. The book consists of an introduction by the editors and nineteen individual essays arranged in three sections: 'Sceptics', 'Shakespeare as Author' and 'A Cultural Phenomenon: Did Shakespeare Write Shakespeare?'. Each of these sections has its own brief mini-introduction, and the book concludes with an afterword by James Shapiro plus a selected reading list.

Two of the contributors are identified as independent scholars (lower case), whilst the editors themselves are identified by their affiliation with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The fact that not all the writers are academics is significant in a work where the tension between professional academics and amateurs looms so large. At the outset, we are told that, of those who contribute to the debate on anti-Shakespeare theories, some 'are amateurs, others are persons of high intellectual ability fully conversant with the techniques of academic scholarship' (p. xii), and that 'until the end of the twentieth century the subject was the province of amateurs ... with no professional commitment to literary of historical studies' (p. xiii). It would appear, then, that amateurs are ill-informed and not to be trusted, whereas the views of professional academics should be respected and supported. Yet the collection includes contributions from some who are not professional academics, and one of its targets is the newly established anti-Shakespearian university courses at Brunel University (London) and at Concordia University (Portland, Oregon). Moreover, the anti-Shakespearians themselves are ridiculed for the snobbery of their project, because it 'generally works from the premise Shakespeare's origins were too lowly to allow him to scale the upper peaks of Parnassus' (pp. …

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