"My Library Was Dukedom Large Enough": Academic Libraries Mediating the Shakespeare Authorship Debate

By Dudley, Michael Quinn | Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, July 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

"My Library Was Dukedom Large Enough": Academic Libraries Mediating the Shakespeare Authorship Debate


Dudley, Michael Quinn, Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research


Abstract

The "Shakespeare Authorship Question"-regarding the identity of the poet-playwright-has been debated for over 150 years. Now, with the growing list of signatories to the "Declaration of Reasonable Doubt," the creation of a Master's Degree program in Authorship Studies at Brunei University in London, the opening of the Shakespeare Authorship Research Studies Center at the Library of Concordia University in Portland, and the release of two competing high-profile books both entitled Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, academic libraries are being presented with a unique and timely opportunity to participate in and encourage this debate, which has long been considered a taboo subject in the academy.

Keywords

Shakespeare, William; academic freedom; intellectual freedom; collection development; information literacy; bias in collection development

***

Among the 256,000 books and 60,000 manuscripts held in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. is a heavily-annotated Geneva Bible once owned by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. According to doctoral research conducted by Roger Stritmatter (now a professor at Coppin State University in Maryland), the underlined passages and marginal annotations correspond significantly to language and allusions in the works of William Shakespeare, some long-recognized in the literature but 81 of which were revealed for the first time by the researcher (Stritmatter 2001 ). For many skeptics of the tradition of the "Divine William," de Vere's Bible is taken as something of a "smoking gun," compelling evidence which confirms the nearly 100-year-old claim that de Vere was, in fact, the nobleman behind the famous name "Shake-Speare." While the Folger Shakespeare Library is apparently not prepared to go that far, it does appear to have been anticipating something like this discovery, for it includes the following statement on its website:

The Folger has been a major location for research into the authorship question, and welcomes scholars looking for new evidence that sheds light on the plays' origins. Flow this particular man-or anyone, for that matter-could have produced such an astounding body of work is one of the great mysteries. If the current consensus on the authorship of the plays and poems is ever overturned, it will be because new and extraordinary evidence is discovered. The Folger Shakespeare Library is the most likely place for such an unlikely discovery ("Shakespeare FAQs").

The "Shakespeare Authorship Question" (as it is known) has been debated for over 150 years and has engaged the interest and commentary of such notables as Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman ("Past Doubters"). It is a singular phenomenon that one of the most studied literary figures of all time should remain unknown to us-and essentially unknowable-yet almost all expressions of Shakespeare studies represent some attempt to locate the author of the works, be it in the historical person, in relation to contemporaries, or his place in history. According to OCLC, there are more than 2,125 books currently available relating to the authorship of the plays and poems of Shakespeare, some of which speculate on collaboration but many more that argue against the "Man from Stratford," or propose another candidate entirely, such as de Vere, Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe, among others.

Now, with the growing list of high-profile academics, scholars and Shakespearean actors (including the great Derek Jacobi) signing on to the "Declaration of Reasonable Doubt" about the identity of the poet-playwright ("Declaration"), the significant books challenging the traditional attribution that have been published since 2000 (e.g., Anderson, Chiljan, Price), the creation of a Master's Degree program in Authorship Studies at Brunei University in London1, and the 2011 release of the film Anonymous (which depicted Edward de Vere as Shakespeare), the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has finally offered its own response on the issue, having been content until now to ignore it entirely. …

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