Warning: Stratfordianism is a Religion!

It seems that most people who are annoyed and angered by the Shakespeare authorship question are quite certain that we “anti-Stratfordians” must be snobs or conspiracy nuts or wackos or all of those things combined.  But it also appears that these same folks have very little knowledge of, much less interest in, the biographical and historical evidence concerning “Shakespeare” and the age in which he lived.  It’s a paradox!

And this paradox can only be resolved by realizing that the identification of Shakespeare as a London actor from Stratford-upon-Avon must be sacrosanct … inviolable … not to be questioned … “above and beyond criticism, change or interference,” as my Random House dictionary suggests.  Doubting it is an act of sacrilege.  Trying to replace that man with another man (such as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford) is sinful if not criminal.

The Folio Engraving of 1623 -- It's a Mask over his face -- see that line down the side -- and see the eyes of an unidentified man looking thru the eye holes...

We’re talking religion here, pure and simple.  We’re talking about a belief that’s rooted in some deep-seated human need.  It has nothing to do with honest inquiry and everything to do with blind faith.  The majority of people in England and America are devoted to an image of the Bard that presents him as a “man of the people,” as the saying goes — a man of the people who lifted himself up to the heights of glory.  He possessed the ability of a genius to transcend all limitations by the sheer power of his imagination and/or his fantasy.

I bring up this subject after reading the latest blog post from the Oberon Shakespeare Study Group by R. Thomas Hunter, PhD, a prominent Oxfordian whose comments on the authorship issue are consistently thoughtful and insightful.  I heartily recommend his Declaration of New Shakespeare Scholarship issued on this Fourth of July 2010, agreeing with him that “much of the real discovery about Shakespeare is still in our future” and that “the problem” has consisted of the various ways in which “our traditional concept of the Bard himself has limited our questions about his work.”

There it is, in a single sentence.  Regardless of opinions to the contrary, the fact is that the limitations imposed upon scholars by their restricted views of the author himself have necessarily imposed limitations upon their ability to explore his literary and dramatic works.  It’s the same way that some religious views have imposed limitations on science, impeding medical or educational advances and so on.

I recommend that you look at the Oberon group’s Declaration of New Shakespeare Scholarship and I share Dr. Hunter’s enthusiasm about the future.  The declaration is undoubtedly correct, but it also provokes me to point out the kind of uninformed religious fervor that lies behind “the problem” mentioned above.  The deeper problem is an incredibly strong belief in something that’s really irrational; and when such a belief is challenged, the response is a bitter anger that’s equally irrational.  That’s when you get the whipped-up emotions and the name-calling.  That’s when you get the potential for violence.

While joining Dr. Hunter in looking ahead to a new era of Shakespeare scholarship, therefore, I am also aware that such a future will not arrive easily or overnight.

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Conventional wisdom is akin to religion.

    It is sacred tradition for most people.

    But for those who are not afraid of change but for evidence and truth, there is nothing menacing in changing, as there is nothing dangerous in changing your way of thinking about something the moment new evidence has been shown.

    But not all people are open minded and pursue truth.

    As Bertrand Russell said, mutatis mutandis: “The reason why truth has not been found by many philosophers is because they do not want to find truth, but orthodoxy for their system, their religion, or their sect.”

    • Russell was certainly correct. One really odd thing about all this is that absolutely no evidence exists from the lifetime of Will of Stratford (1564-1616) to connect him with, or identify him as, “Shakespeare” the poet and dramatist. None. The “conventional wisdom” or “sacred tradition” is based only on rumor and hearsay without any kind of information that might be enlightening. Ben Jonson in the Folio speaks of “Shakespeare” the writer and only his mention of Sweet Swan of Avon appears to suggest Stratford on Avon. Anyway — thanks for this.

  2. Start with treating Stratford not as a geographical location but as a business or industry. Then use RICO
    (racketeer influenced corrupt organizations act) and/or enterprise corruption law. If these are only applicable in these United States, then use the commerce clause and develop sanctions vs Stratford. I would suggest Judge Minos Miller’s preface to the 1970 edition of Looney’s excellent work as a starting point to answer the question cui bono.

    • Yes. Judge Miller makes some truly important points, some of which I must put up on the blog page soon enough. He mentions the concentration of academic authority into the hands of just a few so-called experts and he comments on their huge influence on what gets into, and stays out of, our textbooks. “The uninformed teacher cannot be expected to inform the student,” he writes. The failure to inform is “not due to deliberate effort [by teachers] but to their own lack of knowledge.” He also mentions the lack of emphasis on the history that complements the literature. Incidentally that’s a major theme of mine in connection with the Monument solution to the Sonnets: if one is unaware of the contemporary history that involves both Oxford and Southampton, it’s impossible to grasp the true story that the sonnets have recorded for posterity. In any case, yes, Stratford is an industry. Thanks.

  3. Dear Hank, the recurring accusation of “snobbery” against anti-Stratfordians seems particularly ridiculous to me. Can accusers really think that anti-Strats believe some inherent aristocratic glamour – and not the access to education and experience that wealth, privilege, and power guarantee – leads Shakespeare seekers to look high in the highly stratified realms of Elizabethan society? If so, the accusers must be more star-struck than the accused.

    • Thanks for the comment, Linda. It seems that vast numbers of people have a vision of Will that is about as strong as any other kind of vision they might have. Lord Oxford represents quite the opposite, in their view! An irony, as I see it, is that many of the same folks really do love Prince Hamlet, whose very humanity is a direct reflection of Oxford’s own person. Ah, well, march on! Cheers – Hank

  4. From Lilian Winstanley’s second Shakespeare book where she describes her method:

    “Let me choose as a parallel case to the method I desire the Higher Criticism of the Bible.
    “There was a time not so very long ago when the Bible was assumed to be essentially true and equally intelligible for all men at all times and, as Ruskin puts the matter, it was so ordained by God in order that we might all understand it. Now this was a very simple and, granting the assumption of a Divine Author, a very logical way of regarding the matter. But let me point out that it was only logical in the cause of a Divine Author for no other could be supposed to be so far above space and time. No educated person, however, now thinks of regarding the Bible in that way. The Higher Criticism has taught us to concern ourselves with each book of the Bible individually, to ask ourselves first and foremost at what date each book was written and under what circumstances and what it would mean for the men of that age. Now in the case of the Bible, if anywhere, it might be logical to divorce it from space and time; but the principle of relativity being accepted even there, what is there to hinder us from applying it in the case of Shakespeare? He cannot be more divine than the Bible?’’

    She then reminds the reader that there were no newspapers for the Elizabetheans and Jacobeans; people attended those early performances not only to be entertained but to further their knowledge of quite recent history. The censorship was the star chamber. Thus the need for disguise in what Winstanley called “symbolic mythology’’, which meant for Shakespeare using Plutarch, Saxo Grammaticus, Holinshed, and in the case of “King Lear’’ pre-Christian tales.

  5. […] new research that defends the glover’s son as the author of William Shakespeare’s plays, and Hank Whittemore, an anti-Stratfordian, responds to Hunter’s ideas on his blog. […]

  6. […] new research that defends the glover’s son as the author of William Shakespeare’s plays, and Hank Whittemore, an anti-Stratfordian, responds to Hunter’s ideas on his […]


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