Professor Helen Gordon Cites “Six Lies” of James Shapiro in the New York Times

Following is a letter to the New York Times, replying to Professor James Shapiro of Columbia University, from Helen Heightsman Gordon, M.A., Ed. D., an English professor emeritus of Bakersfield College, California, and author of The Secret Love Story in Shakespeare’s Sonnets [2008].

Dear NY Times:

If you fact-checked the column by James Shapiro (Oct 17) you would do your readers a great favor.  Here are some of the lies in that column that any responsible reporter would have questioned:

Lie #1- The lesson plans by Sony Pictures are being distributed to literature and history teachers “in the hope of convincing them that Shakespeare was a fraud.”  

Not true.  These plans are being provided to teachers to inform them about the authorship controversy, which has been subject to much censorship in the academic world, and to encourage students to think for themselves on this controversial issue.

Lie #2 – J. Thomas Looney [pronounced LONE-ee] “loathed democracy and modernity” and argued that “only a worldly nobleman could have created such works of genius.” 

Not true.  Looney was a schoolmaster who was dissatisfied with teaching the traditional biography of Shakespeare, who argued that the Bard’s marvelous works revealed characteristics that we would expect to find in the author. These traits included a superior education, knowledge of several languages, familiarity with European courts and powerful aristocrats, some ambivalence about women, and so forth.

Shapiro’s ad hominem attack attempts to paint this sincere, dedicated teacher as a snob.  That oft-repeated accusation has been decisively refuted by many brilliant non-snobs who question whether the Stratford businessman had the background necessary to have produced works of such profound knowledge and literary talent as Shakespeare produced.

Lie #3“Promoters of de Vere’s cause have a lot of evidence to explain away, including testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else that confirms that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him.” 

Not true. These supposed records either refer to non-literary court records about the Stratford man’s legal problems or they refer to the author by his pen name, “William Shakespeare” — like saying “Mark Twain wrote Mark Twain‘s work.”  They do not in any way “confirm” that the Stratford resident is the same person as the author.

The writings of William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon: six known signatures

Lie #4 “Not a shred of documentary evidence has ever been found that connects de Vere to any of the plays or poems.” 

This one is REALLY a whopper!  Demonstrably untrue.  Many scholars have provided documentary evidence of de Vere’s writing talent in letters and published poetry.  There is also printed evidence that he was regarded by his peers as being a talented playwright and poet.  Many scholars have provided evidence that de Vere had the background necessary to write the plays, including ability to read classic Greek and Latin works that had not been translated into English, evidence of travel through Italy in places accurately described in the plays, and so forth.

Researchers are somewhat frustrated by the fact that de Vere’s malicious father-in-law suppressed or destroyed evidence that might have proved one way or the other that he wrote the plays and the sonnets.  Ironically, it is the Stratford-worshippers who have never produced one single piece of writing in Shakespeare’s hand, and no documentary proof that Mr. Shakspere (that’s how he spelled his own name) attended the Stratford Grammar School (those records have been destroyed).

Lie #5“The greatest obstacle facing de Vere’s supporters is that he died in 1604, before ten or so of Shakespeare’s plays were written.” 

This might be convincing if it were true.  The truth is that nobody knows when the plays were written.  We only know when they were performed and when they were published (sometimes in pirated quartos as “anonymous” work).  Dr. Shapiro cannot explain why Mr. Shaxpere (another way that he spelled his name) did not edit his own plays for publication during his years of retirement, if indeed he were the same person as the famous author.

The First Folio was not printed until 1623, long after Mr. Shagspere’s death (another way that he spelled his name).  And the Sonnets were published in 1609, while Mr. Shakspere was alive, yet the Dedication refers to the author as “ever-living” — which means that the author is dead, but his works are still immortal.

Lie #6“Later de Vere advocates . . . claimed that de Vere was Elizabeth’s illegitimate son and therefore the rightful heir to the English throne.” 

There are only two strong advocates [Paul Streitz and Charles Beauclerk – HW] for the “incest theory,” and the movie does not give this theory any credence (the subject is mentioned and then dismissed as a lie).  On the other hand, there is considerable evidence that Elizabeth had a love affair with Edward de Vere, and at least one noted historian reports a rumor that they had a love-child who was being raised as the Third Earl of Southampton.

Those Oxfordians who find that to be a credible scenario would consider Southampton the possible heir to the throne.  The first seventeen sonnets are addressed to the “Fair Youth” that a consensus of Shakespeare scholars believe to be Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton.   That makes a lot of sense when you read those sonnets as being from a loving father to the son that he cannot acknowledge, as he says in Sonnet 36:

I may not evermore acknowledge thee

Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,

Nor you with public kindness honor me,

Unless thou tak’st that honor from thy name.

So let us indeed stop telling lies to school children.  Let’s give them the facts — all the facts, not just those carefully selected by the traditionalists who have maintained a taboo over the subject of the authorship for decades.  Students can learn to think for themselves, and Roland Emmerich will give them much more to think about than Dr. Shapiro has done.

[Thanks to Helen Gordon for permission to reprint — with a few copy edits by me]

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29 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hank:
    Do you know if this reply is going to be printed in the NYTImes?

    • Hi Gary –

      No, I don’t think so. I’d be mighty surprised…!

  2. So funny. Your “Documentary evidence” is that he wrote poetry, and knew Greek and Latin — Like a few thousand others at the time, none of whom wrote the Works either.

    The epic fail of “Anonymous” was the death knell of Oxfordianism. It’s not censorship: everyone just rightfully concluded that you’re wrong, and should shut up. B-bye.

    • I can provide more evidence for Oxford than you can provide for William Shakspere of Stratford.
      You have no documentary evidence that the Stratford businessman attended school of any kind, no evidence that he could read Greek and Latin, no evidence that he ever wrote a personal letter or published a poem. All you have is the flimsy “evidence” that he had a similar name to that of the brilliant author (but he never spelled it the same way as the author did).
      Why is it so hard to believe that a brilliant author might use a pen name? Mark Twain was brilliant, (actual name Samuel Clemens) but he wrote about what he knew, and Robert Burns was a talented commoner, but he wrote about the world he lived in. George Eliot was a woman (Mary Ann Evans) but she wrote beautifully about life in the Midlands, where she grew up.
      And why is it so hard to believe that an author can be brilliant and ALSO be a fortunate aristocrat?
      Please reply if and when you have some real EVIDENCE that the man you are worshipping is really the SAME MAN as the author. Until then, do some real research or keep your ill-informed opinions to yourself.
      Helen Heightsman Gordon

      • “Write about what you know” might be a saw to make students in creative writing classes gape, but a reading of CS Lewis’ academic work (especially the Cambridge History of English Literature (Excluding Drama), 1954) shows this to be folly as applied here.

        In the Renaissance, a world much unlike ours as Lewis knew, people didn’t want to read about ordinary life, so most writers wrote of strange lands. And when Shakespeare does so, he makes telling errors that do not detract from his work, the most famous being the seacoast of Bohemia and the misspelling of Jaques’ name in As You Like It.

        Furthermore, Shakespeare didn’t have to read “Greek or Latin” to read Sir Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch, his major source for his “Roman” plays. Ben Jonson’s claim, patronizing enough to be true, that Shakespeare had “little Latin and less Greek” (although in the Renaissance, “little” may have meant what “a lot” means today) is borne out by the relative paucity of Latin phrases in his work as compared to the known Marlowe canon.

        The bullying tone, the inapposite phrases that betray the secret couch potato (“stay tuned”) the demand for proof that is met by the easy (cf Hume) proof of doubt, make Shakespeare Denialism of a piece with Creationism, global warming denial and Holocaust denial.

        It is the revolt of the revolting masses, that is of the lower middle class demi-clerisy against real oppression, diverted into a symbolic, but real, burning of the library…such as was carried out in Baghdad while the US Marines looked on in 2003.

        And it starts and ends with Fascism in which Ignorance seeks to occupy the burned library as a symbol of authority while taking Learning out back to get shot.

        Hitler is your prototype and god, for he too confused fantasy and reality. Work-shy in Vienna in 1910, and unable to develop his possibly genuine talent as a painter, Hitler turned to dreams of Atlantis and a world purged of symbols of what he could not face in himself: the whining Jew or sweating Czech.

        Denialism in general refuses Delmore Schwartz (“in dreams begin responsibilities”). Shakespeare as an entrepreneur and artist in a world lit only by fire confronts the lower middle class denialist with his failure, because Shakespeare, against incalculable odds, succeeded without taking a single class in “creative writing”. Shakespeare did so, unlike so many contemporary American and British men, while paying “child support” on time for all we know. He met his responsibilities out of the stuff of dreams, and while every other Elizabethan playwright or actor has a police record, Shakespeare had none.

        We live in a world in which ex-spouses must, apparently out of necessity, transform their ex-partner into a monster, and in which most men don’t pay court-mandated child support orders. In such a world, a character like Shakespeare, who appears to have been drawn at first to the theater as a way of supporting an unloving wife and children whom he loved, is a capital L Loser or actually inconceivable, invisible.

        Any theory which depends on falsification of the written record cannot itself count on us to trust the written record, when that record is in the Denialist’s favor. Like Fascism (which typically purges universities of genuine scholars in order to give their posts to careerists) it wants to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, Elizabethan England is a land of secrets and lies. On the other, the Denialist seizes upon favored documentary evidence as conclusive.

        Being unable to fantasize, improvise, create, is a sign of mental disorder. Being able at a minimum to follow a Winter’s Tale through the screen of a language not so much antique (it’s called “Early *Modern* English” for a reason) as correct-but-sophisticated in a way that fools deride is a sign of mental *order*. Being able to remember or even improvise a joke or story is High Magick and high mental order.

        Denialists give no evidence of reading or watching Shakespeare. That demands some mental effort. It’s “boring”. Instead, they can seem learned in their command of detail and doubt/

        Mistaking fantasy for truth is a sign of mental disorder as in the fact that even after the USA admitted that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs, 70% of the American people continued to believe that he did) it is a mass folly which statistical definitions of deviance cannot note.

  3. I’m curious: do you think the Times should publish the letter ? I think it makes your side look very bad. For instance, if Emmerich didn’t hope the lessonplans wouldn’t convert students to Oxfordianism, he’s certainly been acting very strangely. Even if he didn’t, I should think Shapiro should be excused for inferring that he did–mistaken, not lying. Shapiro’s other statements are almost certainly not lies but errors, if not true.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bob.

  4. When a university professor states as a fact what he merely thinks is true, that could be an error, but it should be corrected.
    When the professor makes a statement that he KNOWS is not true, that is a lie.
    Helen Heightsman Gordon, M.A., Ed.D.

  5. Professor Gordon, it’s up to you to provide evidence that Professor Shapiro knew his statement was untrue. Along the way, you might tell us why you think “William Shakespeare” on the title-pages of Venus and and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece, are not evidence that Shakespeare “published a poem.”

    • Okay, here is just one example of a lie (#5) that the article contained. Why couldn’t Professor Shapiro be honest and admit that dating the times when plays were written is pure guesswork?
      Lie #5 – “The greatest obstacle facing de Vere’s supporters is that he died in 1604, before ten or so of Shakespeare’s plays were written.”

      This might be convincing if it were true. The truth is that nobody knows when the plays were written. We only know when they were performed and when they were published (sometimes in pirated quartos as “anonymous” work). Dr. Shapiro cannot explain why Mr. Shaxpere (another way that he spelled his name) did not edit his own plays for publication during his years of retirement, if indeed he were the same person as the famous author.

      As for the publicatiion of Venus and Adonis in 1593 and RofL in 1594, it was the AUTHOR who published them, using the pen name of “William Shakespeare.” You are making the same mistake that other ill-informed people have made, confusing the pen name of the AUTHOR with a similar name (not exactly the same) belonging to a Stratford businessman. The year 1593 marks the first time the name “William Shakespeare” appears in print. It was not printed on any play until 1598.
      In 1593 the Stratford resident was 29 years old, and the poem V&A was a mature, polished work of art. So what had the Stratford resident published prior to that? And why didn’t he publish anything under his own name after he retired? The simple answer is that we’ve been chasing the wrong man for 400 years — exactly what the Cecil family hoped to accomplish with their “red herrings” to divert attention from Oxford’s relationship to Queen Elizabeth and her court.
      If you are asking me for “documentary evidence” linking Oxford to the plays and poetry, be prepared to show the same kind of evidence for the default candidate.
      Respectfully yours,
      Helen Heightsman Gordon, M.A., Ed.D.

      • “No one knows when the plays were written”? Nonsense. They are replete with topical references, and furthermore, plays written after James commanded that a list of proscribed words such as “‘sblood” are free of such words as compared to plays of the 1590s.

      • In an era where the mediaeval dating of majority at the age of 15 still survived, 29 was old. Shakespeare hadn’t published anything prior and plays were not published under his name legally or otherwise because playwrights wrote for actors and the stage, not readers.

        Shakespeare didn’t publish anything after retirement because he made very little from publication as opposed to gate receipts and ownership. Publication was a difficult and dangerous business in his time requiring government approval.

      • True, publication of plays was not a profitable venture. But where are the records of payments to Mr. Shakspere of Stratford for the performances of his plays? And if he published the highly polished poem Venus and Adonis in 1593, which went through several editions, why didn’t he help to edit the Sonnets of 1609, which were quickly suppressed? And why didn’t he edit his own plays for publication after his retirement, instead of leaving that task to his friends after his death in 1623 (the First Folio had a big mess of errors). The “lie” still remains, that Oxford’s death in 1604 did not rule him out, because we don’t really know when ANY of the plays were written, only when they were performed or published (and many of the plays were not published until the First Folio of 1623, so does that mean Mr. Shakspere of Stratford couldn’t have written them prior to publication?
        No, Dr. Shapiro is not being honest with his readers, I’m sorry to say.
        The movie “anonymous” comes much closer to the truth than the legends that have been passed down as history.

      • No, we know by exogenous and endogenous references in the plays, to exogenous events and other plays: the rough order of the plays (for example, Henry V refers back to Henry IV) and their rough relationship to dates. Oxford could not have foreseen, for example, the proscription of a list of swearwords published right after his death, yet the words aren’t in the plays after 1604.

        S did not edit his own plays for publication because he saw himself as writing for the stage and not the reader. Again, publication was difficult and dangerous and for that reason not profitable.

        And, if Oxford had written the plays prior to 1604, why would he not release them all at once? The theaters of the time were usually desperate for new content.

        But the fundamental question would be why would a landed aristocrat with access to specie and credit even want to write plays for performance and cash? Theater was a middle class venture (Marlowe’s father was a cobbler). Shakespeare’s plays contain content that appeals to upper classes, alternating (especially in Henry IV parts 1 & 2) with humor for the lower sorts. Why would a precious aristocrat wish to pander to the low save for a cash motivation that a middle class man like Shakespeare have, and an aristo would not?

        Ignorance isn’t the skepticism of the learned, Ms. Poseur.

      • You agree that the dating of the plays depends on speculations regarding topical references, etc. also, the conventional arrangements were devised to make them fit within the lifetime of William Shakspere of Stratford. So these are far from perfect. You can make all the excuses you want for the Stratford businessman, but the highest probability is that for 400 years we have all been confusing two men with similar names (the author William Shakespeare and the Stratford businessman who signed his own name as Shakspere or Shagspere). There is no point in arguing over entrenched beliefs, such as the Bardolatry that has reigned so long that it is presumed to be unassailable fact. The “true believers” who belittle those with differing views have not proved their theories to be correct, only that they are held with highly emotional tenacity.
        Best wishes to you; may your strong beliefs give you comfort.

      • How easy it must be to establish a pseudo-academic reputation
        By renarrating scholarship as speculation.
        Enlightenment, my dear, is a civil conversation
        It is uncivil to posit conspiracy at will:
        And it is a foolish pantomime:
        Real scholars ignore you as at best a form of academic pond slime.
        Shakespeare’s plays as text are replete with relative evidence
        Of temporal provenance,
        But you lack the depth to see it. Questioning results
        Is only valid when you’re willing to advance an alternative, not insults
        And, as I’ve shown, the very idear my dear that Edward De Vere
        Wrote closet dramas and shelved them only for them to be performed after his kicking the bucket
        Is Nonsense from Nantucket. F*k it.

      • The problem here is a relic of the 1960s, when Federal aid to education, a good thing, nonetheless had a bad effect in that it admitted careerists and thugs into the academy in some cases.

        These thugs learned gestures which they then took into the post-Sixties academic and business world. One such gesture was the renarration of correct, grammatical and even elegant English as “verbosity”.

        Another is this readiness to call your opponent a liar. It almost never happens in mathematics since proof techniques are so ready to hand, and the mathematical lunatic for this reason is readily recognized. Likewise for the hard sciences.

        When you call your opponent a liar you are no longer in a civil conversation for anything civil is at an end. The fact is that modern techniques of textual analysis can establish results far beyond “speculation” because the use of the computer introduces just enough hard science.

        “Verbosity” means “I have a Master’s degree but I don’t understand the text in the class”. “Speculation” means “I am simply unwilling to study this research and prefer to advance my own”.

        Most of the academic failures who used these gestures wound up in the corporation where they caused companies to fail. Unfortunately some of them somehow got tenure at troubled institutions, it here appears.

      • There you go again, with your ad hominem attacks instead of making an honest correction. If you think Shapiro’s statements were true, where is the proof? Your musings about who got into the academy and who did not are totally irrelevant, and they show the marks of the very thing you deplore — an educated, articulate, and probably intelligent person who can’t tell a fact from an opinion.

      • You’ll never be satisfied with “proof” because you prefer the certainty of doubt which never need be proved (cf. Hume). “Shakespeare Denialism” isn’t a theory at all. It’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.

      • So now you presume to read my mind, and to diagnose my opinions as “denialism” — this sounds like pure projection to me. You are projecting your own denialism and rejection of evidence upon me, so the discussion is going nowhere except round and round in your own closed mind. That’s okay for you, but for me it’s a waste of time. Have a nice day.

      • Yes, I propose to read your mind
        I’m pretty darn smart…and you, my dear, are shallow
        One can’t completely plumb the mystery of all human kind
        But one sure can tap a can, to know it is hollow.

      • Any “theory” that vastly more amateurs than professionals believe deserves the designation “crackpot”. The scientists who are in a minority when they advance a new theory, like Einstein in 1905, are still accepted by peer review as members of a community, whereas the crackpots clearly wish to be accepted and cannot be taken seriously.

        Galileo was part of a very small international community comprised of upper class people with sufficient leisure to exchange information about scientific discoveries.

        Whereas today, the Internet amplifies the marginal.

        This is usually a good thing, as in the case of revolutions that start on the Internet. But we have to accept that, just as genuine political demonstrations attract disturbing people, the Internet has turbo-charged denialism because it is basically too easy for the half-literate and under-qualified to produce authoritative looking documents.

        Nope, Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. It is important for you to realize this, my dear, because Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare as part of the rise of the middle classes and the destruction of feudalism. I don’t know why it so offends you that a mere man with a wife stashed away should discover within himself such a talent. Perhaps you just hate men and think they are pond scum, unless they are upper clawss, like girls in Chicago who fall for phony English accents.

        But THAT would be irresponsible speculation, as opposed to my previous philosophical analysis.

      • Thanks for the comments, you two. At this point I think we’ve exhausted the topic, however, so please bring it to an end. I’ll enforce this plea from my end if necessary. Again, thank you. With kind regards, Hank

      • Mr. Whittemore, I am not part of any couplet
        So please do not say, “you two”
        This is a pseudo controversy, not a doublet
        One side is false and the other, is true.

        Shakespeare Denial is infantile and a disorder
        Of the psychological kind
        So spare me your bogus point of order
        Denialism is a murrain and an idiot winde.

        So go ahead and block me
        Be the Master of the Revel
        Erase my words and forget me
        See if I give a painted Devil.

  6. To understand Shakespeare denial, see Theodore Adorno’s work on “the authoritarian personality”.

    The “authoritarian personality” is that sort of person who manifests a superficial respect for authority (including educational authority) while suppressing a great deal of anger, which he typically takes out in bullying safe targets and cultivating a demotic style, pretending to be “the man on the street”.

    Shakespeare’s cultural authority unlinked to institutional support offends the AP but since Shakespeare has such prestige, and because many Authoritarian Personalities are, in a way linked to their authoritarianism, dyslexic, many APs find him incomprehensible, they feel a need to put the boot in…WITHOUT offending their betters, but ensuring that they carry out the social task of domination.

    The solution is to deny that “Shakespeare” wrote the plays in the First Folio despite the evidence, for this (a sort of intellectual neutron bomb) destroys the man behind the institution while leaving the institution unscathed. It credits bullies more clearly recognizable to the dyslexic authoritarian bully, from the closet case Marlowe to Oxford, with a creativity even Marlowe didn’t have.

    And read in the context of the class war on the middle class unleashed by Thatcher and Reagan, it’s clearly a way of erasing the history of the rise of the middle classes as powered by Caxton and Gutenberg in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by denying that Michelangelo, Cervantes and Shakespeare were what you get when feudalism decays. It’s excellent preparation for the mass expropriation of intellectual PRODUCTION and its transformation into “intellectual property” that’s taken place since 1980, a transformation that has impoverished creative members of the middle class and created the virtual slave labor we see in wikipedia.

    Hollywood, since the systematic destruction of Orson Welles, has always set its face against the single writer or *auteur*, so its theme is often “the destruction of the writer”. Until now, in Sunset Boulevard and Leaving Las Vegas, the self-hatred of screenwriters has been sublimated to produce great art. But in Anonymous, it produces trash.

  7. In reality (wink wink) Shakespeare’s immortal and for this reason SHE has been living in London (she had to change her sex in 1800 per Virginia Woolf). She got a Powerbook last year and learned Facebook, and found me. Thinking me rather cute, she’s been sending me new writings including a farce on the British election:

    and this sonnet on Shakespeare denialism:

    When Turde it calls a Turde, and in Replie,
    That which is not a Turde sings from but Claye
    In tones melodyus, in sweet Euphonie,
    The mere Turde knoweth not what Worde to say.
    The Cybernetick Mob this end of Tyme
    Within itself fynds but a rag bone shop:
    Impotent, to make their life to scanne or rhyme
    The Mobbe decides to give my Rep, the choppe.
    And so the herd of fell swyne Gadarin
    A-creeps to the feet of its Inquisitore
    And says, it a Lordling musta bin
    Who wrote MY worke. But less is less, not more.
    I care not for your fell foule wicked Lyes:
    Looke on my worke. Gape, Ape, with wild surmise.

  8. Hank, I agree that this conversation has ceased being useful in any way, not even to those with curious minds who might wonder why Mr. SpinozaIII’s fallacious arguments were not countered with reasonable refutation. I will remove my request to have comments from this thread forwarded to me, but I hope you will permit me to comment on other matters on your wonderful blog.
    Best regards,

    • If you merely declare my arguments fallacious
      Your love of logic is less than voracious
      For relative to what you need to do
      To talk as if you’ve already won is untrue.

      Basically, what I am saying here is that too many people lack humility and mistake ignorance for skepticism. These are the type of people who cannot follow a complex argument that establishes a result to an adequate level of certainty given a limited documentary record but wish to be considered *au fait*, therefore treat a universal form of knowledge, the fact that a written record, or for that matter any empirical knowledge, can be doubted, as a source of free knowledge claims.

      It’s not even possible in the final analysis to assign a numerical score to the Oxfordian assertion relative to the standard narrative.

      But scientifically, if the Oxfordian assertion has a simple explanation as a psychological disorder, then it need not be entertained seriously, and it does.

      And indeed it does. It is anhedonic, manifesting no love for the text save as a source of puzzles and arguments; Oxfordians in particular, and Denialists in general, seem to be the sort of people incapable of getting pleasure in anything outside of Sudoko. It’s the ambition to be accepted as a knower and the hatred of knowledge.

  9. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

    Mahatma Gandhi

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