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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Some parting shots on the great Shakespeare authorship debate over at Spearbearer Down Left. I thank him for encouraging an influx of views and for welcoming my rants.

I'll clarify again here what I mean to say there, about what I am calling on the Times to actually do about William Niederkorn. Reassign him! Or at least print other points of view about Shakespeare. (Like, uh, the consensus ones?) But I didn't mean to say fire, or silence him, or make him available for public tar-and-feathering either. It all comes back to the Times's responsibility, like it or not, as a de facto authoritative source of cultural news. The publishing of Niederkorn's articles, in the manner they have done, indicate either a misunderstanding of that or a tremendous lack of judgment. Either that or he's the boss's nephew.

And one more thing. Mr. Spearbearer says something along the lines of if "the authorship case" were before a jury, he would see cause for reasonable doubt. Fair enough. Holes can indeed be poked in the narrative of a middle-class Stratford boy who turned up in London one day writing great literature--holes like the complete gap in the historical record covering those years in between those points in the story. And perhaps such "reasonable doubt" has led to the occasional "mock trial" ruling that Shakespeare was a fraud. (This is how Justice John Paul Stevens became an Oxfordian hero, despite no other literary credentials.)...But when it comes to history, poking holes is not enough. Historians hold to a higher standard than just "reasonable doubt." If they didn't, everything, theoretically, could eventually be "disproven" (including, yes, the Holocaust) by anyone who raises enough aimless questions about one link in the chain, even if they don't propose a viable alternate theory. And so I'm afraid that as long as people can't present hard documentary evidence linking someone else to the Shakespeare plays, they just don't deserve a seat at the same table of professional (i.e peer reviewed and credentialed) historians, and major newspapers should only publish their conspiracy theories within the same context they would frame any such "amateur" pursuit. Meanwhile the rest of us can get on with discussing the plays themselves.

To quote Fat Jack: "And there's an end."

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