I can't believe the New York Times still allows William Niederkorn to write about anything Shakespearean. After finally being exposed as a dedicated "Oxfordian" with an agenda to bring fringe conspiracy theories of Shakespeare's authorship into the "paper of record" it looked like the Times had finally come to its senses and relegated him to other areas. (He's employed full time as an editor, but occasionally contributes.)
Well, thank god the Arts section no longer legitimizes his fantasies. But just in time for the Bard's birthday, someone found room for him in last weekend's Education section. Frankly I don't know what's worse! Trying to lay seeds of doubt in arts lovers or those actually educating our youth.
What news, you wonder, merits yet another platform for Shakespeare-Denial views without any peer-reviewed credence? A poll! Who, you ask, has decided to canvas "265 professors [who] teach Shakespeare in the English departments of public and private four-year colleges and universities, which were selected randomly"? Why, the New York Time Education Life section. I wonder who suggested such a poll.
Now don't be fooled by the headline: "Shakespeare Reaffirmed." Nor by those pesky "results": "82 percent said there is no good reason to question whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon was the principal author of the poems and plays in the canon." Because the kicker of the story is...well, its existence. Once again, Mr. Niederkorn has managed to slip into the nation's most looked-to self-appointed "arbiter of culture" (in the words of its managing editor) suggestions that his own totally amateur fringe views have a place at the table.
Take a look at the lede, for instance: "Here's good news for Stratfordians as they celebrate the Bard’s birth, on April 23: Professors believe in him." Gee well...whew! A bit of a grudging admission, no? The very term "Stratfordian" gives him away, too, of course. In Niederkorn's universe, equal time must always be divided evenly between "Oxfordians" and "Stratfordians" (like pro- and anti-abortion or gun control) because "authorship" of the plays is to him an open question.... As real-life Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt once said: Do we still call those of who believe in a sun-centered planetary system "Copernicans"?
If Niederkorn had been hoping to score a victory with this poll, then the results are clearly embarrassing to him, wouldn't you think? But lest he wants to gloat about the 18% who didn't answer a flat-out no to the question: "Do you think that there is good reason to question whether William Shakespeare of Stratford is the principal author of the plays and poems in the canon?" Well, take a look at the breakdown in the full results: 6% Yes, 11% Possibly, 1% Don't Know.
The stated methods and population of the poll also reveal how ultimately meaningless it is. for instance, 58% percent of the respondents say (in question 21) they "Don't teach at graduate level"--which is where you'd expect to find the most accomplished Shakespeare scholars. Also,
"Of the 1,340 institutions in the College Board data set, a random sample of 637 was drawn. Shakespeare professors were identified at 556, and 265 completed the questionnaire."So if I read that right, over half of those contacted just blew it off? I suspect those are not the professors who would have helped Niederkorn's case...
Finally, notice the desperate lengths Niederkorn goes to to salvage a good narrative for his side out of this.
The professors were better versed in writings by advocates for the Earl of Oxford, the most prominent alternative candidate, than by Shakespeare defenders. The Oxfordians J. Thomas Looney, Charlton Ogburn and Mark Anderson had been read
by 29 percent, 26 percent and 17 percent respectively; the Stratfordians Scott
McCrea and Irvin Matus had been read by 11 and 10 percent.
Who else but an amateur zealot would even ask such bullshit questions? The poll breakdown shows that Niederkorn only asked the professors if they had read the following authors: Mark Anderson, Delia Bacon, Alden Brooks, G. George Greenwood, Abel Lefranc, J. Thomas Looney, Irvin Matus, Scott McCrea, Charlton Ogburn, Diana Price, John H. Stotsenburg, A.W. Titherley.
I'm a PhD student in theatre history, and quite a Shakespeare buff, and I've never heard of any of these people. Except Looney because a) he has a funny name, and b) he is only known as the eccentric scholar back in the 20s who first advanced the Edward DeVere, Earl of Oxford as a candidate for the authorship, even though the Earl died in 1604. (Naturally it is tempting to link points (a) and (b).)... Not surprisingly, many of these names--except Looney--get recognition responses in the single digits.
Yet, look what Niederkorn proclaims from this in his summary:
So these guys McCrea and Matus are the representatives of "Stratfordianism"??? No Steven Greenblatt? No James Shapiro? No David Bevington?....No Harold fucking Bloom, even???
The professors were better versed in writings by advocates for the Earl of Oxford, the most prominent alternative candidate, than by Shakespeare defenders. The Oxfordians J. Thomas Looney, Charlton Ogburn and Mark Anderson had been read by 29 percent, 26 percent and 17 percent respectively; the Stratfordians Scott McCrea and Irvin Matus had been read by 11 and 10 percent.
Ok, I guess his point is to stick to names of people who only write about "authorship." But notice how he spins the unimpressive results to say, "Ha! Our fringe scholars are read by one-fourth of this sample (of the half who responded) while these guys who actually bother spending time refuting us--as opposed to their more famous and sane "Stratfordian" colleagues--get only one-tenth!" Proving....?
Just look at the poll questions and ask yourselves: if you were a regular journalist and you actually did conduct a poll on this questions...would these be the questions you would ask???
Before I waste any more of my morning on this joke-journalism, I'll simply refer you my previous rants on the matter, on Niederkorn's past offenses.
But let me just repeat that the scandal is not really why this one individual thinks what he does --but why the New York Times continues to legitimize his unsubstantiated insinuations against, effectively, the entire community of professional literary scholars, critics, and historians.
I don't wish personal ill against the man or the losing of his livelihood. Just please, NYT, either reassign the guy or actually edit his stories to conform with some basic standards of journalism.