Should we be concerned that there are gaps in the historical record?

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Arthur Neuendorffer

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Mar 3, 2012, 6:13:19 PM3/3/12
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http://doubtaboutwill.org/pdfs/sbt_rebuttal.pdf

Exposing an Industry in Denial:
Authorship doubters respond to “60 Minutes with Shakespeare,”
Issued by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on September 1, 2011
--------------------------------------------
II. Rebuttals to “60 Minutes with Shakespeare”

Question 16: Should we be concerned that there are gaps in the
historical record?
[Andrew Hadfield, Professor of English at the University of Sussex,
and author of Shakespeare and Republicanism, and Edmund Spenser: A
Life, replies for the SBT]

It always astonishes me that people are so surprised at gaps in the
records of the lives of early modern people and that they demand,
often stridently, that these be explained, or else they will assume
there has been some sort of cover up. But we know so little about most
people outside the very upper echelons of society. And what
biographies were written were designed to tell exemplary stories, so
hardly any survive of writers until things changed in the later
seventeenth century. Hardly any personal letters survive, paper being
scarce and invariably reused, so we should not read anything into the
lack of a cache of Shakespeare letters. Nor should we be surprised
that Shakespeare’s will does not include some objects, such as books,
as wills tended to mention only important and valuable items,
everything else going to the next of kin. My favourite non-fact is
that, although Thomas Nashe is, I think, the only English writer ever
to have forced the authorities to close down the theatres and printing
presses, making him something of a celebrity, we do not know when or
how he died. Traces of Shakespeare, though scanty, do not require
special explanation. Or, alternatively, we could imagine that a whole
host of writers who emerged in the late sixteenth century, were
imposters.
--------------------------------------------
Doubter response:

It’s true that we should expect gaps in the records for Elizabethan
and Jacobean times. But gaps are different from total silence,
especially when records for others do survive. Occupations leave
traces; though some will disappear over 400 years, some should not.

In Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography (2001), Diana Price studied the
literary paper trails of twenty-five writers of the period, using all
of the extant published biographies. She organized the various kinds
of evidence used to document their writing careers into ten general
categories—evidence of education, books owned or borrowed, letters
about literary matters, etc. Only for Ben Jonson could she find
evidence in all ten categories.

As expected, for some writers there are major gaps. For ten of the
twenty-five, we have no record of correspondence; for fifteen no
extant original manuscript or evidence of books owned, borrowed, given
or written in. Price’s data show that for Thomas Nashe there is indeed
no “notice at death as a writer.” But Nashe still left the most
substantial literary paper trail after Jonson’s, with evidence in all
of the remaining nine categories.

Edmund Spenser left seven out of ten; and even Marlowe, who officially
died at age 29, hit four of the ten categories (with Francis Beaumont,
John Fletcher and Thomas Kyd). John Webster would be last on the list,
with evidence in only three categories, except for one extreme
outlier, with nothing at all in any of the ten categories: William
Shakspere. In other words, no unambiguous evidence from his lifetime
proves that he was a writer.

Given the amount of time and effort devoted to searching for evidence
relating to him, the lack of a substantial literary paper trail cannot
be dismissed as some sort of fluke.

He did leave a substantial paper trail—just not a literary one. Some
seventy documents show he bought and sold land, properties, grain and
tithes, lent money, recouped debts. Any objective observer might
conclude that he was a successful businessman, an actor, a theatre
shareholder, perhaps some sort of theatrical wheeler-dealer, but not a
writer. How could so many and varied documents survive, and yet none
for his writing career?

A Stratfordian commonplace says that “absence of evidence is not
evidence of absence.” Absence of expected evidence is indeed evidence
of absence. Not only can Stratfordians not explain this remarkable
lack of expected evidence for their man’s supposed career (based on
what we find for other writers), they remain in denial about the
entire issue.

Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship
Problem, by Diana Price (Greenwood Press, 2001).

— Michael D. Rubbo, M.A., Stanford University; Director, Much Ado
About Something, the award-winning documentary on the case for
Christopher Marlowe as Shakespeare
--------------------------------------------
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Bob Grumman

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Mar 4, 2012, 4:33:42 PM3/4/12
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When this post reminded me of the egregiously stupid, dishonest
"scholarship" of Diana Price, I had a mental flash; given that the
ONLY tactically effective weapon the authorship wacks have is their
ability to gain the sympathy of triple X-chromosonals of both sexes
due to candid descriptions of the wacks' mental dysfunctionality, I
now believe that Ms. Price was hired to write the book she did in such
a way as to make it impossible for a person with a functional mind to
read it and not characterize it as I have just now, and go on to
describe Ms. Price as a moronic propagandist. In other words, they
used her to gain the sympathy vote of those who believe good manners
are more important than ascertaining truth.

That I will go on now to repeat reasons I've already given many times
as to why Ms. Price is a moronic propagandist, on the basis of what
she says in her book, will not prevent authorship wacks from bleating
that my only arguments against her are ad hominems. Here is a summary
of the best of them, anyway. Wait. If her book has actually won
adherents to anti-Stratfordianism, then I cannot call her a moronic
propagandist. I find it hard to believe it could, but Charlton
Ogburn's opus magnum seems to have been effective enough to have made
Oxford a continuingly visible candidate for the position of True
Author, and it was as propagandistic as Ms. Price's. Moreover, hers
was more ingenious, as we shall see. That I tend to term anyone
working against the search for truth a moron may be understandable,
but--strictly speaking--unscholarly. Ms. Price can only be labeled a
propagandist. She is this beyond reasonable doubt because:

She began her attack on Shakespeare by (1), finding a way to
disqualify as many of the numerous documents in his favor as she
could. She found a good way, already much-used by authorship wacks:
rejecting all documents that were not from Shakespeare's lifetime as
unimportant. She was intelligent enough to see that she couldn't
reject them as utterly worthless, only as trivially important compared
to documents from his lifetime.

Her next step, (2), was to find a way to disqualify the fairly large
number of documents from his lifetime indicating that he was a poet,
and it is here that she had a stroke of genius: she recognized that.
to her great good fortune, just about none of the documents in
Shakespeare's favor was written by someone known to have known him, so
could be called "not personal evidence," and therefore not strong.
There were still a few bits of evidence from his lifetime that could
be considered "personal." So, (3), she either ignored them, or found
twisted ways to make them seem impersonal, to those ready to believe
anything against Shakespeare and/or unpracticed in the recognition of
propaganda and/or flat-out stupid.

She still needed to, (4), show that the evidence she could now show
that Shakespeare did NOT have--personal literary evidence from his
lifetime--a large group of others from his time said to be writers DID
have. This gave her little difficulty, since it would be hard to find
anyone considered a writer for whom there was no evidence of a kind
Shakespeare did not have. She did have to cheat fairly substantially
once with Marlowe, counting evidence from over a year after he died
for him. But it was in a special class, a record of a person's death
that indicates he was a writer, which it would seem fair to count even
though it would have to come after the person's death. That in this
one case it came rather late could be overlooked, unless one wanted to
be rather hard-nosedly rigorous.

The last thing Ms. Price had to do was, (5), make what was really only
a small amount of evidence of authorship Shakespeare did not have seem
massive, at least to the, uh, uncritical. So she took what a fair-
minded classifier would put into three or for categories and put it
into ten. For instance, instead of having one category for
"recompense for a literary work," she had "evidence of having been
paid to write," and "evidence of a direct relationship with a patron"--
which, of course, is the same thing. She also grouped "record of
literary correspondence," " extant original manuscript," "commendatory
verses, epistles, or epigrams contributed or received," and
"miscellaneous records (e.g., referred to personally as a writer")
instead of just one grouping for "documents referring to him
personally as a writer--or maybe two, one for his own writings, and
one for the writings of others, that refer personally to him as a
writer.

One last significant propagandistic tactic used by Ms. Price is to use
an either/or evaluation of evidence. Each item either counts or
doesn't count. The manuscript fragment that many scholars believe was
written by Shakespeare counts zero in Price's book--because no scholar
(I think) can say it was definitely written by Shakespeare; Ms. Price
is unwilling to give it even a third of a point. On the other hand,
that Marlowe was referred to in a document as a scholar, a term which
might have meant "writer," but also might have meant what we mean by
it today, counts a full point, not perhpas two-thirds of a point, for
Marlowe. Along the same lines, for Ms. Price and her idiot followers,
Shakespeare's name on title pages--put there by printers who had to
know him personally--is "ambiguous evidence."

It is true that Ms. Price may not have consciously carried out her
mission with an intention to be dishonestly misleading but if she did
not, she certainly unconsciously did so. No genuine truth-seeker
could end with so worthless a case for any position.
One last thing Ms. Price did for obvious propagandistic reasons was to
avoid the one thing any argument like hers absolutely requires: a
statement as to what really happened if what she argued against did
not. That is, she carefully avoided advancing a candidate for True
Author, knowing full well that there was none with any kind of
evidentiary support, and that that fact would tend to make even
dimwits a little hesitant to accept all she said.

Okay, I am aware that I have mostly only asserted what I think Ms.
Price did. I'm not up to repeating the reasoning behind my
description here, but will be happy to take on any attempt
specifically to refute any part of it--for those unwilling to read
what I've said at HLAS in long threads with "Price" in the subject
header.

--Bob

Dr. Benigrew Dimplestad

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Mar 4, 2012, 4:50:13 PM3/4/12
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I agree, and very reminiscent of Vickers' methods in his attribution
studies.

Dr. Benigrew Dimplestad
15 De Surmontstratt
Amstelveen, Netherlands
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