istoricizing Difference: Anti-Stratfordians and the Academy
Shakespeare studies have expanded dramatically since the eighteenth century, always incorporating profound differences of opinion. This has never been more true, perhaps, than in the period since the 1960s, with the rise of several competing theories sponsoring a diverse series of approaches to Shakespeare's work. Such differences of scholarly and critical opinion can, and should, be healthy, promoting new insights and generating new questions. On the whole, this is the case: experts nowadays, with widely differing points of view, meet frequently at conferences, and in books and journals, to challenge each other's conclusions and to confirm the value of their larger, common enterprise. But one group of Shakespeareans, the so-called "anti-Stratfordians," have almost invariably been excluded from the discussion. If other groups seem to stretch the boundaries of "acceptable" interpretation, anti-Stratfordians are widely supposed to have strayed well beyond them.
They have not been ignored by other Shakespeareans Samuel Schoenbaum remarks with a certain indignation that "the anti-Stratfordian movement" has been more "abundantly chronicled" than "legitimate Shakespearian biography" (Schoenbaum 385) but they have consistently met with incomprehension and contempt. Not surprisingly, then, many anti-Stratfordian writers have responded by assuming an aggressively defensive, anti-establishment posture. Difference has hardened into antagonism, yet the possibility of dialogue is still sometimes mentioned. The possibility seldom amounts to anything more than the assumption that the "other side" might be obliged to concede a few weaknesses in their argument, yet even this usually points to the reiterated fantasy that the "authorship question" exists in a sort of ahistorical, untheoretical space. This article denies that space and tries to explain why dialogue has always failed in the past by examining the rise of anti-Stratfordianismmore particularly "Baconianism" and "Oxfordianism" not simply in terms of its difference from, but also in its relation to, "orthodox" Shakespearean studies. Moreover it tries to point to the sort of preconditions required if productive dialogue is to be, finally, joined now. It begins, however, by reviewing a recent discussion of the "authorship question" conducted in this journal - a discussion which highlighted the stagnant nature of most Stratfordian v. anti- Stratfordian exchange.
David Kathman's article, "Why I'm Not an Oxfordian," published in The Elizabethan Review and in the Shakespeare Authorship Page on the Internet, adopted the tone of condescending superiority which anti-Stratfordians find infuriating. It begins with a thumbnail biography of William Shakespeare, Stratford man and dramatist, then sketches anti-Stratfordian history: "For the last 150 years or so, a steady stream of writers, many of them quite intelligent but generally without training in Elizabethan literary history, have argued that William Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the plays and poems attributed to him..." (Kathman 32; italics mine). The views of this "stream of writers" have been ignored, or contemptuously dismissed, "by the mainstream Shakespeare establishment" (italics mine). Kathman then "explain[s] some of the major reasons why mainstream Shakespeare scholars do not take Oxfordians seriously" (italics mine), taking as "a case study in Oxfordian methodology" (33) Charlton Ogburn's The Mysterious William Shakespeare. He first argues that the "Stratfordian" case is basically irrefutable, given that it rests on "perfectly standard evidence of the type used by literary historians" (italics mine): Ogburn is apparently not a "literary historian," so his methodology must be wrong.
Oxfordians make the error of reading the plays along autobiographical lines. Further, theyOgburn, at leastemploy "an enormous double standard" (34), admitting "evidence" for their case that is as weak, or weaker, than the Stratfordian "evidence" they seek to discredit. There are a number of theoretical issues raised here, needless to say, but Kathman descends to particulars. The bulk of his article (34-44) takes issue with Ogburn on specific points: on the whole Kathman clearly considers suspect evaluation of evidence to be the main problem of Oxfordianism. He concludes with some unearned sentiment about both parties loving Shakespeare. None of this really amounts to an explanation of why Kathman is not an Oxfordian, or at least it is so only in the way a non-Christian may "explain" his or her absence of belief by reference to inconsistencies in the Gospel history. On one hand Kathman maintains that Oxfordians would be taken more seriously if they were more scrupulous in their scholarship; on the other he suggests that if they were more scrupulous they would not be Oxfordians.
The most striking aspect of Kathman's article is his easing theoretical issues aside to make the whole "authorship question" appear simply one of commonsensical archive interpretation, though. Yet the issues between him and Ogburn are not as clear cut as he represents them, and the very selectivity of his approach to Ogburn's monumental volume acts to minimize the significance of selected confutations. Let me briefly detail two of these: Kathman's first and last examples (where the strongest arguments are usually placed). The first is "Ogburn['s] assert[ion] that the title 'Shake-speare's Sonnets,'" with the writer's name first, is "a plain indication that the author was dead" (Kathman 34; Ogburn 206). He fails to note that Ogburn introduced this comment at the end of a paragraph, and as an adjunct to a stronger argument about the "ever-living" expression in the Sonnets ' Dedication. Moreover the burden of proof is left with Kathman, who cites the contradictory example of four living writers, contemporary with Shakespeare, who did place their names first, but leaves the larger question of how typical this was unanswered. Kathman's final example is even more revealing of the problems inherent in this kind of a rgument.
The cryptic "Epistle" attached to the Quarto Troilus and Cressida (1609) apparently refers to Troilus's author's works being held by certain "grand possessors." Ogburn reads this as a reference to "members of the nobility" and notes: "Stratfordians are constrained to maintain that an acting company is meant, though it would surely never have occurred to an Elizabethan to associate grandeur with a troupe of players" (Ogburn, 205). There are two obvious objections: a Stratfordian is not, ipso facto, "constrained" to believe "an acting company is meant," and "grand" may be a sarcasm. Neither of these objections disproves Ogburn's interpretation but they point to other interpretative possibilities. Kathman raises neither of these objections, however, but states: "Ogburn baldly asserts that these possessors must have been 'members of the nobility' rather than an acting company, despite the abundant evidence that acting companies were reluctant to have their plays printed" (Kathman, 44). This is slippery, because it suggests that Ogburn's argument is disproved by the "abundant evidence" in question, which is not the case at all. In fact it should be obvious that this "evidence," whether "abundant" or not, has a value contingent on the presupposition that an "acting company" is referred to.
The point is that if discussion is conducted at this level there will always be sufficient ambiguities about the "facts" for petty squabbling to continue almost indefinitely. Charlton Ogburn, not unreasonably, felt that Kathman's piece was an "abusive" "broadside" (Whalen et al, 16) directed against himself. Most of his lengthy reply engaged Kathman on various details, and only towards the end did he come "to the central issue" (20) a man is reflected in his works, and Will Shakspere of Stratford is not reflected in "Shakespeare's" plays. Kathman, in a rejoinder, then accused Ogburn of "repeating his assertions," took him up on various details, criticized him in a rather exasperated and unscholarly fashion, but concluded, astonishingly, and against all the forgoing evidence, that "There is much room for dialogue between Oxfordians and mainstream Shakespeare scholars" (23). One must conclude that this "room" only exists if the Oxfordians constantly give ground, for neither in this rejoinder, or in those to any of the other respondents, does Kathman show any sign of conceding a point.
Other Oxfordian respondents questioned Kathman's accusation of "double standard," and suggested that his too was a "double standard," his defense of the Stratfordian case involving the sort of assumptions and manipulations of evidence of which he had accused Ogburn. Beyond this, Fr. Francis Edwards, like Ogburn, stressed the value of biographical approaches: "knowledge is only acquired through experience, and certainly the kind of knowledge needed to write Shakespeare's plays" (6). Edwards and Christopher Dams conceded that both the Stratfordian and Oxfordian hypotheses rely on a good deal of inference and speculation. Dams' striking response went so far as to suggest that both sides have advanced beyond what the facts warrant and into the realm of "Faith, or belief" where "It is pointless to apply rational argument against another's belief" (14).
Dams' response, despite its seeming extremity, was the most significant that the discussion of Kathman's article produced, for he alone elevated the "authorship question" to a theoretical level. That is, instead of quibbling about disputed "facts" specific to the authorship case he raised the larger question of how one should understand and respond to the collision of conflicting and apparently irreconcilable points of view. In all areas of human knowledge when experts profoundly disagree over "facts" there is usually little to be gained in pushing more and more "facts" across the table. Rather, it needs to be acknowledged that our "knowledge" relies on theoretical paradigms into which our "facts" are inserted and in which they acquire "meaning." As Marinus C. Doeser puts it,
Generally, people are hardly interested in mere facts. Seeking to know the world they are in search of statements that are both true and, in one way or another, relevant. They seek answers to questions and solutions to problems which confront them and which are important to them. Collections of facts are most often selections based on criteria of relevance reflecting human value and concerns.Of course "criteria of relevance" frequently change and with them the theoretical paradigms which structure disciplines of knowledge. And of all standard disciplines of knowledge English studies is perhaps the area where changes have been most frequent in recent decades. It can be noted at once that many of the theoretical paradigms recently produced by English studies have no concern with, or ability to comment on, a phenomenon such as the "authorship question." For a structuralist critic analyzing Hamlet the question of who wrote the play is quite irrelevant, and, in any case, structuralism supplies no critical tools which might help determine the point. This must be insisted upon, because Kathman's suggestion that over the past century and a half there has been a more or less stable version of "literary history," produced by properly "trained" literary historians, is pure fancy, as are his unintentionally revealing appeals to a "mainstream establishment."
We can begin a historical survey by going back to 1850 and asking where the trained literary historians were, and where they were receiving their training? Reference to standard histories of English studies in Britain and America, by D. J. Palmer and Gerald Graff respectively, suggests that perhaps the one institution offering a course in anything like what we recognize as "literary history" was University College London, subsequently the first institution to award specialized degrees in "English Literature" (from 1859). Yet even there a decisively historical turn had only been taken in 1848, with the appointment of A. J. Scott as Professor of English Language and Literature (Palmer, 26).
Elsewhere, where English literature was taught at all, it was either approached along grammatical and philological lines, after the model of Classics instruction, or subsumed into heavily moralistic humanities courses intended to properly equip clergymen. Needless to say, the people doing the teaching had themselves no specialized background in the subject this was still what Graff calls the "preprofessional era" (Graff, 19). One must, therefore, understand the emergence at this juncture of "Baconianism" as very much a product of pre-professionalism, and its subsequent evolution as both a challenge to, and mirror of, the development of academic "English Literature." It may be added, in passing, that if Kathman's "mainstream" literary history has rather shaky and uncertain roots in the mid-nineteenth century, its future has also, for some time, been in doubt. As early as 1979 as influential a figure as J. Hillis Miller warned that "the presence in American universities of large and strong departments of English history and English criticism may be a relatively short-lived phenomenon, lasting less than a century." (Eaves and Fischer, 97)
Of course, to recognize that there were no "trained" literary historians in the English-speaking world in 1850 is not to maintain that there were not very competent specialists working in the field of Shakespeare studies. From the great eighteenth-century Shakespeareans, of whom Edmond Malone was the epitome, through to James Halliwell-Phillipps (1820-89), Shakespearean studies in Britain had been very considerably advanced by gentlemen scholarsmen without institutional affiliation, whose love for the writer took an antiquarian direction. They were fascinated by minutiæ, and their efforts to explain the phenomenon of Shakespeare generally eschewed imaginative approaches in favor of careful archival research. They tended to pool their discoveries and much of their work has the air of a collective project. Having said that, the extraordinary achievement of Halliwell- Phillipps, both in his great variorum edition of the plays (1853-65), and in his various biographical works, was the massive culmination of this tradition. It would be tempting, indeed, to regard Halliwell-Phillipps as the greatest Shakespeare scholar of all, were it not for the grittily factual and earthbound nature of most of his work. The antiquarian achievement of men like him impacted on Baconianism in both negative and positive ways. Negatively they revealed how little was known of the Stratford man, and how little was ever likely to be known. Moreover they showed, not least by their rather pedantic emphases, that what was known did little, perhaps nothing, to illuminate the plays and poems (although, paradoxically, it was Shakespeare's status as an author which inspired their researches).
They thus created the sense of a gap between the writer and his work which fuelled anti- Stratfordian speculation. On the positive side, though, they bequeathed a powerful image of "the scholar" to the Baconians: antiquarian, independent, hungry for "facts," chasing them out of unexpected places, treating them as pieces of an elaborate puzzle, poring over documents, inclined to overvalue the most seemingly insignificant discoveries. This scholar was a "type," one gently satirized in works of imaginative literature like Scott's The Antiquary (1816) and Dickens's The Pickwick Papers (1836). Both Scott and Dickens shrewdly recognized that the antiquarian mind set often combined a passion for detail with a tendency toward extravagant theorizing. This is perhaps not surprising, given that most antiquarian scholars worked in comparative isolation, without the sort of imaginative checks that collegiate environments tend to supply. It was in this cultural environment that Baconianism was born.
Baconianism has often been misrepresented due to the disproportionate attention afforded Delia Bacon, for understandable, if misguided, reasons. She was not, first of all, a Baconian but a "groupist," a point often missed by those who do not read enough of her book, but on which she is quite clear: "This enterprise [the writing of the plays] was not the product of a single individual mind, and it is important that this fact should be fully and unmistakably enunciated here..." (Bacon, 517). Delia Bacon imagined that the plays were written by a "great philanthropic association" presided over by Raleigh and Bacon. But the authorship was very much of secondary importance to her: her real ambition was to show that the plays contained and expressed the most far-reaching conclusions of the "new philosophy," otherwise most "openly exhibited" in Bacon's works. The pioneer Baconian should properly be recognized as William Henry Smith, who in a sensational pamphlet published in September 1856 first explicitly attributed the plays to Bacon (in print), and did so in the modest spirit of an amateur antiquarian: "I purposely abstain from any attempt to compare the writings of the author I am about to mention with the plays which are attributed to Shakespeare, not merely because that is a labour too vast to enter upon now, but more particularly because it is essentially the province of the literary student. I only profess to note down those external signs and coincidences which are obvious and intelligible to any man of plain common sense devoting his attention to the subject" (Smith, 9-10). Later in his pamphlet Smith added, even more modestly, "...it is not my intention now to adduce proof, but merely to initiate inquiry" (14). This was the spirit in which Baconianism was born and it explains its huge bibliography, its collective, collaborative tendency. It is unthinkable that anyone would claim of the earliest Baconian efforts what Warren Hope, in the 1997 exchange, felt able to claim for Looney's pioneering Oxfordian work: "the first and ... best statement of th[e] case. ... the case that needs to be answered'" (Whalen et al, 23).
Baconianism possessed a kind of amateur energy, very characteristic of the nineteenth century. Its champions, from Smith onwards, generally lacked the opportunity of scholars like Malone and Halliwell-Phillipps to do serious archival work. Their solution was to treat "Shakespeare's" published work as an archive in itself, hunting out clues to Bacon's presence with as much patience as Halliwell-Phillipps searched for the names of anyone associated with Shakespeare in the Stratford-upon-Avon records. (The portability of the archive helped Baconian studies to flourish in America, needless to say.) Now that the vogue for this sort of antiquarianism has passed, the results in both cases hardly seem commensurate with the efforts, and almost equally irrelevant to such pressing issues as how one teaches Hamlet, or what "Shakespeare's" attitude to minorities was. But they belong to the same cultural moment. Indeed anyone baffled by the sheer patient, perverse ingenuity with which the Baconians teased hidden messages out of their textual archive should give some thought to the "dryasdust" manner in which English Literature was often taught at this period. Graff quotes a description of a class taught by Francis A. March, one of the pioneers of English studies in America, which c onsisted of "hearing a short Grammar lesson, the rest of the hour reading Milton as if it were Homer, calling for the meaning of words, their etymology when interesting, the relations of words, parsing when it would help, the connection of clauses..." (Graff, 38). Again, in the 1870s Francis James Child's Shakespeare class involved "much thumbing of Schmidt's Shakespeare Lexicon for parallel references, useful on examination papers. There was no mention of the fact that Shakespeare had a personal history or that he wrote for the Elizabethan stage..." (66). It is surely reasonable to suppose that the heavy philological and dryly factual emphasis in English studies at this period impacted on Baconian methodology.
If the last conjecture is correct, it suggests one positive connection between Baconianism, which stayed in the hands of amateur scholars, and the massive professionalization of knowledge which took place in the late nineteenth century. It was during the decades spanned by the Baconian movement (roughly the 1850s to the 1920s) that English studies moved firmly into the university. Of course the old breed of gentleman scholars did not vanish overnight, but, nevertheless, the production of recondite antiquarian information steadily retreated before new demands for a subject and method suited to the requirements of degree courses. The corresponding need for professors to teach such courses ensured that "English Literature" became a professionalized discipline. This process again impacted both positively and negatively on Baconianism. As Josephine M. Guy and Ian Small document, it led to a gradual erosion of faith in the older type of "independent" scholar:
By the late 1880s confidence came to reside instead in the judgement of a collective body, the "experts" a community of scholars or academics or professional peers who were invariably housed in, or connected with, institutions, typically universities. The evolution of the term "intellectual" at this time was part of this general shift from a concept of intellectual authority based on the individual to one based on the judgments of a community. By the turn of the century, then, to be called an intellectual was only indirectly related to individual prestige; rather, it referred to the fact that the work of the person concerned complied with the new standards of scholarly rigor which had been recently institutionalized within university structures. (Guy and Small, 31-2)In some respects this movement was disastrous for burgeoning anti-Stratfordianism. Because "English Literature" was an especially controversial subject, many doubts being cast on its eligibility as an academic discipline and ability to produce examinable knowledge, it is understandable that its professors refused to tolerate the idea that the greatest literature they were concerned with had always been misattributed. In other ways, though, it benefited Baconianism, which as a consequence could tap into a certain collective hostility to the new professionalization of knowledge. The snobbishness about "knowledge" which "intellectuals" frequently display leads many people to take delight in seeing them fooled or discredited. There was thus a potentially large audience for the Baconians' work. They represented the values of industrious amateur scholarship, and in doing so attracted more interest than their theory, abstractedly considered, might have been expected to.
According to their own lights the Baconians were, of course, not wrong in their conclusions. If they now seem hopelessly wrong it is not so much because the "facts" they collected have been disproved as because the conceptual horizons of their work have long been obsolete. In dismissing Baconianism Ogburn quotes Henry James with approval: "the plays and the sonnets were never written but by a Personal Poet, a Poet, and Nothing Else, a Poet, who being Nothing else, could never be a Bacon" (Ogburn, 136). But James's remark does not so much disprove the Baconians' arguments as it champions a very different view of art. James's passion for psychological realism and professional dedication to the craft of fiction writing made it impossible for him to accept that the Baconian mind set corresponded with the Shakespearean, or that a scientist and philosopher might write great poetry in his leisure hours. Both refusals are crucial to the failure of Baconianism. The Baconians were concerned with showing that Bacon could, practically speaking, have written the plays, moreover that the plays contain Baconian signatures and traces of the master's knowledge and beliefs: in sum, with a highly objective set of criteria. Smith was, from the outset, quite specific on this point: "The process adopted would be to enquire as to the resemblance in the style of the writing to some known author of the day; and; if there were found a sufficient resemblance, to enquire whether he was likely to have possessed the necessary qualifications, and whether, from the nature of his pursuits and occupations, he could have produced such works" (Smith, 8; my emphasis). They largely avoided such subjective issues as why Bacon wrote the plays, and how we might relate the plays' imaginative world(s) to what we otherwise know of Bacon: in other words the question of whether Bacon-as-author is a psychologically convincing proposition. Smith airily and unromantically suggested that Bacon probably wrote the plays because he needed money. In this respect the Baconians' work was quickly old-fashioned. Moreover the "academic" division of knowledge increasingly worked against Bacon's plausibility as a candidate. Throughout the nineteenth century Bacon was praised as a great writer, but his work became increasingly difficult to fit into the infant discipline of "English Literature" so the idea of his having written "Shakespeare" came to seem steadily more preposterous (the startling novelty of the first anti-Stratfordian claims removed from the question).
However it was the issue of psychological realism which doomed Baconianism to be effectively displaced by "Oxfordianism," a revisionary argument which famously converted Freud himself to the anti-Stratfordian camp. Oxfordianism needs to be understood in the context of the ultimate failure of Baconianism and of new approaches to Shakespeare developed in the academy. J. Thomas Looney, the first Oxfordian, brushed aside the "labyrinths of Baconian cryptograms" (Looney, 103) and stressed that: "it is not from intentional self-disclosure that we should expect to discover the author, but from more or less unconscious indications of himself in the writings..." (96). More revealing still, in comparing Shakespeare's poetry with De Vere's, he emphasized that: "we are not here primarily concerned with the mere piling up of parallel passages. What matters most of all is mental correspondence and the general unity of treatment which follows from it. ... Such a comparison, it hardly needs pointing out, stands on a totally different plane from the Baconian collations of words and phrases" (179). This new emphasis on "mental correspondence" did not simply mark a revolution in anti-Stratfordian literature, however: it also reflects larger changes in Shakespeare's reception history. Indeed if Oxfordianism's founding father is, unquestionably, Looney, its patron saint is surely Edward Dowden. Dowden's epoch-making Shakspere (1875) signaled "the flowering of th[e] subjective approach to Shakespearean biography" (Schoenbaum, 358): an approach of great significance for the future shape of anti-Stratfordianism. Dowden was not an antiquarian, but a young academic. His goal was not to fossilize Shakespeare into a minutely labeled national treasure, as the antiquarians had tended to do, but to excite interest in Shakespeare's imaginative growth and achievement: "to connect the study of Shakspere's [Dowden's spelling] works with an enquiry after the personality of the writer, and to observe, as far as is possible, in its several stages the growth of his intellect and character" (Dowden, v). The antiquarian biography of Shakespeare constructed by Halliwell-Phillipps and his predecessors served Dowden well, because it had virtually nothing to say regarding its subject's personality and character. In other words, the inner man had gone uncommented, and on the "Romantic" assumption that he must be revealed in his works, Dowden proceeded, on a virtually clean sheet, to unfold the creator's inner drama. It was Wordsworth, significantly the first great writer of autobiographical poetry in English, who claimed in a poem of 1827 that Shakespeare's sonnets were the "key" with which "Shakspeare [sic] unlocked his heart" (Wordsworth, Poetical Works, 3.20). Half a century later, with the authority of such figures as Wordsworth behind him, Dowden extended the claim to the plays as well.
Dowden did not simply develop a new theory of how to read Shakespeare, however; he also, necessarily, had to revise the concept of what constituted critical or scholarly activity. Indeed with figures like Dowden we can start to see something of the challenge of criticism to scholarship which has gone on invigorating English studies ever since. Whereas Halliwell-Phillips had maintained an often extreme "objective" distance from Shakespeare's work, Dowden tried to collapse that distance as much as possible, so as to enter the "spirit" of Shakespeare. His attempt to understand inspiration by reviving it has something in common with older notions of "commentary" as, say, in the works of Philo. His method is inevitably defended or attacked as "subjective": readers need to place their faith in Dowden as a guide to Shakespeare's mind. Oxfordianism, from the start, assumed something similar. Looney was perfectly aware of this, and attempted to turn a possible weakness into a positive strength by drawing attention to it straight away: his "method," he wrote, "ought ... to be viewed as in itself a distinctive form of evidence. I would ask, then, that it be regarded as such, and that what would otherwise be an unseemly obtrusion of personality be excused accordingly" (Looney, 18). It is impossible to imagine Smith, six decades earlier, apologizing for "an unseemly obtrusion of personality." But whether his method was too subjective or not, Looney's confidence in his own conclusions far surpassed Smith's. Smith had, after all, been a modest antiquarian remarking some striking "objective" correspondences, whereas Looney was, like Dowden, a priestly or divining type of critic, tracing the "spirit" and illuminating higher mysteries. A certain undertone of religious fervor has characterized a good deal of Oxfordian writing since, and we have seen how Looney's book is still sometimes held up as the most inspired statement of the Oxfordian case.
Stratfordians have often smiled patronizingly at the naïveté of Looney's methods but have generally failed to acknowledge that the early twentieth century produced a lot of perfectly "orthodox" Shakespearean criticism, colored by Dowden, which they would find equally naïve. In the cultural situation of the early twentieth century, Looney is quite understandable. He took the case against the Stratford man, put forward by the Baconians and widely accepted, and combined its conclusions with the post-Dowden desire to read the plays as representing an intimate, credible, psycho-drama. For the problem which he posed himself he found the best possible solutionat least it is surely undeniable that no one since has come up with a better one. The popularity of the Oxfordian thesis is of a piece with the continuing popularity of Dowden's Shakspere, perhaps the most successful study of the dramatist ever published. Either both are discredited by being popular, or neither is. In fact, as any teacher of English Literature knows, the most profound influence the academy ever exerted over general reading habits was the diffusion of the idea that a writer can be recognized in his work. Of course this may be explained as a result of the professional study of English Literature commencing at a period when "Romantic" ideas regarding authorship held sway, but Kathman and other critics of Oxfordianism still need to accept that the academic tradition which authorizes them as commentators on culture issues also promoted precisely that Oxfordian, biographical approach which they condemn. They cannot have it both ways.
Surveying both Baconianism and Oxfordianism in their original contexts, it is clear that both have a belated aspect, however. If Baconianism's antiquarian principles quickly seemed old-fashioned in the light of the new emphasis on literature as imaginative self- expression, Oxfordianism's premises were soon challenged by the emergence of "impersonal" and formalist criticisms. Indeed they had begun to be significantly challenged before Looney wrote his book. Schoenbaum locates the beginning of the end of Dowden's reign in a lecture Sidney Lee gave in 1909. The questions Lee raised on that occasion can be addressed to Looney's work as well as Dowden's: "what is the critical test whereby we can distinguish Shakespeare's private utterances and opinions from the private utterances and opinions of his dramatic creations? Where is the critical chemistry which will disentangle, precipitate, isolate his personal views and sentiments?" (Schoenbaum, 360). By the 1920s an increasing emphasis was placed on the need for scientific vigor in the "close reading" of literary texts. Speculation regarding the author's mind and personality was laid aside in favor of technical analysis of the words on the page, and in the 1930s and 40s this tendency strengthened. Kathman's citation of T. S. Eliot in support of his anti-biographical case draws on this critical revolution, of course (Kathman, 33-4). As regards Shakespeare's biography in particular, it was in the early 1930s, according to Schoenbaum, that "a critical turning-point was reached. The heyday of subjectivism was over" (Schoenbaum, 528). Looney was convinced that biographical criticism as he practiced it was here to stay, and, moreover, that his own work would do much to promote it (Looney, 301, 458). Looney, in fact, seems to have been much more aware than many subsequent Oxfordians that his "factual" case was very much tied up with a "theory" about how to read literature - as well he might be, for his method involved first of all the construction of a portrait of the plays' author on the basis of internal evidence. Unfortunately for him, the theory was already in terminal decline and many "mainstream" Shakespeareans would probably have read his book mainly as proof that something new was needed: it appeared too late to have any hope of influencing academic approaches to Shakespeare. Indeed it is reasonable to assume that both Baconianism and Oxfordianism would have won more support if they had emerged a quarter of a century earlier than they did. Their actual belatedness may suggest that they emerged as part of the excessive internal pressure which sometimes builds up inside systems of thought and forces change, something along the lines of George Gaylord Simpson's model of evolutionary process. That is to say, their procedures and conclusions can be read as something of an (exaggeration to the point of) parody of the "mainstream" Shakespearean writing of their respective periods.
Since the 1920s Oxfordianism has established itself as the standard form of anti- Stratfordianism, but it has not had any impact on the academic establishment. This state of affairs has something to do with factual problems, no doubt, but that is not the crux of the matter, for most professional Shakespeareans probably know little about the disputed "facts" in question. It has much more to do with theoretical and institutional issues. Looney's theoretical assumptions were, I have suggested, becoming obsolete in 1920, and the following half century saw a more and more determined turn away from biographical criticism, culminating in the 1960s with celebrated essays by Barthes and Foucault. In 1968 Barthes lamented that the image of literature "in ordinary culture is tyrannically centered on the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions" (Barthes, 143). This highlights the division of ways, with Oxfordianism implicitly relegated to "ordinary [non-academic] culture." The historicist movement in the 1980s finally sponsored something of a (re)turn to biography, but, with the structuralist legacy still in place, to historically deterministic constructions of the self, far removed from Looney's 1910s horizons. As far as I am aware, moreover, Oxfordians did not exploit this theoretical shift to bolster their main argument: their work, indeed, seems to have paid no attention to changes in the academic approach to Shakespeare (and other English literature) since 1920. Yet the possibilities are there. In reading Marjorie Levinson's controversial Keats's Life of Allegory (1988), for example, with its argument that Keats's style is intimately linked to his social status, one recognizes an approach which might be of relevance to the Shakespearean "authorship question." Oxfordians who want to maintain that their case is simply "true," and thus in need of no updating, should give some thought to how easy Looney found it to dismiss the theory and method of Baconianism and therefore its conclusions. Smith's pioneering Baconian pamphlet was just sixty-four years old when Looney's book was published. It is now more than eighty years since the Oxford case was made, and the pace of change has accelerated.
Oxfordianism has had plenty of supporters, but has not inspired such widespread interest as Baconiansim. There are doubtless several reasons for this, only the most obvious of which is that in the twentieth century the anti-Stratfordian camp was divided. But the historical sketch given here suggests two other significant reasons. One, already noted, is that Baconianism could tap into popular resentment of the new professionalization of knowledge. Oxfordianism, by contrast, has always had to encounter a well-established and generally respected academy which effectively shapes the way Shakespeare is read and understood: by the 1920s people looked to university professors for guidance when confronted with new theories. The other reason is highlighted by Warren Hope's remark, quoted above, that Looney's remains the best statement of Oxfordian belief. Baconianism was always essentially incomplete so drew in adherents determined to discover conclusive evidence. By contrast, a reiterated claim of Oxfordian literature has been that the case is already, unarguably, complete. As suggested previously, this is akin to the claims made for religious texts. Indeed in the same paragraph as he asserts the preeminent claims of Looney's book to attention, Hope mentions the "Ogburnian" position as though that were somehow sectarian, the pure stream of Looney's inspiration muddied by apocryphal additions. Reading Oxfordian scholarship one often encounters a slippery area in which it is unclear whether Oxford's authorship of the plays is being argued for, or simply assumed. Ogburn's The Mysterious William Shakespeare is certainly an argument for Oxford, and needs to be read as such, but Warren Hope seems to assume that there is no "authorship question" to answer, and hence perhaps his antipathy to the missionary zeal of Ogburn.
Considered in abstract terms there is no reason why Oxfordians and champions of the orthodox Shakespeare should not be able to engage in productive dialogue. After all, scholars of "Homer" have often divided on questions respecting the genesis and authorship of the Homeric poems, and most criticism of "Shakespeare" has a value quite independent of the question who authored the plays. In practical terms, however, the problem is that Oxfordian work has not been recognized as having interpretative value independent of its claims on the "authorship question." In other words, Oxfordian criticism is commonly believed, not entire ly unfairly, to be concerned merely with tying the life of De Vere more firmly to his supposed works. Indeed, while Oxfordians have sometimes attacked the academy for ignoring them, the fact is, on the whole, that "mainstream" Shakespeare scholarship has shown more interest in Oxfordianism than Oxfordians have shown in "mainstream" Shakespearean scholarship. Nevertheless , professional Shakespeareans naturally shy away from public discussion of the "authorship question" because they don't want to stake their reputations on something which may be very tangential to their concerns, and which their anti-Stratfordian opponents have clearly spent much more time preparing for (would Oxfordians, after all, be prepared to debate the theoretical implications of New Historicism on television?). Oxfordians should accept this, and either understand their work as quite separate from that of the academy, or look for ways in which to construct productive dialogue on interpretative issues. A conference on "Shakespeare and the Feudal Order," for example, featuring both Oxfordian and orthodox scholars, could, one imagines, yield interesting resultsof wider interest, but not irrelevant to the "authorship question." In such a context mutual respect could be established without the insidious pressure of one "side" being supposedly "right" and the other "wrong." The Oxfordian movement will undoubtedly increase its intellectual status if it shows itself capable of impacting positively on such contemporary, interpretative concerns.
The alternative, to go on championing the Looney "revelation," is to make Oxfordianism into a cult, and to preserve it, for better or worse, as part of Barthes' "ordinary culture." As Christopher Dams concedes, Looney's conclusions cannot be proved true, and believing them requires some degree of "faith." Put more simply, Looney made an argument, however much some might like to believe that he merely announced a discovery. That argument needs to be updated, if it is to stimulate serious academic interest, but not so much with the addition of new facts (though they are always welcome) as with reference to the way approaches to literature have changed since 1920. Looney's theoretical parameters cannot be assumed to have an ahistorical validity. The biographical approach to literature now needs to be theoretically justified before many of the claims for De Vere's authorship of the plays are pressed further. Oxfordians have so far shown an unfortunate reluctance to question how much they work with post-"Romantic" assumptions about authorship. In the early nineteenth century Wordsworth chose not to publish his greatest poem, The Prelude, on the grounds that it was "a thing unprecedented in Literary history that a man should talk so much about himself" (Wordsworth, Letters, 586). It was "Romanticism" which changed the poem from being scandalously personal to a literary classic: the entire cultural field reorganized itself around a new assumption that the artistic mind was not just the vehicle for art but was itself art's proper subject. There is thus no value in Oxfordians (or Dowden and his followers) citing post-"Romantic" writers on the subject of authorship as though their remarks had a timeless validity. The proper penance would probably be to read Clifford Siskin's demanding study of The Historicity of Romantic Discourse (1988). Rather, they need to show that such ideas enjoyed a currency in the late sixteenth century before devoting much attention to the specific case for alleged relationship between De Vere and the Shakespearean corpus. If this is not possible, and it has to be assumed that such ideas were simply "in the air," then at least a much broader case needs to be constructed for the autobiographical nature of dramatic writing at that time. As far as I am aware, the most comprehensive attempt to do this has been William Honey's, but he was making a case for Marlowe's authorship of the "Shakespeare" plays, a premise which Oxfordians will reject immediately. Honey's work ought, in fact, to convince Oxfordians that some more developed theoretical model of how individual experience shaped literary works in the late sixteenth century is needed before the specific case which they wish to present can be adjudicated. Constructing one is a monumental task, no doubt, but it is probably the only way, now, to reintegrate the Stratfordian and anti-Stratfordian traditions of scholarship. Looney was of his timejust; perhaps his followers should not be so far behind theirs if they genuinely want to influence the future of Shakespeare studies.
Sir Isaac Newton, recent scholars have stressed, arrived at many of the fundamental truths of modern physics through an intense study of alchemy, a "mystical" way of thinking supposedly discredited by the advanced "scientific" thought of his day. Yet for a long time the Newtonian "establishment" refused to consider or acknowledge the fact. There is a lesson here, perhaps, for disputants on both sides of the "authorship question."
Works Cited or Referred To
Bacon, Delia. The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded (London, 1857).
Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author" in Image-Music-Text, essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath (London, 1977).
Doeser, Marinus C. "Can the Dichotomy of Fact and Value be Maintained?" in M. C. Doeser and J. N. Kraay (eds.), Facts and Values (Dordrecht, 1986).
Dowden, Edward. Shakspere: A Critical Study of his Mind and Art (London, 1875). Eaves, Morris and Michael Fischer (eds.). Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism (Ithaca and London, 1986).
Graff, Gerald. Professing Literature: An Institutional History (Chicago and London, 1987).
Guy, Josephine M. and Ian Small. Politics and Value in English Studies (Cambridge, 1993).
Honey, William. The Life, Loves and Achievements of Christopher Marlowe, Alias Shakespeare (London, 1982).
Kathman, David. "Why I'm Not an Oxfordian," The Elizabethan Review 5.2 (1997), 32-48 (this article can also be found at http://www.clark.net/pub/tross/ws/whynot.html). Levinson, Marjorie. Keats's Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style (Oxford and Cambridge, MA, 1988).
Looney, J. Thomas. "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward de Vere the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (London, 1920).
Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality (New York, 1984).
Palmer, D. J. The Rise of English Studies (London, New York and Toronto, 1965).
Schoenbaum, Samuel. Shakespeare's Lives, 2nd edition (Oxford, 1991).
Simpson, George Gaylord. Tempo and Mode in Evolution (New York, 1944).
Siskin, Clifford. The Historicity of Romantic Discourse (New York and Oxford, 1988).
Smith, William Henry. Was Lord Bacon the Author of Shakespeare's Plays? A Letter to Lord Ellesmere (London, 1856).
Whalen, Richard F. et al. "The Oxfordian Case Defended," The Elizabethan Review 5.1 (1997), 4-23. (A series of responses to David Kathman's article, cited above, with replies by Kathman.)
Wordsworth, William. The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years 1787-1805, ed. Ernest De Selincourt, rev. Chester L. Shaver (Oxford, 1967).
Wordsworth, William. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, ed. Ernest De Selincourt and Helen Darbishire, 5 vols (Oxford, 1940-49).