(via Patricia N. Saffran, 6/1.)
Good news! In response to letters from SAC, the RSC has removed false claims about authorship doubters from its website.
Professor Stanley Wells' article on the "Authorship Debate" taken down!
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon (SBT) has long promoted a false negative stereotype of authorship doubters, and nowhere more blatantly than in an article on its website by then-SBT chairman Stanley Wells on "Shakespeare's Authorship," which included the following statement:
"The phenomenon of disbelief in Shakespeare's authorship is a psychological aberration of considerable interest. Endorsement of it in favour of aristocratic candidates may be ascribed to snobbery – reluctance to believe that works of genius could emanate from a man of relatively humble origin – an attitude that would not permit Marlowe to have written his own works, let alone Shakespeare's. Other causes include ignorance; poor sense of logic; refusal, wilful or otherwise, to accept evidence; folly; the desire for publicity; and even (as in the sad case of Delia Bacon, who hoped to open Shakespeare's grave in 1856) certifiable madness."
The purpose of this and similar claims by Stratfordians is, of course, to smear and intimidate doubters and thus stigmatize and suppress a legitimate issue. If the case for Mr. Shakspere were as solid as they claim, there would be no need for such tactics. Since it is not solid, it is easier for them to keep people from looking into the evidence than having to confront and deal with it.
It is ironic that an English professor who is so jealous of his exclusive authority to rule on all things Shakespearean would think he could get away with usurping the authority to diagnose behavioral, character and psychiatric disorders and then generalize from a few specious, or even non-existent, examples to an entire group of people, virtually none of whom fits his stereotype. Here he was encroaching on one of my areas of expertise, so I knew that if challenged he would be unable to back it up.
In April of 2010, I sent him the following letter:
Dear Professor Wells,
I am writing on behalf of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition to challenge your claim on the SBT website … that the phenomenon of widespread doubt about William Shakespeare’s identity is “a psychological aberration of considerable interest,” attributable to a variety of causes, including “snobbery” based on class prejudice, or “even certifiable madness (as in the sad case of Delia Bacon . . .).” If these allegations are true, it should be possible for qualified experts in the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology and sociology to validate your claims with empirical evidence. I hereby challenge you to either obtain such expert validation, or stop making the claims. Specifically, I challenge you to either back up your claims on the SBT website with data worthy of the high scholarly standards you claim to represent, or remove them forthwith.
Any theory should be evaluated based on the best arguments of its strongest proponents. There will, of course, be some level of aberrant thinking and behavior in any population; but to prove your claims, not only must you show that the prevalence of these conditions and behaviors is much greater among authorship doubters than in the general population, or in a control group, such as orthodox Shakespeare scholars, but that they are pervasive.
The enclosed “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” names twenty prominent past doubters, including Mark Twain, William and Henry James, Tyrone Guthrie and Sir John Gielgud. On what basis do you claim that their doubts were due entirely to the defects you allege? Over 1,700 people have signed the Declaration. Of these, over 300 are current or former college/ university faculty members. Some of them are much better qualified to diagnose psychological disorders than you are. On what basis do you claim that they are aberrant?
You appear to label as “psychologically aberrant” anyone who disagrees with your view. You seem to be exploiting prejudices against the mentally ill to discredit your opponents. The use of such tactics is morally reprehensible, and those who would resort to them are unworthy of being regarded as legitimate stewards of the legacy of William Shakespeare. If you continue to make such allegations, on your website or elsewhere, with no credible evidence to back them up, you should assume that the SAC will pursue this issue further.
John M. Shahan, Chairman, SAC
I received no reply. Wells never provided a shred of evidence to back up his claim, and 14 months later the article was taken down from the SBT website. Later I learned that it had been posted on the RSC website under the title "Authorship Debate." It must have been very effective there, sending a clear message to both current and aspiring RSC actors to toe the party line.
Unfortunately for Wells, it also made it possible to appeal to a higher authority, unlike at the SBT. In June of 2014, I wrote a similar letter to the Prince of Wales in his capacity as president of the RSC. His assistant forwarded it to officials at the RSC, and in January of this year I sent a follow-up letter to RSC chairman Nigel Hugill renewing the request and calling attention to several other falsehoods in Wells' article. After that, it still took an assist from Mark Rylance before it was finally taken down.
The entire sequence, including the three letters and Wells' article, can be read on the SAC website at this link.
We thank the Prince of Wales, Nigel Hugill and SAC Patron Mark Rylance for their kind assistance.
New notable signatories to Declaration of Reasonable Doubt
Stratfordians sometimes accuse us of arguing from authority for listing famous past doubters in the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt, but this is not so. The Declaration never says that anyone should doubt Shakspere's authorship just because they did. Most of the Declaration is devoted to presenting evidence and arguments on both sides of the issue to help make it accessible. The purpose of the past doubters list is to counter the negative Stratfordian stereotype so people will realize it's worth reading.
That is also the reason why we call attention to notable Declaration signatories. It creates a lot of cognitive dissonance to see who doubters really are, as opposed to Stratfordians' false stereotype. Over 3,000 people have now signed the Declaration, including over 1,200 with advanced degrees, 545 current or former college or university faculty members, and 46 "notables." Given the Stratfordian campaign to stigmatize and suppress the issue, it is gratifying that so many have been willing to do so.
With this update, we call attention to two signatories recently added to the notables list:
Ann Pasternak Slater, Ph.D., is a literary scholar and translator and was formerly a Fellow and Tutor at St. Anne's College, Oxford. She has written and lectured on her uncle Boris Pasternak's translations into Russian of Shakespeare's plays, and she is the author of "Shakespeare the Director." While a notable doubter in her own right, she is also the daughter of psychiatrist Eliot Slater and granddaughter of economist Gilbert Slater — two other notable authorship doubters and both outstanding in their respective fields. In that sense one might say that we are, in effect, adding three Slaters to the notables list at this time.
Gilbert Slater, Ph.D. (1864-1938), was a British economist and social reformer of the early 20th century. He took one of the first Ph.D.s at the London School of Economics. He served as Principal of Ruskin College from 1909 to 1915, and then as Professor of Economics at the University of Madras. He is also known for theorizing that the works of Shakespeare were written by several different authors.
Eliot Slater, M.D., was one of the leading psychiatric researchers of the 20th century. He published some 150 scientific papers and co-wrote several books, including Clinical Psychiatry, long the leading textbook. From 1961 to 1972, he was Editor of the British Journal of Psychiatry, which he made into a leading European journal. He was also an avid Shakespeare scholar, best known in that field for his detailed statistical analysis of The Reign of King Edward III, which provided strong support for Shakespeare’s authorship. His analysis earned him a Ph.D. in English at King’s College, London, at age 77. It was later published by CUP as “The Problem of The Reign of King Edward III,” under the supervision of his daughter, Ann.
I would add that his website includes one of the finest short articles on the case for reasonable doubt about the authorship that I have seen. Titled “A Psychiatric View of Shakespeare's Sonnets,” it was published in a Portuguese journal, and the page on the Sonnets no longer appears on the website. What does appear is a summary of the case against Mr. Shakspere under the headings “Uncertainty of Authorship” and “Reasons for Doubt.” It is scholars such as Dr. Slater, and arguments such as these, that Stratfordians should be addressing. Of course it is much easier to make fun of Delia Bacon than to address the writings of scholars like Slater and Sir George Greenwood. The fact that they do this routinely says more about their character than ours.
Chris John Pannell is a freelance writer, editor, and poet. He is the author of six books of poetry, includingDrive, winner of the Acorn-Plantos Peoples Poetry Prize in Canada, in 2010. He has served on the boards of the gritLIT Literary Festival and Hamilton Artists Inc. He is the host and director of the monthly Lit Live reading series in Hamilton, Ontario, which presents authors who have published new books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. He is a member of the League of Canadian Poets. He has been a Shakespeare authorship doubter for about thirty years, and he was recently named editor of The Oxfordian.
Please join me in welcoming Ann Pasternak Shater and Chris Pannell as the newest additions to the notable signatories list.
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