James Shapiro and Hunt for the “Notorious Hyphen”

Posted By on April 18, 2010

contested-willIn case you were wondering if the internet is going to make us any smarter, the evidence is now in.

The answer is, “no” – at least if one may draw any conclusion from the depressingly conformist hallelujah chorus which has issued from so many mass media internet reviewers in response to James Shapiro’s Contested Will.

This is not to deny that there have been some excellent parries of the pretzel logic, factual lapses, and subtly malicious innuendo of Professor Shapiro’s book. One skeptical review, William Niederkorn’s Brooklyn Rail analysis, even received notice as the National Book Circle Critics April 7 Review of the Day.

Among other merits of his review which might lead one to conclude that investigative journalism is not quite dead, Niederkorn points out that Shapiro’s most widely self-touted “discovery” that the Wilmot Manuscript may well be a forgery is largely if not wholly derivative of the research of two anti-Stratfordian scholars, Daniel Wright and John Rollett,  whom Shapiro does not mention in the body of his work. In fact only Wright’s contribution  is acknowledged at all by Shapiro,  and that only in an obscure “bibliographical essay” disconnected from the body of his narrative.

Shapiro’s attempt to pass the discovery off as his own should be a red flag for  any reader capable of processing factual information from a perspective of even modest skepticism. “As we all know,” contemporary academicians are often tempted to seek the limelight for themselves by appropriating the labor of others who may be less powerful or well-connected – or even, remarkably, as in this case, as a prelude to slamming them in absentia as retrograde mental defectives.

Heward Wilkinson, in one of the more sophisticated Oxfordian responses to Shapiro, sees that “Shapiro’s neglect of contextual reading is astonishing,” and laments “the degree to which Shapiro’s own position, and those he repudiates, as formulated by him, simply mirror one another, take in one anothers’ washing, and readily reverse, flip over, and mutate into one another.”

Wilkinson does an excellent job of doing what a good psychoanalyst does: seeing the world from the point of view of his patient’s subjectivity, and pointing out some of the internal contradictions and limitations, concluding that Shapiro (more than once, actually) “completely violates his own criterion [of interpretation], without noticing he does.”

To Warren Hope, PhD, the author of a book which actually does what Shapiro claims to be doing, by offering an objective scholarly history of the authorship question,  the hero of Shapiro’s narrative is the anonymous fourth grader who motivated Shapiro to write his book by saying, “My brother told me that Shakespeare really didn’t write Romeo and Juliet. Is that true?”

As Hope notes, the fourth grader “cited his source, quoted him fully and accurately, and then asked the most relevant question he could think of.”

Would that Shapiro’s reviewers could live up to these modest standards.

Instead, such critically-aware reviews as Niederkorn’s, Wilkinson’s, or Hope’s have been few and far between, written on the margins of the mainstream discourse. And perhaps  the most striking characteristic of many others is how effortlessly they manage combine star-struck gullibility about Shapiro’s accomplishments with savagely uninformed attacks on authorship skeptics.

Clearly the race is on to see which reviewer in which periodical can outdo the other in falling all over himself to sing Shapiro’s praises and heap contempt on anyone who would dare to question whether Shapiro’s book is really all its cracked up to be.

A few examples will suffice to illustrate the tone of the present operation:

Peter Conrad, writing in The Guardian, assures us that he has it on the best authority that the Oxfordians are a gabble of “cranks” and a “reprehensible reactionary lot,” unable to adapt themselves to the post-modern reality, in which “Literary theory delights in…the ‘death of the author,’ because the writer’s annihilation licenses the critic’s self display.” Hmm…

The Irish Times gushes that “Contested Will brings in the forensic skills of the academic researcher—Shapiro has visited archives all over the US and British Isles.” Gosh.

Not to be outdone, The Independent‘s Boyd Tonkin admires “the absolutely high speed express of modern research,” which is modernizing the romantic view of Shakespeare as a “lofty demigod” by transforming him into a “shrewd creative industry entrepreneur” – that is to, say, someone not unlike Shapiro himself, who surely has the shrewdness of a canny entrepreneur,  easily able to swim past the big fish in the shark tank without blinking, and even reportedly received a million dollar advance for his book!

Talk about licensing the critic’s “self display….”

Over the next few weeks and months, doubtless there will be many more such screeds. And just as doubtless, I’ll have a lot to say about Shapiro’s book – which certainly contains enough striking instances of error of one kind or another to keep scholarship employed for some time mopping up the mess he’s made of things.

As I remarked in this interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, in a comment which did not make the cut into print, from the point of view of the intellectual historian, Shapiro has just made the biggest blunder of his long and successful career.

Contested Will is a work of tragi-comic overreaching, the result of a “perfect storm” of opportunism,  cheering from the Shakespeare industry (especially its real-estate theme-park wing headquartered in Stratford-upon-Avon), and a growing fear among Shakespearean scholars that they may have been dupes in a cosmic joke which is about to take an abrupt turn for the worse.

History beckoned for Shapiro to write a truly significant book on the Shakespearean question – a book that might have helped lead his colleagues out of the mess they’re in as a result of nearly two hundred years of failing to honestly confront the limitations of their own knowledge, or to admit the real and significant discrepancies in their narratives which have contributed to widespread public distrust of their scholarly bona fides.

Now, more than ever, the Shakespearean industry needs leadership of this kind.

Instead, Shapiro elected to take the easy way out.  The result is a book which deprives readers of the opportunity to experience critical thinking, promotes Shapiro’s own career at the expense of a failure to  grapple honestly with the real perplexities of the case he purports to examine, and apparently has fooled an awful lot of gullible reviewers into thinking that the mythology from Stratford has any future.

Sure, the Oxfordians have done their share of playing into Shapiro’s deceptions, but that is another story for another day.

For now, on the other hand,  let’s start  by conceding a point made by Shapiro-pumpers like Tonkin. Shapiro’s book indeed contains a number of startling revelations, the fruits of his industrious scouring of archives on that jet-pack-driven “high speed express of modern research” which so thrills Mr. Tonkin’s intellect.

These revelations are, indeed,  remarkable for what they illustrate about the “state of the debate” in Shakespearean authorship studies. Indeed, if anyone should require examples of why Shapiro insists, a little like Al Gore was doing just last summer about Global Warming, that “the debate is over,” and that the only thing left to be done is to dissect the brains of the non-conformists to determine what was wrong with them, then surely Shapiro’s original archival discoveries qualify.

Nor should we  lose sight of the fact that Shapiro’s high-tech whizz-bang discoveries were not only supported with generous grants from the Guggenhiem foundation, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullmen Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, among others, but were cheered on  by a host of Shapiro’s luminary literary colleagues who are generously thanked in the acknowledgments section of the book.

With this critical context in mind, let us begin by considering what is perhaps the single most original and  impressive example of Shapiro’s discoveries (we’ll get to some others in subsequent blog entries).

Unknown to two hundred and five years of scholarship, Shapiro reveals to us for the first time in his book that the first printing of the name “Shakespeare,” attached to the dedication page of the first quarto of Venus and Adonis (1593) (discovered by Edmund Malone in 1805), contains the “notorious hyphen,” about which so much ink has been spilt.

As Shapiro intimates, this little hyphen is truly “notorious.”

It might even easily be blamed as the root of all authorship evils, a typographical glitch even more deleterious in its long term consequences than the naiveté of Edmund Malone about biography, Delia Bacon’s insane search for the real meaning of Shakespeare’s works, or Mark Twain’s plagiarizing (on which see, again, Mr. Niederkorn) of that liberal freak and animal lover, Sir George Greenwood.

Let’s allow Shapiro himself to resume the thread of our search for the origins of this pernicious piece of typographical mischief:

Early in his career Shakespeare showed great care in seeing into print his two great narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, bestsellers that went through many editions. While his name didn’t appear on the title pages of these volumes, dedicatory letters addressed to the Earl of Southampton and signed ‘William Shake-speare’ are included in italics in the front-matter of both. It’s the first time that the notorious hyphen appeared in the printed version of his name, a telling sign, for sceptics, of pseudonymous publication. (225 “advance reader’s edition”)

Now, I have a confession to make.

When I first read this – and I thank Robert Detobel for directing me to the passage in the first place and getting me started thinking about it – I thought I must have stumbled into an alternate universe. I’m thinking of the kind of world in which people are given PhDs for criticizing books they’ve never read, in which the Guggenheim foundation supports literary research which takes place in a bar on 5th Avenue, and major publishers hire fact checkers who have never made it out of high school.

I even imagined that in this alternate universe, Ivy League professors were in the habit of sticking both their feet in their mouth at the same time, and then not only trying to get everyone to laugh about it, but actually succeeded in doing so, and were afterward praised for their wit.

What do you mean it doesn’t sound so “alternate”?

As the facsimile reproduced below shows, there is no hyphen in the name on the dedication page to Venus and Adonis.

V&A title page

Q1 (1593) title page of Venus and Adonis, showing unhyphenated and Roman type "William Shakespeare" after the epistle dedicatory.

One has to wonder how Professor Shapiro, in his twenty-five years teaching Shakespeare at Columbia, not to mention all that time he spent with Guggenheim grant money writing this book, can have failed to miss this elementary point.

But the reviewers are not worried.

James Williams from “PopMatters,” who teaches English Renaissance literature in Illinois, assures us that Shapiro’s work is “deeply informed,” and opines that “it would be difficult to imagine a better work of scholarship than this.”

Well, sorry, guy: with all due respect, I have no trouble at all imagining a better work of scholarship. I know it may be difficult, but how about “imagining” with me, even for a few seconds, a work of scholarship which does not initiate a fairly extensive discussion of a significant factual and interpretive problem with an unfortunate error of this kind?

Is that so unreasonable or impossible to imagine? Or am I the only one who thinks that just maybe this little literary faux pas might constitute a basis for reconsidering the merits of the rest of Shapiro’s o-so-brilliant work of scholarly detection?

Now, in case anyone of a skeptical bent of mind is reading this (“art thou there, truepenny?”), I hope you’ve already asked yourself the next obvious question: is there some other copy of the first edition of Venus and Adonis which contains the “holy hyphen”?


There’s only one copy.

And no, the hyphen isn’t in the first edition (1594) of Rape of Lucrece, either.

So it is obvious that it required an indomitable exercise of the scholarly will to arrive at the brilliant conclusion that the hyphen was there, when opening any copy of any number of books housed in hundreds of libraries all over the world, or even dropping in on the digitized copy of the Folger Library’s own online archive – shows that it isn’t. Nor is it, to the best of my knowledge (which would appear to be shockingly far in advance of that of the learned Professor Shapiro), on any subsequent quartos of either poem, which for most part fastidiously reproduced, down to the last colon and comma, all the introductory matter of the first editions of both poems for the next several decades.

Now that we’ve settled that little problem, there is a deeper question which deserves to be answered: does this even matter?

After all, we all make mistakes. To err is human, isn’t it?

While it may seem shocking to some of Professor Shapiro’s more fervent acolytes, climbing fortune’s hill a little below him but still scrambling to reach the summit where the big checks are written, even college Professors at places like Columbia have from time to time been known to lose their car keys or write books about “notorious hyphens” which on closer inspection just don’t exist.

So, perhaps this is just, after all, just an innocent mistake – which, however embarrassing it may be to Professor Shapiro, his acolytes, and the fact checking department at Simon and Schuster (wake up!) – is really a red herring. Perhaps Stritmatter is mischievously diverting attention from the obviously superior merits of Professor Shapiro’s larger analysis by focusing on a trivial and inconsequential detail.

Well, let’s look at what Shapiro does with this error and see if this explanation is a sound one.

First we might need to clarify one niggling point. Does the name appear hyphenated on any early texts, or is this  something the anti-Stratfordians made up, maybe to embarrass the real scholars like Professor Shapiro?

Of course it does, and no they  didn’t. Instances include Hamlet Q1 (1603), Richard II Q2, Richard III Q2, the Sonnets, and a number of other texts dated 1594-1623 (If anyone cares, I’ll publish a complete census within the next few weeks as we examine this subject in greater forensic detail).

How does Shapiro explain this hyphenation of the name – even though it doesn’t exist where he says it does and it does exist in other places which he omits to mention?

Elizabethan compositors, trying to protect valuable type from breaking, would have smiled at the explanation [that the hyphen was a sign of pseudonymous publication]. They knew from experience that Shakespeare’s name was typesetter’s nightmare. When setting a ‘k’ followed by a long ‘s’ in italic font – with the name Shakspeare, for example – the two letters could easily collide and the font might snap. The easiest solution was inserting a letter ‘e’, a hyphen or both; as we’ll soon see, compositors settled on different strategies. And as the title pages of the 1608 quarto of Lear and the 1609 Sonnets indicate, it’s a habit that carried over when setting roman font as well. (“Advance Readers Edition,” 226)

To rephrase the essential point for the sake of clarity, Shapiro argues that the name Shakspeare (without the medial “e” after the k) was “a nightmare” for compositors; set in an italic font, the long italic s might easily collide with the k, producing big problems in the print-shop, with the result that “the font might snap.”

As even a reader uninitiated into the arcana of early modern printing can see by this example from the 1623 Shakespeare first folio, in the title of a poem by “I.M.,” Shapiro’s argument does have a veneer of plausibility:

Hyphenated and italicized name "Shake-speare," showing the long italic "s."

Hyphenated and italicized name "Shake-speare," showing the long italic "s."

It’s an unfortunate sign of the lack of attention to detail and logic, not to mention the weak grasp of intellectual history, which lies behind many of the more effusive endorsements of Professor Shapiro’s genius that none of his reviewers can interrupt their hymns of praise long enough to ask,  whether the plausibility is any more than skin-deep, or whether Shapiro’s  theory of the origins of the “notorious hyphen” (like many similar sleights of hand in his book) is really just a species of condescending sophistry.

Heward Wilkinson, for one, seems convinced of Shapiro’s sincerity. But the more one grants Shapiro sincerity, the less plausible his knowledge of early modern typography becomes.

Notice, for example, that Shapiro’s theory as he frames it depends on two critical caveats: the name must not only be in italic, but must also be spelled without the -e- after the –k-. Otherwise the -e- itself takes care of the problem, without any need for the superfluous hyphen. Both conditions are clearly necessary according to Shapiro’s formula.

It seems apparent, even from the “I.M.” sample above,  that Shapiro’s formula is at best dubious correct. Even in this instance, the hyphen is, by Shapiro’s own terms,  superfluous from the typographical point of view, since the name is spelled with the medial -e-.

Any doubt as the accuracy of Shapiro’s logic on this point can easily be assuaged with a little photo-shopping of the original image.

Modified version of "I.M." First Folio poem showing removal of hyphen.

Modified version of "I.M." First Folio poem showing removal of hyphen.

Although it may not show too clearly in the above image, the k is not touching the s.

As long as the name is spelled with that medial -e-, even if it is in italics, there is no typographical necessity for the hyphen.

If the arrangement seemed too close for comfort, any 16th century compositor would have reached into his bin of “spacers” – thin blanks of lead designed for exactly such exigencies as this – to supply a little margin to offset the descender of the k from the long “s.” A hyphen was not required.

This conclusion is proved by a second example, from the same First Folio poem by “I.M.,” where the name appears in Roman type and there is obviously no danger of the typographical disaster which Shapiro fears.

we wondered Shake-s-speare

Hyphenated name in Roman type from "I.M." poem in 1623 folio.

As we have seen, Shapiro is mistaken about the origin of the hyphen in Venus and Adonis.

These two examples alone make it pretty clear, also, that his global explanation for the hyphenation phenomenon is bogus.

The reason the hyphen appears in the first instance is shown by the second. The compositor was working from a manuscript in which the name was hyphenated.

Continued here.


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13 Responses to “James Shapiro and Hunt for the “Notorious Hyphen””

  1. detobel says:

    Finally, I found the article (via google),

    Excellent reply.


  2. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Thanks, Robert!

  3. Roger a most delightfullt impish piece of banderillero tormenting of poor James Shapiro, which leaves my plea for graciousness towards him a little limp (though remember I did make the connection with Pope’s Atticus portrait in the Epistle to Arbuthnot!)! But never mind; what is beginning to be very striking is that more and more of his scholarship is being shown up by one or another of us as problematic to say the least, if not downright shoddy.

    What I tried to suggest in my own essay was that Shapiro belongs to a generation which has lost touch with the greatness of Shakespeare and the past. This of course is very very common, in all disciplines, and it is very easy for those who are drawn to these recognitions to be drawn into very atavistic political positions. Looney was actually fairly sensible in that respect; I have just discovered that my beloved revered Wagnerian conductor, Reginald Goodall, whose Ring I attended in 1973, was actually a holocaust denier and a Mosleyite.

    I shall write more about this in a wider context, but as we Oxfordians gather strength, as I believe we are doing, we have to be mindful of precisely that ‘wider context’!

    Have you seen any Baconian or Marlovian reviews of Shapiro by the way?

    Congratulations on this powerful review!

    • Roger Stritmatter says:


      Greetings, and thanks for your kind words. Yes, I read your plea, and welcomed it even though I was, in a certain sense, contradicting your call for moderation. But it seems that you agree that in this case (and I believe some others), we ought to be willing to calling Shapiro’s nonsense, nonsense. You may or may not know that two years ago Lynne Kositsky and I wrote to Shapiro to offer our support as informants and friendly critics. His response was to totally ignore our communication. With that history in mind, I hope you may forgive me for feeling a bit of shadenfreude at these gaffs. But was also most struck by your remark about the two sides in the debate seem sometimes to be parodic mirror images of one another — I hope that other Oxfordians will heed your insight and try to avoid simply mirroring the denials of the Stratfordians.

      One critic who I think has done a great job of that is Warren Hope — whose review (mine is really not so much a review as a commentary on a tiny but consequential blunder) is at the Shakespeare Fellowship site. He focuses on Shapiro’s primitive either/or logic. I think the best critique of Shapiro would pursue that insight further. From a psychological and intellectual point of view the book is really quite atavistic if you think about it.

      In connection with your theme of losing touch with the past I was struck by the manner in which Shapiro set up his attack of Percy Allen (who contributed some excellent scholarship to the debate before getting lost in his Ouija Board attempts to contact Oxford’s soul). He quoted Greenblatt’s famous line about wanting to speak to the dead, and then said words to the effect that, of course, no one spoke back to Greenblatt. I can’t help but think that’s a bit pathetic, and that it illustrates your point that these professionals have lost all sense of a real past. They are like sentries on guard in Elsinore who can’t hear or see the ghost. Yet it speaks to those with ears.

      All Best Wishes,


  4. Roger I found the same passage about the past and Percy Allen and commented in a similar way!

    ‘But his conception of the implicit basis of this is predicated on the simplistic individual/social antithesis which is the outcome of the secular shift towards empiricism and utilitarianism (on the basis of which he interprets Romantic individualism). With this goes the loss of the organic conception of literature implicit in the Shakespearean development of language (Eliot’s ‘dissociation of sensibility’), and first articulated by Romanticism, especially Coleridge and Keats. This is the complexity which he has inadvertently air-brushed out of the picture.

    ‘Contested Will’ gives us a feeling of having encountered a ghost. Just occasionally, behind his ‘Team Shakespeare’ concept, and his dismissals of the post-Romantic ‘individual psychology’ Shakespeare, there is a glimpse of the great Shakespeare, the Shakespeare who is the faultline, in his works, of the conflicts of the Tudor and Jacobean periods, the mighty Shakespeare (Keats’s ‘miserable and Mighty poet of the human heart’, Letters, Ed. Forman, p. 347), about whom G Wilson Knight, in The Wheel of Fire, and DH Lawrence in the Chapter The Theatre, in Twilight in Italy


    and John Middleton Murry, in Keats and Shakespeare, Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, and Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams, – themselves the successors of Johnson, Coleridge, and Keats, – are writing. Ironically, we get the strongest sense, in Shapiro, of that Shakespeare, when he is writing about JT Looney’s introduction of the Oxfordian hypothesis in ‘Shakespeare’ Identified in 1920, despite his going to town on Looney’s Comtean Positivism Church of Humanity lineage, with its insinuation that Looney was not politically correct, with his Feudalist leanings, maybe even a touch sympathetic to Hitler (pp. 205-6).

    There is a rather touching and haunting passage, though characteristically ambivalently located where he is writing about Percy Allen’s endeavours, quite common at the time (William James and Freud were members of the Society for Psychical Research), but embarrassing now for Oxfordians, to ascertain who wrote the plays by consulting the medium Hester Dowden, and so to have conversations with Oxford, Bacon, and Shakespeare in this way (it was indeed revealed as a ‘team effort’!):

    ‘It’s easy to mock Allen’s approach, but in truth, communicating with the dead is what we all do, or try to do, every time we pick up a volume of Milton or Virgil or Dickens – all of whom achieve a kind of immortality by speaking to us from beyond the grave. Every literature professor is in the business of speaking with the dead – though few have been as honest about it as Stephen Greenblatt, whose influential Shakespearean Negotiations opens with the famous confession: ‘I began with the desire to speak with the dead,’ then argues for the universality of this desire, ‘a familiar, if unvoiced, motive in literary studies, buried beneath thick layers of bureaucratic decorum: literature professors are salaried, middle class, shamans’. While brilliantly anatomising this desire to speak with the dead, Greenblatt acknowledges that the conversation is necessarily one way (as he puts it, ‘all I could hear was my own voice’).

    But when Percy Allen spoke with the dead, the dead spoke back.’

    But if the dead do not speak to Greenblatt and Shapiro, or any of us, we are out of a job, if we are professors. Are Greenblatt and Shapiro perchance fringing over into the post-modern ‘death of the author’ position, misunderstood as that may be?

    Shapiro’s Shakespeare is mostly as silent and ordinary as the homely living room chairs and tables the morning after a séance.

    His is a Shakespeare seen, analogously to how, Nietzsche argues, in The Birth of Tragedy, Greek Tragedy was seen subsequent to the rationalism of Socrates, through Enlightenment, Utilitarian, and Whig Interpretation eyes. Looney was endeavouring, in relation to Shakespeare, what Nietzsche, Gilbert Murray, and TS Eliot attempted in relation to Greek Tragedy, the restoration of the sense of the pre-bourgeois dimension, of which also Marx had so fine a sense, in his comments on Shakespeare here and there.’

    Will tackle all this on my blog when the volcano permits me to return to the UK from Ireland!

    On the question of history and the past, have you come across the very fine writings of John Lukacs?

  5. Roger Stritmatter says:


    Excellent — let’s replay that for emphasis, shall we:

    “It’s easy to mock Allen’s approach, but in truth, communicating with the dead is what we all do, or try to do, every time we pick up a volume of Milton or Virgil or Dickens – all of whom achieve a kind of immortality by speaking to us from beyond the grave. Every literature professor is in the business of speaking with the dead – though few have been as honest about it as Stephen Greenblatt, whose influential Shakespearean Negotiations opens with the famous confession: ‘I began with the desire to speak with the dead,’ then argues for the universality of this desire, ‘a familiar, if unvoiced, motive in literary studies, buried beneath thick layers of bureaucratic decorum: literature professors are salaried, middle class, shamans’. While brilliantly anatomising this desire to speak with the dead, Greenblatt acknowledges that the conversation is necessarily one way (as he puts it, ‘all I could hear was my own voice’).”

    “All I could hear was my own voice.”

    Wow. There’s a stunning admission. The professoriate is reading Hamlet, but all it can hear is its own voice.

    What kind of Shaman, were he unable to speak with the dead, and could only “hear his own voice,” would ever get “tenure”?

    Well, perhaps one who lives in a culture which has no idea what a shaman is, and has forgotten that the shaman, like the literary historian, must not only speak with the dead, but also hear them when they talk back.

    It becomes increasingly clear the the entire “death of the author” ideology is really just an excuse for the critic’s self-aggrandizement. If there’s no author to talk back to him, he can say anything he likes without fear of contradiction. His students will by rote take down his words as gospel. Who needs authors when you’ve got lit professors to tell you what a literary work means? Pretty soon, you won’t need to read the original work at all — you’ll get by reading the secondary literature.

    Its interesting to note how thoroughly postmodernism has bought into the power=knowledge equation of Foucault et alia. But great literature teaches us the opposite.

    All too often, power = the absence of knowledge.

    This, at any rate, is the lesson not just of *Oedipus Tyrranous*, but of *Lear*. A wise king keeps his fool close at hand; a foolish king exiles him for offending the royal ego. We might summarize the entire problem of contemporary Stratfordiana, then, by observing that the Shakespearean industry has a Lear complex.


  6. Roger we may get diverted into another debate here. I am not going into bat for post-modernism in general, just Derrida.

    When Derrida contextualises ‘the author’ he is NOT denying the authorial identity. He is precisely – as we are – saying just that the identity is surrounded by ghosts, and by doubles. I would have thought an Oxfordian of all people would support that. Derrida’s writing on Marx is precisely what took me shooting back to Marx on Shakespeare!


    And he draws on the famous passage of Paul Valery:
    ‘Standing, now, on an immense sort of terrace of Elsinore that stretches from Basel to Cologne, bordered by the sands of Nieuport, the marshes of the Somme, the limestone of Champagne, the granites of Alsace . . . our Hamlet of Europe is watching millions of ghosts.

    But he is an intellectual Hamlet, meditating on the life and death of truths; for ghosts, he has all the subjects of our controversies; for remorse, all the titles of our fame. He is bowed under the weight of all the discoveries and varieties of knowledge, incapable of resuming the endless activity; he broods on the tedium of rehearsing the past and the folly of always trying to innovate. He staggers between two abysses — for two dangers never cease threatening the world: order and disorder.

    Every skull he picks up is an illustrious skull. This one was Leonardo. He invented the flying man, but the flying man has not exactly served his inventor’s purposes. We know that, mounted on his great swan (il grande uccello sopra del dosso del suo magnio cecero) he has other tasks in our day than fetching snow from the mountain peaks during the hot season to scatter it on the streets of towns. And that other skull was Leibnitz, who dreamed of universal peace. And this one was Kant…and Kant begat Hegel, and Hegel begat Marx, and Marx begat. . . .

    Hamlet hardly knows what to make of so many skulls. But suppose he forgets them! Will he still be himself? His terribly lucid mind contemplates the passage from war to peace: darker, more dangerous than the passage from peace to war; all peoples are troubled by it. . . . “What about Me,” he says, “what is to become of Me, the European intellect? …And what is peace? Peace is perhaps that state of things in which the natural hostility between men is manifested in creation, rather than destruction as in war. Peace is a time of creative rivalry and the battle of production; but I am not tired of producing? Have I not exhausted my desire for radical experiment, indulged too much in cunning compounds? …Should I not perhaps lay aside my hard duties and transcendent ambitions? Perhaps follow the trend and do like Polonius who is now director of a great newspaper; like Laertes, who is something in aviation; like Rosencrantz, who is doing God knows what under a Russian name?

    “Farewell, ghosts! The world no longer needs you — or me. By giving the names of progress to its own tendency to a fatal precision, the world is seeking to add to the benefits of life the advantages of death. A certain confusion still reigns; but in a little while all will be made clear, and we shall witness at last the miracle of an animal society, the perfect and ultimate anthill.” ‘

    This is the sort of engagement with our ghosts that Shapiro and Greenblatt eschew! and precisely the sort of understanding of how the modern world kills the ghosts we need!

    My enemy’s enemy is my friend. For me, like Coleridge and Leavis, Derrida is the great reader!

    Hey ho!


  7. [...] A most lovely article regarding Mr. Shapiro’s book published under the tome de plumet Contested Will. So as not to give away the plot, I won’t reveal the original name of the book has been critically reasoned to have been Willtested Con. By all means, please do not be remiss and fail to follow that part of the article which has been continued here. [...]

  8. [...] to that dedication page to “Venus and Adonis” (1593) referenced in that “A most lovely article“: Wtf?? What is up with all the funky esses? Some long, some short… some long with [...]

  9. [...] For Your Ears Only Posted on December 25, 2010 by knitwitted I am re-reading Dr. Stritmatter’s article. [...]

  10. [...] A most lovely article regarding Mr. Shapiro’s book published under the tome de plumet Contested Will. So as not to give away the plot, I won’t reveal the original name of the book has been critically reasoned to have been Willtested Con. By all means, please do not be remiss and fail to follow that part of the article which has been continued here. [...]

  11. Lurking Ox says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this article on the Shaman Who Heard Only His Own Voice (again).

  12. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Yes, it takes a special talent, doesn’t it, to be *this* wrong. I mean, most scholars are wrong from time to time about things outside their specialization of interest (or maybe even within it), but this sort of being wrong — as in asserting something to be a fact that manifestly isn’t one, and then going forward from this false positing to construct an entire theory about the genesis of a particular enigma that is obviated when the fact gets deconstructed takes a special kind of….special academic, one groomed for success from the very beginning, a veritable golden boy of being preposterously wrong in defense of established conventions.

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In "From Crackpot to Mainstream"Keir Cutler, PhD, takes down the recent Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (OUP, 2013)

Criticism of Cutler's "Is Shakespeare Dead?": "A magnificently witty performance!" (Winnipeg Sun). "Highly entertaining and engrossing!" (EYE Weekly). "Is Shakespeare Dead? marshals startling facts into an elegant and often tenacious argument that floats on a current of delicious irony" (Montreal Gazette).