Stanley Wells Patrolling the Fences

Posted By on September 18, 2011


Professor Stanley Wells in a more genial mood.

Stanley Wells was interviewed last week by the Hindu Independent.  There’s something deliciously and historically ironic about this being the venue for this particular interview, which represents Wells, pointing genially at the Cobb faux Shakespeare portrait that has landed his picture in newspapers across the globe, at his most strident and rigidly denialist stance:

“I think it is a lot of nonsense,” says Wells of the authorship question.

The evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him (which include a few collaborations with other dramatists) is irrefutable. Articles and books are written and films are made spending thousands of pounds in support of the conspiracy theory which has no basis whatsoever.

This crap came about in the middle of 19th century when Shakespeare’s genius flourished worldwide. It all started in the 1850s when the American teacher and writer, Delia Bacon (no relation to Francis Bacon), started to suggest that the plays had been written by a committee of people, led by Sir Francis Bacon. They also think the original author was the Earl of Oxford who had borrowed Shakespeare’s name for his plays. They contend Shakespeare had only humble origins and could not have had exposure to royalty and royal atmosphere and did not possess the aristocratic sensibility of which most of his plays describe.

Now, there is a little of truth to this if only our dog could hunt. They do think that the original author was the Earl of Oxford who had borrowed Shakespeare’s name for his plays.

That’s exactly, perfectly correct, Dr. Wells.

What is more, I think the vast majority of Oxfordians could only agree that however commercially successful he may have been, a commoner could not have had exposure to royalty and royal atmosphere and  is hardly likely to have possess[d] the aristocratic sensibility of which most of his plays describe.

What we don’t get is why this is “crap” and “nonsense” arguing against an orthodox position that is “irrefutable.”

If it is so “irrefutable,” why is it that so many thousands of quite well-informed people seem competent to refute it, or, at the very least, observe some of its many points of implausibility and draw attention to a mass of suppressed evidence on the other side?

Wells goes on to lament that  “articles and books are written and films are made spending thousands of pounds in support of the conspiracy theory which has no basis whatsoever.”

I guess Wells would be happier if people were spending millions of pounds on that other “conspiracy theory which has no basis whatsoever”  — namely the notion that someone who apparently never owned a book, raised illiterate daughters, and “when asked to write said he ‘was in pain'” — could have created Touchstone, Olivia, and Benedick.

What professor Wells apparently does not understand is that there’s a reason all these people are interested in the Oxford story.

It delivers. It helps us to understand the works in new and deeper ways. That’s why the market — starting with the internet — is playing a surprising role in shaping the history of the controversy.



About the author

Roger Stritmatter is a native liberal humorist who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Contrary to rumor, he does not live on North Avenue. He does, however, work on North Avenue. A pacifist by inclination, one of his heroes is John Brown. But he thinks that Fredrick Douglass, another of his heroes, made the right decision. Stritmatter's primary areas of interest include the nature of paradigm shifts, the history of ideas, forensic literary studies, MS studies, renaissance literature, and the history of the Shakespearean question, the latter a field in which he has published extensively.


4 Responses to “Stanley Wells Patrolling the Fences”

  1. Kathryn Sharpe says:

    I don’t think Stanley has anything to lose, sticking with his Stratford man. He’s not open to other evidence, clearly, and his uncritical and passionate acceptance of the Stratford story is a clever way to dismiss the discussion. He speaks with certainty, that makes him sound authoritative. What he’s saying is not persuasive, but the way he says it is compelling. That’s his job. I doubt that anything we might find that points to another author could persuade him to change his mind. Much has been found. If any of it pointed to Will of Stratford, the finders would be famous. But because it points to someone else, they are largely ignored or ridiculed. Other traditional scholars, however, will find they have a lot to lose by not considering the merits of the authorship question NOW. Let’s just say that Shakespeare is not in fact who we thought he was. It’s still relatively early in the research game. There’s lots of low-hanging fruit, so to speak. Ties to be made between your research and another candidate. Lots there waiting to be discovered. Those who are willing to risk their reputations to get in the game now are the ones who will reap the rewards. They just won’t get any applause from traditional academics. But who needs that? Research into this question is its own reward. It’s rich, entertaining, deep, fascinating. People who think for themselves will not be dissuaded by Stanley Wells. And he and the lovely Cobb portrait, likely not what he says it is, belong together. It would be a shame to separate them.

  2. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Hi Kathryn, I’m sure you are right that in the immediate term, he has nothing to lose. Over the long term of intellectual history, it will be another story. But for now, yes — it is definitely in his self interest to fight rather than switch.

    Your analysis is very sound. Those who understand that the authorship question, the coming to understand the man in the works, is rewarding on its own terms, will go forward to pick the low hanging fruit. There’s so much of it around that the biggest problem some of us have is picking the best to concentrate on. We have the opposite problem of the Stratfordians, who must make mountains from molehills, reconstruct that Brontosaurus Twain talked about from a few tiny bones set in plaster done from a bad mold. Personally I’ve found starting to really understand Ben Jonson to be the most rewarding of present research. Thanks for posting!

  3. richard waugaman says:

    Wells typifies the die-hard Stratfordians who “know” with absolute certainty that no new evidence could possibly sway them. And they consider themselves to be intellectuals?

    Did everyone hear the recent news about the speed of neutrinos? Apparently neutrinos haven’t heard about the immutable laws of physics, that declare the speed of light to be the absolute maximum speed in the universe. The CERN physicists are doubting their own findings.

    Whatever the case turns out to be with neutrinos, the relevant lesson is that the Renaissance partially freed us from the deductive reasoning that held science back for centuries, as physicians trusted Galen more than their own eyes, etc. Wells and his ilk are repeating the pre-Renaissance practice of holding tradition and authority above empirical evidence. Once you begin with the premise that “There is absolutely no doubt that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare,” you will blind yourself to any contradictory evidence.

  4. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Hi Richard,

    I did read that story about neutrinos. What, something faster than the speed of light?! Poppycock. Can’t be. Impossible. Or, at least someone messed up the measurements……

    I thought an intellectual was someone who got paid to be honest, not to defend authority for its own sake. I always assumed that authority had to be justified, while power is just a gun. All over the internet we can see that Stratfordian authority is an emperor with no clothes.

    On every comment section on every available Internet article touching on the authorship question for several years running — even, depending how one counts, back to the 1990s days of Usenet HLAS — Oxfordians have either prevailed in the discussion or at least demonstrated the cogency of their position. Hence, it would appear that the Birthplace Trust Fund may plan a commentless broadcast.

    If so, Very Old School, very “there is absolutely no doubt that” it would be.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to do a survey of the history of ideas and notice where phrases like that seem to appear? I’ll bet very often shortly before “of course we knew that.” 🙂

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