Why Debate?

Posted By on September 27, 2011

The big debate as it doubtless “mightabeen.”

“The evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the author of the works that bear his name has always been so overwhelming that Shakespearean scholars have rarely bothered to engage those few (those very few) who have claimed that Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford or Christopher Marlowe or fill-in-the-blank were the true authors of all those plays and poems.  However, the fictional controversy persists.”

Thus began a press release, mailed to a sponsoring library, from someone promoting a debate about the authorship question.  Having agreed on principle to participate in advance in the debate, only on the presumption that the organizer, while a Stratfordian, knew enough about the topic under debate not to make an ass out of himself (not to mention me) in his PR, I was, I admit, flummoxed.

Instead of possessing what seemed to me the required requisites for organizing such a debate — a bit of knowledge and a few wheelbarrows of common sense — the organizer sent me an after-the-fact email  inviting me to submit my own independent rebuttal to the library. I couldn’t help but wonder if this is how organizers of debates are supposed to treat the participants.  First I’m insulted and then I’m asked to stick up for myself.

Is it the accepted norm in higher education?  “I’ll promote my 7/8 of the debate, but you’re an independent contractor and should take care of your own 1/8.”

“Come hear literary historian Nom de Plume put an end to all this nonsense,” trumpeted the PR,  “in a debate with Roger Strimatter (sic), who claims the Earl of Oxford is the true author of the Shakespeare canon”  (This is Nom de Plume, writing about Nom de Plume, mind you).

It was all I could do not to write back and say, “guy, grow up” — and by the way, learn to spell my name in your press release.

I briefly considered, next, whether the best course of action might  be to reply with Henry V’s  St. Crispian’s day speech (the Oxfordians, at least, will want to click here:) to refresh our memories), especially given the extraordinary weight my correspondent placed on the conviction that majorities can’t be wrong.

The whole thing was more than a little weird. I finally answered by asking the promoter if he was capable of distinguishing between his role as debater and his role as PR man for a fledgling intellectual start-up (or somewhat less specific words to that effect).

He didn’t respond, so I can only assume that the answer was “no.”

As promoter, my correspondent ought to have known better than to write such nonsense, and even if he didn’t ought to have known he was being rude to send out something like that without even allowing advance notice to the other involved party.

Anyone with access to a decent research library has at his or her fingertips the proof of the erroneous nature Nom de Plume’s original claim. Mainstream scholars, with greater and greater frequency and urgency in recent years, have indeed often “bothered to engage” the authorship controversy.

Did my correspondent not hear about the 60 new internet talking Shakespeare heads?  Does he think that’s not a response?

But even leaving out of account the renewed public profile of authorship studies in light of Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous, such responses have not been lacking at any time in the twentieth century, and especially not during the last twenty-seven years since Charlton Ogburn’s Mysterious William Shakespeare.

Here are a few of the most obviously relevant titles of complete books by orthodox scholars which deal significantly with the authorship question from within the orthodox paradigm (the list is representative, not comprehensive):

  • Spurgeon, Shakespeare’s Imagery, 1935.
  • Garber, Shakespeare’s Ghostwriters, 1987.
  • Marcus, Puzzling Shakespeare, 1988.
  • Holland, Homans, and Paris, Shakespeare’s Personality, 1989.
  • Matus, Shakespeare, In Fact, 1994.
  • Bloom, The Western Canon, 1995.
  • Sams, The Real Shakespeare, 1995.
  • Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare, 1997.
  • McCrea, The Case for Shakespeare, 2005.
  • Shapiro, Contested Will, 2010.

Naturally,  being  a promoter of events about himself more than a scholar (to my knowledge) in his own right, my challenger was ignorant of these titles, except for Shapiro, which he seems to have “sort of”  read.  I would not hold that against him except for the harsh sound on my tender ears of such empty-brained phrases  as  “fictional controversy” and “come watch me prove what a bigshot I am” — which would be enough (at least I like to think so) were he still among the living, to bring Richard Mitchell into the fray.

Or, perhaps, my correspondent had heard of or read some of these titles. He would still have then far less than half  the relevant story.

If you want to sneer, just sneer. It’s far more honest.

And if you want a debate, treat your opponent with the same courtesy you would request were you in his place. At least, that’s what the old people have been saying at least since Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5 – a great topic for a future blog post.

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.


One Response to “Why Debate?”

  1. […] If doubt is your middle name simple advice on how to deal with it in practical terms is very welcome. One discipline that focuses on exactly such practical advice is a branch of philosophy called argumentation theory. That in itself doesn’t mean much because academics thrive on jargon, and parade their intellectual superiority preferably on a professional stage that only attracts fellow artists as spectators. But when someone with that background acts in the general public domain it’s often worthwhile paying attention.  Jean Wagemans who writes for one of the major Dutch dailies is one of those. source: http://shake-speares-bible.com/2011/09/27/why-debate/ […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Categories

  • Archives

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).