Bards in Collision: How Anonymous Might Influence the Future of Shakespearean Studies

Posted By on October 24, 2011

Richard Waugaman and I have successfully proposed an authorship forum for the March 2012 Mid-Atlantic College English Association Meetings, which this year are focused on the theme of “Boundaries.”

Here’s the proposal:

The opening lines of King Lear announce a program involving not only ontology but also its conjunction with semantics. In the scene, truth cannot be and instead becomes Cordelia’s dowry in exile.

This panel will survey the challenges posed by the new Sony Film Anonymous, which presents to a mass audience the long-scorned theory that King Lear, like the other plays of the “Shakespearean” canon, was written by the obscure, controversial nobleman, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604).

What is the future of Shakespearean studies rocked by the scandal of a Hollywood production plausibly suggesting that many of us may have been wrong about Shakespeare for a long time?

How should we proceed?

Are we witnessing a paradigm shift in statu nascendi?

What can recent scholarship on early modern anonymity contribute to our understanding of this paradigm shift?

North, Starner, Traister, and others claim we have had a blind spot for anonymous authorship, since unattributed texts have traditionally drawn less interest from early modern scholars.

Scholars of early modern censorship, including Jansen, Patterson, Clare, and Dutton, despite critical differences, all suggest that our understanding of the dynamics of early modern literary production – and hence the study of authorship during this period – would benefit from a more conscientious acknowledgement of the role that censorship played in generating and regulating literary discourses.

From the comparativist side, Leonard Barkan reminds us of the formative influence of Ovid on “Shakespeare’s” experience, concentrating our attention on a potentially revealing fact: out of all the choices available to him from the Metamorphoses, the bard reverted again and again to the legend of Philomela — because of its potent lessons about communication and interpretation.

In Barkan’s words, “Many of the great figures of Ovid’s poem [including, of course Philomela] define themselves by their struggle to invent new languages….Narcissus, [like Philomela] must discover a language of paradox that suits his situation…..”

Can such perspectives converge to enhance our understanding of the historical and literary significance of the debate?

In the present context, we consider the unconscious group psychology of the defense of traditional assumptions about Shakespearean authorship.

Much research suggests that “outsiders” can sometimes see these dynamics more objectively than “insiders.” W.R. Bion’s theory of the “basic assumption fight-flight group” is relevant, as are Irving Janis’s observations about “groupthink.”

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, and renaissance literature, the latter a field in which he has published extensively

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