Rowing the Sea of Disinformation

Posted By on October 27, 2011

William J. Ray, Willits homesteader, poet, and scholar.

William J. Ray has previously appeared on this website only through quotation. I am pleased to feature his writing at greater length in this series of missives, some of which were censored in other contexts. -Ed.

Since studying the question of who wrote the Shakespeare canon, I have found in current letters a good deal of ignorance about it, a great deal of emotion, and thus almost universal inability to discuss this volatile belief area of our cultural heritage.

The professors in the guild, our informal priesthood of knowledge, are perhaps the worst afflicted.

They were never encouraged to question tradition. In fact if they did they would stand out as non-conformist and suspect as prospective members of a harmonious English department.

Such is the unconscious ideological grounding for thinking about the core artist in English literature. Skeptics and avocational scholars are faced with having to educate their interlocutors in sound-byte fashion, in rather brief verbal and written exchanges.

The new information violates the affectionately held, authority-driven, bias toward the sympathetic mental image of Everyman striding to London with a vision of mankind and the human predicament in his soul. While this is a powerful archetype, it is fiction regarding the origins of the Shakespeare canon.

There is no substitute for actual historical study and literary investigation based on an historical context, if we expect to rouse ourselves from a confused dependence on legend for our understanding of Shakespeare studies.

What follows is my telegram-like attempt  to communicate my present state of knowledge in the midst of misinformation.

October 16, 2011
To the [NY Times] Editor:
Re: Shapiro op-ed, October 16, 2011

James Shapiro’s ad hominem attacks upon Roland Emmerich, writer and director of Anonymous, upon J. Thomas Looney, the English schoolmaster who wrote Shakespeare Identified, which both Sigmund Freud and John Galsworthy admired, and upon a host of other perceptive thinkers, are not going to keep our culture, or save his embarrassing ignorance, from an honest examination of the Stratford Shakespeare legendary narrative. His accusation that this growing inquiry is all an attempt to turn the great plays into propaganda is fearful paranoia.

The testimony he considers definitive for the illiterate money-lender of Stratford was ambiguous praise to shift the aristocratic works onto a non-political cipher and thus stabilize the threatened monarchy of the time.

Bamboozlements didn’t start yesterday. There should be no fear to seek and actually find the truth of the past, especially among professional scholars, our symbols of honest inquiry.

William Ray
Willits California
October 23, 2011

To the [NYTimes] Editor:

Re: Stephen Marche op-ed, October 22, 2011

I should like to take exception to the Oxfordian scholarship-bashing indulged in by both English Professors Marche and Shapiro. They are wrong on the historical facts, which seems to nevertheless comfort them that the enemy is all wrong and they are virtuous and right.

This is not a professional attitude toward knowledge, and one gets the message that entrenched interests are in jeopardy. It is extremely unwise to assert as Dr. Marche does that “some deserve to be marginalized and excluded.”

Just the opposite: if you are making sense against the status quo position, mostly unexamined chestnuts of who wrote Shakespeare, I’ll lend you my ears.

William Ray
wjray.net
Willits CA 95490

October 26, 2011
To the [NY Times] Editor:
Re: Taping Over the Shakespeare Signs at Stratford

Has the Shakespeare establishment taken to holding its breath and covering its eyes to protest investigation into the flimsy basis for the Stratford Shakspere being the man behind the literary pseudonym “Shakespeare”?

It is shameful and irresponsible that James Shapiro (Contested Will) has played point man for this flight from inquiry. Contrary to hysterical charges, there is extensive and edifying backing from the historical record that the powers-that-were diverted the identity of a high noble’s pseudonym Shakespeare onto an allonymous money-lender Shakspere, in order to neutralize the political impact of the Shakespeare canon.

It worked.

But is it not time to uncover the eyes, Gentles? Nothing lost but a mistaken belief and much gained for our cultural history.

William Ray
Willits California

October 24, 2011
To Holger Syme [German-born professor of English Literature who finds no credibility in the Oxfordian scholarship but felt that respectable professionals must respond]

You can’t ignore your responsibility to inquire into the history behind the Stratford narrative, which has always been full of contradiction and a distorted concept of creativity. It has always been just so!–that someone whose signature and entire biography suggest disinterest in art, was the consummate philosopher and artist, Shakespeare.

That isn’t good enough for honest scholarship.

You appear to base your distaste for that inquiry on the failure of Oxfordians to use recognizable methods of determining evidence. Therefore please explain away the following co-incidences.

Edward de Vere wrote Romeus and Juliet at age twelve. Not only did it later became Romeo and Juliet, but lines of it reappeared in Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Hamlet replicates the early biography of someone whose father was poisoned and supplanted by a rival, his mother quickly married the poisoner’s adjutant,who was put in the custody of an official who married him off to his own daughter. Is it starting to look like Edward de Vere’s father, his father’s poisoner Leicester, his mother Margery Vere, his warder William Cecil, and Cecil’s daughter Anne?

Two Noble Kinsmen is referenced above as a collaboration of Fletcher and “Shakespeare.”  But it had a precedent: Palomon and Arcite by Edward de Vere, performed before the Queen in 1566. The subplot was added after Oxford died and the altered play published in 1634. Some of the same phrases written by the adolescent de Vere remained in the final version.

Setting aside the over-educated claptrap, the truth is you have made a serious status-quo-favoring error of ignoring factual and literary realities. I could go on for hours about the de Vere related precedents for Macbeth (The Tragedie of the Kinge of Scottes 1567), Merchant of Venice (Portio or The Jew 1578), Taming of the Shrew (A Pleasant Conceit 1577), A Comedy of Errors (A History of Error 1577), and many more.

But that may do for recognizable methods of evidence–the near identity of plays by Edward de Vere to plays attributed to Shakespeare.

Either “Shakespeare”  was the most outrageous plagiarist in history, or de Vere used Shakespeare as a pseudonym subscribing his revised plays, now familiar to us as part of the Shakespeare canon.

I think you are riding a three-legged horse and complaining that that the rival is just not playing fair on a quadruped. It isn’t my fault I honor the truth and wish to see it vindicated. You and your colleagues should do the same.

William Ray
wjray.net

October 25, 2011
Re: negative and dismissive Village Voice film review of Anonymous

In terms of your film review, I have no criticism. You did what you are supposed to do. In terms of your premises about what is true and not, you haven’t got a leg to stand on. You assume Shakspere of Stratford (that’s different from the pseudonym Shakespeare/Shake-speare) is being favored by “the troublesome existence of evidence.”

Wrong.

There isn’t a speck of credible evidence anywhere in the extant record confirming that Shakspere was a writer, much less the archetypal rhetorical and poetical giant of the modern era. I mean not a speck. There are six inept signatures and plenty of indication this was the apex of Shakspere’s writing experience. He was useful, and took advantage of that use, because his name Shakspere resembled the pseudonym the author plied since 1593 to mask his identity and station, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

This allonymous utility ramped up when time came to eclipse any record of Oxford–an extremely troublesome high noble in the Elizabethan era–and it was deemed necessary to switch the literary identity permanently to a cipher, Shakspere became the expedient choice. Since he had been dead for seven years he was unlikely to blab. Shakspere became Shakespeare.

Such is your imbibed hoax, passed to you generation upon generation despite all the contradictions. With your wrong premise, it is impossible for you to get any fact right. While the film may not be Children of Paradise or The World of Apu, it attempted to correct an atrocious but prevailing version of important cultural history, and for that it is wholly admirable.

William Ray
Willits California

With thanks for your productive devotion to discovering and propounding the truth of the Shakespeare canon’s genesis,

William J. Ray
wjray.net

About the author

Retired, independent scholar

Comments

24 Responses to “Rowing the Sea of Disinformation”

  1. Lurking Ox says:

    This is WONDERFUL stuff!

  2. William Ray says:

    Thank you sir. Maybe I should have called it Swimming the Jello of Modern Enlightenment. We’ll do the best we can.

    William Ray

  3. HolgerSyme says:

    I don’t care about you misspelling my name, but would you mind explaining to me how or why it matters where I was born?

  4. helenhgordon says:

    Another brilliant essay by William Ray. You are so logical and eloquent, Bill, that I suspect you are a nobleman, because everybody knows that a postal service worker can’ t write such beautiful prose!
    Hugs from Helen

  5. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Dear Professor Syme:

    Welcome to my blog.

    It is not often that someone of your exalted position cares to visit, and even rarer still that such a one should offer so deep and important an insight in response to one of the site’s blogs as you have done in your comment. The error to which you allude has been corrected. Please accept the sincerest apologies of the webmaster. And, above all, please do not feel that you are prohibited in any manner from offering a more substantive commentary on Mr. Ray’s posting – or that of any other contributor to the site.

    As one whose name is often misspelled in print — along with all the usual adjectives and epithets which the more enthusiastic partisans of your perspective like to employ in place of thinking when called upon to defend their point of view — I can only commiserate over how terrible it must make you feel when someone makes the mistake of adding an extra letter to your name.

    By every syllable,
    A faithful verity,
    I remain,
    ever yours,

    (Dr.) Roger Stritmatter

  6. William Ray says:

    Didn’t believe it was misspelled but my apologies if so. Holger is the name used on your website.

    It is remarkable that a German-born person became a scholar in the English literature field. The caption was not stated as implied (ethnic) censure. Shakespeare was appreciated very early by the German culture, and he was in close touch with it. He visited Sturmius on the way to Italy and reportedly again on the way home.

    It appears that the Oxfordian persuasion is growing with less friction, more realistic acceptance there than in the English-speaking countries. The same goes for Taiwan, China, and South Korea. These may be the healthiest cultures. They certainly manage their financial health responsibly.

    I note that Shapiro and Greenblatt have referred to Shakespeare doubters (read Oxfordians) as equivalent to Holocaust deniers, a coded German aspersion. Shapiro even accused Roland Emmerich, a native of Frankfort, Germany, of casting only blond leads in ‘Anonymous’, the implication being Emmerich, who is dark-haired, is carrying on subrosa Aryan favoritism. This opportunistic racist gamesmanship–and utlized by Jews for partisan and personal advantage–is deeply troubling to me. As a Jew I condemn it.

    We should be beyond all ideological treachery. Obviously some will seek advantage by all means fair or foul. This would be disloyal to Shakespeare’s own morality, lest we forget our subject matter. I trust this explanation is satisfactory and further perplexity allayed. We continue to differ greatly on matters of evidence and the struggle to separate one’s conditioned loyalties from disinterested inquiry.

  7. William Ray says:

    Thank you Helen. Let’s see how fast I lose my prose style when they give me Shapiro’s million dollars. You know, like the Theodore Roethke ditty: ACADEMIC The stethoscope tells what everyone fears:/ You’re likely to go on living for years,/ With a nurse-maid waddle and a shop-girl simper,/ And the style of your prose growing limper and limper. (Words for the Wind)

    Best wishes,
    William Ray

  8. Lurking Ox says:

    Context doesn’t matter. Names don’t matter. Spelling doesn’t matter. The works stand on their on!

    “Without evidence, the theory stands!” – Roy

  9. Roger Stritmatter says:

    William, it was the last name, which I believe in adding to your post I spelled Symes and not, as it should have been, Syme. I corrected immediately after it was drawn to my attention.

    Thanks for clarifying your intent regarding the question of ethnic origins. As a German American (on my father’s side at least), I couldn’t be more proud that Germany is taking the lead in significant respects in understanding the Oxfordian case. German scholars have always loved and appreciated Shakespeare, and produced much fine scholarship, especially of a philological nature, on the bard. If Professor Symes paid more attention to such scholarship, and less to the Anglo-American post-modernists of recent memory, his scholarship might have a longer shelf life.

    Cheers,

    R.S.

  10. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Lurking Ox, stand and unfold thyself. 🙂

  11. William Ray says:

    Thanks for this. It is good to cool these things down. Fewer arguments, more drinks and desserts.

    WJR

  12. HolgerSyme says:

    I still don’t see how my place of birth is relevant, but thank you for the explanation. I can assure you that neither Prof. Greenblatt nor Prof. Shapiro harbour any anti-German feelings I know of. Greenblatt has a long-standing association with the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin.

    As for substance, I’m not going to repeat myself. I’ve addressed all of Mr Ray’s assertions in the comments section on my blog. Feel free to copy them over if you’d like.

  13. HolgerSyme says:

    William:

    an afterthought. You say Leicester killed Oxford’s father. Isn’t it then a little surprising that Oxford should choose to have “his” plays performed by a company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who were so closely associated with James Burbage and his Theatre — given that Burbage himself was a leading member of Leicester’s Men? Why not go with the Admiral’s Men, or the Queen’s Men, or Sussex’s Men, or Pembroke’s Men — or Oxford’s Men? Or are you suggesting that not only were the plays not written by William Shakespeare, they also weren’t performed by the company in which he was a sharer, at the venue operated by James Burbage?

  14. William Ray says:

    Dear Sir,

    I am a guest here and am under the impression that I should respond to the remarks I wrote above about the state of the debate and the current issue generally. We discussed on your website dispositio.com, Oxford’s young years as (putatively) affecting or generating the very similar characters and chain of events occurring in Hamlet. My reply response to your rebuttal of my initial comment has not yet been entered on your website. Under those circumstances, we have an unfinished dialogue in another electronic venue.

    But if the host here does not object, I will respond to your question about Leicester and Oxford. If the question is how could Oxford associate with anyone connected to Leicester, his father’s murderer, I don’t think this can answered in a factual way. No one testified to anything like that. In a somewhat parallel situation, Elizabeth was responsible for doing away with Oxford’s dear cousin, Thomas Howard and a lot of the Howard line. He managed to get along with her. We would have to conjecture and infer about Leicester and him.

    Contrary to a statement Alan Nelson has made, that Oxford would not place plays in rival companies to Oxford’s Men and Oxford Boys (St. Paul’s Boys), the records state that Shakespeare plays were performed by these two, plus Sussex’s, Pembroke’s, Derby’s, Charles Howard’s Admiral’s Men, and Hunsdon’s Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The precedent company to LCM was the Queen’s Men, that played the Histories all over in the shires before the expected Spanish invasion.

    So I infer Oxford was completely familiar with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. I don’t believe his motivation for distributing plays had to do with rivalry or profit, but rather with spreading the English Renaissance, or what we would call English consciousness. The Histories that played before the Spanish Armada certainly contributed to a sense of unified patriotism, which may have been why Elizabeth and Walsingham financed Oxford to begin with, in 1586 and forward, to be sure he could ply his theatrical gifts forstate benefit. “So that princes may continue their present creations” I think was how Elizabeth diplomatically phrased it.

    Nelson did not recognize this national context and purpose, and rather arbitrarily reduced his horizon of understanding what Oxford was doing to a playwright making a buck and beating out the opposition. I believe there is indication that Oxford squandered his patrimony, went bankrupt, had to have the support of the Queen to carry on, and even went into debt to Shakspere, in order to continue producing plays.

    This last concept is based upon his wife’s 1612 codicil stating that a thousand pounds should go to her “dombe man”, in four installments. ‘Man’ meant a non-aristocrat. ‘Dombe’ meant silent by agreement, his anonymity as part of the agreement. Elizabeth Trentham took care of her “late dear and noble lord and husband.” Nelson’s characterization of Oxford looks rather coarse and petty compared to that. But some people look that way at people they wish to demonize from afar.

    Reaching into the literary area for clarification, this humiliating financial arrangement may have been the reason that Jonson referred (in Poetaster) to Crispinus. This name’s Latin meaning had potent implications. Crispinus means curly, possibly a low reference to Shakspere’s family sheep trade. Spinus was a thorn bush. Jonson may have been implying that the real-life Crispinus was a thorn-bush Oxford had gotten stuck in. Crispo also means to brandish or shake, especially a sword. The imposter Crispinus wished to be the sword-bearer. Obviously he was not, as a commoner.Only the Lord Great Chamberlain bore the Sword of State. Crispinus is hyphenated to indicate he used an alias too, in imitation of the genuine Shake-speare. This bears somewhat on Shakspere’s role in the theater. He played himself as an actor, although there isn’t a single contemporaneous record he acted anybody. He did probably have a role as financer, which was good enough for a pretender. Jonson again caught that, as Sogliardo, anagraming out to O’s Liar Dog. Poet-aster, the Poet’s dog-star, has some of that lowly hanger-on quality.

    I am taking this set of ideas from reading Katherine Chiljan’s ‘Shakespeare Suppressed’. As I stated, it is inference and conjecture, about the best we can do without explicit an record. But it makes for a good semantics to me. Returning to the original question, Leicester died in 1588, about the time Oxford finally got his lands back from the 1562 hit-job on the Vere estates. Oxford had plenty to do without worrying about him and I imagine that rival earls knew how to ape a civil minuet at court.

    William Ray

  15. Roger Stritmatter says:

    William,

    Excellent clarifying response, brilliant as usual on several important points. Professor Syme may particularly be interested to learn how fruitful Jonson’s plays are for reconstructing an imaginative version of contemporaneous events. You didn’t even get around to mentioning Puntarvolo’s mission to Constantinople with his dog and his cat (cf Two Gents)…..

    I would not myself want to state as fact that Leicester murdered John de Vere. There was a very good conversation on this point on one of the facebook pages today, in which Hank Sanders usefully argued it this way:

    1. And no, there is no ‘proof’ that de Vere’s father was poisoned although there were rumours and there would have been motive – and certainly Sussex would have had reason to drop that in EdV’s ear regarding the snakey Leicester – as Leicester was rumored to have poisoned numerous people, including later, Sussex himslef I believe. There is no good documentary evidence. But evidence was synonymous with rumor at one point, and vice versa (see eyewitness testimony before cameras, etc). Now there is only evidence and there is documentary — but you don’t always get both. Not together…..
    2. If he thought his father was poisoned, from the point of a writer’s imagination, then his father WAS poisoned. My first line was there is no proof, I said there was no documentary evidence more than once, I stated rumors. If I believe an untruth and write a novel, when you discuss my novel the rumor is the fact…..

    This to me makes good sense as a place to stand. Whatever did happen, the impressionable twelve year old kid at least could imagine that the wolfish Leicester had killed his father.

  16. William Ray says:

    Thanks. Yes, it was interesting that Sir Puntarvolo was someone who could “taint a staff well at tilt”. That sounds like he could shake a spear. Also, in Latin volo means to be willing, and the other letters anagram out to “pun art”. Willing to pun art. Don’t know who that might be.

    About Leicester, it is totally subjective, but I saw a drawing of him dancing with Elizabeth and he looked like the devil. He fit into Whitman’s description of the “towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste.” If it is true he killed several, then he was amoral, just taking care of business. “If I don’t do it to you, somebody else will.” Just a great bunch of guys.

  17. Lurking Ox says:

    Wonderful conversation. Thanks to all.

  18. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Yes, William, its always useful to bear in mind whenever we read about what a nasty piece of work Professor Nelson’s Oxford was, to realize what a bunch of chumps inhabited the Elizabethan court. There’s no doubt that Leicester was capable of the deed which, it seems to me, you are correct in suggesting the play Hamlet implicates him with.

    I’ve always been struck by these lines:

    I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
    Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
    Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
    Thy knotted and combined locks to part
    And each particular hair to stand an end,
    Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:
    But this eternal blazon must not be
    To ears of flesh and blood. (1.5.14)

    I believe there is extant (I have seen it but no longer have the link), to a book in which the following appears.

    In the margin to the right of Leicester’s name, the scribe inserted a small sketch of the porcupine crest, the heraldic symbol of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

    Although the porcupine is also associated with Sir Phillip Sidney, it is difficult to imagine that the “blazon” to which the ghost alludes is that of Sir Andrew Auguecheek.

    In a rational world, this would be common knowledge among Shakespearean scholars. But since such a finding undermines our entire set of beliefs about the literary and historical contexts of *Hamlet*, it has of course been ignored for hundreds of years.

  19. William Ray says:

    Chilling, and this was Elizabeth’s honey? I didn’t realize that the porcupine was known in England, apparently so, at least by word of mouth. I came to a teepee in the wilderness one time and the residents (man and wife) had a dog whose whole snout, mouth, and face were full of porcupine quills. Three of us held the dog while the lady cut the quills with a scissors and pulled the shafts out with a pliers. Otherwise the dog would have died. He was half-dead by the time we finished. I guess Leicester was a troublesome little guy if that was his handle. Sussex called him “the Beast”. Don’t want to think about that too much. Alan may have missed his train to Monstrous Adversary. Have to be able to read English. Thanks for the background.

  20. Roger Stritmatter says:

    William I just noticed this comment – not sure why I missed it before in the last hectic few days, but yes, Leicester was a spooky guy, it seems. And it seems to me that the image from Hamletis telling that, at least, de Vere had the fantasy or imagination that he was somehow involved in his father’s death. I’m not sure its a literal truth, but figuratively it certainly seems to explain the imagery and symbolism (eternal blazon) of the play.

  21. Lurking Ox says:

    That is most interesting about the porcupine, Leicester and Hamlet. Sounds very strange and very familiar.

  22. As far as I can see – and I confess that, life being short, and energy limited, I have not read all relevant material – Prof. Holger Syme treats those of the Oxfordian persuasion as rational human beings, who hold a hypothesis he thinks wrong, but is willing to debate. I can live with ‘demonstrably misguided’ and may respond with, for instance, ‘based on dubious evidence and contradictory assumptions’; that is the currency of vigorous debate about different historical hypotheses. So I honour Prof Syme, who, like Mark Johnson, is one of those Stratfordians willing to engage in serious debate. I do NOT honour Prof. Shapiro’s character assassination approach, which tends to insinuations of insanity and crank theorising. ‘Minority view’ again is OK, and de facto obviously true, though a shift is clearly occurring. I believe that this research is a joint enterprise, in which honourable Stratfordians, for instance, will wish to give credit to well-argued material and enquiry presented by Oxfordians, and vice versa. For instance, almost certainly Stratfordians now have something to gain and learn from the mass of material Oxfordians have accumulated about the University Wits, whom FR Leavis and LC Knights recognised were crucial in the background of Shakespeare. And this includes, as Steven May recognised, Oxford as an Impresario figure. This is valid, whichever hypothesis one supports. One may disagree with someone’s conclusions, without treating them personally as mad or idiot. Now, again, accepting that we all have a degree of subjective slant in our positions and motivations, of which we need to take account, is not the same as systematic reductive ad hominem argumentation. Likewise, Bullough’s monumental study of sources is scholarship for all of us, though we may make different uses of it.
    So I am grateful to Professor Syme and appreciate his openness and rationality.

  23. PS as an instance of invaluable Oxfordian research, Nina Green’s website, though I by no means agree with her on all matters, has a mass of important material and connections, for instance about the University Wits, which she has hunted down indefatigably over years and years: http://oxford-shakespeare.com/

  24. These letters become better with age, my friends.

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