Authorship Skeptics are Anachronistic Thinkers

Posted By on October 30, 2011

The title page of "Shake-Speares Sonnets."

Not really.  Gotcha!

However, with Anonymous packing at least some theatres, moving some audience members to tears, and prompting spontaneous applause by others, the Stratfordian thought control machine has gone into overdrive.

One of the machine’s strongest arguments is that the Authorship Question began only 150 years ago.

Those anachronistic romantics looked back at Shakespeare and just didn’t have the willpower or self-discipline to avoid indulging in the subjective fallacy that Shakespeare must have been just like them.

This argument is a central plank in Shapiro’s Contested Will (2010), and many people –not having been challenged to think otherwise and finding the argument a convenient way of rationalizing continued allegiance to the Stratfordian myth —  apparently believe it.

No doubt. The argument supplies a convenient coat of fresh paint to the tired cliche that “if Shakespeare wasn’t written by Shakespeare it was written by somebody else with the same name.”

But before we go too far down this road, we may wish to acquaint ourselves with the contents of Shake-Speares Sonnets (as they are titled), first published in 1609 but not widely available to readers until the late 18th century.

For example, let’s listen in on Sonnet 71:

O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan
And mock you with me after I am gone. (71)

Orthodox Shakespeareans cannot explain why the author would warn against even “so much as my poor name” rehearsing. The theory that the authorship question is an anachronistic projection of the Romantics onto an early modern world lacking in subjectivity can be maintained only at the expense of treating the sonnets as fiction, as Shapiro insists we must do.

But look how the thought is extended in Sonnet 72:

O lest your true love may seem false in this,
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth (72)

Does that sound like a fiction to you? Why is this author making up a fiction that says “my name be buried where my body is”?

Is this  an illusion? How can we be reading something that by Shapiro’s own fiats can’t have existed — an authentic rendering of human subjectivity, somehow existing in the “wrong” century, according to the tradition of literary historians now represented so eloquently in Contested Will? Is the volume retro-dated by 300 hundred years?

Stephen Booth in his (in many ways) outstanding edition of the poems clarifies that this is a subjunctive exhortation. The author is exhorting his readers to bury his name along with his body!


The authorship question did not begin 150 years ago. It began sometime before 1609, when the sonnets were published — during the waning days of the reign of Elizabeth I, when the author was already lamenting the erasure of his name from history.

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 “Authorship Skeptics are Anachronistic Thinkers”

  1. […] references.  On the other hand, Oxfordian researchers such as Kositsky and Stritmatter are producing new evidence to show that ALL such references could have come from earlier events and […]

  2. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Thanks, Hank!

  3. John Heminges says:

    Gerard Eades Bentley points out in his book ”The Professions of Dramatist and Player in Shakespeare’s Time” :
    “Too often the assumption of the critic – generally tacit – has been that Elizabethan standards and values were those of his own time, and on these assumptions the critic posits the reputation or the response of Shakespeare or Marlowe or Heywood and of the audiences for which they wrote.”

    1 Handwritten notes – not strange … Women were not very often literate in that period, it being considered that reading and writing was not something that was necessary … Even if she was and her husband had sent her letters she would not necessarily have kept them and certainly they would not have been handed down to posterity. This is the first point where Mr. Emmerich shoots himself in the foot, because he says later that she was illiterate.
    2 Mr Emmerich says that William’s parents were illiterate. This is based on absolutely NO evidence. His father was an alderman and therefore a major figure in the administrative functions of the town. It is therefore impossible that his father was illiterate. He also says that his daughters remained illiterate. Again there is no evidence that this was the case. “Isn’t it strange that he wouldn’t want his children to read his plays and sonnets?” No. plays were not meant to be read, they were created to be performed. Nobody would have dreamed of reading a play at that period any more than people would want to read the scripts for “Sex and the City” now.
    3 Shakespeare “mocks” the working class and writes about the upper classes and Kings and Nobles. “Was Shakespeare a traitor to his own class?” asks Mr. Emmerich. I personally know several people from the lower classes who, once they have obtained a certain status, look down on their origins. It’s not the point however. The plays are about history and he was also writing to amuse the public. What better way than to create ridiculous figures of “fun”?
    4 The quality of Shakespeare’s penmanship based on the signatures. You should see my signature … totally illegible, as is many people’s. What a pathetic argument!
    5 “I believe that writing comes from the heart”. Not if you’re a professional it doesn’t. Writing comes from providing a product which the public wants. Are you going to say that the writers for “Sex and the City” believe the stuff that is in those scripts? Or that Mr. Emmerich himself believes the nonsense that is Godzilla?
    6 That he attended King Edward’s school is almost certain. As his father was an alderman, his son would have automatically been entitled to a place. And if you want to follow the argument that a writer writes from his own experience, there are many references to what it meant to be a schoolboy in a rigorous educational establishment in the plays. And Mr. Emmerich needs to do some research about what was taught in “grammar” schools in the period. Many university courses today in the classics do not cover the syllabus that would have been normal for a 13 year old at that time.
    7 When he retired and moved back to Stratford “he never wrote a single play or poem again”. He retired. He had been writing for a living. He had, thanks to rather astute and sometimes not entirely ethical investments, become relatively rich. Why continue working?
    8 No evidence that Shakespeare travelled beyond the borders of Britain. A third of his plays were set in Italy. Italy was very fashionable at the time (please, Mr. Emmerich do some research before you make statements like that). I once met a Cambodian who worked at the American Embassy told me the story of the last few hours as the Khmer Rouge advanced and the escape she made as the soldiers burst through the front doors. She went through the basement and ran, dodging bullets, to the helicopter that was waiting on the lawn. I vividly remember her story and her description of the basement of the building and could describe it to this day. If I used it in a play or a film, would you then call me a fraud as I could not possibly have been there to experience it myself? Mr. Emmerich seems incapable of doing research and assumes that Shakespeare would have been similarly handicapped.
    9 The Stratford monument. Again Mr. Emmerich doesn’t seem to understand the 17th century attitude to players, plays and playing. The status was the lowest of the low. The only status that would be comparable today would be a porn star. If you were a respected member of society, would you want to put up a monument to your activities as a porn star. The monument was indeed altered later when writing had become a respectable activity.
    10 His last will and testament. It kind of goes with n° 9. The last thing he would want is the other people in Stratford to know how he had made his money.

    As ever, the people who try to deny that Shakespeare from Stratford wrote the plays are highly selective about their research. Knowledge of The Courts, legal and medical terminology, other countries, are all things that one can find out if one is dedicated to one’s craft. As indeed are knowledge of glove making and leather working (many references in the plays) or the Warwickshire countryside. But I feel that it is much more reasonable that a lad from the provinces would do the research necessary to give credence to his plays – knowing that they were to be performed for Royalty and Nobility – than a noble would do the research to learn about glove making and leather working.

    And finally; These plays were written by someone who understood the theatre and what it means to be a player. They could never have been wrought by an amateur. As for The Earl of Oxford writing them, the uncomfortable fact that he died before a number of them were written (some of them contain contemporary references to events that happened after his death) notwithstanding … have you ever read any of the plays that he wrote and acknowledged? They are dreadful and very amateurish. They are never performed for very good reasons. He also had a reputation for being very arrogant and full of himself.
    I will refrain from drawing an obvious comparison.

  4. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Hello John.

    Thank you for your credo. I wasn’t sure from what you posted if you had read the blog entry to which you attach your comments, or not. Nothing in what you say has any tangible connection to what is written above. If you want to discuss something, please consult the FAQs on the site, and/or read the blog to which you are allegedly responding and frame your comments accordingly.

    I won’t be spending much time exchanging ideas with someone who shows no sign of having read at least some of the materials which are available here. You may be familiar with the tradition among the Greek educators of charging more to take on the education of someone already schooled by another tutor. Based on what you’ve written above, you can’t afford my fee.

    Best Wishes,


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