Vampirism, The Errors of Dr. Nelson, and the Stratford Birthplace Trust

Posted By on April 20, 2013

The Reverend Dr. Paul Edmondson, Vicar of the Stratford Birthplace Trust.

Lately I’ve been enjoying some late night reading from a pamphlet, written by the “Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson” — I put the name in quotes especially in honor of the “Rev.” part, since it lets the rest of us know just where we stand with the Reverend — and Dr. Stanley Wells, who I hold to be more of an innocent bystander than the chief culprit in the affair. It goes by the curious title of “Shakespeare Bites Back” — and boy does it ever bite.

According to Edmondson and Wells, in a chapter headlined “Sucking Shakespeare’s Blood,” the anti-Stratfordians are little better than Vampires on true scholarship:

Anti-Shakespearians we have met seem to be singularly lacking in a sense of humour, at least as soon as they start riding their hobby horses. They hardly smile, perhaps a characteristic of an obsessive mind. Dare to suggest that snobbery is a hidden agenda of the anti-Shakespearian movement (in its general propensity to offer aristocratic or university educated nominees, and you stand the risk of having your head bitten off, or being made to feel that you have caused offense. The Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory is an entirely parasitic, phenomenon, attacking the truth in order to feed off of its life-blood. Like all conspiracy theories, it has no independent life of its own and instead attaches itself, leach-like, to a healthy body.

Now, I confess.  I just love this stuff. Debate students know what it means when one side starts talking like that. And talk like that, they can’t seem to stop.

Edmondson’s alter-ego, either the man himself or some fellow traveler of similar merit, writing under the name of Saxon Red, played a major role in a recent online authorship altercation on The Guardian, that lasted seven days and eventually included 938 postings (transcript excerpt, here).

Saxon Red’s main debating point seems to have been that Alan Nelson, the gregarious Berkeley emeritus professor who has successfully parlayed his 2003 book, Monstrous Adversary:The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford into a reputation for being (among orthodox Shakespeareans of a certain persuasion), the greatest thing since sliced bread, is the answer to the Oxfordians.

Saxon Red comes across in the conversation like someone who fell off the beet truck just last week and is having trouble getting his bearings in the intellectual history of the last twenty years of authorship debate. In a fit of pique, after some of the failures of James Shapiro’s Contested Will had been pointed out, he retorted:

I suggest you read a book on Edward de Vere. Nelson is the place to start.

This is what I mean when I say that Saxon Red needs to take Bill Leahy’s remedial course in authorship studies 101, or maybe even follow in Professor Nelson’s footsteps by taking a vacation to Portland, Oregon.* He seems oblivious to the fact that the Oxfordians have been reading, and critiquing, Alan Nelson — for ten years now.

But Saxon Red, unambiguously ignorant of the history of the reception of Nelson’s profoundly prejudicial book, thinks that he can score points in online debate by mentioning Nelson’s name, as if waving about a white flag in the heat of battle will scare the enemy. When it was pointed out to him by St. Boniface that

If Nelson is the “eminent expert” on Oxford the article alludes to, be sure we’ll be having some fun,

Saxon Red retorted that

Nelson gave Oxfordians a lesson in what history actually is by doing the only decent academic research into their founding father, J. Thomas Looney (pron. Loo-Knee not, as Oxfordians contend, Low-knee). …

This is because Prof Nelson IS a historian.

Baiting an argument about the correct pronunciation of Mr. Looney’s name (who, if he is any authority on the pronunciation of his own name, has carefully instructed posterity that Saxon Red is an ignoramus) wasn’t enough for this intellectual pioneer on the forefront of Shakespearean studies.

Saxon Red went on to argue that “Monstrous Adversary is the only credible biography of Oxford” and claim that the book “quite clearly eliminates Oxford as the author of Shakespeare’s work.”

Along the way he seems to have missed the fact that Nelson doesn’t actually discuss Looney’s “Shakespeare” Identified (1920), mentioning him only in passing on p. 3 (where he states that the name is “pronounced Loanee”).  If Nelson did any “research into” Looney’s evidence or arguments, it sure doesn’t show up in the source Saxon Red cites. This, compounded with the fact that Nelson contradicts the one factual claim of Saxon Red (regarding the pronunciation of the name), might lead a skeptical reader to conclude that Saxon Red hasn’t read the book he’s recommending.

Either that or he forgets things very quickly.

To top off this list of first class bungles Saxon Red complains that any attempt to resist the characterization of Nelson as Oxford’s “only credible biographer” amounts to “ a truly unpleasant stench in the nostrils of scholarship” — and then, as if things couldn’t get any weirder, accused “Oxfordian resellers” of “conspiring” to inflate the price to of Nelson’s book to “£340” to keep it out of the hands of all those enthusiastic readers who would be set straight by it if they could only acquire a copy.

I must be in the wrong business — Why am I writing academic articles when I could be making a killing speculating on bad books on the Earl of Oxford?

At any rate, now you see why I think that Saxon Red and Paul Edmondson should get together for cost-effective tea and crumpets. I’m sure they’d have a lot to talk about. They could come up with new advertising slogans for Monstrous Adversary, and the jokes would be just out of this world.

I guess all this talk about sucking blood and the stench in your nostrils is the kind of rhetoric that $335 million dollar annual tourist revenues will buy you. For my part, though, I think Peter Moore was right. Not only can Nelson not do history, but Saxon Red needs to read a little more carefully, and think a little more coherently and credibly, before saying so much on the internet.

If the Stratford tourist industry, acting through its proxies at the Birthplace Trust, seriously thinks that they are going to fight the Oxfordians with the broken stick of Nelson’s Monstrous Adversary, then we are in for an entertaining scuffle.

That already didn’t work.

Tomorrow’s post: Just why Alan Nelson is not a credible historian and is certainly not — according to any reasonable definition of the phrase — doing “decent academic research.”


*Baltimore and, no doubt, other hubs are planning for imminent expansion, in the event that Concordia and Brunel have thrown in the towel prematurely on account of one or another compulsion from a sinister adverse party.

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.


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