Reinventing Your Very Own Shakespeare Journal – A “How To” Guide

Posted By on August 24, 2014

Professor Gary Taylor (Florida State), formerly  the Jr. Partner of the dynamic duo of Oxford University Press editors of the icronically titled Taylor and Wells”Oxford Shakespeare” and author  — I kid you not, dear reader — of Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the Present — and GTE documentary 1993 authorship veteran, has really put his foot down now. Taylor may handle his books with kid gloves, but there’s no telling which ones the affable scholar will throw at you if you, gasp,…..question Shakespeare.

Reinvent him, sure, all you want!  But question him, put him to the test you would apply to every other biographical subject and biographer – no way!

Nope, if the Oxfordians thought they were getting any cakes with their ale, well, you can forget about that now.

There’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s going to put things right.

Orthodox Shakesperoticians, using Taylor as their front man, have just scored a heroic victory over the forces of anarchy by the Oxfordians and their skeptical sympathizers (a group not to be overlooked as unimportant in themselves).

In a recent communique to the OxFreudian Dr. Waugaman, the good Professor Taylor assumes personal responsibility for the recent game of editorial musical chairs at the freshly-minted Renaissance journal Memoria di Shakespeare, an international journal of primarily Italian sponsorship,  which was showing disturbing signs of imminent defection into the unauthorized field of “open discussion” — something which, let me inform the reader, in Shakespeare studies, we do not like.

The Stratfordologists, in short, were starting to lose control of the narrative, and Dr. Taylor was happy to serve as volunteer point man to rollback the trouble. The entire sordid chapter in its essentials with full documentation can be read in Linda Theil’s excellent recent review, to which I am much indebted, “Gary Taylor sez Waugaman is as unconvincing as holocaust deniers.”

It seems that sometime over the past year or two, former Memoria editors Luciana Piré and Mario Valenti had made the really big blunder of inviting Waugaman, along with David Ellis, an independent critic of many Stratfordian fallacies, to contribute to the volume’s 2015 special issue on “Shakespeare Biography.”

After all, the Folger library and the NEH were sponsoring a conference on “Problems in Shakespearean Biography.”

Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to publish some pioneer scholars on the topic of “problems in Shakespearean biography”? Scholars like Ellis or Waugaman, who are in my opinion at least, perhaps ten years ahead of the standard practitioners of Shakespearean biography.

The uneducated person might inadvertently suppose, wholly without justification it transpires, that such a journal at such a time and place would rationally begin to consider the possibility that there may be more than one solution to the  “problems,” and might even undertake the slow but inexorable task of constructing a more inclusive process of discussion than the one found at institutions of orthodox Shakespeare studies such as the character-assassinating, or the “what, me worry?” Birthplace Central, or other web-based initiatives of the Stratford-upon-Avon-industrial-educational complex’ advertising budget.

But no.

Here is how the good Professor Taylor explained to Waugaman why the two previous editors of the volume had been sacked (or at least temporarily pushed aside in a little mini-couplet),  why Waugaman’s already accepted — indeed actively solicited — article had been trashed without notice or rationale, and why Taylor ipse had assumed the helm of authority at the beleaguered but aptly titled,  Memoria di Shakespeare:

This change is due to my own involvement in the volume. The editorial board was concerned about some of the contributions invited by the previous co-editors. I agreed to help by stepping in, with Professor Colombo, as new co-editor. But my acceptance was conditional on rejection of certain contributions, like yours, which seem to me profoundly unscholarly, and which would have the effect of undermining the credibility and status of other contributions to the volume.

Unlike Stanley Wells, I don’t live in Stratford, do not belong to the Birthplace Trust, have never had a job in Stratford, have never been a trustee of the RSC; my objections to your position about Shakespeare’s biography cannot be described as in any way institutional or based on a conflict of interest. I simply find your reasoning, and your evidence, as unconvincing as those of Holocaust deniers, and other conspiracy theorists.

I understand that you are chagrined about the change of policy at the journal. But the previous co-editors, who contacted you, were themselves guilty of a breach of good faith, in committing the journal to positions conflicted with the intentions and desires of the journal’s founders.

Gary Taylor

In his response to this contemptuously erudite missive Dr. Waugaman showed himself an able opponent, even noticing and calling attention to the ugly implications of a substantially British educated American seizing editorial control of a journal started primarily by Italian scholars and with an express intent of reaching, among others, other Italians, the coup even extending to the tacit consent of other Italian editors, to discourse on their behalf about what an evil people the Oxfordians are, all  as a way to try to explain away a highly irregular editorial procedure that, were it known to be true of a journal in the sciences, would cause irreparable damage to the publication’s standing and reputation.

O, and by the way, those editors you talked to, they were “guilty of a breach of good faith” because they wanted to talk to Dr. Waugaman.

Scholars are not supposed to characterize evidence of which they are ignorant, let alone compare those in possession of that evidence with holocaust — or even moon landing– deniers simply because they find them vaguely frightening and can’t be bothered to read something that is not designed to reconfirm their existing prejudices. Or did I miss the new rules?  Maybe its time some of those esteemed Italian scholars, whose intellectual lives will hardly be diminished, but on the contrary greatly enriched by,  the experience, start to find out what Dr. Taylor is so scared about.

Here’s how Dr. Waugaman begins the explanation:

Dear Professor Taylor,

Thank you for your prompt and candid reply. Given what you regard as the “profoundly unscholarly” nature of my article, I am grateful that you have spared me the embarrassment of having it published.

After all, its unscholarly quality would be obvious to all who read it, so that its publication would do grave injury to the credibility of the post-Stratfordian viewpoint which I seek to promote.

Thank you also for your generous efforts on behalf of Italian Shakespeare scholarship. I really do not see this as intellectual imperialism. As politically incorrect as it may sound, the fact is that certain Mediterranean countries are not yet fit to manage their own scholarly publications. It’s only thanks to globally responsible U.S. academics such as you that they are saved from humiliating themselves.

From what you say, the previous editors’ lapse in judgment in inviting me to update my article was only one of the reasons they have been removed. I only hope they will learn a lesson from this experience. In fact, I suspect that everyone in academics who learns of this story will develop a new respect for the high scholarly standards of the community of Shakespeare scholars, who know when academic freedom needs to be set aside, in the interests of defending Shakespeare from conspiracy minded detractors. Now I come to my other publications, which I fear may also be unscholarly.

I leave it to you to judge. If you conclude that the editors of Notes & Queries; The Renaissance Quarterly; Cahiers Élisabéthains; and psychoanalytic journals too numerous to mention also failed in their editorial responsibilities to the founders of their respective journals, I implore you not to demand their resignations also. Just notify me which of my other 140 publications are unscholarly, and I will promptly and cheerfully retract them.I do fully understand your concern that publishing my article might undermine the credibility of other— Stratfordian— contributions to the volume. In fact, that was precisely my intent— to undermine the status and credibility of all Stratfordians. You were quite perceptive to recognize this.
Carl Sagan once said, “The reasoned criticism of a prevailing belief is a service to the proponents of that belief; if they are incapable of defending it, they are well advised to abandon it… Any substantive objection is permissible and encouraged; the only exception being that ad hominem attacks on the personality or motives of the author are excluded.”

But Carl Sagan is no doubt guilty himself of being profoundly unscholarly in the foregoing statement, if he had the audacity to think it could possibly apply to the illustrious ranks of Shakespeare scholars. Even when they choose especially offensive ad hominem attacks.

It has been only four months since both Stephen Greenblatt and Jonathan Bate apologized to me for having compared post-Stratfordians to Holocaust deniers. And now you make that repulsive comparison yourself. I can only assume your emotions have over-ridden your common decency. I know one fellow Oxfordian who lost more than 70 relatives in the Holocaust, and he finds that comparison especially disgusting.

Richard M. Waugaman, M.D.

Waugaman later told Linda Theil, whose article reviewing these questions is required reading for the student of authorship:

I’m delighted that a prominent Stratfordian has taken dead aim at us and has then shot himself in the foot. There’s now no doubt that for diehard Stratfordians like Gary Taylor, academic freedom means the freedom for them to silence dissent. We will no longer tolerate this.

The cogency of Waugaman’s critique depends on an experience that most Oxfordians, sooner or later, go through, of the intellectual imperialism of the Stratfordian status quo ante, the hegemony of its methods and social relations, not to mention the implicit and rarely examined belief that it carries behind it the authority of English tradition that should no more be doubted than the Americans should doubt apple pie or the flag. Anyone who does doubt it is a moron — or, what is worse, an idealist.

It is sobering to open one’s email inbox and realize how much the signs point toward an increasingly imminent collapse of some of the prime bulwarks of the Stratfordian belief. A revolution George Greenwood anticipated a hundred years ago is finally nearing fruition by means of the bumbling attempts of Stratfordian authorities to stem the tide of discussion, utilizing  some of the more grotesque violations of due process known to modern academia. And this, nearly a year after William Neiderkorn had warned them in print that

In the field of Shakespeare studies, there are two factors that impede progress. One is credulous allegiance to eroded scholarship. The other is quasi-religious fervor for biographical dogma. These two tendentious impulses have had unfortunate consequences for academic discourse…..

Perhaps one of Dr. Taylor’s graduate students dropped the memo accidentally; perhaps, even,  for fear of getting a bad grade, she had simply resolved that it was a thing of small consequence to “know your enemy.”  Perhaps, on the other hand, our Stratfordian colleagues primarily need to be reminded of the rather omnipresent Shakespearean theme of the danger of an excess of unexamined territorial ambition. Territory is the state of mind where every exile meets in solemn conversation. You cannot get it, let alone hold it, by force alone.

For their part, the Oxfordians may wish to contemplate the extent of the concerted if largely concealed effort that must have gone on behind the scenes to produce the observed results in this next chapter in the historical process of “Reinventing Shakespeare.” How did we get to the point at which Gary Taylor was forced to respond in place of Pire and Valenti to Waugaman’s query about the fate of his publication?

Our impression of the possible significance of this line of inquiry may be confirmed by the fact that both previous issue editors are, as of of today, 8/24/2014 at 1:14 pm, still listed on the journal’s masthead as two of four general “editors” — not, in other words as mere editorial staff or advisory board members — while Gary Taylor’s name does not appear at all on the journal’s policy statements even as a “sponsor” of the publication.

Pardon a question Columbo might ask, but “where did he come from?”

What protocols and considerations guided those who hired the new editor? How long is Dr. Taylor’s expected tenure?

Did those who complained of the “unscholarly” nature of Professor Waugaman’s work prefer rational arguments based on facts, or did they conduct themselves more along the lines of an open tent revival punctuated by brief but terrible outcries about the evil pens of the Oxfordians?

May we be assured that Dr. Taylor  is qualified to weed out each and every forged submission, even those products of an antic disposition that might seem to be loyal and yet may not, in fact, be so? Will wit be thoroughly and efficiently whipped out of court at the Great Universities?

Really, now.

As Waugaman sagely suggests, Italian Shakespeare scholars, along with those in France, Germany, India, Japan, and Latin America — to mention only a few of the most important and active “international” scholarships on “Shakespeare” — may wish to reassess their relationship to those, like Taylor & Wells, who think they should be in charge but who when questioned closely can’t really say why.

If its all just reinvention, anyway, perhaps these scholars, with no reason to defend an English national myth, will decide to reinvent their relationship with “my way or the highway” colonialists like Taylor & Wells.

The history of ideas is full of grand paradox.

The man Milton, no doubt not without his own ironical wink, eulogized as “warbling his wood notes wild,” was also the man of whom Rosaline laments: “you have sold your own lands to see other men’s.” These are the two sides of the legend, like the sides of a tuppence: The native and the gypsy. An international traveler of some repute, our man jousted in Palermo, toured northern Italy, built a house in Venice, had table talk with Sturmius, brought back Cardanus Comforte and a host of other continental influences that contributed to the Shakespearean style of thought and may have even met Cervantes.

Why should such a man be held captive by the limited imaginations of Dr. Taylor’s enablers? In his words, they assume the pretentious burden of  interpreting Shakespeare exhaustively and professionally, simultaneously deploying their ad hoc, conjured-out-of-thin-air powers, employing their pseudo-legal language to silence doubt and censor international discussion, as Professor Taylor has just done.

For shame, Professor Taylor, for shame.

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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