Posted By Roger Stritmatter on May 21, 2016
As we all know, it unleashed the potential for communication and conversation across distances, language barriers, and many other factors of both space and time.
Its always seemed to me a good rule of thumb that having passionate discussion is be preferred over listening to a dull or uninformed speaker, or worse yet, a speaker who is both dull and uninformed, as sometimes happens when orthodox “Shakespeareans” decide to give public lectures without much advance preparation on the theory that what’s good enough to convince themselves is good enough to convince anyone. From that point of view, we are lucky to have the internet as a new venue for inquiry as well as socializing.
We are now well into the of the Folger library’s 2016 First Folio Tour, an event apparently coordinating with blessing and financial support of the the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Cincinnati Museum Center, and the American Library Association. I haven’t blogged about this event yet mainly because I’ve been hard at work preparing materials designed to elaborate on some of the many questions that the Folger is not answering in the Tour.
I don’t know how well the tour is doing, or how the organizers feel about its success with the public, but I would venture to suggest that the full damage to the reputation of the sponsoring organizations has yet to be felt, for reasons effectively outlined, it seems to me, in the Shakespeare Fellowship’s Special First Folio edition of Brief Chronicles (2016), available for free download from the Fellowship or in hard-copy from Amazon.
I don’t mean that the goal of using the First Folio to educate the public is a bad one, only that when you use a good idea for a bad purpose, succeeding more in indoctrinating people than in educating them, then I think you’re on the wrong side of the debate.
Unfortunately, the Folger has continued in recent weeks to show how dedicated it remains to an essentially atavistic view of scholarship on the topic of Shakespearean authorship. Problems are to be swept under the rug, not encountered; contrary voices are to be ignored or belittled, not engaged in respectful conversation; questions are no longer to be allowed at public lectures funded by public money, and so on and so forth. My list of First Folio Tour events worth blogging seems to get longer every day, and does include some pretty big names in the Shakespeare establishment.
Meanwhile there was a local kerfuffle over on the Facebook Shakespeare Forum, after I made the mistake of posting a link to the new SOF the “How I Became an Oxfordian” series edited by Bob Myers, President Emeritus of the National Press Foundation.
More specifically, I posted a link to the statement of my friend Earl Showerman, but from that link readers of the Shakespeare Forum — amounting to 4,500 persons, mostly affiliated with the theatrical dimension of Shakespeare studies — could read any of the now thirty testimonials in which various Oxfordians tell the story of how they became convinced there was an authorship question, and then came to understand that Oxford was, whether definitely or probably, the true author of the plays.
I should have known that Tom Reedy and the Oxfrauds would immediately appear, as if out of a puff of smoke, to spew their vile garbage within the Facebook community gathered in that discussion site. Unfortunately I can’t quote you from the ensuing conversation, which went on for some time, and became one of the longest, and no doubt in some respects at least most acrimonious, discussions on the Shakespeare Forum newsfeed.
I myself participated only briefly in the discussion shortly after the first wave of Oxfraud comments came rolling in, to repeat that my purpose had been to provide a link to a new source of information, and confirm that I had no interest in re-debating the fundamentals of the authorship question with persons unable to control their narcissistic verbiage in public. I had posted a link that I thought might interest readers on the site.
Many more messages flew back and forth until, unfortunately but understandably, the site founder and moderator Tylor Moss felt compelled to delete the entire thread, including my original post to Showerman’s statement.
The remarkable thing about this is how accurately Tom Reedy had foretold the fate of any discussion of authorship, especially a link to a provocative, entertaining, and credible account like Showerman’s.
As Reedy declared last January on the Shakespeare Forum:
I don’t know whose group this is, but I can tell you that if you continue to host anti-Stratfordian authorship discussions on this page they will soon crowd out everything else. Every thread will be hijacked and it will become just another authorship cesspool of ignorance.
This is what the Oxfrauds hired themselves out for, and they did it.
Remembering Reedy’s quote did remind me of a recent public event which ended in a similar Pyrrhic victory for the Stratfordian worldview. In that instance I was informed in a live audience by a local Stratfordian who, out of respect for his privacy, I need not name to make my point, that I must be an idiot who can’t see that the name “Shakespeare” appears attached to the works many times during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. The fact that those occurrences might require interpretation or cultural contextualization did not, of course, enter into the presenter’s consciousness or conscience. He lives in a world where he has the “facts” and the poor anti-Stratfordians only have “fantasies” or “interpretations.”
In an approximately 90 minute lecture this person assured his audience at least three times that not only does he emphatically not care about who wrote the works of Shakespeare (even though he is a Shakespearean director), but he’s also certain he knows who did write them, and that anyway anyone who disagrees with him must be deaf, dumb and blind as Helen Keller. Well, he didn’t actually say that in so many words — it was merely the logical and frankly unavoidable conclusion from he did say.
Here was a brilliant illustration of what Richmond Crinkley, then the director of Public Education for the Folger library during a brief-lived renaissance of critical thinking at the library, meant when he wrote way back in 1985 that if the dishonest and fallacious logic documented in Ogburn’s Mysterious William Shakespeare was any indication of the status of the mind in higher education, then we need to be worried about more than just “Shakespeare.”
The most interesting part of the evening, for me, was when Dr. Stratfordian said he thinks we don’t need any discussion about the authorship question. According to this theory, the authorship question is settled, and he can tell you why. Its funny how similar this is to the rhetoric coming out of the Oxfrauds these days. We don’t need no friggin’ discussion! That only leads to doubt, and where might that lead us?
Alas, this is what is passing for intelligent conversation even in my own city of Baltimore.
On the internet, one predictable effect of this “we don’t need to stinkin’ authorship question” stance is painfully visible on the SBT’s blog site, run by the Misfits, an internet startup company that splits its operations between selling itself as mother Theresa on roller blades and contracting with the SBT to organize an online presence and run various websites to promote the organization’s campaign against “doubting Shakespeare.”
I decided to run a quality control check on how well the Misfits are doing for the SBT. One of the main websites the Misfits operate is called Blogging Shakespeare. As you can see by these three screenshots, taken 5/21/2016, the SBT site looks like death warmed over.
Please click on the images to enlarge.
In all twelve front page SBT blog postings there are only 9 comments, and some of the blog entries go back to back over a year. Of those described as “New,” the most recent one is from October, 2015. Five of the comments are on the topic “Why Shakespeare Matters,” and one of those is mine, including my link back to the 13 years of back issues (2001-2013) of Shakespeare Matters (a name Bill Boyle came up with in 2001), to make the point that the Misfits and their SBT colleagues usually do not like to use footnotes and predictably fail to acknowledge the documents to which they are responding.
This absence of any living discussion at the SBT Blogger site is especially surprising considering that, from a technical point of view, the Misfits are good at what they are doing. The site design is pleasant, the images intriguing, and the topics certainly, in some cases, possibly of real interest.
Still, for a big, expensive, publicly supported “non-profit” website, 9 comments in two years sounds like a failure to me.
In fact, the SBT site seems “dead as a doornail” stuck into a closed door.
Any one of a number of Oxfordian blogs, those like Hank Whitemore’s or Stephanie Hughes’s, are eliciting mountains more comment interaction that the SBT/Misfit “Blogging Shakespeare” site. Of course, there are other measures of the success or failure of a website, but until the Misfits release the data, the comment stats are all we have to go on.
Even the loosely affiliated SBT/Misfits Oxfraud website seems to have more interactivity going on than the SBT Blog. If I were on the SBT board I would really be asking myself, “why is that?”
My theory is that the answer can be found in the quotation from Mr. Reedy above. If you want reader involvement, allow for authorship as part of the larger tapestry of discussion about the bard. Find some leaders who can actually lead the discussion forward and enforce some minimal standards of civility, especially for those carrying water for concealed interests like the SBT.
If, on the other hand, you want police state dogma, hire a gang of bullies to show up wherever the open exchange of ideas begins to break out, to cause trouble on the internet and force otherwise tolerant and open-minded moderators to shut down the discussion. In other words, first have them predict mayhem, and then, if that doesn’t work, have them make sure they create some!