Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Larger View of Lists of Oxfordians

Leslie Howard? No. Orson Welles? No. Charles Dickens? No. James Joyce? Probably not—none of the lists on which he appears attempts to offer any evidence to support the claim.

In the last two posts, I’ve argued that Orson Welles and Leslie Howard do not belong on the lists of famous people who hold the Oxfordian position on which they frequently appear. I could spend some more time debunking other names about which I am skeptical, but I’d rather make one last sweeping statement about them all.

The overarching problem with the lists is the logical fallacy known as “the appeal to unqualified authority.” The intent of the lists’ composers is to say that we should trust the Oxfordian’s view of the authorship question because various famous people hold that view. And they may very well hold that view—but holding the view and having the ability to speak authoritatively about that view are two different things.

The fallacy is the same perpetrated by many television commercials. A famous person may be hired to promote a particular kind of cereal; however, if that person isn’t also a fully-qualified nutritionist, he or she lacks the authority to speak about the nutritional value of the cereal.

Here are three sets of questions to ask of any list of Oxfordians:
  1. Do these people actually hold the views assigned to them? Is any evidence offered for the claim that they believe the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare? Does the evidence come from a reputable source? Does it come from more than one source?

  2. Do these people have the authority to speak on the subject? Are they historians or literary scholars who possess the authority necessary to comment on the question convincingly?

  3. Do the people on the list contribute to the argument in any way, or do they simply hold an opinion?
As a side note, I've found myself asking the same kinds of questions Oxfordians ask when they are skeptical of the evidence offered, and I'm wondering why they aren't asking the same questions: If Welles (for example) was an Oxfordian, where are the letters, diary entries, interviews, publications, or playbills connecting him to the theory?


4 comments:

shakespearesbeagle said...

Hi There,
It's sometimes claimed that Charles Dickens doubted that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote his plays. The only evidence for this I've ever seen is the following quote:
“It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking, that so little is known concerning the poet. The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery and I tremble every day lest something turn up.”
This passage can be read in different ways but it certainly not a statement of doubt in Shakespeare's authorship. In fact Dickens' support for Stratford is well documented. He visited the Birthplace and signed the window in the Birthroom, was involved in fundraising for the purchase of the house and organised and acted in a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor specifically to raise money for it.

Mark Johnson said...

Dickens did not deny, or even express any, doubt that Shakespeare of Stratford was the "true playwright." In fact, just the opposite is true. The lines that the anti-Stratfordians use in their attempt to justify this claim are taken from a June 13, 1847 letter to William Sandys, in which Charles Dickens wrote: "it is a Great Comfort, to my thinking, that so little is known concerning the poet. It is a fine mystery; and I tremble every day lest something should come out.” This is where the anti-Stratfordians typically stop quoting the letter, and they fail to include the very next line, which reads: “If he had had a Boswell, society wouldn't have respected his grave, but would calmly have had his skull in the phrenological shop-windows." This third sentence reveals quite obviously that Dickens thought the man from Stratford was the author.
If that is not enough, "All The Year Round" was a periodical edited by Charles Dickens. He wrote much of it, and edited what he didn't write. Check out page 490 from volumes 15-16:
http://books.google.com/books?id=TnQHAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA490&lpg=PA490&dq=shakespeare+stratford+%22Charles+Dickens%22&source=bl&ots=if8IaDPgBO&sig=DQokUPJeQeKrbWY5jR7JwtqUDL4&hl=en&ei=vUOrTfeCHKPZiALoxKXvDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false
This clearly demonstrates that the anti-Strats who claim Dickens as one of their own are incorrect...he was a Stratfordian.

kj said...

Thanks very much, shakespearesbeagle and Mark Johnson. I doubted that Dickens held the Oxfordian view--this seems to confirm that doubt. And I genuinely appreciate your taking the time to comment along these lines.

Anyone care to comment on James Joyce?

Take care!

kj

Mark Johnson said...

Dickens did not deny, or even express any, doubt that Shakespeare of Stratford was the "true playwright." In fact, just the opposite is true. The lines that the anti-Stratfordians use in their attempt to justify this claim are taken from a June 13, 1847 letter to William Sandys, in which Charles Dickens wrote: "it is a Great Comfort, to my thinking, that so little is known concerning the poet. It is a fine mystery; and I tremble every day lest something should come out.” This is where the anti-Stratfordians typically stop quoting the letter, and they fail to include the very next line, which reads: “If he had had a Boswell, society wouldn't have respected his grave, but would calmly have had his skull in the phrenological shop-windows." This third sentence reveals quite obviously that Dickens thought the man from Stratford was the author.
If that is not enough, "All The Year Round" was a periodical edited by Charles Dickens. He wrote much of it, and edited what he didn't write. Check out page 490 from volumes 15-16:
http://books.google.com/books?id=TnQHAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA490&lpg=PA490&dq=shakespeare+stratford+%22Charles+Dickens%22&source=bl&ots=if8IaDPgBO&sig=DQokUPJeQeKrbWY5jR7JwtqUDL4&hl=en&ei=vUOrTfeCHKPZiALoxKXvDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false
This clearly demonstrates that the anti-Strats who claim Dickens as one of their own are incorrect...he was a Stratfordian.

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Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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