The Authorship Agnostic: So You’re REALLY Sure Who Shakespeare Was, Eh?

First of all, a very important disShakespearequestionclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of any Anti-Stratfordian cult, group, organization, or sewing circle, including but not limited to a proponent of Oxford, Bacon, Neville, Marlowe, et al. (although I am historically, a fan of anything that promotes bacon the food group). In the interest of full disclosure though, and the purpose of this post, I am also not strictly a Stratfordian (those that are convinced that Shakespeare was in fact written by the guy with the really big forehead and bad haircut). I’m a Shakespearean Agnostic. I’m hoping to make a few of the reasons clear below.

What perplexes me is the vehemence of the arguments on both sides. Stratfordians (the vast majority of at least the vociferous critics) laugh at, scoff at, and more usually abuse, those that proffer their reasons that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, or Francis Bacon, or Christopher Marlowe or others was in fact the “one true author of Shakespeare’s writing”. I have certainly not read all of, or even the majority of, either side’s manifestos. The articles, books, papers, and lectures are in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. I have in fact seen arguments made for no less than 10 different people being the author(s). As well as dozens of refutations from Stratfordians.

But the key here is this: The refutations consist mostly of reasons why the Anti-Stratfordians’ arguments may not hold water (the bias against a ‘commoner’ knowing enough to write that well is just a bias; the lack of verifiable documents of/by Shakespeare himself is circumstantial, etc.), rather than any actual factual historical data. I’ve seen refutations that say we have no more “evidence” that Marlowe wasn’t Marlowe, or that Ben Jonson didn’t write what he was credited with, and so on. Okay, I’m personally also fine with that assumption. Not only is it impossible to prove a negative, the lack of genuinely primary resources can also fail to prove a positive.

As a fundamental example of a “refutation”, Tom Reedy and David Kathman wrote a well-shared article called “How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts”. In it, the authors cite things like: “The name William Shakespeare Appears on the Plays and Poems”. Well, if you assume ANY sort of intrigue, including that at the time, plays were not considered literature (a point that the authors themselves make in the same paragraph), and that a noble would not want his name associated with it, having a “mere actor” in a company the author of a collection of plays is hardly evidence of true authorship. In fact, the first six plays published in quarto were initially published without an author, and the first four of them NEVER had an original author name published. By Reedy and Kathman’s logic, does that mean that’s evidence that Shakespeare didn’t write those?

Two more pieces of “evidence” cited were the facts that we know that William Shakespeare was an actor, and that he lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Well, okay, we do in fact have some evidence of those facts. Neither of which sheds light on actual authorship.

Again, please remember, I am not advocating that I know or believe that the man we know as Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. Nor am I advocating anyone else’s name above anyone else’s for that honor. I do believe that someday we may have more significant historical evidence of who wrote it (hell, we found Richard III in a carpark in Leicester, England). I’m simply very content to go on reading, acting, directing, and loving the words. Whether they are Shakespeare’s, Oxford’s, Bacon’s, Marlowe’s, or anyone else’s, they are quite probably the best words, collectively, ever written in the English language. And quite possibly, any other language.

Incrimination Recriminations: Amend the Fifth, Don’t Plead it

First, what will become one variation of my mantra of choice: I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. While opinions here are in fact the opinions of management, I’m a really small company. Your mileage may vary.

“…(N)or shall (any person) be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself…”

Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

A pretty simple sentence, that has been the cornerstone of a lot of criminal trials and some significant legislation, most famously in “Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)”, which says that upon arrest, you have the right to be told that anything you say can and will be used against you, and that you are entitled to legal representation before speaking. That got me to thinking: We’ve all seen accounts of, or heard of, drug busts, organized crime arrests, white and blue-collar crime alike, that have used wiretaps or other voice-gathering equipment to secure convictions of those arrested.

It’s probably safe to say that virtually none of those suspects had waived their fifth amendment rights, and, even when those wiretaps were legally authorized, all of the suspects had reasonable expectation of privacy (their own home, office, etc.). Can a judge authorize a warrant voiding a suspect’s Miranda rights (and no, I’m not referring to the Patriot Act, that’s a whole nother kettle of fish)? And yet, when a legally admissible wiretap shows the suspect agreeing to hire a hitman, or buy/sell drugs, or embezzle, said suspect is in fact incriminating him or herself. The right to avoid self-incrimination is pretty useless, until after the suspect is arrested and in custody. A whole branch of investigative criminology is based on trapping the suspect, or making him incriminate himself, or otherwise being a witness against himself, if only by violations of that expectation of privacy.

Along with the hypocrisy of this, we also treat the client/lawyer privilege differently as well. If the prosecutor presents a taped conversation of the accused confessing to his lawyer, he would be laughed out of court, if not disbarred. If he presents a taped conversation (with warrant), of the same confession to his private secretary, it is likely admissible – even when he had that same expectation of privacy.

A really important distinction for me in this though: I DO think that justice is justice, and people doing bad things should get locked up. I simply believe we shouldn’t pretend we’re providing “protections” that we aren’t. And, more importantly perhaps, that we should NOT be providing. I’ve never quite understood why we don’t treat confessions the way we treat wiretapped evidence: As long as it’s obtained legally (i.e. without the notoriously unreliably and illegal torture), there should be no protection against self-incrimination. Don’t want to get caught? Don’t do it. Amend the Fifth, get rid of the self-incrimination clause, and treat evidence as evidence.

Be Careful, Your Children Might Just Get the Education You’re Enabling

No profit grows where no pleasure is ta’en – In brief, sir, study what you most affect.                          

William Shakespeare

One of the drawbacks to being an older adult who has returned to work in Educational and Curriculum Design as well as Teaching after having first gone to school during the time between the Kennedy and Carter administrations  is that my first reaction to the state of the current educational system tends to sound like it comes from the guy that screams at your kids to stay off of his lawn all summer long. You know the type. The one that begins every third sentence with “When was in school… yadda yadda yadda”.

Oddly enough, with the money getting tighter and the technology branching out, we have two entirely different things going on: More kids are dropping out, and the ones that are not, are competing harder than ever to get into the best colleges. The problem with the former group is obvious. But the latter group is becoming an increasing problem “out in the world” as well. From the abomination that is “No Child Left Behind” (more about NCLB is a post for another day) to Common Core (also all kinds of problems, but then again, babysteps), the problem in trying to figure out who gets the limited finances available at the state level was dealt with by standardizing not only the tests, but the expectations.

On the surface, it’s a tidy little solution: We now have “STANDARDS”. We test the students, we match the matrix, we dole out money. Never mind a few little complications like:

  • We are giving the same lesson designed for an at-risk teen in Harlem or East Compton as we are for an affluent resident of Central Park West in New York, or a student who grew up on a farm in Ottumwa, Iowa . A noble idea, but with a little flaw: These three groups do not have the same readiness or support system. They are culturally as different as can be, and the same teaching techniques, curricula, and learning objectives will frustrate one group and bore another.
  • We teach ONLY these test answers, so that learning doesn’t in fact take place, just rote memorization.
  • We restrict money to schools (and thus to teachers, administrators and school programs) based on these scores, so schools have even taken to cheating, or at the very least, to contemplate cutting corners.

But we have so much more available to us in the way of options these days. We have the ability to Differentiate how we teach our students. Simply put, that means we figure out how to increase the number of ways we teach, the number of ways we assess, and the number of ways we challenge the next generation. New technology tumbles out every week from all over the world, not just Silicon Valley: new research is done every year about how we learn as a species; and new social media evolves to tie both together.

In the coming days and weeks, we’ll look at some of these alternatives, their advantages and disadvantages, and things we can do. One student, one parent, one educator at a time.