Wednesday, March 23, 2016

It Matters That People Who Have Been To School Come Out Believing Myth Is Reality

The fine and rigorous scholar Diana Price's article on the issues of the "Hand D" section of Thomas More was published last week, which leads me to suspect that its imminent publication might have had something to do with the timing of the Folger Folio tour and the shilling of the alleged Shaksper(e) manuscript-authorship that is also being promoted on public radio, in print and other places.  At this point, with many scholars taking a harder look at the only real evidence available  on the authorship question, investigating past claims made about that evidence, the response of the Shaksper(e) industry isn't to present new evidence or even new arguments because there are none. They respond with invective against those who practice the standards of modern scholarship and strategically timed public relations stunts.  Such is not the practice of people whose position is sound and secure.

For anyone who has read her work in the past the depth of Ms. Price's article won't be a surprise, though it is something to behold.  The rigor with which she discovers the accepted standards and practices of trying to determine the identity of hand writing and applies them is breath taking, if your breath is taken by that level of dedicated scholarship.  And that's only the start of what she does in the article.

Of all the scholars I've read on this issue, Diana Price is the one who I fully believe that if she found proof-positive that invalidated her past work that she would present it in full.  So far, the evidence doesn't do that.  Shaksper(e) of Stratford is still without a literary record that isn't constructed on the practice of wishful thinking and misrepresenting both details of and the full range of evidence available.

It is best to read her article to show all of the ways in which the arguments made by conventional Stratfordian promoters have bent, twisted, invented rules and methods and broken those when they don't serve their end, of supporting Shaksper of Stratford as the author of the plays and poems.  A couple of examples will serve to show that Ms. Price's own method consists of being honest about those.  For example, after a discussion showing that different orthodox Stratfordian scholars disagree about how William Shaksper spelled his name, not only in the differently spelled signatures but even for any one of the few signatures.

Further, the palaeographers in the early 1900s disagreed among themselves as to the spellings in the signatures.  With respect to signature n. 1, Thompson spells it Willm Shaksp (1923, 59; a line over the letter m indicates abbreviation); Sidney Lee spells it Willm Shak'p (1968, 519); C.W. Wallace (who discovered the signature) spells it Willm Shaks (1910, 500); C.J. Sisson spells it Shak - with no s or p, the hypen indicating abbreviation (1961, 77n1); Tannenbeum cannot be sure whether it is Wlm or Willu and Shakper or Shaksper (1925, 157).

Faced with that, she not only comes to a conclusion but she poses several different possible consequential results which that disagreement forces

If it is not possible to agree on the spelling of a signature and if spellings and letter formations and methods of writing differ from signature to signature, how can any one of those signatures serve as an exemplar?  Which one is to be chosen as the standard against which any of the others are compared and either accepted or rejected?  Or are all of them to be accepted in all their variations by virtue of their presence on the legal documents?

Clearly, if reason and disinterested investigation are supposed to rule the matter, any such ambiguity would drastically reduce the reliability of such a thing as evidence on which to make an honest comparison with the writing of "hand D" in order to make the case that Shaksper of Stratford wrote that section of Thomas More.   But that isn't what its promotion as the one and only literary artifact left by him is based on.

And, with other issues, such as various scholars making arguments reducing the number of signatures that constitute their comparison sample from the pathetically inadequate six signatures to as few as three, if not fewer*, it soon reaches the point where the only rational and honest conclusion you can draw is that they, actually, have NO adequate sample to begin making that comparison, never mind drawing a conclusion that can constitute honest scholarship.

Another discussion in Ms. Price's paper that I particularly found useful was the argument based on the spelling of the word silence as "scilens" in both an early printed Quatro of 2 Henry IV (as the name of a character) and in the "hand D" passage.  She shows that far from being an "authorial choice" the use of the argument is based on the most selective of selection from what the entire evidence of variations in spelling of that word in both document shows.  And it is a claim made by a member of the Stratford establishment - who I will not name - on the radio last week, it is apparently what they consider one of their stronger ones,

In dialogue, as a speech prefix or as a stage direction, the Justice's name is spelled Scilens eighteen times, Silence three times, and Silens nineteen times (as well as in abbreviated form in the cancelled leaves).  The variations mean that a particular preference of spelling cannot be argued, regardless of whose supposed 'preference' it might represent - author's, scribe's, compositor's, or editor's.  

In the Hand D Additions, the word scilens at line 59 is an interjection, not a proper name, and the world "silenced' at line 78 is spelled by D as sylenct.  Similar but not identical variations are found in the 1611 manuscript of The Second Maiden' Tragedy which contains four instances of silence and three instances of scilence. 

After another paragraph of discussion on other instances of the "Shakespearean spelling" used as an argument for "hand D" being that of Shaksper of Stratford Diana Price says

In essence, to identify this 'Shakespearean' spelling, scholars are comparing a rare spelling of a character's name, found multiple times amongst  two other spellings of the same word, in a quarto produced by compositor using unknown printer's copy, with a single instance of the rare spelling found in a manuscript penned by a (possibly authorial) scribe.

On such intellectual quicksand is based pretty much the entire Stratfordian endeavor, the massive corpus of scholarly assertion, supposition, angry advocacy and required, enforced academic orthodoxy, on such is the entire Shakespeare industry, its Stratford base and all of its satellite institutions. built.  And all of that informs the popular conception, especially that of those who have been to college but who can believe with all their hearts that such fiction as Shakespeare in Love is largely if not in total, biography.   If we're no more interested in whether or not what we believe is real than ignorant people who imagine the people they see on TV sit-coms and cop-operas are real, what does it mean to be educated?   What does it mean to be "modern"?

The longer I look at this phenomenon the more shocking it is that, today, when so much of if not all of scholarship sells itself as practicing scientific methods and standards of research a close look finds it is, actually, based on open suppression of the rigorous investigation of what is angrily asserted are "settled questions" of just this kind.   I have found in the several instance that I've looked into such "settled questions" that where they are often settled by even the officially official educated population is often mired in just such selective reporting of evidence and massive filling in with constructed myth, argument from authority based in that constructed myth and a rigid, punitive enforcement of that orthodoxy.

I believe it was Paul Feyerabend who documented that, for all our modern pretenses of unfettered scientific inquiry into all questions, of academic freedom to follow the evidence wherever it leads, that we are, actually, less open to questioning than many of the scholars and even institutions of late medieval Europe, what we deride as the "dark ages".  When seen for what it is, this issue becomes an important one in determining the health of academic life and it is obviously not well.   The attitude of the orthodox Stratfordians seems to me to be very and importantly unShakespearean, if by that you mean what is contained in the contents of the plays.  What would "Hamlet" have been like if the prince had just gone along with Horatio's conventional interpretation of what they saw?

* Read about the disagreement on whether or not the Stratford man wrote the words "By me William" on one of the pages of the will to see more on why they really don't have any sample on which to base a comparison with the "hand D" section of Thomas More.

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