Crazy Logic, Intuitive Logic: Response to Stephanie Hopkins Hughes:

Thu, 25/02/2010 - 14:02 -- Heward Wilkinson

Crazy Logic, Intuitive Logic: Response to Stephanie Hopkins Hughes:

hopkinshughes Says:
February 24, 2010 at 10:01 am | Reply edit
It only takes a little investigation to strip William of Stratford of any “intuitive” appeal he might have. I’d say his “appeal” is nothing more than old-fashioned inertia and peer pressure. If everyone you know insists that the sky is orange, it takes a good deal of pig-headed clarity to stick to one’s “intuition” that it is, in fact, blue, not orange.
Writers write. If the man from Stratford could write we’d have examples of his writing. No writer from that time or any other would leave behind no examples of his writing beyond six childish attempts to sign his name on legal documents. No amount of “intuition” will get you past an anomaly that size. There’s a mystery there, and a rational explanation, which studying the times resolves.
Stephanie Hopkins Hughes:

Dear Stephanie
The momentum in the Oxfordian case today, with the reactions to it in Stratfordian territory, - for instance in the tacit abandonment of the ‘art for art’s sake’ idea of there being no connection between the author and his works, and the consequent plethora of ‘racy’ biographical reconstructions, - makes me feel that its being a Stratfordian today which is beginning to be the ‘crank’ position.

The thing about being a crank is that, whilst there is always the risk of excessive speculation, the more cranky person may be willing to pursue paths, to which the person concerned with conformity to conventional orthodoxies may be closed, and which may turn up a true discovery.

One has to avoid ‘guilt by association’ thinking as far as possible, if one is to be a true detective enquirer! There is something about orthodoxies, and the need for orthodoxy, which prevents creative thinking, thinking outside of the conventional. And I fear there is a developing orthodoxy in the Oxfordian position today, which makes it unable to grasp the possibility that the best way to an understand the flaws in a position is to make as powerful and sympathetic as possible an attempt to understand it from inside. Respectfully, I think your reaction illustrates this.

At the risk of being tedious, and of going into apparent minutiae the common reader will wish to brush aside, I must show why the waters are muddier than your reaction suggests.

Yes, those defences of the Stratford case, which simply dismiss the minority positions, defences which will not admit any reasonable doubt, are of course contemptible. They invite a mirroring orthodoxy on the Oxfordian side. Any self-respecting cautiously sceptical Stratfordian today ought to be willing to sign the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt:

It is evident to any serious enquirer that there is a problem, because of the huge gaps in, and ambiguities in, the evidence. That means that, on all sides, there has to be recourse to circumstantial evidence, and unifying hypotheses, with ne’er a smoking gun anywhere in sight, though mirages of smoking ordnance are ever with us.

The best defences of the Stratfordian position are those by creative people whose positions may have elements of ‘crank’ thinking. The price of not admitting the crank elements in ones own thinking, is that one is then unaware of the irrational elements in the orthodoxy one then upholds. And there are too many people whose testimony comes from depth, on the Stratfordian side, for it to be dismissed as easily as you do. It is, for instance, clear that John Keats, our most Shakespearean poet, was a Stratfordian. He wrote to BR Haydon (Keats Letters, 10/11 May 1817)
‘I remember your saying that you had notions of a good genius presiding over you. I have of late had the same thought – for things which I do half at random are afterwards confirmed by my judgment in a dozen features of Propriety. Is it too daring to Fancy Shakspeare this Presider?’
And John Middleton Murry, in his great book on Keats and Shakespeare, clearly agrees, but also implicitly admits the problem, because he takes Keats as his mediator with Shakespeare, as it were, thus tacitly acknowledging the gap in our knowledge. There are many many other examples, in a narrative I could develop far.

And conversely, despite the ever-increasing accumulation of circumstantial material, there are prima facie problems with the Oxfordian position that make it not a knock out argument.

I am going to assume that the main contenders are the Oxfordian and the Stratfordian claims. And my position, as a sceptical Stratfordian, is that key elements in our knowledge are lacking, and therefore that there is room for personal predilection and intuition in making a choice – either way. It seems to me the enemy of truthful enquiry here is dogmatism on either side – what if we just don’t know!?

For instance, how on earth can we settle the argument over who the Upstart Crow was, in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit of 1592?
Yes, we can certainly see that Chettle’s response in Kind Heart’s Dreame cannot refer to the same person as the Crow, as Charlton Ogburn pointed out
and as, indeed, nearly all Stratfordian commentators fail to note.

For he addresses three playwrights to warn them about an actor:
“To those gentlemen, his quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in making plays, R.G. wisheth a better exercise, and wisdom to prevent his extremities”, and the famous passage is:
“Base-minded men, all three of you, if by my misery you be not warned, for unto none of you (like me) sought those burrs to cleave, those puppets (I mean) that spake from our mouths, those antics garnished in our colours. Is it not strange, that I, to whom they all have been beholding, is it not like that you, to whom they all have been beholding, shall (were ye in that case as I am now) be both at once of them forsaken? Yes, trust them not, for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you, and being an absolute Johannes factotum is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. O that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses, and let those apes imitate your past excellence and nevermore acquaint them with your admired inventions. I know the best husband of you all will never prove an usurer, and the kindest of them all will never prove a kind nurse; yet, whilst you may, seek you better masters, for it is pity men of such rare wits should be subject to the pleasure of such rude grooms.”

So the Crow is not one of the three. So when Chettle follows up, in Kind Heart’s Dreame:
“With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I never be. The other, whom at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that as I have moderated the heat of living writers, and might have used my own discretion (especially in such a case), the author being dead, that I did not, I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault, because myself have seen his demeanour no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes. Besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that approves his art.”
This is perhaps the third playwright, whom Greene originally referred to in the words:
“And thou no lesse deseruing than the other two, in some things rarer, in nothing inferiour; driuen (as my selfe) to extreme shiftes, a litle haue I to say to thee: and were it not an idolatrous oth, I would sweare by sweet S. George, thou art vnworthy better hap, sith thou dependest on so meane a stay.”
- the second being, according to the Stratfordians, Shakespeare, this is clearly illogical.

So far so good. There is a central corpus of basic logic, which it is hard to get away from, once it is noticed, in these matters – yes, even here!

But then we find that Ogburn himself says that this is when we pick up the trail of the man who was Shakespeare. And Nina Green argues that this is where Oxford switches persona from Greene to Shakespeare. And you yourself agree on this:

And Chettle heads his piece of writing:
“Delivered by several ghosts unto him to be published after Pierce Penilesse' post had refused the carriage.”
Pierce Pennilesse being plausibly identifiable, on one line of argument, as Oxford:

Both yourself and Nina Green believe that this is actually where the seed of the cover-up was planted.

So, on that interpretation, the ostensible reference to the Upstart Crow has indeed to be interpreted as a reference to an actor who is becoming a writer. For other Oxfordians it is paramount that this reference is not accepted as one to an actor who is in the process of becoming a writer, because then they would be faced with an early reference, very likely to William Shakespeare of Stratford, but in any case to an actor who is becoming a writer, the very connection they wish to prevent.

So the interpretation of this key reference becomes completely murky. Now obviously you will have narratives and explanations in response to this. But can you not see that to outsiders this is problematic, not to say discrediting, of the clarity of the Oxfordian position? Can you not see that we are without a consensus base here, and that vehement assertion does not improve the situation?

And, of course, for the mockers from the gallery, like Oliver Kamm and his acolytes, the multiplication of pseudonyms makes for rich opportunities for ridicule:

I am of course not denying that several Oxfordian scenarios, in your word, can be run. And I am not denying they are compelling. What I am arguing is that compelling scenarios can also be run for William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author.

Note that we speak of scenarios, in the plural, here. For instance, with growing strength nowadays, there is the Catholic William Shakespeare scenario, where my own sympathies lie, and which connects with an understanding which may place him in the milieu of that very important figure, Ferdinando, Lord Strange, 5th Earl of Derby, and elder brother of William 6th Earl of Derby, the to-be son in law of Oxford, in the 1580s:

It is attractive because it does makes sense, in a different way, as the Burgherish Stratfordian does not, of the tragic relationship between the writer and his works. If we take seriously this scenario we may be led to question also whether it is so obvious, as Oxfordians assume, that William Shakespeare was near-illiterate, and then (even if from an undeniably cranky source, in certain ways) whether in fact we do only have 6 examples of his handwriting:

And I am also aware that the length of this post is becoming prohibitive. So I shall leave it there for now. Thank you for your response!


Hello Heward,

Whenever you may be so inclined, I'd be interested in hearing more of your thoughts on the Catholic Shakespeare.

Best wishes, Marie

Marie I shall get to this as soon as I have a little time - big topic!