Stratfordians fighting on two fronts now the Vatican weighs in

Sun, 20/11/2011 - 10:11 -- Heward Wilkinson

The Vatican has finally endorsed the Catholic Bard position regarding Shakespeare and the Stratfordian position is now fighting on two fronts, as Peter Dickson points out in a characteristically flamboyant email which he is happy to have circulated. Meanwhile we await Peter's getting his important book out via a serious academic publisher. If anyone wants a copy of his privately printed edition his email - which I shall not give in hackable form - is Dickson writes: "Given the report concerning the bombshell announcement and apparent claim by the Vatican's official newspaper (L'Osservatore Romano), anti-Stratfordians and Oxfordians can never say I did not warn them since 1998 of the importance of the issue of whether the Stratford man was a secret Catholic as many Stratfordians believe. And many of them devoutly hope this "truth" would help explain why the traditional Bard from Stratford-on-Avon is so mysterious, so elusive when it comes to proving that he really was the great literary figure. The secret Catholic theory which actually goes back to the mid-1800s was in part a response to the anti-Stratfordians. Most Oxfordians and some prominent Stratfordians are well aware of my long essay "Connecting the Dots: The Catholic Question and the Shakespeare Authorship Debate" published in the Tennessee Law Review in 2005.

I predicted then that the growing schism over the Catholic connections since the late 1990s would continue to mushroom and tear the Stratfordians apart. This essay is the seminal essay on the topic and can be found on line. Let us hope now that narrow-minded Oxfordians will drop their blinders and get a broader perspective on the authorship dispute in which the Stratfordians (as I have said) face a two-front war. For the last 14 years, I have been praying -- as a devout but non-practicing Episcopalian -- that the Vatican would take the step -- which it has just done in the official newspaper of the Holy See -- and in the process intensify the growing cracks within the Stratfordian camp. I had no doubt whosoever that such a step would -- unintentionally from the Vatican's standpoint -- highlight and expose the fatal contradiction at the heart of the Stratfordian paradigm which so bedevils the mainstream Stratfordians -- namely, the impossibility of reconciling the biographical data pointing toward a hard core Catholic (with a siege mentality given the ongoing Tudor repression of Catholics) with the Stratfordian Orthodoxy that the true Bard was essentially a nonsectarian Protestant and was supposedly for 15-20 years the senior professional dramatist in the acting company -- the Lord Chamberlain's Men later the King's Men -- attached to the royal court.

You can be sure that I am licking my chops now that the Pope and the Vatican have staked their claim to the Stratford man and in so doing cause further anguish to the Stratfordians who are currently quite cocky in the wake of the movie Anonymous which by promoting the most ludicrous variation of the Oxfordian theory makes the Oxfordians look silly, ridiculous.. This is where we are now, folks. It has all finally come to a head with the Vatican sticking its Oar, or rather Mitre in the game. I am so pleased by this dramatic turn of events and say: Hooray, Hoorah because a portion of the first chapter of my Bardgate book is devoted to the Catholic Question and its relevance and spill over effect for the authorship debate. I could not have asked for a book to be more timely.

Keep in mind that this fight over the Catholic Question has not resonated inside America where about 20 percent of the population is Catholic and so it is deemed gauche to revisit the Reformation. But not so in Britain. Case in point: when the most aggressive Catholic Bard advocate (Claire Asquith) pushed her claim in the book Shadowplay(2005), an article by Penny Trevelyan (an ally of Stanley Wells) in the Guardian attacked Asquith and other Catholics for trying to steal Shakespeare away for the Vatican to make up for the damage done to Catholic theology by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. It got very ugly Stanley Wells decided he had to debate Asquith whom Ernst Honigmann supported. And I kid you not about that article in the Guardian.

Historically, anti-Catholicism was ingrained in British culture, remember the Catholics were driven out by the 1620s-1630. So what will the Shakespeare Establishment --especially in the UK under the leadership of its virulently anti-Catholic Bard High Priest (Stanley Wells) -- do now caught as it is facing a two front war against the Orthodoxy concerning the Bard? It is going to be very interesting to see how the various Stratfordians on both sides of the Atlantic respond now that the Vatican has officially claimed that the incumbent Shakespeare was a loyal son of the Church of Rome. There is no doubt here that the Vatican was influenced by the flood of Catholic Bard biographies since the late 1990s, especially those from the pens of the most aggressive Catholic Bard advocates such Asquith, Joseph Pearce and above all the Jesuit scholar, Peter Milward, the main leader of the Catholic Bard movement going back to the 1960s and 1970s when it was it was extremely taboo for any Stratfordian (especially in Britain) even to hint that the Stratford man might have been a secret Catholic. But as I discuss in my Bardgate book, that all changed in the late 1990s and not long thereafter Ackroyd, Greenblatt and Wood succumbed to this temptation to use the trail of Catholic-flavored dots of biographical information to help flesh out their narratives about the Stratford man and his family.

This approach to put more meat on the bare bones of the elusive traditional Bard triggered (as I discuss in my first chapter) an angry rejoinder from James Shapiro who in a book-signing of his own at the Shakespeare Guild in Manhattan in early 2006 harshly criticized these 3 scholars for going down that path, a slippery slope in his view that inexorably lead to the destruction of the Stratfordian paradigm because of the obvious and insurmountable gap between the Catholic worldiview and the real Bard's outlook on life and existence. Regarding the threat posed by the Catholic Bard movement, Shapiro is a staunch ally of Stanley Wells and Robert Bearman of the (SBT) who held a conference of anti-Catholic Bard scholars in June 2008 to cleanse the Shakespeare-Arden family of any trace of the old faith. Now that the Vatican has spoken, will the Catholic Bard advocates within the Stratfordian camp become more emboldened to push their claim that they know the truth about Shakespeare? Surely we can expect some to try to find a filmmaker to put their "truth" on the silver screen. The slick fence-sitter on Catholic connections (Greenblatt) actually tried to persuade (as he admitted in The New York Times in February 1999) Tom Stoppard to make a film about the Bard as a secret Catholic but Greenblatt failed, they went with sex and produced Shakespeare in Love.

The Vatican is wealthy, has ample resources to finance a film about Shakespeare as a secret Roman Catholic. Mel Gibson were are you? This is what I sense is right over the horizon. Forget Anonymous, someone will do soon what Greenblatt suggested to Stoppard in the mid-1990s. Oxfordians most of whom are secularists who (like the orthodox Stratfordians) are quite comfortable with the non-sectarian quality of the Bard's mind, have had their heads in the sand on this Catholic topic for the past 10-12 years. Those few Oxfordians who have their wits about them can now appreciate the importance of Chapter VIII in myBardgate book in which I tear apart piece by piece Gary Taylor's attempt to "Catholicize" the First Folio project as being inspired and driven forward by secret Catholic in order to square/reconcile the Shakespearean canon with the claim that the incumbent Bard was a had core Catholic. Taylor's attempt which was a pivotal moment failed miserably but someone in the Catholic Bard movement (like Taylor) had to make this attempt to try to make the Catholic Bard theory hold together with regard to the First Folioproject. But Taylor flopped and even in his essay, in his attempt he conveyed his own uncertainties about what he was trying to prove. Again, if you want the benefit of the cutting edge developments in the Shakespeare authorship dispute -- if you really want to be at the very center of things where they are now -- you need to look no fuller than my Bardgatebook, my essays published going back to 1998 in The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, The Oxfordian journal and of course the seminal essay dealing with the highly controversial, explosive question in The Tennessee Law Review.

If the Stratford man was a hard core sectarian Catholic (as the Vatican now insists) then the Stratfordian paradigm or claim in the authorship collapses. In a sense he dies on the Cross, but then he was at some point resurrected as a surrogate Bard and I explain how this Resurrection took place in conjunction with the Second Folio -- a royalist enterprise -- in the concluding chapters of my Bardgate book. Again, all the cutting edge research and analysis of where things are headed can be found in my book which clinches the authorship debate in terms of a complex intertwining of Oxford's literary fate with the Stanleys -- a family even more literary than the de Veres ever were as a family and which supplied the acting company (Lord Strange's Men) which became known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men in 1594. The anti-Stratfordians and Oxfordian lucky to have me around on the scene when the foolish Prince Tudor advocates have come so close to destroying the entire Oxfordian movement with their bogus theories in books and on the silver screen.

In any case, this is no ordinary moment as anyone with any brains can sense in the wake of the Vatican's clear bid to take over the identity of Shakespeare. My prayers have been answered, the crisis is now full blown in a pan-European sense from England to Italy. Will the Vatican now endorse Richard Roe's book, The Shakespeare Guide to Italy? Stay tuned! And feel free to circulate widely this email which I shall post on Phaeton and the Elizaforum. Meanwhile, now is the time to celebrate my success in clinching the Shakespeare authorhsp dispute in favor of an Oxford-Derby symbiosis and -- while we are doing that -- humiliate the Stratfordians by pointing out to everyone how they will have to intensify their effort to rearrange the deck chairs on the rapidly sinking H.M.S. Stratford. The rescue ships launched from Ostia, the old port of Rome, will not come in time to save this sinking ship. Enjoy, Peter PS. Copies of my Bardgate book are available.