"To glimpse what this can involve, just open any page of James Shapiro's Contested Will, Who wrote Shakespeare? a scholarly account of the leading anti-Stratfordian theories."
In comments to Mark Lawson's article "Should we care who wrote Shakespeare's plays?", Guardian, 23 April 2011. I've already called into question the immaculateness of James Shapiro's scholarship. So I can simply briefly restate a few of the nine reasons listed there.
1. Is it good scholarship to pretend "When it came to finding a match for both Plautus and Terence, 'the best for comedy and tragedy' among the Roman dramatists, he concludes that only Shakespeare 'among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage'. ..."? (p. 267) Meres wrote "Plautus and Seneca". Not only is Meres misquoted, but Shapiro should have known that Terence wrote six comedies and not a single tragedy.
2. Is it good scholarship to explain why the name Shakespeare was hyphenated in italic script in the dedications to Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece when the name is neither hyphenated nor written in italics there? (p. 256)
3. Is it good scholarship to take at full face value what is clearly intended as a satirical quip at the infatuated Shakespearomania of a hollow-headed courtier with the telling name Gullio in the play Return from Parnassus, Part I (Understandably, Shapiro suppresses the name of his witness). (pp. 268-9) But can his account still be counted "scholarly" without serious qualifications?
I add another example of sloppy research. On pages 177-181 Shapiro mentions
Sigmund Freud's correspondent Wilhelm Fliess. He mentions him five times... as
Wilhelm Fleiss. Simply the well-known phenomenon of inverted letters? Yes, but
five times consecutively? There was a time, not that long ago, that such
mistakes would have been the doom of a scholar's reputation. One example: in
his reply to Samuel A. Tannenbaum's questioning of the authenticity of the
Revels Accounts, Walter W. Greg satirically questioned Tannenbaum's own
competence: "His knowledge of the drama allows him to confuse the playwright
Robert Greene with the actor Thomas." (R.E.S., Vol. 5, 1929, p. 346). If Greg's
caustic remark cannot be integrally transposed to Shapiro's misspelling of the
name Fliess, it can be applied to his other blunder: "His knowledge of the
drama allows him to confuse the comedy writer Terence with the tragedy writer
As far as I know, no reviewer of Shapiro's book has pointed to these obvious faux pas. Why not? Is it because Shapiro has been elected spokesman of the anti-doubters? Touch not our spokesman? Right or wrong, our spokesman? If unity and conformity should have become the supreme values, we would definitely have left the temple of science and entered the palace of cult and religion.
if the status of the incumbent prophet, white knight or cheer leader of a
movement is sacrosanct, criticizing him becomes a sacrilege. What adds fuel to
my suspicion is Peter
Conrad's review of Shapiros book in the Observer of Sunday 4 April 2010.
On Sunday 2 September 2007 Conrad reviewed another book in the Observer, Germaine Greer's Shakespeare's Wife. A selection of quotes from his review:
- "And why, she demands, was such a ban on exhumation thought to be necessary? She goes on to give a reckless, baseless answer to her question. If Shakespeare's bones were grubbed out for forensic examination, they might have revealed signs of the syphilis that, in her grim and gloating view, is likely to have killed him.
- "The problem is that the spurious argument concerns a woman who is, as Greer admits, 'invisible'... Did she establish her economic independence and keep the Stratford household afloat by setting up shop as a haberdasher? Well, perhaps she did or perhaps not. All Greer has to support her hypothesis is documentation from social history about what other wives did; she expects us to agree that Ann did the same."
- "But this is a book in which an absurd implausibility can serve as grounds for belief."
- "The whole enterprise is a desperate venture into the subjunctive mood. Entire chapters are confected from guesses or hunches... Sorting through the pile-up of invidious inference and unwarranted aspersion, I was left wondering whose wits were truly addled."
- "...what it contains is at best hearsay, at worst, to paraphrase Coleridge's comment on Iago, the motive-hunting of a motiveless paranoia.
Shapiro relies on Greer's book, unconditionally. First without naming it as a
source on page 75: "In addition, it is likely that a good many of the local
records concerning Shakespeare's business activities in Stratford were actually the affair of his
wife." On page 307, in his epilogue, he acknowledges his source: "Thanks to
studies like Germaine Greer's Shakespeare's Wife, it's now clear that many of
the documents relating to Shakespeare's economic activities in Stratford - from
processing malt to petty debts - concerned matters that were under Anne
Hathaway's jurisdiction, part of the complicated business of overseeing a
household for close to thirty years while her husband was mostly off in
Any demurrer from Peter Conrad in his review of Shapiro's book? Nothing the like in "this absorbing study" (sic)! So absorbing an effect must Shapiro's book have had on the reviewer that his former strictures of Greer were completely suctioned.
Finally, the following sentence from Conrad's review should not go uncommented: "...and the most intellectually thrilling episodes in Shapiro's book concern efforts to comprehend a teasingly absent god. Freud's advocacy of Bacon matched his demolition of Moses in an essay that exposed the Jewish prophet as an Egyptian priest and thus deprived his co-religionists of "the greatest of their sons"; he advanced to another reckless act of deicide in his attempts to persuade the English to stop worshipping Shakespeare." First, Freud explicitly states he never believed in Bacon. For his "demolition of Moses" he relief on James H. Breasted and Eduard Meyer, possibly the two outstanding egyptologists of their time. Recently, Jan Assmann in Moses the Egyptian: the Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism, HUP 1998, confirms Freud's findings, though he interprets them differently. Assmann is considered "one of the greatest egyptologists of our time".
My question: Shapiro too?