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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Occam's Razor
Occam's Razor asserts that, in the absence of certainty, simplicity takes precedence over complication. In other words, until certain facts to the contrary can be presented, it makes no sense to imagine that Shakespeare did not write the plays which history has ascribed to him from the beginning. A collaboration early on does not invalidate this. The endless parade of...
Published 7 months ago by Duncan Fallowell Esq

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not good enough
There are far more facets to the doubters' case than Prof Wells acknowledges. This is too slight a work to provide an adequate rebuttal of that case, but it does not even attempt to give a fair summary of it. Mountains of circumstantial evidence that have been amassed are completely ignored, but of course, the silly old slur of "snobbery" features prominently...
Published 7 months ago by A F Crampin

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not good enough, 27 April 2014
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This review is from: Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles) (Kindle Edition)
There are far more facets to the doubters' case than Prof Wells acknowledges. This is too slight a work to provide an adequate rebuttal of that case, but it does not even attempt to give a fair summary of it. Mountains of circumstantial evidence that have been amassed are completely ignored, but of course, the silly old slur of "snobbery" features prominently. Prof Wells cannot countenance paradigm shift it seems and retaliates with stale and cheap jibes.
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13 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Diana Price reviews Stanley Wells's Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (submitted using her husband's Amazon account), 5 Mar 2014
Pat J. Dooley (NE Ohio) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles) (Kindle Edition)
Prof. Stanley Wells has published a short book online, downloadable in Kindle, titled `Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare' (Kindle Singles, 4 Feb. 2014). At 57 pages, with virtually free access, it is a short read, available to anyone interested in the subject.

There is an obvious irony in the appearance of this e-publication, not quite one year since the publication of `Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy,' ed. Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). The 2013 collection of essays by 20 specialists in various fields purported to put an end to the Shakespeare authorship question once and for all. That mission evidently fell short, or Wells would not feel any need to further defend the orthodox narrative.

I am one of many anti-Stratfordians who reviewed the 2013 collection of essays, posting my essay on my website, with slightly shorter versions on Amazon US and Amazon UK. I have to wonder whether Wells read any of the anti-Stratfordian criticism of the essays, as so many claims re-appear in his `Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare.' Since most of my objections concern claims that cannot be supported by the evidence, at least as I see it, I am concerned here with our disagreements over criteria and skepticism. A detailed point-by-point rebuttal of what Wells considers to be his strong suits in Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare can be found at the bottom of my homepage at (be sure to include the hyphen).

Wells's pamphlet is a handy summary of unsupported claims for the orthodox narrative, and it reads plausibly enough for those with little interest in testing evidence. But he does not re-examine the evidence for Shakspere using the criteria routinely applied by most historians, critics, or biographers of other subjects. The unprecedented reliance on posthumous evidence to prove that Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare is a subject on which the orthodox and I continue to disagree.

However, Wells does acknowledge that the first evidence in the historical record that identifies the playwright as the man from Stratford is posthumous; that evidence is, specifically, the Stratford monument and the 1623 First Folio testimony. As we agree on this point, it is appropriate for me to reiterate that Shakspere is the only alleged writer from the time period for whom one must rely on posthumous evidence to make the literary case, i.e., to support the statement that his profession was writing. As he pointed out in our exchange on BloggingShakespeare, Wells considers this distinction "irrelevant."

Wells faults me for questioning the reliability of posthumous evidence: "Price irrationally casts doubt on posthumously derived evidence." Most literary critics, biographers, and historians question the reliability of all evidence, including that which is posthumous. Such skepticism is not only rational, it is essentially just common sense.

Robert C. Williams makes the point: "A primary source is a document, image, or artifact that provides evidence about the past. It is an original document created contemporaneously with the event under discussion" (`The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History,' 2003, p.58). Paul Murray Kendall puts it this way: "What a man leaves behind him after he dies is a mess of paper: birth certificate, school grades, diary, letters, check stubs, laundry lists . . . This paper trail, extending from his entrance to his exit, is what the biographer tries to tread" (`The Art of Biography,' 1965, p. xiii).

Since I am concerned with the professional literary activities and interests of William Shakespeare, I revisit all his paper trails to ask yet another question: does the evidence support the statement that Shakespeare was a writer or does it have any bearing on his literary activities or development? If one is attempting to construct a `literary' biography, then I submit that identifying `literary' paper trails is an essential step. In my book and more fully on my website, I cite more scholars who illustrate or enumerate various criteria and problems of reliability, including H.B. George, Richard D. Altick & John J. Fenstermaker, Harold Love, S.P. Cerasano, Harold Jenkins, Arthur Freeman, D. Nichol Smith, John Huntington, and William Ringler, among others (full bibliographic details appear on the shakespeare-authorship website, "Criteria" sidebar). I doubt that Prof. Wells would describe these scholars as irrational.

Yet regarding the Shakespearean testimony in the First Folio, posthumous by seven years, Wells does not question the authorship of the two prefatory epistles printed over the names of the actors John Heminges and Henry Condell; he does not analyze the ambiguities and contradictory statements made throughout the Folio front matter; and he accepts at face value those statements that support the orthodox narrative. He overlooks the statements that imply or point to a gentleman of rank, so he never has to choose between two sets of signposts, or question the overall reliability of the front matter. And how much of the front matter is promotional in nature, aimed at encouraging sales ("whatever you do, Buy")? Surely that sales pitch should alert the reader to be on the lookout for more signs of a promotional agenda or commercial considerations in the testimonials.

Similarly, Wells uncritically accepts literary allusions to the Shakespeare plays and poems as proof that Shakspere wrote Shakespeare, even when those allusions are impersonal literary commentary or confined to references to the written or performed word. Wells is, of course, following the orthodox biography as it has been handed down ever since the late eighteenth century. From the time of Edmund Malone, who was the first Shakespeare scholar to introduce serious scholastic rigor into his studies, the assumption of Shakespeare's authorship has been accepted as fact, and few have stopped to question the absence of proof. If sheer repetition of a narrative constituted proof of that narrative, Prof. Wells's pamphlet `Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare' would carry the day. But if he applied the criteria routinely applied by biographers of other subjects, by historians, and by literary critics, he would have to confront the problem that the orthodox literary biography of Shakespeare is founded on unproven assumptions.

My point-by-point rebuttal of `Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare' and bibliography are at

Diana Price

Author: `Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography'
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Occam's Razor, 28 April 2014
This review is from: Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles) (Kindle Edition)
Occam's Razor asserts that, in the absence of certainty, simplicity takes precedence over complication. In other words, until certain facts to the contrary can be presented, it makes no sense to imagine that Shakespeare did not write the plays which history has ascribed to him from the beginning. A collaboration early on does not invalidate this. The endless parade of cranks claiming the plays were written by others has been one of the most tiresome spectacles of my literary life. These theories belong in the dustbin along with Dan Brown, Velikovsky, John Michell and Ufology tracts. Congratulations to Stanley Wells for reiterating what we actually know and the implications of that: Shakespeare was the greatest writer who ever lived, so read and see his plays.
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars "Palladis Tamia" doesn't prove anything., 6 Mar 2014
This review is from: Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles) (Kindle Edition)
Instead of elaborating on the many deficiencies of Wells's book, which others have already done so well on this site, this review will focus on a single point that Wells tries to make, concerning whether Edward DeVere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, could have been the man behind the works of "William Shakespeare." Wells cites Francis Meres's list of outstanding writers of comedy in "Palladis Tamia" (1598), which named both Oxford and Shakespeare, as if they were separate people. Wells believes that this is conclusive proof that Oxford and Shakespeare were not the same person.

Wells is too quick, however, to assume that Meres knew what he was talking about. Don C. Allen, the editor of the modern edition of Meres's book (1931), called Meres's chapter on poetry "pseudoerudition and bluff." Allen said that Meres could no longer be considered a "thorough classical scholar" or a "keen critic" and that his historical data was questionable. Meres got his classical quotes from a quotation dictionary and his information about classical and neoclassical authors from a schoolboy's textbook. Almost every literary statement he made came from another writer. Meres cobbled together multiple and conflicting sources and didn't seem to care about the discrepancies.

The 1589 book, "The Art of English Poesie," stated that the Earl of Oxford had written well but would not allow his writings to be published under his own name. This suggests that if Oxford's works were published, they were published anonymously or using a pseudonym. Pseudonyms are used, obviously, to hide an author's identity. There is no reason to assume that, if a pseudonym was being used (and the Elizabethan era was a golden age of pseudonyms), Meres was privy to the deceit, especially when one considers that Meres's chapter on poetry is mostly a recycling of other people's writings.

Thus, Wells is unjustified in taking Meres as an authority. Wells has hastily jumped to embrace Meres's list as a smoking gun in the authorship question without bothering to question the reliability of his source. That is not responsible scholarship.

"Palladis Tamia" doesn't prove anything. Wells will have to do better than this. For a thoroughly documented account of the Oxford theory (and a level of research and scholarship that Wells cannot match), see Mark Anderson's "Shakespeare By Another Name."
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new, just a re-hash, 5 Mar 2014
This review is from: Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles) (Kindle Edition)
It appears that Mr. Wells has simply copied old arguments from previous books on the subject. Worst, he keeps repeating various "facts" that are simply long-held assumptions. When will modern scholars start thinking for themselves, or doing their own research? Intellectual dishonesty. Nothing new. Don't waste your money.

And his constant plugging of other books he is selling is quite distasteful. It gives new meaning to the term rag-seller.
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14 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The simpleton's guide to the Shakespeare authorship question, 20 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles) (Kindle Edition)
I find it really sad that Stanley Wells, whom I have always admired as an excellent commentator on the works of Shakespeare, seems so badly to have lost the plot. Like 'Shakespeare Bites Back' and 'Shakespeare Beyond Doubt' this is nothing but propaganda. There are good arguments to be made on both sides of this debate, but most of those which counter all of his usual arguments are yet again simply ignored or ridiculed – certainly not refuted. In my opinion, if Prof. Wells had any interest at all in people correctly deciding what the truth is – rather than defending his own preferred version of it – his time would have been better spent contributing more Stratfordian content to Ros Barber's work-in-progress 'Shakespeare: The Evidence'. If I may parody Gabriel Harvey – the convinced Stratfordian and the gullible will take much delight in Wells's 'Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare', but 'Shakespeare: the Evidence' has it in it to please the wiser sort.
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13 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great summary and rebuttal of the most ridiculous literary theory in history, 20 Feb 2014
Thomas Reedy - See all my reviews
This review is from: Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles) (Kindle Edition)
I saw on Stanley's Twitter feed that Richard Malim had posted the first review on Amazon and bragging that he didn't read it. I was puzzled, because I thought Malim posted his review after mine, but then I remembered the UK Amazon site. So here's by belated review from the American site.

This is a very good, succinct, and accurate condensation of the Shakespeare authorship question, one of the longest-running fringe arguments in crank history. I was happy to see that Professor Wells takes on Richard Roe and Diana Price and that he doesn't give the arguments for the individual 'candidates' any more space than they deserve. Without becoming tedious, Professor Wells gives more than sufficient evidence for Shakespeare's authorship that anti-Stratfordians have never successfully rebutted.

The distinctive characteristic of all anti-Stratfordian claims is that they are forced to invent labyrinthine, torturous scenarios to explain the most obvious objections to their assertions, i.e. both Marlowe and Oxford were dead long before half the plays were written. Their method is to peremptorily decide that William Shakespeare couldn't have written the works based on fallacious and (repeatedly) disproved reasoning, and then filling in the blanks they've created with whatever fiction takes their fancy. Not one scrap of evidence has ever been produced pointing to an author other than William Shakespeare, but anti-Stratfordians lack the intellectual honesty to look squarely at the evidence, instead positing a giant conspiracy (or not, depending on the exigencies of the moment) that covered up all the evidence for the true author.
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12 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why Shakespeare was not Shakespeare, 27 Feb 2014
A. J. Pointon (Portsmouth, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles) (Kindle Edition)
No decent book, and certainly no scholarly book, would ignore the serious evidence which has been put forward against the author's theory. Yet this one pretends that the contrary evidence does not exist, even telling the reader that "Shakespeare" was baptised as "Shakespeare" when his whole theory is based on the assumption that an illiterate man from Stratford, who could not sign his own name (which was Shakspere in the baptismal record) was the great writer Shakespeare. And the author will not debate the matter.

Tony Pointon
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15 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful book, but a must read; but first read this so you see the flaws, 19 Feb 2014
This review is from: Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles) (Kindle Edition)
Any theory has a right to be assessed based on the best arguments of its strongest proponents. One would think that a distinguished scholar like Stanley Wells would observe this principle in addressing the Shakespeare authorship question. Sadly, however, this is not the case at all.

Instead, he focuses on relatively minor figures, ignoring giants like Sir George Greenwood. He creates a false negative stereotype of who authorship doubters are and what motivates us. He presents a one-sided view of the evidence, leaving out key facts that contradict his thesis. He mis-characterizes our views, setting up straw man arguments and falsely attributing them to us. Rather than a fair and balanced, scholarly book, Wells’ treatment is biased and misleading.

The most obvious example of Wells’ bias is his labeling of doubters as ‘anti-Shakespearians.’ Authorship doubters are NOT anti-Shakespeare. No thinking person will believe such a thing. The list of those who have expressed doubt about the Stratford man is long and distinguished. Doubters of the past include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry James, William James, Mark Twain, John Galsworthy, Sigmund Freud, Tyrone Guthrie, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, and Sir John Gielgud. At least five U.S. Supreme Court justices are on the record as authorship doubters.

Modern-day doubters include Shakespearean actors Sir Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance, Michael York and Jeremy Irons. Doubters include hundreds of English Lit. graduates and college faculty members. The idea that all (or any) of these people are ‘anti-Shakespeare’ simply because they think the name ‘Shakespeare’ may have been a pen name used to conceal the true author is complete, utter nonsense. Doubters are among those who love Shakespeare most. Having learned to love him from reading his works, they seek to learn more about him, and then discover all of the reasons to doubt who he was.

This is just one example of Wells’ use of derogatory language to attack those who disagree with him. It’s a pattern with him: he refers to doubters routinely throughout his book as ‘deniers’ and ‘heretics.’ (It should be ‘Stratfordian’ for supporters of the Stratford man; ‘anti-Stratfordian,’ ‘non-Stratfordian,’ ‘doubters,’ or ‘skeptics’ for his opponents. These are neutral terms that don’t distract from evidence.) Yet he admits that some doubters are people of intellectual distinction. If so, why use such language? If the case for the Stratford man is as clear as he says, why not just make it clear and let it go at that?

The obvious answer is that his case isn’t nearly as strong as he claims. There is an old saying in legal circles that ‘if the facts are on your side, you argue the facts; if the law is on your side, you argue the law; and if neither is on your side, you attack your opponent. Judging from the extent to which Wells attacks his opponents, he must not have much else going for him. These are smear tactics, pure and simple, by a man with a well-deserved reputation as a bully. His aim is to stigmatize and suppress what should be a perfectly legitimate issue and make it a taboo subject. So far he has succeeded.

I will now quote and debunk twenty examples of Wells’ false or misleading statements.

1. ‘…in spite of gaps in the record we know as much as we have a right to expect about Shakespeare’s public and professional career.’

This is totally false. About 70 extant documents clearly relate to the Stratford man, yet all are non-literary. It makes no sense to think that all of these documents – mostly church records and records of business dealings – survived, yet all of his literary records were lost. Also, we have a right to expect that if contemporaneous literary records survive for other writers of the period, we should find similar literary records for him. What we find is the opposite of what one would expect – substantial numbers of records for many other writers, but not for him.

2. ‘The plays and poems of William Shakespeare were written by the man of that name whose baptism is recorded in the parish register of Stratford-upon-Avon….’ ‘[It] records the baptism … of ‘Gulielmus, filius Johannes Shakspere’ – William, son of John Shakespeare (sic)… There is nothing peculiar about the parish register’s spelling of his surname [“Shakspere”]’

There is no more egregious misrepresentation than the claim that the Stratford man’s name was the same as the author’s. It was not. It wasn’t spelled the same, and it probably wasn’t pronounced the same. The name in the Stratford church records, from his birth to his death, and the names of all of his family members for four generations (over two dozen cases) was always spelled ‘Shakspere,’ or close variants, with no medial ‘e’ between ‘Shak’ and ‘spere.’ The name of the author on the published works was consistently spelled ‘Shakespeare,’ with the hyphenated form ‘Shake-speare’ appearing 45% of the time. There is a clear, statistically significant difference between the name on the works and the family name of the Shaksperes.

Wells never mentions this and tries to negate it by pointing out that there were many variant spellings of the name. This ignores the consistency in the spelling of the name on the works and in the way the Stratford man and his family usually spelled their own name in Stratford. As writer Bill Bryson pointed out, Shakspere never used the name ‘Shakespeare’ in his life.

A related issue is that the only generally accepted writings in Shakspere’s own hand are six signatures on legal documents, each spelled differently, and no two letters formed the same way. It is one thing for others to spell one’s name various ways when spelling it phonetically, but quite another for an educated person not to have a standard way of signing his own name! Some think the signatures were all done by law clerks, because Mr. Shakspere couldn’t write.

Even in his will, written by a law clerk at a time when the name Shakespeare was famous, the name appears three times in the body of the will, and three times as he signed it, and not once as ‘Shakespeare.’ After he died, later that year his first grandson was born. The boy’s parents, whose last name was 'Quyny,' named him after his late grandfather. The name in the baptismal record is ‘Shaksper Quyny.’ Why spell the name differently if he was named after the author?

It’s bad enough that Wells conceals this, but worse that he falsifies the spelling of the name. In this book he says the name in the inscription on the Stratford monument is ‘Shakespeare.’ No, it is not; it is spelled ‘Shakspeare,’ with no medial ‘e,’ as in the will and church records.

By claiming that the two names are the same, and spelling them the same when they are not, Wells misleads the reader into thinking that of course the Stratford man was also the author. He starts with the title (‘Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare’) and continues it throughout. The real question is 'Was Mr. Shakspere the author Shakespeare?'

3. ‘Until the middle of the nineteenth century nobody doubted it.’

Not so. While it is true that the modern-day authorship controversy began then, Wells ignores many examples of people expressing doubt about Shakespeare’s identity during his own time. Doubts were expressed soon after the initial appearance of the name on two published poems. They continued during his lifetime and for a few years after the publication of the First Folio. Seven examples are listed in the book 'Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?' (Shahan and Waugh, eds.). These have been brought to Wells’ attention, but he simply ignores this inconvenient evidence.

4. ‘[Doubters] … are apt to say that it is unfair of the rest of us to refer to Delia Bacon’s mental instability and eventual madness. But it is a fact – make of it what you will.’

It isn’t unfair to mention it. What is unfair is to suggest that her theory is attributable to her subsequent decline, or that her late-life madness is in any way representative of doubters in general. Wells has made such allegations repeatedly over the years, and still makes them to this day. When asked for empirical evidence to back up his claim that doubters are any more likely to be mentally ill than, say, English professors residing in Warwickshire, he has failed to do so. This is another good example of his disingenuous use of smear tactics against his opponents.

Delia Bacon is a relatively minor figure in the history of the controversy, except for the fact that she was the first modern writer to see there was a problem and try to call it to attention. She was not a giant of the movement in terms of the discovery and presentation of evidence. A more scholarly early doubter was Sir George Greenwood, a lawyer and well-regarded British MP. It was his work that Mark Twain found convincing, and he is still worth reading to this day. Wells ignores Greenwood and focuses on Bacon because it serves his purpose of creating a false negative stereotype of doubters. ‘Attacking pygmies while ignoring giants,’ it is called.

5. ‘Stratford was not … a backwater… One [well-educated townsman] was Richard Quiney, a frequent visitor on town affairs to London. His correspondence with his townspeople and family was conducted in Latin as well as in English. A letter written in Latin by his son aged about eleven asks him to bring back from London books of blank paper for himself and his brother, and expresses gratitude for being bought up in “the studies of sacred learning”’

Wells ignores the issue of why letters would still exist between Richard Quiney and his son, but no letter in the hand of the man from the same town who is said to be the greatest writer of all. He is said to have resided in both London and Stratford, and collaborated with other writers, both of which would seem to be conducive to correspondence. What happened to his letters?

6. ‘it has been exhaustively shown in a great two-volume work by T. W. Baldwin … that the grammar-school curriculum of the time would have provided all the classical knowledge necessary to write the plays and poems of William Shakespeare.’

Note that ‘all the classical knowledge’ ignores all the other knowledge found in the works. Shakespeare’s works show extensive knowledge of law, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, art, music, medicine, horticulture, heraldry, military and naval terminology and tactics; English, French and Italian court life; and aristocratic pastimes such as falconry, equestrian sports and royal tennis. A grammar school education does not account for this. The works are based on works in French, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek not yet translated into English. How the Stratford man did this is a mystery.

7. ‘It is virtually certain that the two [Shakspere and Richard Fields] were lifelong friends.’

They surely knew each other, being contemporaries from Stratford. Since Fields printed three of Shakespeare’s works, Stratfordians assume they were friends, but nothing shows they were. If they were, one would expect Shakspere to have mentioned Fields in his will, but he did not.

8. ‘For many plays … the main selling point was the name of the company that performed them, rather than of the man who wrote them. So although some of Shakespeare’s plays were printed from 1594 onwards, it wasn’t until 1598 that his name appeared for the first time on the title page. By then his fame was growing and [his] name … could help to sell copies.’

Here Wells tries to explain away the fact that (1) Shakespeare’s first six plays were published anonymously, and (2) when he was first identified as a playwright (rather than only as a poet), he had already written twelve plays. Both of these facts suggest an author who had remained hidden, which supports the theory that the name ‘Shakespeare’ may have been a pseudonym. Wells’ claim that the author’s name would not have helped to sell printed copies of the plays is contradicted by his own observation earlier in the chapter that Shakespeare’s first two published works, ‘Venus and Adonis’ (1593) and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ (1594), were instantly popular. It made no commercial sense to leave the name of the popular poet off of his published plays.

9. ‘It’s totally destructive of the Oxfordian claim … that Meres mentions the Earl of Oxford and Shakespeare in the same sentence, obviously knowing that they are two different writers.’

This is nonsense, as has been pointed out many times. The Oxfordian theory is that the name ‘Shakespeare’ was a pseudonym. The aim of a pseudonym is to conceal an author’s identity. If it was successful, Meres would not have known that Oxford and ‘Shakespeare’ were one. And if he did know, it is unlikely that he would have exposed the powerful earl in print.

10. ‘Shakespeare was in London on 11 May 1612, when, described as ‘William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon’, he gave evidence in a court case that shows that in 1604 he had been lodging with a family named Mountjoy in Silver Street.’

One would expect that if this was the great author Shakespeare, by then supposedly famous, this deposition would have made some note of it. It is extremely embarrassing that it didn’t. While the court clerk spelled his name ‘Shakespeare,’ the signature is not spelled that way.

11. ‘The deniers, keen to show that Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was not a writer, make much of the fact that his will makes no mention of books. The final will would have been accompanied by an inventory listing all of his possessions, including books.’

Many of the source works for Shakespeare’s plays were rare, and would have been valuable. The idea that an author, who valued books highly, would have relegated them to an inventory rather than specifying some of the more valuable ones in the body of the will makes no sense. Surely he would have left at least some of them as specific bequests to people he had known. Why no bequest to the Earl of Southampton, his supposed patron, or to anyone else at Court? Why no mention of any fellow writer, especially those with whom he allegedly collaborated?

In fact, the problem of the will is much greater than just the absence of any mention of books. Wells just pretends it is the only problem, and then tries to explain it away; but it won’t wash. It is totally devoid of intellectual property or anything remotely suggesting a writing career – no book shelves, chests for holding books, no desk, pen, ink, or writing materials of any kind; not one manuscript of a play or poem, and no letters, maps, paintings, or musical instruments. Nothing about it suggests in any way that it is the will of a man who lived an intellectual life. The will is the one work that we know Mr. Shakspere dictated, and then signed three times – the personal expression of the mind of the man. It is not the mind of William Shakespeare.

12. ‘…to dismiss all posthumous evidence out of hand, as some of the deniers do, is patently absurd.’

Doubters do not ‘dismiss all posthumous evidence out of hand.’ There are good reasons to question the validity of the posthumous evidence in this case, starting with the fact that it is uncorroborated by the kind of contemporaneous evidence found for other writers of the time. This oddity led doubters to scrutinize the posthumous evidence and see that it is problematic.

13. ‘There is a monument, surmounted by a bust of a man writing with a quill pen, in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, bearing an inscription which states that Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616 at the age of fifty-three. … It [the inscription] is somewhat cryptic.’

Wells says the name in the inscription is ‘Shakespeare,’ but it’s actually spelled ‘Shakspeare.’ He admits the inscription is ‘cryptic,’ which calls into question whether it is really definitive. Wells ignores the fact that the effigy in today’s Stratford monument differs from the original. A 17th century sketch by a reputable antiquarian shows that the original looked very different. It shows a man with a drooping mustache holding a sack – no pen, paper or writing surface. Even some Stratfordians admit that repeated repairs to the monument changed its appearance. Evidently it was changed by Stratford Bardolators into something more suggestive of a writer. The man is said to be buried beneath a slab in the floor that doesn’t even have his name on it!

14. ‘The deniers … claim that [Shakspere] cannot have been the author because when he died no tributes to him appeared. It is true that there are no lengthy obituaries in newspapers, such as we should expect to find for a great modern writer. But then, there were no newspapers. There are, in fact, a number of public tributes, which cannot be precisely dated.’

The problem is not that there were ‘no lengthy obituaries in newspapers.’ The problem is that there were no tributes to William Shakespeare comparable to what was done for other writers. There was total silence, vs., for example, the outpouring of tributes to Francis Beaumont, who died the month before Shakspere and was buried with great ceremony at Westminster Abbey. This was the norm for great writers, yet nothing like it took place for the greatest writer of all. No writer or actor took any notice of the death of ‘Shakespeare’ when the Stratford man died. Even Heminges, Condell and Burbage, the actors he remembered in his will, had no reaction. Nor did those who held rights to his previously-published works rush new editions into print. The death of Shakspere was a complete non-event. This makes no sense if he was the author. Wells’ claim that there were ‘public tributes that cannot be precisely dated’ is a poor excuse.

15. ‘It is particularly obtuse to complain of the absence of contemporary tributes … in light of the publication in 1623 of Master William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, better known as the First Folio.’

The First Folio appeared over seven years after Shakspere died. Its appearance cannot make up for the fact that if he were the author ‘Shakespeare’ there wouldn’t have been such a gap. The magnitude of its tributes (‘Soul of the age!’) show there should have been more sooner.

16. ‘Also, several references in the prefatory matter of the First Folio make it very clear that this is the Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.’ …

Two separated, very brief allusions in the front matter seem to point to the town of Stratford, but other things suggest otherwise. For example, it doesn’t include the Shakspere coat of arms, which he acquired with difficulty and which one would expect to appear in such a document. Nor does the Folio name any family member, or include any further identifying information -- not so much as his dates of birth and death, or any revealing episode about his life.

The front matter in the First Folio is not as clear as Wells claims; in fact, it is highly suspect. This is signaled to the reader right up front in the Droeshout engraving of the alleged author. John Rollett has shown that it was designed as a ‘ridiculous caricature,’ with an ‘impossible doublet’ that shows the front of it on one side and the back of the same doublet on the other side. In light of all the other reasons to doubt the truth of the First Folio, this is a dead giveaway.

17. ‘the burden [of preparing the First Folio] appears to have fallen on John Heminges and Henry Condell, who were working men of the theatre, not professional men of letters.’

As early as 1770, George Steevens demonstrated that Heminges and Condell did not write the introductory epistles attributed to them; Ben Jonson did. Even many orthodox scholars once accepted this. Wells ignores it, probably because it calls into question all of the front matter.

18. ‘The preliminary matter to the First Folio includes commendatory poems, some or all of which may have been written soon after Shakespeare died.’

The fact that only four people wrote tributes to the author in the Folio front matter, and only one of these (Ben Jonson) was a major writer, is a problem. One would expect more tributes from Shakespeare’s fellow writers yet living, esp. those with whom he allegedly collaborated. Ben Jonson’s own collected ‘Works,’ published in 1616, had many more tributes from writers. The relative lack of tributes from other writers is reminiscent of the absence of tributes earlier. Nothing supports Wells’ speculation that the few Folio tributes may have been written earlier.

19. ‘One [doubter claim] is that the works could not have been written by a man of relatively humble birth who came from … Stratford-upon-Avon. The argument is that the town was an intellectual and cultural backwater which could not have fostered genius.’ ... ‘The arguments of the deniers … are based on snobbery. It is snobbish to suppose that genius can flourish only in fertile ground and that only aristocrats can portray persons of high social status.’

Notice that Wells does not provide a quote to back up his claim that this is a doubter position. I know of no published work that presents this view. If any do, they are in a distinct minority. Clearly many great writers have come from humble origins, but their writings usually reflect the lives that they have lived. Mark Twain was a great writer who came from humble origins, but he wouldn’t have written the works of Shakespeare, and we would immediately say there is a mismatch if anyone tried to claim he did (and we wouldn’t be called snobs for saying so). Similarly, there’s a mismatch between what is known about Shakspere and his alleged works. The issue is one of particularity, not whether a literary genius can come from humble origins. Writers have a point of view, and that found in the works does not match their alleged author.

Here’s how the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt, which Wells mentions, addresses the issue: ‘not … that a commoner, even in the rigid, hierarchical social structure of Elizabethan England, could not have managed to do it somehow; but how could it have happened without leaving a single trace?’ That’s the real issue – not that it couldn’t have happened, but that no definitive evidence shows it did. It would have been a remarkable achievement, and it should have been noticed and commented upon, leaving a trail to account for it. Instead, nothing explains how he came to write those particular works.

Over 2,900 people have signed the Declaration, and it is widely representative of the doubter position. Nothing about it supports Wells’ allegation of snobbery. Which of the prominent doubters of the past does he think are snobs? Mark Twain? Walt Whitman, the poet of democracy and the common man? The idea that doubters are motivated by snobbery, rather than a search for truth, is without foundation. Wells offers no empirical evidence worthy of the high academic standards that he claims to represent. Instead, he distracts from the evidence by attacking and smearing his opponents via a false stereotype.

20. ‘I have heard deniers proclaim that they “don’t believe in genius”. I suppose they think this supports their case, because by their reckoning great art can easily be produced by someone who has had the kind of training and life experience afforded by backgrounds more obviously privileged than Shakespeare’s.’

Here Wells offers an anecdote, but no basis for claiming that it is representative of doubters. I’ve never heard any doubter say, or ever read in any book, that they ‘don’t believe in genius.’ (I have read that experts on characteristics of geniuses see little reason to think Shakspere was one.) This is another example of Wells’ use of disinformation to smear and discredit his opponents. It is easy to set up and knock down straw man arguments, and Wells does it often in his book.

I could go on, but that should suffice to alert readers to be skeptical when reading this book. Indeed, it is so biased and misleading that it is hard to imagine that it was not intended to be. Rather than an objective, disinterested scholar, Wells is now an advocate for a point of view. Having devoted his career to the Bard, it would be too much to admit he had the wrong man. It’s no longer about truth for him; it’s all about winning. The old adage that ‘where you stand depends on where you sit’ definitely applies; and he sits, and stands, with the Stratford myth. In effect, he is a high priest of a quasi-religious orthodoxy, defending it against the ‘heretics.’ The tactics he uses in pursuing his aims says much more about his character than about ours.

It is unfortunate that this highly authoritarian personality has been able to suppress this issue. Not just career-oriented academics, but also the media and publishers seem to be intimidated. Perhaps the publisher of Kindle Singles would consider a book from a doubter point of view.
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13 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid, clear, factual, lively, 15 Feb 2014
This review is from: Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles) (Kindle Edition)
The positively definitive statement by the doyenne of Shakespeare scholarship, as to why Shakespeare WAS indeed who he was, why he certainly wrote the plays and a clear picture of the whole rather silly debate. Surely what maters ultimately are the plays themselves - but there's no limit to people's delight in trying to turn back the waves. Read this if you want to know all there IS to know about WS, by the man who has spent most of his life learning about it.
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