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5.0 out of 5 stars The Doubters explain why, 26 July 2013
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This review is from: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? -- Exposing an Industry in Denial (Paperback)
For anyone who is genuinely interested in why some people doubt that the works of William Shakespeare were written by the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, this book is essential reading. Here you can forget the usual slurs that it is because they are snobs, conspiracy theorists or crackpots, and simply look at the evidence they present which leads them to suspect that for all these years we have most probably been the unwitting victims of a hoax.

Wisely omitting any mention of just who the real author might have been if not "William Shakspere" of Stratford, the book sticks closely to the simple question of whether or not there are reasonable grounds for doubt. This is an obvious response to the recently published Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, in which the clear assertion is that there are not.

In the first part of the book, the Stratford-born William Shakspere (the most common spelling of his name) is looked at in depth. The name itself, his signatures, the documentary record, what was said about him, his Will, reactions to his death - each of these is put under the microscope. Some will complain that much of this concerns what is not there rather than what is, and that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. The answer here is that it is absence of evidence which really *should* have been there (such as there being not a single tribute paid to him at the time of his death), and that such absences are just as significant.

It then considers the amount of knowledge apparently possessed by the author William Shakespeare, concentrating upon just three areas - the law, medicine, and his detailed knowledge of Italy, wondering just how Mr. Shakspere could have acquired it. The next section discusses the two main pieces of evidence apparently linking the playwright to Stratford-upon-Avon - the First Folio and the Stratford monument. Although I do not personally find the argument that today's monument is significantly different from how it was originally all that convincing, I was particularly impressed by John Rollett's chapter on the engraving cut "for gentle Shakespeare" in the First Folio. In this he shows quite clearly that what appears to be the front of the sitter's left shoulder is in reality the back view of his right shoulder. There can be no doubt that this was done deliberately, and is as clear an indication as there can be that there's something fishy about the whole thing!

In September 2012 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's website launched its campaign against doubters with "60 Minutes With Shakespeare" in which 60 eminent actors, writers and scholars were recorded addressing one of 60 authorship-related questions for 60 seconds each. Part two of the book transcribes all of these answers, together with a response to each of them by some of the best scholars in the authorship movement. Only the half dozen questions related to specific candidates are omitted.

For anyone who has, just out of interest, read either James Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? or Edmondson & Wells's Shakespeare Beyond Doubt and found it quite convincing, this book is precisely what they need to understand the opposite viewpoint, which anyone with a reasonably open mind must surely want to do.

Peter Farey
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Jul 2013 06:03:42 BDT
Peter Farey says:
I see that I got the shoulders mixed up in my review. I should have said that what appears to be the front of the sitter's right shoulder is in reality the back view of his left shoulder. Sorry!

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Mar 2014 20:21:33 GMT
Donald Bain says:
The jiggery-pokery associated with the engraving has been discussed in a number of sources. It can be shown that it was altered between print runs, for example the shading on the face. One reason for the composition being apparently queer is simply saving money by reversing the print engraving and touching up to enhance the picture as printed. This is not uncommon printing house practice and indeed comparison of the two styles on the different print runs is indicative of more clarity being achieved. Why this should be considered "fishy" baffles me unless the desire to create a mystery is the why!
There's the same sort of "mystery" surrounding the bust. That's explainable too. But again, the desire to see something spooky in it all seems to overcome common sense. That a drawing of the bust made very early by a passing visitor who wasn't an artist has dissimilarities to the actual product begs the question,"have you ever seen a modern photofit and the real criminal?" Also, it was renovated later and some changes occurred. Normal life is messy - such events do not a conspiracy make.
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