Shahan re: Greville

Independent Oxfordian researcher John Shahan has agreed to allow SOS to publish his letter to the Telegraph regarding their August 9, 2009 article on the possible opening of Fulke Greville’s tomb.

Re: David Harrison’s article, “Tomb Search Could End Riddle of Shakespeare’s Identity,” in the Sunday Telegraph, August 8, 2009

Dear Editor,

The proposed tomb search of Fulke Greville’s tomb at St. Mary’s church depends on the credibility of historian AWL Saunders, and there’s reason to doubt his credibility. On the first page of the preface (ix) of The Master of Shakespeare (MoS Publishing, 2007), the book in which Saunders puts forth Greville as the author of Shakespeare’s works, he places great emphasis on the stylometric results of Professors Ward E. Y. Elliott and Robert Valenza at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. He also calls special attention to “Elliott and Valenza’s Results” at his website: (Note that he gives no results.)

The problem is that Elliott and Valenza themselves disagree! This undermines Saunders’ entire case, since he chose to place such emphasis on it, and it is totally false. Saunders’ claims are based on an early report of Elliott and Valenza’s results back in 1990, but shortly afterward they reported more definitive results eliminating Greville. Ever since the early 1990s, Elliott and Valenza have consistently said that their stylometric results have ruled out all alternative authorship candidates, including Greville.

As a Claremont resident myself, and being familiar with E&V’s work (having written three articles on it), I emailed Ward Elliott in 2007 to ask if he agreed that his results support Greville, and whether Saunders had consulted him and Valenza before going public with his claims. Elliott replied that, “Greville’s Caelica was a Shakespeare ‘could be’ on one test in 1990, but it was later rejected on several other [tests], and is not a likely Shakespeare work.” He said that Saunders had not consulted them.

It was at least irresponsible for Saunders to give Elliott and Valenza’s work so much prominence, claiming it as the basis of their discovery of Greville as Shakespeare, and suggesting in 2007 that these seventeen-year-old results still stood, without ever consulting E&V, and ignoring all of the contrary findings in their subsequent work. How can a so-called scholar who is so careless about checking his claims (and this is not a minor claim on some peripheral point) be trusted to get it right elsewhere? I’m frankly amazed that Saunders is still being taken seriously two years after he published his book. It makes one wonder whether anyone ever checks facts anymore.

I believe that this should be brought to the attention of your readers, and also to those at St. Mary’s church who will be making the decision about the proposed search.


John Shahan

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  • AWL Saunders  On August 18, 2009 at 7:41 PM

    Mr. John Shahan has today mounted a fierce attack on me and my book ‘The Master of Shakespeare’. I have been very surprised by this. In September 2007, my publishers sent Mr. Shahan a complimentary copy of my book accompanied by a very polite letter from me asking him if he could knock down the findings. I am still waiting.

    Mr. Shahan says that the first Elliot Valenza test results have no merit. He claims the second Elliot Valenza test results do have merit, which is strange when one considers that these results positively ruled out the 17th Earl of Oxford, who is Mr. Shahan’s candidate. For those who wish to check the matter the Elliot Valenza results can be Googled.

    Mr. Shahan is quite incorrect to say that any reliance is placed on the Elliot Valenza results. They are mentioned in the Preface as the exact starting point of the project (23/4/90). As Mr. Shahan quotes from my book he knows well that no reliance is placed on any of the Elliot Valenza results and they do not appear in one of the 354 profiles in the book. The fact that Mr. Shahan did not bother to check this raises serious questions about his credibility.

    Some very eminent (and credible) Oxfordians appear to think more highly of the research that Mr. Shahan, most notably, Sir Derek Jacobi: Thank you so much for sending me your fascinating study of Fulke Greville. It is very intriguing, beautifully written and researched and a very convincing and attractive addition to the debate. I confess I knew little about Greville, but now eagerly anticipate your second volume.Many, many congratulations, it was a great and exciting read’.

    I have the support of other ‘Group Oxfordians’. My book caused such interest that I was asked to contribute a 5000 word article for The Oxfordian. I wrote a shorter piece stating my case for Greville and against Shakspere.

    Mr. Shahan is fond of citing as an authority Robin Fox, University Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers University. Well Professor Fox seems to have a higher opinion of my work that Mr. Shahan. ‘I was very pleased to get your book on Fulke Greville … I have liked and admired his verse and been fascinated by his life. You have an interesting way of cutting up your argument to break forward to the details. Thank you again’.

    So, who is the greater authority on credibility, Professor Fox or Mr. Shahan?

    Mr. Shahan has publicly stated his position vis-a–vis the Stratfordian Theory: ‘I think of myself, first and foremost, as a scientist. It’s all those English professors who are not’. He complains that ‘It’s the orthodox Shakespeare establishment that doesn’t want a neutral, objective panel of scientific experts ruling on the merits’.

    Finally, I have to say that I find it very difficult to understand exactly where Mr. Shahan is coming from. The clearest description I can find is in another of his many ‘open letters’ to the press. In it he states his case: Proving that someone else did is one way to prove he didn’t, but not the only way. It’s possible to prove a thing didn’t happen one way without knowing how it did happen’.

    Yours Sincerely
    AWL Saunders

  • John Shahan  On August 19, 2009 at 7:18 PM

    Even now, AWL Saunders will not provide a straight answer to the question of whether Claremont McKenna College Professors Ward E.Y. Elliott and Robert J. Valenza, faculty advisors to the Claremont Shakespeare Clinic, agree with his claim that the results of their stylometric research provide support for Fulke Greville as Shakespeare.

    He says that I am the one who claims Elliott and Valenza’s preliminary results were superseded by more definitive results eliminating Greville, but in fact it is Ward Elliott himself who states this. Saunders says, “For those who wish to check the matter, the Elliot Valenza results can be Googled.” This is hardly an appropriate response to being challenged on a fact that goes to the heart of the question of whether Greville wrote the works of William Shakespeare, i.e, whether the results of Elliott & Valenza’s stylometric research supports the view that their writing styles cannot be distinguished. This is what Saunders suggests on the first page (ix) of the preface of his book, which is devoted entirely to Elliott & Valenza’s work. Until recently this claim also appeared on a separate page on his website, but it now refers back to the home page, where an article in the Daily Telegraph from April 23, 1990, reporting on Elliott & Valenza’s preliminary results, still appears. Saunders says that these results provided “the exact starting point” for his project, but that he placed no reliance on them. But by giving them such prominence, without revealing that they had been superseded, he gave readers the impression that they still stood, when, in fact, later-published results showed the exact opposite over a decade prior to the publication of his book.

    Saunders says he finds it strange that I would claim that “the second Elliot Valenza test results do have merit … when one considers that these results positively ruled out the 17th Earl of Oxford, who is Mr. Shahan’s candidate.” Actually, I did not discuss the merits of Elliott & Valenza’s research. Rather, I pointed out that, ” Ever since the early 1990s, Elliott and Valenza have consistently said that their stylometric results have ruled out all alternative authorship candidates, including Greville.” That is a relevant fact (which Saunders ignores) regardless of the merits of their research. What is Saunders’ basis for assuming the initial results are valid, but not the later ones?

    As I mentioned, I’ve written three articles on Elliott & Valenza’s work. All three challenge their claim to have eliminated Oxford as a candidate, but not on ground that are relevant to their findings for Greville. Oxford was born in 1550, and all of the verse that has come down to us in his name was written too early to be directly comparable to Shakespeare’s mature verse. Oxford’s known verse should properly be categorized as his juvenilia. Elliott and Valenza’s study design cannot rule out the possibility that Oxford’s early style developed into Shakespeare’s mature style over time. This is not an issue with Greville. His known works are directly comparable to Shakespeare’s. See, for example, “Apples to Oranges in Bard Stylometrics: Elliott & Valenza fail to eliminate Oxford” (The Oxfordian, Vol. IX, 2006), which I wrote with Richard Whalen:

    Saunders says his publisher sent me a complimentary copy of his book, “accompanied by a very polite letter from me asking him if he could knock down the findings.” The former is true; the latter is not. Mr. Saunders asked if it would be possible for me to “give some endorsement of the book, which would be displayed on the website.” After reading the first page and suspecting that its claims were false, I confirmed this with Prof. Elliott. Following this inauspicious beginning, I decided to read no further.

    Saunders says that Oxfordians Sir Derek Jacobi and Robin Fox both wrote complimentary remarks about his book. I have no reason to question this, and perhaps their positive comments were warranted. Having read no further, I am in no position to say. Fulke Greville was certainly an interesting and prominent man of letters who lived at about the right time to have been Shakespeare, and I can well imagine that a book presenting the case for him as Shakespeare could make for very interesting reading. But neither Jacobi nor Fox is anywhere near as familiar with the results of Elliott & Valenza’s study as I am, and that is the basis of the reservations I have expressed.

    If Saunders won’t provide a link to Elliott’s website and results, I will. Here is his home page:
    Here is a link to an overview of the Shakespeare Clinic: Note where Elliott says, “By April 1996, Computers and the Humanities had accepted our ‘final report’ for publication. We concluded that none of the 37 testable claimants, and none of the 30-odd plays and poems of the Shakespeare Apocrypha, matched Shakespeare.” This certainly includes their results for Fulke Greville.

    It’s time for Mr. Saunders to stop equivocating. If Elliott & Valenza’s stylometric results were important enough for him to lead off with them on the first page of his book, and feature them prominently on his website, then they’re important enough for him to go the trouble to verify the final results and get them right for the benefit of readers. Do Elliott and Valenza say that their results support Greville’s candidacy, and did they do so at the time when he published his book? It should be easy to contact Elliott and find out; so what’s the answer, Mr. Saunders? Yes, or no? If the answer is no, I believe readers of “The Master of Shakespeare” have a right to question the thoroughness with which you verified factual material in your book.


    John Shahan

  • AWL Saunders  On August 20, 2009 at 5:37 PM

    Mr. Shahan, has written another letter on the subject of the Elliot Valenza results.

    Before addressing that I would like comment on Mr. Shahan’s denial that I invited him to ‘knock down the findings.’ The fault is clearly mine. I had naturally presumed that when Mr. Shahan, an arch-Oxfordian, received a book which contradicted his every belief with an invitation to endorse it, he would have seen immediately that it was a clear invitation to ‘knock down the findings’. As Mr. Shahan does not see it like that I am happy to unreservedly withdraw that comment and replace it with ‘I invited Mr. Shahan to support the findings’. I hope this will satisfy Mr. Shahan’s concerns.

    Mr. Shahan says that people are getting the wrong impression from the 1990 newspaper cutting. He is the first person to raise this point. I must presume that this is because anyone who has read my book (which Mr. Shahan refuses to do) has seen that the Elliot Valenza results figure nowhere in the 354 profiles and thus are not used to support Greville’s claim.

    However, if Mr. Shahan feels that it is so important to distinguish between the first and second tests (both of which he dismisses) I will be happy to ensure that any future editions read ‘The purpose of this book is to show the results of a comprehensive series of tests carried out in order to discover if there is any evidence to support the INITIAL findings* of the Elliott/Valenza computer results, which identified the courtier and poet Fulke Greville as the possible author of Shake-Speares Sonnets’, with a note stating *‘Elliott/Valenza produced an interim report of their work in 1990 which could not rule out Fulke Greville as the author of Shakespeare’s works. There have subsequently been major changes to the method of their work which changed their findings and conclusions and resulted in them rejecting all the candidates, including Greville.’

    I hope this will satisfy Mr. Shahan’s concerns, both for his candidate and mine.

    There is one matter which I feel must comment on. Over the last few years Mr. Shahan has continuously attacked Elliot and Valenza’s work and they have responded. In the midst of this bitter dispute, so characteristic of the Shakespeare authorship debate, Elliot and Valenza, to their eternal credit, made Mr. Shahan a fabulous offer. They would give him their software and he could test Oxford any way he wished.

    I would have thought that Mr. Shahan would have leaped at the chance but he refused the offer. What a wonderful opportunity was missed for all Oxfordians. They could have loaded up the machine with everything definitely attributable to Oxford, including his letters, and then modified and refined the test to try to find a perfect match.

    In bringing this matter to my attention Mr. Shahan has done me a great favour and I thank him for that. I will try to take the eminent professors up on their noble offer.

    I have little doubt that Mr. Shahan will want to have the last word. I think any reasonable person would agree that no-one should have to defend attacks on their book from a critic who refuses to read it.

    I hope that Mr. Shahan will change his mind and read the book. It’s in his possession, close at hand. If he does that then he will be in a position to sit in judgement on my work. If he then feels that he can ‘knock down the findings’ I would welcome his comments as I would have done two years ago.

    Until he reads my book I will have to leave Mr. Shahan to his own devices and I will not reply to any more of his ‘open letters’ until he has read it. I consider that to be eminently reasonable.

    Yours Sincerely

    AWL Saunders

  • John Shahan  On August 20, 2009 at 7:14 PM

    Dear Mr. Saunders,

    Thanks for clarifying the contents of your letter to me in 2007, and for acknowledging that the final results of Elliott and Valenza’s study did not support Greville’s authorship candidacy. I take exception to the suggestion that I attacked your book while refusing to read it. It’s more correct to say that I attacked it after reading as much of it as I thought deserved to be read, i.e, the first page of the preface. How anyone could think that what goes on the first page is somehow not part of the book, and is irrelevant, is beyond me.

    It’s true, however, that I am a stickler when it comes to claims about Elliott & Valenza’s study, and if Sir Derek Jacobi and Robin Fox had good things to say about your book, I will consider reading more of it as time allows.

    Regarding Elliott & Valenza’s offer to allow us Oxfordians to use their data base, our critique of their work relates mainly to their research design, not their measures. As I said in my last post, “Oxford’s known verse should properly be categorized as his juvenilia. Elliott and Valenza’s study design cannot rule out the possibility that Oxford’s early style developed into Shakespeare’s mature style over time.” Their data base has this problem built in, so any offer to let us use it is irrelevant. There’s no way we can get around this flaw any more than they did. Their offer is a red herring.

    The exception, of course (which you mention), is Oxford’s letters. The problem here is that prose letters are not of the same genre as poems and plays. Virtually all of their measures are valid only for poems and plays, not prose letters. We have asked Elliott & Valenza to develop non-genre-specific measures to compare Oxford’s prose letters to the plays and poems, but they refuse.

    Oxfordian researcher Nina Green did use one non-genre-specific measure to compare them, i.e, rare word analysis. She found a remarkable degree of overlap between Oxford’s and Shakespeare’s rare word vocabularies. If you’re interested, you can read the report of her results in her Edward De Vere Newsletters #57-59 at her website at It makes for very interesting reading. (You might considering doing a similar analysis for Greville.) The last chapter on the question of Oxford’s stylistic similarity to Shakespeare has yet to be written. Stay tuned.


    John Shahan

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