Tag Archives: William S. Niederkorn

May 2010 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter Goes To Press — If You’re Not an SOS Member, You’re Missing Out!

I’m sharing below the excellent lead story that will appear in the forthcoming SOS quarterly newsletter.  This piece was written by co-editors Katherine Chiljan and Ramon Jimenez.  Why am I sharing this with the world?  To show you what you’re missing!  Normally only SOS members get first crack at seeing the articles in our quarterly newsletter.  But I wanted to let SOS Online News readers see this excellent article and thereby encourage you to join the SOS.  

This lead story is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.  The newsletter is chock full of high-quality, insightful articles and reviews.  SOS members in good standing in 2010 are among the fortunate few who will be receiving their newsletters in the mail in the next few weeks. Non-members will be left in the dark … and really should consider joining the Shakespeare Oxford Society to keep up with fast-paced authorship and Oxfordian developments.

To join the SOS or renew your membership online, click this link. 

http://www.goestores.com/catalog.aspx?Merchant=shakespeareoxfordsociety

The process is quick, easy, painless.  Membership in the SOS does have its privileges … like receiving our newsletter and our annual scholarly journal The Oxfordian — which is mentioned in glowing terms in the lead article below.  So go ahead:  click and join.  You’ll be glad you did.  If you have an open mind on the authorship issue and want to learn more, we’ll welcome you into the SOS with open arms. 

Just click here to join: 

 

Much Ado About Authorship in Media

The Shakespeare Authorship Question has reached a new level of legitimacy upon the fresh release of a book devoted to the topic by English professor James Shapiro, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? The major media has embraced the book, and the controversy, by featuring interviews with Shapiro and reviews of his book online, and in English and American newspapers.

Academics have long ignored, dismissed, and even ridiculed those who doubted the Stratford Man as Shakespeare, but the public’s fascination with the controversy has put them on the defensive. Shapiro, in his recent interview with The Wall Street Journal (April 2, 2010), admitted his fears about this surging public attention. He stated that Roland Emmerich’s upcoming film portraying the Earl of Oxford as Shakespeare, “will be a disaster for those of us who teach Shakespeare.” Yet he also stated that Shakespeare was a “court observer” due to his having “performed at court over 100 times probably in the course of his career …” Although Oxfordians would agree with the former statement, the latter about the Stratford Man is a fantastic piece of guesswork.

In his interview, Shapiro also revealed the new defense strategy that academics are being forced to adopt: the sonnets of Shakespeare, written in the first person, are not autobiographical, nor are there autobiographical sources or references anywhere in the Shakespeare canon. He stated that “either you believe he’s recycling bits and pieces of his life, or you believe that he imagined them, and I like to think that he had the greatest imagination of any writer in the language. And I don’t want that belittled.”

Oxfordian scholars and enthusiasts, as well as other anti-Stratfordians, were also heartened by a clear-sighted and incisive review of Shapiro’s book in the April 2010 edition of The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture. The reviewer is William S. Niederkorn, a well-known commentator on the authorship question, and one of the most perceptive observers of its growing importance. Niederkorn’s 5,000-word essay, “Absolute Will,” reveals the inconsistencies, circular reasoning, and ridicule of anti-Stratfordian scholars that permeate Shapiro’s book, which has just been published by Simon & Shuster. Niederkorn describes Alan Nelson’s Monstrous Adversary as one of the most bilious biographies ever written,” “riddled with errors . . . and an embarrassment to scholarship.”

In recounting the recent history of the authorship question, Niederkorn also remarks that The Oxfordian, “the best American academic journal covering the authorship question, publishes papers by Stratfordians. By contrast, there is no tolerance for anti-Stratfordian scholarship at the conferences and journals Stratfordians control.” Niederkorn’s piece was chosen as the book review of the week by the National Book Critics Circle.

Perhaps the most notorious Shakespeare-related book of the last decade, Contested Will has already been reviewed in Publishers Weekly and The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Los Angeles Times, salon.com, The Economist, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The London Review of Books, The Guardian and The Independent and others. The book was also reviewed on the SOS’s website (SOS Online, Archives, Dec. 2009). Oxfordian scholars Richard Whalen and Tom Hunter provide additional reviews in this issue on pp. 7 and 12. It appears that the Anti-Anti-Stratfordian movement is “at last gasp,” to quote Oxford’s phrase in Cymbeline (1.5.53).

 

Niederkorn weighs in on Shapiro

Former New York Times editor William S. Niederkorn weighed in on James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? with his review “Absolute Will” in the April 2010 edition of The Brooklyn Rail: Critical Perspectives on Arts, Politics and Culture.

Niederkorn reported on the Shakespeare authorship controversy in the pages of the New York Times from 2002 through 2007. He is knowledgable and writes clearly on the issue. Niederkorn says he has no favorite candidate in the controversy, ” . . . that if hard evidence were found for Will of Stratford as the author of Shakespeare’s works, I would love to break the story.”

Regarding Shapiro’s search for the reasons behind Shakespeare authorship query by otherwise respected minds like Hellen Keller, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Sigmund Freud, Niederkorn says:

But Shapiro misses the main point: Whatever the reasons they used to support their views amid the emerging theories of their time, the idea that Will of Stratford was not the great poet, whether it was their own impression or suggested to them, was meaningful to them. These writers, reading the works with singularly ingenious intensity, each intuitively felt that the traditional story did not add up.

Throughout his review Niederkorn patiently picks apart errors in Shapiro’s logic and viewpoint — for example regarding Shapiro’s reliance on Alan Nelson’s 2003 biography of Edward de Vere, Monstrous Adversary, Niederkorn says:

If Shapiro has a bible on the Earl of Oxford it is Alan Nelson’s Monstrous Adversary, a life of de Vere that is one of the most bilious biographies ever written. Riddled with errors, which Oxfordians have pointed out since its publication in 2003, Nelson’s book is an embarrassment to scholarship.Contested Will, whose title is cast in the same syntactical form as Nelson’s and which revels in the same spirit, is almost as bad.

Though both books assemble a great deal of interesting information, they are patently biased and need to be read skeptically. While it is hard to find one page of Nelson’s book that is free of unfair statement, though, Shapiro can occasionally sound seductively considerate. He characterizes Nelson’s book as “harsh,” but also “authoritative,” and recycles Nelson’s opinions.

Niederkorn hits the nail on the head regarding the current fad for finding “late” Shakespearean works:

The customary way to dismiss the Oxford case is to note that Oxford died in 1604, name some Shakespeare plays and insist they are of later date. Shapiro names nine. But the traditional dating of the plays is largely based on the assumption that Will of Stratford wrote them, so it’s a circular argument. There is no definitive post-1604 dating. That is why Stratfordians keep introducing new “Shakespeare” works that date from after de Vere’s death. It happened with the insertion of the poems “Shall I Die?” and “A Funeral Elegy” into editions of the Shakespeare canon, and now it is apparently happening again with a play appropriately titledDouble Falsehood, which the Arden Shakespeare is adding to its Complete Works.

He speaks fervently of journalistic objectivity and academic openness.

I count myself among journalists who aim to be objective, but if authorship articles are not slanted toward their side, Stratfordians get upset. . . . Among the conferences where I have spoken, Stratfordians have always been welcome to present papers. At one that I attended, Alan Nelson was honored at the awards banquet. The Oxfordian, the best American academic journal covering the authorship question, publishes papers by Stratfordians. By contrast, there is no tolerance for anti-Stratfordian scholarship at the conferences and journals Stratfordians control.

And his sense of humor leavens his commentary.

Anti-Stratfordian scholars are conspicuously absent from his (Shapiro’s) acknowledgments, which include what reads like a Stratfordian Politburo. The book is sure to be a prize winner; if Shapiro were British he would be knighted for it.

Read Niederkorn’s review at The Brooklyn Rail, “Absolute Will”.