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Querulous Notes (2004)
April 16, 2004
As all lawyers know, Continuing Legal Education is a scam. It gives laymen the illusion that members of the legal profession keep up to date (most do, some don’t, and CLE requirements have minimal impact on the size of either group) while providing a nice livelihood to purveyors of courses. An instance has now appeared that both exposes the rot and has some bearing on a subject of interest to me, the Shakespeare authorship “controversy”.
Over the first weekend of June, the University of Tennessee College of Law (Instapundit’s home ground) will present a seminar entitled “Who Wrote Shakespeare? An Evidentiary Puzzle”. There’s nothing wrong with that topic or with the speakers. The cast includes Alan H. Nelson, Steven May, Ward Elliott (a leading authority on the so far fruitless effort to resolve authorship questions with computers) and D. Allen Carroll (editor of the best available edition of Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit). Also speaking are various anti-Stratfordians, but how could one debate the question without them?
What is not so fine is giving members of the Bar fourteen hours of CLE credit – almost all that a Tennessee lawyer needs to meet his annual quota [finishing up requires a three hour session on Legal Ethics] – to listen to presentations that will do nothing whatsoever to sharpen their professional skills or enhance their legal knowledge. The authorship debate is a delightful hobby, but it is not a puzzling evidentiary challenge, especially not in the sense that lawyers deal with evidence. The material bearing on any controversy about 16th Century literature is always haphazard, fragmentary and only partially on point. That in almost any lawsuit is voluminous, contradictory and at least partly fabricated for the purpose of affecting the outcome of the case. The skills needed to deal with the former are only remotely similar to those required for the latter.
The only rationale that I can imagine for calling this enterprise “legal education” is that students will have the opportunity to hear examples of bizarre misinterpretations, the refutation of which will hone their thinking skills. Unfortunately, the anti-Stratfordians at the UT seminar are mostly such low-grade exemplars of data mishandling that they won’t pose any real challenge. Diana Price is the least bad of the lot, and the core of her case is an arbitrarily constructed argumentum ad silentium. Among the others are several whose work I have discussed on this site: William Niederkorn, Peter Dickson and the inimitable (as if anyone would want to) Roger Stritmatter (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). To say that all of them are bunglers would be too kind. The remaining anti-Stratford speakers are Richard F. Whalen, whom I've never discussed because he is little more than an epitomizer of Charlton Ogburn, Jr., and Jerry Downs, a discussant rather than a presenter, who publishes only in obscure anti-Stratfordian venues that are inaccessible to me. I'm told that he is a "relatively sane Oxfordian".
"Who Wrote Shakespeare?" would be academically useful as a short course for English teachers, who usually know nothing about odd authorship theories and bumble when they encounter them for the first time. As training for lawyers, it is a fraud on the lawyer-using public. Then, again, it is far from the only CLE course about which that would be an accurate statement.
[To comment, click here.]
February 15, 2004
Seeing anti-Stratfordian malarkey in The New York Times induces a certain satisfaction: a further symptom of the intellectual decay of the American Left. Rightists can't be too complacent, however, for conservative publications are not immune to the same rot. The Weekly Standard, vigorous flayer of idiotarianism in foreign policy, last week succumbed to cultural idiotarianism with a piece entitled "The Roman Plays?" [link for on-line subscribers only], penned by one Peter W. Dickson, who is identified as "a former CIA political-military analyst and biographer of Henry Kissinger". The editors do not mention, and perhaps did not know, that Mr. Dickson is also a vocal poster on the Humanities.Lit.Authors.Shakespeare Internet newsgroup, where he energetically proclaims that Shakespeare's works cannot have been written by "the Strat man" and that "Oxfordians are destined to win the authorship dispute". The ground for his confidence is "the possible, probable . . . nay, certain crypto-Roman Catholicism" of Shakespeare of Stratford, "who emerged from and never broke free of the network of Warwickshire families known for their Catholicism" and whose mentalité was thus irreconcilable with that of the dramatist. [HLAS 12/8/99]
With a light sprinkling of protective coloration (Lord Oxenford's name is never mentioned), that is the argument that Mr. Dickson presents to Standard readers in the guise of a review of Michael Wood's BBC production, airing on PBS this month, "In Search of Shakespeare". Shakespeare's possible Catholic ties are one of Mr. Wood's themes, although, in the manner of his previous "In Search of. . . ." projects, he bulks out drams of fact with pounds of speculative stuffing. The facts in this case are that the name of John Shakespeare, William's father, appears on a Catholic confession discovered in the rafters of his house long after his death, that John is known to have evaded the legal obligation to attend Anglican services (his excuse was the he was afraid of being waylaid by creditors), that William's daughter Susanna was on a list of alleged non-attenders in 1606 (though no action was taken against her) and that there were many Catholics in the vicinity of Stratford, including some related more or less remotely to the Shakespeares. For William himself, the evidence fails. Mr. Dickson is much impressed by his purchase in 1613 of a property that supposedly had been used as a safe house for Jesuits in earlier years, though it is hard to understand why the practices of former owners should be imputed to the purchaser. Beyond that, we have no record that he was ever charged with any laxity in Anglican observance or that he associated closely with known Catholics. In the panicky inquisition that followed the Gunpowder Plot, he did not come under suspicion. A late writer asserts that "he died a Papist", but that evidence is no more reliable than the rest of the posthumous "Shakespeare Mythos". All that we can say is nothing in the known data concerning William's life puts the possibility that he could have been a Papist out of court.
In Mr. Dickson's eyes, these shards add up to an irrefutable case, which, he fantasizes, has created a violent schism within the Shakespeare establishment, now divided between "those Strats obsessed with the idea of a secret Catholic Bard" and those "obsessed with denying that the Strat man was a secret Catholic.  We need to get to the bottom of these new Stratfordian obsessions with the Catholic issue" [HLAS 11/8/02].
The "obsessions" are mostly, however, in the eye of the beholder. For example, Mr. Dickson claims that the main purpose of Sam Schoenbaum's review of Ian Wilson's Shakespeare: The Evidence (1994) was "to trash [the book], to squelch any further poking around with this Catholic topic" [HLAS 11/9/02]. For this offense he labels Schoenbaum, one of the most eminent of Shakespearean biographers, "intellectually corrupt". And how do we know that Schoenbaum's mildly unfavorable appraisal was prompted by Wilson's heterodoxy on the "Catholic topic"? Because he didn't say anything about it! "For Schoenbaum to make not one mention of the clear Catholic theme in Wilson's book is a strong sign that he found the topic distasteful and did not wish to give Wilson's book any credibility for this reason." [HLAS 1/8/04]
Shakespeare's religious views are certainly a live issue, but a low-voltage one, initially raised not by Shakespeare of Stratford's biography but by the plays themselves. Unlike many Elizabethan writings, they do not blaze with militant Protestantism. The history plays occasionally denigrate Papal agents, but they exhibit none of the enthusiasm of the then-popular "elect nation" genre, centered on Reformation heroes and the English Church's conflict with Rome. Certainly the playwright who portrayed one of those heroes, the Lollard martyr Sir John Oldcastle, as a fat, vain, cowardly braggart can be suspected of indifference, or less kindly sentiments, toward the change of religions. (After protests by Oldcastle's influential descendants, he altered the character's surname to "Falstaff".) Of the rest of the plays set in the Christian era, almost all clothe religion in traditional, Catholic-like garb: masses, confession, friars, Purgatory. "Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered" is not a sentence that would form naturally on 16th Century Protestant lips. Mr. Dickson is far off the mark when he declares in The Weekly Standard,
Mainstream scholars have long insistedand correctlythat the literary works taken as a whole could not have come from the pen of a person with a sectarian worldview or the "siege mentality" natural for English Catholics in the face of brutal persecution. The traces of the old faith that can be found in the dramas and poems are few in number and orthodox scholars chalk them up to Shakespeare's professionalism as a dramatist when he tried to be faithful to the pre-Reformation historical context of  his dramas. Beyond that, they observe that some Shakespearean dramas convey a hostility to the papacy and Catholic views, to the point that he sometimes seems a propagandist for the Tudor regime. From this perspective, they will allow that perhaps the Bard might have been a homosexual, but never a secret Roman Catholic.
That analysis is correct to an extent too limited to be useful: Guy Fawkes or Robert Parsons would not have written King John or Henry VIII and would not have made the porter in Macbeth rail against the Gunpowder Plot. But Fawkes and Parsons were not representative English Catholics. The great majority of their co-religionists were politically loyal (much to the annoyance of the extremist fringe) and willing to make tactful compromises to sidestep confrontations with the State (to the occasional annoyance of the Pope). One could readily chalk up traces of the new faith in the plays to a Catholic Shakespeare's professionalism as a dramatist when he tried to follow the historical accounts that he found in his sources.
Some mainstream commentators find enough signs of Catholicism in the Shakespearean corpus to convince them that the author was a Catholic. Others find that view strained or fanciful. Virtually none would call a Catholic Bard unthinkable or even ridiculously improbable. The thesis is merely one for which really solid proof is unlikely ever to be available.
Without Mr. Dickson's unfounded certainty that all Elizabethan Catholics were afflicted with a sectarian "siege mentality" that rendered them incapable of writing literature as religiously uncontroversial as Shakespeare's, his tirade about "how awkward a Catholic bard on the royal payroll would have been in that era and later for a nation whose cultural identity cannot be divorced from the Reformation and the Protestant heritage" is meaningless. There is, in fact, a counter-example. Ben Jonson converted to the Roman Church in 1598 and did not return to Anglicanism until 1612. During those 14 years, he not only rose to eminence as a playwright but wrote masques for the court of James I. He neither suffered for his religion nor intruded it into his work. If Jonson could survive as an open Catholic, Shakespeare could have lived as a secret one while pursuing his career as a dramatist. Perhaps he did. Perhaps he didn't. The answer has no bearing on the authorship "controversy".
Addendum, 2/20/04: Mr. Dickson has posted a response on HLAS to my comments. It is more typical of the general run of his rants than the carefully edited piece in The Weekly Standard. For such insight as it offers into the mental world of a certain segment of anti-Stratfordianism, I reprint it without editing. The spelling and ellipses are as in the original.
If Veal had any integirty with hs diatibe he would honestly address the clear facts that several cited in my essay in The Weekly Review...such as Stanley Wells, Germaine Greer, Clive James, Sir Frank Kermode...are upset with Wood's pushing the Catholic opposition which quite is consistent with the historically if not viscerally anti-Catholic bias of the Shakespeare Establishment, certainly in Britain where as the standard narrative goes or went for for a long time...the Catholics were the guys with the Black hats.  Wood over and over through his film gives us a Catholic-flavored Bard an outsider "as a victim" of the ruthless Tudor Police state... to appeal (?) to the politically correct crowd?  Problably.... though I think Wood as a historian with a residue of honesty is also simply following the facts like Gary Taylor and Honigman and a host of others...where those facts lead the Catholic Connection Big Time. Even Wells and Wood would not deny my characterization of a profound Stratfordian schism over the Catholic Question...because their own remarks at the back-to-back lectures at the Smithsonian in late October were open admissions of this split over the evidence. Each side thinks they are right and the other guy wrong. That is a schism. Veal and Kathman in earlier remarks represent species of Stratfordians who want to deny that there is this schism because they know that the anti-Strats and Oxfordians can capitalize on it to add to show how it widens not closes the huge gap between the Strat man and the literary works. I am working on a typology of reations to Wood's film across the and con. One thing is clear the Catholic Bard movement in on a big roll and it will press its case against the Wells-led orthodox scholars aggressively as we can see in these two new anthologies of pro-Catholic Bard essays just published by Fordham and Manchester Universities. All this is in my essay in The Weekly Standard for which I have received much praise...for its objectivity and balance.
The anthologies to which Mr. Dickson refers (there are actually three) are Richard Dutton, Alison Gail Findlay & Richard Wilson (eds.), Lancastrian Shakespeare: Region, Religion and Patronage (Manchester University Press, 2003), Richard Dutton, Alison Gail Findlay & Richard Wilson (eds.), Lancastrian Shakespeare: Theatre and Religion (Manchester University Press, 2003) and Dennis Taylor & David N. Beauregard (eds.), Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England (Fordham University Press, 2004). All three illustrate the central flaw in Mr. Dickson's argument: While there is much disagreement about the religious implications of Shakespeare's plays, nothing known about the opinions of "the Stratford Man" is markedly inconsistent with his authorship. Indeed, as I noted, it is the plays themselves that first hinted at the possibility of a Catholic author.
As for Mr. Dickson's wholesale accusations of dishonesty, which he levels against everyone who disagrees with him, all that I can say is that he sounds a lot like a Democratic Presidential candidate railing against George W. Bush. Is Deanism spreading beyond the original locus of infection?
[To comment, click here.]
February 3, 2004
Having looked at Dr. Stritmatter's literary arguments in Part Four of this ongoing discussion of his Oxfordian dissertation The Marginalia of Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible: Providential Discovery, Literary Reasoning, and Historical Consequence, it is time to turn to the tome's quantitative analysis.
The heart of Dr. Stritmatter’s dissertation is the contention that a high correlation exists between the Biblical verses marked in the De Vere Bible and those alluded to in the works of Shakespeare, too high to be explained by mere chance. He offers three lines of argument in support of this concept.
The first is qualitative. He tries to show that the marked verses had a particularly powerful influence on Shakespeare’s ideas. The last installment of this study looked at one chapter's worth of that commentary. The other two arguments are ostensibly quantitative, though, as we shall see, far from precise. The simpler one goes through the marked verses one by one, identifying those that appear to be reflected in the Shakespearean corpus. The other singles out, in a rather subjective manner, the Biblical verses most often used by Shakespeare, which Dr. Stritmatter calls “Shakespeare diagnostics”, and compares them to the ones marked by the annotator(s).
The quantitative analysis, if taken at face value, looks rather more impressive that the literary. As summarized in the dissertation’s Appendix C, prepared by James P. McGill on the basis of data furnished by Dr. Stritmatter, “The de Vere Bible has 1063 marked verses. There are approximately 199 Biblical verses that are referenced in Shakespeare and also marked in the de Vere Bible.” That may not sound like an impressive overlap, but Mr. McGill demonstrates, using a statistical technique known as hypergeometric distribution, that, if the data are accurate, it is significantly more than one would anticipate if the annotator(s) and Shakespeare had each chosen Biblical verses independently and at random. (Such a correlation would not prove, of course, that Shakespeare and the hypothetical annotator were the same persons, just as two similar lists of favorite songs could be produced by different individuals.)
The argument based on the “Shakespeare diagnostics” seemingly requires no such statistical argumentation. According to Dr. Stritmatter, 30 of the 81 diagnostic verses are marked in the De Vere Bible, and another 16 are “indirectly” marked. Surely 46 (or even 30) out of 81 cannot be a random result.
Further examination shows, however, that it can be. Dr. Stritmatter’s superficially objective and quantitative apparatus turns out to be rickety, and the results that it produces, after one adjusts for its defects, do not support the hypothesis that the De Vere Bible markings correspond in any meaningful way to the portions of the Bible that influenced Shakespeare.
Let us begin by looking at the data, which, like prisoners, cannot reveal what they do not know, however much they may be tortured. Part Two of this commentary concluded that it is not very likely that all of the markings in the De Vere Bible were made by a single person and that there is no way to tell which ones, if any, come from the hand of the 17th Earl of Oxenford. For the purposes of analysis, we will temporarily suspend our disbelief and accept Dr. Stritmatter’s heroic assumption that there was only one annotator. If that assumption is wrong, there is no possibility of establishing a connection between the De Vere Bible and Shakespeare’s works.
The data set drawn from the works consists of Shakespearean passages that have been identified, by previous authorities or, more often, only by Dr. Stritmatter, as Biblical allusions. These allusions are, however, far from being precise and identifiable facts. Dr. Stritmatter draws on the work of four scholars who have studied Shakespeare’s Bible knowledge: Thomas Carter (Shakespeare and Holy Scripture (1905)), Richmond Noble (Shakespeare’s Biblical Knowledge (1935)), Peter Milward, (Biblical Influences in Shakespeare’s Great Tragedies (1987)) and Naseeb Shaheen (several studies, of which the most recent is Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays (1999; rev. 2002)). In Appendix D, Table A, Dr. Stritmatter lists the verses (sometimes groups of consecutive verses) marked in the De Vere Bible that, according to those predecessors, “influence Shakespeare”. A glance at this list of 94 verses (Dr. Stritmatter miscounts it as 96) reveals not a single instance in which all four agree that Shakespeare alludes to the passage and only four (I Samuel 16:7, Hosea 10:13 (misprinted in the table as “8:13"), Ecclus. 13:1-3, Ecclus. 28:1-5) where there is agreement among three. Fewer than half of the listed verses (45) are cited in Shaheen’s study, which is the most thorough of the group.
It is thus not easy to tell where Shakespeare is echoes Scripture. Moreover, the “influences” uncovered by Shaheen et al. are not necessarily direct or exclusive. Here is a closer look at Professor Shaheen’s treatment of the four on which there is three-quarters consensus that a Biblical reference of some kind is present in Shakespeare:
I Samuel 16:7: Professor Shaheen links this verse to three plays: Richard III III.i.9-11, 2 Henry IV III.ii.257-60 and Henry VIII III.i.145. But he says that the first case is “Perhaps an analogy rather than a reference” [Shaheen, p. 351]. For the second, he cites two additional Biblical parallels, adding “Most likely analogies rather than references” [Shaheen, p. 442]. The phrase in Henry VIII is called “A common expression, and there were many proverbs to this effect.” Professor Shaheen quotes three Biblical parallels and three popular proverbs. [Shaheen, p. 482]
Hosea 10:13: Professor Shaheen compares this verse (and also Matthew 13:24-25) to Coriolanus III.i.69-72 but then observes that Shakespeare’s language here is simply borrowed from his source, Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch. The Biblical reference is North’s, not Shakespeare’s. [Shaheen, pp. 663-64]
Ecclesiasticus 13:1-3: Ecclus. 13:1 (“He that toucheth pitch, shall be defiled with it; and he that is familiar with the proud shall be like unto him.” Geneva translation) is a frequent and undoubted Shakespearean source (alluded to seven times, according to Professor Shaheen) [Shaheen, p. 799]. Unfortunately for Dr. Stritmatter’s case, and despite its inclusion in his appendix, it is not marked in the De Vere Bible. The marked verse is Ecclus. 13:3, which none of Dr. Stritmatter’s authorities recognizes as a Shakespearean source. This is one of several places where Dr. Stritmatter counts near misses as “hits”.
Ecclus. 28:1-5: Professor Shaheen finds two Shakespearean allusions to verses in this series. One is a prayer for mercy (Merchant of Venice IV.i.200-202) with many Biblical parallels [Shaheen, p. 182]. The other (Henry V II.ii.79-81) is a clear reference to Ecclesiasticus 28:4, but not to the Geneva translation (the one contained in the De Vere Bible) [Shaheen, p. 456]. This is one of the rare instances in which Shakespeare can be shown to have used a non-Geneva text. Hence, the marking in the De Vere Bible is meaningless, or perhaps contrary to Dr. Stritmatter's thesis.
In short, these four verses produce no allusions that incontrovertibly rest on anything that the De Vere annotator marked. Many of Dr. Stritmatter’s other citations are similarly weak: Either there are several possible Biblical referents, or the existence of a genuine allusion is uncertain, or the marked verse is merely near the one that Shakespeare used.
Even with these lax standards, Dr. Stritmatter finds only 94 “hits” out of over 1,300 marked verses. The remainder of his claimed 199 (really 198) “verses that influence Shakespeare” are his own “discoveries”, supposedly missed by all prior researchers. Few of them look credible to me, but we needn’t consider their merits. What is important here is that they are of no use for statistical purposes, because Dr. Stritmatter has looked only at marked verses, thus driving up the number of (purported) hits, without examining whether unmarked verses also represent hitherto unnoticed Shakespearean sources. It is unbelievable that previous scholars overlooked only allusions to those verses that happen to be marked in the De Vere Bible.
Given the fuzziness of the data, one cannot have a great deal of confidence in any statistical test. Nonetheless, Dr. Stritmatter makes a stab at one. An on-line statistics publication, Chance News, has summarized the argument set forth in the McGill/Stritmatter appendix:
McGill's analysis is based on the following assumptions: There are about 30,000 verses contained in the New and Old Testament of which about 1 in 3 or 10,000 might yield a useable reference for an author. Stritmatter found 1083 marked verses in the de Vere Bible, and based on his and other experts’ research, about 982 unique Biblical verses used by Shakespeare. Strittmatter identified 199 verses that were both in Shakespeare's works and in the de Vere Bible. So McGill asks: could an overlap as large as this occur by chance?
To answer this, he assumes that the 1083 choices in the de Vere Bible represent a random sample chosen randomly without replacement from the set of 10,000 possible verses in the Bible. Then the distribution of the overlap with the the 982 verses used by Shakespeare would have a hypergeometric distribution. The hypergeometric distribution has three parameters: the population size N = 10,000, the number of successes s = 982 (verses used by Shakespeare) and the sample size n = 1083 (verses in the de Vere Bible). Then if p = s/N and q = 1-p, the expected size of the overlap is np = 104.4 and the variance = npq(N-n)/(N-1) = 84.14 giving a standard derivation of 9.17. The overlap of 199 is 95 greater than the expected number 104 which translates to about 11standard deviations greater. Such a difference could hardly occur by chance.
Translated into less mathish terms, suppose that we gave a monkey a pen and had it mark 1083 verses in a Bible. If the other data were as presented in Dr. Stritmatter’s Appendix C, there would be about a 68 percent probability that the number of marked verses used by Shakespeare would lie between 95 and 113, a 95 percent probability of between 86 and 122 and less than a one percent chance that the figure would be less than 77 or more than 131.
Interestingly, the entire deviation from the expected overlap, plus a bit more, is accounted for by Biblical allusions in Shakespeare “discovered” by Dr. Stritmatter. The 94 known to his predecessors have a one standard deviation negative correlation with the De Vere Bible annotations, a result consistent with chance.
There are, moreover, some obvious problems with the Appendix C data. Professor Shaheen alone lists not 982, but almost 3,000, distinct Biblical verses that, by Dr. Stritmatter’s criteria, were “used” by Shakespeare [Shaheen, pp. 769-826]. I do not have comparable verse counts for Messrs. Noble, Carter and Milward, but it is fair to assume that the total number of Shakespearean Biblical allusions that they count is proportional to the number that are marked in the De Vere Bible, which means that they would cite about 3,000 Biblical verses not identified as Shakespearean by Professor Shaheen. To be conservative, we will use 5,000 for “s” (verses used by Shakespeare) and a population size of 35,000 (the total number of verses in the Bible, including the Apocrypha). (The larger the population size, the lower the expected overlap, so this change is favorable to Dr. Stritmatter’s case.) Hence, we have -
N = 35,000
s = 5,000
n = 1,083
expected overlap = 154.7
standard deviation = 11.34
actual overlap = 94 (disregarding references “found” by Dr. Stritmatter but no one else)
There is less than a one percent probability that random selection would have produced an overlap greater than 189 or less than 121; that is, these data show a very strong negative correlation (minus 5.36 standard deviations) between the De Vere markings and Shakespeare’s Biblical allusions. If N were the 10,000 used in Appendix C, the expected overlap would be 541.5 and the 99 percent probability range between 495 and 587, a negative correlation of over 22 standard deviations.
If we limit ourselves simply to Professor Shaheen’s findings, which are highly regarded by scholars and have no reason to be biased against verses marked by the De Vere "annotator", the results are better but not good enough, five standard deviations below expectation:
N = 35,000
s = 2,950
n = 1,083
expected overlap = 91.3
standard deviation = 9.00
99 percent probability range = 64 - 118
actual overlap = 44
Adding Dr. Stritmatter’s “discoveries” to the number of “hits” distorts the results, because we have no way of knowing how many verses used by Shakespeare but recognized by no one else and not marked in the De Vere Bible he would have found had he made an unbiased effort. If we guess that the number would have been as few as 1,000 (very conservative; among verses that are marked in the Bible, he finds, as we have seen, twice as many Shakespearean sources as Messrs. Carter, Noble, Milward and Shaheen combined), here are the results:
N = 35,000
s = 6,100
n = 1,083
expected overlap = 188.8
standard deviation = 12.29
99 percent probability range = 152 - 226
The actual overlap, 198, is less than one standard deviation above the chance expectation, even after we have fudged the numbers in Dr. Stritmatter’s favor and accepted all of his (mostly dubious) new data.
Despite the imprecision of the information on which this cursory analysis is based, its conclusions are so striking that one can say with great confidence that there is no statistical evidence of any correlation between the De Vere markings and the Scripture used by Shakespeare.
Our next installment will consider the other part of Dr. Stritmatter’s quantitative foray, the so-called “diagnostic verses”.
[To comment, click here.]
January 20, 2004
Here is the fourth part of my irregular series examining Roger A. Stritmatter's The Marginalia of Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible: Providential Discovery, Literary Reasoning, and Historical Consequence, which is, to the best of my knowledge, the only anti-Stratfordian tome ever to gain its author a Ph.D. Part One was a general overview of Dr. Stritmatter's handling of facts and logic. Part Two examined his key proposition: that the marginal markings in the Bible once owned by the Earl of Oxenford must have been made by him rather than by other owners. Part Three glanced at his incomptence in an area where he tries to pass an an expert.
Although he makes pseudo-statistical arguments (which will be examined in a later installment of this series), Dr. Stritmatter’s ostensible case for the identity of the De Vere Bible annotator with the author of Shakespeare’s works is literary. He claims that the verses marked in the Bible embody themes that are of central importance to the Shakespearean plays and poems. The bulk of his dissertation attempts to substantiate that thesis. To go through the whole of his unsystematic presentation point-by-point would be an immense labor. It is possible, though, to appreciate the acuteness (vel non) of his analysis by looking at one segment, on the principle that one need not eat all of egg to find out whether it is rotten.
Chapter 13, “Goliath’s Spear”, is a good place to start. It contains one of Dr. Stritmatter’s most widely touted “discoveries” of a coincidence between Shakespeare and the de Vere Bible, as well as passages that illustrate his characteristic working methods and quality of thought. Also, my task as a critic has been made easier by Thomas Larque, who has sent me a draft of his not-yet-published essay on “Goliath With His Weaver’s Beam”, treating in detail the central portion of the chapter.
The final paragraph of Chapter 13 sums up what Dr. Stritmatter thinks that he has proven in the preceding pages:
An explicit conclusion is in order. In this chapter we have seen that Edward de Vere marks in his Geneva Bible two out of three prominent scriptural sources for the Protestant ideal of weapons of faith, an idea reflected in a number of passages in the Shakespeare canon. He also annotates a verse, Wisdom 18.21, with the concept written in his own hand that “prayer is the weapon of the Godly”. Because of the wide distribution of this idea in Renaissance [sic – surely he means “Reformation”] theology it would be a mistake to draw any definitive conclusions from such coincidences in vacuo. More significantly, however, we have discovered de Vere’s marking of the scriptural precedent for Falstaff’s parody of the same concept, which comically draws upon an underlined passage in II Samuel which refers to the giant size of Goliath’s spear. It is difficult to believe that any open-minded reader can remain unimpressed by this extraordinary – almost comical [sic!] – coincidence between Shakespeare’s Bible references and the documentary record of the de Vere Geneva Bible. [p. 108 (published edition)/pp. 170-1 (UMI edition)]
A leading feature of Dr. Stritmatter’s discourse is his tendency to wander from topic to topic, which makes the thread of his argument difficult to locate. Chapter 13 is not unusual in this regard. The jumpiness of my commentary simply reflects that of the text that it glosses. We begin far afield from Goliath, Falstaff and prayer:
Shakespeare’s darkest and most disturbing play anatomizes the consequences of blind ambition sustained by faith in anarchic nature. “If chance will crown me,” declares Macbeth, “chance will have me king” (1.3.143). Macbeth might have been reading Edward de Vere’s Geneva text of the historical books of Samuel, in which the annotator has carefully noticed the dialectic [sic – there is no "dialectic" between the two; grace, in the Geneva view, absolutely supersedes chance] between the force of chance and the idea of divine grace, underlining the Genevan note (f) attached to I Samuel 6.9 which testifies that “The wicked attribute almost all things to fortune and chance, wheras in dede there is nothing done without God’s providence and decree” (emphasis added [by Stritmatter]: Genevan 1570). [p. 101/158]
At first glance, there does seem to be a conceptual likeness between Macbeth’s words and the sentiment rebuked by the Geneva note: The Scottish thane invokes “chance” to validate his prophesied kingship. If he gains the crown, he was meant to be king and thus has the right to the office. Such thinking the Geneva commentators would doubtless have attributed to “the wicked”.
Readers who are familiar with Macbeth may, however, feel a slight discomfort at this point. The regular but lumbering line, “If chance will crown me, chance will have me king”, doesn’t sound quite right. And it isn’t. What Shakespeare actually put into Macbeth’s mouth was, “If Chance will have me King, Why Chance may crown me, Without my stir.”
Macbeth has just heard the witches’ prophecies and stands “rapt”, contemplating the possibility of seizing the throne by murdering King Duncan. Struggling against temptation, he reflects that perhaps he need do nothing to see the weird sisters’ promise fulfilled. If only he had followed that prudent impulse, that is, had let “fortune and chance” take their course, his crimes and downfall would have been averted. One could almost say that Macbeth – the true text rather than the Stritmatter misquotation – endorses acquiescence in “chance”.
In fact, however, the “chance” to which Macbeth refers has only the vaguest, most general connection to the “fortune and chance” of the Geneva note, as is clear when one looks at the accompanying scripture. Macbeth’s “chance” is a personification: the Greek goddess Tyche and the medieval Dame Fortune. The note’s “chance” is unpersonified. The context is the plague that befell the Philistines after they captured the Ark of the Covenant. Unsure whether they were suffering a natural disaster or one sent by the Israelite God, they put the matter to the test of an oracle, setting the Ark in a cart, then letting the draft animals wander freely:
And see, if it goeth up by the way of his [Yahweh’s] own coast to Bethshemesh, he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that not his hand smote us: it is a chance happened to us. [I Samuel 6:9]
Here “a chance” is random happenstance rather than what Dr. Stritmatter calls “the moral nihilism of Macbeth’s deification of chance” (p. 107/169). There is nothing to suggest that “[the author of] Macbeth might have been reading Edward de Vere’s Geneva text of the historical books of Samuel”. He may use the word “chance”, but it doesn’t mean the same thing as in the Geneva Bible.
Dr. Stritmatter turns abruptly from the role of “chance” in Macbeth to a different theme, that “prayer is the weapon of the Godly”, said to be –
copiously iterated at the lexical level in the Shakespeare canon. When, for example, Queen Margaret declares that “his champions are the prophets and the apostles,/ His weapons holy saws of sacred writ [emphasis Stritmatter’s], his study his tilt yard (II Henry VI 1.3.61), she has in mind the principle, written in the margins of de Vere’s bible, that spiritual devotion can be a sublimation of the aggressive instinct and substitute for military confrontation. [p. 101/158-9]
One can’t but wonder whether Dr. Stritmatter has read the play that he quotes. Queen Margaret’s words are spoken in scorn of her unmartial husband, and King Henry’s piety proves a very inadequate “substitute for military confrontation”. Dr. Stritmatter has rather missed that nuance.
De Vere seems to have entertained a pious belief that victory comes not through armor, or even through chance as Macbeth believes, but through humble devotion to the divine will. We see the theme, for example, marked in the note (a) adjoining I Samuel 14.1, which contrasts the saving grace of God to the power of armor. . . . [The note reads, “By this example God wold declare to Israel that the victorie did not consist in multitude or armour, but onely came of his grace.”] The moral throws an ironic light on the confrontation between Mowbray and Bolingbroke in the first act of Richard II, in which Warwick [sic – he means “Mowbray”] appeals to the “grace of God” while Bolingbroke enters the lists “in armour”. [pp. 101-2/159]
Dr. Stritmatter forms this contrast by, first, ignoring the fact that Mowbray appeals to “this mine arm” as well as to God’s grace [I.iii.22] and, second, quoting (inaccurately, though his errors don’t matter in this instance) the stage directions printed in the First Quarto (“The trumpets sound. Enter the Duke of Herford, appellant, in armor”). As I noted in an earlier installment, Dr. Stritmatter regularly treats the plays as if they were primarily for reading rather than performance. In this instance, his moral would be apparent to a spectator only if Mowbray appeared without armor, an unlikely staging of which there is no hint in the text. It is also worth noting that, so far as the play is concerned, Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, is in the right in his quarrel with Mowbray. Thus he, rather than his enemy, ought to be the beneficiary of divine grace.
Another abrupt swerve follows:
Also marked in the de Vere Bible is the note (f) attached to II Samuel 16.10 in which [the Biblical passage, not the note] Zerviah curses David. [The note reads, “David felt that this was the judgement of God for his sinne, & therefore humbleth himselfe to his rod.”] The underlined phrase “humbleth himself to his rod” is reflected in two passages in Shakespeare [Two Gentlemen I.ii.59 and Richard II V.i.31-33] [p. 102/160]
A patent motive for this digression is to give Dr. Stritmatter the opportunity to claim that the note is a better source for the Shakespearean passages than those cited by Naseeb Shaheen, a dubious assertion that is not worth discussing here. A second reason for dragging in II Samuel 16:10 is that it mentions King David, leading to a remarkable segue:
If God had judged David by external qualities, he could not have become King of Israel. In subsequent chapters of the book of Samuel, on the other hand, David confronts a Philistine military machine of impressive dimensions but conquers it with a shepherd’s weapon – his slingshot. The narrative teaches that victory comes not by means of weaponry but by the grace of God. Surely the confrontation between puny David and the technocratic miracle of Goliath is among the most memorable passages in the annals of history. But how often do readers remember the carefully specified size of Goliath’s spear? In II Samuel 21, when David confronts the Philistines in battle, the narrator takes careful note of the – comically gigantic already in the second millennium b.c.e.? – dimensions of the military hardware which the Philistines brought to wage war against the people of the book, including the size of Goliath’s spear. The annotator underlines the measurement – comparing the spear to “a weaver’s beam” [footnote omitted] – in scarlet ink (figure 31). [p. 102/160-1]
The reader who squints at Figure 31 is in for a surprise. The marked verse, II Samuel 21:19, does not recount “when David confronts the Philistines in battle”. It reads: “And there was yet another battel in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the sonne of Iarre-oregim, a Bethlehemite, slewe Goliath the Gittite: the staffe of whose speare was like a weavers beame.”
As Dr. Stritmatter’s footnote states without comment, the comparison of a spear to a weaver’s beam occurs four times in the Old Testament. The David-Goliath reference, familiar to every Englishman in Elizabethan times, is at I Samuel 17:7 (where it is not marked by the de Vere Bible “annotator”).
But who is Elhanan, and how could he have slain the already dead Goliath? In Biblical chronology, this battle takes place years after shepherd lad’s anointing as King of Israel and hence long after Goliath’s death. Modern commentators are content to opine that there was more than one tradition about how the famous Philistine warrior was defeated and that II Samuel 21:19 is the remnant of one that was cast into oblivion by the prestige of the Davidic dynasty. That explanation wasn’t satisfactory to 16th Century Protestant scholars, to whom the inerrancy of every jot and tittle of Scripture was an unshakable dogma. The Geneva translators added a note reconciling the surface discrepancy: “That is Lahmi the brother of Goliath, whome Dauid slewe, 1 Chro 20.5”. Thus they instructed their readers that the verse had nothing to do with either David or Goliath; the antagonists were a warrior named Elhanan and Goliath’s brother Lahmi. (Thomas Larque describes how the Genevans arrived at this conclusion and why it wasn’t as bizarre as it sounds.) Whether the spear mentioned in the text belonged to Lahmi or Goliath is unclear. What is clear is that Dr. Stritmatter, through either ignorance or carelessness, has attached the narrative of I Samuel 17 to an unrelated section of Biblical text.
This blunder has significant consequences, for Dr. Stritmatter identifies II Samuel 21:19, the verse marked in the de Vere Bible, rather than the unmarked I Samuel 17:7, as the source of a Falstaffian exclamation in The Merry Wives of Windsor: “I will tell you: he beat me grievously, in the shape of a woman; for in the shape of a man, Master Brook, I fear not Golias with a weaver’s beam, because I know life also is a shuttle.” (V.i.21-24) Furthermore, he regards this identification as highly important to the Oxfordian cause.
This peculiar coincidence was among the first preliminary indications supporting the theory detailed in the present document to receive wide currency by being covered in the September 1993 GTE teleconference on the authorship controversy. It is also the only factual question conceded by orthodox critics of the present study. Responding to the GTE teleconference in a 1993 Folger library pamphlet, Roasting the Swan of Avon, Bruce Smith admits that “this obscure reference to an equally obscure passage in II Samuel 21:19-20 [sic – there is no 21:20] turns out to be underlined (albeit faintly [footnote omitted]) in the Earl of Oxford’s Bible” (60?). [Dr. Stritmatter’s question mark suggests that he hasn’t checked the quotation against the original. In light of his bungling of Macbeth, I wonder whether we should be confident that he has gotten Bruce Smith’s words right.] [p. 103/161-2]
II Samuel 21:19 is indeed obscure, except among apologists for inerrancy, but I Samuel 17 is one of the Bible’s best-known tales. Since the latter is also the passage in which Goliath is presented as a fearsome giant, it is overwhelmingly the most likely source of Falstaff’s allusion. The author of The Merry Wives surely knew of David and Goliath. If the was acquainted too with Elhanan and Lahmi, he left us no sign.
Now comes a long detour to a destination not worth the journey. Dr. Stritmatter picks up the notion, not unknown to conventional scholarship, that Falstaff is a satire on Puritans, then leaps to one of his King Charles’ Heads, the literary feud between Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey and the disputants’ wholly imaginary links to Edward de Vere. As I observed in Part 1, Dr. Stritmatter –
believes that Oxenford had close relationships with Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey, while Nashe and Harvey experts know of none. Comprehensive biographies of the two writers (Charles Nicholl, A Cup of News: The Life of Thomas Nashe (1984); Virginia F. Stern, Gabriel Harvey: His Life, Marginalia and Library (1979)) mention Oxenford only in passing. His most substantial appearance in either book is the suggestion that Nashe may have caricatured him as “the Baron of double Beere” in The Unfortunate Traveller [Nicholl, op. cit., pp. 159-60].
“Surprising as it might seem,” Dr. Stritmatter avers, “Harvey seems to have viewed Falstaff as a parody of himself and his Puritan sympathies.” [p. 104/163] “Surprising” is an apt word. The basis for this assertion is this paragraph from Harvey’s Pierce’s Superrerogation: (Perilously, I trust Dr. Stritmatter’s transcription.)
Never [was] silly mans expectation so deluded with contrary events upon the Stage, (yet Fortune sometime is a queint Comedian, far beyond the Supposes of Ariosto [a popular play, adapted into English by George Gascoigne in 1566]) as these Strange News [Harvey is responding to Nashe’s pamphlet of that title, published in 1592] have cooney-caught [=tricked] my coniecture; more deceived, then [=than] my Prognostication of the last yeare [referring to one of his own previous pamphlets], which hapned to be a true Prophet of some dismall Contingents. Though I never phansied Tautologies, yet I cannot repeat it enough: I looked for a treaty of pacification: or imagined that thou wouldest arme thy quill, like a stowt champion, with the compleat harnesse of Witt, and Art: na[y], I feared the brasen shield, and the brasen bootes of Goliah, and that same hideous speare, like a weavers beame: but now it is onely thy fell stomacke, that blustereth like a Northern winde: alas, thy witt is as tame, as a duck; thy art as fresh as sower ale in summer; thy brasen shield in thy forehead; thy brasen bootes in thy hart; they weavers beame in thy tongue; a terrible launce, then the hideous speare, were the most of thy Power equivalent to the least of thy Spite. [quoted at p. 105/165]
While Harvey is one of those Renaissance humanists more lucid in Latin than in the vernacular, his meaning is tolerably plain: Like a foolish character in a stage comedy, he was deceived by his conjectures about what Nashe’s broadside would contain. He hoped for “a treaty of pacification”, feared that he would face a vigorous and effective polemic, but instead got neither. Nashe, for all of his spite, had produced only a damp squib.
Dr. Stritmatter’s reading is strangely different. He thinks that Harvey “quotes from an early staged version of Merry Wives of Windsor” [id.] and “does fear Goliath with a weaver’s beam, and he seems to equate this Goliath with a stage-writing associate of Nashe’s whom Elizabeth Appleton (1985) [an Oxfordian whose Edward de Vere and the War of Words alleges that Oxenford was the Anglican leader in the Marprelate controversy] has identified as Harvey’s old friend from his days at Cambridge College, Edward de Vere” [p. 104/163-4] [1]. In light of the fact that Harvey says that the apprehended onslaught of Goliath did not occur and that his fears had proved groundless, it is hard to imagine whence Dr. Stritmatter derives this fantasy. His argument that Harvey’s “I feared the brasen shield, and the brasen bootes of Goliah, and that same hideous speare, like a weavers beame” is borrowed from Shakespeare’s “I fear not Golias with a weaver’s beam” is just as flimsy. His reasons are these:
1. Harvey is explicitly registering a complaint about being satirized on the public stage [not true; he compares himself to a character in a play but says nothing to suggest that he was literally a character in Nashe's or anyone else's comedy];
2. Falstaff has repeatedly and with good reason been identified by modern critics as a character in part inspired by the Marprelate scandal of 1589 [a fact, to the extent that it is a fact, whose pertinence Dr. Stritmatter has not explained];
3. A stemma of the known texts exhibits the following progression, indicating that some variant of Merry Wives [footnote: “Or, conceivably, an unknown text on the same stemma”] must intervene between I Sam. 21:19 (or alternative Biblical sources) and Harvey’s text:
Goliath . . . the staffe of whose speare was like a weaver’s beam (Genevan Bible 1569-70)
I fear not Golias [footnote omitted] with a weaver’s beam (Merry Wives of Windsor, F[olio] 5.1.21, composition date unknown; italics added) [footnote omitted]
I feared . . . the brasen bootes of Goliah [footnote omitted; Stritmatter’s italics and lineation]
And that same hideous speare, like a
Weaver’s beame (Harvey’s Pierce’s Supererogation, 1593 283)
In other words, the concept of fearing the weaver’s beam found in Merry Wives of Windsor (F) but not in the Ur-text of I Sam. 21.19 (or any known Biblical variant) is copied in Harvey’s 1593 tract. Barring the discovery of a common antecedent source in which Goliath’s weaver’s beam is “feared”, the simplest explanation for the known evidence is that Harvey read, or more likely observed a performance of, an early version of Merry Wives of Windsor. Imagining himself to be lampooned in the character of Falstaff – just as the descendants of Sir John Oldcastle thought that he was the original Falstaff [merely because the character was originally named “Sir John Oldcastle”] – Harvey rushed into print to distinguish himself as one who did fear “Goliath” – i. e., “Shakespeare” – with his weaver’s beam. [pp. 105-6/166-7]
As Thomas Larque observes, one need only read the David and Goliath story in I Samuel 17 to see where the motif of fearing Goliath originates: "When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine [Goliath], they were discouraged and greatly afraid" (I Samuel 17:11); "All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, ran away from him, and were sore afraid" (I Samuel 17:24): “So David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail him, because of him [Goliath]: thy servant will go, and fight with this Philistine.” (I Samuel 17:32). No hypothetical intermediary source is needed.
Dr. Stritmatter now tries to associate the “weaver’s beam” with broader Shakespearean themes:
Falstaff’s reference to the weaver’s beam parodies the Biblical ideal, to which reformation propagandists often appealed, of pious prayer as a weapon. [p. 106/167]
Eh, what? The image of Goliath armed with a literal weaver’s beam is funny, but how does it parody prayer?
Next [p. 107/168-9] come five disparate examples of “pious prayer as a weapon” in Shakespeare, which form the basis for the assertion a few pages later “that Edward de Vere marks in his Geneva Bible two out of three prominent scriptural sources for the Protestant ideal of weapons of faith, an idea reflected in a number of passages in the Shakespeare canon”. Among the Shakespearean proof texts are Queen Margaret’s scornful dismissal of her husband’s ineffectual piety, three passages that do not seem much on point, and one that is:
His champions are the prophets and the apostles,
His weapons, holy saws of sacred wit. . . . (II Henry VI, I.iii.57-58)
As already noted, this speech denigrates the value of spiritual weapons, which do not help King Henry’s cause in the slightest.
We will our youth lead on to higher fields
And draw no swords but what are sanctified. (II Henry IV, IV.iv.3-4)
These swords are literal ones, not “weapons of faith”.
What? The sword and the word? Do you mean to study both, Master Parson? (Merry Wives, III.i.44-45)
As Naseeb Shaheen observes, “In Ephesians [6:17, a superficial parallel], the word of God is the sword of the Spirit. In Shakespeare, the sword and God’s word are contraries.” (Biblical References in Shakespeare’s Plays, p. 197)
Turning the word to sword and life to death. (II Henry IV, IV.ii.10)
Taken by Shaheen as “a pun on Ephesians 6.17: ‘The sword of the Spirit, which is the worde of God.’ Prince John tells the Archbishop of York that it was better when he preached the word to his flock, than for him to exchange his preaching of the word for the sword.” (Id., p. 443) Again, spiritual and temporal weapons are contrasted rather than amalgamated.
What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted!
Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just
And he but naked, though locked up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted. (II Henry VI, III.ii.232-235)
The last is the only genuine embodiment of “weapons of faith” that Dr. Stritmatter cites, and it is the one passage paralleled by his “three prominent scriptural sources”: I Thess. 5:8, Eph. 6:14 and Wisd. 5:17-18, each of which refers to a spiritual breastplate (in the last case donned by God Himself rather than by the faithful). Only the first of these verses is marked in the de Vere Bible. The last has a marking near the pertinent verse (at Wisd. 5:20), which is good enough for Dr. Stritmatter.
This ensemble is far from demonstrating that “the Protestant ideal of weapons of faith” was of great importance to either Shakespeare or the de Vere “annotator”. Its connection to Goliath’s spear and the other ostensible subjects of the chapter is mysterious.
Yet more mysterious are the succeeding paragraphs, which argue, if I understand them rightly, that an incident recorded in I Samuel inspired both a scene in Hamlet and the name “Shakespeare”, and suggest in passing that Oxenford wrote Hamlet as sublimation of his impulse to murder Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister (or perhaps even the Queen herself):
The juxtaposition [sic – presumably he means “contrast”] of realia to mere accidence [sic – “accidents” is probably intended, since Dr. Stritmatter is referring, however imprecisely, to the Scholastic distinction between “substance” and “accidents”], discussed in chapter Eleven (and later, in further detail, in chapter Twenty [which, however, says nothing about the topic; the reference is probably to chapter 23, where a rather bizarre treatment of “substance” and “accidence” is found]) is mirrored also in the historical books of Samuel in the annotator’s marking of a Genevan note [to I Samuel 14:1, discussed supra] which states that victory is not won by military armor (accidence) but conferred by the grace of God, whose divine will is substantive (realia). [This is a peculiar use of the Scholastic terminology; here and elsewhere, Dr. Stritmatter seems to import Bishop Berkeley’s thought into the 16th Century.] Many [sic – I Samuel 14:1 and Wisd. 18:21 [p. 56/89] are the only ones cited] annotations in these chapters of the Bible reflect the annotator’s interest in this same moral [It’s interesting that there are no markings in the David and Goliath story, where the superiority of divine favor over military might is most strikingly proclaimed] and suggest a religious conviction which contrasts markedly with the moral nihilism of Macbeth’s deification of chance. Furthermore the annotator associates the doctrine of spiritual victory with two potent symbols he discovered while reading the historical books of Samuel. [That the person who made the marks had any such association in mind is Dr. Stritmatter’s guess.] In I Samuel 26 David and Abishai come upon Saul asleep in his encampment in the dead of night. Once again [cf. I Samuel 24], Saul is at David’s mercy and David refuses to take advantage of the situation by killing his enemy. Instead – in a passage carefully marked by the annotator – he steals the pot of water and the spear lying at Saul’s head. In this narrative, David silently translates the impulse to regicide into a symbolic game. Instead of killing Saul he “counts coup” against him, scoring a moral victory which appeals to the piety of his political constituency. [In fact, David uses this incident as proof of his loyalty to Saul and effects a reconciliation with the king. I Samuel 26:17-25. The resemblance to Hamlet’s reluctance to kill Claudius is very faint.] Just as Hamlet spares the life of praying Claudius or “Shakespeare” slanders William Cecil (as Polonius) instead of literally killing him [!], David refuses the opportunity for “an eye for an eye” revenge and instead appropriates the symbols of Saul’s royal power. He makes a silent symbolic gesture – just as Shakespeare substitutes art for regicide [!!]. The marked passage in the de Vere Bible is mercilessly parodied [another instance of Dr. Stritmatter’s idiosyncratic concept of what a “parody” is] in The Tempest (II.1) when Antonio and Sebastian attempt to murder the sleeping King Alonso to make themselves king over Caliban’s island [sic – their plan is to make Sebastian king of Naples; they have no desire to remain on, much less rule, the island].
Anti-Stratfordians have usually derived the name “Shakespeare” from the classical tradition of Minerva as the “spear-shaker” (see pages 46-48). [2] Here, in his Geneva Bible, Edward de Vere underlines the corresponding derivation in sacred history. The water stands for life in the desert, the spear for the spiritual vocation of the ascetic warrior – for whom “prayer” – and perhaps sometimes literature – “is the weapon of the godly”. [Dr. Stritmatter does not tell us where he found these allegories. David as “ascetic warrior” is amusing. That David’s taking Saul’s spear inspired Oxenford to write plays under the name “Shakespeare” is, well, imaginative. I also savor the hint that Oxenford was a Davidic figure.] [p. 107-8/169-70]
We have now reached the final paragraph of the chapter, which was quoted in our introduction. Dr. Stritmatter thinks that he has demonstrated an “extraordinary – almost comical – coincidence between Shakespeare’s Bible references and the documentary record of the de Vere Geneva Bible”. What he has actually accomplished is to string together a loosely connected series of arguments ranging from the improbable to the absurd. Hardly any of his confident declarations stands up under scrutiny. “It is difficult to believe that any open-minded reader can remain unimpressed by this extraordinary – almost comical – coincidence between Shakespeare’s Bible references and the documentary record of the de Vere Geneva Bible.” I leave it to the reader to form his own impression, assuring him that he has just perused one of the least incoherent and ill-reasoned portions of the entire dissertation.
[1] That Oxenford and Harvey were old college friends is one of Dr. Stritmatter’s many groundless biographical assertions. Oxenford boarded at Queens College, Cambridge, for a few months in 1558-59, at age eight. Withdrawn after that brief stay (perhaps owing to a boyish penchant for smashing windows), he was placed under the tutelage of Sir Thomas Smith, a learned neighbor of his family. Gabriel Harvey, a ropemaker’s son, matriculated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, from 1566 to 1570. There he befriended Sir Thomas Smith’s son. Years later Harvey recounted that he had, on the recommendation of Smith fils, received a gift of money from Oxenford, by now a rich young earl. Elevating that doubtless kindly act to the level of “friendship” is an overstatement of which not even Charlton Ogburn, Jr. is guilty.
[2] For readers who have not encountered this Oxfordian wheeze: It is Oxfordian doctrine that Oxenford took “Shakespeare” as pen name, inspired by the “fact” that the goddess Athena (Roman Minerva) was known as “the Spear Shaker” (just as Zeus was known as “the Thunderer” and Poseidon as “the Earth Shaker”) and was the patroness of drama. This two-pronged theory is wrong in only two respects: (1) While Athena, being a war goddess, certainly made use of spears and other weapons (as did other martial-minded deities and heroes), the sobriquet “Spear Shaker” would not have called her specially to mind. The proof is that, after the name “Shakespeare” became famous, no one thought to draw attention its supposed affinity with Athena. (2) The classical Athena’s primary spheres of activity, besides warfare, were weaving, handicrafts and “practical” wisdom. Because she was the tutelary duty of Athens, one could, I suppose, credit her with all of that city’s cultural accomplishments, including tragedy and comedy, but hardly anyone ever mentioned her specifically in connection with the stage.
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