I thought you might like to see this guest-post by Edward Pettit, who has been leading his own authorship campaign and speaking up for Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon….
I had always been aware of the Shakespeare authorship conspiracy, but always felt it was such a weird little fringe movement that I needn’t pay it any mind. I’m not a professional Shakespeare a scholar, but I am deeply devoted to Shakespeare’s works and also a writer who publishes mainly on matters of literary history, so how an author’s works are received and read over time interests me. And I think literary history matters, as much as political history.
So when I heard about the Anonymous film, I thought it was high time I did something about it. It’s one thing to have a few crackpots with their pretend literary history talking only to themselves (I’m sorry, but the more experience I have with Shakesconspiracists, the sillier I find them). It’s quite another when a Hollywood studio releases a historical costume drama that will be seen by millions and send the message that there is an actual controversy or debate about Shakespearean authorship.
I began organizing talks at public libraries in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I even had a prominent Oxfordian agree to do an event at which we would square off, much like American Presidential candidates, in a no-holds-bar “debate”, with lots of press. Alas, the Oxfordian’s feet suddenly became very cold and he backed out before the first press release. I tried to find a replacement. The library tried. And a professional Shakespeare company in our area tried. But to no avail. Seems that Anonymous was not encouraging Oxfordians (nor any other Shakesconspiracists) to join the fray. Of course, after seeing the dreadful film, I’m not surprised.
I still had my talks at the local libraries and they were well attended (30 readers at one, 50 at another). At these talks, I give a little history of the Shakesconspiracy movement— why and when it started, the players— then I lay out the facts of Shakespeare’s authorship. I find when you lay out the facts, people usually can’t believe there’s even one conspiracist, let alone a movement.
But it’s the question and answer sessions after my lectures that really gratify me. At both of my events, the Q&A lasted as long as my lectures. These readers were engaged, had thought about this issue, and were not willing to be easily persuaded by conspiracists. And I think that’s how it is with any conspiracy movement at large. Those who are convinced want to be convinced, are waiting for someone to come along and tell them that vast forces are at work (and have been toiling for centuries) to deceive them. I can’t worry about that sub-section of the population, especially when I come across so many devoted readers who recognize Shakesconspiracy for what it is.
As long as there are Shakespeare scholars and literary historians and devoted readers who will take the time to explain to other readers that there is no controversy, no doubt about Shakespeare’s authorship of his works, then the Shakesconspiracy movement will remain on the fringes where it has always existed, convincing only those want to be convinced. For the rest of us, we can continue to read the plays and enrich our understanding with true literary history.
Edward Pettit is a writer, literary provocateur and president of the Oak Lane Shakespeare Club, founded in 1908 and dedicated to reading the works of Shakespeare aloud. Lately, he has been giving public lectures about Shakesconspiracies. You can read about his literary endeavours at http://www.edwardpettit.com/ and http://readingcharlesdickens.com