Fatal Fallacy

Encounter, Jan.-Feb. 1990

    Shanti Padhi may be surprised to learn that she agrees with me about "memorial reconstruction by actors" (MRA). She rejects it in favour of reconstruction by Tudor shorthand (RTS). The two are totally incompatible; yet she has confused them. The fundamental mistake is hers, not mine. I do not deny RTS; her colleagues do.
    She is also wrong about my motivation, which stems from my distress at seeing MRA vaunted as fact, thus falsifying Shakespeare's canon and chronology, and converting whole tracts of modern editions and reference books [1] into expensive waste paper. I knew that MRA was nonsense five years before Edmund Ironside was rejected by the Oxford Shakespeare's editors, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, on "stylistic grounds": i.e. their own MRA-based opinions. On the same grounds, they dismiss 12,000 world-famous Shakespeare lines as "doubtful or collaborative"; they reject another 6,000 and hand them over to such phantasms as "George Wilkins". They even reject each other's grounds; thus The Taming of A Shrew can (Wells) and cannot (Taylor) be by Shakespeare. [2]
    They know of the massive anti-MRA bibliography that has built up since 1933. [3] Yet not one of its hundreds of counter-arguments is ever mentioned, let alone answered, throughout their 2,000 pages. Stanley Wells has publicly admitted that all MRA theories may be mistaken; yet he parades them as facts passim. He has known for seven years that the MRA theory offered as fact in the Oxford Shrew is seriously wrong and misleading; yet that 1982 volume stays on sale unchanged.
    Other propagandists of MRA include Philip Edwards, Arthur Freeman, Brian Gibbons, G. R. Hibbard, E. A. J. Honigmann, MacD. P. Jackson, Harold Jenkins, John Jones, William Montgomery, Brian Morris, Richard Proudfoot, S. Schoenbaum, Ann Thompson, and Kim Scott Walwyn. Some of these — I do not say which — also admit that they are or may be mistaken. But we hear no word of public retraction. In this multi-million-pound industry, silence is golden. My own challenges, published in journals of record ever since 1983, remain just as unanswered as all the rest. Only Stanley Wells has ever attempted any rejoinder; his only defence is "We editors agree"; and even that is untrue, as I have shown.
    Other academics know that our Shakespeareans have made a hopeless hash of their great subject. A. L. Rowse has been saying so for decades. He has regarded the Oxford Shakespeare all along as a shocking waste of money. But the lay public continues to trust its paid professionals. Now everything should soon change, thanks to Shanti Padhi. She has shown the world how the orthodox Shakespeare specialist habitually thinks and writes.
    She answers none of my objections to MRA; she offers no ideas of her own. She just solemnly unveils the Harrisonian mysteries, and commands the mob to fall flat. Her colleagues will not welcome her heretical RTS intervention. They worship at the rival altars of MRA, sacred to such Oxbridge deities as Pollard, Alexander, Greg and Duthie. [4] In those rites, shorthand is taboo, because it pro­fanes MRA.
In the real world, RTS is evidenced and MRA is not; so the former must certainly be preferred if a choice has to be made. However, Shanti Padhi seems as unacquainted with the extensive RTS bibliography as with that actual topic. She begins with the disastrously false step of dating her own admired authority 43 years too late. Otherwise she might have wondered why G. B. Harrison failed to mention his own brilliant Hamlet discovery of 1923 (not "1966") in his own Hamlet edition of 1937. Then she too might have had second thoughts about it, just as he evidently had, no doubt as a result of reading two knock-down refutations by a real shorthand scholar in 1932 and 1935.
    The confusion between the Harrison-Padhi RTS [5] and everyone else's MRA is at least understandable. Both theories share the same shamelessly question-begging assump­tions about the necessary pre-existence of the allegedly reported text. This is the fatal fallacy on which all such notions founder. Shanti Padhi further assumes that Harrison's speculations—which he put forward "with considerable diffidence"—are absolutely infallible. Her loud contempt for my own ignorance constrains me to say that early shorthand is a topic on which I have often advised the Bodleian Library, the British Library, and Sotheby's, as well as historians and other researchers. I have solved dozens of previously unread samples from Tudor times onwards, including several diaries which are now being transcribed; I have published four papers so far on my methods and findings. [6]
    This is not the place for detailed technical analysis. I would offer only four observations. First, Harrison  had no grasp at all of the 1588 system he invokes, and his theory is worthless. Next, Shanti Padhi's confident claim that "the system in Elizabethan days relied on 'gists' and memorial reconstruction" is equally ill-informed. In fact The Art of Stenography by John Willis, which needs no such reliance, was sufficiently well established to be printed by early 1602. Thirdly, the so-called "signs" of Characterie are signs only if the First Quarto of Hamlet (1603) was in fact directly derived from the Second Quarto (1604); and that necessary assumption, as in all such cases, renders the theory circular and vacuous.
    Finally, that theory is itself irrational and counter-factual. The only text that could have been reported, by any short­hand system, as Hamlet (1603) was prima facie a more authentic text of that same play, in which for example Polonius was called Corambis, and Horatio tells the Queen of Hamlet's return. Not even the infinite flexibility of Bright's Characterie could conceivably have thus transformed the 1604 or the 1623 versions. Even if Shanti Padhi's faith in RTS were well-founded, therefore, MRA would still be ridiculously wrong, with the clear corollary that her "brain-sick parrot" was the young Shakespeare.
    She has let me off lightly, in comparison. I am grateful too for her attention to my own recent Hamlet Studies article; but not for her inattention. The "facts" that I am alleged to "conceal" or "slur over" are her own inventions. Thus I neither say nor imply that the 1585 Stratford parish-register entry "Hamnet" was an error. I say, verifiably, that this form and "Hamlet" are alternative spellings of the same name, which Shakespeare gave his only son (1585-96). In the play's only known sources, the hero is called Amleth(us), not Hamlet as cited in 1589. That change was prima facie authorial. It did not derive from The History of Hamblet, which is dated 1608, not "1589-92", and in any event was demonstrably based on the play, not vice versa. [7]
 The facts, left unmolested, are surely significant.
    I must now give the lie to other baseless allegations. I do not misquote the title of that 1608 book. I am not unaware of the evidence, including Thomas Heywood's testimony, for theatre stenography; nor do I disregard it; nor have I ever rejected the possibility of shorthand (or indeed longhand) piracy; nor have I ever called RTS a "fabrication" and so forth. That is what I rightly call MRA, which Hardin Craig rightly called unevidenced. The phrase "memorial reconstruction", contrary to Shanti Padhi's explicit assurances, was never "a shorthand term"; nor is it "often mis­construed", except by her. Nor have I dispensed with a full and first-hand investigation of MRA. If anybody has ever made one, I have. My conclusion is exactly the same as that of all other investigators over the last 60 years: MRA is a myth. Nor do I argue that publishers, Tudor or other, were never dishonest. What I say is that title-pages then are far better evidence than literary opinion now.
    The Birth of Merlin, [8] by William (not "Wm") Shakespear (not "Shakespere") and William (not "Wm") Rowley, is a case in point. Shanti Padhi publicly claims a superior and infallible gift for recognising Shakespeare, and pities those poor fools who dare to differ. But here, yet again, she is wrong about the basic facts; that dual ascription has been ably defended. Further, it is her own infallible opinion, not her "knowledge of publishing history", which assures her that Shakespeare's name must have been dishonestly exploited on the title-pages of plays she dismisses as "in­ferior-. and attributes to brainsick parrots. But the title-page of Hamlet (1603) attributes it to William Shakespeare and his theatre company, and the opinion of Shanti Padhi (1990) is thereby massively outweighed.
    Nor finally, is it true that I impute dishonesty to Shakespeare in disposing of "his own foul papers while the play was still under production and under revision". We may all dispose of what is our own; and the rest is just typical invention, passed off as fact. 
    I have to stress the total typicality of all these academic attitudes, such as asserting ancient speculations as proven truths, ignoring or suppressing all the copious counter-arguments, inventing facts and dates, dismissing or overlooking historical evidence, professing infallible feelings about style, and (in the case of Harrison) keeping quiet about the refutation of one's own misleading theories. But at least Shanti Padhi has the courage of her own preconvictions, and in this she is unlike her colleagues. I hereby challenge them to do better, on their own behalf, in their own defence.



[1] For instance S. Wells, Shakespeare, An Illustrated Dictionary (1978, 1981, rev. 1985), entries "Bad Quarto", "Contention plays", "Good Quarto", "Greene, Robert", "Hamlet", "Henry V", "Henry VI, Part Two", "Henry VI, Part Three", "Merry Wives of Windsor", "Romeo and Juliet", "The Taming of the Shrew": and MacD. P. Jackson, "The Transmission of Shakespeare's Text", in The Cam­bridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies, ed. S. Wells (1986), pp. 163f.


[2] In the Oxford Shakespeare, "doubtful or collaborative works" (Textual Companion, p. 81) include The Taming of the ShrewHenry VI, Part I, Henry VI, Part II, Titus Andronicus, A Lover's Complaint and "the various uncollected poems"—some 12,000 lines all told. Another 6,000 are freely distributed among imaginary authors as follows: 596 lines of Henry VI, Part I to "Thomas Nashe" and 1,653 to "others" (unspecified); 1,128 lines of Pericles to "George Wilkins"; 1,648 lines of Henry VIII to "John Fletcher"; 106 lines of Macbeth and 902 of Timon of Athens to "Thomas Middle­ton". For the Wells-Taylor A Shrew controversy, see Textual Companion, pp. 85, 169.

[3] See my second Encounter article, January 1989, footnotes 10 and 13. for eight examples, and my Hamlet Studies article, footnotes 33 and 34, for 30 more. Recent addenda include S. Urkowitz, "Good News about 'Bad' Quartos", in "Bad" Shakespeare, ed. M. Charnev (1988), and "If I Mistake in those Foundations I do Build upon: Peter Alexander's Textual Analysis of Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3", in English Literary Renaissance, 18, no. 2 (Spring 1988). For my unanswered complaints about the suppression of such arguments, see e.g. my letters in The London Review of Books, 28 April 1988 and The Times Literary Supplement, 11-17 November 1988 and 8-14 September 1989. For the rebuttal of the sole official defence for MRA ("editors agree") see, e.g. my Hamlet Studies article.

[4] The Merry Wives of Windsor, ed. W. Greg (1910), p. xxxvii (MRA, so RTS not "necessary"); P. Alexander, 1929, p. 66 (Henry VI, Parts II and III reconstructed by MRA, not RTS, "beyond ques­tion"); A. Pollard, "Shakespeare's Text", in A Companion to Shakespeare Studies, ed. Granville-Barker and Harrison (1934), p. 268 (the "substitution" of MRA for RTS has enabled Peter Alexan­der to add Henry VI, Parts II and III to the MRA list); G. Duthie, The Bad Quarto of Hamlet (1941), p. 12f (MRA is right, RTS wrong); W. Greg, The Editorial Problem in Shakespeare (1942, 2nd ed. 1945, 3rd ed. 1954), p. 52f (MRA is right, hence "no need" for RTS); G. Duthie, Elizabethan Shorthand (1949), passim (RTS is wrong); W. Greg, The Shakespeare First Folio (1955), pp. 71, 380 (RTS scotched by Duthie and "abandoned"; MRA alone is true); S. Wells, Shakespeare: An Illustrated Dictionary (1978, 1981, 1985), p. 10 (MRA is true: RTS "now discredited"; G. Taylor, Textual Com­panion (1987), pp. 26, 74 (MRA, not RTS—"decisive refutations"). All of these books were published by either Oxford University Press or Cambridge University Press.


[5] See Hamlet (1603), ed. G. B. Harrison (1923, not "1966", which is the date of the reprint), pp. xii-xix; W. R. Matthews, Modern Language Review, No. 27 (1932), p. 243f and The Library, vol. IV, no. 15 (1934-35), p. 481f; Hamlet, ed. Harrison (1937; reprinted thirteen times, to 1966). See also Duthie (1941 and 1949) and Greg (1942 and 1955) for further specific rejections of the Bright Characterie theory.


[6] See e.g. Eric Sams, "Cryptanalysis and Historical Research", Archivaria, no. 21 (Winter 1985-86). p. 87f. The systems solved include John Willis's, of 1602, used by Bulstrode Whitelocke in 1625.


[7] See e.g. Hamlet, ed. H. Jenkins (1982), pp. 89-90.


[8] Mark Dominik, William Shakespeare and The Birth of Merlin (New York, 1985). He has issued the following challenge, which expires after 31 January 1990: "I maintain that the authorship attribution from 17th-century sources is correct. . . Anyone who disagrees with this hypothesis, and who believes that he or she can provide a superior hypothesis, is invited to put that belief to the test." Each party is to wager $5,000 and submit competing hypotheses for judgment to a mutually-agreed impartial authority. Further enquiries may be directed to Mark Dominik at 13695 S.W. Burlwood St., Beaverton, Oregon 97005, USA.