The Use of Fallacies in the Shakespeare Authorship Question
© by Leonard Deming, 1995
This paper was first presented at the 17th Annual Conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Society in November 1993. Important information about the Footnotes.
A landmark of my education was the decision to fit a course in logic into my schedule at Michigan State University. A friend had advised me to do so no matter what. He assured me that I would never regret it and that it would help me in virtually everything I did, no matter what career path I might choose. He was right. It helped me no end in the rest of my schooling which included taking the LSAT, going to law school and learning the rules of evidence (sometimes based on logic, sometimes not) and in myriad other activities with which a human being finds himself or herself confronted from research to shopping. I take this opportunity to pass the same advice along to those who may read this.
It was with this background that I sat down one evening a few years ago to watch a public television presentation of the Frontline segment entitled The Shakespeare Mystery.
Now, I have always had an interest in literature and poetry and had heard, on one or two occasions, about the so-called “authorship issue.” I specifically recall an English teacher at Gabriel’s High School in Lansing, Michigan saying that there were those who thought that Francis Bacon might have written the Shakespeare works. But I had always assumed that the issue could not be too awesome since it did not receive much play in school. Still, I had always considered exploring why some people doubted the Stratford man’s authorship, if it ever became convenient to do so.
It became convenient that evening when the Frontline program aired. When it was over, I was dumbfounded. My reaction was not due to the credibly interesting case presented in favor of the Earl of Oxford as the author of the Shakespeare canon; rather, I was amazed at the lack of any meaningful case presented by those supporting the traditional Shakespeare and their resort, instead, to what, in logic, is referred to as the logical fallacy.
A “logical fallacy” may be defined as “an error of reasoning based on faulty use of evidence or incorrect inference.”
Such “errors of reasoning” riddle the arguments of those who argue the authorship question, particularly those who try to defend the “Shakespeare” of Stratford On Avon. Upon viewing the Frontline program again, I detected at least five fallacies which are typically calculated to avoid the issue being discussed. I discovered in subsequent research (I was sure the Stratfordians must have more ammunition than they discharged in the Frontline program and I had set out to find it) that those supporting the Stratford man commonly resort to numerous logical fallacies in order to avoid discussing the real issue of who wrote the works of Shakespeare.
Such fallacies are extremely effective. And if you, as listener, are unaware of how these work, then you are left with the uneasy sense that there is something wrong with the argument just made, but you are not quite sure what it is. Some of the most common fallacies are described here and I have provided examples of how they work, both generally, and specifically as they relate to the authorship issue. An understanding of logical fallacies, in my opinion, is essential to debunking the myth of the Stratford “genius” who, I am now convinced, did not write the works of Shakespeare.
Logical Reasoning – Inductive and Deductive Thinking
A logical argument is nothing more than a series of premises (assertions of purported fact) strung together to arrive at a conclusion, presumably correct since it is based on (presumably correct) fact. The two basic types of logic are classified as “inductive” and “deductive”.
“Inductive” arguments are essentially unordered assertions of fact which tend toward some conclusion as a probability. The greater the weight and/or number of assertions, the greater the probability that the conclusion is correct. For instance, if one observes that the robin, the oriole, the cardinal and the starling all have feathers, one may conclude that all birds have feathers.
“Deductive” arguments, on the other hand, involve ordered inter-related assertions of fact which lead inexorably to the conclusion. The simplest form of deductive argument is the syllogism, which has a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. Diagrammed, it looks like this:
An example might be:
All birds have feathers
The robin is a bird
The robin has feathers
The difference between “inductive” and “deductive” arguments is that, with the former, correct premises do not necessarily lead to a correct conclusion while, with the latter, if the premises are true and proper logical structure has been observed, the conclusion must also be true.
Logical Reasoning – Validity and Soundness
Before launching into fallacies, it is important to understand the difference between the “valid” argument and the “sound” one. Simply put, a valid argument does not necessarily lead to a true conclusion while the sound argument, by definition, always does. A “sound” argument is always a valid one but a “valid” argument is not necessarily sound. An argument which is merely valid is one which, within its premises, works. But the premises may be false leading to a false conclusion. Hence:
All aardvarks have feathers
Peter is an aardvark
Peter has feathers
is a valid argument, but it is hardly sound. Assuming that Peter is a normal human being, the premises are false leading to a false conclusion. But be wary of the following:
All aardvarks study math
Peter is an aardvark
Peter studies math.
Peter may study math but this argument does not prove it since the premises are false. It is a valid but unsound argument. To make it sound, we might posit:
Mrs. Klein’s students study math
Peter is one of Mrs. Klein’s students
Peter studies math.
Within the orbit of the authorship question, numerous examples may be found in which those who have championed one candidate or another for Shakespearian authorship have literally put the ice cream on top of the cherry instead of the other way around. As one example, with others to follow:
The author of the Works of Shakespeare went to school
Shaksper wrote the Works of Shakespeare
Shaksper went to school
We will now turn to the most common fallacies, or “errors of reasoning,” by which logical thinking may be sent astray and we will focus on those which most commonly arise in discussing the authorship question. They include:
Begging the Question
Ad Hominem Arguments
Straw Man Arguments(Arguing Beside the Point)
Appeals To Authority
Equivocation (Verbal Arguments)
Fallacy of Division (Guilt by Association)
Fallacy of Neglected Aspect
Most of these are what are generally referred to as “informal fallacies.” While I will be identifying some formal fallacies in order to place them in a proper context, I will not be distinguishing “formal” and “informal” fallacies in this overview related to the authorship question. It is also important to realize that any classification of fallacies is subject to criticism for not being complete or for saying too much. This is because fallacies tend to overlap as the reader will see in this discussion. Each logician invariably creates his or her own classifications which rarely correspond exactly to another’s. As one writer has noted, when discussing fallacies with those unfamiliar with them, a tighter list is often required or at least desired:
Nor do the learned authorities always agree. For instance, some of them list a fallacy called non sequitur (it doesn’t follow) as part of the begging-the-question group, while others make it a kind of portmanteau, embracing all the fallacies.
With this caution, we will launch into a discussion of the use of logical fallacies by those championing the orthodox view of the authorship question.
Begging The Question
The fallacy of “begging the question” or “arguing in a circle” essentially occurs when a major premise is also the conclusion sought. A simple form might appear thus:
A. The Atlanta Braves are the best baseball team in the world.
B. Only the best baseball team in the world would have the best pitching and hitting.
C. The Atlanta Braves have the best hitting and pitching.
D. Since the Atlanta Braves have the best hitting and pitching, it stands to reason that they are the best baseball team in the world.
The first three or last three parts of the argument constitute a valid syllogism. But with the addition of the first or last premise above, the fallacy of circular argument or “begging the question” has occurred. It is not so simple to recognize question-begging in everyday life without some practice at looking out for it. The discussion may become so distended that the participant in the argument forgets the starting point. One logician, Robert Olson, offers a good example in trying to prove the existence of God:
Although most fallacies of begging the question are due to linguistic confusion, some, especially in extended discourse, must be attributed to faulty memory. By the time we get to the argument, for instance, the author may begin by assuming the existence of God, make a number of inferences for which the existence of God is a crucial premise, and then conclude by proving the existence of God on the basis of these inferences.
The comparison of this paradigm to the Stratfordian religion is almost perfect. It would be comforting to think that orthodox Shakespearians had simply forgotten their starting point in arriving at their conclusion which validates the Stratford man as the author and that, by backtracking, would realize that their seminal premise led them to all the other premises which resulted in a conclusion identical to their starting point. But those who have tried to get the cardinals of Shakespearean orthodoxy to look through the telescope of logic and common sense in order to discover the true center of our literary universe have instead found themselves banished and exiled (or ordered to recant if the heretic happened to be so bold as to seek a doctorate in letters).
In the Frontline segment, Rowse begs the question in asserting that the real point of the First Folio is that it “was a tremendous-big undertaking which shows you how much Heming and Condell valued their chief dramatist.” The real issue is identifying the chief dramatist, not changing the subject to how much he may have been valued. This approach can also be accused of creating a “straw man” of “the playwright’s value” (see below) but in the context of Austin’s inquiry, Rowse is begging the question.
When the great hunt for evidence of Shakespeare’s life began in earnest in the mid-eighteenth century, it focused on the Stratford man and his milieu. Except for a few faint protests, the literary world was sure that it had its man identified and the task at hand was to develop facts to construct his biography. He must have gone to school, must have associated with nobles and other playwrights, must have been a lawyer’s clerk or schoolteacher or some such other professional, must have written his plays and poems between such and such a date, and so on. Whatever uneasy feelings arose as it became clear that no facts supported what must have been were quickly stifled. “Scholars” still freely asserted supposition as fact since, logically, the writer of such works as those of Shakespeare must have such credentials. They felt free to assert that the Stratford man had done all of these things and more since they were already convinced that he had done the writing. Remember that initial premise? Anyone challenging the orthodox view was quickly met with “facts” of Shakespeare’s schooling, career and, most important of all, his genius (the single most important absolute “must” of all). These “facts” were detailed in the biographies of Shakespeare which poured forth what must be.
Probably the most insidious and complex of these “facts” is the dating of the works which constitutes a complicated rendering of when and how the poems and plays were written in order to fit them into the life of Shaksper. One of the best examples of how the dating is relied on to turn it into some sort of proof of Stratford’s authorship is one presented by Professor Thomas Pendleton of Iona College used to justify, as new editors of The Shakespeare Newsletter, the removal of the Oxford Page which had previously addressed the authorship question. He says:
He (Oxford) died in June of 1604, before about a dozen of the Shakespeare plays, by the generally accepted chronology, had been written. It is of course true that it is almost always impossible to document irrefutably when any of the plays was composed; but this is far from an authorization to ignore everything that has been presented as evidence for chronological placement by the study of sources, influences, contemporary allusion and relevance, and literary and theatrical history. (A brief look at the “Canon and Chronology” section of the Oxford Textual Companion will demonstrate how extensive these materials are.)
Even more important, simply relocating all the later plays back to about the time of Twelfth Night would in effect deny everything of coherent interrelation and artistic growth that generations of readers have discerned and appreciated in Shakespeare’s mastery of the tragedies from Othello on, and in his development of the new genre of tragicomic romance. (Emphasis added)
Note how neatly this is done to make the argument look credible. The “generally accepted chronology” to which Dr. Pendleton refers is that created by those who assumed that the Stratford man wrote the works. Knowing Shaxsper’s approximate birth date and, hence, the earliest date that he could have begun to write, Stratford’s chronology was created from that time forward. No other conclusive reasons exist for the chronology upon which Stratfordians rely. The topical allusions to which Dr. Pendleton and others of his ilk refer are pure assumption, eminently debatable, and Oxfordians can offer topical allusions which are far superior to virtually anything the Stratfordians can muster. And this overlooks the simple fact that topical allusions can be added later by others to make an older play more timely at the time it is presented. The further reference to “coherent interrelation and artistic growth that generations of readers (read “Stratfordian readers”) have discerned and appreciated” is more of the same. Any such discernment depends directly on the Stratford man having written the works. The real problem for the recalcitrant Stratfordians is that if Shaksper did not write the works, then all of their critical analysis, all of their “discernment”, is meaningless. They have much to lose if they find that they have been wrong all along. Hence, the entire Stratfordian canon is little more than an extended example of the fallacy of begging the question.
Additionally, the Stratfordian approach is riddled with more compact examples of this fallacy. A common one is the assertion that all references to “Shakespeare” are to Shaksper without any indication that the reference was to the Stratford man. Take, for instance, a comment made by Stratfordian Frank Ernest Hill when confronted by the numerous doubters of the orthodox Shakespeare. He says:
Together they (the anti-stratfordians) were convincing proof of a widespread and persistent doubt that William Shakespeare wrote the works standing under his name. (Emphasis added)
Actually, Mr. Hill presents one of the better attempts of orthodoxy to rebut anti-Stratford sentiment in general and the Oxford cause specifically but it is clear from the outset of his thesis that he refers to all contemporary mention of “Shakespeare” as meaning the Stratford man. He, like all the others, however, is unable to make any real connection and engages in question-begging tactics to assume that which is at issue. In an attempt to establish requirements which challengers to the orthodox Shakespeare must meet to be convincing, he includes the following:
The challengers must offer a theory of authorship which satisfactorily explains away the many appearances of plays and poems under Shakespeare’s name. ….We have work after work printed as Shakespeare’s. Unless there is proof that this credit was falsely given, it is strong evidence for the orthodox view of authorship.
Here, the very fact at issue regarding whether the Stratford man ever received any credit at all is settled by saying that the works appeared under his name and that he was given some direct credit. Unfortunately, Mr. Hill does not offer one piece of straw for the foundation. Similar to this is another criterion he imposes:
They must also explain away a long series of statements and acts which confirm Shakespeare’s authorship of his own works. We shall see later what these acts and statements are. (We never do.) They comprise even stronger proof of Shakespeare’s identity as a writer than the appearance of his name on a succession of title pages.
They had better since the appearance of the name on the title pages proves nothing. And the problem for Mr. Hill is that there are no such acts or statements proving the Stratford man was a writer either.
Another example of the use of this fallacy is to create a connection between some established fact of Shaksper’s life and his assumed career as a poet and dramatist. Witness the following statement by Stratfordian Maurice Charney:
Another material proof of Shakespeare’s attachment to his native town is the fact that he made investments in Stratford real estate during his lucrative theatrical career in London.
Note that Charney is here proving Shaksper’s attachment to Stratford and assuming the theatrical career. In law, this is known as “assuming a fact not in evidence.” Furthermore, to my knowledge, no one has ever seriously considered the issue of Shaksper’s attachment to his home town as being relevant at all and this approach, in addition to begging the question of whether he ever had a lucrative theatrical career as such, comes close to creating a “straw man” consisting of his attachment to his home town. (See below) Stratfordian writers love to throw around terms like “fact” and “proof” in order to persuade the unwary reader that everything about the Stratford man is settled and proved when the opposite is actually the case.
It is not necessary to look back twenty or thirty years or further to find continuing examples of this. When I first became involved with this question, I always approached newer biographies of Shakespeare with some sense of anxiousness and perhaps a secret hope that somehow my doubt of Shakespeare might be ill-founded and that the particular work I was newly considering would establish that. Peter Levi’s The Life and Times of William Shakespeare was such a book. On the cover of my copy was an acclamation by one Anthony Burgess stating, “If you want a life (of Shakespeare) (sic), Levi’s book is the one you must buy.” With this recommendation, I ventured forth to read early in Levi’s introduction,
It is an axiom of method that the facts of his life, including the dates of his plays and poems, must be established as firmly as possible and without wishful thinking, before those facts can be related to his writings.
All right, now. This is what I had been looking for. He continued:
One must not make up fantasies about the bank where the wild thyme grew.
Go, Peter, go!
Many inspiring and misleading writers about Shakespeare impart to his characters and passages of his plays an experience of life they merely imagine, building conjecture on conjecture and cobweb on cobweb. Between severe critics and enthusiastic and conjectural biographers there is now a great gulf fixed.
Right on! I felt as if I were on the edge of hearing an honest analysis by a Stratfordian writer of all that I had been exploring for the past several years. Then came the bottom line:
It is implicit in this book that Mr.(sic) William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote more or less the works normally attributed to him….His works were not written by Bacon or Lord Oxford or any other contender. His contemporaries knew him as poet and as dramatist; he was not an obscure rustic genius, though his sense of country realities is much sharper than that of any of his contemporaries. His circle of friends extended into the nobility and country gentry, and the more research that is done, the further that circle is discovered to extend. No doubt there is always something mysterious about a poet, particularly a great poet, of whose juvenilia we have almost nothing. If we had, it would probably not be recognizable as Shakespeare’s. There are special reasons for this which I shall discuss. But the argument for his genuine authorship of his own works is multiple and overwhelming, and every day’s work I have spent in preparing to write about him has confirmed it.
He should have added “Amen, Alleluia.” This witnessing of his faith in the Stratfordian religion served notice that his book would operate on the assumption that the Stratford man had performed the miracle and that the only difference in Levi’s approach would be to tell everyone what really must have happened. A sample of the commentary that follows in his book demonstrates the cobwebs Mr. Levi uses to support his thesis. For instance, in assuming Shaksper’s education at the Stratford grammar school, he states:
More is known about the Combes’ dates of death than of their dates of birth, but it is likely that Shakespeare encountered them as a schoolboy. The Elizabethan grammar school was an extremely important leveler and an easy instrument for those who were going to climb intellectually or socially in a society both intellectually and socially more mobile than ours. That was how Lord Burghley began to climb.
Let alone the fact that he cannot show that Shaksper went to school. Maybe he did; maybe he did not. Levi leaps the chasm of this issue, however, and begins to tell us what he did and those he “likely” met. Eventually, he gets to the point of saying that, “Young Shakespeare went to the free school at Stratford.” Why is this so? Levi tells us.
The new generation of English poets all went to grammar schools of this kind, though some of them went to universities as well from about the age of fifteen.
Since Shaksper was one of “the new generation of English poets,” he went to the “available grammar school of this kind.” A short time later, Levi explains Shaksper’s absence from university training as being due to lack of money and his father’s near disgrace. It is because of this situation that he makes the absolutely unsupported statement that, “We must thank God anyway that his hungry talents were not canalized by academic study at that level. He was admirably self-taught…” Unsupported assumption rules his book from this point on. Because Shaksper must have been Shakespeare, inference is unlimited. Take the following example:
I am sure, however, that Shakespeare knew Robert Dover…When Robert grew up he had many friends in common with Shakespeare including Drayton, Ben Jonson, Thomas Russell and Endymion Porter. Robert Dover must have known (country sports) in boyhood too, but we have no clinching proof that Shakespeare had met him before he was seventeen, by which time Shakespeare was in London….No one has ever understood what Falstaff was doing at Winchcombe, in Justice Shallow’s orchard; or, to transpose the question, what Shakespeare was doing there. The key that fits this closed door is Robert Dover. Shakespeare knew him as a boy from Barton on the Heath, and Dover…. What they had in common was the Cotswolds (games)….The local scale of the Cotswold Olympics is easy enough to imagine.
Why not? Everything else is. And Levi is but one example. All of the Stratfordian writers have much the same to offer when they are not engaging in outright prevarication. Consider the following from Ivor Brown:
If it be urged that things appear in his texts which are outside the experience and information of ‘a harlotry player,’ the answer is that the Shakespeare whom I have endeavored to picture, according to known facts and contemporary allusions, was certainly under patronage of the Earl of Southampton and seemingly a close friend of that nobleman too. In Southampton’s house and circle he would meet John Florio, translator of Mantaigne, and the wits who hovered round the brilliant Essex or the learned Bacon. With his quickness of ear and perception and strength of memory he would absorb and retain what was said without difficulty. The idea of the outcast and ignoramus actor can only be supported by ignoring the dedications to Southampton and by thinking of Tudor London as a huge modern capital among whose millions genius can easily wilt unrecognized. (Emphasis added.)
Here, Brown uses the very test of “experience” to prove the relationships which Shaksper must have experienced to be considered the author. He goes back to the text of the dedication in the poems to basically say, “How could he write this if he were not the writer?” Note also Brown’s use of the conditional. I agree with him. If Shaksper were in Southampton’s house, he probably would meet those people and if Shaxsper were a genius enough to write the works, he probably would have had the quickness of ear, etc. But that is the question at issue and his argument only begs it. Brown goes on with this approach:
The very reason why Southampton took him up must have been the uncanny promise and swift performance of this unique young man.
It certainly must have. How unfortunate for Brown and the Stratfordians that Southampton never, in any record extant, mentioned this brilliant young friend. Never. In his chapter entitled “The Hand of Glory,” Brown attempts to deal with the authorship question relying on the mysterious essence of genius, the most spurious of all Stratfordian defenses because it virtually requires no proof and ignores the true nature of genius. As Charlton Ogburn has said, they treat the fruits of genius as if they were the result of “spontaneous generation.”
Notice how the circle runs. He was the honest-to-God real Shakespeare of the sonnets and the plays. If this is the case, then he must have gone to school and the school he must have gone to was the Stratford school. And he met all of these people there who became his friends and they had all of these connections to other people and places referred to in the plays and sonnets. But he could not go on to the university (because even the Stratfordians cannot suppose him to have attended in the face of positive evidence to the contrary), so he taught himself the rest and probably better than the university could have because he was so intelligent and a genius to boot, and anyone so smart and self-taught like that is just the person you would expect to be, who else, Shakespeare!
Begging the question is one of the strongest weapons in the Stratfordian arsenal and there are many more examples. One need only read critically to find them.
Ad Hominem Arguments
There are at least two forms of arguments ad hominem, a Latin phrase which literally means “against the man.” This form of fallacy focuses on either the personal situation of the listener to elicit sympathy for the proponent’s position or attacks personal traits of the opponent in order to diminish the effect of the opposing argument, even though the personal trait has no relation to the argument.
For example, Rottenberg points out that if a person is a candidate for treasurer, it may be very relevant that the candidate is dishonest but accusing the same person of being a homosexual is completely irrelevant to his or her qualifications for treasurer. Yet, this perceived “defect” would readily be resorted to by some in order to “muddy the water” and deflect attention from the real issue. In this particular example, both forms of ad hominem argument can be seen. One is the attack on the candidate for an unrelated “shortcoming”; the other is the implied pitch to the voters that since most of them, presumably, are not homosexuals, and that they should think twice before making a homosexual their treasurer. This fallacy, in either form, can be found in abundance in the context of the authorship question.
Attacking the personal trait of the opponent is the most common. A.L. Rowse engages in an ad hominem argument against Enoch Powell when he attacks the man’s background but also when he snootily brings up the point that Powell “has lost his seat” in government. Apparently, Rowse desires to press upon the listener the idea that Powell’s argument should not be attended since he has lost his seat, but this obviously has nothing to do with whether Powell is correct in challenging Rowse’s hero.
Another instance occurs when John Savage in the 1992 Visnet broadcast on the authorship question attacks all those persons who have “a neurotic need to believe in conspiracy” as some sort of clear definition of the Oxfordian. The attack is against the “neurotic” Oxfordian, not the argument he or she makes. By way of hyperbolic example, Jack the Ripper could make a very good argument for keeping our cutting utensils sharp which has nothing to do with hacking up poor unfortunates, but the detractor would argue against sharp knives because Jack the Ripper favors them for his nefarious purpose.
A simple method of detecting such an “ad hominem” argument is to replace the proponent with another, and presumably unobjectionable, person. If the only difference is the person making the argument, the argument itself remaining intact, and the attack on the argument dissolves, then that attack was one which was only “ad hominem”, or, against the person. In the Jack the Ripper example, let us eliminate Jack as the proponent and substitute the Boy Scouts of America, who have long championed well-sharpened knives as being safer than dull ones because you might inadvertently lop off a digit with the latter sooner that you would the former. With this substitution, the first attack disintegrates as being ad hominem and, therefore, fallacious.
Consider Professor Samuel Schoenbaum’s authorship rebuttal found in Shakespeare’s Lives. With the exception of a few other fallacies thrown in and, at best, a couple of easily-demolished arguments, his effort largely consists of an attack on the anti-Stratfordians themselves. Consider the following:
(Looney) refused a nom de plume to forestall the hilarity of reviewers.
He tells how the Oxfordians “(gave) the Baconians a run for their madness.” He joins the clarion call of other orthodox respondents by noting,
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that snobbery led Looney, a gentle retiring soul, to seek a Shakespeare with blue blood in his veins.
Considering Looney’s work and its impact, he states that, “Despite its intellectual naivete, …(Looney) impressed the impressionable.” This is a unique double-slam against both the writer and his adherents.
In the space of relatively few pages, Schoenbaum describes Looney as a “pedagogue” twice and uses the word “heretic” or its root five times (twice on one page). He describes The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn “…as one of the seven wonders of anti-Stratfordianism, although I would be hard pressed to name the other six.” On the same page, he asserts that Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Name by Dorothy Ogburn and Charlton Ogburn, Jr. “…has at least the merit of comparative brevity.”
This is not argument or rebuttal; this is name-calling. And it has nothing to do with the validity of the arguments of those he labels. The “snobbery” argument is not unusual. It was employed by Rowse in the Frontline program and it pervades many Stratfordian responses to the issue when the Stratfordians respond at all. Consider the typical approach taken by Peter Levi:
Contrary theories (regarding the authorship) depend to various degrees on snobbery, perversity and the mania for decoding which is so often combined with touches of megalomaniac self-importance. Since I believe this to be the sober truth, I hope I may say it without offence.
A final example should suffice to complete the point and Professor Schoenbaum provides us with it. Note how this particular attack on Looney’s book and theory deals with the fool who would believe it, and not with whether the theory is foolish. He first notes that John Galsworthy called Looney’s book “the best detective story” he had ever read. Schoenbaum goes on:
Herein must lie much of the fundamental appeal of the work and of anti-Stratfordian demonstrations generally. Sober literary history is metamorphosed into a game of detection, in much the same manner as James Thurber’s American lady in the Lake Country transformed Macbeth into a Hercule Poirot thriller (‘”Oh Macduff did it all right,” said the murder specialist.’). To such a game the cultivated amateur can give his leisure hours in hopes of toppling the supreme literary idol and confounding the professionals.
The operative words are “sober” (Oxfordians must be drunk), “cultivated amateur”, “leisure” (as opposed to hard-working scholars), “hopes” (read “starry-eyed”), and “professionals” (Stratfordian scholars).Ad hominem attacks are effective and commonly resorted to by Stratfordians because they divert attention from the real issues and allow them to escape having to defend the indefensible.
The other form of this species of fallacy is the circumstantial ad hominem, which is an argument directing appeals to the interests of the listener rather than attacking the opponent. It is closely related to the fallacy of Wishful Thinking which “…occurs when we fail to give an argument due credit because we want its conclusion to be false or when we give an argument more credit than it deserves because we want its conclusion to be true.” It sometimes takes the form of an “appeal to pity” or some other emotion, or a “faulty emotional appeal.” For instance, a congregation of devout Catholics may approve very strongly of the arguments against abortion as being murder but may not be willing to hear with the same ears any issues about “choice”. The person who argues counting on and perhaps plumbing the listener’s predisposition utilizes the circumstantial ad hominem.
A type of this attack described by Albert Frye and Albert Levi is one which attempts to make the opponent look ridiculous in the eyes of the audience (“appeal to ridicule”), Professor Schoenbaum’s tactic when he focuses on Percy Allen’s seances instead of the credible work Percy Allen did to support his cause. In a similar way, he attacks those who “are drawn to conspiracy theories” in the Frontline program and sets himself apart by saying that he is not so inclined to subscribe to conspiracies. By doing so, he simply labels all anti-Stratfordians without ever considering the basis for their beliefs. Effective.
Probably the most telling use of the argument ad hominem is that which attacks anyone who, in the eyes of the attacker, is not sufficiently an expert or “authority” in the field to even express an opinion on the subject. As I have mentioned, fallacies mix and blend with each other so as to make it difficult at times to denote which fallacy is being utilized at any particular moment. I shall shortly discuss the heavily relied-upon “resort to authority”, but at this point I simply point out that clinging to the position that the speaker is not an appropriate “authority” is another example of the ad hominem argument which attacks the proponent and not the argument which is made.
Arguing Beside The Point (The Straw Man)
Arguing “beside the point” occurs, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, when two different issues become confused as being the same, and an argument in support of one issue is mistakenly assumed to be an argument in support of the other. This fallacy is an effective one which consists of attacking a view similar to, but not the same as, that held by your opponent.
A good example is one used by Richard Nixon in his famous “Checkers” Speech which is described by Rottenberg. Nixon, having been accused of having “appropriated $18,000 in campaign funds for his personal use”, responded as follows:
One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don’t they will probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election.
A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog, and, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?
It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate that he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl, Tricia, the six-year-old, named it Checkers.
And, you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.”
Of course, Nixon knew that the issue was the $18,000, not the dog. Still, he deflected attention from the real issue and everybody remembers the dog and not the money.
This particular fallacy was beautifully implemented by A.L Rowse in the Frontline program. At a point when he is asked whether he thought it impossible or unlikely that the Earl of Oxford could have written the Shakespeare works, he responded with an attack on all the “silly people” who thought Shakespeare must have been a woman or that Queen Elizabeth must have been a man. Of course, he had not been asked whether he thought Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare had their sexes confused. And while we may assume what his answer would have been to the actual question, he got away with avoiding having to tell us why. Instead, he probably succeeded in persuading some listeners that some Oxfordians might even believe that the Queen was male and the writer female. As one authority on logic, Michael Scriven, has put it, the “‘straw-man’ fallacy involves ascribing a claim to somebody who doesn’t in fact make that claim.” It consists of creating an issue similar to the one being discussed but which is, in fact, not the issue. It is an issue “beside” the real issue, or “beside the point.” The “straw man” issue is one that is easier to knock down than the real issue, like a straw man instead of a real one. And it makes it look as though you have won your argument.
Fallacy Of Illegitimate Appeal To Authority
One of the strongest hooks upon which the Stratfordians hang their arguments is their resort to their own position of authority, or the position of those who agree with them. It is the “because I say so” argument. A.L Rowse put it succinctly in the Frontline program when, referring to Enoch Powell’s anti-Stratfordian position, Rowse sniffs at Powell’s classical education and sums it up by concluding, “He doesn’t qualify to have an opinion. We needn’t worry about what he says at all.” Indeed, Rowse is convinced that no one who takes such a position is qualified, referring to “all the rot…by people who should shut up”. He goes on to tell the interviewer, Al Austin, that people should read the books that tell the real truth—his books.
Resort to this particular method is not always so obvious. Gary Taylor, in an excellent analysis of Shakespeare’s impact on society and society’s impact on Shakespeare, makes reference to Looney’s Oxfordian thesis and concludes that “scholars” were not convinced. Actually, many scholars were convinced but they did not fit into the Taylor mold which implicitly contains the word “Stratfordian” in the definition. However, since “scholars” were not convinced, neither should anyone else be.
Logicians disagree with regard to the extent that resort to authority should be questioned. Probably as a result of the “Vietnam era” and bumper stickers which challenge us to “Question Authority”, people have become properly cynical of those who rely on the letters they are entitled to write after their name to prove their point. A friend of mine neatly called just such a bluff once when an antagonist referred to his master’s degree in order to shore up his flagging argument and my friend responded by saying, “Yes, it’s a pity how they hand those things out.”
One logician’s approach is as follows:
Not all appeals to authority are illegitimate. If the subject matter falls within an area for which expert opinion is available and if the competence of the authority can be demonstrated, an arguer’s appeal to authority is not illegitimate.
However, the same writer points out that just because nearly everyone believes that something is true, such widely-held opinion is not conclusive.
History amply demonstrates that popular beliefs are as often wrong as right. In the words of Socrates, the seeker after truth will completely disregard “the opinion of the many.”
All logicians are not so willing to concede the exercise of one’s reason to claims of authority. The practice of “ad verecundiam” (appeal to revered authority) is a lazy person’s effort. Instead of talking about the real issues and facts, resort is made to a name or letters behind the name, wielding it like a club to glean acceptance of or submission to the conclusion proposed. But, as one logician, Stuart Chase, has stated:
Quoting authorities is of course entirely legitimate, and only when pushed too far, when the Big Name freezes mental activity, does it become a fallacy. It is not so much that one thinks wrongly, as that one ceases to think at all.
He goes on to point out:
Most American investors looked up to those bankers and financial wizards who convinced us, just before the crash of 1929, that the stock market had entered a new and permanent level of values. We trusted these wise men, and did not stop to analyze the ever more fantastic ratio of earnings to market prices.
Another good example is provided by geologists prior to the discoveries of the late 1960′s who laughed at and decried plate tectonic theory. I remember a geography teacher who noted the similar patterns of the east coast of South America and the west coast of Africa and how some simpletons actually thought that they might have broken apart eons ago. Those geologists of the past are the extinct dinosaurs of today.
Gary Taylor resorts to authority again when he lumps himself together with those who have patiently tried to explain why anti- Stratfordians are wrong and then wearily have to withstand a whole new barrage of attacks. He points out how technical each of the arguments are, in this case specifically referring to the use of the hyphen in Shakespeare’s name on the Visnet debate, and how after proving one minor point such as the use of the hyphen (which he never actually does), anti-Stratfordians come up with some new argument. Such “technical” subjects should be left to the “scholars.” It was meant to sound convincing and, perhaps to some, it was. But he never demonstrated anything except his premise that this technical subject is best left to the “scholars” and not to the uninitiated like Charlton Ogburn. Jr., Warren Hope, Paul Nitze, Dr. Deborah Bacon, Tom Bethel, Felicia Londre, Charles Burford, et. al. who do not have a right to an opinion. Taylor’s approach calls to mind the remark of F.C.S. Schiller that “nothing has a greater hold on the human mind than nonsense fortified with technicalities.”
In the same broadcast, Rebecca Flynn uses this tactic arguing the lame and long-abused notion that The Tempest makes reference to a certain shipwreck (demonstrating the extent of research performed by Ms. Flynn on the subject) by saying that it is “…generally agreed by reputable scholars…” that the play was written after Oxford died. Of course, her definition of “reputable scholars” corresponds to that of Professor Taylor’s. She attempts to carry the day by citing irrefutable authority without resorting to the underlying facts and is blown out of the water by Tom Bethel who points out that other shipwrecks occurred much earlier which could have been used as a model, if a model were needed at all.
Samuel Schoenbaum, in his effort to discredit the “heretics”, adequately describes some of the basic positions which anti- Stratfordians have taken, but he never succeeds in refuting them. Instead, he resorts to several fallacies to try to belittle those who may have the temerity to challenge orthodoxy. Resort to authority is one. He says:
The heretic’s selection of de Vere, courtly amateur rather than professional man of letters, confirms his identification with his idealized choice, for the Oxfordians are, almost to a man, dilettante scholars.
This is a perfect example of how the resort to authority is nothing more than a form of ad hominem argument. Do not get put into the position of having to deal with the argument or issue; attack the opponent personally.Professor Schoenbaum provides some ironic humor when he discusses the one Oxfordian whom he is unable to attack as a “non-scholar” and tries to find another way to discredit him. About Sigmund Freud, who he acknowledges began to read the works of Shakespeare at the age of eight and could readily quote Shakespeare, he says:
That the authorship controversy stirred his analytical curiosity need not surprise us. It is, however, both surprising and sad that the schismatics were able to claim Freud as one of their own.
Freud is a problem for Stratfordians because the father of modern psychiatry was the quintessential problem-solver who took an open-minded approach to discovering facts. And Freud did not slavishly adhere to the “facts” insisted upon by Stratfordians.But what is really hilarious is that Schoenbaum assumes the mantle of psychiatrist to analyze Dr. Freud’s motivations! He engages in several pages of psychological rumination and concludes:
In the rescue fantasy one sees again the operation of the Family Romance, dually functioning ‘to mask the hostile impulses and preserve the lost omnipotent object’. In such a way does psychoanalytic theory explain the unconscious origins of anti-Stratfordian polemics.
Schoenbaum no sooner finishes decrying “dilettante scholars” for tampering with his domain than he becomes an accomplished psychoanalyst getting to the bottom of the real psychological motives of anti-Stratfordians including the great Dr. Freud himself. One wonders if Dr. Schoenbaum would object to Oxfordians (or anyone else) questioning his authority to do so.In the end, accusing someone of not having the necessary credentials to discuss the issue or have an opinion is just another form of ad hominem argument. Appealing to authority discards the truism that rival authorities disagree (the basic requirement for any true controversy), and demands that the opponent cease thinking, or speaking, altogether.
Fallacy Of Equivocation (Verbal Arguments)
Equivocal or “verbal” arguments are those wherein a crucial term (i.e. a term which is critical to the soundness of the argument) has not been clearly defined and the term is used with different meanings, expressed or implied, in the argument. This unobtrusively turns the term into two different terms where the argument still demands a single term. If clear agreement is reached on the denotation and connotation of the term as having two different meanings, the argument evaporates because the term cannot be used consistently as a single term within the argument. An example offered by Olson follows:
1. Death is the end of life.
2. The end of a thing is its perfection.
3. Death is the perfection of life.
The meaning of the term “end” in the two places it appears is obviously different and the conclusion is therefore unsound.
A common Stratfordian equivocation is the assertion that :
More facts are known about William Shakespeare than about any other playwright of the period except Ben Jonson.
Aside from the “question-begging” use of the term “playwright”, the equivocal term used here is “facts.” The argument that really is being pressed here is the following, with the major premise implied:
1. The more facts that are known about a playwright’s life, the more likely it is that he was a notable playwright.
2. More facts are known about William Shakespeare than about any other playwright of the period except Ben Jonson.
3. William Shakespeare was a more notable playwright of the era than anyone except perhaps Ben Jonson.
There is no doubt that there are plenty of facts about the Stratford man but not the kind you would associate with the greatest writer who ever lived. Indeed, there is not one fact indicative of a writer. The writer of the previous quotation does not emphasize this and leaves the reader to assume that the facts to which he refers have to do with being a playwright. “Facts” in the major premise purportedly means “facts having to do with being a playwright” while the same word in the second premise really means “general facts”, or any facts at all.
An even more blatantly deceptive use of similar language is the following employed by Charney:
The enthusiastic efforts of researchers have uncovered more than a hundred relevant documents, including deeds to property, entries in parish registers, depositions in law suits, and other legal records.
Look closely at the term “relevant” and ask the question “relevant to what?” If we conclude that the appropriate application is to say “relevant to the legal matters of a man from Stratford” then the statement is probably correct. However, the writer wants the reader to presume relevance to Shakespeare’s alleged writing career the same way “facts” in the previous example proffered by Charney was intended to allude to activities as a playwright. However, Stratfordians have never demonstrated how any document yet discovered is clearly relevant to any supposed career as a playwright.
It is impossible to prove that something is not by virtue of a lack of any evidence. For instance, I cannot prove that there are no extra-terrestrials due to the fact that we do not have any clear evidence of their existence.
This fallacy is the one committed by Oxfordians when they point out that no record exists of Shaksper having attended the Stratford school while, in truth, for the period, there is no evidence of anyone attending the school. The records, whatever they may have been, have long since been lost or destroyed. If there were records, but Shaksper was not recorded in them, then there would be affirmative evidence that he did not go to school. Or if someone said in a letter that young Shaksper was unable to attend school because he had to help his father butcher cattle, then we would have something. Instead, all we have is a deafening silence, which proves nothing.
What is humorous is how the Stratfordians turn this lack of evidence into proof that Shaksper went to the Stratford school. For example, in the introduction to the Signet paperback edition of Hamlet, the writer admits that no records are available but states that it is reasonable to assume that he went to school and received substantial Latin! (The Earl of Burford, in his national tour, has, tongue in cheek, identified this as a “positive” fallacy.) The problem for the Signet proponent is that, from the standpoint of proving anything, he or she has given up the ghost as soon as the negative premise (i.e. no records are available) is introduced. This is because, in syllogistic logic, an affirmative and a negative premise can only result in a negative conclusion. It is certainly possible to prove a negative but you must have a valid negative premise accompanied with an affirmative one. Replace the affirmative premise with a negative one so that all you are left with is negative premises, and no conclusion may be drawn at all! For instance, if you state the following:
No Basenji dogs can bark.
The Clarks own only Basenji dogs.
the only reasonable conclusion is:
No dogs owned by the Clarks can bark.
which is a negative conclusion. Substitute the affirmative minor premise with a negative one, such as
The Clarks own no Basenji dogs.
and you can prove precisely nothing. You certainly cannot surmise:
No dogs owned by the Clarks can bark.
Maybe they can; maybe they cannot. Maybe the Clarks own no dogs at all. But the two negative premises avail no deduction whatsoever.Therefore, to show that Shaksper received an education, Stratfordians may not look to deductive thinking at all. They must rely on inductive logic and this wholly fails them as well since there is no evidence anywhere (letters, diaries, journals, etc.) that Shaksper ever saw the inside of a classroom, let alone spent any time in one.
It is for this reason that a person should always be wary of the proponent of any theory who constantly relies on negative premises to make a point. And it is exactly here that the Stratfordians may be called to task. You do not have to read very far in an orthodox defense of the Stratford man to find negatives galore. Consider the following examples which Peter Levi gives us, thus:
There was a rumor later of another boy who was Shakespeare’s friend and just as brilliant as he was, who died very young. There is no reason why it should not be true.
And this when referring to anonymous verse from the era of Shaksper’s youth
It may be considered in addition that we are utterly lacking in any apprentice verses of Shakespeare. He emerges at twenty-seven years old as a perfect poet. These verses are traditional in style, theme and feeling, almost anyone could have written them, and there is no reason why this ‘anyone’ should not have been the young Shakespeare. They are talented, elegant, and almost a parody. I think he wrote them at about the age of seventeen.
This business of grabbing a negative and forcing someone to disprove is completely invalid. It has much to do with the burden of proof and is referred to as an argument ad ignorantiam. It is the attempt to turn an argument around so that the other side must prove a negative. An example employed by Chase is:
“The State Department is full of Reds!”
“I don’t have to, let’s see you disprove it.”
Another might go like this:
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty.”
“I don’t believe he exists.”
“You can’t prove He doesn’t.”
A conclusion offered by a Stratfordian after wrestling with the authorship and knowing that he cannot prove Shaksper’s claim is as follows:
The argument for Shakespeare may well rest on this single impressive consideration. As we have seen, all the evidence that has been put forward to show that he could not have been the author of his works fails to prove him incapable, while in opposition to the facts supporting his position we have little more than daring conjectures. (Emphasis added)
Chase points out the effect of this approach.
Instead of proving your argument, you challenge your opponent to disprove it. If he can’t, then you triumphantly assert that you have won. You do no demonstrating at all—which I suppose is where the “ignorance” comes in.
When Peter Levi says, “There is no reason why it should not be true” or why “it should not be Shakespeare”, he is employing this approach. “Prove that it is not true.” But negatives used in this way are invalid and prove nothing on their own. Negatives simply eliminate possibilities; they prove nothing.
The fallacy of False Analogy occurs when someone tries to draw a comparison between some aspect of the issue being discussed and some other completely unrelated example as if it will provide some deep truth about the subject. The problem is that analogies offer no proof of anything if only because the conditions of each are probably quite different.
In examining the difficulty of creating a decent biography of Shaksper, Taylor resorts to an analogy first proffered by T.S. Eliot:
For Eliot poetry occurs “when a bit of finely filiated platinum is introduced into a chamber containing oxygen and sulphur dioxide”; with the platinum present, the two gases combine to form “sulphurous acid.”
This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, passive, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum.
Shakespeare, the passive catalyst, compounds images. How can you write the biography of a shred of platinum?
This is almost more metaphor than analogy. Still, it is used as an analogy for his inability to discover something solid about his subject.
Platinum is a metal. Poets are human. You cannot write biographies of gold, iron, or other inert objects. A better analogy would be that you cannot write the biography of a prehistoric cave man of whom there is no record. But that would not have suited Dr. Taylor’s purpose since it is uncomfortable for Stratfordians to acknowledge the lack of a meaningful or relevant record about their star at a time when people did know how to record history. So, instead, Professor Taylor decided to wax poetic about platinum.
The “Non Sequitur” fallacy is one which is based on the Latin phrase after which it is named which means, literally, “it does not follow”. In other words, the beginning of the argument has nothing to do, necessarily, with the conclusion which follows. It is a fallacy of irrelevance meaning that whatever proposition has been asserted as justification for the conclusion really has nothing to do with the conclusion, although, at first blush, it may seem to.
As one logician has noted, the mere fact that a book is popular or enjoys good sales does not make it good literature or scientifically respectable.
In the context of the authorship issue, there are many instances of this fallacy of which I will note only a few.
For instance, Mr. Charney notes Shaksper’s acquisition of New Place and its surrounding gardens and tries to attach it to how he came by the money to make the purchase. He says:
Along with the grant of arms, this impressive house and gardens marks Shakespeare’s extraordinary success in the business-artistic world of the London theaters.
Mr. Charney has no more proof of how the Stratford man got the money to make the purchase than I do. And it took money to buy the property, not necessarily success in the business-artistic world of the London theaters.
Another example of a common use of this fallacy against Oxford is one used by John Savage in the Visnet Broadcast in 1992. Mr. Savage warns those foolish enough to consider Oxford as the author of all of the “bad things” about de Vere, describing him as a “nasty piece of work.” He goes on to describe the negative attributes which Oxford had as a person, saying that he disobeyed the Queen and married without her permission (technically wrong, but beyond my point here), and that he generally had a bad attitude. Actually, Savage did not know the half of it but he could accuse Oxford of being a four-headed Gila Monster or cavorting with wolves and baying at the moon on Halloween in some satanic rite, but neither of these has anything to do with whether he could have written the works of Shakespeare. If an accusation is going to prove anything, it must be related in some way to the issue at hand. The point is that all of the accusations in the world, whether true or not, do not disprove Oxford’s authorship of the Shakespeare canon unless they have something to do with the issue, i.e. writing. Accusing him of being emotional certainly does not do it. Actually, it makes sense that only a person with Oxford’s passion, if recognized in the proper light, could have written these masterpieces. “It does not follow” that a person who did the things that Mr. Savage accuses him of could not have written the works. This approach also resembles, and in some ways typifies, the circumstantial ad hominem argument known as the “faulty emotional appeal.” After all, do you want your greatest literary hero of all time to be less than perfect?
Peter Levi provides another example. Referring to the likelihood that Shakespeare (read here “the writer of Shakespeare’s works”) saw the Mystery Plays, he provides as evidence:
He (Shaksper/Shakespeare) may well have seen the Mystery Plays…Willis…describes a Morality Play he saw at Gloucester as a little boy on his father’s shoulder. He was exactly Shakespeare’s age.
Well, now, there’s some evidence. Someone the same age as Shaksper saw a Morality Play. That must mean Shaksper saw it. Of course, it is just as possible that he was cleaning out the stable at that time since others of his age were probably cleaning out stables— and probably a few more than were watching morality plays. Sarcasm aside, however, it does not take a rocket scientist (or a PhD in literature) to realize that one does not lead to the other.
Fallacy Of Division (Guilt By Association)
This particular fallacy occurs when properties assigned to a group are set forth as automatically belonging to each member of the group. An example offered by one logician is as follows:
All nations ought to disarm.
The United States is a nation.
The United States ought to disarm.
The initial premise suggests that all nations collectively ought to disarm, not each nation individually. However, the invalid conclusion results in the unilateral assertion that the United States ought to disarm by itself.
A similarly related fallacy is that of the fallacy of composition where the properties of an individual are assigned to a group.
A corollary found in the law would be one identified as that known as “guilt by association” and at least one logician lists it as a common fallacy and describes it by saying, “It equates unlike entities on the basis of a single common trait.” For instance, anyone seeing a group including well-known criminals hanging about assumes that all of those in the group are criminals. More effectively implemented in a court of law (assuming such “evidence” survives a timely objection), if it is established that Mr. Jones is constantly seen in the presence of criminals, an assumption arises that he must be a criminal himself (despite the lack of any evidence that he ever committed a crime). Simply by virtue of those he is seen with, it is assumed that he is the same. “Birds of a feather flock together” and so on.
The problem with this approach is that it is simply not true. But the Stratfordians regularly use this approach to make Oxford look untenable. They constantly lump him with others proposed as the author (who are obviously not the author) in order to make him look as unlikely as the others they have listed.
From David Bevington benignly noting the suspicious nature of the sheer number of suspects (i.e. candidates for the authorship) to Hill’s assertion that since only one candidate can possibly be the author and since the whole group of potential alternatives is full of persons who are not the one, then probably no one is acceptable, provide the best examples. This tactic is resorted to every time the Stratfordians run off a list of “pretenders” noting something like,
“Those who doubt the authorship look to someone like Bacon, Derby, Oxford, Marlow, Queen Elizabeth, etc., etc.” Inevitably, Oxford is mixed somewhere in the middle, hoping to bury him with names.
Fallacy of Neglected Aspect
This fallacy describes itself. It takes place, “When an argument is believed to carry more weight than it actually does because we have overlooked factors relevant to the conclusion….” It is probably the most difficult to avoid simply because it is easy to miss things and it is the easiest to abuse when the arguer is able to convince the listener that he has thought of everything. It is closely related to, or probably just another form of what is called, the Hasty Generalization which is defined as drawing conclusions on the basis of insufficient evidence. Examples of the classic “hasty generalization” may be found in prejudices against certain ethnic groups based upon the characteristics of a few; superstitions such as black cats or spilled salt; and any notions maintained despite evidence to the contrary.
Hill proposes “neglected aspects” when reviewing the payment of a thousand pounds annually made by Queen Elizabeth to Oxford. He notes that the payment may have been to allow a premier earl to maintain appearances or because of a special relationship with the Queen which had nothing to do with the authorship of plays. He notes that the reason is not apparent. He then argues that paying Oxford as a propagandist for the queen is not tenable either because the plays did not accomplish the presumed purpose. He states, “Invariably she demanded full value for her money.”
Mr. Hill is correct in searching for “neglected aspects” in this fashion as a process of attempting to glean the full truth. However, he slips up by failing to pursue the same rigorous course of study when considering the “overpainting” of another visage discovered within a supposed Shakespeare portrait. He asserts that the “overpainters”, whoever they might be, would have had to understand or predict the coming of x-ray and infra-red technology in order for them to believe the overpainting would ever be discovered. What Hill fails to take into account is the possibility that the persons responsible never intended the overpainting to be discovered at all.
Schoenbaum neglects important aspects in the Frontline program when he discusses the nature of “genius” including the need to attend to bodily functions and the desire to procreate. He proclaims the great mystery “how could anyone have written these plays” as the essential with which Oxfordians cannot come to grip. But the fact is that the plays were written and the terms “genius” and “miracle” are not what, in logic, is referred to as a “tautology” (i.e. exactly the same thing). The genius is not created “Presto! Alakazam!” But Schoenbaum wants the listener to believe he has given as complete a description of “genius” as is necessary. He tries to convince the gullible that it is possible to sing and dance brilliantly without ever being introduced to the concept of “music.” Or, more aptly, lest I be accused of a false analogy, he wants people to believe that it is possible to write brilliantly and accurately in depth about history and customs to which the author was never exposed.
Post Hoc or Doubtful Cause
The title of this fallacy derives from the Latin post hoc, ergo propter hoc meaning “after this, therefore because of this.” The substance of this fallacy is that some event is the result of some other event which occurred earlier. For instance, a rooster crowing decides that his crowing causes the sun to rise since it does so when he crows. Or a dog chasing cars figures it is a good thing he chases them or the street would be full of cars. Such a line of thinking ignores more reasonable alternatives. As Rottenberg says,
The two events may be coincidental, or the first event may be only one, and an insignificant one, of many causes that have produced the second event. The reader or writer of causal arguments must determine whether another more plausible explanation exists and whether several causes have combined to produce the effect.
This brings us to an example of this fallacy in the context of the Shakespearian authorship in the form of Hill’s inane comment regarding the death of Shaksper and the publication of the First Folio. He says:
The very date of the Folio confirms the orthodox position as to authorship. It was brought out just seven years after Shakespeare’s death, and must have been in preparation several years earlier.
Note that Hill does not say that the date “suggests” the authorship or that it “supports” the authorship. He says the date “confirms” the authorship without a single supporting reason other than his subjective instinct that the timing is about right. Seven years is perfect; no later; no earlier. And, of course, he does not take into account political, economic and social factors, all of which may have played a part given other circumstances (i.e. if someone else wrote the plays and for a different reason.) And so, Mr. Hill is neglecting critical elements of the case which is characteristic of those who fall into selling or buying logical fallacies. Shaksper died seven years before the First Folio was published; therefore, he wrote it.
My purpose has been to give the reader an introduction to the manner in which invalid logic and logical fallacies have been used within the context of the authorship question, especially by Stratfordians, to avoid a genuine discussion of the evidence available to show who may have written the works of William Shakespeare. Fallacies are used to avoid real discussion and to perpetuate the mirage that the matter has been resolved.
In general, I have avoided the issue of “truth”, which is technically outside the present discussion except as it relates to premises and conclusions and how argument forms work. It is not an issue to be avoided, certainly; it is simply not the main focus of understanding why Stratfordians generally argue as they do because when they get to actual facts and truth, they lose. Hence, they avoid doing so.
This does not make them avoid making categorical statements of fact. They just do not defend or provide support for them. Witness the following by Peter Levi:
He (Shaksper) learned no French at school, but he did learn it….The one certain thing we know about Shakespeare’s youthful occupations is that he read a great deal—he was an omnivorous reader.
and his reference to:
…the substantial fact that Shakespeare was drawn to London by the theatre.
I doubt whether he knew his most interesting friends as a schoolboy except for Thomas Combe.
There is no evidence for any of these or a thousand other such assertions made by Levi and other Stratfordians and they evolve from sheer speculation and inferences drawn from the works founded upon the primal assumption that the Stratford man wrote them. So much for Levi’s firm footing in fact which, on the contrary, embraces the flimsy cobwebs he promised to avoid until he builds them into firm cables of uncontroverted fact. After all, you cannot prove that he is wrong.Stratfordians criticize the means employed by anti-Stratfordians but rarely examine their own methods. Schoenbaum, in attacking Oxford’s character and Looney’s method, says:
In any event, Looney does not include flatulence as another of his hero’s special attributes. Nor does he list cruelty, perversity, and profligacy as features of the author evident from a perusal of his work.
Of course, in this effort to poke fun at Oxfordians, Schoenbaum never considers that Shakespeare may have experienced gastric difficulty or that the plays never demonstrate the features he sets forth. Titus Andronicus perhaps should be referred to by Professor Schoenbaum. But he and other Stratfordians do not refer to elements in the Shakespeare canon which support Oxford’s authorship because they are not engaged in a search for truth. Rather, it seems that they often seek to obfuscate it.
Stratfordians will repeatedly say that they have long since disproved anti-Stratfordianism in general and are so weary of having to go through all of it again. The reader may well challenge them to cite any example of their having done so successfully. Paraphrasing the words of Lord Burford, they do not prove Shaksper wrote the canon and that no one else did because they cannot. If they could, they would, and that would be the end of it.
Stratfordians consistently avoid being put in the position of having to prove Shaksper wrote the works because they are unable to do so. Instead, they challenge the anti-Stratfordians to prove that their particular candidate for the authorship actually did the writing and to prove that Shaksper did not. In attacking the various theories put forth by anti-Stratfordians, Hill expresses frustration with one person who failed to offer an alternative candidate to attack:
Perhaps the most baffling anti-Shakespearian campaign was waged by Sir George Greenwood, a British Member of Parliament, who refused to name any “real” author, but merely argued that Shakespeare himself was not satisfactory, and that the problem of authorship needed further study.
What was baffling for Mr. Hill was the existence of an anti-Stratfordian whom he could not label as having some agenda or ulterior motive. For him and other Stratfordians, an open mind is a terrible thing to face.Not so for others. Frye and Levi directly address the authorship question in their work on logic as an issue perfectly exemplifying the “hypothetical syllogism.” They conclude that Oxford wrote the works but, unlike Stratfordians, leave their minds open to the use of logical methods to change the result.
They do so because, while logic is not necessarily dependent upon the truth except to work its principles, it is a tool to search for the truth: a tool Stratfordians consistently ignore or abuse.
In the end, however, to resolve a controversial issue effectively, “you must pay attention to both truth and to logic.”
There were nearly 100 footnotes that accompanied this article, but they were unfortunately lost in converting it to HTML for publishing on the Web. We will reconstruct the footnotes and add them in the very near future. Our apologies for any inconvenience.