NABOKV-L post 0023022, Fri, 6 Jul 2012 04:51:13 +0000

Re: Boyd on Nabokov on Shakespeare of Stratford
Nabokov loved the work of Shakespeare and he had no time for anti-Stratfordians. In fact he thought them ridiculous, precisely because he had an excellent sense of evidence, and because, at least in this matter, they have almost none.
I have been held back from engaging in this discussion, indeed, because of anti-Stratfordians’ refusal to engage seriously with even evident counter-evidence, like the facts that 1) Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, died in 1604, nine years before Shakespeare’s last work, and before the wreck of the Sea-Adventurer in 1609 and the 1610 account of it that Shakespeare drew on for The Tempest, or 2) Shakespeare is the second-best documented playwright of his era (after only Ben Jonson). But when my name was brought into the discussion I had to make it perfectly clear where not just Nabokov but I too stand on this.
Counter-evidence does not matter to anti-Stratfordians, but it will to others on the list. So, for the record:
Nabokov’s former student, by then also his critic and his friend, Alfred Appel, Jr. gave Nabokov as a gift Samuel Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives (Oxford: Clarendon, 1970). Nabokov told Appel he thought Schoenbaum’s book “a model of scholarship as opposed to supposition.”
Of his 800 pages, Schoenbaum spends over a hundred on anti-Stratfordians, on all the many claimants proposed until 1969. Let me quote from near his conclusion to this section: “their ignorance of fact and method is as dismaying as their nonspecialist love of Shakespeare’s plays is touching. One feels oppressed, moreover, by the presence of an irresistible passion in these men and women that usurps thought, courts ridicule, even (at times) unseats reason” (628). He concludes by suggesting that a professor of English asked in a bar or an Intourist bus “Did Shakespeare really write those plays” would “do well to nod assent and avoid explanation, for nothing he says will erase suspicions fostered over a century by amateurs who have yielded to the dark power of anti-Stratfordian obsession. One thought perhaps offers a crumb of redeeming comfort: the energy absorbed by the mania might otherwise have gone into politics” (629) Schoenbaum ends this section of his 1991 revision in exactly the same way.
The evidence, then, is incontestable: Nabokov endorsed and admired the kind of serious scholarship Schoenbaum embodied, his scrupulous weighing of documentary evidence (strikingly like that of Nabokov’s own dissection, in his 1964 Abram Gannibal appendix to his Eugene Onegin, of the insufficient evidence that had accumulated and accreted into myth around Pushkin’s African great-grandfather—indeed I suspect this was the reason Appel thought Schoenbaum’s book an apt gift). And he accepted Schoenbaum’s evisceration of anti-Stratfordianism.
Nabokov’s clarity of thought and gift for sifting evidence, apparent also in the remarkably durable and remarkably prescient insights in his lepidopterological work, are a core part of his strengths as a writer and thinker. That for me is one reason it’s important to affirm that he was not and never was an anti-Stratfordian.
Nabokov entertained an anti-Stratfordian position once, within a poem (the 1924 “Shakespeare”), just as he tried out, within other poems, the possibility that he could ski-jump from Germany to Russia or that he is speaking to a winged demon. Poems play with possibilities, they do not vouch for verities.
In the 1940s Nabokov did study in detail one anti-Stratfordian text (Sir Edward Durning-Lawrence’s Bacon is Shakespeare, 1910), for his excursus on absurd distortions of Hamlet in Chapter 7 of Bend Sinister, where it is treated with the same contempt as other distortions, like Fascistic and Communist readings and stagings of the play and willful or ignorant mistranslations.
He wrote in the opening of his autobiography, explaining his lifelong quest for something freer than the world of human time: “I have ransacked my oldest dreams for keys and clues—and let me say at once that I reject completely the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud, with its crankish quest for sexual symbols (something like searching for Baconian acrostics in Shakespeare's works) and its bitter little embryos spying, from their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents.”
Given his lifelong contempt for Freud, his attitude to the methods often used in support of one prominent anti-Stratfordian claimant could not be clearer. And for exactly the same reason: both rely on supposed positive evidence (these wolves in your dream reflect your terror at having as an infant seen your parents have sex doggie-style; this phrase, or this group of letters selected on this basis, could be an anagram that inscribes an anti-Stratfordian) without regard to the counter-evidence (that the dream was of six or seven wolves by a tree, not two wolves making love, and that as Pankejeff commented the explanation was in any case impossible, since he couldn’t possibly have seen his parents making love given that children in his milieu slept with their nannies, and so on; or that—to consider only the acrostic methods of anti-Stratfordians—the texts “decoded” acrostically are fully meaningful regardless of the acrostics, and do nothing to signal they should be read acrostically, and could be read acrostically in a virtually infinite combination of other ways).
Freud, interestingly, became an Oxfordian. Schoenbaum writes that J. Thomas Looney’s “Shakespeare” Identified “appeared in 1920, and initiated the Oxford movement, which has given the Baconians a run for their madness” (sic; 598). Freud wanted to let English-speaking readers know of his conversion to the Oxfordian camp, and, in Schoenbaum’s words: “For their benefit he composed a note for insertion in the 1935 edition of An Autobiographical Study. The translator, James Strachey—only too well aware of the contempt felt by reputable scholars for the Oxfordians—threw up his hands. Patiently he explained to Freud the English connotation of the word Looney; a connotation which (in Jones’s apt phrase) ‘could only have the effect of adding risibility to derision.’ Freud yielded—but in the American edition he stuck to his guns” (610).
I had wanted to keep out of this, despite being the only person on the list who has published work not just on Shakespeare (books and articles) but specifically on Shakespearean authorship. I have published articles--with aims and methods that have nothing whatever in common with anti-Stratfordians--on Shakespeare’s collaboration, now accepted, with George Peele in Titus Andronicus (the evidence shows that Peele wrote Acts 1, 2.1 and 4.1). I have also supervised a PhD on the authorship situation in another play (Henry VI Part 1, partly written by Thomas Nashe and a still unidentified playwright, and revised by Shakespeare). And I have worked closely for over thirty years with the scholar acknowledged as the most reliable in attribution studies in the drama of Shakespeare and his period, MacDonald P. Jackson, and have edited a Festschrift in his honor to which the other leading attribution scholars of the period were eager to contribute.
Most serious attribution scholars do not waste their time with the deafness to evidence and argument of anti-Stratfordians, because it is all so fruitless compared with real problems in attribution in the drama of the period—real problems, but tractable by rigorous research. Neverthess two of the scholars who contributed to the Festschrift I edited, Ward E. Y. Elliott and Robert Valenza, have tested against Shakespeare’s own verbal norms 3000-word blocks of Shakespeare (ninety from him) and twenty-one already proposed claimants (a number that itself shows the absurdity of the anti-Stratfordian prejudices) and thirty-seven other possible claimants among Shakespeare’s contemporaries. They employ a hyperspheric analysis, multiplying the probabilities that the samples fall within objective and easily countable Shakespearean linguistic norms on 14 different and independent criteria. Their results include that “The odds that Shakespeare could have produced Oxford’s test patterns by chance are between 400,000 to 1.5 quadrillion times worse than the odds for Shakespeare’s own most discrepant block. These odds are also worse than the odds of getting hit by lightning.” “Oxford by the numbers: what are the odds that the Earl of Oxford could have written Shakespeare’s poems and plays?” Tennessee Law Review, 2004, 323-453, pp. 370-71.
Anti-Stratfordian theories are to literary scholarship what alien abduction stories and Roswell conspiracies are to cosmology: compulsive, like any mind-virus, for those possessed by them, but with nothing to contribute to the field.
Brian Boyd

On 6/07/2012, at 6:35 AM, Nabokv-L wrote:

ATTENTION: the author Jansy Mello calls "B. Boyd" in the post that just went out is a Brian, but not that Brian. My apologies for not catching the mistake quicker. -SB
See correction below

Re: [NABOKV-L] Pale Fire's "Harfar Baron of Shalksbore"
Jansy <><>
Thu, 5 Jul 2012 00:57:17 -0300

Brian Boyd ( to Mike Marcus: As an admirer of Nabokov and Shakespeare--who I have no doubt was Edward de Vere--I too am curious about VN's exact views on the authorship question...

Jansy Mello: For Mike Marcus's collection on "Vere" and "Verre", from PNIN:
"... Look at it! Look at this writhing pattern. You know, you should show it to the Cockerells. They know everything about old glass. In fact, they have a Lake Dunmore pitcher that looks like a poor relation of this.'
Margaret Thayer admired it in her turn, and said that when she was a child, she imagined Cinderella's glass shoes to be exactly of that greenish blue tint; whereupon Professor Pain remarked that, primo, he would like everybody to say if contents were as good as container, and, secundo, that Cendrillon's shoes were not made of glass but of Russian squirrel fur — vair, in French. It was, he said, an obvious case of the survival of the fittest among words, verre being more evocative than vair which, he submitted, came not from varius, variegated, but from veveritsa, Slavic for a certain beautiful, pale, winter-squirrel fur, having a bluish, or better say sizïy, columbine, shade — 'from columba, Latin for "pigeon ", as somebody here well knows — so you see, Mrs Fire, you were, in general, correct.'
'The contents are fine,' said Laurence Clements.
'This beverage is certainly delicious,' said Margaret Thayer.
('I always thought "columbine" was some sort of flower,' said Thomas to Betty, who lightly acquiesced*.)

btw: I just realized there's another possible hidden "play": the two names, Cockerell and Thayer (or, as Pnin called her Mrs. Fire) and VN as a "firebird".
* Alexey Sklyarenko wrote about "irises" and I suppose he is indicating the flower called "Iris" and not the "harlequin" prismatic effect, with a similar double meaning (the columba=dove and the columbine=flower besides the name Cinderella, related to cinders and the color gray/vair)
In his memoir essay The Literary Evening at P. A. Pletnyov's (1869) Turgenev describes Pletnyov's guests and mentions the so-called "harlequin" (of different colors) irises of one of them: адъютант в жандармском мундире, белокурый, плотный мужчина с разноцветными (так называемыми арлекинскими) зрачками
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