Quietly buried in the Sunday Times "Letters" was a belatedly printed letter from Stephen Greenblatt, in response to Mr. Niederkorn's pseudo-essay. (The letter is dated the very same day as the article, August 30. One can imagine Greenblatt's urgency.)
Do you think maybe the Times will some day let Greenblatt have some "equal time" on the op-ed page one day? (Equal time for those who think Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, who would've thought.) Meanwhile, since the letter is short (no doubt, heavily edited) it's worth quoting in its entirety. Like me, Greenblatt seems most concerned over Niederkorn taking a page from the Christian right playbook, suggesting English classes "teach the controversy."
The comparisons to Creationism and Holocaust denial are totally apt, to my mind, and it needs to be said. I do not mean that any individual who publicly speculates about the authorship question is morally equivalent to a genocidal anti-semite. But the methods of analysis used by all these camps are similar. As Brian Vickers says in his TLS piece of Scott McCrae's new book, The Case for Shakespeare:
To the Editor:
Re "The Shakespeare Code, and Other Fanciful Ideas From the Traditional Camp" (Essay, Arts pages, Aug. 30):
The idea that William Shakespeare's authorship of his plays and poems is a matter of conjecture and the idea that the "authorship controversy" be taught in the classroom are the exact equivalent of current arguments that "intelligent design" be taught
In both cases an overwhelming scholarly consensus, based on a serious assessment of hard evidence, is challenged by passionately held fantasies whose adherents demand equal time.The demand seems harmless enough until one reflects on its implications. Should claims that the Holocaust did not occur also be made part of the standard curriculum?
In his final chapter, “All conspiracy theories are alike”, [McCrae] suggests that “denial of Shakespeare follows exactly the same flawed reasoning as Holocaust denial” in that it rejects the most obvious explanation of an event, and reinterprets evidence to fit a preconceived idea (“the ovens at Auschwitz baked bread”). Facts that contradict the theory are explained by conspiracy, but this ploy means that “conspiracy theories are really not theories at all”, but faiths, which cannot be proved false.
Of course, the other big question all three of these fringe movements raise is: is there not a threshold of acceptable scholarship below which the media is not obliged to recognize something as "scholarship"?