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01 May 2016 @ 10:28 am
in which NPR is really out of its element  
So NPR published this ridiculous interview with Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi about "the authorship question" on (I think) April 25, in which they said the usual ridiculous things, and the interviewer actually closed with "who cares what they say as long as they say it with those accents?" so it was clearly not a rigorous sort of interview.

(Edit: it wasn't the interviewer who said this, although it did end the piece. Still, this is the kind of question the interviewer asked Rylance and Jacobi: "I wonder about the question of why the authorship question would have drawn fine legal minds? I mean, I'm wondering if they're more open to following where the evidence takes them?" WHAT THE WHAT. That is not a question; that is a leading statement. Here is another "question": "And may I ask, too, there's evidence of a widely traveled person. The plays - Many of the plays are set in Italy." And here is the ONLY question that she asks about the other side of the story - you know, the one where all the facts are: "Although, as you know well, Shakespeare scholars especially have been pretty rough. They have called you - What? - Flat-Earthers?" Not once does she even ask them why scholars might disagree with them on any of their points and ask them to explain why they believe what they believe in the face of scholarly evidence.)

People complained in the comments because there was no counterargument, and several people compared this to interviewing climate change skeptics without also interviewing scientists.

In response, NPR published this defensive piece, which I find more offensive than the original interview:


Rylance and Jacobi are hardly complete amateurs on the subject. Rylance, who was interviewed for but not the subject of the earlier NPR piece, was the founding creative director of London's Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. As he told Montagne in Monday's interview, "Both Derek and I have committed our lives, since we were teenagers, to this author."

Oh, well then. No need to present the overwhelmingly dominant point of view of pretty much every scholar who actually works in this field; Rylance told the interviewer that he and Jacobi have devoted their lives to Shakespeare, so that's clearly the same.

And the second, defensive piece quotes the interviewer, again without doing anything to contextualize her statements or point out that the reason people have problems with this argument is that her entire premise is wrong:

"As I said in the interview, the dearth of evidence connecting the man William Shakespeare to the work, long ago gave rise to doubts as to whether he was the true author. Of course, Shakespearean scholars and most lovers of the Shakespeare plays and sonnets, quite reasonably, start from the premise — and stick to the premise — that he is the author. It is so universally accepted that Shakespeare is Shakespeare that it's quite a stretch to suggest any other line of thinking would be 'equivalent.' And that's especially true after a weekend overflowing with celebrations of William Shakespeare, on the 400th anniversary of his death.

But the mystery is intriguing, and far from a simple conspiracy theory, its champions have compiled some compelling evidence for ruling out Shakespeare and considering, at least, other possible authors.

All in all, it seemed as good a time as any to sit down with two of the world's most acclaimed Shakespearean actors to chat about who wrote the plays they have lived, breathed and, by the way, studied, for decades." (my emphasis)

I mean, "his name is on them, and his friends all said he wrote them, and he was actually a part of the London theater world, and we have way more evidence that Shakespeare wrote his plays than that, say, Christopher Marlowe - I mean Marley, I mean Marlin - wrote his" is not just a premise. Nor is "one of the sonnets says 'every word doth almost tell my name,' and if you take the 'y' off of 'every' and scramble the letters around, you get 'Vere,'" or "de Vere went to Italy and once stabbed a guy, so he must have written Romeo and Juliet and based Hamlet on his own life" actually compelling evidence. But whatever, I guess; who needs standards when one has plummy accents on one's side?
a_t_raina_t_rain on May 1st, 2016 02:51 pm (UTC)
All in all, it seemed as good a time as any to sit down with two of the world's most acclaimed Shakespearean actors to chat about who wrote the plays they have lived, breathed and, by the way, studied, for decades.

AARRGHHH. I hate the assumption that being an actor (or a Supreme Court justice) somehow makes one an expert on biographical and historical matters. It doesn't work the other way around; nobody interviews Stephen Greenblatt or James Shapiro and asks them to give their expert opinion on acting or constitutional law. So why on earth is it assumed that academic expertise is somehow not-real, and that someone from a totally different profession can do just as well as long as they're distinguished enough in that field?

Edited at 2016-05-01 02:51 pm (UTC)
tempestsarekind: austen snark is the best snarktempestsarekind on May 1st, 2016 03:04 pm (UTC)
I DON'T KNOW; IT IS THE WORST! Because you're absolutely right; the fact that actors and Supreme Court justices have signed this dumb Certificate of Doubt, or whatever it's called, is trotted out as evidence all the time, as though that means they've actually studied the issue in question. Meanwhile everyone knows that academics only support "the Stratford man" because they're trying to rake in the big bucks; it's not because they actually have expertise that matters on this issue.

Get out of here with your elitist book-learnings, academics! Why are you so defensive about this issue, huh??? Is it because you're trying to cover up the truth??? (I mean, it couldn't possibly be because this "question" makes a mockery of what academic research - especially in the humanities - actually does, or anything.)
negothicknegothick on May 1st, 2016 03:42 pm (UTC)
nineweaving is the expert in this area: she tells me that the so-called "Certificate of Doubt" has been circulating for over a decade and has gotten over 3,000 signatures.

Sounds impressive, until you think that someone raised $55,000 in one day for a potato salad recipe.

Seriously, I heard this interview on Morning Edition, early in the morning, and thought I was still having a nightmare.
negothicknegothick on May 1st, 2016 03:46 pm (UTC)
And I agree with your assessment of NPR's response article. Could anything be more condescending than this sign-off?
"One final thought from me: This is one of the rare NPR stories where the online comments (at least, as of this writing) are both delightful and actually on point to the article."
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on May 1st, 2016 04:10 pm (UTC)
Yes - what a strange thing to say about one's readers! Even if comment sections are generally terrible, you don't say that in an article that the commenters are going to read!
tempestsarekind: elizabeth bennet is amusedtempestsarekind on May 1st, 2016 04:09 pm (UTC)
Hee! Less persuasive than potato salad: that's the authorship "conspiracy"!
the cold genius: authorshipangevin2 on May 2nd, 2016 12:25 am (UTC)
It makes me so sad that people whose acting I admire so much say such stupid things.

On a more positive note, David Tennant was on Colbert the other night and when Colbert asked him about this issue he said that really, it was snobbish. Plus he didn't know who any of the supposed alternatives were, which is rather nice. And more generally I think the good guys have pretty much won this one -- ironically, Anonymous helped kill the idea that there was anything to the "controversy," both because it's so stupid and because Shakespeare scholars finally came out in force and explained why it's stupid.
a_t_raina_t_rain on May 2nd, 2016 12:38 am (UTC)
There needs to be a masterlist of actors and directors who are NOT idiots about authorship. IIRC, both Trevor Nunn and Janet Suzman have said eminently sensible things.
tempestsarekind: the man himselftempestsarekind on May 2nd, 2016 02:15 am (UTC)
I just hate articles like this one, though - because sure, you and I have read the rebuttals from scholars and the anti-Anonymous blog posts, but for many people, seeing this on NPR is going to suggest that there is actually a question here, and that we don't really know whether Shakespeare wrote those plays, right? After all, it was in the news!