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I shall ignore the shrill personal attacks upon me in Robert Miola’s spleen-venting review of my book , The Quest for Shakespeare , in your August/September issue. I would, however, like to respond to the factual errors and seriously misleading rhetoric with which his review is peppered.

In seeking to undermine the scholarly authority of my study on the basis of my dependence on secondary sources, he fails to acknowledge that the vast majority of studies of Shakespeare, many of which he is happy to cite positively, are similarly dependent on such sources. The primary sources surrounding Shakespeare’s life have been so thoroughly trawled and authenticated by generations of scholars that their authenticity is not in question. As such, a condemnation of my book on the basis of its use of secondary sources is a de facto condemnation of almost all books on Shakespeare. Such an attack also fails to mention my own acknowledgment, at the very outset, of my dependence on such secondary sources. I quote from my own book:

It would be somewhat remiss of me to fail to acknowledge the scholarly pioneers who have laid the path along which the present study has trod. As such, I doff my cap in the direction of my illustrious forebears . . . Suffice to say that a perusal of the bibliography at the end of this volume will identify those scholars upon whose shoulders I have stood in order to gain the perspective contained herein.

Miola’s critique of my discussion of John Shakespeare’s “spiritual testament” is awash with rhetorical sophistry designed to undermine its objective importance. Reading between the lines illustrates, however, that Miola is unable to refute the solid evidence or its wide-ranging ramifications. He offers what he terms Robert Bearman’s “devastating critique” of the evidence in 2003 without mentioning Robert Bridgman’s even more devastating critique of Bearman’s arguments. Here, as elsewhere, Miola’s review is decidedly selective in its choice of “evidence.”

His discussion of John Shakespeare’s recusancy is distorted and misleading in its one-sidedness. He offers the old red herring of the “fear of process of debt” without mentioning the wealth of scholarship surrounding John Shakespeare’s finances or the reasons why “debt” might have been cited in the official records.

Miola’s use of rhetoric in the pursuit of sophistry is impressive. Having employed the red herring, Miola stoops to erect straw men to defame my scholarship. He raises the spectre of Edmund Campion to illustrate the insufficient evidence to link the Jesuit with Shakespeare without mentioning that my whole chapter on the so-called Shakeshafte Theory indicates that I share his own skepticism on the subject. To be accused of credulity is one thing, but to be accused of credulity in an area in which one has declared oneself a skeptic is beyond the bounds of belief.

One might think that Miola could not stoop lower, but he offers a litany of other “errors” in my book without offering any evidence beyond his own supercilious self-righteousness. To take but one of many examples, his assertion that other portraits of Shakespeare have more claim to authenticity than the Chandos portrait flies in the face of the view of many of the world’s experts.

The next abuse arises in Miola’s use of the non sequitur . He dismisses my discussion of King Lear for not addressing the textual issues surrounding the quarto and folio texts without admitting that my critique of the play and its meaning is not dependent on such a discussion.

And Miola’s final faux pas is his descent to the woeful depths of the argument ad hominem . He ends by accusing me of painting Shakespeare in my own image and, in so doing, of being a hypocrite for attacking others for doing the same thing. In fact, it is my whole argument, expressed at considerable length in my book, that we must all be servants of objectivity. A Christian does not have the liberty of lying. He must be honest. I have sought to be honest. I don’t believe that Shakespeare is a Catholic because I am a Catholic. Such a belief would be gutter relativism. I believe that Shakespeare was a Catholic because the evidence, both historically and textually, shows him to be a Catholic. I will remain convinced that the evidence is overwhelming until someone shows me otherwise. Miola has certainly failed to do so.

As for his own prejudiced agenda, it is summed up with the banal “cautionary aphorism” with which he concludes his review: “Dante was a Catholic; Milton was a Protestant; Shakespeare was a dramatist.” Unfortunately nobody is simply a dramatist, or a poet, or a carpenter, or a taxi driver. Whatever else Shakespeare was, he was not simply a dramatist. The (post)modern academy doesn’t want to face the unwelcome truth that Shakespeare’s beliefs informed his works because it fears that his beliefs might not be acceptable to the academy. In this, as in so little else, the academy is right.

Joseph Pearce is author of The Quest for Shakespeare.

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