Shakespeare scholar disputes decision-reversal by journal

Memoria di Shakespeare’s new editors backtrack on acceptance of Oxfordian academic’s paper

September 11, 2014

Source: Sam Goldwyn/Renaissance Films/BBC/Kobal

Ado in academia: one of the journal’s editors claimed that the professor’s paper on Shakespeare was ‘unscholarly’

A major spat has broken out within the world of Shakespeare studies.

In January this year, the editors of the Italian journal Memoria di Shakespeare asked Richard Waugaman to revise his paper titled “The psychology of Shakespearean biography”, which they described as “absolutely pertinent” to a 2015 issue on Shakespeare’s biography.

A clinical professor of psychiatry and “faculty expert on Shakespeare” at Georgetown University in Washington DC, Professor Waugaman is also an “Oxfordian”, believing there is evidence that the poems and plays were written not by “the man from Stratford” but by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

His paper, he explains, examines this case but also explores “the conscious and unconscious psychological factors behind the taboo against openly discussing the authorship question”, citing examples from the history of science “where new discoveries that ultimately lead to paradigm shifts are often bitterly opposed by adherents of traditional theories”. All seemed to be proceeding to publication and the parties had reached the stage of discussing minor editorial details when, on 17 August, Professor Waugaman received an email from Rosy Colombo, senior professor of English at the Sapienza University of Rome.

The email, seen by Times Higher Education, explained that the previous editors of Memoria di Shakespeare had stepped down and that she and her new fellow editor, Gary Taylor – distinguished research professor at Florida State University – had “decided against publishing an article that has come out already”. Professor Waugaman responded that it seemed like “a breach of good faith with contributors” for “an article that was invited by a journal’s co-editors, be rejected by the next co-editors”.

This generated an almost immediate reply from Professor Taylor, saying that his agreement to take over as co-editor had been “conditional on rejection of certain contributions, like yours, which seem to me profoundly unscholarly, and which would have the effect of undermining the credibility and status of other contributions to the volume.

“I simply find your reasoning, and your evidence, as unconvincing as those of Holocaust deniers, and other conspiracy theorists,” he added.

Answering with biting sarcasm, Professor Waugaman noted that he could “only assume your emotions have over-ridden your common decency. I know one fellow Oxfordian who lost more than 70 relatives in the Holocaust, and he finds that comparison especially disgusting.”

Asked to comment on Professor Waugaman’s claims, Professor Colombo told THE that “it is not at all unusual for editors and publishers to reject something after it has been written, or even revised… Until you have a contract signed by both parties, it is entirely acceptable for the publisher/editor (of a book or a journal) to change their minds.”

Professor Taylor, meanwhile, reiterated his belief that “work like Waugaman’s is fundamentally unscholarly, irrational and illogical. I compared it to the work of Holocaust-deniers not because the damage to Shakespeare is comparable to the damage to the millions of people killed by the Nazis, but because Waugaman’s work depends upon the same kind of conspiratorial claims. You cannot reason with such claims, because they dismiss empirical evidence as just another conspiracy. The idea that anti-Stratfordian zealots are ‘censored’ is ridiculous.”

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Reader's comments (4)

Good to see Prof. Taylor exercising some strong initiative on this silly question. I wish he’d been as sagacious in at least one editorial decision that comes to mind, viz., the matter of the number of days Lear gives Kent to get his “banished trunk” out of Albion. Shakespeare makes the figure paramount: 10. In one of their early editions, Wells-Taylor apparently decided this number was irrelevant. John Jones in Shakespeare at Work (2000) takes them to task for this decision, and Jones was correct to howl, since the source of the significance of Shakespeare’s choice of this specific number is found in Lambarde’s Eirenarcha. It’s one thing to act as the self-proclaimed ‘unrepresentable other of the author,’ and another to re-write him:
The invited, accepted, then rejected article is here--
Professor Gary Taylor claimed the idea that post-Stratfordians “are ‘censored’ is ridiculous.” Lest trusting readers take his disavowal at face value, I will share two earlier experiences with other publications that also left me with the strong impression that I was censored because of the taboo against publishing evidence unfavorable to the Stratfordian authorship theory. In 2011, The Shakespeare Newsletter sent me a book to review. After they received my review, I was initially unable to get a reply as to when the review would be published. Finally, its co-editor, Thomas Pendleton wrote to me: "The Shakespeare Newsletter does not publish reviews of works espousing the Oxfordian (or anti-Stratfordian) hypothesis, which fairly characterizes [the book I reviewed]. Nor do we publish pieces that argue that the Oxfordian (or anti-Stratfordian) hypothesis deserves more attention or more impartial evaluation or more credence, which, I think, fairly characterizes your own comments on [the book]. In 2009, I sent a manuscript to the English professor and Shakespeare scholar Peter Rudnytsky, when he edited a journal of applied psychoanalysis (American Imago). I asked him whether my article would be suitable for his journal. He replied the same day, "I consider the 'anti-Stratfordian' argument to be comparable to a belief in UFOs, and it will take a lot to convince me that the piece is one I would be prepared to publish.” Eight days later, he rejected it, with the statement, "[I]t is out of the question that I could accept your flight of fancy for Imago...I have to tell you in all sincerity that you... are in the grip of a delusional belief.” Many impartial people would consider these stories to be evidence of the sort of ideological censorship that Professor Taylor practices but attempts to deny.
“Taylor, meanwhile, reiterated his belief that “work like Waugaman’s is fundamentally unscholarly, irrational and illogical.” Unlike this scholarly, rational response. Unlike every attempted refutation of the Oxford theory. Unlike every biography of Shakespeare ever published!