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Oh, THAT Rubinstein

I was annoyed a few days ago to hear on the radio that yet another "theory" about the authorship of William Shakespeare's plays had raised its ugly head. Those things are like weeds, or bad pennies, or a particularly sticky kind of dog excrement that you can't quite completely scrape off your shoe. I did some casual googling but couldn't find anything relevant because I hadn't remembered the names of the authors, but Brian Weatherson at Crooked Timber was more dilligent. Actually, his post is far more cautious than I would have been; the comments, however, more than make up for it:
#1 from Jason Bridges:

It is perhaps worth mentioning that there is a long history of books purporting to establish that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays; that many of these books (like James and Rubinstein's) get favorable press, have approving prefaces written by well-known Shakespearean actors or directors, and marshal circumstantial evidence in a seemingly compelling way; that all of these books (so far) have proven to ignore evidence that decisively contradicts their theses, and that most Shakespeare scholars regard this genre in the way most evolutionary biologists regard intelligent design.

#9 from Brian:

Tracing back Steve's links, I see that Prof Rubinstein harbours some familiar doubts about evolution. Given that the Prof is disposed to recycle nonsense from outside his area of expertise, one suspects his scholarly objectivity.

And before anyone gets going about bad ad hominem arguments, I should note that in all of these cases there are many many things one could say on all sides of a given question, and non-experts have to defer to some extent to experts in picking out what is most salient. That means having some confidence that the person putting forward the view is acting in good faith. And I'm not particularly disposed to offer such charity to people who recycle the creationist playbook. So I now suspect there's some fairly obvious reason why the Neville theory can't be true, and that the authors of this book are rather declining to tell us what it might be. Given all the publicity there may well be an expert appearing in the press sooner or later to tell us what it is.

I followed that link in Brian's comment, and yes, it's that Rubinstein. The "Professor" who made a laughing stock of himself by recycling all the Creationist talking points while claiming to have an enquiring mind? Here's The Panda's Thumb's fisking of that bit o'rubbish.

I think Brian's second comment gets it right; given what we know about one of the authors, to wit that he's shown himself to be a bit of an idiot when writing in one field outside his area of expertise, there's no reason to consider him on the merits when he's writing in another field (literary scholarship) that is also outside his area of expertise.
However, there's a definite injustice in that this "professor" will undoubtedly make a good deal of money by co-writing a (probably) mendacious and (definitely) ill-thought-out piece of crap that annoys sensible people and actively subtracts from the sum total of human knowledge. At least The Shakespeare Conspiracy still spun a good yarn. This one is just another tiresome variant of "some weak-chinned aristocrat must have written Shakespeare's work because no commoner could be smart enough".

Read all the comments, Pharyngula: A historian disgraces himself, Stromata Blog: A New Shakespeare? and The Times Literary Supplement: Why Not Shakespeare? (scroll). And be glad Einar didn't get to blog about this one first; he's given to hyperbole about human stupidity when faced with IDiocy like that perpetrated by the likes of Rubinstein.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 6, 2005 2:10 PM.

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