Prof. Emeritus of theatre, Don Rubin, hosts Shakespeare authorship conference

Professor Emeritus of theatre Don Rubin, an original faculty member of the Faculty of Fine Arts, hosted an international conference for the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship (SOF) at the world-famous Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Conn. this past fall.

On Oct. 17 to 20, more than 150 scholars and researchers from across the United States, Canada and Europe attended the event which – along with some two dozen scholarly papers – paid tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Stevens, who during his lifetime, is known for his belief that the name "Shakespeare" was a pen name for someone else or perhaps for a group of others who preferred not to put their individual names on the plays.

Professor Emeritus Don Rubin at the Mark Twain House and Museum holding a copy of a 1565 volume that may have been owned by Shakespeare. The volume was recently purchased at auction for $65,000

The conference also offered attendees an opportunity to examine a 1565 volume of Herodotus’ Delle guerre de Greci et de Persi originally owned by one of those believed to be involved in the writing of the plays, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. The volume was recently purchased at auction in London for $60,000 (U.S.) by Ben August, a member of the SOF.

Rubin's keynote paper at the conference, titled “The New Field of Shakespeare Authorship Studies” endorsed recent arguments made by Professor William Leahy of Brunel University in London and Professor Gary Taylor of Florida State University, editor of the recent edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, published by the Oxford Univesity Press. Leahy and Taylor argue that multiple hands can be clearly found in the Bard’s plays. Oxford University Press has recently published a separate volume in the series devoted exclusively to examining such authorship issues.

“A new paradigm is emerging in this field,” said Rubin. “It would behoove younger scholars and university departments that offer courses in Shakespeare to take a look at the exciting research now being produced by people such as Diana Price, Roger Stritmatter, Bryan Wildenthal, Alexander Waugh, Bonner Cutting, Ramon Jimenez and James Warren in this field.

“The authorship debate goes back to the 16th century, contrary to what is still being argued by scholars who have not kept up with this research, and contrary to what is still being argued by the fusty Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT), which obviously has a vested tourist interest in maintaining that Stratford-upon-Avon was the home of the only writer of the plays, a writer whose family was actually illiterate and a writer who never once claimed that he wrote even a single one of these works during his lifetime or even in his will.”

Rubin said it is baffling to him to understand how the SBT and the scholars it funds can continue to “simply attack the solid research now coming out in favour of both the group theory and the arguments for convincing alternative figures like de Vere.”

Scientists, Rubin added, don’t have problems looking at new research and incorporating such research into their teaching and their papers.

“Why are people in the humanities so hesitant to challenge themselves by at least reading this stuff rather than simply making ad hominem attacks on those presenting alternative ideas?” he asked.

The conference took place at the Twain House, Rubin added, because Twain himself – like Henry James, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Mark Rylance, Derek Jacobi and even Tyrone Guthrie (first artistic director of the Stratford Festival) – doubted that the Stratford man was the writer.

This spring, in honour of the 100th anniversary of the publication of one of the major books arguing for an alternative author, Thomas J. Looney’s Shakespeare Identified, Rubin is offering a free lecture on the subject titled “The Question That Won’t Go Away: Who Wrote the Plays of Shakespeare?” to universities, colleges and high schools in and around Ontario.

Anyone interested in booking a date should contact Rubin as early as possible by sending an email to drubin@yorku.ca.

Rubin is the general editor of Routledge’s six-volume World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, editor of the standard volume Canadian Theatre History: Selected Readings and a founding editor of the quarterly journal Canadian Theatre Review. He is currently serving as managing editor of the web-journal Critical Stages published out of Paris by the International Association of Theatre Critics. He is a former Chair of York’s Department of Theatre, and a co-founder with Christopher Innes, of York’s graduate programs in theatre and performance studies.

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