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«THE SEARCH FOR AN AUTHOR: SHAKESPEARE AND THE FRAMERS* D.A. BOYLE** JAMES How can one reduce the great peril, the great danger with which fiction ...»

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THE SEARCH FOR AN AUTHOR:

SHAKESPEARE AND THE FRAMERS*

D.A. BOYLE**

JAMES

How can one reduce the great peril, the great danger with which

fiction threatens our world? The answer is: One can reduce it

with the author. The author allows a limitation of the cancerous

and dangerous proliferation of significations within a world where

one is thrifty not only with one's resources and riches, but also with one's discourses and their significations. The author is the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning.

Michel Foucault, W'hat Is An Author '

INTRODUCTION

For a brief period in the nineteen seventies it became fashionable to write thrillers in which there was no central narrator, merely a collection of official and unofficial documents out of which the story would appear, apparently rising to the surface of the text under its own power. The briefs and opinions which follow in this volume could be seen in the same light. Unfortunately, the narrative is a rather bare one. There is a controversy over the true identity of Shakespeare, a controversy notable for the intemperate statements to which it gives rise. Three Supreme Court Justices agree to hear a staged oral argument on the issue. Briefs are written, and replies.

© 1988 James D.A. Boyle * Professor of Law, Washington College of Law, The American University.

** Thanks go to many people. To David Lloyd Kreeger and Fred Anderson for setting up the debate, to the Justices for being so gentle with the nervous lawyers, to Lauren Dame for all her help and support, to Mern Horan amd Phoebe Schlanger for helping so much with the research, to Jeanne Thomas for her suggestions, to PeterJaszi who is everything a colleague should be, to Shailu Iyengar for 3 a.m. typing, and to the editors of the Law Review for their forebearance. My thanks go to all of these people but this article is dedicated to Samuel Schoenbaum. Professor Schoenbaum was kind enough to allow his works to be part of the record for the case and to recommend to me certain works on the subject. For this kindness he received only the most dubious of rewards. I commend Mr. Schoenbaum's beautifully written and charmingly humorous Shakespeare's Lives to the reader as an example of what Shakespearean scholarship should be like.

1. Foucauh, Wf'hat Is An Attlhor?, in TEXTUAL STRATEGIES; PERSPECTIVES IN POST-STRUCTURALIST CRITCISM 146, 158-59 (J. Harari ed. 1979).

626 [Vol. 37:625

THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW

(These you have.) There is a televised oral argument. (This you do not have.) The court decides in favor of the traditional claimant to Shakespeare's laurels, each Justice rendering a separate opinion.

(The opinions, too, are provided.) The attorneys retire in some confusion, unaccustomed to the importance they are presumed by their audience to possess. The parties disperse, already arguing over the significance of the ruling.

Apart from the rather bizarre subject matter, the media attention and the eminence of the panel, it sounds like a typical piece of litigation. But behind this bare narrative lies another story, as full of strange personalities, unlikely arguments, and philosophical puzzles as Umberto Eco's, The Name of the Rose2 -a book about semiology masquerading as a murder mystery.

Since the editors of the law review have unwisely given me carte blanche in writing this essay, I want to concentrate on this second narrative, the strange subtext that lies under the Shakespeare story, and to link it to current philosophical and literary concerns about the reading of texts. Seen this way, the Shakespeare debate is an example of something we also find in arguments over "the Original Intent of the Framers"-an attempt to give epistemological precedence to one particular reading of the historical and textual record.

The interesting difference is that constitutional scholarship uses the intention of the authors to identify the meaning of the text, while much of the Shakespeare scholarship uses the meaning of the text to "identify" the author-and not just by name. In both cases, however, we find the phenomenon described by Foucault in the quotation which heads this essay-the use of the Author as the principle of thrift in the production of meaning, a device that limits and disciplines the range of meanings to be found in the text.

Just as the "Intent of the Framers" is used as an argumentative device to limit the range of interpretations of the Constitution, so the Shakespearean biographies seek to invent a richly detailed picture of the author, a picture which can then be used to constrain the interpretation of the very works from whence it was drawn. At the same time the biographer may even be able to use "Shakespeare" as a cheerleader for some particular opinion about politics, sexuality, you name it. (And they have.) For those who cannot believe the biographies thus constructed, why there is always the option of substituting for the mysterious William Shakespeare some other author about whom we do know a great deal, such as Edward de Vere, or Queen Elizabeth, or Bacon, or Marlowe, or... Both sides, in other U. Eco, THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1983).

2.

1988] THE SEARCH FOR AN AUTHOR words, seem driven to construct or discover a definite author who will then give definite meaning to the work, in just the same way as the Framers are thought to give a definite meaning to the Constitution. In this essay, I will explore this beguiling similarity. My argument is that the Shakespeare debate has much to tell us about attitudes to textual indeterminacy and to the romantic picture of the author on which so much of our interpretive tradition-both constitutional and literary-depends.





I When the Shakespeare debate was first proposed to me, I had only the haziest knowledge of the arcane world of Shakespeare "claimants." I knew a little more about Shakespearean scholarship generally, and had an interest in the world of Elizabethan professional playwrights. Being by disposition an aspiring iconoclast, I was sympathetic to the idea that the traditional learning might be wrong and receptive to the idea that a scholarly consensus can be repressive as well as enlightening. I am sorry to say that I found the various attempts to dethrone William Shakespeare as the true author and to crown any one of fifty-six claimants in his stead, to be almost entirely without merit as investigations into historical fact.

But what they lacked as assertions of historical truth, they more than made up in the richness and depth of their rhetorical structure, their baroque assemblies of circular arguments, their obsessive and recurrent themes of conspiracy and foul-play, their superlative ability to explain away inconvenient evidence, their ahistorical and romantic conception of authorship, and finally their beneficial effect in getting the Shakespearean orthodoxy to reconsider its own fanciful historiography. What is more, some of the Stratfordian scholarship shared the same faults. In fact, it seemed to display an identical structure. It is on this structure that I wish to concentrate. Thus, I must advise those who wish to concentrate on the debate tout seul to turn directly to the briefs. In this introductory article I will be exploring not the debate over a fact, but the morphology of an obsession-the obsession with Shakespeare's author-ity.

As part of my preparation for the debate, I read a great deal written by "the heretics"-the revealing name given to those who do not think that the actor from Stratford wrote the plays. There are some fifty-six claimants to Shakespeare's throne 3 -some of whom are supposed to have worked alone, while others are supposed to

–  –  –

have collaborated in the most unlikely assemblies. Each champion for a claimant generally begins with a short autobiographical description of how he or she came to doubt that Shakespeare was truly the author. Almost without exception, the reason cited is the lack of fit between William Shakespeare's life and "Shakespeare's" works.

They express surprise that we know so little about Shakespeare's life. Surely a transcendental genius would have left us more records? They express surprise at the kinds of records that he did leave us. Surely a great artist would not have been as interested in the getting and making of money? After all, we all know that great art is inimical to commerce and worldly concerns. They express surprise over the fact that Shakespeare apparently committed the sin we call plagiarism. Surely a great artist would not have stooped to copy the works of his inferiors? They express surprise that Shakespeare did not seek greater control over his own works; some of them being published without his name and apparently without his consent. Surely, nothing is more important to a great artist than to control the rights to and the attribution of his own works? Finally, they express surprise that Shakespeare had a command over such a wide range of information. Where did he get the opportunity to load up with all of this (to our eyes, arcane) knowledge, before spilling out in the plays?

I think that it is in this part of the debate that we get the clearest view of the conception of the author that animates both the heretical and the more extreme Stratfordian works-the latter being traditionally and revealingly referred to as "bardolatrous," because they construct an idolatry around the bard. In fact, I would like to make the claim that most of the debate over who wrote "Shakespeare's" works really reduces itself to a debate over different conceptions of authorship. 4 Both the heretical and the bardolatrous theories depend on a vision of authorship which I shall call the romantic vision. 5 In the romantic vision art (and authorship in particular) is

4. Professor Marjorie Garber was, to my knowledge, the first person to raise this issue in connection with the debate over the identity of "William Shakespeare." I am enormously indebted to her essay, Shakespeare's Ghost Writers, in CANNIBALS, WITCHES AND DIVORCE: EsTRANGING THE RENAISSANCE (M. Garber ed. 1987). Apart from the Foucauldian perspective suggested here, Professor Garber also traces out a fascinating series of subplots within the debates-including the attempt by Americans to bring Shakespeare to the New World by discovering his "true" identity. I cannot recommend her work highly enough.

5. I pick this term because it has many of the connotations central to the popular conception of authorship. For background to the discussion see Foucault, supra note 1; Woodmansee, The Genius and the Copyright. Economic and Legal Considerations of the Emergence of the "Author", 17 EIGHTEENTH CENTURY STUDIES 425 (1984); see also J. RALPH, THE CASE OF AvP. SHEAVYN, THE LITERARY PROFESSION IN THE ELIZTHORS BY PROFESSION OR TRADE ABETHAN AGE (1909); Darnton, A Police Inspector Sorts His Files: The Anatomy of the Republic of Letters, in R. DARNTON, THE GREAT CAT MASSACRE AND OTHER EPISODES IN FRENCH CULTURAL 1988] 629

THE SEARCH FOR AN AUTHOR

inimical to commercial concerns. The writer does not write for money, nor is she interested in anything other than the perfection of her work. The author is presumed to have an almost transcendental insight-something which cuts beneath the mundane world of everyday appearance. This transcendental insight or genius plays a very important role in establishing the author as the ruler of the text. It "goes without saying" that the author's interpretation governs because it is the author's genius, the author's special knowledge, which created this piece of art ex nihilo. Similarly, the argument for original intent relies in part on the idea of the Founding Fathers as both literal and figurative "authors" of the Country.

Thus, their understanding of the Constitution should govern us, not only because of their role as creative genii, but because-"by convention"-an author's interpretation is the "governing" one.

The romantic conception of authorship gives the author more than mere interpretive control over the work. In many Western countries, (though not in most parts of the USA) copyright laws go so far as to recognize the author's "moral rights" to control a work.

"Independently of the author's economic rights, and even after the transfer of the said rights, the author shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or derogatory action in relation to, the said work, which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation. ' 6 So deeply rooted is our sense that art and authorship are different than other kinds of market transactions, that it is difficult to realize how striking a provision this really is. Could we imagine giving a plumber a control over the pipes she installs even after the work is paid for, or a cabinet maker the right to veto the conversion of her writing desk into a television cabinet? 7 The author is different than other workers, is outside the ordinary world of work and exchange, precisely because of her romantic status. In only one other area, the family, does our society have a similar romanticism, a similar anticommercialism, a similar commitment to non-instrumental relationships. And, like the family, the author's work provides us with a "haven in a heartless world."" How terrible it would be then, to find that the greatest author of all was a professional playwright who HISTORY 145, 162-63 (1984); C. DAVIDSON, REVOLUTION AND THE WORD: THE RISE OF THE NOVEL IN AMERICA (1986).

6. Article 6 bis, Berne Convention, W.I.P.O. GUIDE TO THE BERNE CONVENTION 41 (1978).

7. Well, admittedly, some of us can imagine such a world. See Marx, Estranged Labour, in lH MARx-ENGELs READER 56 (R. Tucker ed. 1972).

8. See C. L~scn, HAVEN IN A HEARTLESS WORLD (1977). For a fascinating account that arguably fuses the romantic conception of the author and the romantic conception'of the 630 [Vol. 37:625

THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW



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