Friday, September 16, 2005

Conspiracy monger at the New York Times

Ron Rosenbaum analyzes the dubious work of editor William S. Niederkorn:
But I think Mr. Greenblatt is making a point about the relativism that giving equal time to “both sides” of the “authorship controversy” entails.

What if, for instance, over the course of three and a half years (the length of Mr. Niederkorn’s Shakespeare tenure), the Times aerospace correspondent had given “equal time” (or more) to those who believe that the moon landings were a staged hoax, say? Many people believe it to be true, after all (48,000 Google hits for “moon landing hoax”). Should the moon-landing hoax theory be taught in schools alongside astrophysics?

Other scholars have expressed concern, embarrassment and anger that the paper of record appears to have given its imprimatur to the belief that the authorship controversy is the central Shakespearean question.

But I think another appropriate emotion might be deep sadness. At a time when schools and colleges everywhere are dropping their requirements that students read any of Shakespeare’s works, we are now told it’s important they take away from whatever time they do have to read the greatest writer in the language in order to focus on fringe beliefs about the secret identity of the author.

I should say that this is not the only view advanced in The Times. I’ve written about the state of Shakespearean scholarship for the Book Review and about productions for Arts & Leisure without ever being asked by any editor whether I was sure who wrote the plays. And the “authorship controversy” doesn’t feature in Ben Brantley’s superbly informed reviews of Shakespearean productions. I have a feeling that many literate Times people are a bit embarrassed by what’s happened with its Shakespeare coverage.

But the fact that continuing coverage of developments in Shakespeare studies has been the province of someone who places the “authorship controversy” at the center of focus has the effect of giving credibility to a conspiracy theory that lacks any positive evidence: any record of any witness, at any time, ever alluding to it. (Were all the witnesses shot or silenced, like the 22 gunmen on the “grassy knoll” in Dallas?)


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