Monday, August 27, 2012


Three questions arose from the last updates—one about Shakespeare, one about the beliefs and actions embedded in the human condition, and one about acculturation. First, some people want to know what my personal opinion is as to the identity of Shakespeare, the playwright. I still have more to read in the authorship debate, and, so far, I see enough problems that I have reasonable doubt. Even if the majority of Shakespeare academicians are correct that William of Stratford is William Shakespeare, there are still some peculiarities to the story and questions that I would love to see answered. However, I try to look at it from a legal perspective in which case the job is not to necessarily prove authorship one way or the other (which may not be possible) but to come to the best determination of authorship. Legally, the difficulty lies in the use of “reasonable doubt” as a litmus test to decide if you can comfortably come to a determination of “guilty,” if you can agree with the plaintiff. This is a problem because a legal case involving the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays would put the onus of proof on the various conspiracy theories or anyone claiming William of Stratford was not the author. In this case, to prove William of Stratford guilty of falsely claiming credit, you would have to prove someone else wrote beyond any reasonable doubt. This is quite hard to do. I might say there is reasonable doubt about the authorship of William of Stratford, but that is different from the difficult task of removing any reasonable doubt that William of Stratford took credit from someone else who wrote it. And a legal case would require that proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And as it stands now, even though there is a plausible fit between the Earl of Oxford’s motivations, education, and opportunity with Shakespeare’s plays, it is hard to prove beyond reasonable doubt regardless if you have doubt about the authorship of William of Stratford.

Now check this out. Last year, there was a Slate article on a U.S. Supreme Court Shakespeare case about a mock trial held in Washington, DC on November 25th, 1987. This court was presided over by three U.S. Supreme Court Justices at the time—John Paul Stevens, Harry Blackmun, and William Brennan. This case, originally described in a New Yorker article the following year in 1988, featured a representative arguing for the generally assumed authorship of William of Stratford and another representative arguing for the authorship of the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. The court decided in favour of William of Stratford, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove the authorship of de Vere (you see where the burden of proof lies). But this is where it gets interesting. According to the Slate article, both Blackmun and Stevens “expressed reservations about the decision,” and in April 2009 Stevens told the Wall Street Journal that he changed his mind, now believing Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare’s plays. In fact of the justices asked this question in April 2009, there were only two justices—William Kennedy and Stephen Breyer—unreservedly thought William of Stratford is the author. Three other justices refused to comment (Alito, Thomas, and Roberts). Again, the burden of proof is on a challenger, not just to point out questions about the authorship of William of Stratford but to prove beyond reasonable doubt that someone else wrote it. And that hasn’t been done. Regardless, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. We can still enjoy the plays for what they are worth.

The second point came from one of my best of friends, Praj (housemate extraordinaire). Praj challenged me on the section “The Town,” saying that isn’t it possible for someone like Hitler to have both good and bad parts instead of being all bad? What he says is right, of course; people have good parts and bad parts. I was talking about contradictory messages. Does Hitler care about human lives or children? In one context, you might say yes; in another you might say no. Hitler himself would say yes and tried to construct an image of what he wanted the world to see or know (he did the exact same thing at the concentration camp at Theresien in which he invited the world to see what was going on, showing himself as a really great guy). So I was (poorly) pointing to the fact that the truth of us is not in the constructed image of ourselves (which does involve actions in order to construct the image) but in actions outside of the construct.

I was focusing on the tensions between differing words and deeds. Are you the deeds or the words? Instead of being able to believe one thing (I’m a loving human being; look at how I treat children in this magazine article about me or when visitors came to one of the concentration camps) and do another (killing people), I was simply talking about what you do not being separate from what you believe but being the very thing you believe (the truth lying in your actions).

The last response to the last update was related to the section “Learn from Immigrants.” My good friend Sophia, one of the Peace Corps Volunteers that I have learned the most from, is pursuing a PhD in sociology/social anthropology/political ecology/human geography or something like that (very interdisciplinary work she’s doing). She passed on an article to me about the crowning of a new Ashanti chief of New York. It’s a great example of immigrant customs persisting in new environments and countries. What struck me about the story is that I didn’t know any sub-Saharan African chief-based tribes installed chiefs over areas in other countries, like New York. It fascinated me. Like the Ashanti mentioned in the article, my Nigerian state and my Nigerian “county” (collection of villages) also have cultural and fund-raising non-profit organisations in the U.S. But we don’t install chiefs, so it was very interesting to see the extent that some traditions continue and survive and actually aid the survival of a people. And like the Ashanti cultural group, my cultural groups also struggle to pass the baton to the next generation who generally tend to be less interested in such organisations than their parents. Due to a recent trip to Italy, I wondered if Italian immigrants experienced the same things in other parts of the world.

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