SAC Letters to Birthplace Trust and RSC re: Removal of Stanley Wells' False and Libelous Claims about Authorship Doubters

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Here we show three letters which led to the recent removal of Prof. Stanley Wells' article on the “Authorship Debate,” posted first on the website of the Birthplace Trust (SBT), and then on the website of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). The text of Wells' article appears at the end, including the following false and libelous claim about authorship doubters — part of the Birthplace Trust's campaign to stigmatize and suppress the Authorship Question:

“The phenomenon of disbelief in Shakespeare's authorship is a psychological aberration of considerable interest. Endorsement of it in favour of aristocratic candidates may be ascribed to snobbery - reluctance to believe that works of genius could emanate from a man of relatively humble origin - an attitude that would not permit Marlowe to have written his own works, let alone Shakespeare's. Other causes include ignorance; poor sense of logic; refusal, wilful or otherwise, to accept evidence; folly; the desire for publicity; and even (as in the sad case of Delia Bacon, who hoped to open Shakespeare's grave in 1856) certifiable madness.”

There are many false claims in Wells' article, and others are described in the third letter below, but it was this egregiously false claim that led SAC Chairman John Shahan, a behavioral scientist who has worked in the mental health field, to pursue this issue to expose Professor Wells' unscholarly claims. Wells is a respected scholar and a leading defender of the Stratford myth. Now that his tactics have been exposed, perhaps there will be a reassessment of his legacy.

We thank the Prince of Wales, Nigel Hugill and Mark Rylance for their kind assistance.

April 5, 2010

Professor Stanley Wells, Chairman
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust — Shakespeare Centre
Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon

Dear Professor Wells,

I am writing on behalf of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition to challenge your claim on the SBT website (see “Shakespeare's Authorship” page, bottom) that the phenomenon of widespread doubt about William Shakespeare's identity is “a psychological aberration of considerable interest,” attributable to a variety of causes, including “snobbery” based on class prejudice, or “even certifiable madness (as in the sad case of Delia Bacon…).”

If these allegations are true, it should be possible for qualified experts in the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology and sociology to validate your claims with empirical evidence. I hereby challenge you to either obtain such expert validation, or stop making the claims. Specifically, I challenge you to either back up your claims on the SBT website with data worthy of the high scholarly standards you claim to represent, or remove them forthwith.

Any theory should be evaluated based on the best arguments of its strongest proponents. There will, of course, be some level of aberrant thinking and behavior in any population; but to prove your claims, not only must you show that the prevalence of these conditions and behaviors is much greater among authorship doubters than in the general population, or in a control group, such as orthodox Shakespeare scholars, but that they are pervasive.

The enclosed “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” names twenty prominent past doubters, including Mark Twain, William and Henry James, Tyrone Guthrie and Sir John Gielgud. On what basis do you claim that their doubts were due entirely to the defects you allege? Over 1,700 people have signed the Declaration. Of these, over 300 are current or former college/university faculty members. Some of them are much better qualified to diagnose psychological disorders than you are. On what basis do you claim that they are aberrant?

You appear to label as “psychologically aberrant” anyone who disagrees with your view. You seem to be exploiting prejudices against the mentally ill to discredit your opponents. The use of such tactics is morally reprehensible, and those who would resort to them are unworthy of being regarded as legitimate stewards of the legacy of William Shakespeare. If you continue to make such allegations, on your website or elsewhere, with no credible evidence to back them up, you should assume that the SAC will pursue this issue further.


John M. Shahan
Chairman, SAC

cc: Richard Hyde, Vice Chairman, SBT,
Diana Owen, Ph.D., Director, SBT

The article was removed from their website in May of 2011, but then posted on the RSC's website.

Next page: We escalate to the Prince of Wales, president of the RSC →