Entertaining to me, menin_aeide offers an article from the City Journal on medical knowledge in Shakespeare that includes the following paragraph, which plays into my personal prejudices nicely:
As Orwell pointed out, it takes effort and determination to see what is in front of one’s face. Among the efforts required is the discarding of the lenses of excessive or bogus theorizing. When it comes to our attempts to understand the phenomena of our own society, I cannot help but wonder how many of us are in the grip of theories that are the equivalent of Hall’s Galenical theory, and whether as a result we do not prescribe the legislative equivalents of human skull, mummy dust, and jaw of pike.
The frank admission of cowardice in the face of the Oxfordians, Marlovians, et al.,(1) charms me. My personal problem with the authorship question is that I walked in without a dog in the fight (Actually, as the title and certain lingering elements of plot structure suggest, there was a time when The Stratford Man was expected to have some, shall we say, anti-Stratfordian elements, as the plot sort of hit me in a lightning bolt while I was enjoying the talespinning and theorizing of an Oxfordian colleague of my husband's at a faculty Christmas party.) The problem is that when I actually sat down to do the research (and let's not talk about how much research there was, and continues to be) I not only found the Oxfordian (and Marlovian, for that matter) arguments unbelievable, but unworkable. (And I couldn't figure out how to get Bacon into the book at all, so he's not even got a cameo.)
There are still people who prefer a good conspiracy theory to Occam's razor, and I think everybody who writes historical fiction or secret histories or historical fantasy has had what I've heard Tim Powers describe to as that horrible, exhilarating, dawning moment when the cold chill creeps up your neck and you think Oh my God, I'm not making this up--because the pieces seem to fit together too well, and the patterns come sliding out in remarkably polished perfection (It is the weirdest, creepiest thing in the world, I gotta tell you, and there have been times when I was so excited by a piece of information that I was literally shaking with adrenaline--Robert Catesby was at Rheims, and he rode in the Essex rebellion, did you know? And on that slender lynchpin hangs my entire freaking plot--but it doesn't actually mean that any of the rest of the fabric of lies I've created is true.)
The human brain is a pattern-finding machine. (The art of fiction rests on this fact.) This is the problem with the various Shakespearean conspiracy arguments: they all sound really good, and desperately romantic, and full of clever connections and those cool spine-shivery I'm not making this up! moments--until you actually sit down and think about the logistics of the thing. And then you come to the realization that not only can three keep a secret if two of them are dead, but that the English Renaissance is not what you would call a time of great personal privacy. And that, at the very least, if you want another candidate for Shakespeare than Shakespeare the actor, you need to get John Fletcher, Phillip Henslowe, Ned Alleyn, Richard Burbage, Edmund Tylney, Ben Jonson, possibly Christopher Marlowe (if you like Edward III for a collaboration, say--apparently there's some newish stylometric evidence that supports that old idea), and probably a few others in on it. Oh, and that Shakespeare guy, too.... oh, and some or all of Anthony Munday, Henry Chettle, Thomas Heywood, and Thomas Dekker, if you like Hand D in Sir Thomas More for the playwright, and...
It gets unwieldy pretty fast, as you can see.
It's kind of like saying that Howard Koch actually isn't a scriptwriter, and that he and Julius and Philip Epstein were covering for the authorial intrusions of, oh, Howard Hughes in the script to Casablanca. (Actually, you know, the situations are just about exactly analogous, now that I think about it. English Tudor/Stewart drama was very much a collaborative and disposable art form, not an ivory tower pursuit, and scripts were hammered out in constant revisions much as modern movie scripts are, and as often based on outside source material rather than auctorial invention.)
P.S., the Park Honan biography? Is really quite good.)
(1)My spellchecker likes "Pavlovian" for Marlovian and "Orthogonal" for Oxfordian. I have disabused it.
More SF v. F (I picture an orange Volvo):
shewhomust sez (after some more specific things that seem problematic to me) something I rather like, for all its vagueness: The otherness of the unreal is essential to fantasy, the extraordinariness of the real is essential to SF. Or possibly the ordinariness of the unreal, too.