English literature majors can tell you this controversy comes around every few years.

Matthew Reisz of Inside Higher Ed reports.

Shakespeare Studies Spat

A major spat has broken out within the world of Shakespeare studies.

In January this year, the editors of the Italian journal Memoria di Shakespeare asked Richard Waugaman to revise his paper “The Psychology of Shakespearean Biography,” which they described as “absolutely pertinent” to a 2015 issue on Shakespeare’s biography.

A clinical professor of psychiatry and “faculty expert on Shakespeare” at Georgetown University in Washington DC, Waugaman is also an “Oxfordian,” believing there is evidence that the poems and plays were written not by “the man from Stratford” but by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

His paper, he explains, examines this case but also explores “the conscious and unconscious psychological factors behind the taboo against openly discussing the authorship question,” citing examples from the history of science “where new discoveries that ultimately lead to paradigm shifts are often bitterly opposed by adherents of traditional theories.” All seemed to be proceeding to publication and the parties had reached the stage of discussing minor editorial details when, on 17 August, Waugaman received an email from Rosy Colombo, senior professor of English at the Sapienza University of Rome.

The email, seen by Times Higher Education, explained that the previous editors of Memoria di Shakespeare had stepped down and that she and her new fellow editor, Gary Taylor – distinguished research professor at Florida State University – had “decided against publishing an article that has come out already.” Waugaman responded that it seemed like “a breach of good faith with contributors” for “an article that was invited by a journal’s co-editors, be rejected by the next co-editors”.

This generated an almost immediate reply from Taylor, saying that his agreement to take over as co-editor had been “conditional on rejection of certain contributions, like yours, which seem to me profoundly unscholarly, and which would have the effect of undermining the credibility and status of other contributions to the volume.

“I simply find your reasoning, and your evidence, as unconvincing as those of Holocaust deniers, and other conspiracy theorists,” he added.