Saturday, February 13, 2010

More Shakespearean Pseudoscholarship

This past summer I wrote about a book by Mark Twain that attempted to use some highly dubious and subjective evidence to argue that the plays of Shakespeare were in fact written by Francis Bacon. This week’s book offers another take on the same argument -- just as spurious as Twain’s, but from a (loosely) textual studies perspective.

The book is a slim but tall folio by Frank A. Kendall, a man about whom I can find little information except that he was briefly President of the National Amateur Press Association in 1913 (he died that year and his wife, Jennie M. Kendall, was appointed to complete his term). This is apparently his only book. The title is William Shakespeare and His Three Friends: Ben, Anthonie, and Francis, published by W. A. Butterfield of Boston in 1911 and printed by George L. Clapp of South Framingham, MA. No subsequent editions appeared, though it is available as a print-on-demand title from some modern POD firms.

Taking the first page of the 1598 quarto of Love’s Labour’s Lost as his main starting point, Kendall engages in an extensive, slightly obsessive, highly erratic examination of what he claims to be the hidden “acrostics” encoded into the play. Using a truly speculative methodology first outlined by William Stone Booth in his Some Acrostic Signatures of Francis Bacon (Houghton, Miffling, Co., 1909), Kendall claims that it is possible to identify various permutations of the Latin phrase “Antonious Baconus et Ben Ionsus et Franciscus Baconus scripserunt” hidden in the text of the page.

He traces out sixty-one randomly drawn patterns linking initial letters of words on the page to spell out messages related to this claim (that Anthony Bacon, Francis Bacon, and Ben Jonson collaborated to write the play). Kendall never attempts to explain the logic of his choice of geometric patterns (except for the general “rule” that acrostics can only use the first letter of a word) nor does he justify how he settles upon what words to include in each pattern (except for the repeated phrase “We are struck by the word ______” -- whatever that might mean.

The contents of the book run as follows: two blank leaves, the half-title, the full title-page with copyright on verso, epigraph, and the contents of the book (pp. [7]-56). There are a few illustrative plates of the first page from the quarto and facsimiles of contemporary passages by Herbert. Perhaps most clever in the construction of the book is the inclusion of a fold-out illustrative plate on the penultimate leaf (the final leaf is blank); this illustration is a facsimile of the page from Love’s Labour’s Lost, allowing the reader to keep the facsimile before him or her while still being able to turn the pages of the book, making use of it to follow along with Kendall’s torturous argument.

The pages measure 19.5cm x 28cm and are of a nice stock with 2.5cm horizontal chain-lines and a watermark reading “Berkshire Text” above an eagle straddling the letter “A”. Interestingly, this was the watermark of the western Massachusetts firm American Writing Paper Company (Holyoke, MA), not far from where the book resides today. It’s bound in light brown papered boards with a brown buckram spine. My copy is damaged in a few ways, including water damage on the back board and what seems to be a very large bit taken out of the top outside corner.

This copy is signed by the author (“Compliments of Frank A Kendall”) and bears an owner’s inscription as well (“Gift of Joseph D. Leland”). Leland may have been the same man who was architect of Hilton Village, an English-village-style planned neighborhood in Newport News, Virginia from 1917-1921. On March 25, 1921, Leland apparently donated this copy to the library of the western Massachusetts town of Hancock: pasted inside the front cover are the “By-Laws of Hancock Town Library”, along with a penned addition of the book’s call number (822.33.7; also appearing in white ink on the lower part of the spine), the date it was donated, and the accession number (7462).

Pasted inside the back cover is a circulation card envelope. The card is still inserted and it reveals that Kendall’s work of pseudoscholarship was, perhaps not surprisingly, never checked out by any patron.

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