The Future of History

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

History or Belief?

Cracking on with the Grail book, and gearing up for the release of Who Killed William Shakespeare? - and what should I stumble across but Cicero's rules for historians:

The first law is that the historian shall never dare to set down what is false; the second, that he shall never dare to conceal the truth; the third, that there shall be no suspicion in his work of either favouritism or prejudice.

Sound principles.  But how good are historians at sticking to them?

Well, when it comes to my particular areas of interest - ART(hur) and WILL (Shakespeare) - the answer must be, "Not very good at all."

I blogged recently about the Cobbe Portrait and the determination of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to promote it as a newly-discovered portrait of Shakespeare.  A day or so ago, I received a lovely comment from an illustrator based in Raleigh, North Carolina, who agreed with me.  The Cobbe Portrait looks exactly like Sir Walter Raleigh.  So why is Stratford hell-bent on insisting that it is Shakespeare when there is absolutely NO EVIDENCE to support that claim?

Are they not guilty of breaking Cicero's first law?

Now, interestingly, the driving force behind the (improbable) identification of the portrait as Shakespeare, and the relentless effort to make it the "official" Stratfordian image of the Bard, is also on record as denying point-blank that a plaster of Paris death mask, dated 1616 and held in the Library of Darmstadt Castle in Germany, is Shakespeare's death mask.  Definitely not.  No sirree Bob.  Now, move along, there's nothing to see here ... Move along ...

There is in fact a great deal of compelling evidence that the death mask is Shakespeare's, and a lot of that evidence is explored in my forthcoming book.  But a certain individual - one man - doesn't like the idea that the death mask is Shakespeare's, so we're not allowed to talk about it.

So there goes Cicero's second law.  Basically, a portrait that is almost certainly NOT of Shakespeare is ruthlessly promoted as if it was, while a true-to-life death mask that almost certainly IS Shakespeare's is pointedly ignored (and, when necessary, sniffily denounced).

However did we get into such a position?  Shakespeare is our national poet.  The custodians of his memory, though, appear to care nothing for evidence.  They are actively promoting a false view of Shakespeare and hiding the real man.  Makes you wonder what else they might be telling us that is fundamentally untrue, and what else they have been covering up.

Cicero's third law - there shall be no suspicion in his [the historian's] work of favouritism or prejudice - has not just been broken, here.  It has been smashed and then jumped up and down on.  Prejudice - well, one man doesn't like the death mask, or doesn't like what it shows us, so that's that.  And favouritism - a personal friend of the same individual comes up with a portrait (probably of Raleigh) and we all have to pretend that it's Shakespeare.  In both instances, this is all down to one man's say-so.  His favouritism.  His prejudice.

That is neither democratic nor is it good history.  It is baloney with a capital B.  And this is what we're selling to tourists, students and visitors from around the world.  Frankly, they should be demanding their money back.

In the 21st century it is an outrage that "experts" are allowed to practise such intellectual dishonesty and call it "history".  But this is not confined to Shakespeare studies.  The amount of evidence regarding Arthur that is routinely ignored so that a non-existent Arthur can be promoted is quite staggering.  The reason is much the same as that which motivates the Shakespeare portrait nonsense.  A clique - a cabal - has decided what it wants to believe.  No amount of evidence will dissuade them (they won't even consider it).  And they will move Heaven and Earth (in the sense of burying a great deal of evidence and loudly making claims which can't be substantiated) to ensure that everybody else is forced to believe the same.

That's not history.  That's religion.  It's not science.  It's fundamentalism.

Which is why I've revised the sub-heading for this blog.  "The Future of History".  Whoever controls the past controls the present (and, to some extent, dictates the future).  And for as long as we tolerate experts and scholars who lie to us about our past - who set down what is false, conceal the truth, and base their version of history on their own favouritism and prejudice - then we cannot hope to understand who and where we are today.

We have a moral duty to reclaim history from the hands of reactionaries and revisionists.  Only then can we hope to get a grip on the future.  Those who hide the evidence about Arthur or Shakespeare in order to promote their self-serving myths of the past betray us all.

Enough is enough.  The "Future of History" must be an honest account of what happened in history.  Otherwise, we may not have a future.

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