When the Foxe preaches, beware your Geese

“I'll take but a book in my hand, a wide-sleeved gown on my back, and a crowned cap on my head, and see if I can want promotion.”—Robert Greene

Dr. Ros Barber, who believes that Marlowe was the author of the Shakespeare canon, is using Goldsmiths' good name as a stalking-horse to promote some appalling pseudo-scholarship. Her prospectus claims that “This MOOC explores critical thinking, and the interpretation of texts, through the Shakespeare authorship question.” In reality, her own confirmation bias—that the Stratford man was not the playwright—drives every aspect of her course. It is designed to impeach him. The “orthodox” view (as she contemptuously calls it) is presented only by herself and other denialists: the foxes are in charge of the pulpit, and will speak for the swan. Of course, no mainstream Shakespearean is interviewed, or even consulted. The quizzes are a travesty. Learners must disregard logic and disparage “Shakspere” in order to pass. 

The authorship question is, on the whole – as you can see from certain responses on the discussion forum – derided by mainstream opinion. It is not generally accepted as a valid question in academia. Academic journals and conferences explicitly bar papers and articles intended to address it.


Ros BarberCourse Tutor

This is a question Stratfordians seem to prefer avoiding. They are more comfortable taking the folio at face value and getting into silly arguments about what kind of evidence it should be classified as. This is to engage in conceptual idolatry based on intrinsically ambiguous terminology.


Roger Stritmatter, PhDCourse participant

...Francis Meres's Palladis Tamia expresses his opinion on many writers of the time, through comparisons to ancient writers...Dr. Stritmatter imagines that his complex analysis of Meres's work is evidence related to the SAQ. But his work is exhibit A for confirmation bias and pareidolia.


Philip BuchanOxfraud

As an example of Ros Barber's methods, take her discussion of Ben Jonson’s eulogy. She gives considerable space to the grammatically impossible conceit that in “ignorance ... when it sounds at best, but eccho's right,” “eccho’s” is possessive. No one competent at all in early modern English—Shakespeare’s language—could misread this sentence so egregiously. Either she herself cannot read Jonson, and should not be teaching him; or is playing tricks on her learners. Either is shocking. Statements like “in Greek mythology, Echo was cursed so that she couldn't speak for herself” are dog-whistles for doubters. She wants her learners to think of Jonson speaking for “eccho’s right[s]” as if he were Tom Paine for hidden playwrights. Barber will insinuate such ideas, or irrelevant slanders of the Stratford Shakespeares—“illiterate signatures,” “hoarded grain”—then say that, of course this is only one of many interpretations, you must decide for yourselves. But the innuendos have been made. I find this disingenuous.

Above all, learners must “avoid asserting that something is ‘true.’”

Linking to sites for other Shakespeare claimants is discouraged. After all, it is easier by far to insinuate doubts about the player-poet than to make a rational case for any of the hundred claimants, who variously lack an association with the common stage (much less a lifelong interest in Shakespeare’s company), or genius, or a pulse. Besides, she is driving her flock towards Marlowe, and doesn’t want breakaways.

Disturbingly, the open discussions have been censored, most of all in the first weeks of the course. Barber and her course assistant, Robin Williams, have silently deleted comments pointing out errors of fact, without explanation or warning. This is contrary to Coursera’s explicit guidelines. When the writers of these vanished texts—some of them published scholars—complained, they were told their comments were “abusive,” while open insults from “doubters” were allowed to stand. In one especially disturbing case, a comment was silently edited. In response to protest, their deletions are now marked, but this breach of scholarly integrity should not have happened at all.

Yet this mockery of a MOOC has been promoted “as preparation for the University of London BA in English.” Its content could better be studied in a political science course on disinformation.


We always planned to do a detailed review of The Barber MOOC but when posts began disappearing for no reason, it became urgent to find a way to preserve the corrective content. One moderator even altered some of David Kathman's work. Noone here would dare do that. To her credit, Ros addressed this issue and the deletions became less capricious.

Her complaint in Point 2 below is interesting, though. Have you ever heard a university lecturer complaining that her students have more time to do detailed research, using it as an excuse for not being able to deal with counter argument? Barber must have realised how odd this sounded when Nat, of this parish, did a far better job of recreating Sogliardo's coat of arms than her own, deliberately misleading effort. Barber apologised and asked if Nat's better work could be included, though it took her over a fortnight.

But though it proved her presentation of the evidence was worthless and inaccurate, Barber still devotes a whole course module to it and has retracted none of her claims. Merely softened them in what she hopes looks like a rational concession. It doesn't. It isn't. This isn't scholarship. This is second-hand idea salesmanship. And Barber's rather good at that.



Other on point comments about the course in general

Online Courses on Shakespeare