It is a beautiful mystery – is that reason enough?

At this stage I am reviewing my inquiry into my real-life situation – the Shakespeare authorship controversy – and trying to extract the most productive knowledge question arising from it. Most of this material will not make it into the final presentation, at least in this form.  As I look over my research I must bear in my mind that my topic is not Shakespeare, but knowledge. What light does the Shakespeare authorship controversy shed on the processes by which knowledge is produced, accepted or rejected, and disseminated through educational systems?

There many angles I could take…


First and foremost I’m looking for the angles which engage me personally, the questions I care about. Secondarily, of course, I’m looking for a question which works well for the TOK presentation, i.e. one which can be applied across other areas of knowledge.

The question that most people come up with is actually a good one – ‘Does it matter?’

My answer to that would obviously be ‘Yes!’ – or I wouldn’t have spent all this time researching it. So for me that question would be ‘Why does it matter?’ I’m not sure at the moment how I would turn that into a focused question about knowledge, but I’ll keep it on the back burner while I consider some other angles.

There are a number of question I could ask about history – i.e. first order (i.e. subject-dependent) knowledge questions – such as ‘How is history written?’ ‘What kinds of evidence are legitimate in history?’ ‘Is proof possible?’ I would have to work out how to turn these into second-order (i.e. universal) knowledge questions which I could apply in other areas of knowledge.

However, at the moment I think I’m more drawn to that question about the significance of any possible answer to the question of who wrote Shakespeare. Why does it matter? I think I could use this question to bring together my two passions of literature and history. What is the relationship between them? Does biographical knowledge affect our reading of a work, and how, in the case of Shakespeare? I think that if I work along the border between literary and historical analysis I can find fresh ground and give myself an opportunity to define and clarify the questions I’ve been thinking about.

Over my next few posts I will do my best to summarise the debate, so that anyone who is interested can come to their own conclusions. I’ll keep my idea out of it for the moment – but I will be planting a few clues. It is a beautiful mystery – is that reason enough?

Hmm… ‘Should knowledge be valued for its own sake?’ … ‘Does historical research require justification?’ … ‘Beautiful mystery… how should we respond to the condition of not knowing??’ 

I’ll think on…


Author: Paul Dunbar

I have worked in international schools for the past 15 years, teaching English Literature and Theory of Knowledge in Amsterdam, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. I'm also a musician, and a bit of a writer. Since 2001 I have come to question literally everything, the default position for an uncrippled epistemologist.

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