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That's the link for people who want to hear the argument that Shakespeare is William of Stratford.

I'd studied this about five years ago. When I saw on this blog that you (Michael) were an Oxfordian, I studied it again.

It's true that we don't know much about Shakespeare, but the historical records do seem to tie him to the person who has traditionally been considered to be William Shakespeare. Contrariwise, I think the case for other authors is very weak, include De Vere.

I won't debate it though, since I'd just have to repeat the arguments on the page I liked to above, which is very good and thorough.

I'll respond to this, though:

The only thing I would change about the post if I were writing it today is that I'm no longer so sure the case for Oxford will carry the day. I think I underestimated the enormous resistance from academe and from the general public, who are much enamored of the Stratford lad's "poor boy makes good" story.

First, I don't think you can blame people for believing that the person listed on the title page is the person who wrote the plays. Oxfordians themselves say that de Vere wanted to hide the fact that he wrote them--forever--so there seems little reason to be bitter that he succeeded in doing so, according to your view.

So if de Vere never gets the credit he deserves, then he was hoist on his own petard.

I can't speak for academics, but I don't think the general public has *any* cognizance of a "poor boy makes good" narrative with respect to Shakespeare. Most people just know of Shakespeare through his works and his reputation as one of the greatest literary geniuses the English language has ever known, which surely he was, whoever he was. We *don't* have a whole lot of biographical information, and there is no body of myth that I have ever encountered that fills in that blank. Rather, his actual work fills in that blank. He is famous for his words, not his life.

Also, I don't think there's resistance from the general public in the first place, since they haven't heard about the authorship question in the first place. My guess is that less than 5% of the English-speaking population of the world are cognizant of the authorship issue, and perhaps only 10% of that number have even heard of de Vere.

I just asked my very well-read friend. He was able to name Marlowe and Bacon as possible candidates. But he said he'd been reading about this this other day and recognized the de Vere name after I prompted him. We wouldn't know unless we did a study, but I don't think there is any public backlash against the Oxford theory.

The strangely hostile response to the recent movie Anonymous (which I admit I haven't seen yet) seems to bear this out.

Actually, it appears to have sucked as a movie.

Those are some reviews.

People react as if questioning the plays' authorship is tantamount to an assault on democracy itself. The Stratford man is such an iconic figure that he is almost sacred in people's minds -- a symbol of the hidden genius of Everyman. I'm not sure any scholarly analysis can defeat such a deeply held and passionately felt conviction.

Again, I don't think people think of Shakespeare as "everyman." I'm just a sample of one, but I grew thinking of Shakespeare as like a god of literature, a kind of mythical figure. I remember *no* narrative of uneducated man writing masterpieces. It was all about his accomplishments, the works, and not about his personal history.

But I think where you got this narrative is in the world of that debate. If you get into, then, yes, it does become about aristocrat vs. commoner and so on. Outside that world, however, Shakespeare is just Shakespeare.



I've seen Anonymous and can testify to its clunky awfulness. At times it came over as a parody of itself, with moments that could have come straight out of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. As for the authorship issue, I think the argument that Shakespeare ‘s background precluded his having the understanding of high politics revealed in his plays looks especially weak when viewed in the context of the worldview expressed by most of those who post on this blog (and which I share). I could say more, but Bryan Appleyard says it much better in this Sunday Times article:

Oh my. Michael, Michael, Michael. And I have always had such high regard for you.

My failure to be persuaded by the argument of The Oxford Mafia has nothing to do with a bias for "poor boy makes good" fables. Rather, it has to do with a strong preference for those things we have pretty good reason to accept as true, and the logical conclusions which may be drawn therefrom. I reject, to this point, the argument of the Oxfordians for the same reason I am cold to so many of the UFO conspiracy theories: for it to be true, an impossibly large number of persons with knowledge of the actual facts must have not only, unaccountably and against human nature, remained totally silent for as much as 50 years or more; but that de Vere must have necessarily persuaded a not inconsiderable number of persons to have actively participated in carrying out the fraud with and for him. And never a single record survives? A man of de Vere's ego remains completely silent, even on his very deathbed? I think not.

Then there's the fact that no one has yet demonstrated how de Vere managed to produce some dozen plays, among them Othello, Macbeth, Lear and The Tempest, up to nine years after he died. Wait, he paid John Dee to conjure him back, right?

To me the accepted history is far more convincing than a collection of dubious and ill-fitting coincidences which modern authors, bent on proving de Vere The One, stitch together and self-servingly pronounce as historical truth à la Dan Brown. These are but bits of historical detritus, which I can imagine the True Un-Believers latching onto eagerly. A hazy report that someone's cousin said he heard that an art restorer working on a portrait of a 17th-century nobleman with a nose very similar to that of de Vere's mother had discovered, underneath the finished portrait, that an earlier version portrayed the nobleman wearing yellow stockings and crossed garters. Yep, more evidence de Vere was Shakespeare.

Remember what we always hear - and accept - about the quantum of evidence necessary to establish extraordinary claims. So far I haven't seen any actual evidence that de Vere was Shakespeare; and certainly nothing extraordinary.

I'm with Matt on this one. As someone from the UK, I have never really given much thought to the Big Man's origins. It's his work that is important. I've never even heard of the 'poor boy makes good' narrative being applied to him before you mentioned it in your blog.

I am fairly certain that this narrative is not generally applied to him by the public here in the UK. Perhaps it's an Amercian thing?

People here are actually not that interested in the man himself. When people mention 'shakespeare', they refer to his work. He is a mythical figure.

btw now you have put me on to this, I did some digging and it is well established that Shakespeare was firmly what we would term today to be 'middle class', or the merchant class in his day. Certainly not a peasant!

We get the same stuff in Braveheart, which I love by the way, but the reality is that William Wallace was middle class and educated, he wasnt living in a hovel!

There's a long tradition of seeing Shakespeare as "Fancy's child, warbl[ing] his native wood notes wild" - i.e, an untutored innocent who came by his greatness through some kind of magical alchemy. This idea of Shakespeare as essentially free of learning is often reinforced by allusions to his supposed factual errors, such as his reference to the seacoast of Bohemia. In most cases, it turns out that there was no error; Bohemia, for instance, did have a seacoast during the time in question. Or people make reference to Jonson's famous line about "small Latin and less Greek," forgetting that Shakespeare coined hundreds of words from Latin and obviously knew the language well. He seems also to have known Greek, Italian, and Spanish, and traveled extensively throughout Europe, visiting all the sites seen by Oxford in his tour of the continent. (William of Stratford is not known ever to have left England.)

The usual reaction to the Oxfordian theory is that only a snob and an elitist would think that one must be a nobleman in order to be a great writer. Why, don't you realize that genius can crop up anywhere and is often found in the middle class? Etc., etc.

But it's obvious, really, that the writer we know as Shakespeare was an aristocrat, and that he wrote some of his plays long before William ever left Stratford. Case in point: Love's Labours Lost, a courtier's comedy about the ins and outs of diplomacy, filled with in-jokes and topical references that date it too early to be William's work, even if we were to assume that William knew enough about court gossip to have written it.

If there were no front man and the plays were simply anonymous, no one would doubt that a nobleman wrote them, any more than we could doubt that an aristocrat wrote War and Peace (or that a middle-class writer created David Copperfield). The attitudes, concerns, and interests of the playwright mark him as a nobleman, just as his contemporary Ben Jonson's plays clearly mark him as middle-class (he was the stepson of a bricklayer). It's actually true that genius can crop up anywhere, but in the particular case of Shakespeare it cropped up in the aristocracy, as writers from Mark Twain to Walt Whitman have divined.

The curious legend of the Stratford man - who was educated for a few years (at most) in a provincial one-room schoolhouse, who could sign his name only by carefully impressing one letter at a time in a shaky scrawl (leaving all his known signatures unfinished because the effort proved too much for him), who somehow managed to run his business affairs in Stratford while simultaneously writing for the London stage, and whose only undisputed literary accomplishment is the scrap of doggerel that adorns his grave - as the author of the Shakespearean corpus is too far-fetched for me to believe, and I believe a lot of far-fetched things!

Your mileage may vary, of course.

In the 1980s I picked up Charlton Ogburn's book "The Mysterious William Shakespeare" partly because David McCullough recommended it highly. I found is a great detective story, and I recall how about 300 pages in there was one coincidence tying the works of Shakespeare to Oxford that "flipped the switch" in my head. "That's one coincidence too many," I said to myself. I then sat in a university library over the course of several days, checking the source material for Ogburn's argument. I already knew how people could present a partial argument and suppress evidence. I found none of that. Ogburn was scholarly and fair.

If anyone wants to examine the argument from that perspective, they can see it in an online PDF/PowerPoint at

The authorities are all Stratfordians who, when not thinking about authorship, supply strong evidence for Oxford. Check it out.

(By the way, I found the movie very disappointing as well...actually boring. Too bad, since Oxford should be portrayed with a fierce intelligence and amazing wit.)

Another point that I have not seen discussed...

Doubts about Shakespeare's authorship always seem connected to an alternative candidate. I think this is because we humans have a need to direct our adoration at a particular object. It would not be satisfying merely to doubt whether William of Stratford was the author. No, we have a need to say, "It was Marlowe!" Or Bacon! Or Oxford!

But even if we grant that William wasn't the writer and that the plays *do* parallel Oxford's life, etc., in various ways, if we were to apply our doubts evenly, we would also doubt that Oxford wrote them just as much as we would doubt that William wrote them and would continue to look for a candidate.

Since we have no direct evidence that Oxford himself wrote the plays, a myriad of possibilities present themselves:

1. Oxford wrote with collaborators. His role could have been anything from primary writer to minor editor.

2. Someone interested in or in love with Oxford wrote the plays. Hence the references to him in them. Oxford may have been aware of this adoration or not.

3. Similar to #2, Oxford was the patron of someone who wrote the plays, and the playwright put in hidden references to Oxford as a way of honoring him.

I lump Oxfordian theory in with other conspiratorial thinking, as they all engage in a particular strain of bad epistemology. To wit, every fact in the opposing position is in doubt, yet the same level of doubt is not applied to one's own position.

It blows my mind that Oxfordians disdain and reject all the historical records tying William to the plays yet somehow feel their less concrete information incontrovertibly ties Oxford to these same works. If we were to accept their level of doubt and their epistemology as regards such historical facts, then Oxford could never certainly be considered their author and, moreover, we would probably end up doubting the authorship of the poetry that he is in fact credited with writing! Perhaps Sir Phillip Sidney wrote all of Oxford's poems!?



"It blows my mind that Oxfordians disdain and reject all the historical records tying William to the plays"

Which historical records are those? If you mean the name William Shake-Speare (usually hyphenated, which indicated a pseudonym in those days) on the cover page, it establishes nothing about William Shakspere (that's how he usually spelled it) of Stratford. Other than those cover pages, there's nothing that ties William to the plays during his lifetime. There is, however, a decent amount of evidence showing that he was a highly litigious grain dealer.

"Another point that I have not seen discussed... Doubts about Shakespeare's authorship always seem connected to an alternative candidate."

You haven't seen it discussed because it is not true. Many who've doubted or rejected the Stratford story have not had an alternative candidate of their own. These include Mark Twain, George Greenwood, and Diana Price. Now you're wondering, "Who the heck are George Greenwood and Diana Price?" Which is my point - people who criticize the anti-Stratfordian position typically have not read the major works in the field and don't know much about it. They are a lot like skeptics of the paranormal who insist "there's no evidence" for ESP, life after death, etc., because they haven't actually looked. At most they have read a few "orthodox" writings, such as Randi's books (in the case of paranormal skeptics) and Kathman's website (for Stratfordians).

My advice for those who are interested in really debating this topic is to first read the relevant literature, such as Mark Anderson's book (discussed in the main post), Ogburn's "The Mysterious William Shakespeare," Looney's "Shakespeare Identified," Price's "Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography," Greenwood's "Shakespeare Problem Restated," and commenter Mark Alexander's "Shakespeare's Knowledge of Law." It would also help to become acquainted with Roger Stritmatter's analysis of de Vere's Geneva Bible and his study of the dating of The Tempest. Oh, and read Mark Twain's "Is Shakespeare Dead?" It's great fun, and still very relevant.

After all, it's generally not possible to assess a controversial position if you've read only one side of the argument.

What is the evidence for the claim that, in those days, a hyphenated name indicated that a pseudonym was being employed? Another question: why do you limit the allowable evidence of Shakespeare's connection to the plays to the period of his lifetime?


I have read both sides of the debate but have already admitted that I will have to remain an incompetent debater on the issue, and thus I have recommended the above link.

The meat of point to you was this part:

Since we have no direct evidence that Oxford himself wrote the plays, a myriad of possibilities present themselves:

1. Oxford wrote with collaborators. His role could have been anything from primary writer to minor editor.

2. Someone interested in or in love with Oxford wrote the plays. Hence the references to him in them. Oxford may have been aware of this adoration or not.

3. Similar to #2, Oxford was the patron of someone who wrote the plays, and the playwright put in hidden references to Oxford as a way of honoring him.

This is the point that I thought was original (probably not, but I haven't seen it). We don't have a play of any sort that de Vere claimed as his own, so we don't have proof that he could write a great play. So anyone could have written those plays, as per above. Or am I still missing something?



off subjedt boring

I replied to Matt, Dominic, and even ytrs, but my comment seems to have disappeared! Well, maybe if we all wish very hard, it will return.

Since it annoys me that my comment vanished, I'll do a quick recap of it.

Matt, collaboration is a strong possibility regardless of who wrote the plays. But I don't think any admirer would put in the material pertaining to Oxford, because it doesn't put him a favorable light. Much of it gives the impression of painful self-examination. For instance, the author's obsession with a husband's unfounded jealousy of his wife reflects Oxford's cruel treatment of his first wife.

Dominic, hyphenated names were used by pamphleteers to make it clear that the writers were hiding behind a pen name: Mar-prelate, Tell-truth, Curry-knave. The name Shake-speare seems to be of this type. Admittedly some actual names, like Fitzgeffry, were hyphenated also, but when the name consisted of two recognizable words separated by a hyphen, the tacit message was that it was a pseudonym. Or so I have read.

ytrs, how can it be off subject? This blog's subject is whatever I find interesting! And you know, there's more to life than death. :-)

Its my mind reality interaction that caused your text to disappear !

So it was a real and, until now, successful conspiracy!

Yes, DMDuncan, I think so. Conspiracies are easier to pull off in a police state, which Elizabethan-Jacobean England unquestionably was.

But perhaps "conspiracy" is too strong a term. Was the press corps' decision to cover up JFK's many extramarital affairs a conspiracy, or simple reticence based on a now-outmoded notion of protecting the president's privacy? Did the press conspire to conceal the extent of FDR's polio-related infirmities, or did they merely wish to avoid embarrassing the president by revealing too much? When producers hired frontmen to "write" movie and TV scripts during the blacklist, knowing full well that blacklisted writers were doing the real work, was it a conspiracy or more of a gentlemen's agreement to look the other way?

It's hard to say where to draw the line between conspiracy and social norms that impose a diplomatic silence. No one talked openly about the sex lives of movie stars in Hollywood's Golden Age, not because there was much of a top-down conspiracy (though the studios did their best to protect their stars), but because things like that just weren't discussed in public. (No doubt there was much gossip in private.) No one revealed that Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, and others were gay, even though these facts were widely known to insiders. The social rules were different then.

In the Elizabethan-Jacobean world, aristocrats faced daunting tabus against speaking against a member of their own social class in public. The attitude was that the less the hoi polloi knew, the better. Anyone who talked out of turn was a traitor to his class, and by extension, to queen and country. Of course, there were also serious legal sanctions against such talk, which could get even the highest ranking aristocrat thrown into the Tower ... or worse.

Did anyone ever watch this series of videos on spirit science? Very very interesting observations on this lesson with shapes that were seen throughout primitive culutes. This is just one video in the series but take some time to watch these with an open mind.

Bitchslappin is fun, isn't it? Lolz. Check out this video from Canadian comedian Josh Rimer which I found on YouTube!

Now that Anonymous is out on video, I finality saw it. For the record, I agree with Mark Alexander's comment above. The film seemed rather flat to me, partly because of its complicated flashback and flashforward story construction, but mainly because de Vere himself is not rendered as a memorable character. Though we are told in the beginning that Will Shakespeare is a mere cypher, by the end of the film Oxford has emerged as barely more than a cypher himself.

The film plays *very* fast and loose with historical facts, and seems mainly interested in the so-called Prince Tudor theory, which holds that Oxford was of royal blood and that Southampton was his bastard son. A case can certainly be made for this theory, but I would have preferred to see the film emphasize a psychological exploration of de Vere, in all his genius and eccentricity. There are many dramatic possibilities in his life that would shed light on the plays while rounding out his character - his malignant suspicion of his wife's infidelity, which ruined his marriage (shades of Othello, A Winter's Tale, and Cymbeline); his penchant for humiliating rival courtiers by cruelly lampooning them in his court entertainments (e.g., Christopher Hatton is parodied as Malvolio in Twelfth Night); his spendthrift ways and bad investments (fodder for Timon of Athens and The Merchant of Venice); his extended tour of the Continent, where he found the inspirations for many of his subsequent works; and his foppishness, theatricality, and wild mood swings, which are apparent in his most autobiographical character, Hamlet.

It's often said that Hamlet succeeds because it is one of the few fully convincing fictional portraits of a a genius. By that standard, Anonymous is not a success, although it does include many nice set-pieces, including reconstructions of the Globe Theatre and key moments from many Shakespearean plays. The performances are very good, and the art design is excellent. I just wish the focus had been on the real Edward de Vere, in all his complexity and contradictions and larger-than-life qualities, rather than on the arcana of Elizabeth's succession.

I wanted to like the film, and I did like it in some respects, but overall I feel it was an opportunity missed.

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