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Allan Shickman: How I Became an Oxfordian

I read my first Shakespeare play when I was fourteen.  In those days, Julius Caesar was a high-school freshman’s first exposure to the great playwright.  At that age, youngsters are universally looking for someone to copy.  Should I adopt Beethoven’s frown, my big brother’s wit, or perhaps Brutus’s nobility and selflessness?  We frosh didn’t know it, but we were avidly seeking role models in those days.  Shakespeare was a candidate too.  Or maybe I could be a Stoic.

Naaahh.

Allan R. Shickman is professor emeritus in art history, University of Northern Iowa. He has published articles on art and on Shakespeare and is best known for his ZAN-GAH book series for young adults and teens.

Allan R. Shickman is professor emeritus in art history, University of Northern Iowa. He has published articles on art and on Shakespeare and is best known for his ZAN-GAH book series for young adults and teens.

There is no doubt that I was impressed by a literature that was much concerned with high matters of history, politics, and the conflict of noble men.  Shakespeare seemed especially concerned about nobility, and apparently was looking for his own role models in ancient Rome.  That seemed unusual for a writer coming from ordinary folks who ought to have been worrying about how to make a living.  But our teacher assured us that making a living was uppermost in Shakespeare’s mind too—which conflicted strangely with the issues he wrote about.

Another thing that troubled me was how Shakespeare felt about the common people.  Even though he was one of them himself, he seemed to think that they were stupid and fickle, and completely incapable of governing themselves—and that their breath stank.  How could a man of Shakespeare’s nobility and wisdom disdain democracy and the common people so blatantly?  Later on, we read Hamlet, another model of nobility.  In college it was King Lear.  Lear was so great and powerful a king that he could banish people in a fit of anger, even though they were his best friends.  But if he was stupid and spoiled, he had the required greatness of soul.  He had a lot to learn, but he was still “every inch a king.”  Antony and Cleopatra had great faults too, but somehow they were great in their faults—maybe even greater because of them.

Sooner or later, having read others of his plays, I got interested enough in Shakespeare to look at a biography or two about him. I never did finish one.  They talked all about Stratford and London and the 16th century, and had lots of pictures, but somehow they said very little definite about the man himself.  Eventually I published some articles about the plays, but could hardly say a word about the man.  Who was he, and where did he come from, really?

Flash forward two or three decades.  My big brother, knowing my virtual worship of Shakespeare, handed me a copy of Joseph Sobran’s book, Alias Shakespeare.  I think he wanted to pop my balloon, but that slim book actually greatly expanded my whole view and comprehension of Shakespeare.  Edward de Vere could write about Hamlet because he was Hamlet.  From his perfumed position, the common herd did stink—as Coriolanus also says.  Coriolanus contemptuously calls the commoners a “common cry of curs,” and several aristocrats say that their breath stinks.  So it must have seemed to these noblemen.  Oh, yes, Cleopatra says so too. The “mechanic slaves . . . shall uplift us to the view. in their thick breaths, rank of gross diet, shall we be enclouded.”  So who was this man who condemned the breath of ordinary mortals?  Not a commoner.

I began to see Shakespeare from an entirely different point of view.  I read Charlton Ogburn’s book, joined a couple of Oxford/Shakespeare societies, read their publications twice each, read Anderson, Price, Roe, and several other ground-breaking authors.  I contacted the Shakespeare professors I knew, and received nothing but the most irrational resistance and adamant refusal to read anything Oxfordian.  Nevertheless, I myself was utterly convinced, and reflected how embarrassed certain orthodox scholars would be one of these days.

As for Anderson, Chiljan, Detobel, Jiménez, Malim, Price, Regnier, Shahan, Stritmatter, Waugaman, Waugh, Whalen, Whittemore et al., rejoice!  You are making history.

-Allan Shickman

“How I Became an Oxfordian” is edited by Bob Meyers. You may submit your essay on this topic (500 words or less in an editable format such as MS Word), along with a digital photo of yourself, to: info@shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org . Also include a sentence about yourself (e.g., “John J. Smith is a businessman in San Francisco.”)

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