I read Charlton Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare as a graduate student in English. I recall that as I read, the coincidences between the plays and the Earl of Oxford’s life piled up, especially in Hamlet. I was still skeptical, but when I read about how Polonius was originally named Corambis, “Double-hearted,” and Lord Burghley (Oxford’s father-in-law) had a motto, Cor unum, via una, “One heart, one way,” I recall thinking, “That’s one coincidence too many.”
I realized Ogburn was making a compelling argument. But I was enough of a student of argument to know that a writer can suppress evidence. So I began a two-year process of checking original sources in the university library to verify Ogburn’s claims about shoddy scholarship. I sat with his book, grabbed books off the shelves, checked sources, and compared arguments to find out what Ogburn had not addressed, how he was refuted, how orthodox scholars handled dissent.
What I found was scholarly fraud: how much students believe and take for granted, how much professors spread conjecture as truth, theories as fact, fabrications as dogma. It took months to grasp how scholars, documentary evidence, arguments, and the tradition of commentary and interpretation symbiotically interacted in the arena of Shakespeare.
It made me ill.
I approached my favorite English professor because I wanted someone I respected to examine the argument and to discuss its merits. His graduate seminar in Classical Rhetoric proved to be one of the most transforming courses I ever took.
He dismissed the book without examination, a response contrary to all that was implied in his teaching. I left the book with him anyway, somewhat baffled. I approached my best friend. He would not look at the argument either. I was astonished. Two brilliant, thinking minds who would not even examine the argument, who simply dismissed it out of hand.
What was it about this topic that so provoked such bizarre responses? If I had been a “good” graduate student, a properly “impressionable” graduate student, then I would have dropped Ogburn and gone along with the prevailing view.
But I knew enough that, whatever its faults, Ogburn’s argument merited a hearing and that what I saw among my peers was anathema to true scholarship.
When I read the poems and plays through the lens of William of Stratford, I get much insight and greatness, but only from the plays themselves.
When I read the poems and plays through the lens of the Earl of Oxford, the experience is powerful and transformative and true to the experience I have had with other artists.
— Mark Alexander
“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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also include a sentence about yourself (e.g., “John J. Smith is a businessman in San Francisco.”).
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