My acceptance of the circumstantial evidence that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the ‘towering figure’ 1 behind the works of William Shakespeare started with reading Contested Will .2 To quote Mark Anderson, ‘Shapiro has in a sense given Oxfordians a nice little gift’, and I wish Mark and Alexander Waugh well with drawing attention to the errors of Shapiro’s latest book .3,4
I was only vaguely aware of the authorship controversy before I learnt the truth. I looked for mention of it without success at the Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum in 2012 — but picked up a copy of Contested Will in the museum shop. By the end of the book I had learnt the reasons for doubting that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the works — but Shapiro hadn’t given any reasons for thinking that he did. I had to re-read his introduction to confirm that he seriously maintained that position. A nice little gift that led to enlightenment.
My interest was stoked by Alexander Waugh’s diary in the Spectator,5 I bought Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?6 and was transformed to a ‘reasonable doubter’. At a production of King Lear in London I asked a friend ‘I wonder who actually wrote this?’ He whispered conspiratorially ‘I’ll tell you a secret, William Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s works’. That’s what almost everyone thinks in the UK.
Mark Anderson’s book was my epiphany:7 he was speaking ‘in the infirmity of sense’.8 I saw Love’s Labour’s Lost and discovered how infinitely more interesting Shakespeare’s plays were (let alone his poems) when you knew who wrote them and could think about why they were written. But, as Alexander Waugh and Enoch Powell found out, you are a snob and a conspiracy theorist if you even have reasonable doubts. I was able to ‘come out’ when I met an Oxfordian friend of my husband earlier this year — he had been a great friend of Joseph Sobran who had sadly died before much of the information about Oxford was discovered. I read Alias Shakespeare9 and then went back to the beginning and read Shakespeare Identified10 – a brilliant and original book by a man often dismissed because of his inappropriate name.
I worry that the politically correct world of today might not be able to cope with Oxford as the author of Shakespeare’s works even if conclusive evidence were found. I discussed him with a friend who stages amateur productions of Shakespeare’s plays and she said, rather sadly, ‘But de Vere was an Italianate fop.’ And worse may be said if the unsubstantiated Arundell libel is taken seriously. Some American universities have banned Ovid’s Metamorphosis because it upsets oversensitive feminists. They can cope with the works of Shakespeare if they were dreamed up by a quiet man from Stratford — but what would they make of them being written by an eccentric, brilliant, bisexual, highly educated nobleman with keen sense of humour and a liking for boy actors? Perhaps things may change and, once 2016 has safely passed, we could celebrate in 2020 the intellectual schoolteacher and humanist who first tumbled on the notion that Shakespeare’s works were written by the Earl of Oxford.10
- Simon Heffer. Like the Roman: the life of Enoch Powell. Faber and Faber 2008; Chapter 20.
- James Shapiro. Contested Will: who wrote Shakespeare? Faber and Faber, London 2011.
- Alex McNeil. The year of Lear? What have we here? Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter: Fall 2015.
- James Shapiro. 1606: William Shakespeare and ‘The Year of Lear’. Faber and Faber 2015.
- Alexander Waugh. Shakespeare was a nom de plume – get over it. www.new.spectator.co.uk/2013/11/diary-636
- John M Shahan, Alexander Waugh, eds. Shakespeare beyond doubt? Exposing an industry in denial. Lumina Press (USA) 2013.
- Mark Anderson. Shakespeare by another name: the life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the man who was Shakespeare. Gotham Books (USA) 2005.
- Duke Vincentio. Measure for Measure. Act V, Scene 1.
- Joseph Sobran. Alias Shakespeare: solving the greatest literary mystery of all time.
- J. Thomas Looney. Shakespeare Identified. Cecil Palmer, London 1920.
“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.”).
Next week’s essay is by Stuart Marlow.
You can join the SOF or renew your membership for 2016 at our membership page.