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Cheryl Eagan-Donovan: How I Became an Oxfordian

I discovered Edward de Vere in a history class at Harvard University in 1997. Professor Don Ostrowski suggested the authorship question as a topic for an essay on primary source material and our understanding of history, and recommended J. Thomas Looney’s book Shakespeare Identified.  Enumerating traits the author possessed and looking for candidates with the same attributes, Looney noted Shakespeare’s “conflicted feelings toward women” and the echoes of the great poet in De Vere’s juvenilia.

Cheryl Eagan-Donovan is a writer and filmmaker. Her latest film, Nothing is Truer than Truth, was screened at the Boston Public Library in November 2016. She has served on the Board of Directors of Women in Film & Video New England, The Next Door Theater, and The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship.

I had written poetry and studied Shakespeare’s work as an undergraduate, and Looney’s deconstruction of the author convinced me that De Vere was the true Shakespeare. I looked for other books on the topic and found Joseph Sobran’s Alias Shakespeare.  Sobran makes a very strong case for De Vere’s sexual preference as the cause for the reinvention of Shakespeare as a commoner.

Sobran links the publishing of the Folio of Shakespeare’s work in 1623 with the suppression of the Sonnets: “It makes no mention of Southampton, to whom all of Shakespeare’s major nondramatic poetry had been addressed”. He further suggests that “one aim of the Folio… was to portray Shakespeare as a mere untitled common player…thereby implicitly dissociating him from Southampton and the poems written in his honor – thus burying any memory of the homosexual amour between Oxford and Southampton, who was still very much alive and to be reckoned with.” Sobran concludes, “the 1623 Folio deliberately focused entirely on the plays and so reinvented Shakespeare.”

I did some further research on the then nascent world-wide-web, and discovered that two scholars were working on a book about Edward de Vere. Mark Anderson would go on to complete the definitive biography of the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Shake-speare by Another Name. His early collaborator, Roger Stritmatter, went on to publish the most important research to date on DeVere’s Geneva Bible.

As a writer and a filmmaker, I knew that this story had all the elements for a great film: a complex protagonist, cinematic locations, and a true hero’s journey.  In 2005, my first film premiered at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. From there, I went directly to Boston to introduce myself to Mark Anderson and tell him that I wanted to option his book.  We met again at the Annual Shakespeare Authorship conference in Ashland, Oregon and made a deal over lunch.

I began by interviewing scholars and writers on De Vere, then traveled to Italy to film the locations De Vere had visited in 1575-76. I went to the UK, interviewed Sir Derek Jacobi, and filmed at Burghley House, Castle Hedingham, and Westminster Abbey, documenting the connection between Shakespeare’s work and the author’s life. While making the film, I found that the author’s sexuality remains as controversial as the idea that “Will” was a pseudonym. It is my hope that the presentation of the evidence in my film Nothing is Truer than Truth will inspire others to discover the charismatic, tempestuous, witty, often misunderstood but truly brilliant writer also known as Shakespeare.

— Cheryl Eagan-Donovan

“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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About Erik Eisenman

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