Why does authorship matter? Well, why does truth matter? It matters because story is tied to truth by a thousand fine threads, adding complexity and resonance. The Shaksper biography was dead on arrival for me, no resonance with the works, whereas, seeing the plays and reading the poetry with Oxford’s life in mind, it feels like I’m looking at a familiar photograph that’s suddenly become three-dimensional.
As an undergraduate in the late 1970s, I studied Shakespeare at the University of Maryland with Sam Schoenbaum, author of Shakespeare: A Documentary Life, among other books. Hmm . . . the authorship question never came up! I guess we were serious scholars, with no time for frivolous nonissues. It wasn’t until the Harper’s magazine article in 1999 that I learned there were legitimate reasons for doubt, along with a promising alternate candidate.
I bought a paperback reprint of J. Thomas Looney’s book and read it, and took notes, and got Charlton Ogburn’s book, and read it, and sometimes argued with it, and took notes, and eventually read Diana Price’s book, and didn’t argue with it at all, and took a lot more notes.
I continue to read new books on the authorship question, but I also read Stratford books, which I’ve come to think of as “the musty books” because of all the “he must have’s” in them. The holes in the Stratford story are usually the best point of entry for introducing the authorship question to those who are new to the subject.
Living just outside Washington, D.C., I’ve had access to some authorship events. I won’t tell any more lawyer jokes, now that I’ve seen how many lawyers and judges are able to blow away the dust of received “wisdom” and come to a conclusion based on . . . evidence. I’ve also met a lot of non-legal minds with plenty to offer on the topic. True, when the authorship question is mentioned (okay, mentioned by me), a few of my friends (1) leave the room or (2) practice their “how to deal with a conspiracy nutcase” techniques, complete with eye rolls, but, since that means they’re not allowing themselves to possibly learn something new and exciting, I try to feel only pity.
Also, as someone who creates things, I know I can only do good work if I let my DNA get all over whatever I’m making. The plays as Bill paying the bills and, even more, the sonnets as an exercise or ventriloquism, in part or whole, is a much bigger stretch than simply looking past a name.
— Diane Elliott
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