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Elisabeth Waugaman: How I Became an Oxfordian

My first exposure to Shakespeare occurred at our children’s library in a dark paneled room with leaded-glass windows. Searching through the shelves, a book caught my eye. Flipping through it, I discovered the most beautiful illustrations of a magical world. I had fallen in love with the fluid lines of Arthur Rackham, who lured me into the fantastical world of Shakespeare.

Elisabeth P. Waugaman did graduate work at Princeton and obtained her PhD in medieval French literature from Duke. She taught at Duke and at Johns Hopkins Universities and blogs for Psychology Today.

Elisabeth P. Waugaman did graduate work at Princeton and obtained her PhD in medieval French literature from Duke. She taught at Duke and at Johns Hopkins Universities and blogs for Psychology Today.

Years later, Shakespeare and I were formally introduced in middle school. Shockingly, Shakespeare burst onto the world’s stage out of an illiterate family. Neither his father, nor his mother, nor his daughters were literate. The creator of the some of the most powerful heroines to walk the stage had not bothered to have his daughters educated. The Droeshout engraving exacerbated my disillusionment. Nothing about Shakespeare’s life or his portrait matched my magical childhood memories. Something was indeed “rotten in the state of Denmark”: my childhood fantasies had run away with me. They “vanished into thin air,” “a baseless fabric” of my imagination. I added the paradox of my childhood reveries and the “reality” of Shakespeare to my list of logical non-sequiturs.

Reintroduced to Shakespeare in high school, I rediscovered his mesmerizing power; but I fell in love with medieval French literature in college. Studying in Paris, I marveled at the Comédie Française performances of Molière, who is often compared to Shakespeare. Both were actors, both were involved in running a theatre company, both had royal patronage, and both dared to criticize contemporary society. “Molière” was a nom de plume for Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, who was refused last rites because of the stigma of acting, and was buried in a cemetery only due to the intervention of Louis XIV. To assert a nom de plume necessitates “a conspiracy theory” reveals ignorance of the culture of European courts, the aristocracy, theatre at court, and the stigma of the theatre in that age.

My husband, Richard Waugaman, began studying the Shakespeare authorship question after reading about the work of Roger Stritmatter in The New York Times. The more he learned and shared with me, the more sense Oxford’s authorship made. His life is mirrored throughout the plays. His contemporaries described Oxford as among the best poets and comic playwrights of his day, an author who preferred anonymity. The vast knowledge revealed in Shakespeare’s works indicates an extensive education like that of Edward de Vere, unlike that of Shaksper of Stratford.

Scholars have provided so much evidence for Oxford’s authorship of the works of Shakespeare that one can only wonder, like the Earl of Kent, “What a brazen fac’d varlet art thou, to deny thou knowest me.”  Thanks to the work of Oxfordians, I rediscovered the magical Shakespeare of my childhood. In closing, I can think of no better words than those of the eminent Shakespeare scholar, Folger Library Educations Director Richmond Crinkley, who says in The Shakespeare Quarterly that “doubts about Shakespeare’s authorship emerged early and have a simple and direct plausibility.”

— Elisabeth P. Waugaman

“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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