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In Memoriam: Robert Detobel

Robert Detobel 1939-2018

The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship mourns the passing of the brilliant Oxfordian researcher and writer, Robert Detobel of Germany, who died on September 22, 2018. Mr. Detobel published many outstanding articles in SOF publications, such as The Oxfordian, Brief Chronicles, and the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter. He will be greatly missed. The following obituary, written by Elke Brackmann and Hanno Wember, appeared on the website of the German Oxfordian organization, Neue Shake-speare Gesellschaft. It is reprinted here with permission of the authors:

Robert Detobel was born in Beert, a village with about 300 inhabitants, in Flanders (Belgium) on 12 August, 1939. He was the fifth of seven siblings. Apart from the fact that his father was a brewer, we have no information about his family and their origin. It can, however, be surmised that the family name Detobel originally stems from “de Tobel”, as is the case in many Dutch words, and eventually the two words melted together. Tobel is still an existing family name in Germany.

After giving birth to Robert’s younger sister, his mother died when Robert was six. That is why he was sent to his aunt in Brussels, with whom he stayed for six years, attending elementary school there.

At the age of twelve it was up to him to opt for staying in Brussels or returning to his former home. He decided for the latter. As there was no middle school in Beert he went to the one in Halle, the district capital, commuting by tram.

In 1959 he finished school with the “Abitur” (a kind of equivalent of A-level-exams). The foreign languages he had to learn were German, English and French, which, next to his mother tongue Flemish, he mastered quickly and spoke fluently. He then registered at the University of Löwen in order to study Political Science. It was then that he read Shakespeare for the first time, in a Dutch translation for the time being. He was particularly impressed by Hamlet and King Lear.

In 1964 he moved to Mönchengladbach, occupying himself with poets like Rilke, Trakl, Hölderlin and Eichendorff. From 1965 onwards he worked at a German-French translation agency; in 1971 he began to study Economics at the University of Cologne and graduated in 1976. He finally moved to Frankfurt/Main in 1977, working as a freelance translator, including the translation of books.

Studying Sigmund Freud in 1981 he came across a footnote that encouraged him to study Hamlet in depth. In this way he found the subject that would accompany him throughout his life: Who wrote Shakespeare? It was in June 2016 that he described this scholarly enterprise on the website of the Shakespeare-Oxford-Fellowship in the section “How I Became an Oxfordian”:


In his first Frankfurt years he was totally immersed in Roman-Greek history and mythology, reading both classical writers and many articles and books on the authorship issue and, needless to say, thoroughly read Shakespeare, dramas and Sonnets.

In 1989 he earned his living as a translator in the field of economy and intensively dealt with the authorship question. He was regularly to be found at the library of the Max-Planck-Institute and at the University Library. These institutions allowed him to access important works like the transcription of the Stationers’ Register by E. Arber and the 17 volumes of A History of English Law by W. Holdsworth, which very few German libraries offered. For years he unremittingly did some basic research on the history of the publication of Shakespeare’s works and on English law in Elizabethan times; in doing so he turned into an expert in these special fields.

In 1993 he established contact with Walter Klier, an Austrian writer and editor of the magazine Die Gegenwart, to which Robert also made some contributions. (Walter Klier published his book Das Shakespeare-Komplott in 1994, which is the first book on the authorship issue in the German-speaking world). In collaboration with the Hessischer Rundfunk he prepared a feature with the title “Wer war Shakespeare – oder was ist in einem Namen?”. At that time he also met Dr. Uwe Laugwitz; together they published the “Das Neue Shakespeare-Journal”, which appeared regularly after the first volume in 1997. Robert Detobel’s extensive contributions were part of nearly all volumes. After that he came into contact with U.S.-American Shakespeare scholars, first with Peter Moore, from 2000 on with Christopher Paul and Robert Brazil. With his publications in “Elizabethan Authors” and in “elizaforum” he permanently took part in discussions.

Robert worked and published in numerous fields, out of which three topics should be mentioned:

  • The Harvey-Nashe quarrel, which is perfectly mirrored in Love’s Labour’s Lost , is profound evidence for Oxford.
  • In Shakespeare’s days the rights of authors did exist and ownership of Shakespeare’s works was not only confined to the playing troupes, as is often wrongly claimed.
  • His article on Palladis Tamia by Francis Meres is of crucial importance; he proved that the separate mentioning of Oxford and Shakespeare must not make us jump to the wrong conclusions that the two are two different people (this is also covered in Brief Chronicles, vol. I, published together with K.C. Ligon).

Robert’s articles are most of the time extensive, including a wide range of information; they are profound and demand very much attention from the reader.

In 2001 Robert was honoured by Concordia University in Portland/Oregon with the Vero Nihil Verius Award and invited to journey to the USA.

2004 marked the beginning of an exchange of ideas with Kurt Kreiler, who later wrote the book Der Mann, der Shakespeare erfand. In 2005 Robert Detobel’s Book Wie aus Shaxpear Shakespeare wurde was published as volume 10 of the Neues Shakespeare Journal. His book The Concealed Poet was published in 2007 as a manuscript. In 2010 he was actively involved in the foundation of the “Neue Shake-speare Gesellschaft”, being a member of the advisory board. In the publication house Laugwitz his book “Will”–Wunsch und Wirklichkeit was published, thoroughly covering and criticizing Shapiro’s book Contested Will. In more than 200 pages he laid bare the numerous and partly outlandish mistakes. Unfortunately the book could not be translated into English.

The website “Shakespeare-today.de” of the “Neue Shake-speare Gesellschaft”, in which he participated regularly, would be unthinkable without his many German and English contributions.

An overall view of all his publications and articles is difficult to produce. One incomplete list on our webpage names 54 titles. In addition he wrote articles in Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, in The De Vere Society Newsletter, in The Oxfordian and Brief Chronicles.

Some people may perhaps remember the unusual discussions concerning the authorship in The GuardianNew Statesman and Spectator. Robert participated in them with his typical sense of commitment – using a pseudonym most of the time. Whoever knew this got a great insight into Robert’s enigmatic humour.

Robert Detobel entertained a constant connection to very many people; he contacted people on the phone on a day-to-day basis or via email and repeatedly took part in discussions on Facebook. He actually led a secluded and solitary life for years, he had no relatives around him.

Going for a walk in Frankfurt on 15 September, near his home, he had the book My Shakespeare [edited by William Leahy] with him, in order to read it and write comments in the margins. In the intensive care unit, where he ended up after passers-by had discovered him collapsed on a bench, the book was placed on top of his belongings near his bed. The title can be interpreted as a headline to his life, the challenge that gripped him all his life: My Shakespeare!

Robert, however, was enthusiastic and impulsive, feeling the need to fight for the truth until the very end: From his comments one could clearly deduce that he saw the book very critically and disapproved of it – with the exception of one essay by Alexander Waugh, which he appreciated. One week ago he talked on the phone about his plans to write a repudiation. But it was not to be.

Robert Detobel passed away in Frankfurt/Main on 22 September 2018.

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