My older brother Alan was an English major at Columbia. He graduated in 1947 and earned a M.A. in English Literature two years later. In 1952 he married Columbia Professor Alfred Bennett Harbage’s daughter Diana. (Dr. Harbage later became Cabot Professor of English Literature at Harvard and was general editor of The Complete Pelican Shakespeare.) I was a Fine Arts major at Middlebury College but took the popular “Cubeta’s Shakespeare.” Paul Cubeta, a graduate of Williams, earned his Ph.D. in English Literature from Yale. He was also director of Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf Summer School of English, so I had no reason to question his conventional Stratfordian view. (I went on to earn my M.Arch. from the Columbia School of Architecture in 1960.)
In 1986 I discovered Charlton Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare – the Myth and the Reality. I naturally assumed that my brother would share my enthusiasm for this enlightened thesis. Not so. Though normally a convivial fellow, Alan suddenly turned a vivid red, smoke came out of his ears, and something resembling a roman candle erupted from the top of his head! “How could you believe that nonsense!” I was startled by this stunning response. Subsequently I learned that he was typical of the Stratfordians who assert their conviction with patronizing complacency, exasperation with such naïve gullibility, and often with the fury of a religious fanatic. So we simply agreed to disagree.
In the early nineties Alan gave me an intriguing book The 100 – a ranking of the 100 most influential persons in history by Michael H. Hart. It was first published in 1978 and the author listed William Shakespeare as number 36. He espoused the conventional Stratfordian biography. In the revised edition, published in 1990, however, he substituted Edward de Vere better known as “William Shakespeare” for “William Shakespeare” and stated the case for Oxford. He did so concisely and persuasively, though my brother declared it all hogwash!
We generally avoided the subject but Alan would occasionally try to revive the discussion. He could never get over the fact that I was so gullible. The last time this happened I was the exasperated one and responded that he had never read a single book espousing the Oxfordian cause! In a pique of frustration, he said, “Oh, okay – Give me a book and I’ll read it.” Unfortunately he died a month or so later as a result of a terrible accident so he never acknowledged that there might have been a flaw in the Stratfordian case. But I’ll always remember that he at least accepted the possibility that the Oxford cause might have had merit.
I am a contrarian by nature — I don’t like being duped. Perhaps it was Alan’s adamant inflexibility that reinforced my belief in Oxford as the actual author of the plays. In any event, I have been an enthusiastic Oxfordian now these many years and will undoubtedly remain so.
–John Milnes Baker
Michael H. Hart’s The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History is available on Amazon.
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