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Response to Smithsonian Magazine regarding Shakespeare’s Bible

Smithsonian magazine trips
over Stratfordian disinformation


As most Oxfordians recognize, a few of the anti-Oxfordians are playing fast and loose with the facts as they try to knock down the evidence for the 17th Earl of Oxford as the true author of the works of Shakespeare. Smithsonian Magazine perpetuated two sins of factual inaccuracy in its April 1995 issue. The occasion was an update of its article in 1987 that had given a fairly well balanced account of the case for Oxford. But the magazine apparently has now been influenced by Stratfordian disinformationists. The short item in the current issue summarizes in two sentences how Charlton Ogburn “provocatively explores parallels between Oxford’s personal life and travels (Padua, Venice, Verona) with settings and specific incidents in the plays.”

Then follow the offending sentences:

Anti-Oxfordians wryly note that Oxford died in 1604—when at least 11 of Shakespeare’s plays had yet to be written. So the debate continues. In 1993 a scholar found that Oxford’s Bible had a number of marked passages that Shakespeare used in the plays—but it proved a false alarm. Oxford, it appeared, had acquired the Bible with the notations already in it.

To set the record straight on the facts, letters were sent to the editor of the Smithsonian making the following points:

First, there is no documentary evidence whatsoever that any of Shakespeare’s plays were written after the 17th Earl of Oxford died in 1604. Post-1604 dates are given to a dozen plays because first mention of them only appears after 1604. But posthumous publication or performances of literary works is not at all unusual. All the plays could have been written before 1604. And Oxfordians have demonstrated why pre-1604 dating is more rational.

Three of the plays, in fact, were never mentioned until their publication seven years after the Stratford man died, thus fatally disqualifying him, too, as the author. The reasoning, of course, is specious in both cases. Secondly, the marginal notes and underlinings in Oxford’s Bible were almost certainly made by Oxford. The magazine was undoubtedly misled into calling these markings “a false alarm” by an erroneous report in a booklet written for an exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Folger owns Oxford’s Bible. The authors of the booklet got the date wrong for the Bible, using 1596. This enabled them to denigrate the findings of the scholar, Roger Stritmatter then at UMass-Amherst.

In fact, the dates on the Bible itself are 1569 and 1570. Oxford’s records show that it was purchased for him in 1569/70. There was no time for anyone else to mark the Bible. And several of the markings are on verses that are echoed in Shakespeare’s plays.

Roger Stritmatter and Mark Anderson critically scrutinized the Smithsonian and wrote the following rebuttal to the editors:

April 9, 1995

900 Jefferson Drive
Washington D.C. 20560

To the Editors:

Your characterization of Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible (Smithsonian Updates, April 1995, p. 40) as a “false alarm” in the Shakespeare controversy constitutes an alarming suspension of critical judgment and journalistic ethics. Revisiting a 1987 Smithsonian article on the authorship controversy, you dispute the significance of the 250 recently-discovered concurrences between Shakespeare’s Biblical citations and the notations found in the 1569–70 de Vere Bible on the spurious grounds that de Vere “had acquired the Bible with the notations already in it.”

This hypothesis, presumably borrowed from the Folger Library exhibit Catalog, Roasting the Swan of Avon, does not withstand critical scrutiny. Catalog editors assert that “among the twenty-eight instances in which the annotator has written something in the outer margins, the binder’s knife has cut away part of the inscription eighteen times. That would suggest that the annotations were made sometime before the Bible was bound for the Earl of Oxford.

Nonsense. It suggests only that the Bible was first annotated and then, sometime in the past four hundred years, it was cropped. The specificity of the Folger claim is spurious. To substantiate it, the Catalog omits, and sometimes misrepresents, vital information which confirms de Vere as the annotator.

For starters, the Catalog fails to report that while the Bible retains its original binding embossed with de Vere’s crest as the 17th Earl of Oxford, the original spine of the book has been replaced. It is standard bookbinding practice, as Folger curators should know, to crop rare books when replacing the spine. Further weakening the Catalog’s hypothesis is the State record—also conveniently suppressed in the exhibit Catalog—documenting de Vere’s purchase of a Geneva Bible in 1570.

For “Smithsonian Updates” to be correct, the hypothetical previous owner would need to have acquired, annotated and resold the Bible in under a year, after which de Vere would have purchased it, removed the original binding and bound the annotated pages with his own silver-engraved crest. But there is one further problem with the Smithsonian’s overhasty conclusion: why hasn’t it been confirmed by comparing the annotator’s handwriting to de Vere’s? Paleography should prove easily enough that the annotator is not de Vere. But no. The near-perfect match between the two samples would scotch this absurd scenario…once and for all. That Shakespearean orthodoxy is driven to such desperate, ultimately self-defeating, expedients to thwart the reception of new evidence does not inspire confidence in the reasoning upon which conventional views depend. Indeed, concluded former Folger Program Director Richmond Crinkley in his review of Charlton Ogburn’s 1984 book, in the Folger’s own Shakespeare Quarterly:

If the intellectual standards of Shakespeare scholarship quoted in such embarrassing abundance by Ogburn are representative, then it is not just authorship about which we have to be worried”.

Few chapters in the recent history of the authorship controversy illustrate Crinkley’s warning more aptly than your uncritical endorsement of Folger disinformation about the de Vere Bible.

Roger Stritmatter

Mark K. Anderson

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