In the October 1991 issue of The Atlantic was an exchange between Tom Bethell and Irvin Matus about the author of the Shakespeare works. I read those pages with interest. Neither was a scholar. Strangely, there were no professors engaged in the debate, as though that was beneath their intellectual time and trouble. Re-reading the articles now, my impression is how quaint were their choice of materials. Matus made several statements that have lasted through the decades, forming a catechism as automatic and with as little support as when he wrote them. “An ample supply of references to Shakespeare as a player and playwright establish his position in the acting company (that) was under the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain and, from May of 1603 onward, of King James I.”
Bethell entertained the idea that the Stratford man was a front or blind for the secretive author––Edward de Vere. Neither considered that the always correctly spelled “Shakespeare” in various official records was a calculated plant by either the de Vere contingent or the ruling Cecils, aiming to plan up a past for a fictitious cipher after the works mysteriously ceased.
What struck me was the description of de Vere. He fit all the expected attributes of the prodigiously talented and skilled “Shakespeare” author. Writing genius does not come out of nowhere but is the product of devotion and time. There was little about such a genesis––until I read Charlton Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare a few years later. There it appeared that the young noble lost his father, possibly to murder by a rival earl, that his mother married indecently soon after, that he was uprooted and sent to London as a ward of the officious First Secretary Cecil, that Cecil married him off to his own socially lesser daughter, and that Leicester, the elder Vere’s arch-enemy, employed the twelve year old earl’s new step-father as his lieutenant while taking over the House of Oxford’s ancestral lands. This was the a priori setting of Hamlet. Writing the play might have been the mature Edward de Vere’s revenge, a claim to honor lost when a child.
At this point I could see the strands connecting an artistic soul to his works. He probably wanted blood and plenty of it. But that was not to be if he were to survive in an aristocratic elite of psychopaths. The sublimations of art would have to do.
A few years later I ordered a little known book, worn and derelict, from Inter-Library Loan. In a few nights I read J. Thomas Looney’s “Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Much rang true and led seamlessly to a hoax about the paradigmatic author of Western literature and his times. I took up the Oxfordian banner to help discard the fable being offered even now to minds young and old as an ersatz version of History, one which had almost erased the foundational artist of his country for reasons of State.
J. Thomas Looney’s “Shakespeare” Identified is available as a free download at Internet Archive.
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