pageok
pageok
pageok
Justice Stevens Rules for Edward de Vere:

The WSJ reports Justice John Paul Stevens believes that some/all of the work attributed to William Shakespeare were actually written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Justice Stevens, who dropped out of graduate study in English to join the Navy in 1941, is an Oxfordian -- that is, he believes the works ascribed to William Shakespeare actually were written by the 17th earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. Several justices across the court's ideological spectrum say he may be right.

This puts much of the court squarely outside mainstream academic opinion, which equates denial of Shakespeare's authorship with the Flat Earth Society.

"Oh my," said Coppelia Kahn, president of the Shakespeare Association of America and professor of English at Brown University, when informed of Justice Stevens's cause. "Nobody gives any credence to these arguments," she says. . . .

Not all members of the court are persuaded. "To the extent I've dipped in, I'm not impressed with the Oxfordian theory," says Justice Anthony Kennedy. The spread of Oxfordianism on the court "shows Justice Stevens's power and influence," Justice Kennedy says. Of the nine active justices, only Stephen Breyer joins Justice Kennedy in sticking up for Will. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito declined to comment.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who retired in 2006, cast the court's deciding vote many times. On Shakespeare, she says, "I'm not going to jump into this and be decisive."

According to Justice Stevens, "Sandra is persuaded that it definitely was not Shakespeare" and "it's more likely de Vere than any other candidate." Pressed, Justice O'Connor says, "It might well have been someone other than our Stratford man."

Richard Nieporent (mail):
So how long before we get Justice Kennedy's view of the Kennedy assassination and the destruction of the World Trade Center?
4.18.2009 10:02am
Cornellian (mail):
No votes for Marlowe?
4.18.2009 10:11am
Curt Fischer:

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito declined to comment.



Smart move.
4.18.2009 10:12am
Vin (mail) (www):
I heard Francis Bacon is another Shakespearean candidate.
4.18.2009 10:22am
Dave N (mail):
I'm surprised that Justice Kennedy is so decisive AND in the minority.
4.18.2009 10:40am
James Kabala (mail):
I thought Scalia was smarter than this. It's also the first time I've had occasion to think well of Brennan or Kennedy.

See http://www.shakespeareauthorship.com/ for comprehensive refutations of Oxfordian claims.
4.18.2009 11:08am
Profane (mail) (www):
*HEAD* *DESK*
4.18.2009 11:28am
wm13:
That's pretty frightening, to think that people as loony as Stevens are making important political decisions. I think that at future confirmation hearings, every nominee should be asked "How old is the earth?" "Who wrote Hamlet and Macbeth?" and "Did Plato get his philosophical ideas from Egypt?" That should screen out some of the loonier ideas that travel in certain circles.
4.18.2009 11:29am
Frog Leg (mail):
When Stevens was in graduate school, literature academics gave a lot more credence to these theories than they do today. Whether Stevens is just carry forward the intellectual baggage from 70 years ago, or contemporary academics are engaging in groupthink, I have no idea (not that it has to be either/or).
4.18.2009 11:41am
Jay C (mail):
So what's Justice Stevens' beef with the accepted authorship of "Shakespeare"?

Is it maybe that "first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" bit??
4.18.2009 11:42am
John (mail):
Doesn't Stevens realize the science is settled? I must say I am tiring of these Shakespeare denialists.
4.18.2009 11:49am
Anon321:
I'm surprised and amused that Souter, rather than giving an opinion or declining to comment, evidently just said that he had "no idea" (see the box on the left in the linked article). I would have thought that this sort of topic was right in his wheelhouse.
4.18.2009 12:00pm
BABH:
Doesn't it always boil down to aristocratic elitism? Some snobs find it impossible to believe that an "ignorant butcher's boy" with "little Latin and less Greek" could possibly have a larger vocabulary and wider imagination than, well, anyone else who ever wrote in English.
4.18.2009 12:05pm
Thomas Jefferson (mail):
It is not the Court's business to give advisory opinions. I call for the impeachment of all those who commented.
4.18.2009 12:11pm
Mayken (mail):
@Vin Bacon was the original focus of the Shakespeare-is-not-Shakespeare conspiracy. Surprisingly, Mark Twain actually believed this.
4.18.2009 12:27pm
My Middle Name Is Ralph:
This has to be about the only time Scalia and Stevens are the only two to agree on a particular positon.
4.18.2009 12:43pm
BABH:
Next week: The Supremes evaluate the evidence for and against a personal god.
4.18.2009 12:45pm
donaldk2 (mail):
I read Mark Twain's piece, and it is extremely cogent.
You lawyers I believe are well aware that a bad case if expertly presented can seem very convincing to the jury.

I ask as a favor: How do you get italics? All I get is
4.18.2009 12:54pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
2 for Oxford, 2 for Will, 2 polite versions of "who cares" and 3 declined any comment.

2 votes for, 2 against.

In what math system does a tie equal a majority or 2 even a plurality?
4.18.2009 12:58pm
donaldk2 (mail):
what I get is left bracket i right bracket left bracket slash i right bracket.
4.18.2009 1:04pm
ASlyJD (mail):
Put the text you want italicized in the middle.
4.18.2009 1:28pm
one of many:
yes and for links make sure to put some text between the ""r e f= " " > and the "< / a " (something I tend to forget) so there is some text to click.
4.18.2009 2:55pm
BABH:
<i>example</i> should display as example. You can use the preview button to make sure.
Google "html tags" for other features like bold, links, etc.
4.18.2009 3:06pm
BABH:
I think I see the problem: are you are clicking the "Italic" button above the comment box? Try highlighting the text you want in italics, then clicking the button.
4.18.2009 3:08pm
Anon321:
Can someone help me understand the basic Oxfordian claims? I take it that they don't deny the existence of a William Shakespeare (perhaps with a differently spelled surname) from Stratford-on-Avon. Do they deny that this man was an actor in London? In their view, what was the relationship between Shakespeare the man and de Vere? (None, I assume). Is their argument that either (a) because of spelling differences, no one at the time thought that the Shakespeare from Stratford was the author of the plays, or (b) that man spent his (apparently unremarkable) life saying, "No, different William Shakespeare, unfortunately. I just act in 'em."? And did no one at the time think, "It's odd that no one has ever met this fellow Shakespeare, who writes so many plays and poems"? Or is the theory that everyone at the time knew that Shakespeare was just de Vere's nom de plume? If so, why bother with the pseudonym in the first place?

I don't have any particular dog in the fight over the authorship of the plays, and I certainly haven't delved into the evidence. But, at first blush, the Oxfordian theory seems a bit puzzling. Any thoughts?
4.18.2009 5:21pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
There's a science fiction short story by L. Sprague DeCamp, set a couple hundred years in the future, in which one of the characters is a member of a literary society that is dedicated to exposing the true authorship of some of the most famous plays in history. He's convinced that so uncouth a man as George Bernard Shaw cannot possibly have writen the plays attributed to him. No, it must have been a far better writer than Shaw, someone far more erudite, more intelligent, more thoughtful, but someone who could not admit authorship because of the damage that these subversive plays would do to his political career ... Sir Winston Churchill!
4.18.2009 5:50pm
BRM:
This has to be about the only time Scalia and Stevens are the only two to agree on a particular positon.

What about Hamdi?
4.18.2009 6:05pm
My Middle Name Is Ralph:

What about Hamdi?


Right you are. And, a pretty high-profile case as well.
4.18.2009 6:23pm
mariner:
I recommend three excellent books, read in order:

1. Mark Twain's 1909 book Is Shakespeare Dead? is informative, to the point and of course very well-written.

Twain made the cogent observation that every provable FACT about Shakespeare's life would fit on a single sheet of paper, and most of what was (and is) written about Shakespeare is simply made up.

I enjoyed his humorous (this WAS Mark Twain) description of authorship question. There were the Shakespearites and the Baconians, but Twain himself was a Brontosaurian.

2. Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography. People who insist that the historical record proves the Stratford man Shakespere was the author Shakespeare are flatly dishonest about that record. Ms. Price recounts it at some length, including the parts that Stratford apologists either misrepresent or just ignore.

I had struggled through "A Groatsworth of Wit" because I couldn't wait to get to the "upstart crow" reference, and thus missed the entire point of the pamphlet. Ms. Price discusses it in detail, and provides the all-important context to show that Greene wasn't referring to Shakespeare at all. She also unearthed a ripoff of Groatsworth to show that Elizabethans understood it as she did.

In actual fact there is NO contemporary reference to the Stratford man as an author -- not a single one. There is contemporary literary evidence for the authorship of every other major Elizabethan poet, and many of the minor ones. But not for Shakespere.

Outside the First Folio, the only reference to him as an actor came from Ben Jonson, who recorded in his collected works that Shakespere acted in two of his plays. Ms. Price shows us what Jonson REALLY thought about Shakespere, and it wasn't pretty.

If you're interested in the historical facts about the life of the Stratford man, you should read this book.

3. Marlowe's Ghost. The Wall Street Journal author blew it. "All the evidence" does NOT point to Oxford. A great deal of it points to Christopher Marlowe, and Mr. Pinksen's book is the best I've seen arguing for his authorship.

People who read Shakespeare's early work in the 1590s commented on its striking similarity to Christopher Marlowe's work. Mr. Pinksen provides a very good explanation why this is so.

He explains why we should understand "A Groatsworth of Wit" as an extended complaint about Edward Alleyn, the best-known and wealthiest actor of the 1509s.

Mr. Pinksen concludes with a thought-provoking modern example of well-known authors using others' names to publish their work, why they did so, and how we know about it today.

Shakespeare is both an industry and a religion, with academics as its captains and high priests. People who have devoted their entire careers to its service can hardly be expected to be open-minded about the authorship question. Today the Internet allows people who question the received wisdom to find out about each other and discuss their ideas, bypassing altogether academics' scorn and ridicule.

I myself am some kind of dinosaur, though I guess I can't be a Brontosaurian -- I suppose Marlowe may have written the works.
4.18.2009 6:28pm
New Pseudonym:
What Frog Leg said. Bacon's star was falling by about ten years after Stevens studied him. In the late 1950s, aided by The Murder of the Man Who Was Shakespeare, Marlowe's star was rising. De Vere was a bit of an outlier, but still in the running. Nowadays, scholars [sic] have more fun arguing about whether he was Catholic, or gay.
4.18.2009 6:34pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Perhaps this entry was somewhat tongue in cheek anyway, but "rules for" is not the same as "believes". There's a controversy, but no case.
4.18.2009 6:51pm
karl m (mail):
BABH
100% on target , i think the same
4.18.2009 7:50pm
mariner:
BABH:
Doesn't it always boil down to aristocratic elitism?

No it doesn't, and I don't believe that's an honest characterization of the case against Stratfordian authorship. It is an ad hominem response to reasoned argument.

If the canon had been published anonymously, anyone who today proposed Shakespere of Stratford as the author based on the facts available would be laughed out of the academy (and maybe out of town as well).

An accumulated weight of assumption and speculation has unfortunately been accepted as fact, and some people are questioning that.

The re-examination is proceeding slowly and painstakingly but it IS proceeding, despite those standing athwart literary tradition and shouting, "STOP!". (With apologies to W.F. Buckley)
4.18.2009 8:08pm
mariner:
Mayken:
Bacon was the original focus of the Shakespeare-is-not-Shakespeare conspiracy. Surprisingly, Mark Twain actually believed this.

Why, "surprisingly"?

It's only surprising to those who haven't read Twain's book on the subject; to those of us who have it's no surprise at all.

I admit, it is easier to ridicule an idea you haven't seriously considered, let alone explored. ;)
4.18.2009 8:12pm
James Kabala (mail):
"If the canon had been published anonymously..."

But of course it wasn't, and therefore your case falls apart. If one is confronted with a pile of thirty-seven anonymous masterpiece plays and asked, "Who wrote these - a wealthy nobleman or an actor/businessman of humble background?" one might well plump for the aristocrat. If one is confronted with a pile of plays with William Shakespeare's name on them and numerous contemporary or soon-after death testimonies that he wrote them, I tend toward the obvious explanation rather than a conspiracy theory. And when one examines the evidence in detail, one reaches the same conclusion.

Perhaps the best paragraph on the aforementioned Shakespeare Authorship website is one noting that one could just as easily construct a "controversy" over who wrote Christopher Marlowe's plays:

"The first author E mentions as a presumed contrast to Shakespeare is Marlowe, so I assume E accepts Marlowe's authorship of the plays and poems we know as his. Let's take a look at the evidence. There are no manuscripts of Marlowe's plays, no letters written by him or to him, in fact no examples of his handwriting at all except a signature as witness to a will in Canterbury in 1585, when he was 21 years old, spelled 'Christofer Marley.' Not once during his lifetime was he ever referred to as a playwright or poet; surviving references spell his name every way from 'Marly' to 'Marlin,' but almost never 'Marlowe.' The name 'Christopher Marlowe,' in any of its spellings, was never associated with any play or poem or literary work during the man's lifetime. There is no evidence to connect him with any acting company, or with the theater in any way. The only play now generally attributed to Marlowe which was printed during his lifetime was Tamburlaine, but it was printed anonymously in 1590, and was not attributed to Marlowe until 1671 (no, that's not a typo), 78 years after the man's death. In 1594, the year after 'Marley' (as he himself spelled it) was murdered under shady circumstances, quartos of two plays --- Dido Queen of Carthage and Edward II --- were published with the names "Christopher Marlowe" and "Chri. Marlow" (respectively) on their title pages; this was the first time the name had appeared in any literary context, but (at least by Oxfordian standards) there is nothing to connect it with the recently-murdered shoemaker's son from Canterbury. Out of E of O's list of things that 'suggest a literary life,' only one applies to Marlowe: we have a record of his education, since he (supposedly) went to Cambridge. But if I wanted to play the Oxfordian game, I could easily challege the evidence for that: most of the Cambridge records which are supposed to be to the shoemaker's son spell the name 'Marlin,' and there was another student there at the same time named Christopher Marley, so those references could be to him; also, what was 'Marley' doing in Canterbury to sign that will in 1585, when he was supposedly at Cambridge? Anyone who accepts that Christopher Marlowe wrote plays but refuses to accept that William Shakespeare wrote plays is applying a double standard of the most monumental proportions."
4.18.2009 9:39pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
The Marlowe theory is about the silliest. Marlowe died in 1593 (although I suppose you could assert he lived in somebody's basement for the next 20 years, with nobody seeing him and all reporting him dead). Macbeth contains specific references to the Stuart accession, which took place in 1603.

The explanation for the resemblance of Shakespeare's early work to Marlowe's is simple. Marlowe was a very popular and influential playwright at the time, and the newbie Shakespeare started off his career by imitating a successful playwright of his time.
4.18.2009 11:01pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
Or to put it another way, just because the Beegee's early work reminded people of the Beatles doesn't mean the Beegees were the Beatles.
4.18.2009 11:04pm
clarence rutherford:
"Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography" is well deconstructed here: http://stromata.tripod.com/id115.htm
To quote the review: "All in all, Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography is a remarkable mine of junk scholarship and illogical argumentation, almost worthy to be placed beside the historico-scientific balderdash of Immanuel Velikovsky in the annals of perverse ingenuity."
4.19.2009 1:58am
Fingerprint File:
Hogwash. Everyone knows Cervantes is the true author of the plays.
4.19.2009 2:32am
Roguestage:
(full disclosure: before law school, I spent about 7 years as a professional actor, mostly doing Shakespeare.)

Shakespeare is the true author of the Shakespeare plays. Most, if not all, of the arguments for alternative authorship are quite easily knocked down.

One thing to keep in mind for any of these arguments: for over 200 years, nobody questioned that Shakespeare was the author of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. The first person to question Shakespeare's authorship swore up and down that the son of a glovemaker couldn't possibly have come up with such poetry and prose, and that it had to be someone aristocratic, someone educated. They put forth Francis Bacon as their candidate. What was the name of this iconoclastic educatrix? Delia Bacon. The claims have a lot less credit when their true nature is 'it wasn't who everyone thinks, it was my great-great-great grandfather'! Tellingly, nobody gives credence to the Bacon theory today.

Furthermore, there are many anti-Shakespeare scholars who claim, as noted above, that without higher education Shakespeare couldn't have come up with such poetry. They never explain how an aristocrat like de Vere would have learned about the raucous, syphilitic commoners like those running throughout Shakespeare's plays.

A couple of quick and easy refutations of earlier arguments against Shakespeare's authorship:


2. In actual fact there is NO contemporary reference to the Stratford man as an author -- not a single one. There is contemporary literary evidence for the authorship of every other major Elizabethan poet, and many of the minor ones. But not for Shakespere.

Outside the First Folio, the only reference to him as an actor came from Ben Jonson, who recorded in his collected works that Shakespere acted in two of his plays. Ms. Price shows us what Jonson REALLY thought about Shakespere, and it wasn't pretty.

If you're interested in the historical facts about the life of the Stratford man, you should read this book.


In actual fact, contemporary references to Shakespeare begin in the 1590s, when he bought a share of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later to be the King's Men) and when plays began to be published under his name. This is the point when he clearly became something to crow about - several early plays had first been published anonymously, but they were re-published with his name attached and began to be the subject of poorly written copies. This suggests that he became popular, and thus attaching his name would increase the value of the quartos or octavos (types of printing of the day) bearing it.

The anti-Stratfordians will of course say that this begs the question, but the 'no contemporary reference' is theirs, and is easily refuted by this or by Shakespeare's epitaph, composed after his death in 1616 and before the First Folio was published in 1623. The anti-Stratfordians can't explain how a fictional character or second-rate actor could have afforded to be buried at the head of the church, just before the altar, with a bust and elaborate epitaph. They'll of course claim that it was the wealthy 'true' writer hiding his identity - but that of course begs the question, why was the writer hiding his identity when the King was the patron of Shakespeare's acting company? Wouldn't it have been a great boon for him to show that he wrote the most popular plays for the King's own company?


3. Marlowe's Ghost. The Wall Street Journal author blew it. "All the evidence" does NOT point to Oxford. A great deal of it points to Christopher Marlowe, and Mr. Pinksen's book is the best I've seen arguing for his authorship.

People who read Shakespeare's early work in the 1590s commented on its striking similarity to Christopher Marlowe's work. Mr. Pinksen provides a very good explanation why this is so.


As noted above, Marlowe was killed in a bar fight in 1593. Shakespeare's plays contain references to events that took place after that time - not least the succession of James I in 1606. Marlowe is out of the running, unless he faked his own death or had a time machine.


Shakespeare is both an industry and a religion, with academics as its captains and high priests. People who have devoted their entire careers to its service can hardly be expected to be open-minded about the authorship question. Today the Internet allows people who question the received wisdom to find out about each other and discuss their ideas, bypassing altogether academics' scorn and ridicule.

I myself am some kind of dinosaur, though I guess I can't be a Brontosaurian -- I suppose Marlowe may have written the works.


Ad hominem attacks generally signal a weak argument.
4.19.2009 9:02am
Anon321:
Sorry to repeat a question I asked earlier, but I'm still confused about the Oxfordian theory (or, perhaps, the antistratfordian theory more generally). When people at the time asked, "So, who is this William Shakespeare fellows who wrote these plays?" what was the answer? I take it that, in the antistratfordian view, no one said, "It's that actor William Shakspere [or however it was supposedly spelled] from Stratford." So did they say, "I have no idea -- no one has ever met him or has the slightest clue about his identity or background"? Surely it would have been noteworthy if the most popular playwright of the day was a complete mystery, right? Did de Vere construct a mythical backstory about his alter ego?

Or, in the alternative, did people of the time say, "Oh, 'William Shakespeare' is just the pen name of Edward de Vere" [or Marlowe, if you'd prefer]? If so, why did de Vere publish (and continue publishing) pseudonymously?

Also, I'm perfectly willing to believe that there are some Shakespearians whose livelihoods are so tied up in the man from Stratford being the author that they're blinded to other views (and perhaps even willing to try to suppress them). But most Shakespeare scholars make their living by explicating the plays themselves, and would hardly be put out of work if it turned out that they had been written by someone else. To the contrary, if that evidence was persuasive, think of how much fruitful new scholarship could be published if it turned out that de Vere was really the author? If anything, I'd think that there would be at least a sizeable subset of Shakespeare scholars who would have a strong incentive to believe the antistratfordian theory if it were supported by sufficient evidence. After all, compare how much new there is to say about Shakespeare right now, with how much new there would be to say if it turned out that de Vere was the author.

At any rate, I'd be grateful if someone could help me understand what the antistratfordian theory says about who Shakespeare's contemporaries thought the author of the plays was.
4.19.2009 10:54am
Randy R. (mail):
Roguestage: "They never explain how an aristocrat like de Vere would have learned about the raucous, syphilitic commoners like those running throughout Shakespeare's plays. "

Nor does anyone explain how the son of a simple glove maker learned about the manners of the aristocrats. But of course, the answer to both is quite simple -- Elizabethen London was a pretty small place. Most everyone knew each other, or could know each other. The aristocrats brushed shoulders more often with the commoners that we suppose (and much more so than today). Heck, they all had servants, and there is no question that one of the delights of the day was observing the customs of the other classes.

"for over 200 years, nobody questioned that Shakespeare was the author of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets."

So what? For thousands of years, no one questioned that the sun revolves around the earth, the age of the earth, or the all species were formed in the Garden of Eden. For a long time, certain paintings were ascribed to Rembrandt that modern scholarship now says that were not pained by him, but rather his students under his supervision. All scholars have a duty to question old assumptions and examine the evidence that underlies those assumptions. The fact that no one bothered to do so for 200 years isn't in itself evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays, but neither is it evidence that he did. Point of fact: A painting was just discovered that many scholars is a true painting of Shakespeare. yet for about 400 years, no one questioned whether it was just an anonymous subject. According to your theory, we should reject this painting as one of Shakespeare because no one questioned it for so long.

I take no sides in this argument, but I certainly do encourage more scholarly research into the question. There is a woeful lack of evidence to support the contention that Shakespeare wrote the plays, but lack of evidence is NOT evidence that he did not write them. Therefore, more study should be made to find evidence that he wrote them, or someone else. Mere speculation is a good start, but it isn't enough to settle the question.

Any good history buff or antiques expert will tell you that there are no absolute answers. instead, they will tell you that the evidence supports the view that your clock was made in the late 19th century in the Boston area, but would never say conclusively that it was. Forgeries exist, sometimes pieces are 'married', sometimes honest mistakes happen.

The evidence so far is that there is a presumption that Shakespeare wrote the plays because his name is on them, but there is very little else to support that presumption (Some, but not a lot). There is some evidence to support that someone else wrote them. (Some, but not a lot). Therefore, I cannot understand why anyone would object to further study on this matter.
4.19.2009 1:48pm
Randy R. (mail):
Roguestage: "They never explain how an aristocrat like de Vere would have learned about the raucous, syphilitic commoners like those running throughout Shakespeare's plays. "

Nor does anyone explain how the son of a simple glove maker learned about the manners of the aristocrats. But of course, the answer to both is quite simple — Elizabethen London was a pretty small place. Most everyone knew each other, or could know each other. The aristocrats brushed shoulders more often with the commoners that we suppose (and much more so than today). Heck, they all had servants, and there is no question that one of the delights of the day was observing the customs of the other classes.

"for over 200 years, nobody questioned that Shakespeare was the author of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets."

So what? For thousands of years, no one questioned that the sun revolves around the earth, the age of the earth, or the all species were formed in the Garden of Eden. For a long time, certain paintings were ascribed to Rembrandt that modern scholarship now says that were not pained by him, but rather his students under his supervision. All scholars have a duty to question old assumptions and examine the evidence that underlies those assumptions. The fact that no one bothered to do so for 200 years isn't in itself evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays, but neither is it evidence that he did. Point of fact: A painting was just discovered that many scholars is a true painting of Shakespeare. yet for about 400 years, no one questioned whether it was just an anonymous subject. According to your theory, we should reject this painting as one of Shakespeare because no one questioned it for so long.

I take no sides in this argument, but I certainly do encourage more scholarly research into the question. There is a woeful lack of evidence to support the contention that Shakespeare wrote the plays, but lack of evidence is NOT evidence that he did not write them. Therefore, more study should be made to find evidence that he wrote them, or someone else. Mere speculation is a good start, but it isn't enough to settle the question.

Any good history buff or antiques expert will tell you that there are no absolute answers. instead, they will tell you that the evidence supports the view that your clock was made in the late 19th century in the Boston area, but would never say conclusively that it was. Forgeries exist, sometimes pieces are 'married', sometimes honest mistakes happen.

The evidence so far is that there is a presumption that Shakespeare wrote the plays because his name is on them, but there is very little else to support that presumption (Some, but not a lot). There is some evidence to support that someone else wrote them. (Some, but not a lot). Therefore, I cannot understand why anyone would object to further study on this matter.
4.19.2009 1:48pm
Anonymous Hoosier:
One of the more surprising parts of Justice Stevens' argument I don't understand is this:

In a visit to Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, Justice Stevens observed that the purported playwright left no books, nor letters or other records of a literary presence.

"Where are the books? You can't be a scholar of that depth and not have any books in your home," Justice Stevens says.
Whatever the merits of the broader critique that the non-Stratfordians are doing so from an "aristocratic" viewpoint, this conclusion by Justice Stevens seems, if not aristocratic, at least divorced from the proper, historical viewpoint. First, if he really means Shakespeare's birthplace, where I believe Shakespeare grew up but didn't spend most of his adult life, there doesn't seem to be a lot of connection between the presence of books there and whether Shakespeare actually owned books. After all, my birthplace doesn't contain any of my books today, and it's only been decades, not centuries, since I lived there.

Of course, Stratford-upon-Avon has other Shakespeare houses, such as New Place, where he did live as an adult. My understanding of all of these houses, however, is that the ownership passed at least a few times after Shakespeare's death, and that the houses have been restored and that most, if not all, of the furnishings today are "typical of the period," not actually those belonging to Shakespeare. Nor were these turned into museums within a short time after Shakespeare's passing -- instead, they were lived in, with who knows what consequences for the contents.

Yes, the libraries and possessions of some historical figures from that era have been handed down intact to the present. But that's hardly universal, or even typical. As an illustration, the original books from the Harvard Library (which boasts the advantage of institutional continuity and was established with a few hundred books from the institution's namesake several decades after Shakespeare's death) are gone, burned in a fire. Heck, we don't even have the original collection of the Library of Congress, and that was established just two hundred years ago (and change). Admittedly, we know when those collections were destroyed, but a research library and an individual library are pretty different. I think Kabala's chronicle of Marlowe, above, would be typical for a lot of major figures of the era.

To suggest that Shakespeare cannot have been scholarly because his house doesn't contain books casts doubt on the seriousness of Stevens' entire analysis.
4.19.2009 3:05pm
Mayken (mail):
@mariner Don't make any assumptions about what I have and haven't studied. I have this piece of paper testifying to many years playing in the literary sandbox and I enjoyed it enough that I still dabble in it from time to time although admittedly I don't live my life in that world anymore. The eternal debates about Shakespeare took up quite a bit of my time, more than I would have liked at times - his plays and sonnets are fabulous but I'm a Kit Marlow woman myself.
Twain's book is of course smartly written - it's Twain after all - but being a good writer and being able to summon interesting arguments is not the same as being right.
This is hardly the forum for a fully fledged pro/con argument about Stratford/Oxford/Bacon/Marlow for the authorship. However I feel it is pretty telling that prior to the crazy American spinster (who may or may not have been related to Francis Bacon) wrote her unreadable and un-researched fantasy work, no one, even contemporaries or near-contemporaries of the Stratford man, ever questioned the authorship of the plays. And I have yet to see a cogent argument that doesn't have nearly as many holes as does our actual knowledge of the Stratford man's life in it.
In actual fact, I leave open the possibility it was some other person - or persons more likely - but I'm not convinced of any one name so-far raised. Till such time I'm content to think of William Shakespeare as the true author.
And now I am off to read some Tamburlaine because that's just how I roll.
4.19.2009 3:28pm
Randy R. (mail):
" no one, even contemporaries or near-contemporaries of the Stratford man, ever questioned the authorship of the plays."

That's probably because none of his plays were ever published until several years after his death. Therefore, there was nothing to question.

" And I have yet to see a cogent argument that doesn't have nearly as many holes as does our actual knowledge of the Stratford man's life in it."

Agreed. Which is why more study is needed, not less.

I just saw a History channel discussion on the legend of King Arthur. For centuries, many people believed he was real, and this wasn't questionned. Therefore, according to many commentators here, that settles it -- Arthur was a real king.

However, most people who are serious realize that there is a distinct possbiility that ARthur is entirely legend (ie., fictitious) or a composite of several real people, which a great deal of myth created to fill in the blanks. One theory is that a 5th century roman named Ambrosius was the basis for part of the myth. "Arthur" many not be a name at all, but a title, according to linguists. And so on.

The point is this: There is a legend of Arthur, which is very real. How did that get strated? Who developed it? Why:?
Then there is the historical figure of Arthur. Did he exist? Who was he? What are his accomplishments, if any? Did he do any of the things attributed to him?

These are two entirely separate issues. Whether a real Arthur existed doesn't impact much at all upon the legend of Arthur, and vice versa. Still, it's tantalizing to research this further for real answers.

Same with Shakespeare. There are the plays and the poems. They are very real, and we are grateful to have them. Who wrote them is of little consequence. Whether it is proved that Shakespeare wrote them, or De Vere or someone else will have little impact upon our enjoyment and study of the canons. Therefore, no one should feel threatened by this inquiry, even if the inquiry comes from a crazy lady with ties to Bacon.
4.19.2009 3:57pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Randy R. writes that the reason that no one "ever questioned the authorship of the plays" is "probably because none of his plays were ever published until several years after his death". Where does this ridiculous idea come from?

A minute and a half leafing through Dobson and Wells' Oxford Companion to Shakespeare was enough to refute it. On pages 362-3 are very clear reproductions of the title pages of the 1st and 2nd Quarto of Hamlet, dated 1603 and 1604. Both begin "The / Tragicall Historie of / Hamlet, / Prince of Denmark, / By William Shakespeare". Shakespeare died in 1616. Without even bothering to check any of the other plays, I think we can say that at least one of the plays commonly attributed to him was in fact published (at least twice!) during his lifetime with his name on the title page.

As for the ridiculous argument (not necessarily Randy R's) that someone as ill-educated and (relatively) low-class as Shakespeare couldn't have written such plays, that can be easily refuted with a modern counterexample, which I take from a lecture I heard last Wednesday at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, by the director, Ralph Alan Cohen. In my words (not his): Tom Stoppard's numerous plays are linguistically complex and demonstrate an astonishingly wide and (so far as most of us can tell) deep knowledge of history, philosophy, literature, and culture generally. The man must obviously have several advanced degrees. In fact, he never went to college and never even graduated from high school. It may be rare, but it is not unheard of for a self-taught man to know more than the professors and aristocrats even about subjects where they start with an advantage.
4.19.2009 4:48pm
Mayken (mail):
@Dr. Weevil thanks for that. We also know there were playbill circulated with Shakespeare listed as the author, at least for many of his most popular works. I would also point out that his contemporaries didn't think there was anything unlikely about him being the author because there was nothing remarkable about of man of his origins having education and reading enough to be able to write them.
@Randy R I already said I have no issue with the idea that they might very well have been written by another or others but there is no sufficiently compelling reason at this time for me to change my mind. More study is just fine and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that more study will unearth evidence one way or another. But the Stratford man is still my bet given that the simplest explanation is the most likely - that the man advertised at the time and believed for centuries after to be the author of the plays of Shakespeare really was.
Also, by the way, the crazy lady with supposed ties to Bacon didn't make any actual literary or scientific inquiries - as best we can tell she went to England and communed with the spirit of Bacon before writing her so-called book. So you'll have to forgive me if I don't take her terribly seriously.
4.19.2009 5:58pm
James Kabala (mail):
Anon321: I think some Baconians and Oxfordians of the past did argue that Shakespeare was a front man or go-between for Oxford (sort of like the tongue-in-cheek Sherlockian theories that Arthur Conan Doyle was Dr. Watson's "literary agent"), but that seems to be out of vogue these days. In fact, I believe some deny that Shakespeare was even an actor! So in short, that is a hole in their theories.

"That's probably because none of his plays were ever published until several years after his death."

In fact, eighteen of Shakespeare's plays were published during his lifetime, although not always with his name on them. In 1598, one Francis Meres mentioned numerous plays by name (most of those written up to that time) and praised Shakespeare effusively as their author.

"Kabala's chronicle of Marlowe"

I didn't write it; I merely cut-and-pasted it.
4.19.2009 8:12pm
Randy R. (mail):
"In fact, eighteen of Shakespeare's plays were published during his lifetime, although not always with his name on them."

I stand corrected.

And yes, of course, usually the simplest explanation is best, but not always. The simplest explanation for our solar system is that the sun revolves around the earth, but it is clearly not the best.
4.19.2009 10:47pm
RichC:
Actually, the sun revolving around the earth is hardly the "simplest". Witness the ever-multiplying epicycles that astronomers of the past had to keep adding to the theory to get planetary motions to conform to actual observations.
4.19.2009 11:43pm
Roguestage:
Randy R.:


Nor does anyone explain how the son of a simple glove maker learned about the manners of the aristocrats. But of course, the answer to both is quite simple -- Elizabethen London was a pretty small place. Most everyone knew each other, or could know each other. The aristocrats brushed shoulders more often with the commoners that we suppose (and much more so than today). Heck, they all had servants, and there is no question that one of the delights of the day was observing the customs of the other classes.


Actually, we do know how the son of a simple glove maker learned about the manners of the aristocrats. The most popular books in London at the time (from sales records of bookstores) were 'how-to' books: how to bow, how to dance, how to display courtly manners, etc. This was important at a time when it was possible to buy yourself social rank (as Shakespeare did) and wanted to look like you knew what to do with it.

"for over 200 years, nobody questioned that Shakespeare was the author of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets."

So what? For thousands of years, no one questioned that the sun revolves around the earth, the age of the earth, or the all species were formed in the Garden of Eden. For a long time, certain paintings were ascribed to Rembrandt that modern scholarship now says that were not pained by him, but rather his students under his supervision. All scholars have a duty to question old assumptions and examine the evidence that underlies those assumptions. The fact that no one bothered to do so for 200 years isn't in itself evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays, but neither is it evidence that he did.


None of those examples are anything remotely like the authorship of a play. The 'age of the earth' was something made up out of whole cloth, just like the Garden of Eden and the rest of the Bible. People's belief in it was totally unrelated to any actual experience.

But William Shakespeare lived in London for decades and was known during his life as everything from 'an upstart crow' to the greatest playwright of his age. The 'anti-Stratfordians' are essentially saying that his career of just over 25 years in public life was all an elaborate ruse that had everybody hoodwinked. And yet the men who worked with him - actors, theatre owners, patrons - never even hinted at another author, in an age where there was neither shame in authorship nor scholarship necessary for it.

I believe firmly in questioning old assumptions - when there is a reason to question them, such as the increasingly elaborate machinations needed to square astronomical observations with the idea that the heavens revolved around the sun. I see no such reason here.

Besides, all this aside, the play's the thing. I'll still go to see a good production of Henry V no matter who wrote it.
4.20.2009 12:21am
Brent Peterson:
This discussion should not pass without a mention of Professor Von Nostrand. It was his contention that Shakespeare was really an impostor.
4.20.2009 1:40am
Eduardo S:
Hmmm, no mention of Mary Sidney yet? There is some intriguing and (to me) convincing evidence documented in Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? by Robin P. Williams.
4.20.2009 8:19am
Commodore:
@Brent:

Awesome.
4.20.2009 9:40am
Curious Passerby (mail):
That's probably because none of his plays were ever published until several years after his death. Therefore, there was nothing to question.

"In fact, eighteen of Shakespeare's plays were published during his lifetime, although not always with his name on them."

I stand corrected.



This is one problem with reading comments. Someone writes something completely false, sounding like it's absolutely true, without even saying "I believe..." and if anyone leaves at that point they this it must be true, but then a few hours later he's called on it and admits it's absolutely a lie.

So many times comments contain absolute falsehoods.
4.20.2009 12:20pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
This almost seems like it should be straight from The Onion....
4.21.2009 11:53pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
I think the basic issue is that the idea that SOME of Shakespeare's works could have been authored by others doesn't strike me as entirely undermining the idea the idea that he was the greatest playwright of his age. If he only wrote a fraction of what is attributed to him, he would still be one of the most prolific writers of his time, or even of any time prior to the advent of the typewriter.

Unfortunately this sort of study is extremely technical, requires access to original manuscripts, and a sort of analysis of textual construction based on those manuscripts that is well beyond my capabilities. My own amateur philology tends to be based on formulaic structures and focused on traditions beyond single authorship. There are others who specialize in the methods typically used in this sort of thing.

All in all, it wouldn't surprise me of some individuals were able to pass work to Shakespeare as a way of getting works performed or published which otherwise would have never made it. However, such a hypothesis would suggest Shakespeare's success would predate such things and also that his success was his own.

Once again this is just meaningless speculation on my part. really, these sorts of questions require careful and close readings of manuscripts and analytical techniques well beyond my capabilities, so I have no informed opinion as to the actual authorship.
4.22.2009 12:04am

Post as: [Register] [Log In]

Account:
Password:
Remember info?

If you have a comment about spelling, typos, or format errors, please e-mail the poster directly rather than posting a comment.

Comment Policy: We reserve the right to edit or delete comments, and in extreme cases to ban commenters, at our discretion. Comments must be relevant and civil (and, especially, free of name-calling). We think of comment threads like dinner parties at our homes. If you make the party unpleasant for us or for others, we'd rather you went elsewhere. We're happy to see a wide range of viewpoints, but we want all of them to be expressed as politely as possible.

We realize that such a comment policy can never be evenly enforced, because we can't possibly monitor every comment equally well. Hundreds of comments are posted every day here, and we don't read them all. Those we read, we read with different degrees of attention, and in different moods. We try to be fair, but we make no promises.

And remember, it's a big Internet. If you think we were mistaken in removing your post (or, in extreme cases, in removing you) -- or if you prefer a more free-for-all approach -- there are surely plenty of ways you can still get your views out.