The Magazine

No Mystery Here

Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays

Aug 23, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 46 • By JOHN SIMON
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But why doubt the power of a genius’s imagination, or that a mere glover’s son from Stratford could have been a genius? Let me cite the case of the humbly born Karl May (1842-1912), a popular German novelist who wrote 65 volumes’ worth of dazzling adventure novels compellingly set in America’s Far West, the Middle East, and elsewhere, without ever leaving Germany. 

• Fourth, an English aristocrat who had all that court knowledge wouldn’t demean himself by picking an actor as his surrogate. Yet most of the proposed claimants were high-level noblemen, with Oxford, who, under his own name, wrote some tolerable verse and prose, by far the likeliest. But what about his dying in 1604, after which date most of Shakespeare’s greatest plays were written? The Oxfordians argued that he wrote these plays earlier, to be parceled out after his death. Then what of the manifest allusions to post-1604 events? Was Edward de Vere also a prophet?

• Fifth, why would a great playwright retire relatively early to Stratford, stop writing, and become a grain merchant and moneylender? We now know that he still collaborated with other playwrights and, as for being a grain merchant, Shapiro asks, “What man or woman from the middling classes in Stratford wasn’t?”

• Sixth, poor spelling. Shakespeare even spelled his own name in different ways. But spelling was idiosyncratic at the time; so the Earl of Oxford, for example, spelled “halfpenny” 11 different ways. And because in italic font a “k” followed by a long “s” would cause a collision that would make the font snap, the easiest solution was to insert an “e” or a hyphen or both, turning Shakspeare into Shakespeare or Shake-speare.

But the comedy of it! In 1946 Percy Allen proposed to solve the authorship mystery “by psychic means.” With the mediation of the renowned clairvoyant Hester Dowden, daughter of the Shakespeare biographer Edward Dowden, Allen, president of the Shakespeare Fellowship, had hilarious conversations with Bacon, Oxford, and Shakespeare himself, although receiving different answers from those obtained by earlier seekers through other psychics. No less laughable were the mock trials of Shakespeare conducted by three Supreme Court justices in America and judicial eminences in Britain. In both countries, Shakespeare won the verdict, but the mere evoking of possible conspiracies, and conceding Oxford to be the least unlikely of other contenders, helped the Oxfordians’ cause. These were the times of conspiracy theories concerning the Kennedy assassination and other tragic events, and of 80 percent of Americans believing “the government is hiding knowledge of the existence of extraterrestrial life forms.”

Much earlier, already, the skepticism of the Oxfordians was boosted by the existence of a single authorial Homer having been disproved, and by David Friedrich Strauss’s influential Life of Jesus (1835), which powerfully disputed the divinity of Christ. Then why not dispute Shakespeare’s authorship for all its supposed sanctity? This was the sort of thing that encouraged the founder of Oxfordism, John Thomas Looney. Mocked for his name, even if he pronounced it to rhyme with “pony” (a jest Shapiro avoids), the author writes with fine irony of Looney: “His logic is unassailable—but only if you believe that great authors don’t write for money and that the [Shakespeare] plays are transparently autobiographical.”

Yet despite knockout blows by Shapiro and a slew of distinguished scholars, Oxfordism lingers with proponents such as Joseph Sobran, Lewis Lapham, and Justice Antonin Scalia. Most egregiously, in recent years, William Niederkorn, in the pages of the New York Times, propagandized for Oxford, stooping to such allegations as that the Supreme Court justices had changed their opinions, and now all found for Oxford, and that Oxfordism was being “taught in more universities and colleges than we can begin to imagine.”

The last section of Contested Will provides mighty proofs for Shakespeare’s authorship. One such is that a nobleman such as the Earl of Oxford, alleged by some to have also been Queen Elizabeth’s lover, had additional reasons for concealing his authorship. If so, anything about such a scandal-prone figure would have been ferreted out and maliciously publicized. 

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