It’s Midsummer’s night tonight, the longest night of the year, so more daylight than usual for champions of Edward de Vere, 17thEarl of Oxford, or Francis Bacon, 1stViscount St. Alban, to browbeat you into finally accepting that William Shakespeare did not, in fact, write A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Or Hamlet, or the Scottish Play, or King Lear… the list goes on.
Apparently it is just not credible that someone who didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge, preceded by attendance at a public school—which, as we know, is the English name for what is really a private school—could possibly have written the enduring works ascribed to the humble, unknowable Bard of Stratford upon Avon. Therefore, so the theory goes, all the sonnets, and the plays performed at the Globe Theatre must have been written by a toff with a title.
When you get fed up with the Kennedy assassination, the faked moon landings, or the US government’s 9/11 conspiracy, you should give this one a try.
Shakespeare deniers, or skeptics, have included Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and the actors Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi. There are organisations out there which cater to the doubters, like the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition—which, who knows, may end up running candidates for the European Parliament. There are also dozens of websites where you can be burned at the stake for Shakespearean heresy. These include DoubtAboutWill.org, where you can even sign a petition, the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt about the Identity of William Shakespeare.
Edward de Vere – Earl of Oxford
Like many of these arcane topics the level of abuse being hurled between the competing parties approaches a 7.5 on the Richter scale. As always, levels of academic vituperation are at their highest when there is absolutely nothing at stake. While most scientists agree on a vital issue like climate change, they will tear out someone’s liver and eat it in front of their children when it comes to a topic like the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. To the engaged the world is divided into Stratfordians (who believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s works), Oxfordians, who champion de Vere, Baconians and Marlovians – we’ll come back to them later.
The entire Shakes-sphere seems to have begun midway through the 19thcentury with a man called Schmucker—yes, as in the superlative of ‘schmuck’—who got fed up with people denying the existence of Christ, and in a satiric thrust decided to call the authorship of Shakespeare’s work into question. He intended it as a joke. He’s probably the last person to have approached the subject with any trace of a sense of humour.
Take the case for Francis Bacon, which was initially made by someone called … Delia Bacon. Well, she would wouldn’t she? Actually, they weren’t related. Bacon is an über toff in that he was a philosopher, a viscount, and served as English Lord Chancellor, so, far better qualified to be a famous playwright than a working-class lad from Stratford about whom no one knows very much, except that he might have been a decent writer.
Delia Bacon was described recently by a Stratfordian on the doubtaboutwill.org website as having ‘come to believe she was the Holy Ghost and died in a lunatic asylum’. Nice!
The candidacy of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was first advanced in the 1920s by a man named J.T.Looney. I’ll pause there for a second or two in order to allow that one to sink in. Freud is also a supporter of de Vere’s cause but I absolutely refuse to sink to the level of the normal Stratfordian-Oxfordian debate by pointing out that Freud would have had a natural affiliation to someone called Looney. Incidentally, although JT’s name is spelled L-O-O-N-E-Y, he pronounced it ‘Loney’. Once again, it must be said, well he would, wouldn’t he?
Then there’s the cabal that believes the plays were written by Christopher Marlowe, author of Tamburlaine and The Jew of Malta. Marlowe was a contemporary of … I’m even scared to mention his name now. He died in a barroom brawl in 1593. Now if you’re good on dates you’ll spot the major flaw in the Marlovian theory, as in the fact that Shakespeare’s plays continued to appear until 1614. No problem to the Marlovians! Marlowe, they theorise, had fallen foul of the authorities and found it necessary to fake his own death.
So, did the Earl of Oxford or Francis Bacon, or Christopher Marlowe, or a costermonger named Kevin, write the plays and sonnets ascribed to one William Shakespeare, well, you might say that, I couldn’t possibly comment, because some of the more enthusiastic controversialists might find out where I live. You decide whether or not it’s fake history.