Fake Histories #25   Did Oxford, Bacon or Shakespeare write the works of Shakespeare?



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.


Francis Bacon





On This Day – 3 November 1831 Birth of Ignatius Donnelly



Talking about the Aryan race was actively discouraged until recently. Then we discovered the so-called ‘alt.right’. It could become unpopular all over again if the ideas of Ignatius Donnelly are correct. His theory was that Aryans were from the lost island of Atlantis, and that their red-haired blue eyed descendants were Irish. So, eat shamrock Breitbart.com!

Ignatius Loyola Donnelly was born to an Irish father, and Irish-American mother, in Philadelphia in 1831. He became a lawyer in his twenties, but devoted most of his life to politic,s and to what would today be described as ‘pseudo-science’ but which, in the nineteenth century, had a significant constituency.

Donnelly was something of a utopian socialist. In the 1850s he co-founded a commune in Minnesota which went spectacularly bust after one of the cyclical financial downturns of nineteenth century America. This was the ‘panic of 1857’ – son of the ‘panic of 1837’ and father of the ‘panic of 1873’.  You could almost set your alarm clock by them.

After that Donnelly, who had acquired something of a reputation for financial impropriety, entered politics, the last refuge of the scoundrel. He was a Congressman for the Minnesota Second District from 1863-69, an advocate of female suffrage, and a radical champion of freed slaves. So, not that much of a scoundrel after all. We’ll come back to the politics later.

But he was also celebrated, in the late nineteenth century for his writing, especially his explorations of the legend of the lost city of Atlantis in his book Atlantis: the antediluvian world. He had an intense Platonic relationship with his subject, as in, he took as gospel everything the Greek philosopher Plato had written about the place. Atlantis wasn’t a fable to Donnelly or Plato, it was real.  It was where man first rose from barbarism to civilisation. It was destroyed by a natural disaster that gave rise to the biblical stories of the Flood. There’s a lot more besides. It’s all very ‘New Agey’, and led to Donnelly being dubbed by some ‘The Prince of Cranks’. In a subsequent work he speculated that the cataclysmic event that had destroyed Atlantis had been caused by a meteor strike. While his work may have been wacky and alternative it sold very well.

Donnelly also had a bee in his bonnet about William Shakespeare. He was one of many who tried to debunk the notion that the plays ascribed to Shakespeare, had actually been written by the humble thespian from Stratford upon Avon. His theory was that they were actually the work of Francis Bacon, the seventeenth century English philosopher. He theorised that Bacon had inserted a code in the works of Shakespeare, which only clever people like Ignatius Donnelly were capable of deciphering. The ‘Bacon as Shakespeare’ theory had a lot of enthusiastic adherents at the time.  It still does today.

In 1891 Donnelly wrote a dystopian science fiction novel which predicted the invention of radio, TV, the internet and poison gas. Caesar’s Column is set in 1988, in an America ruled by a ruthless financial oligarchy. So, well off the mark there! The book is about an insurrection against capitalism.

Politically, Donnelly moved leftwards as he got older, from the anti-slavery Republican party of the Civil War, to the People’s Party of the 1890s. The latter was a coalition of mid-western agricultural and labour interests which sought an eight-hour working day, the abandonment of the gold standard, and the reining-in of the massively wealthy and predatory railway interests. Donnelly was responsible for much of the formulation of the political platform of this short-lived ‘third’ party.

In 1900, a few months before his death, he was nominated as the Vice Presidential candidate for the People’s Party in that year’s general election.

Ignatius Loyola Donnelly, who, despite being called after the founder of the Jesuit Order renounced his Irish Catholicism early in his life, was born one hundred and eighty six years ago, on this day.