The Shakespeare Controversy

01v/11/arve/G2582/016Perhaps many of you will have heard that there is a sort of controversy over Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays. I shouldn’t really describe it as a controversy because it isn’t, or it shouldn’t be; a controversy exists when there is some doubt about one side of an argument, when there are two sides to an argument and no matter how tenuous one side is, there is some substance to it. Over eighty alternative authors have been put forward for alternative authorship; they have one thing in common: there is not a scrap of evidence for any of them.

This is a subject that, since I became aware of it, has made me quite angry. I have tried to ignore it, but it always creeps back; you see even the ‘Does it matter’ arguments are annoying. Of course it matters. I shall try, briefly, to explain.

Apparently, doubt as to the authorship of his works began in the mid-nineteenth century, well over 200 years after his death. Friends and colleagues of his time had no doubt about his identity; they worked and socialised with him; Ben Johnson said of him that he

‘never blotted a line, would that he had blotted a thousand’.

It seems to have taken rather a long time for people to question his identity. A paucity of evidence from his life has helped, giving doubters ammunition to invent and speculate, but despite the paucity there is ample evidence that he was the author of the works. It takes a rather strange mind to doubt it. Unfortunately, especially now, there are plenty of strange minds around. And, I repeat (it can’t be repeated too often), there is not a scrap of evidence for anyone else having written his works. None whatsoever.

This poses the question as to why there are doubters. If we discount those always keen on any conspiracy theories and those with a vested interests (often lawyers), we are left with a relatively small bunch who simply refuse to believe that Shakespeare wrote his own plays. This is important; it is not that they truly believe any alternative, although they profess to do so, it is that they merely refuse to believe the truth. There is a reason for this: it is called snobbery.

The most popular fantasy today is that the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays, supposedly because only an aristocrat could have known so much about court behaviour, Italian history and poetry. As Bill Bryson has observed, this does make it rather difficult for him to have written Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest and many others, on account of being dead. But his champions merely point out that there was a conspiracy and evidence was falsified to protect Oxford’s identity. Why it needed to be protected or why it has taken nearly 400 years to discover this, does not seem to concern them. The Oxfordians have some quite well-known followers, Jeremy Irons, Vanessa Redgrave, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance among them.

The fact that there is any controversy at all is extremely irritating, indeed US writer James Shapiro felt the need to write a recent book, Contested Will, to try and end the argument once and for all. It would have been much better had he used his time more productively – he is a marvellous writer on Shakespeare generally – but felt compelled to write on this topic when an 8 year old in his class expressed doubts as to the authorship (the debate, of course, is quite popular in America). I’m afraid that, having reached America and the lawyers and the film makers, even Shapiro’s excellent book will not make the doubters disappear. Although very much a minority, they are vociferous and probably growing. A film with Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi has already been made. Thankfully, it was awful.

But back to snobbery. Shakespeare has been described as looking like a ‘self-satisfied pork butcher’; he liked money; he hoarded grain; he lent money; he bought a coat of arms and a new house (called New Place) in Stratford. He was far from both the aristocracy and the poor, grammar school educated (a classical education) and with a father on the wrong side of the law. All this is too much for those who need him to be a bit more refined, a bit more superior, a bit more above everybody else. Pork butcher? Money lending? Hoarding grain? A criminal father? No, we can’t have that.

This is where the snobbery comes in. The likes of Irons, Jacobi and Redgrave need to have the author of such wonderful works as somebody a little better than them. Having never struggled to pay a bill, never struggled with anything really, they can’t accept that an ordinary boy from Stratford could be so much smarter than they are, be so wiser than they are – be so utterly brilliant. So they have to believe that it was really an aristocrat who wrote the plays; lacking any evidence for anybody, other than an aristocrat who happened to be dead when many of the plays were written, they cling desperately to an illusion. What awful, silly people they must be.

masks-001Shakespeare was so brilliant, so good, partly because he wasn’t a member of the aristocracy, wasn’t tainted by privilege and received ideas.  He hadn’t been brainwashed by a university education. He was real and he knew people. He lived among them in London, he visited pubs and brothels; he knew and understood life. He is one of us, one of the people – he is ours. That is what the likes of Jacobi cannot abide. They have to try and raise Shakespeare above us. They simply cannot stand the fact that he was an ordinary person and, more importantly, that ordinary people are capable of being Shakespeare – that there may be another Shakespeare out there among the masses. They would have to admit that it was possible, that there is more possibility among the masses than their privileged upbringing and lack of brainpower allows.

That is also why the question of authorship matters, that the greatest writer of all time was ordinary is very important. It should give inspiration to everybody. Allow these idiots to give the credit to an aristocrat and you rob the whole world of the possibility of great achievement. It matters.

I don’t have much space to go into the question of proof for Shakespeare’s authorship, I shouldn’t need to, but feel it necessary to mention a couple of things. The forest is a recurring theme in his plays. I quote from Peter Ackroyd’s biography:

“To the north of Stratford lay the Forest of Arden. When Touchstone enters the woods in As You Like It, he declares ‘I, now I am in Arden, the more foole I’. Shakespeare’s mother was Mary Arden.  Anne Hathaway lived on the outskirts of the forest.  His consciousness of the area was close and intense. The evidence of Shakespeare’s work provides evidence that he was neither born nor raised in the city. He doesn’t have the harshness of John Milton, born in Bread Street, nor the hardness of Ben Jonson, educated at Westminster School; the sharpness of Alexander Pope from the City or the obsessiveness of William Blake from Soho. He is of the country.”

On the question of snobbery I quote from an interview with Bill Bryson about his excellent short biography of Shakespeare:

Interviewer: Is it snobbery? He was a relatively ordinary man from a relatively ordinary background and they want him to be an aristocrat or somebody sort of special.

Bryson: That is really quite insulting to ordinary people. The idea that you could come from a modest background and that somehow that would disqualify you from being William Shakespeare is really a very demeaning thought. There’s no evidence for it. There never has been any evidence for it.

Oxfordians cannot explain Shakespeare’s knowledge of the country and its people. His knowledge of the cities came from living with them, his knowledge of Roman history from Plutarch. He was mainly an adaptor, he took other works and improved them. He wrote what are still some of the best parts for women, 400 years before feminism. He understood both men and women. He was modest; I’m sure he would be baffled by all the fuss about him today, although I’m sure he would take advantage of it.

Academics are generally very polite. In all the works stating (again) that the man from Stratford wrote the plays, they are very kind to the likes of Irons, Redgrave and Jacobi. They shouldn’t be; these people are a menace. They are snobs and idiots, too stupid to realise the damage they are causing. I suppose the best thing now would be to ignore them. I try to, but unfortunately they keep cropping up on television. It’s hard to see a solution.

To the Tower with them?

tol-001

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47 thoughts on “The Shakespeare Controversy

  1. Ben JOHNSON? Any idea why the dedication to the first folio is to the in-laws of Edward de Vere? Any idea why the sonnets published in 1609 have no dedication by the “ever-living poet”? Maybe because the poet was dead in 1609? In short, you should read up on the 17th Earl of Oxford before passing judgment on this fascinating mystery. And also, in your spare time, read what Walt Whitman said about Shakespeare.

      • Mr. Hilton, you confuse the sentence “I am ignorant of the evidence which exists” with “there is NO evidence.” The caps tell the story here. You are as ignorant as sin on this topic.

      • Chris Hilton— Mr. psi is quite correct, you show yourself to be as ignorant as sin on this topic.

        This is nothing to be ashamed of, everyone is ignorant on a subject until they have studied it, or learned from personal experience. Even if you claim to be a genius, you will need to study a little bit before you can be anything more than ignorant.

    • Edward, good point about de Veres in-laws and the folio. I notice that Mr. Hilton completely ignored it in his response. He also failed to understand your point that he is calling Walt Whitman a class snob. That’s quite a performance I would say. If he tries a little harder Mr. Hilton may win some sort of medal from the Birthplace Trust. Or he could decide to admit that maybe he is mistaken and that its a bad idea to go around calling Walt Whitman, Sigmund Freud, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and Sir Derek Jacobi “snobs.”

  2. Before leaping onto the web with your critique of the theory that the 17th Earl of Oxford was the most likely author of the works attributed to Shakespeare, you might want to learn something about the Earl of Oxford. I would recommend “The Mysterious William Shakespeare” by Charlton Ogburn Jr. I don’t mind anyone debunking anything previously held to be true, but you have to use some facts and develop a cogent argument, if you expect to win some points in the authorship debate. Irons, Redgrave and Jacobi are not menaces, neither are they snobs and idiots. They have looked into the issue and made their opinions known. You haven’t looked into the issue very deeply. I suggest you start, if you are genuinely interested in the works we think of as the best of the Elizabethan age.

    • People invent all sorts of things to believe what they want to believe. There is no evidence for Oxford or anybody else. I merely summarised the situation in the few words allowed for a blog (Quite will, I thought). I didn’t leap onto the web. I have done more than enough research. Shakespeare was the pork butcher/money lender/whore monger from Stratford.

      • A clever person will occasionally get away with some egregious error. This is not a luxury you have.

      • I love it when people are unintentionally funny. Chris Hilton~Writer says he has done his job “quite Will, I thought.” That about says it all.

        And when he he starts off with, “People invent all sorts of things to believe what they want to believe,” it is obvious he has not looked inward.

      • Is that an ironic double ‘he’ in your criticism of Mr Hilton’s typo Mr deVereGuy?

        “And when he he starts off with…”

        Enlightened and funny. Excellent.

      • Thank you Wayne. I said I love unintentional humor and that includes my own mistakes. I’m glad you spotted this–it is rather funny.

        (P.S.– I was’t criticizing Mr. Hilton’s typo, I was celebrating it.)

      • Dude, you’ve said that at least three times now. Repeating it does not make it true. Why does that confuse you? Google is your friend. You don’t even need to go to a library.

        Here is a link for your readers, should you have any with minds that are not closed like a steel trap door as yours manifestly is:

        http://www.shakespearefellowship.org/

        When you can offer an intelligent critique of the abundant evidence available on this site (among others) then you will be worth having a conversation with. Until then, good look with the insults.

  3. The author has managed to politicize a literary/historical question in the most buffoonish way possible. Congratulations. This is a moronic article.

  4. Since you apparently know so much about Oxfordians, and Oxford as the bard, Chris, could you tell me what books on Oxford by Oxfordians you have read? I always like to learn, and perhaps you know more about the subject than I do.

  5. ” there is not a scrap of evidence for anyone else having written his works.”

    You don’t seem to understand what circumstantial evidence is. There is a veritable mountain of it.

    The ‘snob’ argument is ironic – as the likely reason for the hidden authorship lay in the interests of the queen to protect the existing class barriers while at the same time enabling her best theater resources to effect public propaganda for the commoners.

    Your stance is to unquestionably accept the ROYALS version of events. That’s kind of funny, don’t you think? It is your position that these class barriers must be maintained. So tell me, Who’s the snob?

  6. This is a complex subject. It has been written about at length. But the reams of text have produced no evidence for Oxford, only speculation and wishful thinking. I quote James Shapiro and Bill Bryson from a choice of thousands. Any argument with trolls just being abusive is pointless and endless. Shakespeare was the man from Stratford.

    Now, go away.

    • You’re right Mr. Hilton, it would be dangerous to consider those who disagree with Shapiro and Bryson—this might lead to thinking for yourself and an attempt to determine who has the better argument. You are right to cover your ears and run away quickly while humming, “there is no evidence, there is no evidence.”

    • You sound like someone who stands to inherit a tourist kiosk in Disney-upon-Avon.

      Regarding ‘there is no evidence.’ The eminent Stanford astrophysicist Peter Sturrock has calculated approximate probabilities that your guy, the provably illiterate man from Stratford, wrote the works. If you filled a sphere the size of the earth with white ping pong balls and one single black ping pong ball – that black ball would represent the chance that William wrote the plays. All the white balls represent the probability he did not. That calcluation is based on the WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE (thatyou say doesn’t exist).

      I fear for our justice system should you ever serve on a jury that is presented with circumstantial evidence. OJ Simpson walked because of people like you.

      You state it’s ‘a complex subject’ and yet ‘there is no evidence’ – Zero evidence implies simplicity.

      I recommend you respect the first rule of holes. When you’re in one, stop digging.

      • The statement ‘there is no evidence’ maybe relates to the lack of a single historical fact that backs up anything other than William of Stratford wrote the works that carried his name. You guys speculate well, but thats all.

    • I assume, based upon your logic, that circumstantial evidence is not evidence. That makes O.J. innocent, based upon your criteria for what constitutes evidence. Did you ever wonder why Oxford’s in-laws received the Dedication to the First Folio? As you might know, the main objections to the Stratford Man is that he never engaged himself with the legalprofession, yet Shake-speare knew the intricacies of the law in a way that demands explanation. Oxford went to Gray’s Inn, and served on the jury for both Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Earl of Essex. He also took a grand tour of Italy, and came back dressing like an Italian, which made him quite an oddity. He saw paintings that Shakespeare described, from private collections. He went to all the cities used as settings in the Italian plays. He was indebted in Venice for the exact same amount as in Merchant of Venice. I assume you haven’t bothered to educate yourself on this mystery, but a start would be to read Richard Paul Roe’s “Shakespeare’s Guide to Italy”. Rest assured, Mr. Hilton, Oxford’s name is not mentioned a single time in this book.

      • I find the reference to further reading much more useful than the insults that have gone before. Who’d have thought even Shakespeare would attract internet trolls?
        OJ was innocent, the first time at least, it was proved in a court of law wasn’t it?

      • You do not understand the difference between being found ‘not guilty’ and being ‘proven innocent.’ They are two different things with different meanings.

        The inability of William Shakspere to write his name is direct evidence that he did not write the plays.

        John Davies of Hereford’s provides direct evidence that Shakspere didn’t write the plays.

        The various allusions to Shakspere in plays from that time, portraying him as illiterate and a liar are direct evidence he did not write the plays.

        etc etc etc

  7. The indirect references to Shakespeare’s illiteracy are direct evidence? Historical facts would really help me understand your point.

    • Robert Detobel’s scholarship on the signatures is definitive imo. The fact that some are on the tags and not on the documents is proof they belong to scribes – not to Shakspere. He presents similar evidence for the other signatures. That your side clings desperately to six malformed signatures is comical. But careful understanding of those documents shows Shakspere himself was unable to write his name. They are not signed and sealed – simply sealed – with the scribe noting who’s seal it was. That’s how illiterates transfer property. When his compatriots later sold their interests – the title was drawn up to require both signatures and seals. That’s how literate people transfered property. With Shakspere dead, all the owners were now literate. The details in the documents are quite revealing.

      These are facts that survive from the period.

      And of course – you don’t even want to talk about John Davies of Hereford. I understand your reluctance.

      • Thats because I imagine you’ll stick with Ogburn’s interpretation of the Davies poem. I’ll leave you with the fact of the day and leave you to your conjecture.

        “Shakespeare was the man from Stratford.”

      • Mr. Wayne– Have you actually read all of Charlton Ogburn’s *The Mysterious William Shakespeare: the Myth & the Reality*? If you have, and you still insist there is “no evidence,” like Mr. Hilton does, then I have to give you credit. That is more than most Stratfordians are willing to do and if you haven’t been convinced by Ogburn then I don’t think you will be convinced by anyone else (although there is so much more to study and marvel at).

        Good luck on your adventure, if you should take it.

  8. I cannot understand this guy, he keeps on saying he wants us to go away. I thought someone who would dare write against Oxfordians, calling us snobs and wishing us to go to the tower, should be able to defend his way through this topic. It is obvious he knows nothing much about it. What a waste of time it is to read the stupid comments of Mr. Hilton.

  9. “Jacobi, an only child, was born in Leytonstone, London, England, the son of Daisy Gertrude (née Masters), a secretary who worked in a drapery store in Leyton High Road, and Alfred George Jacobi, who ran a sweet shop and was a tobacconist in Chingford.”

    This is the elitist snob scum that champions Oxford? If this were all I knew about Jacobi (and it is), I would think that he was more like Shakspere than Oxford. Stuck-up kid probably rolled around all day in silk curtains while sucking on a lollipop. Later, I’m sure all the Cambridge kids looked up to him because he could get them fags.

    Or, is Jacobi really a cousin to the Queen and dirty Oxfordians have changed his Wikipedia biography to hide his regal origins?

  10. I didn’t know that about Jacobi. ‘Elitist snob scum’? Your words, not mine. He comes across as a snob, but it’s irrelevant. Redgrave, Irons, Freud, Twain and the rest. They’re just plain wrong. Snobbery seems to be the primary motive for it.

  11. You can always tell when you’ve hit a nerve, Chris. As an example, Calends (above) implies you have a vested interest in supporting Shakespeare’s authorship, somehow associated to a financial interest in Stratford upon Avon: Calends wrote:- ” You sound like someone who stands to inherit a tourist kiosk in Disney-upon-Avon”.

    Calends also writes of the ” the provably illiterate man from Stratford”.

    Far be it from me to suggest it. But, Chris…why not ask for the PROOF Shakespeare was illiterate. I guarantee you none will will be forthcoming.

  12. Yes, the clincher for me is that Oxford was actually dead when Shakespeare wrote many of his plays. Bit of a problem, that, but they persist. Lots of strange details but absolutely no proof. To say that Shakespeare was illiterate is ridiculous. But I enjoy plugging away at the Oxfordians. Thank you for your support.

    • Tom Reedy has posted a link to this blog on the Oxfraud Facebook page. As you say, it matters that Oxfordian snobbery and vitriol is exposed and countered. It’s not just TV where they keep turning up. The review section for Stanley Wells new book (Kindle version) contains, like this blog, some typical Oxfordian drivel. Perhaps the funniest is by Richard Malim who gave the book a One Star rating on the basis of reading the taster of the preface. He “needed to read no further”.

      In Spring 2013, Mr Malim became embroiled in Oxfordian factionalism concerning Prince Tudor theory: Which has it that the Earl of Southampton is the illegitimate son of Edward de Vere and Queen Elizabeth 1st. And that de Vere was the illegitimate son of ER1. The backdrop was an editorial in the Winter 2013 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter calling for Oxfordians to close ranks and stop the Prince Tudor arguments.

      Paul Streitz, author of Oxford: Son of Queen Elizabeth I wasn’t having it. In the Spring 2013 issue of the Newsletter, he wrote of an attempt to stifle debate, stop free inquiry and stifle those supporting PT.

      Mr Malim is one who does support it: He takes the view ‘Oxford’s paternal relationship to Southampton explains the tone of the Sonnets in a way that is not matched for effectiveness by any other version’. Then he added “Certainly Streitz is clearly not prepared to meet any of the “orthodox” Oxfordian arguments
      (my book p. 269 n. 30)”.

      Nina Green, an exceptional scholar, also took Mr Streitz to task: “Paul Streitz was on Phaeton when I investigated the PT claims over a two-year period, and examined every piece of “evidence” PT theorists put forward, and established that there was nothing to any of the alleged “evidence,”and that the PT theory was a belief, not a theory supported by a scintilla of actual evidence”.

      There was further comment from Jack M. Shuttleworth, Ph. D: Professor of English, Emeritus United States Air Force Academy. He wrote “Certainly the PT proponents have a right to theorize, but without a shred of evidence their theory remains only speculation and, I believe a destructive theory at that”.

      Prof Shuttleworth is referring specifically to PT. It is a misappropriation of mine [apologies] but by removing this predicate from the quote, it sums things up.

  13. I didn’t know that about the Prince Tudor theory. Interesting. I’m no expert on Shakespeare but I am absolutely convinced that he was from Stratford. More than happy to keep exposing the ‘snobbery and vitriol’ in whatever way I can. Thanks for your interest and input.

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