Tuesday 15 November 2022

'No killing the Oxfordian thesis'

 The other night on Sky Arts there was a documentary titled Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Name. This, it turns out, is a repackaging of an earlier film, Nothing Is Truer than Truth, and presents the case (such as it is) for Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford – described as an 'A-list party boy on the continental circuit' – having written the works of 'Shakespeare', a name he took to disguise his bisexuality (?!). Sadly, such big names as Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi endorse this view, and teaching and researching it are now considered academically respectable. 
  Of course, it is perfectly possible to believe sincerely that the man known as William Shakespeare did not write the works attributed to him, but to do so, one must jettison all the documentary and other evidence to the contrary, and entirely disregard the historical, literary, political and cultural context of Shakespeare's time, replacing it with a wholly anachronistic idea of authorship and 'autobiography' (something that, in the modern sense, didn't even exist in Shakespeare's day). One must, in other words, maintain oneself in a condition of profound ignorance about almost everything but one's chosen candidate for 'the man behind the name' (for which, by the way, if one must make it an aristocrat, William Stanley, Earl of Derby, is a much more plausible candidate). One must also entirely devalue that which makes Shakespeare uniquely Shakespeare – his imagination. As James Shapiro writes towards the end of Contested Will, 'What I find most disheartening about the claims that Shakespeare of Stratford lacked the life experience to have written the plays is that it diminishes the very thing that makes him so exceptional: his imagination.'
  But there you are. It seems there's no killing the Oxfordian thesis. It goes from strength to strength, cheerfully flying in the teeth of every new finding of genuine Shakespearean research. It could even be that, as the sea of general ignorance continues to spread, Shakespeare will end up as one of those historical figures of whom everyone 'knows' one thing, and that one thing wrong: Prince Albert wore a penis ring, Mozart was buried in a pauper's grave, and Shakespeare's works were written by the Earl of Oxford. 

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