Friday, October 28, 2011
Edward DeVere for Me
I had a pass to see a sneak of the new Shakespeare movie, Anonymous, but our Happy Hour ran on too long, got a little too happy, and besides, the ramps at the West End Kerasote complex are a mess. The film fleshes out, in more ways than one, the increasingly popular notion that Edward DeVere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, actually wrote the plays we now associate with the Bard of Stratford.
I read a few of the early reviews, which were generally unfavorable. I’m not surprised. But along with the reviews, there has also been a steady dribble of condescending ink being spilled about how absurd it is even to suggest that the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays might still be in question.
I think it ought to be more widely known that there is very little evidence to suggest that the man from Stratford with whom many of us associate the plays actually wrote them…or anything else. In fact, every bit of genuine documentary evidence we have about the man could probably be listed in a three-page Word document. Much of the biography that academics take as established fact will be seen, on closer inspection, to have been largely spun from whole cloth and then transformed in time from supposition to unassailable truth. At a famous inquiry at the Folger library in 1949, one scholar was asked to present a single bit of documentary evidence from the playwright’s own time linking the man from Stratford to the authorship of the plays. After a good deal of hemming and hawing, he admitted he could not. And unlike other playwrights and scholars of the Elizabethan era, not a single one of the books he owned (if he owned any) has ever been unearthed. Strange.
This is a tiny bit of one side of the argument put forth by the Oxfordians: We know almost nothing about the man from Stratford, though millions of hours of research have been extended in search of it. On the other side of the coin, the Oxfordians point out that the correlations between the life of Edward De Vere and the plot of Hamlet, for example, are far too uncanny to be ascribed to coincidence.
Anyone who’s interested in the details can take a look at the Wikipedia article about the Oxfordian theory. The only point I’m trying to make here is that the Oxfordians are far from being the crack-pots we read about in the newspapers. Not all of them, at any rate. No less eminent a Shakespearean interpreter than Derek Jacobi stands among them. In particular, the patient, painstaking, and well-reasoned book by Charlton Osburn, The Mysterious William Shakespeare, spells out the arguments honestly and in masterly detail.
Aside from all that, my discovery of DeVere solved another problem for me. I could never understand why all the books I’d tried to read about the Man from Stratford were so boring. It’s because they’re full of speculative nonsense. “He must have walked along this….” Or “We can presume he sold his shares in the manner of…..” The man from Stratford was himself, as far as we know, very boring.
No one ever said that about Edward DeVere.