My Shakespeare Confession

 

Okay, I admit it. I am a Shakespeare heretic. Well, 95 percent, anyway. I know, I know. Some of you are already shaking your head thinking I’m going to start talking cryptograms and conspiracies and such nonsense. I’m used to it. I stumbled into being a heretic almost 35 years ago and there’s always a significant contingent of head-shakers when the subject comes up. That’s okay. I’m really not interested in convincing anyone. I just find it fascinating, that’s all

I started out a math/science guy in school, looking at a career in computer programming. Shakespeare had made no dent in my consciousness. Then I sold an article to a personal computer magazine and decided to become a writer, switching my major to English. I experienced a great Shakespeare professor in an upper-division class. Authorship never came up. Not until I was a graduate student.

Authorship was far from my thoughts that day in the mid-1980s when I was browsing Tower Books in Sacramento, CA, and stumbled upon Charlton Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth & the Reality. It was a hefty tome of 900+ pages, and I remember thinking, Whoa, the lengths someone will go to just to get attention.

But then I noticed who had written the forward: Famed historian — and the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded — David McCullough. He talked about a lunch he had in the early 1960s with Ogburn, who apparently had been a writer of note on many topics, primarily natural science. They were talking about a book Ogburn would write and McCullough would edit on the geology of North America. He described Ogburn as “a writer of intelligence and integrity and wonderful feeling for the natural world.”

Then the topic turned to Shakespeare. McCullough admitted that he always thought people who raised doubts about the Stratford man were cranks. But Ogburn, he said, “was absolutely spellbinding.” He described more of their conversation before saying this about the book:

“…this brilliant, powerful book is a major event for everyone who cares about Shakespeare. The scholarship is surpassing— brave, original, full of surprise — and in the hands of so gifted a writer it fairly lights up the sky. Looking back on that evening years ago, I felt as if I had been witness to the beginnings of a literary landmark. Nothing comparable has ever been published. Anyone who considers the Shakespeare controversy silly or a lot of old stuff is in for a particular surprise. This is scholarly detective work at its most absorbing. More, it is close analysis by a writer with a rare sense of humanity.”

Well, even though I was a poor student managing a 7-Eleven store part-time as well as being a Teaching Assistant, I couldn’t help but fork over the funds to buy this book of which THE David McCullough could speak so highly.

The first half explored the scholarly consensus that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, which seemed such a reasonable proposition. I was taking a graduate seminar on Classical Rhetoric, one of the most illuminating experiences of my life, so I was ready to put Ogburn to the test to see if his case was rhetoric over evidence, if logical fallacies abounded, and especially if suppression of evidence was evident. (Heh, see what I did there?)

I was enough of a student of argument to know the ways a writer can suppress evidence, so I began a long process of checking original sources in the university library. I wanted to verify Ogburn’s claims about shoddy scholarship. I sat with his book, grabbed books off the shelves, checked sources, and compared arguments to find out what Ogburn had not addressed, how he was refuted, how orthodox scholars handled dissent.

What I found was scholarly fraud: how much students believe and take for granted, how much professors spread conjecture as truth, theories as fact, fabrications as dogma. (Much like the academic Left does today.) It took months to grasp how scholars, documentary evidence, arguments, and the tradition of commentary and interpretation symbiotically interacted in the arena of Shakespeare.

It made me ill.

I remember I was a little over halfway through the book, a book that read like the most elegant mystery novel I had ever read, when I came upon a detail that triggered in me the thought, “That’s one damned coincidence too many.” And I finished the book stunned with how right David McCullough was about Ogburn and his writing. [In case you’re interested, it relates to Lord Burghley’s motto, Cor unum, via una.]

But what was wrong with me? How could this notion of Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare survive with such a powerfully articulated argument that marshaled an unbelievable ton of evidence?

I approached my favorite English professor because I wanted someone I respected to examine the argument and to discuss its merits. It was his graduate seminar in Classical Rhetoric that I loved so much.

He dismissed the book without examination, a response contrary to all that was implied in his teaching. I left the book with him anyway, somewhat baffled. I approached my best friend, a fellow English major, who has gone on to teach at a Catholic university in Texas. He would not look at the argument either. I was astonished. Two brilliant, thinking minds who would not even examine the argument, who simply dismissed it out of hand.

What was it about this topic that so provoked such bizarre responses? If I had been a good graduate student, a properly impressionable graduate student, then I would have dropped Ogburn and gone along with the prevailing view.

But I knew enough that, whatever its faults, Ogburn’s argument merited a hearing and that what I saw among my peers was something anathema to true scholarship.

Look, it’s okay not to be concerned with who wrote the Shakespeare poems and plays. It’s okay to miss out on the opportunities that come with reading those works with new eyes.

If you are at all interested, and if you want to at least take a few minutes to see what I look and sound like, you may want to watch this YouTube video of a talk I gave some years ago.

Most people want to start with the premise that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare and you have to provide extraordinary proof to overcome that position. Makes sense. But I approach it in a different way, a more balanced way:

Let’s suppose that writing the Shakespeare poems and plays were a crime. Let’s suppose that YOU are a member of a Grand Jury. You are to decide which of the two candidates should be indicted for the crime of writing the poems and plays. Both candidates are presumed innocent, so you must decide if there is a preponderance of evidence one way or another.

I am representing William of Stratford. I claim he is innocent of the charge and should not be indicted. Opposing counsel has already presented their case, that the preponderance of evidence falls on my client, not theirs, not their precious Edward De Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford. What nonsense to claim he is the author.

I begin at that point, addressing the grand jury, you, right at the beginning.

Give it a watch. Do I make the case?

Closing Argument: The Grand Jury Indictment for the Crime of Writing the Shakespeare Poems and Plays.

 

 

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  1. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

    There is a tendency among some people to take down some of the traditional “givens” we have, and this is simply another one.  Normally, they take the form of “John Xyzzy didn’t really say that quote” or (in the case of Shakespeare) “Jane Blankity didn’t really write insert novel title here.”  Some black “scholars” even suggest every great invention known to man was first invented by a black person, then stolen by some “whitey”.

    Then there are the myths, such as George Washington and his, “I cannot tell a lie – I did it.”  The truth is, a myth might have a kernel of truth to it, or be completely true.  The word has multiple meanings, and only one or two imply a myth is a total falsehood.

    Even if someone made a quote first, a notable person repeating it usually gets the credit.  Such is the case with Einstein and his definition of insanity.

    So, with all due respect to Joseph Sobran, Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

    • #1
  2. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Stad (View Comment):

    Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

    There is a tendency among some people to take down some of the traditional “givens” we have, and this is simply another one. Normally, they take the form of “John Xyzzy didn’t really say that quote” or (in the case of Shakespeare) “Jane Blankity didn’t really write insert novel title here.” Some black “scholars” even suggest every great invention known to man was first invented by a black person, then stolen by some “whitey”.

    Then there are the myths, such as George Washington and his, “I cannot tell a lie – I did it.” The truth is, a myth might have a kernel of truth to it, or be completely true. The word has multiple meanings, and only one or two imply a myth is a total falsehood.

    Even if someone made a quote first, a notable person repeating it usually gets the credit. Such is the case with Einstein and his definition of insanity.

    So, with all due respect to Joseph Sobran, Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

    Thank you, Sir. May I have another?

    • #2
  3. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):
    Thank you, Sir. May I have another?

    That was Dickens. He wasn’t old enough to have written Shakespeare’s stuff.

    • #3
  4. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Writing Shakespeare is not a crime.  Forcing kids to read Shakespeare is the crime.

    • #4
  5. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Stad (View Comment):
    So, with all due respect to Joseph Sobran, Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

    Thanks for a conclusion backed by a meticulously careful logical argument,  which starts with the conclusion stated as a premise:

    Stad (View Comment):
    There is a tendency among some people to take down some of the traditional “givens” we have, and this is simply another one.

    ;-)

    • #5
  6. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    I will neither confirm nor deny that I wrote Shakespeare. 

    • #6
  7. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    TBA (View Comment):

    I will neither confirm nor deny that I wrote Shakespeare.

    Well, you did kill Cthulhu, so I wouldn’t put it past you. You’ve been around a while and obviously have unusual powers, or at least unusual knowledge.

    • #7
  8. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    I will neither confirm nor deny that I wrote Shakespeare.

    Well, you did kill Cthulhu, so I wouldn’t put it past you. You’ve been around a while and obviously have unusual powers, or at least unusual knowledge.

    I’m usually not good at recognizing private jokes that are way over my head.  My gearhead.

    This is an exception.

    • #8
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    I will neither confirm nor deny that I wrote Shakespeare.

    Well, you did kill Cthulhu, so I wouldn’t put it past you. You’ve been around a while and obviously have unusual powers, or at least unusual knowledge.

    I’m usually not good at recognizing private jokes that are way over my head. My gearhead.

    This is an exception.

    It’s from here.

    Oh, wait. You mean you did recognize this one? That’s good too.

    • #9
  10. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    I will neither confirm nor deny that I wrote Shakespeare.

    Well, you did kill Cthulhu, so I wouldn’t put it past you. You’ve been around a while and obviously have unusual powers, or at least unusual knowledge.

    I’m usually not good at recognizing private jokes that are way over my head. My gearhead.

    This is an exception.

    It’s from here.

    Oh, wait. You mean you did recognize this one? That’s good too.

    I recognized that it was one.  That I had no chance of getting it, and may as well accept it.

    • #10
  11. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Mark Alexander:

    He dismissed the book without examination, a response contrary to all that was implied in his teaching. I left the book with him anyway, somewhat baffled. I approached my best friend, a fellow English major, who has gone on to teach at a Catholic university in Texas. He would not look at the argument either. I was astonished. Two brilliant, thinking minds who would not even examine the argument, who simply dismissed it out of hand.

    What was it about this topic that so provoked such bizarre responses? If I had been a good graduate student, a properly impressionable graduate student, then I would have dropped Ogburn and gone along with the prevailing view.

    Not even being willing to examine the evidence mystifies me–unless it’s because they don’t have the time or something like that.  I don’t have the time to examine this one.  (But I hope to watch the video.)

    Maybe the word “paradigms” will be part of the explanation. (Started doing a new series for my philosophy YouTube channel on Thomas Kuhn this week.)

    Turns out I did have the time to examine some of the election fraud claims.  Turns out the orthodoxy is a weak paradigm–there actually is good evidence that the election was stolen through traditional forms of election fraud. (Ricochet analyses here, off-Ricochet clones here.)

    I’m fine with that. And when a young-earth scientist turned up on the Babylon Bee podcast and rattled off some objections to the old earth orthodoxy, I was fine with that too.  Not that I could vouch for his arguments, but I didn’t notice anything wrong with them, either. Young earth, intelligent design, biology without macroevolution, stolen elections, Democrats are the anti-black party–I’m open to a lot of heresies.  Give me the time I don’t have and I might even look at the evidence and, depending on how that turns out, even tout one.

    Now the idea that the vaccines are super-dangerous–dang. That’s a heresy I hope is wrong.  I’m not comfortable with that.  But if I had the time and ability, I’d still like to run it through the evidence.

    • #11
  12. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    I will neither confirm nor deny that I wrote Shakespeare.

    Well, you did kill Cthulhu, so I wouldn’t put it past you. You’ve been around a while and obviously have unusual powers, or at least unusual knowledge.

    I’m usually not good at recognizing private jokes that are way over my head. My gearhead.

    This is an exception.

    It’s from here.

    Oh, wait. You mean you did recognize this one? That’s good too.

    I recognized that it was one. That I had no chance of getting it, and may as well accept it.

    Oh, I get it.

    Well, now you know where to go to find out how TBA killed Cthulhu.

    • #12
  13. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander:

    He dismissed the book without examination, a response contrary to all that was implied in his teaching. I left the book with him anyway, somewhat baffled. I approached my best friend, a fellow English major, who has gone on to teach at a Catholic university in Texas. He would not look at the argument either. I was astonished. Two brilliant, thinking minds who would not even examine the argument, who simply dismissed it out of hand.

    What was it about this topic that so provoked such bizarre responses? If I had been a good graduate student, a properly impressionable graduate student, then I would have dropped Ogburn and gone along with the prevailing view.

    Not even being willing to examine the evidence mystifies me–unless it’s because they don’t have the time or something like that. I don’t have the time to examine this one. (But I hope to watch the video.)

    I do take a somewhat humorous tone in that talk, given the role I’m playing (which I slip our of near the end when I read McCullough’s entire Foreword). My focus is on what the plays tell us about the author, in the words, for the most part, of orthodox scholars. Funny what they will admit when authorship is not on their minds…

    • #13
  14. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Here’s the short and funny 3-minute version of my talk.

    https://youtu.be/ImBWHJk99q4

     

    • #14
  15. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    You make a compelling case.

    I have encountered some of the skepticism and it’s very interesting to me.

    First, I find it strange that people are so attached to the idea of Shakespeare as author. We don’t know him, he has no connection to us – it’s just a name (with various alternate spellings).  

    Someone wrote those plays and sonnets, that’s all that matters. It’s actually more interesting that someone wrote anonymously.

    Missing from your video is why De Vere would write anonymously but I’m sure there’s a reason. Being a playwright wasn’t especially celebrated in those days.

     Another possible culprit I’ve heard is Queen Elizabeth herself. She had the scholarship and the ‘free’ time, and certainly to motive to be anonymous. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

     

    • #15
  16. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    I will neither confirm nor deny that I wrote Shakespeare.

    Well, you did kill Cthulhu, so I wouldn’t put it past you. You’ve been around a while and obviously have unusual powers, or at least unusual knowledge.

    I’m usually not good at recognizing private jokes that are way over my head. My gearhead.

    This is an exception.

    It’s from here.

    Oh, wait. You mean you did recognize this one? That’s good too.

    I recognized that it was one. That I had no chance of getting it, and may as well accept it.

    Oh, I get it.

    Well, now you know where to go to find out how TBA killed Cthulhu.

    Killed him dead. Anyone claiming he is ‘pining for the fthjords is lyin’. 

    • #16
  17. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Franco (View Comment):

    You make a compelling case.

    I have encountered some of the skepticism and it’s very interesting to me.

    First, I find it strange that people are so attached to the idea of Shakespeare as author. We don’t know him, he has no connection to us – it’s just a name…

    Well, to orthodox scholars it’s more than that. Would your mind allow you to see the truth when it means your reputation and everything you have written as a scholar was all based on the WRONG GUY?

    Not to mention the threat to your livelihood. Once you go off the reservation, you get canceled big time.

    Academics do not enjoy such risks. It becomes way too easy to compromise the truth to maintain one’s status.

    That’s why you find that people who can see through the story have no stake in it.

    • #17
  18. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    If you are interested in how I apply the RAS and Adaptive Unconscious to orthodox scholars, here’s another presentation on Stratfordian Blind Spots:

    https://youtu.be/PnikrnFmJeg

    • #18
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    TBA (View Comment):

    I will neither confirm nor deny that I wrote Shakespeare.

    I wrote Shakespeare, and he wrote back telling me never to write or call again. 

    • #19
  20. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Would you please explain what the controversy is about?  I am dense, so I may have missed it but your post mostly refers to people who are engaged in an intellectual argument that you do not describe.

    If it is “was Shakespeare a real person” my attitude is that the genius and volume indicate that it was one individual. 

    But you don’t tell us what the controversy is.

    (Unless I read the OP too fast.  I do that.)

    • #20
  21. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Would you please explain what the controversy is about? I am dense, so I may have missed it but your post mostly refers to people who are engaged in an intellectual argument that you do not describe.

    If it is “was Shakespeare a real person” my attitude is that the genius and volume indicate that it was one individual.

    But you don’t tell us what the controversy is.

    (Unless I read the OP too fast. I do that.)

    The claim is that William of Stratford did not write the Shakespeare poems and plays. Rather, the best alternative candidate is Edward De Vere, the Sevententh Earl of Oxford, who was Lord Burghley’s son-in-law. 

    • #21
  22. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):
    The claim is that William of Stratford did not write the Shakespeare poems and plays. Rather, the best alternative candidate is Edward De Vere, the Sevententh Earl of Oxford, who was Lord Burghley’s son-in-law. 

    De Vere died before 12 of Shakespeare’s plays were written, so that would seem to be a problem if I understand it correctly.

    Around 80 people have been nominated as the real writer of Shakespeare’s plays.  The problem seems to be that from what we know about the man it doesn’t seem that he’d know enough about various topics to write those plays, in other words, that he had knowledge “above his station”.  So it must have been <insert name of more educated and accomplished upper class person here> who really wrote the plays.

    I think it’s just a bunch of bloody status anxiety from our upper class “betters”. 

    It discounts the role of imagination and intelligence too much.  

    And it cuts both ways.  Shakespeare’s work is full of errors, especially historical errors.  They are the kind of errors that a real upper class Oxford educated swine like De Vere would never make.  They are the kind of errors that a person like Shakespeare, who had access to popular, cheap historical pamphlets would make.  In fact,  they are in some cases the same errors that appeared in a history book that it is known was available in Shakespeare’s grammar school when he allegedly attended there.  

    • #22
  23. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Roderic (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):
    The claim is that William of Stratford did not write the Shakespeare poems and plays. Rather, the best alternative candidate is Edward De Vere, the Sevententh Earl of Oxford, who was Lord Burghley’s son-in-law.

    De Vere died before 12 of Shakespeare’s plays were written, so that would seem to be a problem if I understand it correctly.

    Around 80 people have been nominated as the real writer of Shakespeare’s plays. The problem seems to be that from what we know about the man it doesn’t seem that he’d know enough about various topics to write those plays, in other words, that he had knowledge “above his station”. So it must have been <insert name of more educated and accomplished upper class person here> who really wrote the plays.

    I think it’s just a bunch of bloody status anxiety from our upper class “betters”.

    It discounts the role of imagination and intelligence too much.

    And it cuts both ways. Shakespeare’s work is full of errors, especially historical errors. They are the kind of errors that a real upper class Oxford educated swine like De Vere would never make. They are the kind of errors that a person like Shakespeare, who had access to popular, cheap historical pamphlets would make. In fact, they are in some cases the same errors that appeared in a history book that it is known was available in Shakespeare’s grammar school when he allegedly attended there.

    Thank you, Sir. May I have another?

    • #23
  24. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Twenty years ago, I wrote a peer-reviewed article—cited in the Miami University Law Review— titled “Shakespeare’s Knowledge of Law: A Journey through the History of the Argument.”

    I focused on the writer of the plays, not De Vere, although the editor insisted on two footnotes referencing De Vere. My aim was to track the well-represented arguments over a period of 150+ years.

    What were the arguments pro and con? How did they respond to each other? It was very illuminating.

    You may not want to read all 30,000 words, but try out the first 10% and last 10%.

    You may find some sections and conclusions illuminating.

    https://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/shakespeares-knowledge-of-law/

    • #24
  25. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    So do who do you say wrote Shakespeare’s works?

    Your cat and mouse game and not addressing what a casual reader like me is really annoying.  You assume we know this whole mysterious problem.

    What are you saying about Shakespeare and his writings?

    Edited to remove my frustration since this appears to be an insider thread.  My questions remain, but toned down.

    • #25
  26. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Clavius (View Comment):

    So do who do you say wrote Shakespeare’s works?

    Your stupid cat and mouse game and not addressing what a casual reader like me is really annoying. You assume we know this whole mysterious problem.

    What the hell are you saying about Shakespeare and his writings?

    Having now read the comments that came before the above comment, I have some idea of the controversy.

    This is my response.

    The work of Shakespeare is in its totality, so brilliant, it could only be the work of one brilliant and unique individual.

    But that’s just a poor history major’s perspective.

    • #26
  27. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Clavius (View Comment):

    The work of Shakespeare is in its totality, so brilliant, it could only be the work of one brilliant and unique individual.

    Yes, TBA, the man who killed Cthulhu.

    Ricochet just has the best people, I tell you what.

    • #27
  28. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Clavius (View Comment):

    So do who do you say wrote Shakespeare’s works?

    Your cat and mouse game and not addressing what a casual reader like me is really annoying. You assume we know this whole mysterious problem.

    What are you saying about Shakespeare and his writings?

    Edited to remove my frustration since this appears to be an insider thread. My questions remain, but toned down.

    Here’s a 6-min intro that reflects my views.

    Here’s a 30-min intro that reflects my views.

    Here’s a 44-min intro that reflects my view (my favorite because of its humor)

    Here’s a 90-min intro that reflects my view.

    • #28
  29. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):
    Thank you, Sir. May I have another?

    That was Dickens. He wasn’t old enough to have written Shakespeare’s stuff.

    Actually, that was Kevin Bacon.

    • #29
  30. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    So do who do you say wrote Shakespeare’s works?

    Your cat and mouse game and not addressing what a casual reader like me is really annoying. You assume we know this whole mysterious problem.

    What are you saying about Shakespeare and his writings?

    Edited to remove my frustration since this appears to be an insider thread. My questions remain, but toned down.

    Here’s a 6-min intro that reflects my views.

    Here’s a 30-min intro that reflects my views.

    Here’s a 44-min intro that reflects my view (my favorite because of its humor)

    Here’s a 90-min intro that reflects my view.

    Can you summarize in writing?  Just a few sentences will do.

    I hate watching videos.

    • #30