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Scipio Who?

UMass Amherst awarded a Ph.D. to Roger Stritmatter in 2001 in comparative literature. Stritmatter’s topic: the Shakespeare authorship question. This is a little bit of a slap in the face to mainstream scholars who think Scipio is an old-fashioned soft drink.

Along with Stritmatter, there’s Waugaman at Georgetown, Wright at Concordia, Fox at Rutgers, Sturrock at Stanford, Rubin at York, and a number of other academic face-slappers.

Non-academics, some of them famous, do it too: writers Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Henry James, and John Galsworthy; actors Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jakobi, Mark Rylance, and Jeremy Irons; U.S. Supreme Court Justices Powell, Blackmun, Scalia, Stevens, and O’Connor.

Yes, really.

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They’re all crackpots of course. Everyone knows Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare; just look at the title pages. A wealthy investor from Stratford named Shakespeare was the author of thirty-six plays, two epic poems, and the sonnets. We know this with 99.99% probability. The authorship question is not worth discussing.

The documentary record, that is, actual evidence from the period as opposed to mythology, circular reasoning, and title pages, tells us that Shakspere — that’s his birth name, the name of his children, and the name he used to sign documents — was semi-literate at best. His signatures were strained. He wrote nothing, not even a letter. His documented life is that of a shrewd money man who made a number of successful investments in Stratford real estate and in London theaters.

People alive at the time knew the theater big shot wasn’t the author of similar name and they said so repeatedly. The mainstream will twist itself into amazing rhetorical knots or even gouge their own eyes out in their epic battle against the contemporary references. The title of the present post — Scipio Who? — refers to the mainstream’s bloodiest effort.

John Davies of Hereford was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s. He was a teacher, specifically a writing master — he wrote The Writing Schoole-Master, a popular manual that saw its 16th edition in 1636. In 1611, Davies published a series of epigrams in his book The Scourge of Folly including one addressed to Shakespeare.

The title is “To our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare.” The colon signifies Will as a shortened version of William. Eight lines follow referring cryptically to Kings, “sport,” and parts played. The question is, who is Terence?

Terence was a Roman author; the investor from Stratford was a shareholder in a London acting company called the King’s Men; Davies’s second line reads “Had’st thou not played some Kingly parts in sport . . .” Aha! says the mainstream. Davies is saying Shake-speare the actor and Shake-speare the author are the same person.

Well there you are!

N.B. Academics, avert your eyes. No broaches, please.

A book by Roger Ascham has bad news. Ascham, like Davies, was a teacher — he was one of Queen Elizabeth’s tutors. Ascham’s book, The Scholemaster, was published in three editions in 1570, 1579, and 1589. When Davies called Shake-speare “our English Terence,” he was NOT saying Shakespeare was similar to a Roman writer.

It is well known by good record of learning, and that by Cicero’s own witness, that some Comedies bearing Terence’s name were written by wise Scipio and worthy Laelius. — Roger Ascham in The Scholemaster

Uh-oh. Bad turns to worse. Montaigne’s Essays, published in French in the 1580’s and translated in 1603 into English by John Florio also tells the story of Terence, Scipio, and Laelius.

For, to prove this labor [the Comedies with the Terence byline] to be theirs, the exquisite eloquence and excellent invention thereof doth sufficiently declare it: and Terence himself doth avouch it.

Montaigne explained that Scipio and Laelius were “great personages” for whom “the perfection of well-speaking” would NOT bring them appropriate “glory.” Thus, they “resigned the honor of their Comedies” to Terence.

Mainstreamers, open your eyes. Scipio is refreshing after the theater.

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Scipio! It relieves fatigue and excitement! A few sips of Scipio and rationality is a distant dream.

It is not altogether surprising that Shakspere didn’t write the plays and poems. He was a shareholder in the King’s Men, part-owner of the Globe Theater, part-owner of the Blackfriars Theater, a major Stratford real-estate and agricultural investor, and a dealer in commercial quantities of grain and malt: he didn’t have the time to be anything but an “English Terence.”

Of course, Davies was far from the only one to comment about the existence of a semi-literate theater magnate who had the name and the money, but not the talent or the ability: reactions to the “English Terence” situation were widespread; they covered a broad emotional range — from bitter anger to mocking amusement.

A rich, arrogant “Puppet” who has been “beautified with our feathers” has the gall to “speak from our mouths” and then claim he “is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you [my fellow writers]” (Robert Greene).

A wealthy theater big shot is “so bold a thief” that he “makes each man’s wit his own” while “we, the robb’d” can do nothing about it — this thief started off buying “old plays” and now “devours” everything in sight (Ben Jonson).

Greene and Jonson made it clear they were referring to Shakespeare.

Greene called the theater owner an “upstart Crow” who was “in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.” The upstart Crow epithet, unlike Scipio, is in every mainstream book. What is typically missing is the context.

After first parodying a rich, mean, stupid “gentleman player” who repeats Latin phrases without knowing what they mean and who takes advantage of the poor poet “Roberto,” Robert Greene offers his epithet-filled open letter.

In the letter, Greene calls Shake-scene an “upstart Crow,” a “Usurer” and an “Ape.” He must not be trusted. Greene advises his friends, Peele, Marlowe, and Nashe, to “seek better Masters.” These “rare wits” should not allow their “admired inventions” to fall into the hands of Shake-scene, an Ape who should be left with nothing but the ability to “imitate your past excellence.”

“Base-minded men all three of you, if by my misery you be not warned.”

Greene’s moneyed monster is a Shakespearean horror: he has a “Tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide.” The original quote from 3 Henry VI — “Tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide” — refers to a remorseless murdering Queen of surreal cruelty.

Jonson complained, not quite so bitterly but no less strongly and rather more directly, of a “Poet-Ape that would be thought our chief.” At the time, Shakespeare’s works had been printed in what modern scholars call a “staggering and unprecedented” fifty thousand copies in London, population two hundred thousand. He was indeed the chief.

Jonson’s Poet-Ape was no such thing: he was, to be precise, a “thief” with a sordid history as a play broker. Having “grown to a little wealth and credit in the scene,” he laughed off his blatant “crimes.” Jonson’s description is eloquent and detailed and in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet.

London students giggled. In a satiric comedy called the Parnassus Plays, a student playing an actor in the King’s Men (Kempe) gives a speech in which he says his “fellow Shakespeare” is a great writer, better than that “pestilent fellow” Ben Jonson, better than “that writer Ovid,” and better than “that writer Metamorphoses.” LOL.

The deeply misinformed Kempe character, who doesn’t know the difference between a poem by Ovid and a writer, falls all over himself with appreciation for his “fellow Shakespeare” who doesn’t “smell too much” of “that writer Ovid.” Oh, thank goodness, our down-to-earth “fellow,” ah yes!

Of course, the audience knows Shakespeare as a poet with Ovid oozing from every pore of his body and every stroke of his pen — Venus and Adonis, the epic poem that made the name “Shakespeare” famous virtually overnight in 1593, was a rewrite of an Ovidian story.

Kempe: “Why here’s our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down.” ROFL.

Shakspere’s associates in Stratford didn’t think of their “townsman” as a writer any more than anyone in London did. Mainstream biographer Samuel Schoenbaum explains: “They probably troubled their heads little enough about the plays and poems. Business was another matter; they saw Shakespeare [they actually called him Shakspere] as a man shrewd in practical affairs.”

Schoenbaum, who said, “Perhaps we should despair of ever bridging the vertiginous expanse between the sublimity of the subject and the mundane inconsequence of the documentary record,” was immune to his own research.

Harold Bloom, the mainstream author of Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, calls people interested in the authorship question “lunatics.” But Bloom has studied Shakespeare’s biography deeply: “There is an inverse ratio, a little beyond our analytical skills, between Shakespeare’s virtual colorlessness and his preternatural dramatic powers.” Bloom hit the nail on the head.

Another mainstream biographer, Park Honan, has never been topped: “Shakespeare seems to have flourished with a certain annihilation of the sense of himself” [emphasis added].

Today, scholars continue the great Schoenbaum-Bloom-Honan tradition by misreading contemporary commentary to the point of schizophrenia.

Davies’s reference to “our English Terence” is easily explained if you’ve never heard of Scipio: “Terence was an ancient Roman playwright who came from humble origins, just like Shakespeare.”

Greene’s warning about the Usurer/Ape/upstart Crow is obviously nothing more than “a veteran writer shrewdly taking the measure of an upstart he doesn’t much like.”

Jonson’s “Poet-Ape that would be thought our chief” must have been someone other than Shakespeare.

The student-produced gag is clear testimony, easy to understand: “This passage establishes that the playwright Shakespeare was a fellow actor of Kempe.”

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How do you know he was a writer? Well, for one thing, he’s better than Metamorphoses he is. And don’t forget he doesn’t smell like Ovid, no not a bit. Oh, but that Ovid is a pestilent fellow, inn’t ee!

Another enormous problem for the clueless businessman is that he apparently never met the Earl of Southampton. Southampton was Shakespeare’s dedicatee on his two epic poems and is the only person to ever receive a Shakespeare dedication. The first 126 sonnets are obviously written to him as well.

Even modern scholars, despite their terror of the authorship question, often admit Southampton is a likely candidate: the earl was first suggested as the “lovely boy” of the sonnets in 1817 by Nathan Drake.

The connection between author and earl ran exceptionally deep: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end . . .” (epic poem, dedication); “From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die” (Sonnet 1); “Make thee another self for love of me” (Sonnet 10); “thou art all the better part of me” (Sonnet 39); “O thou my lovely boy . . .” (farewell, Sonnet 126).

But no link between the businessman and the “lovely boy” has been found despite centuries of searching.

We must not be unfair: we must not exclude the real-estate tycoon “on semantic grounds,” says the ivy league professor. Yes, there is no independent evidence of a connection between the businessman and this earl or any other patron. But Shakespeare “directly addressed a patron, the Earl of Southampton.” Therefore, the businessman is the author.

Yes, really.

Euclid is rolling in his grave. But we need not trouble our heads about logic. Ascham and Montaigne told us exactly what “our English Terence” meant to the Elizabethans. Greene’s deathbed tears provide a watery backdrop. The Cambridge students’ humor provides the color Bloom was looking for.

Finally, Ben Jonson sets the stage in three informative rhyming (abab) quatrains and one cutting rhyming (aa) couplet.

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Frippery (from the French freperie, rags) are discarded clothing.

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On behalf of humanity, dear Euclid, we apologize sincerely.

So far, the mainstream looks frighteningly ridiculous; surely, they can’t be that stupid! Thank goodness mainstream observers make one valid point. It’s just the one point, but the mainstream’s “ace in the hole” is an extremely powerful card. They may have been right all along.

In 1623, seven years after the wealthy businessman from Stratford died, twelve plays that had been published accurately during his lifetime and twenty-four plays that had either not been published at all or that had been hacked and mangled, were rescued and published in the monumental “First Folio” which contains prefatory material saying that the businessman had, in fact, been the great author.

The mainstream says anyone claiming the prefatory material is fraudulent is a conspiracy theorist. And they are right again! All hail the mainstream! Faking the prefatory material would indeed have required a conspiracy.

The relevant Elizabethan conspiracy is called by historians the Essex Rebellion. It was aimed at the crown itself. The Earl of Southampton was neck-deep in it.

In 1601, the “lovely boy” of the sonnets, along with the Earl of Essex and four unfortunate knights, was arrested and charged with high treason. Southampton, Essex, and the four commoners were convicted on all charges and sentenced to gruesome deaths. At the same time, scattered sympathizers among the nobility got away with fines.

Queen Elizabeth had been ailing and the succession was in doubt: no one except Lord Burghley and perhaps Elizabeth herself knew who would be the next monarch. Essex and Southampton evidently had ideas of their own. They planned an assault on the palace. They didn’t get far.

The first Lord Burghley, William Cecil, had created a vast network of spies still in operation in 1601. Burghley’s son, Robert Cecil, having taken over from his father as the right-hand man of the monarch, easily outwitted the Southampton-Essex amateur hour. The two earls and their knighted friends got their dates with the axeman, the hangman, a knife, and four horses — not the most fun kind of date.

In mulling the fate of the popular Earl of Essex, the Queen, the “Moone goddess” herself, chose mercy. She could not bear to see Essex hung by the neck, his intestines torn out, and his arms and legs ripped from his body thence to be beheaded. He had been one of her favorites in better days.

He got three whacks with the axe. These were sufficient to sever Essex’s fool head from his body. The knights weren’t so lucky.

With his five friends worm food, Southampton languished in the Tower of London perhaps contemplating the “long life still lengthened with all happiness” a brilliant writer who loved him had wished him as a teenager. Shakespeare’s wish didn’t seem likely to come true.

But miracles happen.

Guilty of a crime worse than murder, having threatened the god-sanctioned Crown, the noble young man would live, and not just in Shakespeare’s poetry. Southampton’s sentence — death by torture — was commuted to life in prison.

No one knows why.

Two years later, with the “mortall Moone” having finally been “eclipsed,” King James of Scotland ascended the throne exactly as Lord Burghley and his son Robert had planned for years (another conspiracy). The day James was crowned, the day the succession was settled, the day “peace proclaimed Olives of endlesse age,” the day the whole country breathed a huge sigh of relief, Southampton’s sentence, death after decades in prison (“a confin’d doome”), was mysteriously commuted. Again.

This time he got a royal pardon.

Southampton was released with his intestines nicely curled in his body and his head firmly attached to his shoulders. His earldom was restored with all of his privileges and all of his lands. And even that’s not the end of it.

The summer of his release, Southampton was promoted. King James made him Captain of the Isle of Wights and a Knight of the Garter, this last a singular honor even today. No historian has the slightest idea why Southampton merited such treatment.

Who could have seen such a rosy future for the convicted traitor? Who could have prophesied such lavish rewards? Whose eyes could divine Southampton’s true worth? Whose prefiguring could tell of Southampton’s good fortune?

Shakespeare’s, maybe . . . though even he couldn’t say why.

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Twenty years after Southampton’s deliverance, the First Folio compiled all thirty-six Shakespeare plays in one magnificent volume. But something was missing — namely, all things Southampton. Two-thirds of the Shakespeare canon was rescued from oblivion, but the epic poems and the sonnets were left to fend for themselves. There are many possible reasons for this, but the truth is we simply don’t know why the poetry was left out.

In 1623, the epic poems had already been published in several editions each and were still popular. The sonnets had seen just a single edition: they were presented to the public for the first (and almost the last) time in 1609 when the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, famously called Shakespeare “our ever-living poet” and laid out for all to see the sonnets that had previously circulated only amongst the author’s private friends.

Shakespeare was the dominant literary figure in England at the time. He had written a series of hauntingly beautiful, somewhat mysterious sonnets to a “lovely boy” whose “worth” was “wide as the ocean.” These were followed by another series of intense missives addressed to a “mistress” whose “eyes are raven black.”

How strange that the private writings of the greatest poet in history were so unpopular. Perhaps discerning readers in the England of King James had no use for such trivia. Or maybe the sonnets were unpopular with one person in particular. But that’s another “conspiracy theory.”

To summarize what is known: Shakespeare dedicated the first works published under his name to Southampton; Shakespeare wrote a series of heartfelt sonnets to someone who bears a strong resemblance to Southampton; Southampton committed treason; Southampton’s comrades were butchered; Queen Elizabeth died; King James ascended the throne; Southampton was released and granted royal favors; Shakespeare’s writings either about Southampton or dedicated to Southampton were excluded from the First Folio; the prefatory material in the First Folio pointed to the businessman of similar name identifying him as Shakespeare.

Nothing can be proven. However, the sudden identification of this man — a businessman who neither wrote nor received letters, who died rich in a bookless house surrounded by two illiterate daughters, who could barely write his own name, and who was openly called “our English Terence” — as Shakespeare, as the most erudite and well-read man in England, is not merely suspicious. It’s funny.

Speaking of funny, Sonnet 87 contains the following line: “So thy great gift upon misprision growing, comes home again on better judgement making.” Misprision of treason is a non-capital offense: the perpetrator has not informed the authorities of a treasonous plot. What could that be referring to? Careful now, you don’t want to be accused of believing in conspiracies.

The mainstream hates any connection of the sonnets to real life or real people and especially to the Essex Rebellion; even wondering who is the subject of the sonnets is a silly “parlor game.” This misprision line is a ticket to an apoplectic seizure; do spare the poor mainstreamers.

Though the sonnets are full of easy-to-understand lines such as “My glass shall not persuade me I am old, so long as youth and thou are of one date,” they are, according to the mainstream, not at all personal. In fact, the sonnets are “primarily fictional creations.” We must “steer clear of reading these remarkable poems as autobiography.”

Whatever you say.

Rational Speculation

Shakespeare loved the Earl of Southampton to whom he dedicated his first two published works.

Shakespeare wrote 126 sonnets to Southampton.

The sonnets tell of the earl’s mysterious “worth” (mentioned in ten sonnets) “wide as the ocean is” (Sonnet 80) and also speak of a “Chronicle” written by those who do not have “skill enough your worth to sing” (Sonnet 106). This “worth” saved Southampton’s life after he committed high treason.

The sonnets speak of Southampton’s learning of his worth: “thy own worth then not knowing” (Sonnet 87).

The sonnets, the connection between Shakespeare and Southampton, the royal succession, and Southampton’s pardon were all somehow related.

Mainstream Gibberish

An astute businessman from Stratford dedicated two epic poems to a teenaged Earl he may never have met.

The businessman from Stratford addressed someone as a “lovely boy” in 126 sonnets. This boy was “my love,” “my all-the-world,” “my Rose,” “all the better part of me,” etc., etc.,

The “lovely boy” could have been anyone or no one.

Anyone or no one was, in the eyes of the “colorless” Stratford businessman, a “tender churl” and a “self-willed” young man. He was “thy mother’s glass” and “she in thee calls back the lovely April of her prime.” But he wasn’t a real person.

Anyone or no one was very important to a writer who had otherwise “annihilated the sense of himself.” This shimmering writer first offers limitless love, gentle guidance, occasional admonishment, and unconditional support to his beloved but then evaporates like the Cheshire Cat into a puff of imagination.

The subject who may not have been Southampton will be celebrated forever in Shakespeare’s “monument” of “gentle verse.” But this monument does nothing to repair the “mundane inconsequence of the documentary record” because it was nothing personal.

Today, almost 400 years after the First Folio buried the troublesome sonnets and elevated the shrewd businessman, we see the modern heir to the great Lord Burghley, Michael William Cecil, the 18th Baron Burghley, as a signatory on the “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” which is a rational document that basically says to mainstream scholars, “Houston, we have a problem.”

A Columbia University professor answered by writing Contested Will which is a beautifully written book glorifying the mainstream viewpoint. The book is of course a Scipio-free zone; we trust the good professor did not use broaches.

Diana Price is not a university professor, but her book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, makes her appear smarter than 100 typical academics. Probably no one is really quite that smart, but Price is rational and that makes all the difference.

Read both books. Then raise a glass with me and with Diana Price to rationality. — Thor Klamet

P.S. For a fuller discussion, click here. For the story of the sonnets, click here.

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Scary Question: Did Shakspere Write Shakespeare?

Before walking into the dark alley that is the Shakespeare authorship question, let us briefly explore another scary question: Why did some apes become bipedal millions of years ago?

Humans are class: mammals, order: primates. Like some other mammals, but unlike any other primate, we have a head-to-toe layer of subcutaneous fat. Like some other mammals, but unlike any other primate, we have fairly smooth skin. Under the right conditions, human infants routinely swim and dive before they learn to walk.

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The swimming primate.

In the 1930’s, Alister Hardy theorized that our ancestors were coastal apes whose posture, skin, and fat allowed them to swim and forage in moderately deep water. It’s not such a shocking theory: all aquatic and semi-aquatic mammals that exist today evolved from land mammals. Hardy simply believed the physical differences between humans and other primates began with our ancestors’ steps down a well-worn evolutionary path.

After thirty years, Hardy finally spoke. His colleagues who supposedly understood evolution scoffed. More years passed. Elaine Morgan, shocked to learn Hardy’s idea was not being seriously discussed by professional anthropologists, wrote a series of books that were five parts evidence, three parts clarity of thought, one part scathing criticism. Professionals scoffed anew.

The authorship question has been subjected to exactly the same knee-jerk treatment as the aquatic theory. Some professionals resort to word games: “Of course Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.” Mainstream scholars sometimes ask you to “look at the title pages” if you aren’t sure who wrote the plays. Here’s a good example of the official argument.

No matter of who doubts the official line, regardless of credentials, experience, Nobel Prizes, and so forth, the mainstream remains firm in its conviction that the question is not worth asking. There is great concern among the mainstream that discussing the authorship question will discredit Concordia University, the University of Massachusetts, Washington State University, Brunel University, York University, and other institutions where scholars insist on delving into this silly issue.

Of course, the mainstream may be quite right — not in its insistence that universities not question conventional wisdom, but simply because Shakspere may have actually been Shakespeare.

To begin, we note that “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare” is catchy, but not accurate: William “Shakspere” was baptized with the same family name as his seven siblings, all Shakspere; William’s two marriage certificates to two different women on adjacent days spell the name “Shaxspere” and “Shagspere” (he married the woman who was pregnant). William’s three children were all baptized as Shakspere; William’s burial record reads Shakspere; finally, his grandson, born to his younger daughter the year he died, was baptized Shaksper (first name).

Right from the beginning, we see the mainstream absurdly overstating its case. It’s not a good sign and it is certainly not necessary: there is a perfectly reasonable case for Shakspere writing Shakespeare. It’s only the mainstream’s insistence that it’s case is 99.99% bulletproof that sends them off the rails. There’s no way Shakspere is 99.99%.

Between 1593 and 1609, Shakspere of Stratford, a businessman, grain dealer, and real estate investor was spending time in London (a three-day ride from Stratford) where he was made investments in the theater industry. There was a lot of money to be made in London theaters at the time, not by writers or actors particularly, but by people such as Edward Alleyn or William Shakspere who possessed the necessary capital and business acumen.

In London, Shakspere acquired a piece of the Globe theater and a piece of the Blackfriars theater. He was a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later the King’s Men. His name, even in London, was still Shakspere: two signatures on a London real estate document use the “Shakspere” spelling or something close to it.

None of this stops Shakspere from being Shakespeare. In fact, in the text of the document he signed and in the text of other London documents that refer directly and personally to the investor-shareholder, Shakspere’s name is spelled “Shakespeare.” Thus, the documentary record tells us of Shakspere of Stratford, real estate investor and Shakspere/Shakespeare of London, theater investor.

That it was all one money man making these investments is confirmed by Shakspere’s will which contains a cash bequest to three of his fellow members of the King’s Men. Shakspere/Shakespeare may also have graced the stage at some point though his acting career is not especially well-documented — we don’t know what parts he played, for example.

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The Globe Theater today. Shakspere/Shakespeare was a part owner of the 1590’s theater which, like the modern version (designed to be similar to the original), could accomodate at least one thousand paying customers. The original owners may have crammed 3,000 people into the space.

Despite the mainstream’s evident insecurity about their case for Shakspere as a writer, they do have four good reasons for believing as they do: (1) he definitely has more or less the right name; (2) he was definitely involved with the theater as an investor; (3) seven years after he died, twelve published Shakespeare plays and twenty-four unpublished or badly published plays were (thank goodness) collected in a single volume — this publication included prefatory material identifying Shakspere not as an investor but specifically as the great author; (4) there is a monument at Shakspere’s gravesite in Stratford spelling his name “Shakspeare” and saying he was a great and wise artistic genius — Nestor, Socrates, and Virgil rolled into one.

The mainstream therefore states as FACT that a literary genius named Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Doubters regard the mainstream’s case as reasonable but grotesquely overstated. Doubters say there is some posthumous evidence that seems to support the THEORY that an astute businessman named Shakspere may have written Shakespeare.

Doubters regard the posthumous evidence as a likely hoax and note that the hypothetical responsible parties, as powerful as they may have been, could not alter the documentary record of Shakspere’s life which indicates that he was a semi-literate businessman.

In rejecting the posthumous identification of Shakspere as Shakespeare, Mark Twain and others have focused on the following fact: from the time of the first Shakespeare publication in 1593 to Shakspere’s death in 1616, no one, no friend, no colleague, no patron, no publisher, no authority, no family member ever said or implied or suggested anything about having any connection whatsoever to the greatest writer in England. Simply stated, there was much ado about real estate but nothing about writing.

Even hard-core, we-know-Shakspere-wrote-Shakespeare biographers have noticed the extraordinary gap-void-chasm in the documentary record: they could hardly have missed it.

Shakespeare in Wonderland

Perhaps we should despair of ever bridging the vertiginous expanse between the sublimity of the subject and the mundane inconsequence of the documentary record. — Schoenbaum

There is an inverse ratio, a little beyond our analytical skills, between Shakespeare’s virtual colorlessness and his preternatural dramatic powers. — Bloom (Only a little beyond?)

[Shakespeare] seems to have flourished with a certain annihilation of the sense of himself. — Honan (Wow!)

If one lists all these various [documented] activities . . . one wonders how the dramatist found time to go on writing plays. — Honigmann

What did fellow townsmen make of the distinguished playwright of the Chamberlain’s company and admired poet of love’s languishment who sojourned each year in their midst? — Schoenbaum

See “The Schoenbaum Effect” below for Schoenbaum’s answer to his “townsmen” question.

How do you annihilate the sense of yourself?

Writers in London were writers to friends, family, publishers, patrons, and legal authorities. Ben Jonson is the perfect example. His work was popular and acclaimed on par with Shakespeare’s. Jonson’s writing activities were well known to the authorities of the time: he was questioned repeatedly and jailed twice for writing the wrong thing. The documentary record shows Jonson being paid explicitly for writing. While he lived, Jonson was referred to again and again as a writer by people close to him.

Shakespeare wasn’t. Pick a piece of Jonsonian evidence that a biographer would pore over. Pick any piece. Now look for something similar for Shakespeare. It isn’t there.

But someone wrote two epic poems, thirty-six plays, and a book of sonnets. In 1593 and 1594, the epic poems introduced the Shakespeare byline. In 1598, Love’s Labors Lost became the first Shakespeare play to be published with a byline. The sonnets were circulating privately by 1598 (no one knows who the early readers were) and were published as “SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS” in 1609.

Shakespeare was a massive literary force in London. Between 1593 and 1609, Shakespeare plays and poems were printed in more than forty editions. It was a feat “staggering and unprecedented.” One thousand or more printed copies per edition meant tens of thousands of books blanketing a city with a population of two hundred thousand.

But locating the writer in London is “a little beyond our analytical skills.” Is it really possible for a man to remain “virtually colorless” as fifty thousand copies of his books rain down upon Elizabethan London?

London was a place where writers loved to name-drop as in the following from John Selden: “I went to the well-furnisht Librarie of my beloved friend, that singular poet M. Ben: Jonson.” Selden had borrowed a book from his beloved friend — we even know what book he borrowed. The period overflows with personal literary references like this one, not only for Jonson, but for authors far less famous.

Someone in London was blowing the lid off of literature itself. Someone was simultaneously strangely elusive, like the Cheshire Cat. Meanwhile, Shakspere/Shakespeare was highly visible as a businessman and theater investor.

A literary shadow-creature and a wealthy theater man of similar name occupying the same space at the same time was bound to draw some interesting commentary as indeed it did. We begin with a pointed accusation from John Davies. Next, there is quite the scolding from Ben Jonson. A hilarious group of college students hammed it up and over the top. Finally, we hear from a bitter Robert Greene.

The Cheshire Cat and the Clever Capitalist

John Davies wrote verse “To our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare.” Terence was a Roman writer who is described in Elizabethan texts as a man who took credit for the works of two Roman aristocrats, Scipio and Laelius.

Ben Jonson published an epigram describing a “Poet-Ape” who “would be thought our chief.” This man, said Jonson, was “so bold a thief” that he made “each man’s wit his own.” Jonson’s commentary was 14 lines long with three rhyming quatrains (abab) and a rhyming couplet (aa) — the form of a Shakespearean sonnet.

The Parnassus Plays put on by students made fun of a bumbling actor who didn’t like the “smell” of Ovid but who nevertheless thought his “fellow [actor] Shakespeare” was God’s gift to writing, moronically unaware that Shakespeare was an Ovidian poet. The man is portrayed as so outrageously stupid that he thought his “fellow Shakespeare” was a better writer than “that writer Metamorphoses.”

In one of the earliest references to Shakespeare, Robert Greene wrote of a big-mouthed “upstart Crow” who had been “beautified with our [literary] feathers” and who was so arrogant he thought he was the “only Shake-scene in a country.” He had a “tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide” [alluding to a Shakespeare play]. This knave was an “Ape” and a “Usurer” and “rude” and was someone Greene warned his fellow writers to avoid at all costs.

The contemporary references may, as always, be interpreted according to a dizzying variety of preconceptions (fuller quotes appear below). Obviously, assuming Davies, Jonson, Parnassus, and Greene were on about a phony Shakespeare is easy enough. But, if you go down this road, you are stuck with a conspiracy perpetrated in 1623 to make that “phony” Shakespeare seem real.

This, in short, is the meat of the matter: mainstream observers trust the posthumous evidence and regard a deliberate deception as inherently unlikely. If there was a hoax, the mainstream says, then prove it. Otherwise, all you have is a “conspiracy theory” that isn’t worth discussing.

Doubters cannot prove anything. They say, simply, that the possibility of a deliberate deception should be considered based on the documentary record from Shakspere’s lifetime and the contemporary references to Shakspere/Shakespeare, the actor/writer or actor/thief.

To form an opinion, you need knowledge — unexpurgated knowledge, knowledge that has not been carefully pruned so that it will take a preconceived shape.

Debating is a silly waste of time and energy — a useless game that only gets in the way of truth-seeking. A doubter of the official story such as the present author loses nothing by presenting mainstream arguments in their full force. After all, the mainstream might be correct in its basic assumption. There is much to gain by an honest accounting.

In what follows, the case for at least considering the issue to be worthy of discussion will be made in some detail based largely on the work of Diana Price. The mainstream point of view will be clearly represented throughout though stripped of prejudicial word play and goal-oriented fact-pruning. The mainstream’s “nuclear bomb” — the prefatory material in the First Folio — will get its own section.

Here is Shakspere/Shakespeare’s documented life in Stratford and London. All spellings are as in original documents. All events and transactions take place in or near Stratford unless otherwise indicated. Theater associations are in purple and are all in London. Documents clearly identifying Shakspere/Shakespeare as a writer are in orange.

1564: Born Shakspere.
1582: Marries as Shagspere.
1583: Daughter born Shakspere.
1585: Twin boy and girl born Shakspere.
1587: Court re: real estate.
1592: Loans money to Londoner John Clayton.
1595: Kempe, Shakespeare, and Burbage paid for performances.
1596: Son dies.
1596: Applies for coat of arms, London.
1596: Formal complaint in London that William Shakspare is dangerous.
1597: Cited for tax evasion, London.
1597: Purchases one of the biggest houses in Stratford.
1598: Tax evasion, London.
1598: Cited for grain-hoarding during a famine.
1598: Neighbors Sturley and Quiney exchange letters re: Shakspere, money.
1598: Sells stone.
1599: Coat of arms document, London.
1599: George Buck asks Shakespeare who wrote an obscure play. 
1599: Shakespeare, theater shareholder.
1599: Tax evasion, London
1600: Sues John Clayton, London, to recover debt.
1600: Tax evasion, London.
1601: Father dies.
1601: Shackspeare, theater shareholder.
1602: Real estate, 100 acres from John Combe.
1602: Real estate, buys cottage.
1602: Law student, diary, heard Shakespeare stole woman from Burbage.
1603: Shakespeare, acting company member.
1604: Shakespeare, “player” issued ceremonial cloth for procession. 
1604: Sells malt in commercial quantities to Philip Rogers.
1604: Loans money to Philip Rogers.
1604: Sues Philip Rogers to recover debt.
1605: Makes substantial agricultural investments.
1605: Augustine Phillips, actor, cash bequest to Shakespeare.
1608: Sues John Addenbroke to recover debt.
1608: Document indicates “Shakespre” owes money on agricultural investment.
1608: Shakespeare, theater shareholder.
1609: Continues legal action re: Addenbroke debt.
1610: Real estate transaction involving John Combe.
1611: Agricultural investments yielding good returns.
1611: Real estate document re: lease of barn.
1611: Real estate documents re: road improvement, default protection.
1612: Testifies re: third-party domestic dispute, London, illegible signature.
1613: Real estate purchase, theater, two legible but inconsistent signatures.  
1613: Shakspeare and Burbage paid for tournament accessory.
1614: Real estate documents re: pasture enclosures.
1615: Real estate document, theater, Shakespeare.
1615: John Combe, cash bequest to Shackspere.
1616: Will with three semi-legible consistent signatures, one assisted.
1616: Will with real estate, sword, silverware, bowl, bed, “household stuff.”
1616: Will, cash bequest to three actor “fellows” Heminges, Condell, Burbage.
1616: Jonson’s works published: Shakespeare on cast lists.

1616-23: Stratford monument identifies “Shakspeare” as a great genius.
1623: First Folio identifies Shakespeare as the man buried in Stratford. 

Following in the footsteps of Elaine Morgan, Diana Price examined the evidence and employed simple, careful reasoning. Her book, “Shakesepeare’s Unorthodox Biography,” discusses a question she is not afraid to ask: Did Shakspere write Shakespeare?

Price’s scary answer: “Probably not.”

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There was a writer who annihilated the sense of himself. There was a wealthy theater man. There was a thieving Poet-Ape. Two of these were the same person. Which two?

Diana Price and Her Followers

The simplicity of Price’s approach makes her difficult to ignore. Ben Jonson, like Shakespeare, was quite famous. His life, like Shakspere’s, was well documented. Thus, Price argues, the documentary record whose analysis fills years in the lives of Ben Jonson’s biographers is a useful measuring stick to hold up to Shakspere/Shakespeare.

To begin, we know the man born into the “Johnson” family and named Benjamin was the writer known as “Ben Jonson” not because the names are similar (!) but because when Ben Jonson died in 1637, he was buried in Westminster Abbey where he kept company with Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400), Edmund Spenser (d. 1599), and Francis Beaumont (d. 1616).

Jonson’s estate included a library with over one hundred books. It included letters received from friends and colleagues. Many of these letters discussed writing. Some of his friends owned gift copies of his books inscribed with his signature; they saved letters received from their friend discussing writing. As stated above, Jonson was sometimes paid and sometimes jailed for his writing. A 40-page handwritten manuscript survives along with more than a dozen poems in Jonson’s hand.

Like Shakspere/Shakespeare, Ben Jonson lived and died with his name spelled inconsistently. The memorial in Westminster Abbey has “Ben Johnson” with the ‘h’ carved in stone, for example. He was called “Johnson” frequently during his lifetime despite the fact that he had dropped the ‘h’ on purpose, preferring the more distinctive version of his name.

Johnson/Jonson creates no uncertainty. Nor is it necessary to say, “Jonson wrote Jonson because his name appears on the title pages.” Ben Jonson was known to his friends as the writer Ben Jonson, was buried in Westminster Abbey, and left behind a clear documentary record of his life as a writer.

As a result, a Ben Jonson biography is most illuminating. There is more information about Jonson’s literary activities in one typical paragraph of a Jonson biography than you find in hundreds of pages of a Shakespeare biography.

That is Price’s point.

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Ben Jonson was buried in Westminster Abbey with Chaucer, Spenser, and Beaumont.

Obviously, not every Elizabethan author left a trail like Jonson’s. Most weren’t as well-known or as successful for one thing. We hardly know anything, for example, about the John Webster whose name appears on the printed title pages of The Duchess of Malfi.

Nevertheless, the name John Webster appears on published verse praising a fellow writer (Heywood) whom Webster describes as a “friend.” A third writer (Rowley) praised his “friend” John Webster for writing The Duchess of Malfi. A fourth person (Henslowe) recorded payments to “John Webster” specifically for writing. That’s not much, but it’s something.

The evidence for John Webster as a writer (NOT the title pages on the printed works) constitutes what Price calls a “personal literary paper trail.” It’s a simple idea: if someone or something can be reasonably placed within handshake-distance of the writer, that’s personal. If not, not. It is beyond bizarre that even Webster has a stronger personal literary paper trail than Shakespeare.

The mainstream decries Price’s insistence on personal evidence, claiming she splits hairs in order to make it look like Shakspere wasn’t a writer. Price directs the mainstream’s attention to the comments made by mainstream biographers who have each run into the same brick wall that is the Shakspere/Shakespeare documentary record.

We are The Reasoning Race, and when we find a vague file of chipmunk-tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our reasoning powers that Hercules has been along there.  I feel that our fetish is safe for three centuries yet. — Mark Twain, 1909

Speaking of fetishes, the mainstream seems less and less likely these days to argue that the printed title pages themselves identify Shakspere as Shakespeare. We are pleased with this development from a logical and rhetorical perspective and also from the standpoint of propriety and modesty. However, we sincerely hope mainstreamers will nevertheless feel free to indulge their title-page fascination in private.

Before we take a closer look at both the mainstream’s (perfectly reasonable) argument and Shakspere’s (nonexistent) literary paper trail, we would, in the spirit of camaraderie, like to extend a little olive branch to our esteemed mainstream friends.

A Fascinating Fantasy-Gift (all in good fun)

We have found a 17th-century book in which the writer said he had gone to see “the well-furnisht Librarie of my beloved friend, that singular Poet M. Will: Shakespeare.”

Aha! Someone met Shakespeare, the writer, in person. Thank God! Finally, the doubters shall be silenced!

The above quote is from John Selden’s 1614 book Titles of Honor, and, sadly, has been altered here. It was Ben Jonson that was Seldon’s “beloved friend” and it was Ben Jonson’s “well-furnisht Librarie” that contained the copy of Euripedes Selden wanted to see.

But that was really quite exciting for a minute there, was it not?

A Closer Look

Let us review the case for Shakspere writing Shakespeare.

We know William was in London in the 1590’s. It was most likely William who renewed his family’s application for a coat of arms. In a 1596 document created in London, William’s father is referred to as “John Shakespeare.” Through the 1590’s and beyond, William, whose name is now often spelled “Shakespeare” on legal documents, is a shareholder in London’s leading acting company. In his will, Shakspere of Stratford leaves cash to his “fellows” Heminge, Condell, and Burbage, three members of the acting company, “to buy them mourning rings.”

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A London clerk used the Shakespeare spelling for the family name.

We are one small step away from Shakespeare the author. If theater investing, theater acting, and theater writing were intertwined in Shakspere’s life to the point where the three vocations were effectively one, then we have all we need.

Shakspere the real estate investor goes to London and becomes Shakespeare the theater investor. Shakespeare is part of an acting company and appears on cast lists; thus, he is an actor as well. Acting and writing, for Shakespeare, are two sides of the same coin. The actor = writer assumption is a simple but crucial and often unspoken part of the traditional biography. It is obviously an assumption, but it is strongly supported by the posthumous evidence. Therefore, Shakspere wrote Shakespeare. QED.

Great. Even resisting those deliciously tempting title pages, we have put together a perfectly good case for Shakspere.

But let us channel some of Price’s trademark clarity. There is one posthumous document and one posthumous monument saying Shakspere was a writer. This must stand against an avalanche of evidence from Shakspere’s lifetime.

Shakspere owned one of the biggest houses in Stratford. He left a three-page will disbursing the house and the possessions therein along with his real estate empire; the house remained in his family for many years. You will not, at this point, be surprised to learn Shakspere did not quite have one hundred books in his library.

He didn’t have a library.

In 1616, London bookstores were full of Shakespeare books. But Shakspere’s three-story, twelve-thousand-square-foot house apparently had no books in it at all. Of course, his books may simply not have been mentioned in his will, but we would also have to assume that the books owned by England’s greatest (and richest) writer all simply disappeared.

However, Jonson, Nashe, Spenser, Peele, Harvey, Chapman, Drummond, Marston, Heywood, and Kyd all left behind books. This isn’t surprising: they were Elizabethan writers.

Shakspere’s estate also differs from Jonson’s in that there were no letters discussing writing. Neither has anyone found letters written by Shakspere to anyone else discussing writing.

One would expect to see a few letters if not about writing then about Shakspere’s favorite topic: real estate. Unfortunately, no letters written or received by Shakspere about any topic survive. There were no papers or written materials of any kind in his estate.

What terrible luck! Jonson, Nashe, Daniel, Spenser, Massinger, Peele, Harvey, Drayton, Chapman, Drummond, Marston, Lily, Lodge, Dekker, and Kyd all left behind correspondence.

But wait! A Stratford man by the name of Quiney exchanged letters with another Stratford man named Sturley in which they discussed borrowing money from “Shakspere.” Quiney even wrote a letter to “Shakspere” to ask for money, but he never sent it and eventually this unsent letter became part of Quiney’s estate. Also, a clerk in Stratford named Greene referred in his own records to two letters he had written to “Shakspeare” about real estate, but these have been lost.

So we don’t have much for Shakspere, though the evidence indicates at least two people seemed to believe he could read. As a consolation prize, we do have solid evidence that Quiney, Sturley, and Greene could read and write.

As you know, none of these men and no one else in Stratford or London ever referred to their friend, neighbor, or colleague Shakspere/Shakespeare as a writer while he lived. If Shakspere was an Elizabethan writer, he was unique in this respect.

Shakspere invested in real estate, sold stone, malt, and grain, loaned money, invested in the theater and maybe acted. But fifty-thousand-plus books raining down on London for more than twenty years didn’t lead to a single document connecting Shakspere to them: no records of payments for writing, no contact with publishers or patrons, no legal actions to block unauthorized publications, nothing.

Elizabethan writers typically were explicitly paid for writing and/or had a patron whom they actually met. In this category we have Jonson, Nashe, Daniel, Spenser, Massinger, Peele, Harvey, Drayton, Chapman, Marston, Munday, Greene, Lyly, Heywood, Lodge, Middleton, Dekker, Watson, Kyd, and even our friend Webster.

Finally, though there is no reason to belabor a point that has already been overwhelmingly made, manuscripts were (of course) not part of Shakspere’s estate.

At this point we would have been surprised if we found out the bookless house of a businessman had a manuscript in it. Why would it?

Handwritten manuscripts from Elizabethan times are not as common as one might wish, but they are far from unheard-of. Manuscripts survive for Jonson, Nashe, Daniel, Massinger, Peele, Harvey, Drummond, Munday, Heywood, and Middleton. Jonson, by the way, lost all of his papers in a fire in the middle of his writing career; otherwise, we might have much more than just fifty or sixty pages of handwritten manuscript for him.

The Signatures

That ends of the “absence of evidence” part of the discussion. As the mainstream correctly proclaim, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. They have a point: direct evidence that Shakspere wasn’t a writer would be more convincing.

As always, one should be careful what one wishes for.

We have five intact signatures on legal documents. These lead to a simple, inescapable conclusion: Shakspere couldn’t write his name.

The Not-so-literate Writer

Shakspere’s five signatures are as follows:
(1) legal document, illegible;
(2) mortgage document, in a completely different hand;
(3) copy of the same mortgage document, in still a third hand;
(4) last will and testament in yet a fourth (!) hand;
(5) will, again, last name consistent with fourth signature (finally!).

Have a look.

Ben Jonson’s signature.

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Shakspere’s first known signature, 1612.

Two printed “signatures” on two copies of a 1613 document.

Joseph Jackson’s two signatures on those same documents.

William Johnson’s two signatures on the same two documents.

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Shakspere’s first and last name on his will (second page).

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Shakspere’s last name on his will (third page).

The authorship question is not some mind-bending paradox in Special Relativity. But sometimes it seems to be.

For example, one can say Shakspere was a shareholder in an acting company which performed his plays and so, therefore, since he wrote the plays, he was paid out of the profits of the acting company and that constitutes evidence that he was paid for writing.

One can go on to say that since the two epic poems included loving dedications by “Shakespeare” to the Earl of Southampton, that therefore, since Shakspere was Shakespeare, he must have known the Earl and so therefore he must have met a patron at some point who would have supported his work.

One can also say Shakspere’s signatures don’t give one a moment’s concern and that they are really similar to signatures of other Elizabethan writers, but, at this point, the mathematics underlying the mainstream’s case is far beyond that of even the most esoteric physics.

The Schoenbaum Effect

Many reasonable people reject the apparent verdict of the documentary record because they find the idea of falsified posthumous evidence hard to swallow. This stance need not be embarrassing so long as one does not attempt to repair the documentary record using circular reasoning or, especially, altered reality: the man’s name was Shakspere, not Shakespeare and his signatures are a problem plain and simple.

Many people choose to accept the apparent verdict of the documentary record. They regard the continuing search for even a single sentence written by Shakspere as equivalent to the search for the Loch Ness monster. They note, quite reasonably, that conspiracies do actually happen sometimes.

There is no proof either way, but we are “the reasoning race,” so we can think it through, can we not? Samuel Schoenbaum was most helpful in this regard.

Schoenbaum, ever the optimist, boldly accepted the challenge posed by the acute lack of literary documents and wrote a classic biography of Shakspere as Shakespeare. It was an important and clarifying work as Schoenbaum was very much aware of the strangeness of the documentary record. Price is one of many people who initially believed the authorship question was a silly one, but who changed their minds after reading Schoenbaum.

I call this phenomenon “The Schoenbaum Effect.” Schoenbaum himself, of course, was immune.

“What did fellow townsmen make of the distinguished playwright of the Chamberlain’s company and admired poet of love’s languishment who sojourned each year in their midst?”

” . . . They probably troubled their heads little enough about the plays and poems. Business was another matter; they saw Shakespeare [sic] as a man shrewd in practical affairs.”

No doubt they did. But they never called him “Shakespeare.”

Schoenbaum knew the “they” in his discussion of Stratford residents extended to Shakspere’s two adult children. Schoenbaum avoided authorship quicksand, steering clear of Judith and Susanna. My own anti-authorship-question steering system has never functioned up to specs, so, with apologies to Professor Schoenbaum, I’m going to careen into a discussion of Shakspere’s daughters.

As the wealthy landowner lay dying, his illiterate (!) daughters, Judith and Susanna, were, we imagine, by his side. They would have had tears in their eyes as Time’s scythe (Sonnet 12) took the man who, with his pen, had dared Make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time (Sonnet 16).

Shakespeare’s battle with his own mortality had frequently energized his pen and the great writer foresaw in Sonnet 74 his eventual capitulation to the “bloody tyrant.” He would be, inevitably, the coward conquest of a wretch’s knife. At the same time, he would live on in his poetry, forever — My life hath in this line some interest. 

Judith and Susanna knew nothing of this.

If only they had learned to read. The final two lines of Sonnet 74 — The worth of that is that which it contains / And that is this, and this with thee remains — would have given them comfort in their time of loss.

If only Shakspere’s house had contained copies of the sonnets, they could have at least held the precious books close to their chests. Susanna’s husband, John Hall, might even have read a sonnet or two to them. Hall was a literate Stratford doctor whose handwritten diaries survived.

The man who didn’t teach his daughters to read was himself so well-read that mainstream observers marvel at the sheer number of books that “echo through his plays” — a set of readings so immense that even the Queen’s own library would not have satisfied Shakspere/Shakespeare. His non-fiction sources spanned human knowledge from botany to law to medicine to seamanship; his literary sources were similarly broad and not limited to English: literature in French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Greek influenced him as he updated and recast old works, some of which had yet to be translated.

Despite the tragedy of two young women trapped in darkness, unable to read of brilliant Beatrice, wise Portia, or moral Cordelia, to say nothing of French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Greek literature, there is a silver lining here: their father’s shrewdness in practical affairs ensured their financial security long after he passed on.

For those of you who can read, here is Sonnet 74.

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee:
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me:
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead;
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.
The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.

The death of the Stratford businessman, possibly the most well-read man in England, possibly the greatest writer the English language had ever seen, possibly the most absent father in history was duly recorded in April, 1616.

To his wife, he left his second-best bed. Judith and Susanna he covered with the careful financial arrangements that make up the bulk of his will. To three of his “fellows” in London, members of the King’s Men, he left cash.

The wealthy Combe family of Stratford was especially near and dear to Shakspere’s heart: he had purchased 100 acres from them in 1602 and had been the recipient of a cash bequest in John Combe’s will. To John’s nephew, Thomas Combe, Shakspere bequeathed his sword.

William Shakspere, one of the richest men in Stratford, was quietly buried at the Holy Trinity Church in the town of his birth.

“His death evoked no great outpouring of homage. That was reserved for his rival Jonson, who was accorded, six months after he expired, an entire volume of eulogy.” — Schoenbaum (and no, no one believes Schoenbaum was a closeted doubter)

There would be no Westminster Abbey burial for the great writer: Chaucer, Spenser, the still-warm Beaumont, and the still-alive Jonson would have to journey to eternity without their “chief.”

Jonson, as we know, used the word “chief” in his Poet-Ape complaint-poem. Here it is in full. It was published in book of epigrams in 1616; the date of composition is unknown.

Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,
From brokage is become so bold a thief,
As we, the robb’d, leave rage, and pity it.
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown
To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own:
And, told of this, he slights it. Tut, such crimes
The sluggish gaping auditor devours;
He marks not whose ‘twas first: and after-times
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
Fool! as if half eyes will not know a fleece
From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece?

But Jonson’s commentary must not mean what it sounds like it means. How could it? We must interpret Poet-Ape in a way that fits the facts as we know them. Jonson must have been talking about someone else.

It must be so, because Shakspere wrote Shakespeare. Really, he did.

The Mainstream Has Its Day

Sometime after Shakspere’s death, the documentary record turns dramatically in the mainstream’s favor, suddenly becoming deeply orange. Between 1616 and 1623, a monument was built at the Holy Trinity Church commemorating “Shakspeare” as the equal of Nestor, Socrates, and Virgil for wisdom, genius, and art respectively.

The misspelt monument well and truly built, the repairs to a terrible oversight of history continued: Shakspere of Stratford was finally documented as a writer.

In 1623, the First Folio combined in a single volume ten plays published accurately during Shakspere’s lifetime, two plays published in both accurate and corrupted versions during  his lifetime, five plays published only in corrupted versions during his lifetime, two plays published in unrecognizable versions during his lifetime, one play published accurately after his death, and sixteen plays that had never before been published.

The First Folio saved the day as far as the Shakespeare canon is concerned.

But it was the prefatory material included in the First Folio that completed the transmogrification the doubters believe occurred: Shakspere the businessman-actor became Shakespeare the famous author. On the other hand, perhaps the prefatory material ensured that Shakspere would get the credit he deserved.

In the all-important prefatory material, the “Stratford moniment” is mentioned in a memorial addressed to Shakespeare. Two of Shakspere’s “fellows” from the King’s Men, mentioned as such in his will, together signed each of two letters — one to the reader and one to the two earls to whom the First Folio is dedicated. In their letters, they refer to Shakespeare as their “fellow” and “friend.” Shakespeare is called the “Sweet Swan of Avon” by none other than Ben Jonson. Shakspere was born and died in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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The prefatory material is powerful evidence for the mainstream.

So there we have it. Either the businessman-actor who was Shakspere of Stratford and also Shakespeare of London was also Shakespeare the writer or someone highly placed went out of their way to make it look like Shakspere wrote Shakespeare when in fact some nobleman or other had actually been using the name Shakespeare as a pseudonym.

There is no smoking-gun evidence for the theory that the prefatory material and the monument are fraudulent. No one has produced a written exchange amongst the perpetrators outlining their nefarious plot, for example. We don’t even have a written accusation by a contemporary observer that the monument and prefatory material are fakes.

Thus, we may wish to take the posthumous evidence at face value. In that case, we need to explain (or at least try to explain) the mismatch between Shakspere’s documented life and the life of a writer.

It is a difficult exercise, but not an impossible one.

Maybe Shakspere’s work as an actor/investor/landowner/money-lender simply overshadowed his work as a writer; maybe this explains the lack of personal references to Shakspere the writer. Maybe, since Shakspere’s daughters were country girls as opposed to Beatrice, Portia, and Cordelia from his fiction, Shakspere didn’t feel his real-life daughters needed to learn to read. Maybe it wasn’t his decision. Perhaps, in general, Shakespeare/Shakspere wanted his life as a literary Londoner and his life as a Stratford businessman kept separate. Maybe he disposed of his books and letters before retiring in Stratford around 1610.

So far, the mainstream has not attempted to explain the oddities in the Shakspere documentary record; they seem more sanguine with the claim that the oddities either don’t exist or that they actually support Shakspere as the writer.

Let’s look at some of the impersonal references in detail.

As you know, in 1610, John Davies published an epigram referring to Shakespeare as “our English Terence” and, in the same epigram, portrayed Shakespeare as an actor playing parts. Terence, the mainstream will tell us, was a great Roman writer. Shakespeare was thus clearly being portrayed by this poet as both actor and writer and this is extremely powerful evidence that Shakspere was Shakespeare.

But really, the mainstream would be far better off if this poem never existed. Here are excerpts from two Elizabethan books in four editions identifying Terence as a person who put his name on other’s work.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Roger Ascham, Queen Elizabeth’s tutor, The Scholemaster, 1570, 1579, 1589: “It is well known that . . . some Comedies bearing Terence’s name were written by worthy Scipio and wise Laelius.”

Michel de Montaigne, Essays ca. 1580, John Florio translation, 1603: “. . . to prove this labor to be theirs [Scipio’s and Laelius’s], the exquisite eloquence and excellent invention thereof doth sufficiently declare it: and Terence himself doth avouch it.”

Mainstream:  Davies refers to Shakespeare as an actor playing parts and as a “Terence” who was a great writer of humble origins. Therefore, Shakespeare was both actor and writer. We know Shakspere was an actor. Thus, Shakspere is Shakespeare. QED.

Price: Um . . . Houston, did you copy that last message?

As you know, the Parnassus Plays feature an actor who refers to his “fellow Shakespeare,” the great writer. Not only that, but the actors being portrayed are named: they are members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the company that included Shakspere as a member. Not surprisingly, the mainstream loves Parnassus.

Here are some key lines.

The Joke is on Us

Actor playing Kempe: Few of the university pen plays well; they smell too much of that writer Ovid and that writer Metamorphoses . . . [laughter]. Why here’s our fellow Shakespeare [the Ovidian poet] puts them all down — ay, and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow . . . our fellow Shakespeare has given him a purge that made him bewray his credit.

Actor playing Burbage: It’s a shrewd fellow indeed.

Mainstream: Shakespeare is portrayed as an actor in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and as a great writer. Therefore, Shakspere is Shakespeare.

Price: Um . . . Metamorphoses wasn’t a writer any more than Shakspere was.

The Parnassus Plays aren’t the disaster for the mainstream that “our English Terence” or “Poet-Ape” is. The mainstream is actually quite fond of Parnassus. But they may be misguided: a close reading actually hurts their case.

Finally, there is the open letter written by Robert Greene and published after his death that is the first reference to Shakespeare. It is not complimentary.

From Greene to (presumably) his fellow writers Peele, Marlowe, and Nashe: . . . trust them not: for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. O that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses: and let those Apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions. I know the best husband of you all will never prove a Usurer . . . for it is a pity men of such rare wits, should be subject to the pleasure of such rude grooms.

Mainstream: Again, Shakespeare is an actor and a writer.

Price: Again, Shakspere is an actor and a thief.

According to Greene, Shakespeare was a “player” which was a term used for actors. With his Tiger’s heart, he perhaps had pretensions of being as good a writer as Greene, Peele, Marlowe, and Nashe. He’s an arrogant “Johannes factotum” (jack of all trades) who thinks he can do it all. Thus, says the mainstream, Shakespeare was clearly both an actor and a great writer.

Price points out that reading Greene’s complete work of which this letter is one part makes things rather clear. In the scene played out before the letter, a character “Roberto” (an obvious stand-in for Greene himself) is taken advantage of by a “gentleman player” who is clueless but rich and who hires the destitute Roberto to write plays for him.

To the mainstream, Greene is jealous of a mere actor who can write better than he can. For doubters, Greene, like Jonson, is complaining about a wealthy thief.

The Fetish Becomes a Phobia

Except for the First Folio and the monument, centuries of searching for a clear connection between a man who (apparently) owned no books and who (apparently) wrote no letters and who (definitely) was not buried at Westminster Abbey and the author William Shakespeare have yielded what Price contends is an incredible mountain of nothing.

In fact, the clearest connection between Shakspere and Shakespeare is the “our English Terence” poem by Davies which is overt, direct, quite clear. It seems a huge stretch to assume Davies was not familiar with Terence’s reputation. By itself, the lifetime documentary record of the businessman is enough to instill reasonable doubt. Terence, the signatures, and the ever-living sonnets (discussed below) turn reasonable doubt into deep suspicion.

For mama-duck Price and for the very scary people the mainstream really do call “her followers,” the Shakespeare authorship question is a mystery worth exploring.

It is not clear why the mainstream has moved from its title-page fetish to a duckling phobia, but it is what it is. For those readers who don’t wish to wear the mainstream’s straitjacket and who are willing to permit a very small amount of speculation, we can discuss an intriguing possible explanation for the whole farce (cue mainstream screaming bloody murder).

Ducks

Mama Price and her anti-Stratfordian chicks.

Food For Thought

To say the Earl of Southampton — the dedicatee of Shakespeare’s epic poems and possibly the subject of the first 126 sonnets — was controversial would be an enormous understatement. As the reader will expect at this point, there is no record that would suggest Shakspere and Southampton ever met unless you first assume Shakspere is Shakespeare and then cite the dedications as evidence for a presumed meeting. Ivy league scholars are embarrassingly susceptible to reasoning in precisely this way.

Let us pause to empathize with our ivy league friends. Let us wait a moment for the red in our faces to clear. Let us now consider the implications of the fact that Shakespeare’s one and only dedicatee, the Earl of Southampton, was convicted of high treason in 1601 along with five other people, including the Earl of Essex. This incident is known as the Essex Rebellion.

The four knights and one earl, fools all, were summarily executed. They died, and not quickly. Then Southampton’s sentence was commuted to life in prison (!) by Queen Elizabeth. Then Elizabeth died and King James ascended the throne. Then Southampton was pardoned and released (!!) with his earldom fully restored. Then, that same summer, he was promoted (!!!) by the new King. This is where you say, “OH MY GOD.”

Southampton’s five co-conspirators were worm-food while the very fortunate Henry enjoyed his new goodies (he was made Captain of the Isle of Wights and a Knight of the Garter in the summer of 1603).

Conspiracy theories are of course inherently unlikely. However, we know a convicted traitor who survived and was then rewarded. Is the overwhelmingly special treatment of someone who targeted the throne directly and who was convicted of doing so a big enough and clear enough conspiracy for the mainstream to consider? Don’t answer.

Let us suppose, briefly, that Southampton was not only the dedicatee of Shakespeare’s two epic poems published in 1593 and 1594, but that he was also the “lovely boy” of Shakespeare’s first 126 sonnets published in 1609. He is now and has always been a leading candidate if not the leading candidate for the subject of the sonnets, so we are not sticking our necks out very far at all in making this assumption.

In the sonnets, Shakespeare repeatedly tells Southampton that he (Southampton) will live forever in his verse (“such virtue hath my pen”). But the author won’t for some reason. He says to Southampton the following:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have
Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.

The origin story of the sonnets assuming Southampton as subject is as dramatic as any Shakespeare play. We don’t have absolute proof of the (rather obvious) connection between the sonnets’ story and Southampton’s survival, but the sister article to this one (previous link) will give any reasonable person who is not an ivy league professor food for thought.

This diet is unpalatable in the extreme to the poor mainstream: most would sooner eat worms and some would sooner be eaten by worms than admit even the possibility that the sonnets tell the story of Southampton’s outrageous good fortune. It’s a shame because they are not only missing out on a great story, they are missing an opportunity for productive scholarship.

If you mention the sonnets and Southampton’s luck and turn your back, the mainstream will likely have mounted its horse and galloped away before you can turn again. The sonnets, they will say mid-gallop, are NOT personal. The fact that they were written in the first person to a particular individual, were concerned with private matters, and were kept private for at least ten years before being published (1609) is irrelevant.

Just before the behorsed mainstream disappears over a rise, they will shout hoarsely that the publisher’s dedication in the sonnets’ prefatory material does NOT mean the poet was dead in 1609.

Sonnet-Dedication

Sometimes you eat the prefatory material. Sometimes the prefatory material eats you.

Pity the Poor Mainstream

We may sympathize with the poor, frightened mainstream in this field and in other fields. For when the schoolchild says Africa and South America fit like puzzle pieces, the idea MUST be disregarded: think of the embarrassment if she is right!

When a professional anthropologist wonders if bipedalism was an adaptation to coastal living, ridicule is de rigueur: we are brave hunters, not fish!

When a researcher with temerity but without an ivy league professorship waves the documentary record like a red flag, it is imperative that she and “her followers” be gored to death: Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare; just look at the title pages!

I do apologize for exaggerating: the ivy leaguers aren’t really so bad. But they could learn a thing or two from history.

In 1905, Einstein sent Special Relativity to a journal. The editor naturally assumed the theory was wrong. But, he thought, what is lost by discussion? The discussion would likely disprove the scary new idea, but this too would have value.

The editor knew what to do. Later, historians realized that a number of other scientists had discovered much of Special Relativity prior to Einstein’s paper, but simply hadn’t been able to quite make themselves believe that something so surprising could be true and therefore hadn’t turned their findings into a coherent theory. Interesting, don’t you think?

Epilogue

I need your help. I’m offering ten dollars.

tendollars

I need someone to do the following:

  1. Analyze every letter Shakspere wrote.
  2. Analyze every letter Shakspere received.
  3. Catalogue all letters written or received by Shakspere’s two daughters.
  4. Read every book in Shakspere’s library in the original language.
  5. Read every book known to have been in the hands of Shakspere’s two daughters.
  6. Examine all correspondence regarding Shakespeare produced by his publishers and patrons.
  7. Create a timeline for interactions with authorities concerning his writing.
  8. List every person who both knew Shakspere personally and knew him as a writer.

N.B. A similar effort for Jonson took years.

If you devoted one minute to reading the eight requirements and another minute to realizing the names Heminge and Condell are all you need, then my ten-dollar offer is equivalent to three hundred dollars per hour.

I’ll send the ten dollars in cash to the first person to write “Heminge and Condell” with a mailing address in the comments section.

No Evidence ===> Evidence

William Shakspere of Stratford was an actor in London. The company he was a part of put on Shakespeare plays.

That’s it. That’s the evidence.

Shakspere’s life is pretty well documented. He lived from 1564 to 1616 and was known as a businessman-actor. No evidence from his lifetime beyond the association with the acting company connects him to Shakespeare. He died mostly unknown.

What happened next gives the expression “Never say die” new meaning.

Seven years after Shakspere died, thirty-six Shakespeare plays, the majority of which hadn’t been published before, showed up in a monumental publication called the First Folio. Shakspere was gone but not forgotten. His tombstone read in part, “Blessed be ye man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones.” Now this doggerel would be canceled out by the beauty of the First Folio.

Shakspere was suddenly a great writer. Indeed, the preface to the First Folio referenced him, personally. There’s no doubt about the meaning of the reference.

A monument was also built sometime between 1616 and 1623 in the church at Shakspere’s burial site. The monument changed Shakspere’s name to Shakspeare and likened him to Socrates, Virgil, and Nestor all rolled into one.

Congratulations were clearly in order. It’s just a shame Shakspere wasn’t around to revel in all the attention.

Some people such as Shakespearean actor Sir Derek Jacobi and Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and the scholars at the Shakespeare Authorship Research Center are suspicious about what we might call the Great Shakspere Apotheosis.

No Evidence

Shakespeare plays were published and sold for many years, sometimes in corrupted versions, and Shakspere never sued for the rights to “his” plays and poems. No one, not Shakspere and not the company he was a part of, complained when Shakespeare plays were published, regardless of how badly butchered the publication was.

Shakspere did occasionally sue his neighbors for small sums, however. Those records survived just fine.

No one regarded Shakspere as a writer while he lived. There were plenty of personal references to him, just none that mention writing. To his friends and neighbors, Shakspere was a businessman and an actor, nothing more. Shoenbaum, the classic Shakespeare biographer, marveled at this little fact without considering its implications.

If you were an Elizabethan author, your friends said you were. In fact, they wrote it down. These personal references survive today in large numbers, whether you are Ben Jonson or Francis Beaumont or Thomas Nashe or any one of two dozen authors analyzed by Diana Price.

The best the mainstream can do for Shakspere along these lines is a comment from Leonard Digges, who lived near Shakspere and might (theoretically) have met him at some point. Digges wrote briefly that the Spanish have their Lope de Vega and we [English] have our Shakespeare. This is supposed to be a personal reference!

This kind of reasoning indicates desperation. It goes nicely with the equally powerful claim that the published Shakespeare plays are evidence that Shakspere wrote them.

Shakspere had a big house full of possessions that he disbursed in a three-page will which mentioned no books, no letters, no bookshelves, no writing desks, no inkwells, no quills, no manuscripts, no paper.

Shakspere had two children who reached adulthood. They weren’t literate. Obviously, literacy in the case of children is not inherited genetically, but it is nevertheless inherited. If your father is the greatest writer in England, you can read his works.

That’s the end of the Shakspere story. He and Francis Beaumont died in 1616, Beaumont in March, Shakspere in April. Beaumont was buried in Westminster Abbey with Chaucer and Spenser. Shakspere wasn’t.

Except for Shakspere’s association with an acting company that put on various plays including Shakespeare plays, no evidence from his life has been found by anyone indicating he was the author. And it’s not for lack of trying. People have been searching for centuries for any tiny reference that might connect Shakspere to Shakespeare.

Unless you are willing to believe that a person can suddenly become a writer seven years after his death, the sixty or seventy documents (it depends how you count them) that have been uncovered make it clear he was a semi-literate actor with a name similar to a pseudonym being used by someone else.

In some ways, it’s a very easy discussion to have. No one ever claimed to have met Shakespeare the great writer. There are no documents suggesting that Shakspere of Stratford was a writer of any kind much less Shakespeare and that’s it, we’re done. Unless you say acting is the same thing as writing or published work under a similar name is evidence of authorship or someone who lives near you saying “our Shakespeare” is a personal reference, there is nothing to even create a basis for discussion much less certainty that Shakspere wrote Shakespeare!

Evidence

Seven years after Shakspere died, everything changed. Shakspere transmogrified into Shakespeare. A couple of earls got their hands on 24 plays that had not been published in decent versions during the author’s lifetime, added the 12 accurately published plays, left out the sonnets and epic poems, made some cryptic comments about Shakespeare being from Stratford, complained about stolen and surreptitious copies having been published all these years, and built a monument to Shakspere in Stratford in which his name was changed to Shakespeare. Shakespeare was thus immortalized in what is known as the First Folio.

And that was that.

The reason for the deception is obvious. Shakespeare dedicated his two epic poems to the Earl of Southampton and wrote a series of sonnets about Southampton’s life. Southampton had been convicted of high treason in 1601 and sentenced to death for trying to control the succession when Elizabeth was dying. His co-conspirators were all executed, but Southampton was released when King James ascended the throne. Southampton was even rewarded: he was made a Knight of the Garter and captain of the Isle of Wights.

No one knows what was going on. Southampton obviously had a claim to the throne or some other ace up his sleeve. Whatever the truth is, the earl was white-hot. He was lucky to survive. There is more than enough intrigue here to explain why epic poems dedicated to him and sonnets discussing his life were left out of the First Folio.

Southampton’s politics are also sufficient to motivate a cover-up of the true author of the plays and poems, especially if Southampton really had a claim to the throne as seems likely given his extraordinary treatment.

For whatever reason, a semi-literate actor was turned into Shakespeare and we all fell for it, including yours truly. But really, it’s quite weak as hoaxes go. The people building the monument and writing the preface to the First Folio could not alter the documentary record.

As Mark Twain noted, it is surprising anyone fell for it.

P.S. Technically, we don’t know who built the monument in Stratford. I claim it is obvious that it was the same people who put together the First Folio, but if you want Shakspere to have written Shakespeare, you might reject that claim and say it was built by his family or others close to him who wanted to commemorate the man they knew as a great writer. Sure.

 

 

The Professor Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

I am deeply skeptical. When I read that Shakesepeare didn’t write Shakespeare in a book written by someone I trusted, I didn’t believe it. The book gave a good argument, but it didn’t convince me. I read a couple more books written by reputable professionals expanding on the argument and was still not convinced. Then I read the other side of the story. I read several books by eminent Shakespeare scholars explaining why all the “authorship questions” were just so much nonsense.

Now I was convinced. The eminent Shakespeare scholars seem to know Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. They seem desperate. They say bizarre things that don’t make sense; they make circular arguments that are way, way beneath them; they look for easy rhetorical points to score while studiously ignoring the meat of the main arguments; they take nasty potshots when they have nothing left to say.

Here are six little bites to give you an idea why there is a Shakespeare Authorship Studies Center at Concordia University and why Roger Stritmatter got a Ph.D. at UMass Amherst studying the authorship question and why the famous Shakespearean actor Sir Derek Jacobi believes the traditional attribution is totally absurd.

Six Brief Bites

(1) William Shakespeare, unfortunately, never existed. It sounds like a strong thing to say, but details really do matter. A man baptized William Shakspere who signed his last will and testament William Shakspere and who never used the name William Shakespeare was an actor in a company that put on Shakespeare plays. But the actor had the wrong name.

If that was all, it would be nothing. One would simply explain the difference in the personal spelling and the publication spelling in any one of a hundred different ways and move on. But it isn’t all.

(2) Shakspere tried to write his name a few times. The signatures, such as they are, survive. He couldn’t write his own name. His signature looks nothing like the smooth, flowing signatures of other professional Elizabethan writers who wrote millions of words without benefit of word processing and therefore, amazingly, were pretty good with a pen.

You can take one look at Shakspere’s signatures and know he is not a writer. No handwriting expertise is necessary.

(3) Shakspere wasn’t referred to as a writer by anyone who knew him until seven years after his death when he magically turned into the famous writer Shakespeare. He was referred to as a businessman and as an actor, but not as a writer.

No other Elizabethan writer had to die in order to become a professional writer.

(4) Shakspere was born in 1564 and died in 1616 and in all that time never wrote so much as a letter to his family, to a business associate, or to a “fellow” writer. He didn’t receive any letters either. He owned no books.

A great deal of material survives even for writers that were far less famous in their lifetimes than Shakespeare. No other Elizabethan writer left behind zero personal items indicating their profession. The “bad luck” theory doesn’t hold water.

(5) The majority of the non-history plays are set in Italy with extraordinary local detail. Mainstream authors have tried mightily to suggest that Shakspere could have learned enough about Italy from books and travelers to write the Italian plays.

Of all the arguments the mainstream has lost, this one is the most spectacular. To read the mainstream’s claims that books and travelers were sufficient set against the details Shakespeare includes in the Italian plays is like watching a man engage in a boxing match with an angry elephant.

(6) Shakespeare’s two epic poems were dedicated to the Earl of Southampton and, subject to interpretation, the earl’s politically charged personal life appears to be revealed in the sonnets including some things that would have been state secrets. Under this interpretation, Shakspere can be confidently excluded as an authoship candidate.

The Southampton interpretation of the sonnets, if true, explains parts of Southampton’s political life that history has drawn a blank on.

Six Bites and You’re Out

(1) Shakspere was a family name. William was baptized Shakspere as were all seven of his siblings. William signed his name as well as he could, Shakspere. He never used Shakespeare. On the other hand, Shakespeare was used consistently on the published works.

Spelling was quite variable in those days, including the spelling of names. The consistency of Shakspere for personal documents and Shakespeare as a publication name wasn’t perfect, but it was more than clear and even the deviations are almost all phonetic spellings of Shakspere such as the Shagspere on his marriage certificate. No other author avoided using his name as it was spelled on his own publications.

(2) Shakspere couldn’t write his own name. Take a look.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.23.56 AM

Last page of will. The “By me William” part was obviously written by someone else. Shakspere may have been sick at the time.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.23.43 AM

Closeup of the part Shakspere wrote.

BenJonsonSig

Ben Jonson was a writer and had a smooth hand.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.09.06 AM

Five years before Shakspere died he tried to sign a legal document.

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 2.16.03 PM

Thomas Nashe, like every other professional writer of the time, had some facility with the pen.

Shakspere’s shaky signatures are reminiscent of Raymond Dart’s discovery in the 1920’s. He discovered a fossil of a bipedal ape before the mainstream was willing to consider such things. For our small-brained bipedal ancestors, the spine enters the skull along the midline rather than along the back. No microscope is needed. One look at the skull and the difference is instantly visible. The same is true for Shakspere’s signatures. Dart was ignored by his fellow researchers for twenty years simply because his discovery was destined to change the way they thought about human evolution. Shakspere’s signatures have been studiously ignored for two hundred years although various perfectly good excuses — maybe he was sick or distracted or someone else was doing the writing — have been proposed.

(3) If it were just the name and the handwriting, that still wouldn’t be enough to convince a reasonable person that we were all fooled by the greatest hoax in history. But Elizabethan writers were ALWAYS described as writers and/or referred to as writers by people who had physical contact with them. It was a long time ago, but such documents survive for every Elizabethan writer EXCEPT Shakspere.

Shakspere biographer Schoenbaum marvels that Shakspere’s “townsmen” didn’t seem to know he was a writer — the didn’t “trouble their heads about the plays and poems.” Of course, “business was another matter.” Schoenbaum doesn’t seem to realize that he is arguing that Shakspere wasn’t a writer.

Diana Price picked up where Shoenbaum left off and verified that what the classic biographers marvel at is indeed worth wondering about: among 24 Elizabethan writers plus Shakspere that Price studied, ONLY Shakspere was never referred to as a writer by those who knew him.

(4) In addition to the lack of references, there is no evidence Shakspere wrote anything at all. All of his letters (if any), written or received, have been lost. All of his books (if any) were lost.

Shakspere died in a big house (a mansion) full of stuff and had two children and left a long will. No books were mentioned, no quills, no inkwells, no bookshelves, no desks. No manuscripts or writing of any kind were part of his estate.

The fact that a name similar to his appears on published works, despite repeated circular reasoning indulged in by ivy league professors, means nothing if there is nothing to connect him to those works. Nor does being an actor in a play whose author has a name similar to yours make you the author. The arguments made by experts using Shakspere’s acting as an indication that he was a writer are embarrassing.

Shakspere’s two grown daughters were demonstrably illiterate. Other writers not only saw to it that their children could read their work, but they also left bequests to ensure their grandchildren would be taught to read. Such a bequest would have been totally out of character for Shakspere.

Let’s do some very elementary statistics. Elizabethan writers left behind documents roughly half of which relate to their profession. For some writers, it was a little less than half of documents, for others it was a little more than half. Roughly speaking, for an Elizabethan author, a document referring directly to writing was a coin flip: heads it is some mundane part of life; tails it has something to do with their chosen profession.

Shakspere had seventy surviving documents. ZERO documents having to do with writing requires astronomical bad luck. You could flip coins long enough to watch single-celled life evolve into mammals without flipping seventy tails in a row.

(5) Shakespeare knew so much about Italy that he could mention the Duke’s Oak (capitalized) in “Athens” and confuse even modern scholars equipped with modern tools.

It took Richard Roe physically going to Italy and visiting a town the Italians have always called “Little Athens” and stumbling upon the Duke’s Oak (capitalized) which is an entryway to a forest constructed centuries ago. Now we understand the reference, finally. The Duke’s Oak was capitalized in the original Shakespeare but the capitalization was never understood and was sometimes removed. Shakespeare’s Italian plays are filled with similar minute detail.

The necessity of placing the commoner Shakspere in Italy at some point troubles the mainstream hence their desperate pleas that you don’t learn about the level of detail in the Italian settings.

(6) Finally, Shakespeare seems to have written a series of sonnets about Southampton’s life in addition to his two epic poems lavishly dedicated to the earl.

Shakespeare, the author, told his “lovely boy” (from “O thou my lovely boy . . . ” in Sonnet 126) in Sonnet 10 to “make thee another self for love of me.” Pretty intimate stuff.

Shakespeare who was obviously extremely close to Southampton and knowledgeable about his situation was deeply preturbed when Southampton was sentenced to death for high treason and tossed into the Tower where Shakespeare visited his imprisoned love only to find that when he returned home, he could not sleep.

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired: 
For then my thoughts–from far where I abide–
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

In Sonnet 87, “the charter of thy worth gives thee releasing.” The crime, according to the sonnet, was now “misprision” which was a “better judgment” since misprision of treason (knowing about it but not reporting it) is not a capital crime.

Shakespeare is overjoyed in Sonnet 107 when Southampton, who was “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” was released. “The mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured” and “incertainties now crown themselves assured.” That is, the Queen (often poetically compared with the Moon) had died and James had ascended the throne.

After he became King, James promptly released Southampton and restored his Earldom and all his lands. No reason was given.

Southampton and his ally, the Earl of Essex, had tried to control the succession. Essex and four commoner helpers were executed. History does not tell us what was so special about Southampton.

The same summer he was released, Southampton was made captain of the Isle of Wights AND also a Knight of the Garter. Again, this is not at all understood by history.

Sonnet 106 has the following suggestive lines which may or may not mean anything:

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,

Later in the sonnet, Shakespeare speaks of “prophecies” and “prefiguring” and “divining.” Could Shakespeare have known what was going on behind the scenes?

IF the assumptions are true, we can eliminate Shakspere from even distant consideration, we have a very good idea why the true author had to use a pseudonym, and we have a lot of clues to follow up on to find the actual author.

Conspiracy Theory

With James firmly in power, in 1623, the Earls of Montgomery and Pembroke gathered together 24 unpublished (or badly published) Shakespeare plays and 12 previously published plays, recruited two of Shakspere’s acting buddies, hired Ben Jonson, and got a publisher. They preserved the work of whoever wrote the plays in what we call the First Folio.

At the same time, they either made it look like Shakspere was the author, connecting the actor with the work for the first time in the preface to the First Folio or, if you prefer, they cleared up the terrible confusion that had dogged poor Shakspere all his life causing people to think of him as merely an actor and hard-nosed businessman when he was really the greatest writer in all England.

The earls and their team also had a monument built praising Shakspere as Virgil, Socrates, and Nestor rolled into one. The monument spells the name “Shakspeare” which may be a fortuitous error being neither Shakspere nor Shakespeare.

As hoaxes go, it wasn’t a very good one. The paper trail left by Shakspere during his lifetime is pretty much irrefutable: he wasn’t a writer.

On the other hand, reasonable people can disagree. There is another side to the story, as always.

Maybe Shakspere didn’t like the name his publishers used and maybe that explains the gap between his personal name and his published name. Maybe he simply had bad handwriting or maybe the signatures were scrawled under difficult conditions. Maybe his unusual dual career as an actor/writer caused people he knew to refer to him as an actor or businessman rather than as a writer during his lifetime. Maybe all of his letters were unfortunately lost. Maybe he made arrangements for his books outside of his will. Maybe the mention of “household stuff” in his will included his bookshelves and writing desks. Maybe he didn’t teach his daughters to read because they were country girls and/or he was too busy in London to bother. Maybe he went to Italy with some nobleman or other during the years for which we have no record of him (1585-1592). Maybe he had a relationship with Southampton for which there is unfortunately no independent evidence. Maybe the sonnets are not about anyone in particular and should be treated as fiction and not connected to the historical record.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s razor is a wonderful thing. What is the simplest assumption for us to make? All five “bites” based on hard evidence can be explained. The sixth bite is speculative (although you might not think so once you read the sonnets) and doesn’t require an explanation.

Should we explain away the five bites with a million maybe’s and hope the sixth is nonsense or would it be simpler to imagine an author who could write his name, who went to Italy, who knew Southampton, and who used a pseudonym?

Here are two lines from Sonnet 81.

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:

When this was written, “Shakespeare” was already quite famous. Hmm.

Of course, one can argue that any cover-up theory is inherently unlikely. What was the reason to go to all the trouble of a cover-up? Did King James want to keep Southampton’s claim to the throne (assuming he had one) out of history? What was the nature of such a claim? Does this explain the commutation of his sentence and his release from the Tower? Were the goodies he got after being released some kind of bribe to purchase his silence? We really don’t know.

The timing of Shakspere’s arrival in London is also a problem if you believe the cover-up (conspiracy) theory. Why did the first Shakespeare performances occur in the early 1590’s coinciding with Shakspere’s arrival at about the same time? There is a 1589 reference to “whole Hamlets of tragical speeches,” which might help disqualify Shakspere, but there is no record of any 1580’s performance of any Shakespeare play. If you want to prove Shakspere wasn’t the author, a firm record of a performance or two or three or four in the 1580’s, well before Shakspere arrived in London, would be very helpful. Shakspere was certainly in London by 1593 based on tax records that apply to his lodgings there.

If we ignore the tragical speeches comment, the timing for the early performances of Shakespeare plays makes it look like Shakspere may actually have written them. Was Shakspere really nothing more than a semi-literate country boy when he showed up in London just as Shakespeare the author was becoming well known?

The problem here is that the mainstream try to argue that there is NO issue, that the whole idea that Shakspere wasn’t Shakespeare is ridiculous and shouldn’t be discussed. There’s simply no rational way to make such an argument.

The scholars end up looking like fools even though they are very smart.

The professors doth protest too much, methinks.

A Rational Person Reads Shakespeare (Sonnets, Origin Story)

Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remembered not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.

It was 1590 and time for the teenaged Earl of Southampton to get married and create for the world a worthy heir. The golden good looks the boy inherited from his mother were, insisted Shakespeare, some waiting baby’s birthright.

The young earl, Henry Wriothesley (RYE-zlee), begged to differ.

No one knows how William Shakespeare got involved in the attempt by Henry’s elders to convince him to marry a particular young woman, but the six lines above and sixteen of the first seventeen sonnets — often called the “Marriage Sonnets” — begged the recalcitrant earl to marry and (more importantly) to produce a male heir.

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Begun in the early 1590’s, the sonnets weren’t published until 1609.

So “Marriage Sonnets” isn’t quite the right name. In sixteen sonnets, Shakespeare finds sixteen ways to refer to Southampton’s potential progeny: tender heir, fair child, thine image, acceptable audit, flowers distilled, beauty’s treasure, new-appearing sight, concord of well-tuned sounds [as in a harmonious family life], form of thee, another self, copy, breed, sweet issue, truth and beauty [as in “Thy end is Truthes and Beauties doome and date”], living flowers, and, finally, some child of yours. In sixteen “Make-Us-A-Baby Sonnets,” marriage is nothing more than a means to an end.

Sonnet 15 is an important outlier, being the only one of the first seventeen that refrains from shouting the joys of fatherhood from rooftops: this sonnet offers eternity in another form. Shakespeare says his immortal words will refresh Southampton’s “youthful sap” despite the “decay” perpetrated by “wasteful Time.”

At length, this becomes the central theme of the entire one hundred and twenty-six sonnet sequence: poetry and progeny versus aging and death. For Shakespeare, Time, capitalized, is the ultimate enemy. He calls Time, variously, never-resting, wasteful, bloody tyrant, coward, devouring, swift-footed, old, cruel, confounding, sluttish, injurious, thievish, filching, crooked, and, finally, fickle. 

In Sonnet 126, “Time’s fickle glass” treacherously shows us youth one moment and wrinkles the next. In Sonnet 74, Shakespeare sees his own body becoming the “coward conquest of a wretch’s knife” taken dishonorably as it were from behind. In Sonnet 12, he warns Southampton that “Time’s scythe” is a terrible weapon against which nothing but babies “can make defense.”

In Sonnet 15, Shakespeare declares all-out “war” on Time. His reason: love. His weapon: art. Shakespeare will do battle with Time armed with only his pen.

And all in war with Time for love of you
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

As Queen Elizabeth’s reign entered its final decade, Shakespeare celebrated his love for a noble child, calling him variously, the world’s fresh ornament, most rich in youth, beauteous and lovely youth, thy mother’s glass, tender churl, beauteous niggard, profitless usurer, possessed with murderous hate [childlessness = murder], love, my love, sweet love, my true love, Dear my love, Lord of my love, Suns of the world, my all-the-world, all my art, my sovereign, my Rose, my all, all the better part of me, too dear for my possessing, Time’s best jewel, fair friend, sweet boy, and, finally, O thou my lovely boy. 

The sonnets were private, shared at first only with a select few; they were almost lost. How we got them, how they prevailed against Time’s scythe — the sonnets’ origin story — is as fascinating as one might expect. Indeed, the story is as good as any Shakespeare drama.

A Story Rarely Told

At the end of the sixteenth century, a young earl was living in a maelstrom of political intrigue. From an early age, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, weighed tempting offers and all-in risks. Shakespeare, connected somehow to this earl, offering loving guidance and unconditional support, put the boy’s/young man’s life into poetry where it would be safe from Time’s scythe.

For some ten years or more, poetry and history intertwined, involving, ultimately, a whole nation. The cast of characters includes Queen Elizabeth herself, Lord Burghley (the Queen’s closest advisor), Burgley’s grand-daughter Elizabeth, the Earl of Essex (Southampton’s friend and ally), and the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery as well as Shakespeare and Southampton. Love and longing, power and fate, life and death, and the terrifying roller-coaster of Elizabethan politics enlivened the art of England’s greatest poet.

Shakespeare knew all about his greatness — he expected his skill to go toe to toe with Time itself. In Sonnet 32 Shakespeare speaks ironically of his “poor rude lines” that might someday be outstripped by a poet with superior “style” (not bloody likely). But never, he says, will his lines be matched for “love.” Here is the highest of high compliments to his lovely boy: writing for the ages with matchless skill, his talent is nothing next to his love for Southampton.

But the boy was reckless. He lost his friend to an axe he himself dodged only by the slimmest of margins. And so the sonnets celebrating him hung by a thread. Published, but oddly shunned, the sonnets were as good as dead for more than a century. Eventually, hope triumphed over circumstance and the sonnets returned, as it were, from the grave. To this day, the poems cause trouble.

Their story, the story of the sonnets themselves, has yet to end.

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All’s well didn’t end well for Southampton’s friend, the Earl of Essex.

One Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-Five Lines of Controversy

No one involved in the modern acrimony over the sonnets is going to lose his head, but wild theories fly like pollen in early spring. The 14-line poems seem to have a Harry Potter-esque curse upon them, placing them always at the nexus of trouble.

We cannot even say with certainty to whom the sonnets were written. Southampton is a good guess, nothing more. Shakespeare’s epic poems, introducing the poet to the world,  were dedicated to the young earl, Shakespeare’s sole dedicatee then and forever;  thirty-six lines from the sonnets are repeated almost word for word in the first of these works; and, of course, the sonnets do fit Southampton’s documented life rather nicely.

Thus, in 1817, Nathan Drake proposed in print Southampton as the obivous candidate for Shakespeare’s great love. The subject of the sonnets, whoever he is, is usually called the “fair youth” as opposed to “Southampton.” We shall use Shakespeare’s term — “lovely boy.” But we shall assume Drake was right: the “lovely boy” is the Earl of Southampton.

We gamble when we assume, but our modest wager richly rewards us: a coherent and dramatic story is ours for the reading.

Honor, Public and Private

In 1590, Shakespeare’s plays had yet to enliven a printing press. Even so, the bard’s voice had already found its way into the local vernacular: in 1589, the quick-witted hipster Thomas Nashe giddily quipped about “whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches.” Nashe had evidently seen Hamlet, talked about Hamlet, and heard what others had to say about Hamlet with enough frequency to make Shakespeare’s over-the-top drama the target of his fun-loving pen.

Nashe did not mention Shakespeare by name which is not surprising given the lack of Shakespeare publications at the time. Finally, in 1593, in the midst of the Southampton marital negotiations, Shakespeare formally introduced himself to the public with his epic poem called Venus and Adonis about a beautiful young man who refuses love and dies. At this time, Shakespeare and Southampton are linked in the public eye.

If your honor seem but pleased,
I account myself highly praised,
and vow to take advantage of all idle hours,
till I have honored you with some graver labor.

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Shakespeare finally in print.

Venus and Adonis was a smashing success going through sixteen editions over the next fifty years. In contrast, the Make-Us-a-Baby Sonnets remained in what one might call their zeroth edition for nineteen years or so. Not everything could be public.

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest
Thou dost beguile [deprive] the world, unbless [sadden] some mother.
For where is she so fair whose uneared [virgin] womb

Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?

The pretty young earl would be keeping his husbandry to himself for the time being, thank you very much.

In 1594, a second epic poem, The Rape of Lucrece, was published. Meanwhile, plays waited in the wings, performed but not published. The Lucrece dedication made the Venus dedication seem reserved.

THE love I dedicate to your lordship is without end . . .
What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours,

being part in all I have, devoted yours . . . 
I wish [you] long life still lengthened with all happiness.

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Shakespeare’s second, and final, dedication.

Lucrece went through eight editions in fifty years, another smashing success. Meanwhile the sonnets continued to press for baby earls.

Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.
. . .
Make thee another self for love of me
That beauty still may live in thine or thee. 

The “worms” in this sonnet mark the first of four appearances of the hungry creatures who feast on the newly dead. For Shakespeare, the metaphorical sound of worms licking their chops was enough to make anyone want a child. Worms took their bows on Shakespeare’s stages as well.

In Hamlet, worms play their familiar role: they eat the unfortunate Polonius whom the protagonist has stabbed. Lord Burghley was born in 1520; the “Diet of Worms” took place in 1521. This wormy event was a diet (convocation) held for Emperor Charles V in a small town in Germany called Worms. The convocation marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The following lines may be a nod to Burghley’s birth date as he is the most likely inspiration for the Polonius character.

Hamlet is asked where Polonius is and he replies, rather concisely, “At supper.”

But then he elaborates.

“Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service—two dishes, but to one table.” Hamlet Act 4, Scene 3.

Finally, sadly, in 1594, Southampton came of age and refused his betrothed. Brushing aside the failure, Shakespeare continued the poetic celebration of his lovely boy over the next decade. The sonnets would be a “monument” of “gentle verse,” he promised, “filled with your most high deserts,” strong enough to withstand “war’s quick fire,” able to leap tall buildings in a single bound . . .

If Shakespeare felt similarly about the lasting nature of his plays, he never said so. In 1594, the plays began appearing in printed editions without a byline and without dedications. The sometimes-garbled plays did not always (or ever) benefit from authorial oversight. The first play to be published was the anonymous Titus Andronicus. Probably everyone knew whose it was despite the lack of byline.

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Titus Andronicus was performed by three different acting companies. This edition was reasonably accurate.

In 1598, Southampton married a woman of his own choosing. The Shakespeare byline now appeared on the plays, but those who wanted additional epic poems or additional personal dedications were to be disappointed.

Meanwhile, work on the sonnets progressed as rumors of their existence leaked. Francis Meres spilled the beans in 1598, “Witness his sugared sonnets among his private friends,”  he wrote along with praise for Shakespeare and a list of plays including both Love’s Labors Lost and Love’s Labors Won the later of which we assume is a Shakespearean labor lost.

Mr. Meres, despite his familiarity with Shakespeare’s work, clearly hadn’t seen the sonnets himself. No one who was telling had. Referential quips from the local quipsters about “whole seasons of summer’s days” would have to wait. The sonnets were private for another eleven years.

For Shakespeare, this privacy was merely a temporary expedient. If we are to believe the sonnets, nothing was more important to Shakespeare than these poems, their noble subject, and their eventual publication that would ensuring the immortality subject, words, and author.

And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand [up to Time]
Praising thy worth, despite his
 [Time’s] cruel hand.
. . .
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see
So long lives this and this gives life to thee
. . .
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

when tyrants’ crests of tombs of brass are spent.
. . .
Not marble not the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme.

Very nice. But even if you are the greatest poet in England, even if you are literally Shakespeare, there are no guarantees when it comes to outliving marble monuments if your glorious subject insists on kicking around tectonic plates like they are unruly servants.

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To say the Earl of Southampton, the “lovely boy” of the sonnets, did not behave himself is a fantastic understatement.

The Politics of Failure

When Shakespeare broke ground on the “eternal lines” that would “preserve the living record of [Southampton’s] memory,” the self-willed boy was in line to marry the grand-daughter of Lord Burghley. The puritanical Burghley was the Queen’s closest advisor and therefore the most powerful man in England.

Burghley ate “powerful rhymes” for breakfast. One would think Southampton would be pleased to accept the great man’s grand-daughter’s hand and accept an ally somewhat more powerful than lovely lines celebrating a “lovely boy.” One would be wrong.

Lord Burghley was a consummate plotter who usually got what he wanted, which was, quite often, consummation. The highest ranking earl in England, Edward de Vere, had already married his daughter, the long-suffering Anne Cecil. Now it was Southampton’s turn to gild the Cecil family name.

It was none other than the great William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and his son, Robert Cecil, who engineered the succession after the childless Elizabeth died. It would be King James of Scotland and the foundation for the eventual unification of Scotland and England would be laid courtesy of the Cecil machinations. Southampton would have been wise to ally himself with this powerful family.

He did not. Refusing Burghley, refusing the silent-to-history, but clearly willing teen-aged Elizabeth Vere in 1594 was ill-advised on Southampton’s part, but it wasn’t quite crazy. No. Crazy came later.

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William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the man who eventually determined who would succeed Queen Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor Rose monarchs.

Plays vs Poems

Elizabeth Vere married, in due course, the Earl of Derby. Southampton remained the subject of new sonnets for which marriage was a far-off ideal. In Burghley’s world, Shakespeare plays remained a welcome diversion: revelers enjoyed a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the wedding of his eldest grand-daughter.

In due course, Burghley’s youngest grand-daughter, Susan Vere, married the Earl of Montgomery. It was a very Shakespearean family to be sure: Montgomery and his brother, the Earl of Pembroke, were the eventual dedicatees of the all-important First Folio — the monumental compilation that saved Shakespeare for posterity. No First Folio, no Macbeth.

In 1623, thirty-six Shakespeare plays, accurately rendered, miraculously appeared in one stunning tome. Twenty-four of these plays had either not been published during Shakespeare’s lifetime or had been published in corrupted, error-filled versions.

Without the First Folio, you would likely never have heard of sixteen Shakespeare plays: All’s Well that Ends WellAs You Like ItAntony and CleopatraThe Comedy of ErrorsCymbelineCoriolanusHenry VI part 1, Henry VIIIJulius CaesarMacbethMeasure for Measure, The Tempest, Timon of Athens, Twelfth Night, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, AND The Winter’s Tale.

Without the First Folio, you might have seen a horribly broken version of The Taming of a Shrew and a disastrous muddling called The Troublesome Reign of King John, but you would not get to see the real versions as these early publications were so badly butchered that they bore little or no resemblance to Shakespeare’s actual work.

Five plays published during Shakespeare’s lifetime were, at best, somewhere in the ballpark of the First Folio versions: Henry VI part 2, Henry VI part 3The Merry Wives of WindsorHenry V, and, even, the heartfelt King Lear.

The year before the First Folio was printed, one previously unpublished play, Othello, came out in a sort-of accurate printed version, differing from the First Folio version by only 170 lines or so.

With Othello, we have a grand total of twenty-four plays effectively missing from the canon the day Shakespeare died. To appreciate the horror of Shakespeare without the First Folio, take a look at its table of contents with the twenty-four rescued plays crossed out.

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It’s a good thing someone held onto the manuscripts.

In addition to the seven plays published in various states of disrepair, twelve decent versions of plays were printed, one way or another, during Shakespeare’s lifetime. The twelve are as follows: Hamlet, Henry IV part 1, Henry IV part 2, Love’s Labor’s Lost, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, and Troylus and Cressida (this last is included in the First Folio, but was inserted at the last minute and does not appear on the “CATALOGVE” page).

The unpredictable nature of Shakespeare publications can be amusing for modern readers: for example, the first pre-Folio attempt to publish Hamlet contained the immortal line, “To be or not to be, Aye there’s the point.” An accurate version appeared a year later. Romeo and Juliet also had an evil twin.

Bottom line, as of 1616, the year of Shakespeare’s death, the Shakespeare publication history was a godawful mess. After seven more trips around the sun, the expansion of the canon from twelve to thirty-six intact plays came about by the good graces of the “incomparable paire of brethren,” two earls who evidently knew the right people.

firstfoliodedication

The two earls were joined by two of Shakespeare’s fellow members of the King’s Men acting company, John Heminge and Henry Condell. They gathered together Shakespeare plays that had already been published, plays that had never been published, and plays that had been published monstrously.

Heminge and Condell, writing in the preface to the First Folio, tell us that readers were previously “abused with diverse stolen and surreptitious copies maimed and deformed by the stealths of injurious imposters,” but now would get authoritative versions “perfect of their limbs.” The publishers, Edward Blount and William Jaggard, likewise promised in the preface that the First Folio was based on the “true original copies” of the plays.

The sonnets and epic poems were NOT included: no one knows why. Ben Jonson’s works, published by him in folio form in 1616 and thought to have inspired Shakespeare’s version, included plays and poems.

Southampton’s wild antics and disastrous politics may have played a role in the plays-only decision. By 1623, the now-fiftyish Venus/Lucrece dedicatee and the prodigal lovely boy of the sonnets, had survived his bout of extravagant incaution. He was content each morning to “look in thy glass” and see his head attached to his shoulders.

Southampton was in no position to protest the snubbing of the sonnets. Shakespeare, himself already “the prey of worms,” likewise had little to say.

And so the great poet’s unconditional love, deep identification (“my glass shall not persuade me I am old, so long as youth and thou are of one date”), and infinite esteem for the Earl of Southampton carved into fragile paper with black ink, lovingly crafted over thirteen years, the great author’s monument of one hundred and twenty-six intensely evocative sonnet-letters, those wondrous immortal lines we fawn over today were dropped like hot rocks by Pembroke, Montgomery, Heminge, Condell, Blount, and Jaggard.

The epic poems were protected by their multiple editions. The sonnets were cast adrift in the uncompromising seas of time, with no guarantee of arrival at a friendly shore, ever.

Shakespeare had been so sure of himself.

When all the breathers of this world are dead
You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen).

Now he had to rely on luck. But maybe he knew the future.

Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered. — Cymbeline, IV.iii

And so it came to pass for the sonnets. We shall see the push of fortune’s hand and we shall follow our lovely boy to Hell and back. Patience! First you must know the curse of the sonnets.

A 400-year-old Curse

How many people realize the “thee” in “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” is a self-willed young man who wouldn’t marry properly, a young man whose rash behavior got his noble friend killed along with four unfortunate commoners? The answer is “not many” and maybe it’s just as well.

The lovely boy is still at it, you see. First we’re talking about Southampton, then we shift to Shakespeare himself. We cannot resist. We become convinced Shakespeare is talking to us as himself through the sonnets. We become amateur biographers. We begin spewing wild theories, guessing our way out of intelligent history. We reel out of control just like an earl from long ago.

Professor James Shapiro at Columbia University has a simple and sensible remedy for sonnet-itis: “I steer clear of reading these extraordinary poems as autobiography.”

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Columbia Professor James Shapiro

And really there’s no choice. Shakespeare was a twenty-something commoner when he came to London in the early 1590’s and became involved with the theater as a shareholder of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. We know nothing of his relationship with Southampton. We therefore cannot place the sonnets in any kind of context.

It isn’t clear how or why Shakespeare would refer to the Earl of Southampton as “O thou my lovely boy” or as a “tender churl” or say to him “be not self-willed” or ask him to “make thee another self for love of me” or be involved in the boy’s marriage decisions or Lord Burghley’s politics.

With the uncertainties associated with any autobiographical reading of the sonnets (we can’t even say with certainty that the sonnets were written to Southampton), it makes sense to follow the lead of Professor Shapiro and virtually every other Shakespeare scholar and simply regard them as “extraordinary poems” written by an artist whose writing life is insufficiently documented to allow us to convert them into personal documents.

Some Elizabethan authors like Ben Jonson or Thomas Nashe wrote manuscripts and/or letters that survived. For these authors, we are fortunate enough to have signatures in books . . .

. . . and long samples of handwriting . . .

. . . giving us a place to begin, providing us with at least some semblance of context.

However, the surviving documents referring to Shakespeare do not shed light on his writing in general or on the sonnets in particular. We have legal, personal, and business records and so forth, but no manuscripts survive; there are no surviving personal letters concerning writing that might mention or allude to the sonnets. In fact, none of Shakespeare’s letters, written or received, survive.

There are a few signatures on legal documents . . .

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. . . but this is not a literary document . . .

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. . . and he was probably ill when he signed his legalistic will.

Shakespeare’s will didn’t mention books or manuscripts or writer’s tools such as ink, pens, desks, or shelves. The omission of books etc., makes perfect sense under the circumstances — Shakespeare’s wife and two grown daughters were not literate, so they wouldn’t have had use for such things.

We may surmise that Shakespeare simply transferred ownership of books and any manuscripts he had retained to an unknown party prior to leaving literary London around 1610 and returning to his business-oriented life in Stratford.

The people Shakespeare biographer Samuel Schoenbaum calls Shakespeare’s “townsmen” didn’t even realize their neighbor was the great writer, Shakespeare: “They probably troubled their heads little enough about the plays and poems,” Schoenbaum writes. “Business was another matter; they saw Shakespeare as a man shrewd in practical affairs.”

We are like Shakespeare’s townsmen in that we don’t know much about Shakespeare’s writing life. There is a monument in Stratford commemorating Shakespeare as a combination of Socrates, Nestor, and Virgil. There are the letters praising the late author written by Heminge and Condell for the First Folio. That’s all we have, unfortunately.

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Shakespeare’s monument in Stratford.

The sonnets, without any context in which to place them, are an accident waiting to happen. In fact, the accident has happened. The trouble began with another “monument” in Stratford — Shakespeare’s gravestone.

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Another reminder to avoid seeking autobiography in unlikely places.

Mark Twain famously regarded the doggerel on the gravestone as an indication that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare! And thereby hangs a tale.

Hordes of present-day Mark Twains now point at the “obviously” autobiographical sonnets to continue pushing his shocking idea. They say we may seek in the sonnets answers to the “authorship question.”

Despite cool heads like Professor Shapiro’s, the grim spectacle of speculative history rears its head in all manner of surprising places. The sonnets are wielded even by Shapiro’s fellow professionals (!) as if they were the Sword of Gryffindor — an undefeatable weapon.

The controversy will never go away. That is the curse of the sonnets.

The Editor-Pirate

One day in 1609, Thomas Thorpe got his unclean hands on the celebration of Southampton Shakespeare had wrought with his pen. Imagine! The priceless handwritten copy — maybe even the originals — of Shakespeare’s long declaration of love to the one person he wished to immortalize was crinkling in the well-known editor-pirate’s trembling hands.

Thorpe only managed one printing, barely enough to allow fortune to save Shakespeare’s politically charged monument. Aside from Southampton’s history, the subject also suffered from the problem of being a “lovely boy” as opposed to a “beautiful maiden.” Bottom line: no one knows why Shakespeare’s apparently personal poetry was not published in multiple editions. Maybe his readers didn’t think much of them.

A century plus two years later, the sonnets were pulled back from history’s precipice and printed in their original form once again by one Bernard Lintott. Then, in 1780, the original sonnets with commentary were published by Edmund Malone. They have been safe ever since; in fact, thirteen copies of the original 1609 publication — six in England, six in the U.S. and one in Switzerland — survive. Maybe they really were immortal after all.

The sonnets contain no author’s dedication, but Thorpe published his own short dedication in which he wished someone called “Mr. W.H.” the same “all happiness” Shakespeare had wished Southampton all those years ago in the Lucrece dedication. Thorpe further expressed his hope that the “eternity” Shakespeare wanted for his subject would be bestowed upon this “Mr. W.H.”

Southampton’s initials are “H.W.” and, as an earl, he is not properly addressed as “Mr.” Therefore, it isn’t clear to whom Thorpe is referring. Maybe Southampton’s stepfather, Mr. William Harvey, brought Thorpe the sonnets or maybe Thorpe sought to mislead his readers. No one knows.

Actually, Thorpe’s entire dedication is confusing.

Sonnet-Dedication

At the time, Shakespeare was ever-living sometimes in Stratford and sometimes in London. Unlike Henry the Fifth, “that ever-living man of memory,” our friend William had a few years left to him.

We forgive Thorpe his cryptic dedication, his early eulogy, and his unrepentant piracy for he gave us the sonnets.

A REALLY Bad Idea . . . or . . . The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For

With hindsight, given Southampton’s subsequent decisions, the first seventeen sonnets might have put progeny aside and more productively sung the praises of not committing treason. But then, Shakespeare couldn’t have known what his lovely boy was capable of.

In 1601, the wayward, stubborn, I’ll-marry-whomever-I-want earl was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Southampton and the Earl of Essex led what is known as the “Essex rebellion” wherein the two idiot earls and some of their followers attempted to control the royal succession.

Tossed into the Tower of London, watching his friends die one by one, waiting for his own date with the axeman, Southampton’s first few months of the 17th century were, shall we say, inauspicious. Here are the details of Southampton’s downfall.

As the Queen lay dying, Southampton and Essex, with an ever-shrinking group of uncertain supporters, hatched a plan to gain access to the Queen’s bedchamber. It is not clear precisely what their plan even was. In any case, they didn’t get far.

Burghley’s son, the cunning Robert Cecil, and his legendary network of spies (built by his father and as seen in Hamlet) outwitted the Southampton-Essex amateur hour. “Outwitted” used here is a charitable term employed simply because we have no wish to further insult our lovely boy. Still, putting aside the noble aim of gentleness, we must aver that we understand that the bird does not really “outwit” the worm.

Many expected the Queen to commute the death sentence of Southampton’s great friend, the popular Earl of Essex, but his head rolled as far as any commoner’s. For him, it was over reasonably quickly though his neck resisted the axe’s first two swings. Sirs Blount (no relation to the First Folio editor), Meyrick, Cuffe, and Danvers, the commoner co-conspirators also convicted of high treason, were not so fortunate as the gentle earl. They suffered greatly with their guts removed and their limbs torn from their bodies prior to the severing of their knighted heads.

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The Earl of Essex before he lost his head.

Then something odd happened, something history can’t get its head (so to speak) around because there is, again, no paper trail. The Essex Rebellion had so far killed five people. Many more were energetically thanking God for having granted them the wisdom to run far and fast as the plan, such as it was, exploded in the earls’ pretty faces. One more head would, shall we say, cap the episode.

It is not recorded that anyone at this time said to Southampton, “Lovely boy, have you ever thought maybe you should have married Elizabeth Vere? Lovely boy, may I offer you some advice you might have use for in the unlikely event you are still alive tomorrow?”

But Southampton was not destined to die. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. It was a stunning development and that’s all we know about it. The Queen didn’t want to give an official reason, so she didn’t.

The sonnets may contain clues as to the reason, or, if there is no path to the precise reason for a fool’s deliverance, there may at least be an indication of the mechanism by which Southampton’s good fortune manifested itself.

Sonnet 87 contains the following interesting lines:

So thy great gift, upon misprision growing
comes home again on better judgment making. 

Misprision of treason is an Elizabethan term for failure to report treasonous activity. It is a serious crime, but NOT a capital crime. From Southampton’s and Shakespeare’s point of view, it is certainly a “better judgment.”

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King James I of England. This man was going to be King, if necessary over Southampton’s dead body.

We may never know precisely who Southampton was. We certainly don’t know why he and Essex thought they could control the succession or who they favored for the Queen’s successor or even whether that was the goal of their ill-conceived plot.

We know Essex’s great-grandmother was the sister of Queen Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn. Southampton’s baptismal record is missing, but, as far as we know, his bloodline wasn’t as impressive as Essex’s.

Elizabeth died in 1603 without an heir and without a clear successor while Southampton languished in the Tower. Meanwhile, Essex’s remains were making the local worms fatter and fatter. We may never know why the Queen spared Southampton but not Essex.

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Southampton was outrageously lucky to live to be this old. If the painting is accurate, he was a lucky alcoholic.

We know one more thing about Southampton. The treasonous wretch was NOT just not executed. The vile traitorous scum was NOT just singled out as the survivor of a conspiracy that targeted the crown itself. Southampton must have had some BIG magic. For when King James ascended the throne, he was actually RELEASED from the Tower, his life sentence thrown out althogether! Not only that, his earldom and all his lands were restored to him AND, that same year, James made him a Knight of the Garter — to this day a singular honor.

The ebullient Sonnet 107 celebrating a rather improbable release is central to this part of the story. As usual, we don’t know why King James was so sweet on Southampton. The sonnet seems clear enough though: The Queen has died (the mortal moon hath her eclipse endured), the feared civil war over the succession did not happen (the sad augurs mock their own presage), Southampton is free (supposed as forfeit to a confined doom . . . my love looks fresh), and the author will defeat death through his words (death to me subscribes [succumbs] . . .).

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control, 
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time,
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I’ll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes:
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

It is hard to imagine a man more fortunate than Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Celebrated in Shakespeare’s incomparable sonnets for all eternity even though he refused to marry properly, his death sentence commuted to life in prison by the Queen even though he stood convicted of high treason, his lifetime in the Tower miraculously transmuted to freedom and a restored earldom even though he had opposed the succession of James of Scotland, Henry W. is the kind of guy I’d pay a lot to travel back to see.

I’d sit down with him and we would have tequila — he’d be game I’m sure — and I’d ask him what he wants out of life. My guess is he’d say, “To be King on my own terms,” before downing shot after shot. I would be nothing if not encouraging. “To your health,” I would say loudly and often. If only . . .

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Only the finest for my lovely boy.

Logic

In 1900, there were two worlds. In one, lived the scientists who believed in the atomic theory. In the other, lived those clinging to the eminently sensible, but wrong, theory that matter was continuous and not (pish-posh) largely empty space. One group busily calculated the radii and masses of the newly discovered atoms. The other group grew old, weakened, became wrinkled, and died.

Today, there is a world of logic inhabited by Shakespearean actors Sir Derek Jakobi, Mark Rylance, Sir John Gielgud, and Michael York. Also in this world are thoughtful observers Sigmund Freud and Mark Twain. Sharing space with them are writers Henry James, Walt Whitman, and Nobel laureate John Galsworthy. At the head of the table, sit U.S. Supreme Court Justices Blackmun, Powell, O’Connor, Stevens, and Scalia.

The Shakespeare Authorship Research Center at Concordia University in Oregon is currently the best example of serious academic discussion of that annoying “authorship question.”

Of all the inhabitants of this world, perhaps the most extraordinary is the 18th Baron Burghley himself, Michael William Cecil, whose ancestor played a central role in the Shakespeare saga. He is a signatory to something called the “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” in which the “doubters” codify their objections to the “official” viewpoint.

And there is Roger Stritmatter whose 2001 dissertation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on one aspect of the authorship question is the first doctorate awarded in this particular world of logic.

Dr. Michael Delahoyde at Washington State University, another heretic, was succinct and not 100% polite in giving his opinion about the notion that the sonnets are not autobiographical. The word he used was “insane.”

Finally, we have Diana Price, the Elaine Morgan of the authorship question. The discussion above of the paper trails left by Elizabethan authors is based on her seminal work, “Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography.”

Of course, the vast majority of Shakespeare scholars still characterize as a crackpot theory the notion that some nobleman or other may have used the Shakespeare name as a pseudonym and later the man himself as a front.

I must apologize for misleading you, dear reader. In the section featuring the redoubtable Professor Shapiro, I felt it my duty to present the mainstream viewpoint as forcefully as I could. It may indeed have been convincing or the argument may have crumbled under its own weight — either way, you mustn’t blame me. It is what it is.

Could Shakespeare of Stratford have written the sonnets? Maybe. Did the man who wrote no letters, who owned no books, who raised illiterate children, say to the Earl of Southampton, “make thee another self for love of me”? Maybe. Are poems written to someone who is obviously the love of your life — poems kept private for a decade and more — really not personal? Not bloody likely.

On the other hand, let us be fair. Maybe the self-taught genius from Stratford didn’t have time to write letters or teach his country girls to read as he simultaneously rose within the literary and acting worlds of Elizabethan London. He may have borrowed his books, despite being rich. It is possible he felt a fatherly or brotherly affection toward a teenaged earl whom he met (perhaps while performing at court) and with whom he became involved without attracting any attention at all. And we must not forget we have the option to steer clear of reading the extraordinary poems as autobiography just as Professor Shapiro does. There are many possibilities. For example, the sonnets may have been commissioned by a relative of Southampton. Or the characters in the sonnets could be fictional. Anything is possible, right?

Um . . . well . . . maybe not anything.

Here are twenty-four key sonnets. And here too is some personal advice from your friendly author.

Listen not to those with the trappings of authority for underneath their trappings they may be as brilliant as Portia or as foolish as Dogberry.

You need not immerse yourself in Elizabethan trivia, for the mantle of expert is hardly worth the weight it exerts on your shoulders.

As a human being, you possess a perfectly natural and perfectly extraordinary understanding of context. And to read the sonnets is to be carried away by an avalanche of context.

Dare to read the sonnets.

Fear not the avalanche, for I guarantee that you shall arrive where-ever you are going in one roused piece.

Happy reading.

I. 1, 2, 3, 17: Get thyself married that thou may’st make for us an heir.

II. 15, 33, 18, 55: You are the most important thing in the universe and you will live forever in these lines.

III. 22, 62, 63, 73, 74: As I age, I think of you for you and I are one.

IV. 66, 81: I am writing under a pseudonym (sorry, Jimmy).

V. 27, 28, 35, 36, 87: Arrest, trial, death sentence, misprision of treason.

VI. 107, 125, 126: Release and peace; I bore the canopy in a royal procession; O thou my lovely boy . . .

VII. 140: Another twenty-eight sonnets were written to the mysterious “Dark Lady.” Unlike the case of the first 126 sonnets written to the Fair Youth (Southampton), there is no strong contender for the identity of the Dark Lady. Sonnet 140 is deliciously dramatic though it is far from clear what it means if anything.

I. Get thyself married that thou may’st make for us an heir. 

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This is how Sonnet 1 looked originally.

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II. You are the most important thing in the universe and you will live forever in these lines.

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III. As I age, I think of you for you and I are one.

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IV. I am writing under a pseudonym (sorry Jimmy)!

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V. Arrest, trial, death sentence, misprision of treason.

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VI. Release and peace, I bore the canopy in a royal procession, O thou my lovely boy . . . 

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VII. The Dark Lady — Careful or I’ll Spill the Beans

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Truth

Those who believe the question has moved into the “how big are atoms” stage have a candidate for the actual author of the plays and poems and they are exploring his life for clues.

Southampton was supposed to marry Lady Elizabeth Vere, the eldest daughter of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Oxford’s youngest daughter, Susan, married the Earl of Montgomery, one of the two earls who were the dedicatees of the First Folio. The 24 unpublished manuscripts may have come courtesy of Susan Vere.

In 1582, Oxford’s brother-in-law went to the Danish court at Elsinore as an ambassador. When he came back, he wrote a private report of his experiences which survives. In the report is the setting for Hamlet. The report also mentioned a number of Danish courtiers by name. Two of the names happened to be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

On the other hand, these are common Danish surnames, so this may mean nothing.

Edward de Vere got Anne Vavasour, one of the Queen’s maids of honor, pregnant. The Queen was not pleased. In 1581, Edward, Anne, and their guiltless infant spent two months in the Tower contemplating their sins, committed or inherited. After they were released, their families and friends had words. Swords crossed on the streets of London. People died.

Of course, family feuds have never been uncommon.

If Oxford was Shakespeare, the vicious parody of Lord Burghley in Hamlet makes perfect sense. Oxford lived much of his life under the thumb of of the great lord. He had plenty of reason to hate him and more than enough knowledge of the man to create the parody which ends with the protagonist killing Polonius and cruelly jesting before the corpse had cooled.

But then Lord Burghley was well known in London and gossip travels far.

Truth is truth though never so old
and time cannot make that false which was once true.
— Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, letter to Robert Cecil

Nay, it is ten times true,
for truth is truth to the end of reckoning. 
— William Shakespeare, playwright and poet, Measure for Measure, V.i

I give unto my wife
my second-best bed with the furniture.
— William Shakspere of Stratford, actor and businessman, Last Will and Testament

Blessed be ye man that spares these stones
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
— William Shakspere of Stratford, actor and businessman, Gravestone

Amanda Knox: They Didn’t Even Bother To Frame Her

November, 2007. On the ancient stone streets of Perugia, tabloid newspapers came to life and danced with one another like the broomsticks in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Amanda Knox had been imprisoned for murder.

She was not framed. Italian authorities presented fact after fact, finding after finding showing that she was innocent. Through it all, at each juncture, they said, “See, she’s obviously guilty.” Perhaps the most bizarre criminal prosecution in history became a 21st-century retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

It could have been worse for the quirky college kid. It was worse for Earl Washington, Anthony Yarborough, and Todd Willingham, victims of American injustice. Earl and Anthony are free now, minus two decades each. If you could talk to Todd Willingham, he would tell you a story whose lightest word would harrow up your soul and freeze your blood.

Police and prosecutors in Perugia did not want Knox’s whole life, just the first twenty-six years of her adulthood. They expertly used the tabloids. They appealed to Knox’s Italian boyfriend: “Testify against the dirty puttana (whore) or else.”

The boyfriend said NO, so they put him away too.

For seven years and five months, a parade of emperors wearing nothing but tessuti invisibili marched along the streets of Perugia. Citizens of the city famous for its chocolates watched the spectacle while placidly champing sweets and showing no particular signs of revulsion as reality itself was systematically abused.

Ha-ha

In March 2015, Italy’s highest court uttered the words that surprised the world: “Per l’amor di Dio, coprirlo!” This translates as “For the love of God, cover it up!” and is a paraphrase of the actual decision. Then and there, prison for Knox and her boyfriend ceased to be an issue.

The emperors didn’t take it well. They owe the boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, a cool five hundred thousand euros. They will not pay. It was all his fault, they say. He lied, they say.

The Italian judiciary has offered unto us a clear exposition from which we can, by implication, glean appropriate rules of conduct to guide any and all interactions with Italian law enforcement.

Rule 1: When interrogated lawyerless by a dozen officers, you may safely utter ONLY the six-word phrase È un bel giorno per morire. 

That’s Italian for “It’s a good day to die.”

Rule 2: If you are offered a pen, do NOT touch it.

Rule 3: When in doubt, refer to Rule 1.

Meredith Kercher

The joke could have been far less funny. Had Knox been framed in the traditional manner, she and Sollecito would still be in jail. How many decades, one wonders, would have passed before the starry-eyed young man began to curse his integrity? As it happened, the world was treated to a dark comedy as a pair of young lovers spent four years in prison.

Not everyone was so fortunate.

Twenty-one-year-old Meredith Kercher died in agony. Her mother, father, sister, and two brothers — all deferential to a fault — were used like theater lights. The Kerchers trusted the police. They trusted those whose mistake killed their daughter and sister. They trusted authorities who bragged about impegno morale — moral commitment. They trusted a legal system as it created a fictional character and put it on trial.

Decades ago, a poison called 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(4-chlorophenyl) ethane quietly circled the globe. It contaminated Antarctic snow. It got into your blood. Fortunately for us, DDT dissipates. It takes time, but one day we will be free of it. Not so the Perugia poison: impegno morale is forever.

Every day, I pray for a miracle. I pray that one day Arturo de Felice, Rita Ficarra, Monica Napoleoni, Edgardo Giobbi, Claudia Matteini, Giuliano Mignini, Patrizia Stefanoni, and Giancarlo Massei will be as famous as Amanda Knox.

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Die ich rief, die Geister,
Werd ich nun nicht los.
[I summoned them, the Spirits,
I will now never be free.]
— Goethe, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

She Crumbled

On 7 November 2007, the chief of Perugia’s police force, Arturo de Felice, told an international crowd of reporters absolutely everything. He was chillingly open.

The following is a paraphrase.

She tried to tell us she was at her boyfriend’s house. We knew she was lying. We knew because we read her facial expressions and body language. Once we broke her, she saw things our way. We didn’t make an audio record, but we have a signature (and that’s all we need).

*Felice used the Italian word “crollata” — crumbled, buckled, collapsed — to describe the results of his officers’ interrogation of Knox. His exact words, translated, appear below.

Interrogation with Tea and Pastry

On 1 November 2007 at 9 pm, Meredith Kercher, a British exchange student, arrived home to what should have been an empty house in Perugia — her American roommate and two Italian roommates were away. But the house wasn’t empty. Within a half hour, Meredith lay on her bedroom floor, her throat slashed. Blood filled her lungs and she drowned before she could bleed to death.

The next morning, Knox and Sollecito discovered something terribly wrong at Amanda’s house and made a series of frantic phone calls. Soon, several people arrived at the house, deeply worried: Meredith was not answering repeated cell phone calls; the door to her bedroom was locked. Nevertheless, the first police to arrive didn’t think the situation warranted breaking down the door. Someone unofficial smashed it open anyway and discovered the body.

In the succeeding days, police zeroed in on Knox. They questioned her, watched her stretch in the waiting room, and tapped her cell phone. Finally, after midnight on 6 November, interrogators told her they knew she had been at her house the night of the murder and if she didn’t remember, she would be considered an accomplice, imprisoned for decades, and never see her family again. Officer Rita Ficarra delivered two crucial slaps to the back of her head: “REMEMBER!”

Knox soon found a repressed “memory.” On the night of the murder, she met her employer, Patrick Lumumba, at a basketball court and took him to her house. Her roommate may have been home when they walked in. On the other hand, Meredith may have arrived afterwards. Lumumba and Meredith had sex. Lumumba may have threatened Meredith. Or he may not have made threats. Knox could not recall (non ricordo bene). Lumumba killed Meredith.

Police produced a piece of paper containing Knox’s revelations. Knox affixed her signature. Through tear-filled eyes, she watched the ensuing celebration — police officers hugging and kissing. Ficarra apologized — “I was just doing my job,” she said.

Locked up, alone with her thoughts, it was some time before Amanda Knox realized she and the police weren’t on the same side.

That’s Knox’s story. There is also the tea and pastry version of the interrogation — a version millions regard as quite likely. Knox was “trattata bene” and given “camomilla calda” and “brioche dalla macchinetta.” This according to Officer Monica Napoleoni who testified under oath about the humane treatment Knox received.

Ficarra likewise swore Knox was treated with “gentilezza e cortesia.” Knox was allowed to sleep and was given breakfast. At certain points, Ficarra admitted, Knox was “trattata con fermezza e severità,” but this was only because “circostanza richiedeva un rimprovero” — circumstances required a reprimand.

Was she minacciata — threatened? “No.”

What about schiaffi — slaps? “No, assolutamente, no.”

What really happened? Why did Knox say Lumumba killed Meredith when she knew he was working that night? Did police really threaten her? Did Ficarra hit her twice and then apologize? Are pastries from a police station machine even edible?

Sometimes truth is mysterious and elusive — sometimes not.

Here is the gentle, courteous Rita Ficarra.

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Here is the bearer of brioche and chamomile, Monica Napoleoni.

See You Later

It is certain that at 1:45 am on 6 November 2007, Amanda Knox crollata. Knox admits she did in fact confirm the Lumumba-dunnit theory. The nature of the interrogation is still a matter of dispute as there is no recording. But she did sign.

A few hours later, an extremely surprised young father was arrested.

Knox’s employer was quite possibly the least likely suspect in Perugia. Unfortunately for him, he had exchanged texts with his pretty waitress: Amanda Knox, una regazza disinibita; Amanda Knox, the young woman who performed la spaccata (the splits) on command; Amanda Knox, Meredith Kercher’s beguiling coinquilina.

Meredith was still alive when Amanda ominously texted her boss, “Ci vediamo più tardi” — we’ll see each other later. One hour later, two quarts of Meredith’s blood stained her bedroom floor.

Lumumba’s original message was nowhere to be found. However, Amanda’s full reply, “Certo. Ci vediamo più tardi. Buona serata,” remained on her phone. Police connected the dots.

Officer Anna Donnino: “Aveva ricevuto il messaggio . . . e da qui è scaturito il tutto.” — She had received the message . . . and from here, emerged the whole.

Officer Rita Ficarra: “Questo ci sembrava un appuntamento.” — This seemed to us an appointment.

For the perspicacious investigators of Perugia, Amanda’s text was a smoking gun. Public prosecutor Giuliano Mignini used it as the centerpiece of his Decreto di Fermo — the formal arrest decree in which he laid out the “gravi indizi” pointing to murder. The text message, Mignini wrote, “conferma” that Knox was with Lumumba when he killed “la vittima.” 

Mignini and others involved in the investigation suspected Knox from the beginning. Seeing the text, seeing that the clever-but-not-quite-clever-enough Knox had not entirely covered her tracks, the heroic investigators knew they had her — there would be no escape for the deadly seductress.

Stampeding like a herd of corybantic bulls, police quickly broke the pretty waitress, arrested the nonplussed bar owner and the geeky boyfriend too, and then and there commenced a Dionysian orgy of such extreme self-congratulation that it surely — if records for this sort of thing are kept somewhere — broke every record in the book.

CON PROFESSIONALITÀ E IMPEGNO MORALE, HANNO RISOLTO IL CASO.*
(Arturo de Felice, Chief of Police, Corriere dell’Umbria, 7 November 2007)

*With professionalism and moral commitment they have resolved the case. 

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Amanda Knox, compelling in a blue sweater, works her magic with police.

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The yoga afficionado shares space with mafia on the trophy wall.

Buona Serata

Stupid is as stupid does. The mystery of the idiom, see you later, was a trifle deep for the local talent. Knox’s signoff, buona serata — good evening, likewise failed to register. The idea that Lumumba might have been pouring drinks for customers was another blank for police — until the customers started showing up at the police station.

Soon, the events of the previous two weeks started coming together for police in dramatic and terrifying fashion, like a fire exploding through a house, or, in this case, through the police station.

On 27 October, the mentally ill burglar who tore open Meredith’s throat with a pocketknife had been arrested in Milan. The next day he was back in Perugia. Four days later, Meredith died. By the time police realized the bartender was bartending, it was too late — their newly minted murderer was on the run in Germany, three fantastically unlikely suspects were in jail, tabloids were partying in a dozen time zones, and a grieving family was in town.

Faced with disaster, Perugia police knew just what to do. They were as brave as video-game warriors, exemplars of stillness and calm. They waited. Two more weeks passed.

German police arrested the burglar who had never before killed and who now saw red every time he closed his eyes. It was 20 November 2007. In Perugia, it was a very special day. It was “Rewrite Day.” Lumumba went home and Perugian authorities revealed to the world and to Meredith’s distraught family the horror of Knox of Seattle.

Amanda Knox was a cold-blooded killer who had fooled the gentle purveyors of baked goods with her vile Lumumba accusation. Looking for a thrill the night after Halloween, she let a local burglar into her house. She and her programmer boyfriend, together with the burglar, killed Meredith. To cover up their participation, Knox and the boyfriend staged a crime scene that fit the burglar’s MO. Under pressure, Knox implicated her employer in a futile attempt to keep police from discovering the truth.

Millions believed this. Millions still believe it, including Meredith’s family and Patrick Lumumba. The Kerchers bought into the Knox of Seattle story though they have always been decorous and dignified in public. Patrick, on the other hand, was an especially fierce Knox of Seattle exponent: the day he was released, he spoke out against his former employee saying she didn’t have a soul.

Perugia police, more than pleased with their Rewrite, added calunnia to Knox’s murder charge. Calunnia is Italian for slander.

Chutzpah is Yiddish for outrageous gall.

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Lumumba became part of the mass hysteria.

The Dazzling Brilliance of Claudia Matteini

Laura and Filomena — the Italian coinquilini — knew all about chutzpah. After their roommate was murdered, they quickly pulled themselves together and retained legal counsel. Amanda Knox knew the famous proverb, “When in Rome . . . ” perfectly well, but, charmingly, did not feel the need for representation.

Knox’s willingness to answer questions sans avvocato made her irresistible. The local cops and Edgardo Giobbi and his colleagues from the Rome-based Servizio Centrale Operativo made the most of their buona fortuna. The compliant young woman was interviewed repeatedly over a three-day period.

It was, Giobbi tells us“una investigazione squisitamente di natura psicologica” — an investigation of a purely psychological nature. “We were able to establish colpevole (guilt) by particular observation of reazioni psicologica.

Yes, really.

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Still from the “I am Columbo” video.

During the final interrogation, Edgardo Giobbi waited down the hall behind a closed door while his fellow professionals broke Knox like she was the wine goblet at a Jewish wedding: “I remember clearly great wails, great cries, great emotional howls.”

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Edgardo Giobbi testimony 29 May 2009.

Edgardo Giobbi told the court he thought he knew, at the time, why Knox was screaming: “She was giving Lumumba’s name . . . she recalled in that moment the specific episode.”

That Knox “recalled,” while alone with Giobbi’s goons, a “specific episode” that had not happened was precisely what one would expect under the circumstances. Knox forgot that the Italian police are not like the people in her yoga classes. What she did for three straight days was the legal equivalent of handling the bodies of ebola victims a mani nude — “barehanded.” The Italian word for “inadvisable” is sconsigliabile.

You might, now, today, feel an urge to cry, shrieking loudly so that the Knox of the past can hear you, “Quum Romae fueris, Romano vivite more!” Your words will not reach her though if they somehow could, if you had the power to send your sage counsel into the past, you would do well to fear the darkness of unknowable consequences and desist.

What happened, happened.

The gladiatorum Romani easily broke the hippie-kid from Seattle and brought Giobbi her signature (and that of her boyfriend) on a silver platter. They then marched to Lumumba’s house, awakened the innocent man, and took him at gunpoint from his wife and baby. Hours later, the bewildered bartender said something along the lines of, “What?! You think I killed Meredith? Are you nuts?”

The sun set, the sun rose, and the great Chief Arturo duly convened a triumphant international press conference where he explained to rapt reporters how he and his fellow investigatori had solved the Kercher murder before the forensics team could set up their microscopes.

While Felice was preening for the press, the blood-soaked pillow in Meredith’s bedroom was being examined. The palmprint in Meredith’s blood was already in police files. But it would take two weeks to identify it.

For two weeks, the nonsense gushing from official sources was all reporters had. Newsweek published Perugia’s Extreme Sex Murder.

At the press conference, Felice essentially told the whole world he and his officers had shoved a fairy tale down Knox’s throat. Newsweek reported:

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Newsweek’s description of Judge Claudia Matteini’s “investigation” of the arrests painted a picture of her incompetence as well: she and Felice were a matched set.

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Matteini might as well be a stand-up comic who has run out of material. Reading the entire report is like driving a volkswagon on a road littered with foot-deep potholes. Matteini wrote thousands of words and the only thing she got right was that Meredith had been murdered.

The Matteini Report

Lumumba couldn’t come up with phone numbers for his customers and the time stamps on his register receipts didn’t cover every hour of the evening; therefore, his bar was closed. It wasn’t.

Lumumba got a new phone which must have been a futile effort on his part to hide his communications with Knox. Lumumba wanted a new phone.

Raffaele carried a pocketknife which must have been the murder weapon. It wasn’t.

Bloody shoe prints found at the house might match Raffaele’s sneakers. They didn’t.

Amanda and Raffaele were surprised by the arrival of the postal police. No, Claudia. In fact, the two scared kids spent the morning calling everyone they knew including Raffaele’s older sister, a police lieutenant.

Here’s a closeup of Arturo de Felice bragging to reporters about impegno morale.

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What do you do when a burglar you sprung from a Milan jail murders a twenty-one-year-old woman? You brag about how great you are. 

Here is respected Judge Claudia Matteini, up close and oddly vacant.

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“With regard to the legal configuration of this crime, there is no doubt that at this stage it can be considered correct: this is a case involving three young people who wanted to try some kind of new sensation, particularly true in the case of the couple, while for Diya, it was the desire to have sexual intercourse with a girl he liked and who had refused him.”

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Genius has limits, stupidity not so much. — Dumas

Felice’s Mistake

The moron version of reality and simple logic clashed spectacularly as the forensics team completed its work and the bar owner’s customers came forward one after another. Patrick (aka Diya) Lumumba served drinks to and chatted pleasantly with a number of different people on the night of 1 November. Lumumba and his customers could not have known that a short distance away, a disturbed young man was seeing his last glimmer of sanity doused with Meredith Kercher’s blood.

While the Lumumba-dunnit theory crumbled, the forensics team identified the palmprint on Meredith’s pillowcase: it belonged to a burglar named Rudy Guede. His DNA was inside Meredith’s vagina. He was caught with slicing wounds still healing on three fingers — his knife hit bone and slipped the first time he tried to stab Meredith. The murder weapon, a pocketknife with a three-inch blade, was never found.

The pocketknife, at this stage, can be considered to be the same one Christian Tramontano faced on 2 September when he woke up to find Guede in his house. Guede brandished the knife and escaped through a window. Tramontano called police immediately and visited the police station three times in the succeeding days. Police, inexplicably, did not investigate.

As autumn turned toward Halloween, Guede turned into a hardened criminal: October 8th was the nursery school in Milan and two thousand euros cash; October 13th was a law office in Perugia and a laptop; October 23rd was his neighbor’s house and a gold watch with one casualty — her beloved cat killed by a fire; October 27th was a good day for another trip to Milan. He was arrested inside the nursery school.

Milan called Perugia: “We’ve got one of yours, name Rudy Guede, nailed breaking and entering, carrying stolen goods, laptop, gold watch. You know him?”

No one knows what Felice told Milan or even exactly what was the nature of the communication between the two departments. All we really know is the following sad fact: the next day Milan police sent Rudy Guede back to Perugia.

Rudy Guede was not charged with any crime.

Four days later, Felice’s mistake punched Meredith Kercher in the face and/or threw her face-first into furniture and/or grabbed her forcefully around the mouth and nose, tore a plug of hair out of her head, and repeatedly pressed his pocketknife against her throat. She fought. Guede’s knife slipped. Finally, he buried it to its hilt and slashed.

Bruising on Meredith’s elbows, forearms, legs, and hips along with cuts on her hands told the story of her desperate struggle. Now all she could do was grasp Rudy Guede as she fought for each breath, fought to hold on to her most precious possession, her life.

Meredith’s clothing was blood-soaked and she was near death when Guede exposed her breasts and vagina. During the beloved daughter/sister’s last ten minutes, a deranged child with the strength of a grown man molested her while blood poured into her lungs. When she exhaled, a red mist floated into the room and tiny droplets of aspirated blood settled on her bare skin and on the furniture.

Meredith Kercher died of suffocation in Perugia, Italy at approximately 9:30 pm on 1 November 2007: the autopsy indicated death within three hours of her 6-7 pm dinner with friends. Once she was gone, Guede covered the body and looked for money. He left more DNA on Meredith’s purse, took her cash and credit cards, and, two days later, fled the country.

Guede was in Germany. Knox, Sollecito, and Lumumba were in jail. The students had no idea what was happening. The bar owner was waiting for his customers, who were practically storming the police station, to spring him. For the tabloids, the vault at Fort Knox lay invitingly open.

Meanwhile, police found the murderer. On 16 November, they identified the palmprint; on the 19th, one of Guede’s friends exchanged Skype messages with him while the police looked on. On the 20th, Guede was arrested, Lumumba was released, and the Rewrite made its debut. Police quietly revoked Rudy Guede’s get-out-of-jail-free card and began extradition proceedings. On 6 December, the burglar-turned-murderer arrived in Perugia, again. This time he was locked up.

Eight days later, the casket containing Meredith Kercher’s body was carried into a church near her home, 10 miles south of London. During the service, Meredith was serenaded one last time by her favorite music as hundreds physically present joined millions around the world to mourn a young woman who had dreamed of becoming a journalist only to die horribly for no reason.

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It is difficult to imagine greater disrsespect to Meredith’s memory than the bizarre travesty of justice conducted in her name.

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We will always love you / MEREDITH SUSANNA CARA KERCHER / 28th Dec 1985 – 1st Nov 2007 / Forever in our thoughts, always in our hearts.

Guede mourned too. In his prison diary, written in Germany, he called Meredith “un fiore dolce e profumato” and “un angelo splendente.” Of himself he said, “non merito di vivere.”

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Through closed eyes, Guede was “vede tutto rosso.

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Only once before had Guede “vedere tanto sangue.

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Guede’s attack left Meredith suffocating: “La bocca piena di sangue . . .

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The “mondo brutto” of Guede’s childhood was never far away. The mother he never had he said he loved and respected along with all women any of whom, as far as he was concerned, could be a Mother, capitalized. “Rispetto molto le donne,” he wrote.

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At this point, Felice said he needed “further evaluation.” Rewrite Day would induce either wild giggling or solemn head-nodding. It was impossible, from Felice’s moron point of view, to predict which.

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Al momento, per disposizione dell’autorita giudiziaria Amanda e Raffaele restano in carcere. La convalida del fermo da parte del giudice è tuttora valida. Serviranno ulteriori valutazioni.At this time, by order of the judicial authority, Amanda and Raffaele remain in custody. The validation of the arrest by the judge is still valid. We will need further evaluation. (Arturo de Felice, quoted in la Repubblica, 21 November 2007.)

The Hamlet of False Confessions

Yes, it’s true (sobbing), I gave Eve the apple, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I’ve allowed the serpent to cover for me all these years and it was me all along (loud wailing).

The “incriminating” statements police had extracted from Knox and Sollecito read like hypothetical idealized examples of police coercion. They ultimately became a kind of Torah of the Carabinieri — sacred to police throughout Italy. A bit of a departure from the real Torah, these statements are a paean to mindlessness, a celebration of the reptilian brain. Ardent believers all over the world flocked to Felice’s altar.

Some sported high IQ’s, like Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. Interviewed on CNN, the professor professed his devotion: Knox said she was at the scene of the crime; Knox made a false accusation; Knox would have been convicted in the United States. The brilliant legal expert ticked off his “reasoning” on his illustrious fingers.

Here’s the esteemed professor being interviewed.

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In the United States, we would kill her.

In a world filled with morons, Knox literally signed her life away.

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The Hamlet of false confessions.

A few hours later, as the sun was rising, Knox signed another statement. This one contains one of the two most sacred relics in the Torah of the Carabinieri: Knox saying the sound of Meredith screaming caused her to cover her ears.

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“I can’t remember hearing anything.” You must have heard something! “Maybe I covered my ears?” Perfect!

Meredith’s scream is truly amazing. It is an instance of quantum mechanics in the macroscopic world. The scream simultaneously causes the frightened hearer to cover her ears while also reminding her that she was actually immaginavo cosa potesse essere successo — imagining the whole thing.

Mignini alone saw past Knox’s quantum mechanics. Mignini alone saw Knox’s statement as a coherent whole. Mignini realized that in the dark corners of Seattle’s yoga studios, ci vediamo actually means “derail the investigation.” Mignini’s reasoning powers are on display in a 2010 documentary (23:05).

Obviously, not-quite-clever-enough-Knox was no Professor Moriarty — she had no hope of outwitting Perugia’s legendary investigator. Once Mignini connected the skin color of Knox’s employer (black) to the skin color of the actual murderer (black), he had Knox hopelessly trapped.

Obviously, not-quite-clever-enough-Knox knew the perpetrator was black. That’s why she had accused the innocent Lumumba.

The Kerchers nodded solemnly and offered respectful cooperation. A Harvard professor leapt to a strident defense of the Italian justice system. Millions around the world demanded “justice” for Meredith.

Almost four years after Mignini’s dazzling display, Judge Pratillo Hellmann, presiding over the appeals court, laughed. The guffaws are unmistakeable between the lines of his motivation document.

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Hellmann goes on to say Knox’s statement sounded like “the confused narration of a dream.” The prosecution’s belief that her statement indicated criminality was “totally illogical.”

Don’t Touch the Pen

Raffaele, unlike Amanda, was not asked for an accusation: his role, in Hellmann’s words, was to l’abbandona al suo destino — abandon her to her fate. Hellmann’s choice of words is perfect for surreal world Amanda and Raffaele were trapped in: theater in a Perugia police station.

As midnight approached on 5 November 2007, the Perugia cops improvised their little drama. The curtain rose for Raffaele’s Act 1, Scene 1: “Why are you protecting that whore?” Meanwhile, Amanda Knox sat in the waiting room, a sacrificial lamb.

Raffaele’s abandonment scene would perfectly set up Amanda’s screaming climax in Act 1, Scene 2: “We know you were there.” But Raffaele resisted. Napoleoni then had an inspiration. The bearer of brioche and chamomile told Knox Raffaele had abandoned her already. It hadn’t happened yet, but that didn’t matter; it would.

With a well-timed assist from Ficarra, Amanda snapped like a twig. In the other room, Raffaele continued to stubbornly insist he and Amanda had been together all night. This was unfortunate, but police were nevertheless proud. Sure, the choreography was a little clunky, but it was bound to be. This wasn’t exactly Broadway.

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All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts . . . 

A couple of hours later, it all smoothed out. At 3:30 am, police handed Raffaele a typewritten document. It said he and Amanda were at her house, not his, early in the evening on November 1st; it said they went into town around dinnertime and then separated after dinner — Amanda met friends and Raffaele went home. The document said Raffaele didn’t see Amanda again until 1 am.

In fact, Knox really had been away from Raffaele’s apartment, out with friends, and had not rejoined him until 1 am. Not only that, these facts could be verified.

Except for one thing.

The timetable Raffaele had given was that of the previous night, the night before the murder when Amanda celebrated Halloween without him. The Italian computer geek didn’t grow up with a “trick or treat” tradition, so October 31st was just another day to him. He endured a few hours without his gift from God.

The innamorati were otherwise inseparable: as Amanda basked in the glow of a young man’s first love — un colpo di fulmine Raffaele called it, a lightning strike, in Italy, love at first sight — Raffaele was living in a pleasant dream.

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The lovers had to be pried apart.

Now, a little more than a week after meeting Amanda, Raffaele held his life in his hands in the form of a statement typed up by police. The Halloween timetable stared him in the face. The horror of 2 November was likewise detailed in black and white: the open door at Amanda’s house; the blood in the bathroom; the fear and confusion; the frantic phone calls; his own attempts to break down Meredith’s bedroom door.

Coiled at the end of the document lay the coup de grâce, a single sentence devoid of context. It was a sentence in more ways than one as it rested quietly, sandwiched between minutia.

The police arrived. I’ve been lying to you at Amanda’s behest. I heard Amanda talking to the police. 

*The middle sentence is one of the two most sacred relics in the Torah of the Carabinieri.

Here it is verbatim, with translation.

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. . . the Postal Police arrived. In my last statement, I told you a lot of crap (sacco di cazzate) because she had convinced me of her version of the facts and I didn’t think about the inconsistencies. I heard the first statements she made to the Postal Police . . . 

Exhausted, bullied, and no longer able to think straight, Sollecito read over “his” statement with bleary eyes: Halloween was on November 1st; Amanda asked him to lie. It looked okay, he said later, except for the part about Amanda asking him to lie. He objected.

Suddenly, he says, the police, previously aggressive and harsh, became his best friends. His new pals told him it would be okay, they really needed him to sign the statement as written. He fell for it.

Exit, stage right. But you can’t go home.

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Don’t touch the pen!

The Tale of the Lost Recordings

Four nightmarish years followed. Can a signature strangle you? Can it haunt you? Raffaele tried to explain. Amanda went out on Halloween, NOT the next night when the city was filled with post-holiday silence. NO, Amanda hadn’t asked him to lie.

But it was too late.

Over the years, police kept up the pressure — Raffaele described it as game playing as in, “let’s play six months in solitary confinement.” Police knew their case against Knox was weak — Raffaele could make it for them. Every day, Raffaele woke up knowing he could go home. His family missed him. His life was slipping away.

But he wasn’t going to budge, not again, not this time, not in four years or ten or twenty.

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“It’s the only way for me.” — Raffaele, interviewed by Savannah Guthrie, talking about resisting the pressure to implicate Amanda.

On the other hand, maybe Raffaele’s scary claims about the police are all lies. The day before the final interrogation, Raffaele was in the waiting room of the police station: “I want to order two pizzas,” he said. The room was wired; every word was captured and entered into evidence. Raffaele Sollecito was a man who orders pizza in the middle of a murder investigation!

The next day, the man who never saw a pizza he didn’t like talked to the police for five long hours. He did not, again, order “due pizze,” but he did talk and talk and talk. Surely this interrogation would tell us a lot about who is telling the truth and who is lying.

We eventually learned — at the second trial — that the Perugians had recorded thirty-nine thousand nine hundred and fifty-two (39,952) calls and texts made by Raffaele’s immediate family. This was the fantastic flip side to the miraculous “vorrei ordinare due pizze” interception. So they surely have the interrogation too.

We in the admiring public swooned at the feats of the Great Perugians, champions in their Colosseum, as inspiring as Katie Ledecky in the water or Usain Bolt on the track. Those magnificent maestros of recording prowess, the Perugians whose marvelous instruments captured the footfall of many an errant flea, to say nothing of pizza with pepperoni, are our idols. We know they will have the five-hour interrogation of Raffaele — every single word.

The Perugian bugs envelop like the LORD.
As the Pharoah’s swarming soldiers were en masse
swallowed up by the Red Sea,

so do Perugia’s arrested souls swim in recorded INFAMY.

But ALAS!
Even the greatest of great champions
falter now and again. 
And again and again.

Raffaele’s interrogation, all five hours of it, was somehow lost forever. It went to the same sad place as Amanda’s two-hour interrogation. All those precious words are now but wisps of speech floating voicelessly in the infinite aether.

But wait! Raffaele told police he and Amanda separated on 1 November. Surely we can continue to admire the sacred text. We may read and rejoice. Surely, no one will spoil our reading.

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Alas! Blasphemy is ever the enemy of sanctity.

Lumumba’s customers (you will recall)
most unseemly did share their evening revelry
and thus did render unto dust a great and sacred scroll.
And so it came to pass, once again,
that blasphemy would seize the day
and words would take their toll.
It was a woman named JOVANA
who knew the day and who told the time in such a way
that none could block their ears 
and none could quell their fears.

The pious watched and waited all atremble as the Great Perugia Time Warp,
that timeless tale of timeless Halloween,
shared the shattered fate of the not-so-shuttered bar
where Lumumba’s nightly pourings had (we heard)

continued on and on without the wanted pause.
The Halloween that moved from day to day was in just that way
forced upon the self-same path, banished, crushed, and broken,
rendered silent evermore 
by the woman named JOVANA.

It was Ms. Popovic of Serbia who raised her hand on that day
and took her oath and then our breath away.
It was she who dared to visit the fearsome pair all alone and in their lair.
JOVANA came and went on that sacred night,
on that November 1st that was not Halloween,
first fearlessly at six pm then most recklessly near nine pm,
JOVANA stood near to Knox for time and time again.

And lived to tell the tale (in court).

So Amanda signed off on a fairy tale, but Lumumba’s customers tore it to pieces. Raffaele signed off on gibberish, but it crumbled like the one-horse shay when JOVANA-the-terrible, following in the footsteps of Lumumba’s imbibing army, told the court that Halloween was on Halloween.

Hilarious! But the joke was on us.

“Why lie if you aren’t guilty?” became a blank slate upon which the irrational could write. The Grappa di Silenzio flowed like the wine in the cottage of Baucis and Philemon. Without audio, Mignini had only to keep a straight face and keep pouring it on.

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CNN: “Why weren’t the interrogations recorded?” Mignini: “Our budget problems are not insignificant.”

Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, in their Netflix documentary, preserved for posterity the spectacle of Mignini savoring Amanda’s and Raffaele’s “lies.” She signed a fairy tale; he signed gibberish. Therefore, they are guilty. Millions of Perugians, impaired by the Grappa di Silenzio, agreed.

They say one cannot be a prophet in one’s own land, but that’s not what I experienced. —  Mignini reminiscing to Blackhurst and McGinn.

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Usain Bolt forgot his running shoes. Katie Ledecky forgot her goggles. Perugia police forgot to press RECORD.

An Uninhibited Girl

Confessions beyond nonsensical. Unrecorded interrogations. Wild theories. Motiveless suspects. Nonexistent forensics. There is a pattern here, an MO. Perugia’s very own world-class nut-job was on the job.

Mignini began dreaming up bizarre theories and prosecuting random people in 2002. He is still fighting criminal abuse of office charges filed against him in 2006 (he was convicted in 2010). In 2004, journalist/author Doug Preston began covering Mignini and his theories.

Mignini had Preston arrested.

Doug Preston told 48 Hours about his chilling experience facing the lunatic of Perugia. Preston is arguably tougher than Knox, but the bat-shit crazy public prosecutor and his minions did a number on the American author anyway.

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Preston and his family left Italy immediately.

In Netflix’s, Amanda Knox, Mignini paints an evocative self-portrait: here is a man poisoned by his own ego. “Amanda era una regazza molto disinibita,” he says solemnly as if this proves something other than his lack of fitness for his job. That’s Amanda Knox, “a very uninhibited girl.” And she has great curves.

Time and again, producers Blackhurst and McGinn let Mignini go on and on about the one constant in his life: his certainty that fantasies are truth.

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Raffaele says the night before the murder, Knox was out. The night before could be the night of. Therefore, Knox did it. Knox texted L the night of the murder. Therefore, L did it. Knox admitted L did it. Therefore, we were right about L. But wait! L was serving drinks. Forensics say G did it. G is black. L is black. Therefore, Knox did it. 

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How do you know she is a witch? She looks like one! . . . We did do the nose. And the hat. But she’s a witch! . . . Why do witches burn? Because they’re made of wood? . . . What also floats in water? A duck! So logically . . . If she weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood! And therefore . . . A WITCH!!!

The Flying Monkeys

Mignini’s “logic,” as wondrous as anything Sherlock Holmes with a lobotomy might have thought of, deeply convincing to millions and millions of people, was nevertheless not enough for a conviction, even in Italy.

Enter Patrizia. The great Patrizia Stefanoni, almost as scary as Mignini himself, would remedy the situation, take care of the unfortunate deficiency of evidence.

Police took a clean kitchen knife at random from Sollecito’s apartment and didn’t put any blood on it. Remember, framing was a no-no. They tested the knife and found no blood (TMB test), no DNA (Qubit fluorimeter), and no human residue (“species specific” test) on the blade.

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Clean knife picked at random from Sollecito’s kitchen.

Knox’s lovely hands had used the knife to cut bread. But it was what you might call a “triple negative” knife. That was bad: police needed a “double DNA” knife if they wanted to gaze into Knox’s clear blue eyes forever. Her finely sculpted DNA was on the handle, which was nice. Unfortunately, finding Kercher’s DNA on the blade would be a bit of a hurdle.

Police had nothing and they weren’t prepared to tamper with the evidence. What to do, what to do?

Again and again, the police lab had amplified Kercher’s DNA. It was an important part of the investigation, after all. Fifty samples or more underwent chain reaction. Each molecule gave rise to millions as PCR worked its unique magic. The fruit of a modern miracle, PCR-created, highly concentrated DNA is the key to forensic genetics. The super-concentrate does, unfortunately, have a tendency to become airborne.

And now, Amanda Knox, we’ll see about those splits you did at the police station.

Yes, a little amplified DNA goes a long way. Even a completely blank negative control, which should return nothing, will sometimes come back positive, with the tiniest of signals, when it is amplified using compromised equipment. So far, the police had nothing, but they had nothing to lose.

Police lab technicians used PCR to amplify the triple negative knife. A million times nothing is usually nothing. On the other hand . . . Bingo! The electropherogram matched Meredith Kercher. Of course, it was the tiniest of signals, almost certainly meaningless laboratory noise (aka contamination), but that didn’t matter. The monkeys were flying.

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Knox did a few stretches. An admiring officer wanted splits. She complied. Inanities about “cartwheels” have persisted ever since.

Back in the 1980’s, Peter Gill and others invented modern forensic genetics. In his 2014 book, Misleading DNA Evidence: Reasons for Miscarriages of Justice, Gill first presents a number of case studies in which well-meaning police, lab technicians, and judges were fooled by what looked like hard evidence, even to experts. Gill saves the flying monkeys in the Kercher case for the last chapter. Dr. Gill chooses his words carefully, but the final chapter of his book makes it quite clear the Kercher case is special: There was nothing to fool experts.

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I’LL GET YOU MY PRETTY . . . AND YOUR LITTLE BOYFRIEND TOO!

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This is the kind of profile I would expect to observe if it had originated from a contamination event.

Police worshipped the triple negative knife with the beautiful Kercher-matching electropherogram; it had its own bodyguard. The Kercher family did not talk to Peter Gill; they still haven’t. The prosecution wielded their amoral lab technician who intoned the three magical letters D-N-A for them. The judge hid behind his robes. The prosecution was confident.

In court, Patrizia Stefanoni swore up and down that as far as she knew there was no contamination at all in her lab, ever. All controls were performed; contamination risk was minimal. The robed man gave l’ultima parola: “Dr. Stefanoni’s testimony rules out that any laboratory contamination could have occurred.”

And that was that.

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Watch out! They’ll get you too.

The Raw Data is Not Available . . . 

And then things changed. Like Arturo de Felice before her, Stefanoni told all.

Knox and Sollecito were well into their fourth year of incarceration when Stefanoni was finally asked by the second court to hand over the negative controls. These are the purposely blank samples that are always amplified alongside murder-most-foul breadknives, the scientific pages on which contamination telltales write their sad stories.

Stefanoni gave herself, and the whole case, away.

No, I’d really rather not show you those. It’s such an awful lot of trouble. You don’t really need to see them, do you? Of course you don’t.

Here is verbatim Stefanoni (translated) from her letter to the judge.

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What we gave you already isn’t enough?

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We don’t usually include the data you want.

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The data you want won’t tell you anything.

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If you know the exact filenames, maybe I can do something for you. Tee hee.

Stefanoni was questioned in court about the little matter of the missing data files. Here’s what she said, paraphrased.

Let us say — diciamo — we’re not giving them to you. Ask all you want, moscerini insignificanti. Amanda Knox may get out of prison, but as for the negative controls — non vedranno mai la luce  — they will never see the light of day

*Sometimes a paraphrase is truer than truth. 

Here is what Patrizia Stefanoni actually said in court during her testimony on 6 September 2011. What follows is the original Italian excerpted from page 43 of the linked document.

The entire case, a senseless murder with an obvious perpetrator turned into an international bout of insanity to cover up off-the-scale police incompetence, boils down to these sixteen words.

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EXPERT STEFANONI — So, the raw data are not available in the case file, because they were never, let us say, handed over.

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“I told them I needed exact filenames.”

*Restraining convulsioni isteriche di risate is the hardest part of Stefanoni’s job. 

Helen of Troy vs Knox of Seattle

Fortunately, not everyone is amoral. Amanda’s college years had passed her by when Stefano Conti and Carla Vecchiotti of the University of Rome, real scientists, came to her and Raffaele’s rescue: they reviewed the DNA “evidence” at the request of Judge Hellmann’s appellate court.

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In their report, Conti and Vecchiotti, diciamo, trashed Stefanoni, the police lab, everyone associated with the police lab, and all their ancestors. Digging into the details of the scientists’ work reveals an amazing fact: Helen of Troy has NOTHING on Knox of Seattle.

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Negative for blood. Negative for human species.

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Negative for DNA. Negative for competence. 

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No positive control. No negative control.

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Your methods virtually guarantee contamination.

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Without negative controls, your results are meaningless.

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You have nothing.

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Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships. Knox of Seattle turned NEGATIVE into POSITIVE.

The Reign of the Moron Queen

What appears to be a vicious, mindless attempt to destroy two innocent people could, theoretically, have been a long series of honest mistakes. Judge Hellmann, bless his heart, called one of the most egregious Stefanoni “errors” — she said the blade of Sollecito’s kitchen knife had a positive quantification result even though it did not — “an understandable memory lapse” in his motivation report.

Stefanoni had another “understandable memory lapse” on May 22, 2009 when she testified that Meredith’s dusty bra clasp collected six weeks after the murder had only Meredith’s and Raffaele’s DNA on it.

Stefanoni testimony, 5/22/09: “. . . quindi dai due gancetti metallici ha dato come risultato genetico un misto: vittima più Sollecito Raffaele . . .” — so from the two metal hooks there was given a mixed genetic result: the victim plus Raffaele Sollecito . . .”

The bra clasp had a mixed genetic result from Meredith, Raffaele, and several unidentified men, a fact that obviously completely changes the way any reasonable person would view the bra clasp “evidence.”

Again, the two University of Rome scientists revealed that the Scientific Police in Italy should not be trusted.

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Dust carries large quantities of human DNA.

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The bra clasp was visibly contaminated.

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Several different Y chromosomes were found on the bra clasp by Stefanoni’s own testing.

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Stefanoni conveniently left out the other contributors.

Stefanoni has nothing to worry about.

Since Judge Hellmann is the best the Italians have in the impegno morale department, it seems reasonable to expect that the woman whom I call, “The Moron Queen,” shall be safe in perpetuity from any unfortunate scrutiny.

Here she is in all her glory.

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La Regina dei Imbecilli, Patrizia Stefanoni.

Humanity Surrendered

Police didn’t tamper with Sollecito’s clean knife and they didn’t plant any of Knox’s DNA in Meredith’s bedroom. A swab from the sink in the bathroom Amanda and Meredith had been sharing was all they needed. Amanda’s DNA was in the sink. Meredith’s DNA was in the sink. Perfetto.

In his motivation report, on pages 277 – 281, Judge Giancarlo Massei “explained” in excruciating detail why finding Knox’s DNA in her own bathroom sink was, magically, evidence of murder.

Massei, of course, knew all about the science. He knew determining when DNA was deposited is impossible. He knew all the DNA in any sample is automatically mixed together. But “mixed DNA” just sounded too good: it had to be used.

Here is Massei pissing in the well of the world.

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Paraphrase: We know it’s impossible with no basis in science or fact or precedent or common sense to ascribe any meaning at all to mixed DNA, but it fits our theory so well that we’re going to do it anyway.

For human beings, the loss of a young woman whose dreams of a beautiful life dried red on the floor of her bedroom leads us to ask, “How could this have happened?”

For Giancarlo Massei, mixed DNA found in a shared bathroom used by an innocent person suffering in prison leads him to ask, “How can I exploit this?”

For human beings, a mentally ill burglar with a get-out-of-jail-free card ripping open Meredith Kercher’s throat is a horrific tragedy.

For Giancarlo Massei, the slightest sacrifice of status as he pursues his career is a horrific tragedy.

Maybe no one ever told Massei he was expected to be a human being. Or maybe “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was a true story and Massei is some sort of copy.

Massei, or whatever took over his body, concluded its discussion of mixed DNA with a statement so far outside the bounds of reason and science and humanity that it defies hyperbole and cannot be intelligently paraphrased.

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She’s guilty. So there.

Giancarlo Massei has identical scruples to the king’s in Edgar Allan Poe’s Hop-Frog.

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Giancarlo Massei

Perhaps the most grotesque part — no small accomplishment — of Massei’s long tribute to mindless evil appears between pages 282 and 284 of the motivation report.

The floor of Knox’s house was treated by police with luminol. Luminol is sensitive to microscopic amounts of many different substances and some of Knox’s bare footprints appeared. The footprints were tested for blood in case Knox had murdered Kercher, stepped in her blood, and tracked it all over the house.

The tests for blood were all negative. For anyone else that would take care of the footprint “evidence,” but this is Knox of Seattle we are talking about. Here’s what Massei said about the negative tests (page 282).

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Paraphrase: Negative is positive.

Next, Massei needed to show that other luminol-sensitive substances, such as household bleach and other cleaning agents, could be ruled out as the reason Knox’s footprints had been found in her own house.

With several paragraphs of word play, inane complication, and incoherent gibberish, Massei explained why the footprints had to be blood: reading Massei’s drivel is like having a sock stuffed into your mouth.

Here’s an especially painful sample from page 283: “It was not known when and by whom . . . cleaning . . . had been carried out. Furthermore, no one entering the house had declared that they had noticed any smell of bleach.”

Paraphrase: Housecleaning? Bleach? I don’t think so. You can smell bleach. You can probably even smell microscopic traces. Plus, I don’t know anything about housecleaning or who did it or when they might possibly have done it and if I did I wouldn’t say a word. Am I making myself clear? Have I written enough yet? You know we’re going to find her guilty, so why even bother to read the reasons? She’s guilty because she’s guilty and the footprints are blood because no one proved they are bleach. Don’t argue or you’ll be next.

The test for blood (TMB or tetramethylbenzidine) is extremely sensitive — a few cells gives a positive result. In Italy, however, TMB isn’t a blood test at all; it isn’t even a chemical — it is an acronym for “Trial My Butt.” In Italy, the judge has full authority to ignore science and scientific reasoning and even to reverse the innocent until proven guilty standard. Jurors can advise, but have no power to prevent violent departures from reason and/or humanity.

Here’s what the thing named Massei, who may have been a human being at one point in his life, concluded, in writing, in his own report about five footprints every single one of which tested negative for microscopic traces of blood.

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Yes, really.

The Star Trek episode, “I, Mudd,” tells us where logic went in the Massei court.

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“Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell BAD.”

The 1978 movie, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” captures some of the horror.

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In the movie, Donald Sutherland looked human but wasn’t. If you were human, showing it was fatal.

A Family Forsaken

In a case that stretched from 6 November 2007 when Knox and Sollecito literally signed their lives away to 27 March 2015 when the Italian Supreme Court finally tossed the whole thing out with the day’s trash, the eight embarrassments — Massei, Stefanoni, Mignini, Felice, Giobbi, Ficarra, Napoleoni, and Matteini — who turned Kornbluth’s Marching Morons story into reality, who could have arisen, fully formed, out of an Edgar Allan Poe tale, never tried to fool anyone.

Sorry, no recordings. Tee-hee. No, you can’t see the negative controls. Our lab is not contaminated. Negative might be positive. Halloween was on November 1st. Lumumba is black. Guede is black.

That was a murder case.

One outraged shout from a member of Meredith’s family would have sent the whole naked gang of authorities scurrying. Imagine it. Imagine the derisive laughter emanating from millions of chests. Imagine a world ringing with ridicule as if the globe were a giant bell. Or imagine the reality — Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito listening as a judge found them colpevole.

The starry-eyed computer geek and the sexy yoga practitioner might have spent decades in prison but for the intervention of a single judge. They were jailed (2007), tried and convicted (2009), tried and released (2011), convicted but not jailed (2014), and finally cleared (2015).

In spite of the judgment ultimately handed down by Italian jurists, Italian scientists, and human beings all over the world, we can say with some certainty that the eight prophets — Mignini, Stefanoni, Massei, Ficarra, Matteini, Felice, Giobbi, and Napoleoni — eight prolific fountains spewing forth from the bottomless evil of pure stupidity, sleep soundly each night, night after night, as if reposing by the soft gurgling of a gentle stream.

Millions more too sleep each night rocked to unconsciousness by that self-same gurgling, taking in the mindlessness and taken in by it by virtue of their own credulità.

If you’ve read this far, you are likely NOT among the forsaken. Sadly, the Kercher family, all five of them, remain in the ranks of the fooled. Denied closure, tortured with uncertainty, they too are victims of Italy’s eight chained orangutans. Years have passed and more years shall pass. For the rest of their natural lives, five people will be burdened with Mignini’s grotesque baggage. Only Meredith’s death itself is sadder.

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The strongest argument in Knox’s and Sollecito’s defense is the prosecution’s case.

POST-SCRIPTS

Ode To Massei, by Thor Klamet

Morons do so enjoy dropping science like a load of bricks.
But wait! We can do that ourselves, just for kicks.
The Great Judge Massei will be our gracious host;
he’ll tell us all that Knox is a very shapely ghost.
How else could she commit a grisly murder and leave no trace?
Indeed, science can never prove that was NOT the case.

How could this all have happened? Here’s Amanda Knox.

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If a person’s beauty is a weapon to be used against them, we are all in Hell.

Here are the ten sacred letters A-M-A-N-D-A K-N-O-X adorning the first book of the Torah of the Carabinieri. Yes, this is the actual signature of the amazing Knox of Seattle (on your knees, fool!).

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Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

The Raffaele Sollecitos and the Amanda Knoxes and the Anthony Yarboughs and the Earl Washingtons of the world and even the spirit of Todd Willingham must someday hear that monstrous injustice shall never happen again. We wait for that day. And as we wait, our humanity struggles in a quicksand of doubt, thrashing, frightened. If the Kercher family cannot declare the treatment of Knox and Sollecito inhuman, if even they who have the most reason to see do not see, then what kind of creatures are we?

It ended, after a fashion.

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Homecoming, 2011.

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Exonerated, 2015.

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The hero. 

Even though no evidence was planted by police as in a traditional framing, a few accusations are in order.

Rita Ficarra: abuse of authority, assault, perjury.

Perugia police: willful destruction of three hard drives.

Patrizia Stefanoni: suppression of evidence, obstruction of justice, perjury.

Arturo de Felice, Edgardo Giobbi, and Monica Napoleoni: conspiracy to destroy evidence (audio recordings), obstruction of justice, denial of counsel, repeated human rights violations, abuse of authority, gross incompetence.

Judge Giancarlo Massei, Judge Claudia Matteini, and Public Minister Giuliano Mignini: gross incompetence, violation of ethics, dereliction of duty.

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Ultimately, Italy’s eight embarrassments wished for and got a world of credulità, one that chose not to see con artists where the weavers of fine cloth stood. That these con artists did not fool us all is small comfort — they did their damage and collected their gold and walked away unscathed and we are most definitely the worse for wear.

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The ineffable satisfaction of living off the gullibility of others.

Judge Pratillo Hellmann, president of the second court, obviously could not save Meredith, but he at least prevented her tragic death from snowballing into two more tragedies. Here’s to the lonely voice of reason and here’s to Meredith, may she rest in peace.

The insane farce carried out in Meredith’s name also spread its poison to Raffaele’s sister. Vanessa Sollecito was a lieutenant in the police force in Rome when Raffaele was arrested. Her bosses told her she could not speak publicly about the case. She complied. Then her bosses told her that even privately believing her brother was innocent was “contradicting” the police. Then they said she had the wrong “attitude.” Then they fired her. Her article in Cosmopolitan tells the story.

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La Tenente Sollecito. 

Everything you have just read — Vanessa’s story excepted — was well known and well documented when Diane Sawyer interviewed Amanda Knox in 2013. Nevertheless, Ms. Sawyer played the “objective reporter” and asked Knox a series of idiotic questions that kept the “mystery” alive and insulted the memory of Meredith Kercher who exhaled a bloody mist with her final breath NOT so that we might be entertained.

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Did you kill Meredith Kercher? YES. I killed her. OBVIOUSLY. Then I flapped my arms and flew to Seattle for a cup of coffee. Then I flew back to Perugia and caught the end of Amelie with Raffaele. By the way, if you ever need anyone to selectively remove DNA, it’s been proven in an Italian court that I’m the only person in the world who can do it. My services are available, but it’ll COST you.

Would Meredith Kercher appreciate Diane Sawyer’s questions? I think not. Meredith might possibly have some questions for the POLICE: (1) “Why wasn’t Guede LOCKED UP after being caught burglarizing a school in Milan with loot from two previous burglaries on his person?” (2) “When Christian Tramontano told police Guede broke into his house and PULLED A KNIFE on him, why wasn’t it investigated?” (3) “Why are you USING MY DEATH as an excuse to ruin the lives of Amanda, Raffaele, and Vanessa, three people who would never hurt me or anyone else?”

These questions have not been put to the police by anyone with authority, moral or otherwise. Instead it’s always all Amanda Knox all the time, day and night, Amanda this, Amanda that, Amanda-what’s-that-you’re-wearing. Raffaele Sollecito is an afterthought at best, usually ignored entirely. The whole sick episode devolved into a gigantic adolescent game focused on Ms. Knox’s lovely curves. Logic, decency, humanity, intelligence, our common vulnerability, the preciousness of life, Meredith’s memory — it was all shunted aside.

By now, the Kerchers must surely have realized they were fooled . . .

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. . . that the emperor has no clothes.

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But who can tell the world and be heard? Not Amanda Knox. Not Thor Klamet.

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The Kerchers and only the Kerchers have the moral authority to set the world straight.

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Meredith is gone. Did rationality and decency die with her?

Apparently, yes. Alessandro Nencini was the judge in the 2014 “do-over” trial that found Knox and Sollecito guilty. Nencini surveyed the ruins of the 50-RFU Kercher-matching electropherogram and its missing negative controls. Stefanoni’s disregard of Hellmann’s orders and the unfortunate trashing of the prosecution’s case that resulted were tragedies Nencini set out to reverse.

But what could he do? The gigantic kitchen knife that supposedly killed Meredith after Guede put away his pocketknife was worse than worthless without negative controls.

Nencini, making dazzling use of his training and acumen, gave the negative controls his own incomparably beautiful twist. What follows can, at this stage, be considered the Mona Lisa of judicial monkey-business. It is indubitable, Nencini topped Massei — a feat as close to impossible as can be readily imagined.

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Shakespeare Again

He was the most well-read man in England with a vocabulary that dwarfed that of even other professional writers. But, so far as anyone knows, he didn’t own any books or write any letters. He had two daughters who never learned to read or even write their names presumably because they grew up raised by their illiterate mother in their bookless house while daddy William went to London, two days’ ride from his native Stratford and, to paraphrase Bloom, “invented humanity” through his characters’ theretofore unheard-of introspection. Meanwhile his family remained in his home town, fed and housed, but starved of the intellectual stimulation that animated their illustrious relative.

This great genius of humble origins spent time in both London and Stratford during a 20-year period starting in the early 1590’s. He was associated with a London acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (aka the King’s Men), as an actor (1595) and later as an investor (1603). Presumably, he wrote the plays that bear his name and earned money from the performances although there is no direct evidence for any payments made to Shakespeare for plays or manuscripts.

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The Blackfriars Theater today. Shakespeare of Stratford was an investor/partner as of 1608. 

The problem is, the man with the right name and the connection with the actors left no other trace of his writing career except for the bylines. No one ever claimed to have met the great author, Shakespeare. The people who published his plays and poems left nothing: they didn’t record payments to him, no autographed books remain, his publishers didn’t send Shakespeare letters or receive letters from him; they didn’t even write to their friends about him, as far as anyone knows. Shakespeare was the greatest writer in England, but seemed to be nobody in particular at the same time. Even in his home town of Stratford, no one seemed to know he was a celebrity; they wrote about him, but not about his famous works.

According to Diana Price, during Shakespeare’s lifetime, about seventy documents connected to Shakespeare the man were produced and still survive. They show Shakespeare was an actor and theater investor; two say he was a tax dodger; one that he was a grain hoarder; another claims he was dangerously violent; none mention writing.

By way of comparison, Price collected data for twenty-four other, less famous, Elizabethan writers: Jonson, Nashe, Massinger, Spenser, Daniel, Peele, Drayton, Chapman, Drummond, Mundy, Marston, Middleton, Lyly, Heywood, Lodge, Greene, Dekker, Watson, Marlowe, Beaumont, Fletcher, Kyd, and Webster.

Every writer Price looked at penned letters or wrote inscriptions in books or received payments for writing or left behind manuscripts or was mentioned as a writer by people who knew him personally. Most left behind several pieces of evidence connecting them personally to their craft. Ben Jonson is at the top of the heap in this respect: he left behind a personal library of more than 100 books, a handwritten manuscript, numerous letters, more than a dozen records of payments for his writing, as well as several inscriptions in gifted copies of his books. Shakespeare, despite the fact that he left behind more documents than anyone except Jonson, left us nothing about writing.

By my count, using data from Price’s book, for a typical Elizabethan writer, roughly half of the suviving personal documents from his lifetime would be expected to be directly related to vocation, to writing. That means for Shakespeare, we happened to go seventy-for-seventy documents NOT related to his status as the greatest writer in England which, from a probabilistic perspective, is the same as flipping seventy tails in a row. The odds are approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1 against.

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How long would a take a large team of monkeys typing randomly to accidentally create all of Shakespeare down to the last comma? A long time.

But it could happen. You can actually have a decent chance of flipping 70 tails in a row, if you are willing to flip coins continuously for 400 trillion years which is about 30,000 times the age of the universe if you believe current estimates. That is, if you had been flipping coins constantly since the time the universe began, your chances of having succeeded by now would be microscopic. There is good news however: you’ll most likely flip your 70 tails long before the monkeys finish typing Shakespeare!

But seriously, what the calculation above means is that if you (1) believe the 50% expected to be writing-related statistic and if you (2) don’t count acting as writing-related and if you (3) don’t count documents produced after death, then, statistically speaking, you can take it as proved that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.

I do not consider the above an especially strong argument because there are too many ifs needed to make it work. Still, it is an interesting way to try to get our minds around the authorship issue.

Samuel Clemens argued fiercely that the apparent lack of a personal connection with the literary world in London was absurd if Shakespeare was the most famous writer in the country. When Shakespeare of Stratford died in 1616, no one noticed: there was no funeral, no burial in Westminster Abbey, not so much as a whisper of mourning for the greatest writer in the English language who had ever lived. There was just a long, detailed will that didn’t mention a single book.

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“He is a brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of Paris. . . We are The Reasoning Race and when we find a vague file of chipmunk-tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our reasoning powers that Hercules has been along there.” 

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Shakespeare’s gravestone. Where were the lamenting poems, eulogies, and national tears, Clemens says. Spenser, Jonson, Bacon, and Raleigh generated big responses when they died, he points out. Why didn’t Shakespeare?

Mr. Twain/Clemens puts some actual Shakespeare next to what is on the gravestone. This is a wonderful illustration of the difference between poetry and doggerel and is a slap in the face if you believe, as Twain does, that Shakespeare himself composed the lines on his gravestone. Why would the greatest poet ever put garbage on his gravestone? Maybe he thought it would be funny.

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I agree with Mark Twain. Shakespeare of Stratford the writer of crude doggerel was one person and Shakespeare the author, the man with inside information about Queen Elizabeth’s court, was someone else. However, it wasn’t Twain’s arguments that convinced me, or for that matter, the “inside baseball” argument.

Diana Price makes the “Where are the records?” argument as well as it can be made and I do think my “statistical impossibility” argument inspired by her work is cute. But these arguments don’t convince me either.

Sir Derek Jakobi and Mark Rylance, the noted Shakespearean actors, also have their doubts about authorship. They made a video that is worth watching just to get a feel for what these two brave souls are up against. They don’t go into much detail in this brief discussion, but they do hit some key points.

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Sir Derek and Mark: “None of our critics have done much more than try to attack our character. . . We are trying to counter what we consider a myth, a legend. The normal reaction that anyone who offers this alternative gets is insult, vituperation, NEVER discussion.” 

As these two renowned actors explain, experts in the field, such as the eminent James Shapiro at Columbia University, routinely say there is nothing to discuss, that we should not study the authorship question at all because it is such nonsense. Ironically, this is a particularly convincing argument that, in fact, Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.

For example, Shapiro argues that Shakespeare’s death actually WAS noticed. He explains that seven years after Shakespeare of Stratford died, the First Folio was published and this should be considered a response to his death.

Sputtering arguments like Shapiro’s and desperately nonsensical commentary saying that, for example, Polonius in Hamlet is not a viciously accurate caricature of the great Lord Burghley even though the connection was noted 150 years ago, are every bit as good and twice as funny as “Blest be ye man that spares these stones.” Sometimes I think Shapiro and his ilk know perfectly well what the truth is, but are hoping you never do.

This reminds me of a famous (probably apocryphal) story about evolution.

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From “Origins” by Louis Leakey and Roger Lewin. 

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Just keeping it quiet is one way to deal with it.

Shakespeare’s works indicate that the was as steeped in the art of falconry as Clemens was in the culture of riverboats. The plays were clearly written by a nobleman for commoners did not practice falconry. Nor did they travel in Italy.

Still, the plays are fiction and one must be careful using fiction for biography. So even this argument doesn’t convince me. So far the most convincing argument is that the experts gibber.

And then there’s the sonnets.

Almost everyone I’ve ever spoken to about Shakespeare sees, regards, and understands the sonnets simply as wondrous poems that Shakespeare wrote. This is the truth, but not the whole truth. The sonnets were written in the first person, addressed to a young man, covered personal matters, and discussed real events that took place in the early 1590’s through the early 1600’s.

“Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day” was written to a particular (real) young man. Wordsworth famously wrote of the sonnets, “with this key, Shakespeare unlocked his heart.” But actually, he unlocked a great deal of plain old biography too.

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A letter from Shakespeare to a youth whom he loved and whom he wishes to immortalize: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

This particular sonnet doesn’t tell us much, just that the author loved the person he was writing to and had the idea that his love would live forever in the “eternal lines” of great poetry. Shapiro and others are fond of ignoring the sonnets or claiming that they are impersonal (!), but we thinkers must keep one thing clear in our minds: the sonnets are letters.

By 1598, a dozen or so Shakespeare plays and poems had been published; the name Shakespeare was famous. The sonnets/letters had NOT been published. That year, a man named Meres praised the author’s writing generally saying, among other things, “witness his sugar’d sonnets among his private friends.” This is the first known reference and it is crucial: the sonnets were kept private.

They remained so until Thomas Thorpe published SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS in 1609. The author clearly ntended for the sonnets to be published. They were to be a “monument” to the beloved young Earl to whom he had dedicated his two epic poems, a way to grant him immortality. The author of the sonnets represents himself quite clearly as an older fellow-nobleman.

In what follows, we will simply read the sonnets as written. No code-breaking is required. We will ignore the (absurd) mainstream idea that perhaps the most deeply personal series of poems ever written, was not personal.

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These sonnets were kept private until 1609.

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Shakespeare’s “lovely boy” was a young earl to whom he offered, through the sonnets, guidance, support, and unconditional love.

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1593. First epic poem. The “all happiness” phrase reappears in the publisher’s dedication in the sonnets. This is the first appearance of the Shakespeare byline.

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1594. Second epic poems. No codebreaking is needed. Shakespeare was very close to this Earl. No one else has the honor of a Shakespeare dedication.

Shakespeare, whoever he really was, begins his letters to the teenaged Earl by calling him a “tender churl” as he admonishes the high-born young man not to waste his “content.” Later, he chronicles the Earl’s life including his death sentence for treason and his amazing release from the Tower after the Queen’s death. Finally, this older man who loved Southampton so dearly signs off in the 126th sonnet with an emotional farewell that opens with “O thou my lovely boy . . .” and closes with a warning about the inevitability of death.

Already, there’s major trouble for the traditional attribution. There’s no evidence Shakespeare of Stratford ever so much as met Southampton, much less knew him intimately enough to call him “tender churl” or “my lovely boy.”

First sonnet: “From fairest creatures we desire increase.” Don’t bury your “content,” don’t be wasteful, “tender churl.” You, my young man, have reached the time in your life when we expect great things, not least of which is an heir. Don’t “make a famine where abundance lies.”

The Earl of Southampton faced heavy pressure to marry in the early 1590’s; he ultimately refused and was fined by his guardian, Lord Burghley.

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No commoner could say this to any earl. 

Second sonnet: “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,” you’ll understand how important it is to have children. When you are old you’ll want children so you can be “new made when thou art old and see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.”

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In theory you can write this as a personal letter in your twenties to a teenage Earl who you think should get married. In reality, probably not. 

Third sonnet: Shakespeare shares nostalgic memories of the boy’s beautiful  mother: “Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee calls back the lovely April of her prime.”

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Shakespeare of Stratford did not have the opportunity to meet the Earl of Southampton’s mother in the lovely April of her prime or at any other time. He showed up in London for the first time when Southampton was already a teenager and probably never met him or his mother.

Sonnet 22: “My glass shall not persuade me I am old, so long as youth and thou are of one date.”

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Whoever Shakespeare was, he strongly identified with the Earl to the point where one suspects a familial connection.

Sonnet 73: “That time of year thou may’st in me behold, when yellow leaves or none or few do hang, upon those boughs which shake against the cold, bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang . . .”

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Again, the writer is overtly representing himself as a generation removed from Southampton. 

Sonnet 126: “O thou my lovely boy,” beware of “nature” and of “time’s fickle glass.” “Fear her” and remember that “her audit (though delayed) answered must be.”

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The Earl of Southampton was not Shakespeare of Stratford’s “lovely boy.” No way. Sorry, Professor.

The writer of the sonnets so far seems to be an older peer of Southampton, a fellow nobleman who can give his lovely boy advice. We have our suspicions at this point, but we don’t really know. We don’t know, that is, until we read Sonnet 125.

Here, the author directly states that he is, in fact, nobility. He writes, “Were it aught to me I bore the canopy with my extern the outward honoring . . . ” A commoner could not have sensibly written any such thing.

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ONLY nobility bears a canopy in a royal procession. 

This is a near-disaster for the mainstream, almost a coup de grâce to the traditional theory. If you bore the canopy during a royal procession, but your true loyalties lie elsewhere, with Southampton, you are most certainly NOT a commoner from Stratford. You are what you have been representing yourself as for 124 personal, private letters: an older nobleman closely allied with Southampton.

But maybe we’re misinterpreting the reference to bearing the canopy. Maybe a commoner was just imagining how it would be if he were to bear the canopy. After all, he said, “Were it aught to me . . .” So maybe it was hypothetical.

Fine and dandy. Desperate in my opinion, but fine and dandy. You’ve yet to be convinced, but perhaps your mind is open, perhaps you will admit a sliver of doubt tickling your skeptical mind. Let us keep reading.

As far as the mainstream theory is concerned, we’ve gone from “not so great” after reading the first three sonnets to “Houston we have a problem” after reading the aging sonnets all the way to “uh-oh” upon seeing the canopy sonnet.

But it could still be Much Ado About Nothing.

Next stop: catastrophe.

The great author brimmed with confidence that his letters to Southampton would ultimately take their place amongst the greatest writing of all time. He said his sonnets would outlast “tyrant’s crests” and “tombs of brass.” Not having any truck with modesty, he declared, simply, “such virtue hath my pen.”

As the sonnets flowed from the genius’s pen, the epic poems, dedicated to Southampton, had been printed and reprinted, the plays had become popular, and the name Shakespeare was famous. “Your monument shall be my gentle verse, which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read . . .”

“Your name from hence immortal life shall have . . .”

“. . . Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.”

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If he had written, “I am using a pseudonym” I’m sure Professor Shapiro would find a reason to ignore the line.

Smoking gun in Sonnet 81. (Be nice. Don’t say, “Thor Klamet, I’ve read Shakespeare and you are no Shakespeare.” A rhyme’s a rhyme and will be for all time.)

Even this doesn’t give the mainstream pause. It’s as if a tornado has just blown your house away and you are smiling and saying everything is fine. I might admire your sense of perspective though I’d be concerned about your sanity.

We have now pretty well shot down the traditional theory that some young commoner who apparently never met Southampton was absolutely, positively Shakespeare. The author went so far as to state outright in a personal letter that he was writing under a pseudonym!

Even so, maybe we’ve misinterpreted everything. Maybe, a 20-something commoner writing under his own name wrote to his friend Southampton and we’re guilty of code-breaking and over-interpretation to fit a predetermined conclusion. “Though I (once gone) to all the world must die” might mean, “I’m just a lowly author and a commoner, who cares about me, you’re the subject of these lines, a great Earl, you will be remembered, the writer is nothing, a mere afterthought, especially a commoner like me. I’m famous now, yes, but it won’t last.”

After all, the next two lines say, “The earth can yield me but a common grave, When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.” Maybe he’s just saying he’s a commoner.

And he didn’t actually, literally, say, “I am writing under a pseudonym.” So you still have a right to be skeptical. If you are so, then good for you. After all, if the Shakespeare thing is true, it’s the greatest hoax ever perpetrated, so it is proper to demand overwhelming evidence.

Doubts aside, it does begin to feel a little like beating a dead horse at this point. There are no books, letters, or manuscripts, no personal literary contacts, even his neighbors in his home town knew nothing, his own children couldn’t read his work; the actual writer was a man steeped in falconry who could write personal admonishments to a young earl, who represented himself as a middle-aged nobleman; even though he said his writing was so great it would last forever and even though he knew the name Shakespeare was already famous, he nevertheless implied his name would be lost to history.

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Your name from hence immortal life shall have, Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.

It could be confimation bias causing me to see these lines as a smoking gun, but honestly, I don’t think the horse is even quivering at this point. But we will press on just the same. In fact, what we will do is shoot the already-dead horse one last time. There is another bullet in our smoking gun for you hard-core skeptics.

When the sonnets were finally published, the lucky publisher included a dedication wishing Southampton the same “all happinesse” Shakespeare had wished him in one of the epic poem dedications as well as the same “eternitie” the sonnets themselves were promising.

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“All happiness” echoes the 1594 dedication to Southampton

Like “all happinesse” and “that eternitie,” the “our ever-living poet” phrase is, appropriately, Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare.

Here is a Shakespearean eulogy: “. . . our scarce-cold conqueror, that ever-living man of memory, Henry the fifth. . .” intoned over the dead body of the former King in Henry VI Part 1, Act 4, Scene 2 (First Folio version).

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Again, I’m sorry, but that’s that. It’s a eulogy. Shakespeare the commoner was still living in London in 1609; he moved back to Stratford the next year and did eventually die, but not for another six years. Thomas Thorpe was a contemporary observer in a position to know. He held the original sonnets in his hands. He could not have been mistaken about whether the author was still alive and his Shakespearean eulogy could not be more clear.

The only way out is to argue that “ever-living poet” isn’t a eulogy and I wouldn’t want to have to make that argument. So I feel for the mainstream, I really do.

The gun smokes anew, the body of the horse begins to decay, and the mainstream thinks it’s still mounted in the saddle galloping along with the wind in its hair.

Nevertheless, you can hold your nose and ignore the decaying horse and argue that “ever-living poet” might not be the eulogy it appears to be. You can note that Southampton’s initials were H. W., not W. H., and that as an Earl, Henry Wriothesley should not be addressed as “Mr.”

Or, you can argue that even if the sonnets were personal, they weren’t necessarily personal to Shakespeare. Maybe they were commissioned by an older nobleman who was close to Southampton. Maybe Shakespeare was writing about someone else’s pathos. All or any of this is possible.

These arguments should be, nay, must be, made. But that’s not what the ivy league professors say. They say there is no issue at all. They have certainty. The professor doth protest too much, methinks.

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In Hamlet, Gertrude, watching the play within a play, is uncomfortable because the character of the Queen says she will never remarry, no matter what. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” says Gertrude, squirming.

If (1) Shakespeare was, in fact, forty when he wrote “when forty winters shall beseige thy brow,” if (2) he knew Southampton’s mother personally in the “lovely April of her prime,” if (3) he ever actually “bore the canopy,” if (4) he truly believed his name would be lost to history when he lamented, “though I (once gone) to all the world must die” OR if (5) Thomas Thorpe meant “our ever-living poet” as a eulogy, if any ONE of these things is true, then Shakespeare of Stratford didn’t write Shakespeare.

I believe Shakespeare was the age he represented himself to be in his sonnets, I believe he knew Southampton’s mother before the boy was born, I believe he did bear a canopy in a procession after the Queen’s death, I believe he thought his incomparable poetry would last forever but his name would be lost, and I believe an ever-living poet is a dead poet. The sonnets don’t make sense twisted into some kind of impersonal wordplay “ever-living poet” isn’t just any eulogy, it’s a Shakespearean eulogy.

We are human, we understand context. The sonnets have context. The writer said he was a fellow nobleman, a generation removed from the lovely boy. Why should we not believe him? If his own testimony is untrue, there is no context and if there is no context, there is no humanity.

“He was a genius” doesn’t explain away context. It is likewise inconceivable to me that the sonnets were written for someone else, i.e., that they were commissioned, someone else’s pathos. So I’m stuck with Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. As unlikely as it sounds, I’m stuck with it.

But if Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare, he was set up as the apparent author. Why do that?

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Monument to Shakespeare in Stratford built within a few years of his death. “The judgment of Nestor, the genius of Socrates, the art of Virgil. The earth encloses, the people sorrow, Olympus posseses. Stay passenger, why goest thou by so fast? Read if thou canst whom envious death hath placed within this monument — Shakspeare: with whom quick nature died whose name doth deck this tomb far more than cost since all he hath writ leaves living art but page to serve his wit.” Whatever that means. 

Why have a conspiracy to make it look like Shakespeare the illiterate commoner was Shakespeare the great author? Why hide the real author? Why weren’t the sonnets published sooner with a direct connection to Southampton and with the real author’s name? For that matter, why not include the sonnets in 1623 when all the plays were compiled into the famous First Folio when the number of published plays was doubled at a stroke? Where did all those unpublished plays even come from? Why would Queen Elizabeth and King James go to so much trouble to hide the true author and make it look like it was Shakespeare of Stratford? How did the whole thing even get started?

Was Shake-Speare chosen as a pseudonym to match the name of an obscure actor and confuse everyone or was it a coincidence that someone had a name to match the pseudonym? Was there some advantage to using a front-man instead of an ordinary pseudonym?

Some time after Shakespeare died in Stratford in his bookless house, a monument was erected implying he was a great thinker; it makes an interesting brother to the gravestone with the doggerel that Mark Twain made fun of. Shakespeare’s Stratford origins were alluded to in the preface to the First Folio written by Ben Jonson in 1623. These bits of hard evidence setting up Shakespeare of Stratford as both an actor and great author for the first time, years after his death, were, conspiracy theorists say, the beginning of the great hoax.

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Shakespeare’s Stratford home called New Place where he retired. He died there in 1616. His three-page will meticulously distributed his belongings. No books were mentioned. 

But why? What was going on? We read the sonnets as written, fine. We become suspicious, fine. But then what of the post-death alleged conspiracy — the monument and the preface to the First Folio? What the Hell?

The outline of an answer is easy enough to sketch though far from definitive. Shakespeare’s dedicatee from the two epic poems, Southampton, was a controversial figure as you already know. But you may not know the half of it.

The young woman the young man was implored to marry in those first sonnets happened to be Lord Burghley’s grand-daughter: the great Lord had commanded this marriage take place. Since Burghley was the Queen’s closest advisor and the most powerful man in England, his grandchild wasn’t someone you refused lightly.

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The great Lord Burghley. If given the opportunity to marry his grand-daughter, say YES. 

Shakespeare told the young man, “From fairest creatures we desire increase, that thereby beauty’s Rose might never die” and then went on for 16 more sonnets imploring the stubborn Earl, his tender churl, to marry Burghley’s grand-daughter and make an heir. It did no good. Marrying into Burghley’s family would have increased the scope of Southampton’s powers greatly. He was a fool to refuse, but refuse he did. We don’t know why.

The word “Rose” in the second line of the first sonnet quoted above was mysteriously capitalized and italicized in the original publication just as it is here. No one knows why.

Ten years or so after the stubborn Earl refused to become a member of Burghley’s family, the Queen lay dying. Southampton, now a strapping 20-something, and his ally, the popular Earl of Essex, and a dozen or more men now attempted to gain access to the expiring Queen. The Tudor Rose dynasty seemed to be coming to an abrupt end. Elizabeth had no acknowledged children. No historian believes the flirtatious Queen was actually a virgin and it is considered quite possible that she had one or two illegitimate children, but these bastard offspring, if they existed, would not have been eligible to inherit the throne, not without a lot of powerful backing. As things stood in 1601, there would be no continuation of the Tudor bloodline and there was no clear succession. The uncertainty was frightening for much of the public throughout Elizabethan England.

The two Earls seemed to have good timing although it is by no means clear what they intended to do once they gained access to her majesty’s bedchamber. Presumably, they had a plan to try to control the succession. It didn’t matter, because Essex and Southampton were in over their fool heads. Fools and their heads are soon parted, as you know.

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The Tower of London today. Earth to Southampton: Marry the grand-daughter; messing with Lord Burghley is NOT healthy.

Burghley, who had been secretly planning the succession for years, outsmarted the Southampton-Essex amateur hour and had them and their lot arrested and tried for treason. All were convicted of course, the outcome of the trial never being in doubt. Essex, despite his popularity, had his date with the axeman, though it was a little on the brief side as dates go. Some lower-ranking members of the conspiracy did not fare so well as the pretty young Earl: they were tortured to death.

But not Southampton. He was sentenced to die and watched his friend die, but, as he waited fretfully in the Tower of London, his sentence was mysteriously commuted to life in prison. There is no formal record of the legal proceeding that allowed this extraordinary thing to happen, but it did happen. No one knows how or why.

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The Second Earl of Essex didn’t make it past 35 years of age. Many thought his sentence would be commuted. His head rolled despite his popularity. Burghley is the WRONG person to mess with.

The sonnet-writer was chronicling these events and may have had inside information. Sonnet 87 has both a happy and resigned tone as if a big decision has been made. It says to Southampton, “The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing” which could mean a lot of things. In the same sonnet, we are told of a “great gift upon misprision growing” and we find out that this gift  “comes home again on better judgment making.”

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What is being released? What is the charter of Southampton’s worth? Why the legal term, misprision? What was the better judgment?

Misprision of treason means you knew about treason, but didn’t report it. This is a legal term that was common in Elizabethan times. Misprision of treason was a crime, but not a capital crime. If you love Southampton, this is obviously a “better judgment” than plain old treason. Something about Southampton’s “worth” may have led Queen Elizabeth to spare the young fool.

Maybe. This sonnet is not nearly as direct or clear as “Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.” All we know for certain is that Southampton was not executed.

Southampton was not only not executed, the convicted traitor was in fact released after the Queen died. As soon as King James I had safely ascended the throne, Southampton felt the warmth of the sun on his face. Shakespeare, or rather the actual author, who we can now surmise cannot possibly be the young commoner named Shakespeare, celebrates this event in the famously ebullient Sonnet 107, the poem most clearly linked to Southhampton, not only by crazy conspiracy theorists, but also by mainstream scholars for centuries.

After the “mortal moon” (Elizabeth) suffers her “eclipse” (death), Shakespeare’s “true love” who was “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” in the Tower now “looks fresh” as “peace proclaims olives of endless age” (James has peacefully acended the throne) and the “sad augurs mock their own presage” (people who predicted a civil war now look silly).

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Whoever wrote this was pretty happy about the turn politics had taken. Meanwhile, Southampton began his second chance at life though without his great friend Essex.

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Burghley wanted it to be King James so it was King James. He peacefully ascended the throne in 1603. Southampton was then released from the Tower. 

Some people think Southampton’s idea that he could control the succession together with the mysterious pardon plus Shakespeare’s enigmatic mention of “beauty’s Rose,” make everything perfectly clear: Southampton was obviously Elizabeth’s son, a possible heir to the Tudor Rose dynasty if he were ever acknowledged. If he had married Burghley’s grand-daughter, beauty’s Rose might indeed never have died.

According to this theory, Southampton had refused to marry Burghley’s grand-daughter, so he didn’t have the great man behind the idea of continuing the Tudor Rose dynasty; meanwhile, Elizabeth, for her part, wasn’t keen on dropping the virgin Queen thing, acknowledging Southampton as her son, and letting him become King. On the other hand, she wasn’t going to kill her own son even though he had been convicted of treason. This is called the “Prince Tudor” theory.

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Queen Elizabeth I. She had no acknowledged children. The Tudor Rose dynasty ended with her. Of course, she was not a virgin; she had sex AND retained power. 

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Queen Elizabeth II in the lovely April of her prime 340 years after the death of Elizabeth I. 

If Southampton was really Elizabeth’s biological son — he wound up in the royal household because his supposed father died when he was very young — it would explain the fact that he committed treason but lived past 30 anyway and would also explain why he thought he could get away with trying to barge into the Queen’s bedchamber with armed men. It would also explain why the sonnets were too hot to handle — if they told of a possible heir to the throne, they were political dynamite.

Without exhuming bodies and doing DNA tests, we will never know the ins and outs of the succession battle that took place in the early 1600’s. All we really know is that Essex didn’t fare very well. We also know that Burghley was not to be trifled with.

The craziness of the Prince Tudor theory drags us in like a siren, beckoning, offering more goodies. Crazy begets crazier. Hold on to your hat.

The father of the girl Southampton was supposed to marry, Edward de Vere, may be the most likely writer of the sonnets if you believe the Prince Tudor theory. He was a brilliant and dashing nobleman and happened to be one of the Queen’s lovers (contemporary eyewitness account) AND had married Burghley’s daughter. If he was also Southampton’s father, then the plot thickens considerably and the context of the sonnets begins to make sense.

The boy was being asked to marry his half-sister. This could explain his refusal.

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Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, the highest ranking earl in Elizabethan England. Burghley’s son-in-law, the Queen’s lover. Was he also Shakespeare? Was he also Southampton’s father?

But could Edward de Vere really be Shakespeare? In a word, yes. One connection is the First Folio. In 1623, only 18 plays had ever been published. A big part of the canon, including many of the most important plays, existed only in manuscript never having seen print. Suddenly, the First Folio, a massive project, appears, beautifully printed. Now there are 36 plays, preserved for posterity. How was this accomplished?

Well, the First Folio was dedicated to the Earl of Montgomery, who just happened to be married to Edward de Vere’s daughter. Montgomery probably bankrolled the project (hence the dedication) while his wife, Oxford’s daughter, presumably supplied the manuscripts. This is the same daughter who was supposed to marry Southampton in the early 1590’s, the same daughter whose hypothetical hand was presented so beautifully in the first 17 sonnets, the “marriage sonnets” as they are still called today.

The connections continue. Oxford’s brother-in-law visited Denmark and the court at Elsinore for six months in 1581-1582  and produced a handwritten, unpublished document upon his return to England. The document mentioned two courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Of course, that could just be a coincidence.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is the reason traditional scholars have to embarrass themselves trying to argue Polonius is not a caricature of Burghley. The relationship and the animosity between Polonius and Hamlet is an almost perfect parallel to the historical conflict between Burghley and Oxford. The minute you admit Polonius is Burghley and accept Oxford as an authorship candidate, the autobiographical nature of Hamlet becomes virtually impossible to refute. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the tip of the iceberg. And that’s just the one play.

Oxford was known as incomparably brilliant and received during his whole life an unprecedented 1000 pound yearly stipend from the Queen that was continued by King James. There was no official reason for the stipend. Think about that. Meanwhile, here are some signatures to ponder.

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Another poor attempt.

As countless non-mainstream academics and reputable intellectual leaders in many areas, even including the living descendant of the great Lord Burghley himself, regularly point out, the sonnets and other evidence create an eminently reasonable case that Shakespeare of Stratford may have been cast by the powers that were (Elizabeth, Burghley, James) as a front-man in perhaps the greatest and most successful hoax of all time.

The Prince Tudor – Edward de Vere theory is another matter, of course.

If Shakespeare was really Edward de Vere and if he was really Southampton’s father and if Southampton was really the last member of the Tudor Rose dynasty, then Sonnet 33 is pregnant with meaning, literally.

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When Shakespeare says, “Even so my Sun one early morn did shine, With all triumphant splendor on my brow, But out alack he was but one hour mine . . . ” what is he talking about? The weather?

Who was “Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace”? Was it the s-u-n sun setting? Or was it the Queen herself of necessity hiding her belly full with Edward de Vere’s bastard s-o-n son.

According to this admittedly cryptographic analysis, Edward de Vere got to hold his son, who would become the Earl of Southampton, for just one hour before the “region cloud” (the Queen) “hath masked him from me now” (took him away).

Code-breaking, of course, is not especially reliable. Still, if you decide Southampton was probably the Queen’s son, it fits perfectly to make Edward de Vere his father and author of the sonnets. So “O thou my lovely boy . . . ” would be taken as from father to son. The sonnets, then, would be a monument written by the Earl of Oxford, the Queen’s former lover, to his son who might have become King and elevated the brilliant spendthrift Oxford to royalty in the eyes of history.

This is the full crazy theory. It is built out of “beauty’s Rose” in the first sonnet (code-breaking) and “Sunne” in the 33rd sonnet (more code-breaking). Though the code-breaking embellishments must be regarded as questionable, the foundation is reasonably solid: (1) Shakespeare does appear to be a pseudonym for an older nobleman very close to Southampton (sonnets); (2) Southampton did try to control the successsion and was spared despite being convicted of treason (historical fact); (3) the Queen did have an affair with Edward de Vere (contemporary eyewitness).

For all of this to really hold together, the biography of Edward de Vere would have to fit with the plays and poems. The appearance of the names Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as a pair in de Vere’s life is my favorite connection in this regard and is, in fact, merely the tip of the iceberg. A number of biographies of the Earl of Oxford have been written at this point and the relationship between his life and the plays is nothing short of astounding.

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Elsinore, a real place where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, real people, were met with Edward de Vere’s brother in law, a Baron named Peregrine Bertie. Bertie married Lady Mary, Oxford’s sister, and took her to the country where the two reportedly drank heavily and argued ferociously (letters exchanged amongst a number of eyewitnesses). Sound familiar?

Rylance and Jakobi note wryly that the connection is so strong that whoever wrote the plays had to have known all about Oxford’s life.

Another example: Oxford at age 30 got Anne Vavasour, one of the Queen’s nubile ladies-in-waiting, pregnant at age 18. The Queen chucked them both into the Tower (along with the infant!) for this transgression. Vavasour’s and Oxford’s people fought in the streets as a result of all of this and the battles were finally stopped by the Queen a la Romeo and Juliet.

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The Birmingham Royal Ballet presents the Montagues and the Capulets fighting it out in the street in a presentation of Romeo and Juliet. Anne Vavasour’s uncle Thomas Knyvet’s servants and the Earl of Oxford’s men spilled real blood on the streets of London in 1581.

The connections between Oxford and the plays go on and on and on (and on). I would say the case has been made by the Oxford partisans incredibly convincingly. They may even have proved it by now; I don’t know enough to say precisely how convincing it is, only that it has convinced me.

I have never seen an argument for ignoring the sonnets worth repeating. The best I’ve seen is that the sonnets may possibly have been commissioned and this would explain them. But there is not one tiny shred of evidence that the sonnets were commissioned. Ignoring the sonnets altogether qualifies as irrational. If they weren’t commissioned they are a strong indication of pseudonym.

Edward de Vere was probably Shakespeare. If so, there is an uncomfortably high probability that he and Queen Elizabeth were the parents of Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. It would explain a great deal and is plausible given that he and the Queen were referred to as lovers by a contemporary observer. If you include Southampton’s ill-fated attempt to control the succession and his pardon for treason, it actually hangs together rather well.