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Scipio Who?

Most days your typical crew of mainstream scholars are models of good behavior — coherent, intelligent, professional. But one day a colleague challenges a cherished premise. Groupthink manifests: the denizens of the sometime-dignified professorial class strip off their clothes and smear blood upon their naked bodies. They gather in silence, ancient instincts not so deeply buried as we would like to believe. 

The hearts of the professors beat in synchrony thirty-six times. On the thirty-sixth beat, a terrific battle cry rises and the professors rush — sprinting, screaming, blood streaming — into the office of the premise-challenger who looks up from their desk the picture of nonplussed. Innocently questioning a premise, not claiming certain knowledge, pointing out a few anomalies, the poor premise-challenger most certainly did not expect some sort of inquisition.

It would be reasonable to ask at this point if such things really happen: literally, no; metaphorically, yes. 

A century ago, premise-challenger Raymond Dart innocently said “look what I found!” His fellow archeologists made every effort to bury him alive but soon desisted and then simply refused to look at his find. Twenty years passed. In the interim, Alister Hardy, a marine biologist not aware of Dart’s find, had an idea. Still a wet-behind-the-ears professor, he revealed his dangerous thoughts to a few of his friends who, in an effort to protect him, pinned him to the floor of his living room. They let him up only after he promised to remain silent about his idea for thirty years. Hardy told his friends they were being overprotective: “It isn’t that bad,” he said. But his friends wouldn’t budge. They took turns holding him down until he finally gave in and gave his word. Hardy kept his promise even though it was made under duress. 

Decades later, with Dart’s discovery finally accepted but its implications thoroughly unplumbed, Hardy finally said what needed to be said. Dart’s discovery and human physiology were clues to the answer to the biggest question in human evolution: what caused the human line to split off so dramatically from the evolutionary paths followed by every other primate? To Hardy, the answer seemed obvious, especially considering what Dart had discovered. 

By then Hardy had been knighted, but, needless to say, Sir Alister Hardy was ignored anyway. Hardy was comforted by the fact that knighthoods can’t be taken away but it wasn’t fun for him to contend all the nastiness thrown his way: his idea, twisted and changed, was ridiculed. In some cases, even his own colleagues joked about a theory far from the one he had put forward. Some experts criticized his actual idea but even they did not exhibit scientific skepticism: they said his idea was not worth discussing but didn’t offer any reasons worth repeating.

By then, every professional evolutionary theorist knew that our ancestors did NOT evolve toward bipedal locomotion because tool use created evolutionary pressure for two free hands. Everyone knew the split of the human line from the other primates was a huge mystery. Experts entertained any number of wild ideas to resolve the mystery including ideas involving unprecedented steps in evolution that had not happened with any other species. Experts seemed wedded to the idea that humanity had carved out a unique path for itself. Hardy assumed that humanity had followed an evolutionary path followed by many other mammals throughout evolutinary history. It was almost as if his theory was too obvious to be worthy.

Enter Elaine Morgan, talented amateur. She read about Dart’s amazing discovery: millions of years before humans appeared, millions of years before tools became the central feature of human existence, millions of years before our brains enlarged, our evolutionary line was occupied by bipedal apes, very real Sasquatches, Bigfoots, Yetis, and/or Yerens as they are called today in various cultures. Sasquatch is a legend, but bipedal apes, one of whom left a fossil waiting for Dart’s shovel, were real; they paved the way for their “wiser” bipedal descendents with the big brains who call themselves Homo Sapiens

Morgan also read about Hardy’s insight. She realized that Hardy’s theory would cause one to expect just what Dart found: bipedalism evolving long before tool use. She realized that the “man-the-hunter” image in everyone’s mind was far from the reality: hunting did NOT make us what we are today. She marveled at Dart’s find and Hardy’s parallel insight. Why didn’t everyone know about it? It should be front-page news. 

Elaine Morgan found herself face to face with the concerted efforts on the part of Dart’s and Hardy’s colleagues to squash out-of-the-box thinking and out-of-the-box hard evidence (!) and stick with old theories or slightly altered versions of old theories. She was, to put it mildly, not happy with the studied indifference, frozen immobility, and intellectual barrenness of the professors in whom thoughtful people like her (and you and me) perforce put their trust. She wanted (needed!) fertile discourse, productive exploration, and mental stimulation but instead saw academia hobbled by what I call the “Star Wars Writers Effect” — mindless repetition of what worked in the past. Book after book about human evolution ignored Dart and Hardy.

Tired with all these, Elaine Morgan felt her options limited. She felt, in fact, that she had no choice but to become a warrior. So she sharpened her spear and brandished it (rhetorically) at the cartoon image of man-the-hunter still being passed off as science by professors who were better at politics than science. Morgan wrote a bestselling book called The Descent of Woman showing that politics could be a double-edged sword. She carved out a permanent place for herself as the bane of mainstream archeologists and anthropologists everywhere.

If Morgan’s title raised eyebrows, the contents of her book raised the dead. One has to admit she was tactless. But it is a better thing, I Aver, to be enduring than it is to be endearing. And yet Morgan, like Dart and Hardy before her, eventually played nice, patiently putting forward ideas while making efforts to unruffle the professors’ foever ruffled feathers. She told me toward the end of her life that she regretted her previous gladiatorial stance and I respected her regret. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t trade The Descent of Woman for a whole library of mainstream anthropology.  

It’s been almost a full century since Dart’s stunning find and Hardy’s parallel insight and another half a century that the mainstream has been face to face with Morgan’s relentless logic and impolitic truths. And here we are still stuck with a long series of theories of human evolution — none of which are as good as Hardy’s — proposed and discarded one after another. Three heroes are dead, the professors (Daniel Dennett at Tufts excepted) remain firmly anti-Hardy, and we in the general public are the losers.

I will not here delve into the Dart-Hardy-Morgan revolution-that-wasn’t. Suffice it to say that humans, physiologically speaking, do very well in coastal environments. It was this that Hardy pointed out to his friends almost a hundred years ago; it was this that led to him being pinned to his living room floor.  

The mainstream will have none of it and it’s been almost a hundred years so capitulation seems appropriate. I AGREE with the mainstream that when a human pearl diver descends for her living one hundred feet or more beneath the waves without need of technology, this feat of humanity should NOT be considered relevant when discussing human evolution. And while it is true that human babies, properly exposed, easily dive ten feet to the bottom of a pool before they can walk, this, we Aver, tells us NOTHING about the evolutionary steps our ancestors took millions of years ago which obviously did NOT take place in a coastal environment. 

Il sangue scorre troppo freddo (quasi tutti i giorni) verrà sventatamente versato : One’s blood runs too cold (most days) to be blithely spilled. 

Allora, è meglio aspettare (quasi tutti i giorni) : And so, it is better to wait (most days). 

What Is Reasoning?

I must apologize to my readers for lapsing into bad Italian. Most importantly, I must apologize for the images sketched above. The images are either hyperbole or understatement — I am never sure which — but they are not the hard facts my readers have every right to demand of me and so I am truly sorry if you feel any of your time has been wasted. Let me now atone for my literary sins with a brief foray into respectable formality.

We can state with some certainty that it — the will to block the winds of change — is a well-studied phenomenon. It is so well studied, in fact, that we shall not study it here so much as we shall exemplify it. But first, by way of the promised atonement, I will tip my hat to the philosophers who have studied this phenomenon. Let us call it the Dart-Hardy-Morgan effect: the sad reality in which proponents of new ideas die before their wisdom can be received.

Philosophers tell us that baked into our social, cultural, scientific, historical, educational, and political structure is a sort of “Zeroth Law,” a law which comes before all others, a law saying incremental progress is safest. Leaps are to be avoided, not merely skirted carefully or examined skeptically but run from as one avoids a plague. Leaps are dangerous. A premise, on the other hand, is a loved child.

The premise-child must be protected at all costs. One abandons a premise-child only when one’s own death leaves one no other choice.

Thomas Kuhn, in his famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, talked about the importance of premises and especially groups of related premises he called “paradigms.” A paradigm in Kuhnian philosophy has many definitions one of which is this: “a foundation of indubitable usefulness and exaggerated permanence which underlies a specialist’s understanding of the universe.” Kuhn explained that paradigms are useful because they narrow the field of view in a productive way thereby allowing a group of experts to pick out important experiments and make steady progress as opposed to endlessly exploring an infinte array of possibilities most of which lead to dead ends.

Electricity, for example, was made practical without scientists knowing exactly what it was composed of (even today, we can describe electric charge only as a property possessed by charged particles) because the scientists found a powerful paradigm which helped them choose the most productive experiments. So paradigms are good things, necessary things. The problem with a paradigm is that its limited validity tends to be exaggerated which can lead to dogmatism which can then, ironically, impede progress.

But paradigms are limited in scope and are routinely not so much replaced as encompassed by a new paradigm which contains within it the old paradigm as a sort of approximation. These “paradigm shifts” are inevitable because even powerful mathematical, diagrammatical, and logical conception of reality is merely a model of that reality as opposed to being reality itself. On the other hand, a paradigm might be more precarious than the word “limited” implies: sometimes a paradigm shift is not merely an advance in our understanding but represents an egregious error being corrected.   

However it happens and whatever the level of drama that attends it, the popular notion of the paradigm shift which came out of Kuhn’s book involves proud scholars changing their tune. It might be relatively painless as when Einstein’s theory of gravity triumphantly predicted wobbles in mercury’s orbit that Newton’s theory would never have imagined and astonomers confirmed Einstein’s theory causing newspapers and the physics community to immediately celebrate the new science of warped space. But sometimes, especially when the old paradigm is not just limited but actually looks downright silly in hindsight or was (perish the thought) flat-out wrong, a paradigm shift is excruciating.

No one wants to admit they have been barking up the wrong tree for decades especially if it’s been killing people. 

Stomach ulcers and many stomach cancers are caused by bacteria not stress and stomach acid. In 1981, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren had to deal with colleagues who treated their research proving that simple fact as if they were proclaiming the earth to be flat (that’s how Marshall described it). The wrong paradigm had dug itself in so deeply that Marshall ended up having to purposely infect himself causing painful and dangerous ulcers in order to then cure himself and finally prove in 1985 that an entire industry of ulcer treatment was based on a false premise. It is not known how many people died or how long the cure was delayed because young scientists who questioned the premise were told to stop saying the earth is flat. 

Telling credentialed professionals not to question the premises is irrational. Of course the person questioning the premise will often be wrong. So what? A new theory that is wrong or not as useful as the old theory nevertheless solidifies our understanding of the world when it, the new theory, is examined and perhaps rejected by open-minded people. And what if the new theory is correct? That’s a breakthrough. In any rational system, credentialed professionals would be encouraged to take risks, to question premises, to stick their necks out. No one would pin anyone down to any living room floors the minute they say, “I have an interesting idea . . .” 

We define here “Kuhnian irrationality” as the social and cultural reluctance or the social and cultural outright inability to question a premise manifested by gray-haired professors plugging their ears while shouting “nyah, nyah, nyah I’m not LISTENING.” We take it as self-evident that premises should be questioned and we hope Professor Kuhn, who died in 1996, doesn’t mind our use of his name to encapsulate the key concept of the present work.  

Dart, Hardy, and Morgan questioned a premise and watched helplessly as their insights ran aground on the sholes of Kuhnian irrationality where they founder to this day. Alfred Wegener questioned a premise about geology and, in fact, proved beyond doubt that the continents were once a single landmass and of course ran into Kuhnian irrationality. Wegener’s stunning revelation has made the transition from crazy idea to common knowledge but Wegener didn’t live to see it happen.  

Marshall and Warren won a Nobel Prize but did not change the way we view premises or out-of-the-box thinking or “crazy ideas” that might not be so crazy. This is a work in progress. How can we move forward? How can we open closed minds? What do we do about Kuhnian irrationality?

We turn now to what I consider the touchstone of Kuhnian irrationality. This is an extreme example showcasing beautifully and bloodily the susceptibility of anyone, no matter how intelligent, responsible, and accomplished, to the siren song of a false premise. Its inherent drama and unspeakable tragedy make the point as sharply as it can be made. After collecting, as it were, our touchstone, we will will move on to what I consider the most amazing case of Kuhnian irrationality still in process today. But first, the horror. 

It was January 1986 and colder in Florida than it is ever supposed to get with temperatures in the low twenties Fahrenheit. The space shuttle launch was not quite a toss-up. By this I mean that the seven humans in the cockpit, had they heard the engineers discussing the problem, would have immediately refused to launch. If Christa McAuliffe’s high school students heard what the engineers were saying, they would have demanded the launch not take place. It was obvious. It was obvious that risking one’s life on a coin toss would be a better deal than sitting in the cockpit of the space shuttle on that cold day.  

It was too cold to launch and the engineers knew it. 

It was not too cold in the sense of being too cold to go out without a coat — it was, but that’s not what we’re talking about. It was too cold in the sense of being too cold for a corpse to rot but that still does not tell what must be told. It was cold the way an executioner’s eyes are cold. We are closer to the right metaphor but we aren’t there yet.

It was as cold as an equation. Do you see what I mean? Maybe you don’t, but fear not, you soon will. Nothing is colder than an equation with the possible exception of the moment of death itself. 

Truth, Lies, and O-Rings tells the horrific story in microscopic detail. The engineers at Morton Thiokol in Utah knew the O-rings were a problem. A year before, one of two crucial O-rings had been breached during a somewhat chilly fifty-three-degree launch. If both O-rings go, everyone dies. Since it was thirty degrees colder that day than it was a year before when they had come too close for comfort to losing the shuttle, Morton Thiokol, on the advice of the engineers it employed not to mention common sense, cancelled the launch.

That’s right, they cancelled the launch.

But then a whole flock of premises came home to roost: the space shuttle is perfectly safe; we’ve had a lot of safe launches; there are many redundancies in our systems; the engineers can’t prove the O-rings will leak at low temperatures; the problems with the O-rings aren’t yet fully understood and the shuttle has been launching safely for years; it’s possible there’s nothing to worry about; the O-ring data is inconclusive

It was possible that the shuttle could launch in the cold. Of course it was possible. Anything is possible. How long does it take, you might wonder, for the possible to become all-but-certain? Decades ago, Morton Thiokol taught us the answer: thirty minutes. 

During the thirty minute conference at Morton Thiokol when the engineers and the managers followed the NASA administrator’s urging to rethink the cancellation, the engineers admitted to the managers they couldn’t prove the O-rings would be affected by temperature. They admitted the data they had was inconclusive.

So the engineers couldn’t prove the shuttle unsafe. Therefore, it was safe. (Yes, really.) 

One low-ranking engineer, not falling for the reversal of the burden of proof perpetrated by his four bosses, stood and approached them. He walked right up to them paper and pencil in hand. He tried to explain his concerns. He drew a diagram. He was ignored. He could see that he was being ignored. He gave up. He returned to his seat. Another engineer tried the same thing with the same result. 

The two engineers would never forget their failure to make themselves heard. Their palms sweaty, they watched as the cancellation was undone. A few hours later they would watch, their palms still sweaty, as the shuttle launched with nothing between the seven astronauts and death except a cold equation: the flexibility of rubber is inversely proportional to temperature. 

Ignition was successful. The shuttle defied gravity at T minus zero. Seventy-three seconds later, etched with terrifying beauty against a clear sky, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. The cockpit, intact with the astonauts still alive, arced into the Atlantic ocean at 200 mph. The crew, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, died instantly. 

After the dust and debris had settled, after the dead were buried, while the nation mourned, Sally Ride sat with her colleagues on the presidential commission tasked with finding out what the Hell had happened. They would never understand. The engineer who wrote Truth, Lies, and O-Rings never understood. I don’t understand. To know in your bones what happened — to know how intense questioning over every tiny detail could be suddenly converted to mindless indifference to a critical problem — you would have to go insane.

Everyone in Dr. Ride’s profession — the astronauts, the engineers, the administrators, the bosses, the employees, the newbies, the old hands, everyone — knew in their bones that the people concerned about safety don’t have to prove anything. They knew it. They knew it one moment and then the next, like a sudden death, they acted as if their heads had been suddenly emptied of all thought. 

Sally Ride looked at Bob Lund. She had flown on that same space shuttle in previous years. Just before the disaster, Lund had been promoted to management after a career as an engineer. He knew the launch should be cancelled. The other three managers wanted him to agree with them that it was okay to undo the cancellation and “fly” as they put it. The data about cold and O-rings was inconclusive they pointed out to Bob Lund. He wasn’t fooled. He knew the launch should NOT proceed. He knew until he didn’t know.

Bob Lund acquiesed.

The four decent human beings who had committed murder without realizing what they were doing sat deathly silent with Dr. Ride and Richard Feynman and Neil Armstrong and the whole commission. The murderers wished they could change the past. As they examined what had happened, they came to know again. “You can’t prove the O-rings will fail . . .” is a true statement, true and powerless.

Reality doesn’t obey authority.

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On their way to death: Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Michael Smith, Christa McAuliffe, Ellison Onizuka, and Gregory Jarvis. Had they been listening to the engineers being chided because they couldn’t prove the O-rings would fail, the crew would have stopped the launch instantly.
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The Nobel Prize-winning physicist who devoloped and simplified quantum electro-dynamics with his famous “Feynman diagrams” reminded everyone that when you don’t have all the data you would like, you must take a probabilistic viewpoint in your analysis.
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Christa McAuliffe and the others survived the explosion but died when the cockpit (on the right) crashed into the Atlantic Ocean at 200 mph.
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Dr. Ride knew better than anyone that concerned engineers don’t have to PROVE anything.
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He almost said NO on launch day. After he and his three bosses killed seven people, he explained that the burden of proof had been reversed. “I should have detected it,” he said. 

The more I think about irrationality among engineers, scientists, scholars, and in the legal system (and even in politics — don’t get me started) the more it seems helpful to divide reasoning into categories. I wound up with three: (1) social reasoning; (2) legal reasoning; (3) scientific reasoning.

Social reasoning tells us that the photographs of the spherical Earth from space and the videos of Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon are NOT the products of an omnipotent conspiracy that has deceived us about the nature of our planet and society. Social reasoning is based on a broad premise — the existence of a shared reality and its associated self-evident truths. We need not examine evidence when people make absurd claims that they themselves often do not believe. For a rock climber scaling El Capitan, each foothold and handhold must be solid: objective reality, like gravity, is not optional and some things really are inarguable.

Legal reasoning is often a matter of safety. We begin with a conservative premise that we do not abandon without hard, undeniable proof: the space shuttle is UNSAFE until we prove otherwise; the accused are INNOCENT until proven guilty. It’s a bit shocking sometimes how easily the burden of proof can get reversed. One minute an engineer is being questioned about every minute possible danger to the shuttle and the next he is being asked for hard proof to back up concerns about catastrophic O-ring failure, concerns that will be ignored unless he can come up with proof. 

The shuttle exploded, as you know, because the burden of proof got reversed. It was as if someone held up an evil magic mirror to the usual process. The magic mirror of proof reversal combined with the cocaine of confirmation bias has had horrific results throughout human history. The shuttle exploded, people died. But that didn’t stop it from happening again in another place, in another context. And then again . . .

In 1992, Todd Willingham couldn’t prove he hadn’t killed his three children; therefore, he was guilty of purposely setting the fire that burned down his house and killed his children.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were provably innocent but corrupt officials who had released a dangerous criminal five days before he committed murder were able to convict two innocent people to cover up their own incompetence and then, having fooled much of the public, had a grand time using a lovely young woman as a jailhouse showpiece for four years. 

Willingham’s house burned down in an electrical fire. He was convicted of murder on the basis of “pour patterns” found by arson investigators. Tests for traces of flammable chemicals in the “pour patterns” were all negative. But the tests could have been wrong, theoretically. 

Knox’s housemate in Italy was killed by a mentally ill habitual criminal who left his DNA inside the victim’s body and fled the country. He was identified by a handprint in the victim’s blood at the scene of the crime and was quickly caught by German police. Knox and her boyfriend, already arrested, were obviously innocent but were convicted in a trial that was Monty Python’s “burn the witch” skit in real life. People assumed, and the victim’s family still assumes, using social reasoning, that a judge would not participate in a bizarre farce. 

In 2004, Willingham was injected with a deadly chemical. As the chemical moved toward his heart, Willingham used his last breath to tell the world he was innocent. “Pour patterns” are no more informative than Madame Trelawney’s tea leaves and are no longer accepted as evidence in U.S. courst. To this day, Todd Willingham’s own lawyer — assigned to him because he was too poor to pay for his own lawyer — thinks he was guilty, again using social reasoning.  

When social reasoning and backwards legal reasoning are mixed into a toxic brew, dumped into courtrooms, and guzzled in the court of public opinion, there’s a name for the phenomenon: “miscarriage of justice.” We know all about it. In the U.S., an organization called “The Innocence Project” fights for rationality in courts.

But surely, you say, this irrationality doesn’t happen with brilliant scholars at our finest universities? How could it? After all, the job of scholars is to model rational discourse. Experts doing scientific tests helped us see for what it was the nightmarish nonsense called “arson investigation” that convicted Willingham and Italian scientists were instrumental in freeing Knox and Sollecito. They’re all pretty rational. 

This means we can be sure scientists, experts, professors, and scholars are not susceptible to the kyptonite of a cherished premise. Right?

At this point the answer is predictable but I’ll say it anyway: Wrong. A new idea, if it is too new or too challenging or sounds funny or seems too simple or might be said by a child (“Look mom, Africa fits right into South America!”) might as well be a flat Earth or a faked Moonshot. Social reasoning and legal reasoning are routinely weaponized to fight the new idea with one goal in mind: kill it.

If Gerta Keller at Princeton thinks volcanic activity and not a meteor might possibly have killed the dinosaurs, she’s obviously just crazy because we know it was the meteor. The evil Dr. Keller is making wild accusations: the meteor theory is innocent until proved guilty; Keller doesn’t have absolute proof and must therefore be ignored.

Keller has been dealing with Kuhnian irrationality for decades. Her fellow scientists have not become physically violent, but that’s as good as it gets. At least she’s been able to publish, with difficulty. 

If scientists were rational, if scientists always used the third type of reasoning, scientific reasoning, Keller’s theories, whether her fellow scientists agreed or not, would be accepted as worthwhile and even encouraged. Even if she’s wrong, the discussion is valuable. Even if all it does is strengthen the mainstream theory, that makes it worthwhile. And if she’s right, by God she has given us the gift of a breakthrough. Yes, it’s painful when it happens but it’s better than doctors continuing on and on forever believing that ulcers are caused by stomach acid.

Scientific reasoning is so powerful because it is based on an anti-premise: we don’t know. Those three words are harder to hang onto than one might suspect because we naturally get attached to our assumptions. We are all subject to confirmation bias. Keeping our heads clear requires a constant effort. 

We refuse to rally around one answer. Instead, we make our best guess about the probability associated with each possibility: choice A might be 80% likely and choice B might be 20% likely. If choice B turns out to be true, we were not wrong. Remember, we said it choice B might be true: a twenty percent chance can easily happen. That’s the fun of scientific reasoning: you get to keep all possible outcomes; you might be better or worse at estimating probabilities but you are never wrong.  

Scientific reasoning is the essence of openmindedness. Scientific reasoning lets us accept the changes that happen when some out-of-the-box thinker hands us a priceless gift, a breakthrough. Scientific reasoning is the antidote to dogma. Maybe all would-be scientists and scholars should be required to minor in scientific reasoning in college. Maybe then Gerta Keller wouldn’t have such a hard time. 

Physicists are (usually) very good at scientific reasoning, maybe better at it as a group than any other group of scholars. It’s relativity and quantum mechanics that makes that happen. You have to drop pretty much all of your preconceived ideas about space and time, because, even though these ideas are quite useful in everyday life, they are bizarrely wrong at a fundamental level in ways physicists are still exploring. Physicists get trained in we don’t know early on.

Even so, physicists are perfectly capable of planting their faces in the snow as they ski down the mountain of scholarship.

Faster Than the Speed of Light tells the (true) story of mainstream physicists faced with an interesting new idea as the 20th century came to a close. You already know what happens in the story: mainstream physicists run away screaming but finally see reason. It’s a good story with a happy ending. 

Read the book, but here’s the executive summary: physicists are comfortable believing that what they call “physical constants” such as the speed of light are truly constant. It is indeed simplest to assume that these constants have not changed in value at all since the universe began 13.7 billion years ago with a “big bang” — a term first used in a pejorative sense by people who, surprise, didn’t like the theory because it was a new idea.

Anyway, a faster speed of light in the very early universe seems like a strange idea at first but does seem to explain a lot about the way the universe looks today. If a full-fledged theory could be constructed and verified, knowing how a physical constant can change in value could ultimately open up a whole new level of inquiry in which we may someday learn how the physical constants are related to each other and even begin ponder the origin story of physics itself. In short, big stuff.

So it is an enormously interesting theory and you won’t be surprised at the mainstream’s reaction. “It cannot be so,” they said. “We are certain that the speed of light has been constant for all time. It is certainly true because you can’t prove it isn’t true.”

It was worse than they expected. The professional scientists trying to nurture their new idea knew their colleagues would be skeptical of a theory postulating a variable speed of light (VSL). The seasoned professionals didn’t think their colleagues would treat them like random people stumbling out of a bar spouting gibberish.

Fellow scientists dubbed the idea “very silly” (get it?). Scientific papers sent to leading physics journals were first blocked entirely and then held up for years. The blockade might have lasted decades if one of the proponents of the theory hadn’t been especially stubborn.

Today, VSL theory is socially acceptable to physicists and many professionals work on it without fear. It might ultimately be the greatest breakthrough of 21st-century physics. Or it might not. The good news is the attention VSL is getting means we will find out one way or another. The bad news is the mainstream did everything it could to strangle the new idea in its crib. New ideas aren’t like Hercules as a baby — they can be killed off before they have chance to fight back. 

But how does one distinguish crackpot nonsense from interesting ideas? Must we accept all new ideas, even stupid ones, even crackpot nonsense? How did the person editing the journal Einstein sent his first relativity paper to know that he had damn well better publish that paper written by an unknown guy with a physics degree who couldn’t even get a real physics job and had to work in a patent office?

Einstein was making extraordinary claims about how the universe worked, claims that anyone, including the journal editor, would have to think were most likely wrong. The guy reading the paper, the journal editor, said later that he thought publishing the paper was his greatest gift to physics. Einstein started with known facts and laid out his idea clearly. The new idea might be wrong and probably is wrong, thought the journal editor. Then again, it might be a breakthrough. Of course Einstein’s work (he was far from famous at the time) should be published.

That was the special theory of relativity which predicted the speed limit of the universe later seen in particle accelerators. Fifteen years later, the general theory of relativity resolved the mystery of anomalies in mercury’s orbit: the sun bends space itself. Physicists were “agog” as the New York Times said at the time. This was not something humanity would have wanted to miss. Thank goodness for that editor. 

The hard part isn’t so much recognizing evidence-based scientific reasoning, that part’s easy. The hard part is convincing yourself of three things: (1) premises, even long-standing ones, do not need to be protected and shielded as if they were small children; (2) all new ideas, including breakthroughs, look wrong or even sound absurd at first; and (3) smart people, including very large numbers of smart people, may be so unable to accept the loss of their premise that they speak and act hysterically.

Watching an irrational mainstream react to a new idea as it begins to look more and more likely to be correct is most illuminating. Their arguments become increasingly desperate. Circular reasoning rears its head and roars. Logic is twisted so horrifically, you need to look away. The “other side,” they say breathlessly, is motivated by malice. Weak arguments are pounced upon. Strong arguments are ignored. If there are no weak arguments, they are made up and then triumphantly pounced upon. 

Kuhnian irrationality is easy to spot. The mainstream starts with its unshakeable premise and then immediately launches into a pointless debate. You can debate anything. Debating is wordplay. Debates are harmless fun but are ultimately meaningless. In a debate, the search for truth is left out in the cold.

Nevertheless, a deepset premise can take decades to uproot. Social reasoning or social reasoning combined with legal reasoning takes over and there’s nothing to be done.  It may even take a few generations to put social reasoning aside, to walk past legal reasoning, to end the wordplay and to finally reclaim thought, humility, and evidence. Kuhn’s readers coined the term “paradigm shift” to label this arduous process. 

We who love to tell ourselves stories about people living happily ever after tend to assume paradigm shifts always happen soon enough whenever they are needed. I wish to suggest here that this notion may be a fairy tale. I wish to suggest that there are paradigm shifts waiting to happen almost everywhere one looks.

In case after case, the situation looks the same: a small number of credentialed professionals have spent years or decades challenging a premise. The mainstream has reponded predictably with misplaced social reasoning and self-serving legal reasoning. The mainstream’s response (when they deign to respond at all) sometimes goes completely off the rails.

The Italian police, while Knox was in a jail cell awaiting trial, sprayed her bathroom with a chemical that would turn pink after a thirty minutes. They snapped a photo of the “bloody bathroom” Knox showered in while her roommate lay dead behind a locked door and released it to the press. The whole trial was like that. Knox did not need a defense. Even just looking at the prosecution’s case, it was obvious she and Sollecito were innocent. That’s what I mean here by “off the rails.”

You don’t have to be an Italian cop to do go off the rails. 

Who Is the Most Irrational of Them All?

In the present work, we will tackle the most striking example of Kuhnian irrationality I know of. The example discussed here is in that late stage of development in which a mainstream with a perfectly plausible but deteriorating theory struggles to uphold an idea that is nowhere near as certain as legions of smart people once thought it was.

At this stage in the process, the mainstream slowly loses its battle to silence all discussion as more of its credentialed membership questions the once-unquestionable premise; serious discussion in journals seems imminent in this case though it has yet to occur. VSL spent about ten years in this stage; today, as you know, the constancy of the speed of light is a perfectly acceptable area of research.

The present example, because the battle has been raging for more than a century, offers us another crucible in which we can examine closely — in all its horrific detail — what Kuhn examined from a safe distance. Mainstream adherents of what I call the Shakespeare mythology — that we know with near-certainty who wrote the plays and poems — are still in a position to convince most people that social reasoning is the only appropriate way to respond to suggestions, incuding suggestions made by credentialed experts, that “William Shakespeare” was a pseudonym used by a member of the Elizabethan nobility and the businessman who was one of many William Shaksperes living at the time wasn’t even literate. 

As was the case with VSL or continental drift or the extinction of the dinosaurs or the cause of ulcers, the consensus reached among most experts about what is likely to be true is perfectly reasonable but far from certain. The absolutely certain experts were embarrassingly wrong in the cases of continental drift and ulcers. However, in the cases of VSL and the K-T extinction and the Shakespeare mythology, it is still possible the mainstream will turn out to be correct. What all of these cases have in common is a wild exaggeration on the part of the mainstream of the certainty of their position and an unwillingness of mainstream professionals to accept uncertainty and seriously discuss the issue with their own colleagues. 

Following the precepts of scientific reasoning, we will assume here that we don’t know who wrote Shakespeare. A businessman who lived in a town called Stratford a few days’ journey from London whose name was William Shakspere is a strong possibility for the man who wrote the plays which eventually had the “Shakespeare” byline appended to them. However, a reasonable person (i.e., you, dear reader) might not even say there is a 50% chance that the businessman was Shakespeare.

Imagine if it is really the case that most Shakespeare scholars regard as almost certain what might not even be as certain as a coin toss. That goes beyond overstating one’s case. That’s Kuhnian irrationality in spectacular relief. 

To put the Shakespeare question in the tiniest nutshell possible for readers familiar with US government, imagine the following: an insider at the White House or someone with access to inside information creates dramatic work in which the president and the people around the president are portrayed as thinly disguised caricatures, often NOT charitably; no one openly takes credit for the work but publishers and cinematographers get their hands on it and produce it anyway; it is beautifully executed and becomes surprisingly popular; the name appended to the work is “Bob Wilson.”

A real person named Bob Wilson lived near Washington DC and was sometimes known to be in the capital city and was known to have friends and associates who were cinematographers. Years after Bob Wilson dies, the “Complete Works of Bob Wilson,” much of it never-before-published, appear in a magnificent volume and in that volume, two of Bob Wilson’s friends identify their friend Bob Wilson as the author Bob Wilson. 

Posterity, obviously, can never be sure exactly what went on.

The basic facts of what happened in Elizabethan times are well known and mostly undisputed. A series of anonymous plays filled with inside knowledge about Queen Elizabeth’s court began to come out either in the 1580’s or in the early 1590’s. The plays became outrageously popular and, by 1598, had the “William Shakespeare” byline attached. Many of the questions we ask now were asked back then as well: Who was writing the plays? How did whoever it was know all that stuff about the Queen’s court? How did whoever it was get away with it? Why were all of the published plays bootlegs? Why were only half of the plays published at all? How did all the plays eventually come to be published?

The mainstream is 99.99% certain it has the answers to all of these questions. Their certainty has a tinge of the insane to it. The fill in gaps with what Mark Twain called “must have beens.” Challenges from credentialed experts, Nobel Prize winners, famous writers, Supreme Court Justices, or ordinary people are sniffed at as unworthy of serious consideration. The journals are “walled off” from any discussion of the matter.

There was a William Shakspere living at about the right time in a town called Stratford. His life created many documents, all of which are business-related. There’s nothing about writing. However, evidence from after he died strongly points to this man as the author. The reason I referred to this as “mythology” is not so much that it can’t be true — the posthumous evidence cannot be ignored — but is due to the fact that the evidence from Shakspere’s lifetime points so strongly to illiteracy: no books, letters, or manuscripts belonging to Shakspere have ever been found and no one who knew him knew him as a writer. On legal documents requiring a signature, clerks signed his name for him. So we don’t even know if he could write his name. 

Mainstream scholars say Shakespeare must have been literate because he wrote his works. They say the lack of books, letters, and manuscirpts, and the absence of references to him as a writer during his lifetime by friends, familty, and colleagues is unfortunate but is merely bad luck. Sometimes they resort to the automatically true tautology, “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.” They say its odd that he didn’t sign legal documents but they regard the posthumous evidence as definitive and assume there must be some explanation for the not-signatures.

Heretical scholars call the businessman from Stratford “Shakspere” since that’s the name that appears on his birth and death records. The rebels say Shakspere not only appears to have been unable to write his name but was actually unable to write his name. The rebels think it is more likely that Shakesepare was a pseudonym used by a member of the Elizabethan nobility. One of them even wrote a Ph.D. thesis about this possibility and was granted a degree by a well known university causing no end of consternation in the mainstream community who do not call the colleagues who disagree with them “rebels” or “heretics.” People who think Shakespeare was a pseudonym get called “anti-Shakespeareans.” 

A man named James Shapiro is a professor at Columbia and wrote a book called Contested Will in which he examined the history of the Shakespeare question. He didn’t use the term “anti-Shakespearian” in that book. Instead, he bragged about the journals being “walled off” from colleagues who disagree with the premise that “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.” He questioned the competence of his colleagues (at a different university) who granted the Ph.D. He diplomatically called the student (now a professor) and people like me who think Shakspere may have been illiterate “unreasonable” which is as good a word as any. I prefer the word “insane” but the difference here is rhetorical rather than substantive.

I think Professor Shapiro and I can agree on one thing: one of us, the present author or the Columbia professor, is insane. It’s not that we are dangerously insane (as long as we stay away from space shuttles) but, at least when it comes to Shakespeare, either I need a straitjacket or the professor does.

You, dear reader, get to decide. Someone needs to be (metaphorically) wrapped in a straitjacket and placed in a padded cell. I hope it isn’t me but if it is I promise to go quietly. I must put aside my bias and provide you with the strongest possible argument that the businessman from Stratford wrote the plays while also presenting the pseudonym argument that I regard as even stronger. I believe I can not only do this but that the mainstream argument, as presented here, is stronger than what Shapiro provides. Shapiro, as a member of the mainstream, has had to paint himself into a corner: he must present certainty where no certainty exists and is therefore led to saying ridiculous things and weakening (and maybe even demolishing) his own argument.

Despite the mainstream’s insanity, there is an argument that Shakspere should be considered as a possible author despite apparent illiteracy. There is also an argument for a member of Queen Elizabeth’s court who was known as a playwright but who never published under his own name. It’s easy enough to present the whole story fairly despite personal biases when you don’t have to claim certainty. My task is immensely simplified by the existence of a body of  facts disputed by neither of the two “sides.” 

William Shakspere was a common name in those days and there were many of them who lived at about the right time. But it was the businesman from Stratford who was later identified as the author. This businessman left behind extensive documentation of his business activity: he was a well-known creditor in his home town with investments in agriculture, land, barns, stables, orchards, grain, malt, houses, and, notably, London’s leading acting company. His literate friends and neighbors and business associates wrote to each other about him and his money, but said nothing about him being the greatest writer in England until seven years after his death. At that time, in 1623, two of his London business associates explcitly identified their late friend as the great writer Shakespeare. 

It is this identification that, not without reason, causes the mainstream feel confident that it is correct. 

So the posthumous identification is solid evidence. But there’s a problem. If this identification is not valid, if the project undertaken seven years after Shakspere’s death was designed to conceal the true author’s identity, the mainstream theory is weakened, probably fatally. Shakspere’s biography is, even mainstreamers readily admit, extremely odd if he was the greatest writer in England. So it’s hard to overstate the importance of the one piece of evidence that identifies him a writer named Shakespeare as opposed to an illiterate businessman named Shakspere.  

I think a good argument can be made that the identification seven years after death is like the secondary O-ring in the space shuttle: absoutely critical, a sine qua non of the mainstream’s theory. Certainly no one would claim the posthumous evidence is not extremely important.

In addition to the concerns about Shakspere’s biography and the importance of a single piece of evidence, there is someone other than Shakspere whose biography has been examined closely starting about one hundred years ago. Although many possible “Shakespeares” have been suggested over the years, this particular candidate’s biography seems ideally suited to make him a plausible Shakespeare. It is fair to say a consensus among rebellious experts has formed around this person. We will assume for the purposes of the present work that one of these men wrote the works of Shakespeare and we will assume that we don’t know which one it was.

The lack of a definitive answer is of course necessary if we are going to engage in what I call scientific reasoning. Our goal is to reach a point where a reasonable person can assign rough probabilities to the two possibilities. If you think there is a 99.99% chance that Shakspere was the author then you agree with the mainstream. If you think Shakspere is 50-50 or not even 50-50 then you agree with me that the mainstream has driven itself to insanity when it comes to this particular issue. 

The 99.99% certain mainstream has a lot of problems, none quite so bad as the lack of a signature. William Shakspere “signed” his name five times on documents that have survived. But each “signature” was written by a different person. The mainstream discovered this, NOT the rebels. No other Elizabethan writer had people signing important documents in their stead.

Writers and literate people in general of that time period left behind identifiable signatures that made their literacy clear: there are hundreds of examples. The lack of a signature in Shakspere’s case might not be such a problem if not for the rest of his biography. We have title pages that say “Shakespeare” on them and we have a man with the right name who was identified as the author after he died. But we have nothing from his lifetime to show that he was literate or thought of as a writer. 

Ben Jonson, the second-most-famous Elizabethan writer, could write his name and was known as a writer. Jonson left behind books, letters, and manuscripts. No one would ever say, “We know a man named Ben Jonson who lived in London in 1600 was literate because the name Ben Jonson is on a large number of printed title pages.” But Shapiro regards the title pages that say “Shakespeare” as “overwhelming evidence.” He weakens his argument with statements like this. 

Ben Jonson’s biographers do not regard title pages as “overwhelming evidence.” Instead, they spend years looking at the books, letters, manuscripts, court appearances regarding written works, payments for written works, jail time for writing the wrong thing, and eulogies praising him as a writer. This man’s name was Ben Jonson and he was the writer Ben Jonson while he lived. Ben Jonson biographers rarely rely on posthumous testimony about Jonson’s life. And a Ben Jonson biographer would be no more likely to rely upon title pages to prove literacy than he would be to strip naked while cold sober in the middle of a formal dinner party and start dancing on the table saying “Jonson wrote Jonson.”  

Title pages and tautologies aside, Shakspere did have a connection to the theater and this does mean something. The problem is Shakspere was a shareholder, a part-owner of London’s leading acting company, but was not documented as a writer for that acting company or for any of the other acting companies that put on Shakespeare plays.

Shakspere also invested in agricuture but was not a farmer. He invested in grain but was not a brewer. He invested in real estate but was not a builder. Most playwrights weren’t involved in the business of putting on plays. In fact, if Shakspere was both an author and a shareholder, he was the only one of that era. Still, being a playwright doesn’t stop a person from being involved in the entertainment business. Moliere, centuries later, is an example of someone who did both. So it is possible Shakspere was a businessman-writer. 

Thoughtful people who look at Shakspere’s life and who begin to wonder if the possbility that he wrote the plays is really enough to put it beyond question usually do so only after reading one of the classic biographies. That was the case with Diana Price who has become the Elaine Morgan of the authorship question. 

Price read the classic Schoenbaum biography and that was the beginning of the end of her belief in the traditional story. Then she read all of the mainstream research or a lot of it anyway and it only got worse. She decided to write a book since the experts didn’t seem willing to confront the problem they had discovered. She was among the first or perhaps the first to use comparative biography to make the Shakspere problem crystal clear in a book-length work. She wrote the groundbreaking Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography. 

In her book, published by an academic press, Price points out that by the standards of the biographical information available for other Elizabethan authors, Shakspere’s biography as a writer is far-fetched at best and astronomically improbable at worst. 

I’m going to end this section with a macabre question: if you had no other choice, if you had to stake your life on Shakspere being the author OR on a coin flip, which would you choose? The shuttle astronauts, had they had the corresponding choice (Thiokol experts or coin flip) would have picked the coin flip — the engineers’ concerns, stated openly at the time, were that serious. In this case, would you pick the mainstream’s claimed 99.99% certainty or a coin flip?

You can’t answer yet because you don’t know enough. But I will ask you again. 

Monstrous Popularity, a Virtual Particle, and a Bad-boy Earl

Queen Elizabeth loved Shakespeare. King James loved Shakespeare. One thing we know about Shakespeare is that the written word was his life. In his Sonnets he wrote to his beloved and to posterity, to us, of his life as a writer: The worth of that is that which it contains, And that is this and this with thee remains. 

But it started with the plays. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, a series of remarkable plays came out properly described by one or two or all three of the following characterizations: (1) a brilliantly written reimagining of an old classic; (2) an extremely useful piece of pro-protestant, pro-monarchy propaganda; and/or (3) a juicy delight full of inside dirt from the Queen’s court including gentle pokes at the Queen herself and not-so-gentle pokes at her courtiers.

The Queen, always happy playing her courtiers one against the other and no stranger to the value of controlling the media, had lots of reasons to support the plays. In fact, she put her top spymaster, Walsingham, in charge of the Queen’s Men acting company so that he could do what he did best — watch over and protect her realm manipulating the public always to the benefit of the powerful.

Someone was dishing courtly dirt and getting away with it and the Queen liked it enough that she put big players in the game and perhaps even rewarded the dirt-disher.

Needless to say, the plays became ridculously, outrageously, almost unbelievably popular. In terms of sheer poplularity, Shakespeare far outstripped all other Elizabethan playwrights put together. Nothing like it had been seen before. And such utter literary dominance hasn’t happened since. I suppose if Meghan Markle and Prince Harry posed for Penthouse, we might see something like the fuss that Shakespeare plays enjoyed, but short of that, I would argue that Shakespeare’s popularity as a playwright was unique to history.

That the playwright wasn’t available was a problem for publishers who desperately wanted the plays in print. Would-be publishers were forced to work off what scripts they could get their hands on or even sit in the theater copying down lines. The results were substandard: missing scenes, misnamed characters, and garbled speeches were the norm for Shakespeare plays published while the author was alive.

As far as anyone knows, all Shakespeare plays published during Elizabeth’s reign were either entirely unauthorized or published with essentially no help from the author. Mainstream biographers who would never in a million years suggest that they had the wrong man nevertheless scratch their heads about the missing author.

Bootlegging happened certainly but no other Elizabethan playwright was 100% bootlegged. It is, everyone admits, a bit strange. The light touch, to put it mildly, of Shakespeare-as-author next to the hammer blow, to put it bluntly, of Shakspere-as-businessman is impossible to explain though not impossible to comment on.

The late great Harold Bloom wondered how any artist could regard the final form of King Lear as “a careless or throwaway matter.” Bloom didn’t claim to know what was going on four hundred years ago; he settled for entertaining himself and his readers by waxing poetic about genius-Gods like Shakespeare casting their stars to the floor.

Bloom was smart to avoid trying to actually answer the central mystery of Shakespeare’s biography — where are the footprints of the greatest writer in England? — but even Bloom couldn’t help going on a bit about the oddness of it all. He writes of a mysterious “inverse ratio.” It is “beyond our analytical ability” he says.

Bloom’s inverse ratio is a comparison of the “virtual colorlessness” of the well-known businessman on one hand and the “preternatural dramatic powers” of a writer with more heart than Bloom could easily imagine fitting into one person on the other hand. For Bloom to say it is beyond his analytical ability is a big deal — Bloom had no shortage of analytical ability.

Bloom’s vision of “virtual colorlessness” paints a perfect picture if you happen to be a physicist: virtual particles in quantum mechanics exist in a mathematical sense but not in a literal sense. A virtual particle is and yet is not. So Bloom’s words are, as always, especially apt.

Park Honan captured the same idea and he might even claim to have done so more pithily than even Bloom did. Park Honan, who wrote a full-length biography of the man he thought was the author, encapsulates his subject’s life with fine rhetorical economy: “Shakespeare,” he says, “seems to have fluorished with a certain annihilation of the sense of himself.”

I added italics to emphasize Honan’s Bloom-like vision of a great author who regularly visited the business world and then somehow disappeared to visit the literary world, annihilating himself at will just like the Cheshire Cat in Charles Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll’s) classic fantasy.

The brilliant and thorough Samuel Schoenbaum, a more prosaic observer than either Bloom or Honan, ran into the same problem they did. Schoenbaum, writing the classic Shakespeare biography, finds that he must write of an author who had many friends and associates who wrote to each other about the local businessman Shakspere, but said nothing useful.

Letters back and forth amongst Shakspere’s associates indicate that people in Stratford didn’t know or care about their “townsman” being the greatest writer in all England. It must be, Schoenbaum speculates, that they were more interested in the business side of things. “They probably troubled their heads little enough about the plays and poems,” Schoenbaum guesses.

So we don’t need Alice and we don’t need the quantum. People who knew personally “the admired poet of love’s languishment” also apparently knew even better who buttered their bread. “Business was another matter,” Schoenbaum reasons. “They saw Shakespeare as a man shrewd in practical affairs,” he concludes.

E. A. J. Honigmann went straight at the business-versus-writing issue. He researched Shakspere’s business activities thoroughly: “If one lists all of these various activities in chronological order,” Honigmann says, “one wonders how the dramatist found time to go on writing plays.” 

Honigmann didn’t imagine for a microsecond that the businessman might not be the author. He was just pointing out the difficulty of holding down two full-time jobs.

Bloom, Honan, Schoenbaum, and Honigmann and other mainstream biographers were and are under the spell of a simple premise: we know with virtual certainty who wrote the plays. They would be unable to question it no matter what the evidence was because if the premise a wrong a LOT of time has been wasted.

Mainstream biographers are to be pitied like Shakespeare’s Titania who loved Bottom unquestioningly.

And yet these biographers are game as they proceed bravely forward with nothing to go on: no letters written or received, no books owned, no manuscripts found in his house, and no references by friends, family, or business associates to Shakspere as a writer until he had been dead seven years. If only they could let go of the conceit of certainty, they might wonder if someone else could possibly have written the plays.

If, indeed, we permit uncertainty, we can accept Shakspere’s biography as it stands and consider therefore a possible author who was (we thank our lucky stars) certainly literate. A prodigy from an early age he was, a member of the Queen’s court as an adult, known publicly and privately as the greatest of the courtly playwrights, praised to the skies during and after his eventful life, he was the ultimate insider-author and he was also a man who never published a play under his own name.

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford had dozens of books dedicated to him and received florid praise from professional writers such as Harvey: “I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant; thou has drunk deep doughts not only of the Muses of France and Italy, but has learned the manners of many men and the arts of foreign countries.”

After his death, Oxford was worshipped on the same page as other ever-living literary giants of the Elizabethan era like Edmund Spenser and Samuel Daniel. In one book appearing and reappeaing in multiple editions, Oxford was listed first; other great authors were listed after him;  “Shakespeare” wasn’t even mentioned. Other books mentioned Shakespeare but not Oxford. Still others mentioned both. Of course, just as there’s no accounting for taste, there’s no knowing who knew what when.

Oxford, though good with words, was not a good boy. He was known as “fickle” and irresponsible, not good for anything but writing. The Queen repeatedly refused to grant him positions of responsibility within her realm despite his repeated requests. Nevertheless she set him up for life in June of 1586.

The spymaster, Walsingham, as you know, was at that time running the Queen’s Men. He was executing what was called “the policy of plays,” using the acting company for state-sanctioned entertainment. A letter to Walsingham from Lord Burghley written in June of 1586 discusses Oxford and the Queen and something momentous that the Queen is about to make happen that will change Oxford’s financial situation forever. Nothing is said about exactly what was going to happen. Burghley wanted Walsingham to let him know in the event the Queen informs Walsingham of a final decision.

At the same time, Oxford was busily writing a letter to Burghley asking for a familiar favor — a loan of 200 pounds (a large sum). Oxford assured Burghley he would be able to pay him back as soon as the Queen “fulfills her promise.”

Something was about to go down.

And so it did. That week in June of 1586 Oxford was officially granted an extraordinary lifetime stipend by the Queen. I’m no Shakespeare so I’m having trouble finding the right word here: “extraordinary” doesn’t quite capture it. So bear with me if you will.

The life of the literary earl was changed at a stroke. The man who sold his lands to fund his revelry and his travel, the irresponsible worshipper of the written word, the man who never could get his hands on enough money to live his life to the fullest and beyond was now guaranteed 1000 pounds per year forever for doing we know not what. For the amount was spelled out in the written record but Oxford’s end of the bargain was not.

The gargantuan sum was more even than Lord Burghley himself — the Queen’s right-hand man and the most powerful man in England — was paid. Instantly, the “fickle” Oxford who did nothing right (except write) became the best-compensated member of Elizabeth’s government. He would never be as rich as Burghley who had plenty of non-salary income on top of the payments out of the royal treasury, but the Queen’s largesse made Oxford rich beyond the dreams of (ordinary) avarice though clearly not beyond the great Earl’s ability to spend every pound that came his way.

If, indeed, you weren’t an insatiable earl, you could live on a few pounds a year. Fifty pounds a year was a great salary for a senior official. Burghley got 800 pounds a year as Lord High Treasurer. Only King James VI of Scotland, the recipient of 4000 pounds per year, drew more gold out of the treasury than the man who this same King James, now King Jame I of England, called “great Oxford.”

Great Oxford didn’t have a country to run. In fact, the award stipulated that he could spend his 1000 pounds per year however he wished. Only one thing is certain about the award: the Queen NEVER handed out money without gettting something in return.

This hasn’t stopped at least one mainstreamer, evidently terrified of Oxford, from suggesting that Queen Elizabeth paid Oxford 1000 pounds a year in exchange for his good behavior! Though it is hard to imagine a more fatuous argument Oxford did make name for himself with his rash behavior.

In 1581, the literary playboy slept with one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting and got her pregnant. The Queen’s ladies, needless to say, were not on offer to her male courtiers. The lustful earl spent some time in the Tower contemplating his sins. His mistress and her baby were locked up as well with mother and child in different quarters from Oxford. Meanwhile, the Queen cooled off.

After the couple and Oxford’s bastard child were released, Oxford’s retinue and that of the irresistible Anne Vavasour met on the streets of London to do battle. (Of course they did, what else would happen at this point in the story?) History tells us that sword met sword and that blood was spilled. At least one person died as the battles flared repeatedly. Oxford himself was injured.

That was then. By 1586, the brilliant and cocksure earl had become a paid luminary in Elizabeth’s realm. He could continue to pay his long-time literary secretaries, the writers John Lyly and Anthony Munday and he would work with them as the 1580’s ended and the 1590’s began. The three men, along with other writers in their circle, went to town as it were during those early years vowing to one another that literature would never be the same.

Lyly, Munday, and other writers such as Robert Greene and George Peele produced an avalanche of original work, dedicated some of it to Oxford, and did indeed remake the Elizabethan literary scene. The dedications and the praise were all the credit Oxford received unless you count the 1000 pounds a year which, IF it was being paid to him for writing, pretty much makes him Shakespeare.

Many of the plays that came out in the 1580’s did not have Lyly’s or Munday’s or Greene’s or Peele’s byline on them; instead, they were anonymous. In fact, anonymous work very similar to what were later officially Shakespeare plays began appearing. Four important Shakesepare precursors were King John, King Leir, Henry V, and Richard III with longish titles spelled and worded only a little differently from the eventual Shakespeare plays and plots and dialog so similar it is assumed that Shakspere, after arriving in London from Stratford, must have used these plays to create his own.

IF, instead, these four plays were first drafts of Shakespeare plays, written long before Shakspere got himself to London, then Oxford could step up to the podium and declare himself Shakespeare and we would have to agree.

Shakspere was certainly in London in the early 1590’s and in 1594, a play called Titus Andronicus appeared in print with no byline. Titus Andronicus is thought to be the first Shakespeare play to be published. In 1598, with Shakspere appearing now and then in London, Love’s Labours Lost appeared in print as the first play with the Shakespeare byline.

Of course, Shakespeare was already a household name by then because the byline appeared on two epic poems published WITH help from the author — they were the only Shakespearean author-publisher collaborations but the publishers left us nothing about their experience with the actual author who for all we know was Shakspere or Oxford or someone else. The epic poems were published in 1593 and 1594 and the Shakespeare byline, whoever was behind it, knew instant fame.

A Shakespearean Tragedy in 2020

The stipend handed to Oxford by the Queen proves nothing. But the mainstream is so worried about it that one of them was willing to go on record claiming Queen Elizabeth I could be bent to the will of a wanton courtier and made to part with gigantic amounts of money! Someone’s torn right through his bathing suit. Obviously, the woman who eventually became the most celebrated monarch in English history wouldn’t have lasted five minutes as Queen if she was as weak as this mainstreamer suggests. The mainstream, when it comes to the most difficult points in the Shakespeare story, seems willing to embrace gibberish even when they don’t need to. Again, the stipend proves nothing.  

But there are a couple more facts to add before we have a good sketch of Oxford as a possible Shakespeare. An English English Professor, R. W. Bond, active circa 1900 collected John Lyly’s works in a three volume set and wrote this of his subject: “There is no play before Lyly.” Of Lyly and Shakespeare he wrote this: “In comedy, Lyly is Shakespeare’s only model.” Bond thought Lyly was more influential on Shakespeare than any other writer.

Oxford’s biography was not well known when Bond was working so Bond didn’t know that Oxford had hired Lyly and he didn’t know that Oxford was frequently listed as the greatest of the courtly playwrights. Today, we take the level of information and research available to everyone for granted, but Bond didn’t have all the facts in the world at his fingertips the way modern scholars do.

Of course, we can see that Shakespeare and Lyly may well have been influencing one another all through the 1580’s and it is certainly a matter of interest that Oxford’s secretary, Lyly, happened to be the Elizabethan writer most closely tied to Shakespeare. Bond isn’t alone in his opinion either: “Drawing on Ovid [Shakespeare’s favorite classic poet] and Plutarch and emphasizing a beauty of style, his [Lyly’s] works suggested more dramatic possibilities to Shakespeare those of any other comic playwright.” That’s a Park “Cheshire Cat” Honan quote. 

So Shakespeare certainly knew of and appreciated Lyly’s works and, if he was Oxford, knew Lyly personally and worked with him directly. Also in the department of who did Shakespeare know? is the writer of the only surviving Shakespeare manuscript. Although no manuscripts or handwritten works of any kind belonging to Shakspere were found after he died, there is a handwritten play part of which is, everyone agrees, authentic Shakespeare found amonst the papers of an Elizabethan writer with whom Shakespeare evidently worked. This writer is NOT John Lyly.

The play is Sir Thomas More and the original manuscript plus an edited version both survive. The edited version includes a number of different handwritten pieces by a number of different people. Not all of the pieces can be identified; some may be written by unknown scribes. Some mainstreamers, embarrassing themselves in a truly horrible way, say that the handwriting in the five different Shakspere “signatures” can be matched to the handwriting on part of the Sir Thomas More manuscript. This argument is NOT embarrassing like a torn bathingsuit; we’re in the realm of public masturbation here. The reader may wish to quickly recall that the fact of the multiple people signing documents for Shakspere can be found in the work of Schoenbaum himself, perhaps the best-known mainstream biographer, and then as quickly as possible forget that a number of mainstreamers spew such nonsense as part of Sir Thomas More being in Shakspere’s nonexistent handwriting. 

Anyway, the handwriting on the primary manuscript has been identified. It is, you will not be surprised to hear, in Anthony Munday’s hand. No one thinks Munday or Lyly was Shakespeare: they both published plenty of their own non-Shakespearean work. Sir Thomas More was never published though the manuscript and the edits tell quite story: Munday wrote a play and Shakespeare and a number of other writers worked on it. 

So the most famous of the Elizabethan courtly playwrights hires Shakespeare’s biggest contemporaneous influence (Lyly) and also hires the man (Munday) responsible for the only Shakespearean manuscript so far found. And he was getting 1000 pounds a year from the Queen for God-knows-what. Given these very basic (and inarguable) facts, it isn’t hard to understand why a reputable institution like the University of Massachusetts at Amherst would allow Roger Stritmatter to write his dissertation on evidence for Oxford’s authorship of the Shakespeare canon. UMass Amherst, to the horror of a frozen mainstream, granted Dr. Stritmatter his Ph.D. in 2001.

Mainstreamers don’t have kind words for their colleagues on Stritmatter’s dissertation committee — in fact, they routinely imply that incompetence caused said colleagues to improperly grant Stritmatter a Ph.D. I would say it’s hard to imagine anything so graceless as a one professor telling another he doesn’t deserve his Ph.D., but it is November 2020 as I write and people who matter to me are dying while a graceless leader pretends the election is fake news so it isn’t so hard to imagine, unfortunately. 

It’s tragic in other ways too if Oxford really did write the plays. Sir Derek Jacobi has said one cannot understand Shakespeare without knowing Oxford’s biography. If that’s true, I often wonder, then what of Harold Bloom? If scene after scene in play after play takes its cue from Oxford’s life then what can we say for Bloom, who loved Shakespeare, who graced us with his brilliance, who knew the scenes and speeches and characters by heart and who died possibly missing out on knowledge of the true author simply because mainstream scholars, our truth seekers, the people we depend on for enlightenment refused to even discuss it. Bloom was a brilliant man who I think was open-minded though he dismissed the authorship question; I believe if his colleagues had allowed work to be done on Oxford and if that work was sound, Bloom might have been convinced before he died.   

RIP Harold Bloom 1930 – 2019.

The First Folio Strikes Back

There’s nothing wrong with intelligent skepticism about Oxford. After all, nothing directly naming Oxford as the author has ever appeared. He died in 1604 without a will and without eulogies. A play that he wrote about a “mean gentlemen rising at court” (possibly Twelfth Night) that existed in manuscipt into the 1700’s has been lost. So the Stritmatters and Jacobis of the world who sometimes seem pretty sure of themselves (and perhaps have a right to be) don’t have blatantly obvious proof. If they have less obvious proof (and they may have) we ordinary people can’t say whether or not they have a right to their confidence because the full discussion in peer-reviewed journals we would need to make such a determination isn’t happening.

We’re stuck with the same old problem: we don’t know. For all we know, even though Oxford, what with his family sword battles over his love affair, is a compelling candidate, Shakspere may have written the plays after all. Remember, he was identified as the author seven years after his death. And it’s a pretty good identification. 

The businessman named Shakspere died in his hometown of Stratford in 1616. There are no surviving eulogies but a three-page will written in broken legalese (far below the legal ability of the expert who wrote Shakespeare’s plays with their clever use of fancy legal concepts) does survive. Someone in Stratford took down the will for Shakspere bequeathing his lands, stables, barns, orchards, houses, and cash to his two illiterate daughters (Judith signed her name with a mark; Susanna held her husband’s medical journal in her hands but told the person buying it she didn’t know what it was). 

The will which goes on and on for three pages but never mentions a book or a manuscript or education or a map or a musical instrument or even an inkwell is explained by the mainstream by comparing wills of other writers that were equally boring if not equally lengthy. The absence of eulogies has been explained as follows: Shakespeare was mostly a playwright as opposed to a poet and, even though he was more famous than all other writers put together, he didn’t get eulogies because playwrights were held in lower esteem than poets. Some mainstreamers have noted the absence of eulogies for Shakspere and explained this by noting that he was mostly thought of as a playwright and playwrights didn’t get the same treatment when they died as pure poets.

Like most of the excuses made for Shakspere’s all business birth-to-death biography, the will excuse and the eulogy excuse arent’ especially good or especially bad. We are, as always, left with the fact that the businessman seems to have been just a businessman who perhaps didn’t have time for his daughters because he was so busy and didn’t see to it that they learned to read because they were country girls. It’s all plausible if not especially satisfying. 

But then a miracle happend. Seven years after the apparent businessman died, in 1623, half of Shakespeare’s plays existed in print with varying levels of accuracy. That year, thirty-six manuscripts materialized like the flame of the lord on Mount Sinai. 

Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, Taming of the Shrew, A Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, All’s Well That Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale, and other masterpieces would now be published for the first time. Bootlegged plays like Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Richard III, King John, Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, The Merchant of Venice, The Winter’s Tale, and all the others would now be published properly.

Someone had the manuscipts. Someone actually held in their hands a stack of the handwritten priceless documents. Perhaps they didn’t know how much posterity would treasure them. Perhaps whoever it was had other things on their mind. But the fact is, all of Shakespeare’s works in his handwriting had been in someone’s possession, saved en masse for three decades or more.

This miracle is known to us as the First Folio — Shakespeare as we know Shakespeare. The First Folio was published under the auspicies of the Earl of Montgomery and his brother, the Earl of Pembroke. These are the famous “incomparable pair of brethren” to whom the First Folio is dedicated. They had the plays and arranged for their publication. But where did they get them?

As usual, we don’t know. But prepare to NOT be surprised. The Earl of Montgomery was married to a fellow earl’s youngest daughter. Her name was Susan. Perhaps you’ve guessed who her father was. Of course, you are quite right: before Susan became the Countess of Montgomery, she was called Lady Susan Vere because she was the Earl of Oxford’s — Edward de Vere’s — daughter.

The involvement of Oxford’s family in the publication of the First Folio would seem to close the case and not in the mainstream’s favor. Obviously, Oxford’s family had the manuscripts for all those decades. Obviously, Oxford was not just the greatest of the court playwrights paid gigantic sums direct from the crown but was Shakespeare himself.

The mainstream candidate, the illiterate businessman who didn’t own any books or write any letters or go to Italy or practice the noble sport of falconry whose language permeates the works or hobnob with courtly nobility or even go to school, the man who couldn’t even write his name has got to be the most nonsensical candidate for a highly placed genius author ever proposed by the mind of man. Here we were trying to explain why the mainstream is absolutely certain Shakspere wrote Shakespeare and we ended up in Oxford-land yet again.  

But it’s not over till it’s over. And it’s not over, not yet.

The mainstream candidate’s name on his birth and death notices is William Shakspere and it was, as you know, a common name. The spelling of the name, if not its ubiquitousness, is mostly irrelevant. It is easy to imagine one of the Shaksperes becoming Shakespeare for the purposes of the plays. Elizabethan spelling was nothing if not fluid and Shakspere was certainly referred to as “Shakespeare” with the right spelling on occasion especially when he was in London. 

The name alone, even spelled “Shakespeare,” is obviously not enough given the commonness of the name. But Shakspere/Shakespeare of Stratford didn’t just own land and barns and stables and houses; he wasn’t just interested in grain and malt and credit; he wasn’t just some random guy who died without leaving behind books, letters, or manuscripts. Well, he was all of those things, but he was, as you know, also a shareholder in London’s leading acting company.

The connection to the theater is huge, but still not enough. Judith Quiney, Shakspere’s daughter, was pregnant when her supposedly famous father died and she and her literate husband named their son “Shakspere Quiney,” using the family spelling and not the famous one so we’ve still got a problem with the name though obviously not an insurmountable one. If all we had were ties to the theater and a close-enough name, no one would believe Shakspere Quiney’s grandfather, a man who appears to have been unable to write his own name, was Shakespeare. But that’s not all there is. 

In 1623, the man with the name and the acting company association was identified with unmistakeable clarity as Shakespeare-the-poet-and-playwright. And you can’t argue with the source. Oxford’s family did indeed publish thirty-six plays in a big book of inestimable value to the world. But that same book identified the author as most definitely NOT Oxford and they had the plays so they clearly knew who wrote them. Not just one but a few letters in the preface repeatedly tell readers that Shakespeare was Shakespeare of Stratford, the acting company shareholder. There isn’t a scintilla of doubt about what the preface meant to say: Shakspere WROTE Shakespeare and don’t you forget it.

In the most informative letter in the preface, two men Shakspere certainly knew have their names printed beneath a printed letter. The men so named were Shakspere’s fellow shareholders in London’s leading acting company and were listed in Shakspere’s will with other business associates who would receive small bequests. No one doubts these men knew Shakspere.

In the letter in the First Folio, the two men specifically refer to their business partner — they call him their “friend & fellow” which he clearly was. They say he was the author of the plays. There is no other way to interpret this letter and no one has been foolish enough to try. If Oxford is the real author, then this letter and the other letters which support it are filthy lies plain and simple.

Shakspere’s two business associates, acting apparently on behalf of the company of players now known as the King’s Men but previously known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, claim that THEY had been holding the thirty-six manuscripts for all those decades. The letter claims they are GIVING the precious manuscripts to the two earls to honor Shakespeare’s memory. The letter says they have NO thought of receiving any profit for themselves but just want to preserve Shakespeare’s memory.

You could argue they are protesting a little too much but that argument is neither here nor there; it certainly isn’t going to go anywhere. The letter is either true or it isn’t, fact or fiction. If true, then the businessman with a biography you would never expect in 37 trillion years wrote Shakespeare. If Oxford’s family falsified the preface, the entire mainstream theory comes crashing down in a twisted, broken mess.

If you use legal reasoning, you can say the First Folio preface clearly identifies Shakspere of Stratford as the author and that only hard evidence that it is false shall be sufficient to impeach it. Legally speaking, Shakspere’s “friends and fellows” are innocent until proven guilty. Legally speaking, their claims must be taken as fact. Legally speaking, Shakspere is Shakespeare.

The only way for Oxford’s partisans to unseat the Stratford businessman in a legal sense would be to present hard evidence that proves the First Folio preface was part of a plan to conceal the truth, namely that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, was the author.

Most real judges, using legal reasoning, would find for Shakspere based on evidence currently available. But real judges have weighed in on the scientific side as well. Judges can do lots of different kinds of reasoning, after all. Someone who happens to work as a judge can focus on the non-premise upon which scientific reasoning is based: we don’t know. Indeed, Lewis Powell, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Sandra O’Connor and others with a bit of legal training have gone public with their doubts about Shakspere. 

The Deadly Coin Flip Grows Nigh

What, in your opinion dear reader, does scientific reasoning say about Oxford being the greatest of playwrights versus Oxford being a powerful earl with a taste for the theater? Is Oxford’s connection to Lyly and Munday definitive or coincidental? Did Oxford turn the sword battles on the streets of London into an autobiographical tidbit in Romeo and Juliet or is this another coincidence? Did the Queen hand Oxford 1000 pounds a year because he was Shakespeare or was there some other reason no one has guessed?

What about Shakspere? Was he a businessman who wrote plays on the side or was he a businessman who couldn’t write his own name? Is the connection to the First Folio preface definitive or was the preface falsified? If the preface was falsified, why would Oxford’s family feel they had to go to such lengths? And if they did point at a front-man author, how is it that the hoax was so successful and where is the direct commentary about it from the many people who would have known the truth?

We will keep digging. By way of warning, I should note that no firm conclusion is possible without a full discussion taking place in scholarly journals over a period of years and we’re probably a decade away from that process even beginning. Still, with a reasonably complete account, a non-expert reader can form a perfectly good opinion as to the probabilities if they haven’t already.

To stay streamlined, we will assume that either Shakspere or Oxford was the author while (of course) keeping in mind the possiblity that even this may not be the case. The vast majority of the mainstream favors Shakspere and a solid majority of rebels favor Oxford so I’m comfortable continuing to focus on these two primary candidates.

The Stratfordian Framework

People who believe “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare” are sometimes called “Stratfordians.” There’s nothing wrong with their belief really as it has a solid foundation and framework. The businessman from Stratford has the right name and a clear connection to the theater. The publishers of the First Folio identified him as the author William Shakespeare and no one questioned this. It is true that no documentary evidence for his life as a writer that was produced during his lifetime has survived making his case unusual relative to that of other Elizabethan writers, but there could be many reasons for this and, on balance, it seems safer to assume that he was the author in the absence of hard evidence that the First Folio preface was falsified.

So goes the mainstream argument and it is perfectly sensible.

It is indeed plausible that a businessman from Stratford might also have been a literary genius and might have, as Bloom postulates, been such a genius that he just didn’t care about getting involved or not with the publication of his work when he was already hard at work on his next masterpiece. It is likewise plausible that he might have, as Honan postulates, simply wanted to keep to himself and so did not cut a clear path through literary London. Schoenbaum’s idea that people who knew him in Stratford were more focused on business than on plays and poems explains why we got no clues from them. Honigmann’s idea that Shakspere himself paid more attention to the business end of things ties up the biography as well as can be done under the circumstances.

We would like to have something direct from Shakspere’s lifetime that says he was Shakespeare but we don’t and that unfortunate fact is simply a combination of bad luck and the circumstances of Shakspere’s life. His own priorities and temperament may have contributed to the lack of a literary biography as well.

Again, the Stratfordian framework is perfectly sound. But should we build a wall?

That’s what Stratfordian scholar James Shapiro at Columbia calls it: there is  a “wall” between his Oxfordian colleagues all over the world and the peer-reviewed journals. He’s proud of it. Shapiro believes the Oxfordian case is “unreasonable.” He even wrote a book called Contested Will in which he disparages Oxfordian claims as ridiculous as part of his effort to understand why otherwise intelligent people would have silly ideas like Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.

Shapiro must defend his premise as unquestionable. This cannot be done without circular reasoning, twisted logic, straw-man arguments, ad hominem arguments, and outright nonsense. Shapiro uses all of these techniques in his book.

The Stratfordian framework is reasonable but does not allow Shapiro to claim certainty no matter how much ivy climbs the walls of his institution.  The only valid question to ask is this: is the Oxfordian framework so strong that Oxford should be considered the likely author or should we stick with the traditional theory until we have more information?

The Oxfordian Framework

It bothered Mark Twain no end that people thought Shakspere was the author even though he left nothing behind but “a vague file of chipmunk tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village.” Today, Oxfordians note that Edward de Vere cut a rather clear path through literary London.

Elizabethan authors like Ben Jonson and Edmund Spencer and John Lyly and Anthony Munday and Christopher Marlowe and Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe knew each other, dedicated work to each other, went to jail together, could write their names, owned books, wrote and received letters, were eulogized at death, and on and on and on. Ben Jonson did all of these things; the others did some of these things. Even for writers not as well documented as Jonson, no one in their right mind would think any of these names were pseudonyms and no biographer relies on posthumous testimony to verify that they have the right Ben Jonson or the right John Lyly or the right Anthony Munday etc.

If Shakspere wrote the great works, he did so while living the life of a pure businessman. This conclusion includes his association with the theater: a number of documents indicate that he was a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men which later became the King’s Men; other documents show that he invested in theater real estate. But, until the First Folio preface identified him as a writer, zero documents say anything about him writing plays or poems; even literacy is out of reach for the biographer until the First Folio preface comes along unless we assume Shakspere was Shakespeare and then say, as Shapiro does, that the title pages are “overwhelming evidence.”

Diana Price — not a big fan of circular reasoning — examined the lifetime document output of Elizabethan writers aside from the title pages. She found that consistently half of all documents left behind by professional writers were personal documents like birth or death notices while half were writing documents like books, letters, and manuscripts. This is what one would expect from people whose life was writing.

Shakspere left behind many personal documents and many documents covering his business activities. He was born and died, got married and had children, bought property and buildings, was in court suing over debts and out of court counting his money, etc., etc. Seventy documents covering his life from birth to the immediate aftermath of his death have been found — only for Ben Jonson do we have more documents.

For Ben Jonson, of course, we have every kind of document you could possibly want. With seventy Shakspere documents, we would expect, IF he was Shakespeare, at least a couple of dozen writing documents to have survived. If you found even ONE such document for Shakspere, you would instantly become world famous. Think about that.

Let’s create a model for documents indicating literacy. We will of course (!) NOT include title pages as documents indicating literacy. We will also exclude claims made long after the person in question has died. All we want to do is prove that the person, while alive, was literate. If, at death, the person was eulogized as a writer, then we will accept such evidence, but after the last worm has burped, we no longer accept unquestioningly what someone says about their friend the writer. 

As noted above, Price found that for Elizabethan writers, a coin-flip model works well. In the coin-flip model, heads means a document indicates literacy; tails means it does not. The couple of dozen Elizabethan writers Price looked at — Beaumont, Chapman, Daniel, Dekker, Drayton, Drummond, Fletcher, Greene, Harvey, Heywood, Jonson, Kyd, Lodge, Lyly, Marlowe, Marston, Middleton, Munday, Nashe, Peele, Spencer, Watson, and Webster — all left behind literacy documents. In each case, roughly half indicate that the person whose name appeared on title pages was at least literate and they usually specifically indicate that the person was a professional writer. For none of these writers is it necessary to rely on statements made years after death

In Shakspere’s case, as you know, we have seventy documents all of which are “tails” in our model. The man whose name appears on many title pages left behind a trail of documents zero of which indicate literacy and four of which (the legal documents signed for him) specifically indicate lack of literacy.

What are the odds? There is good news here. No calculation is necessary. It’s a nice convenience we get when the numbers are this large that we are freed from the calculator. The probability of throwing seventy coins into the air and having them all land tails is zero.

But it is still possible, strictly speaking. So let’s try this at home. You’ll need seventy coins. You’ll want to set up a device that throws the coins once per second and maybe some intellgent monitoring system that instantly records whether or not they all landed tails. You’ll need to solve the problem of your mortality because, though you might be very lucky and flip seventy tails on your first try, a more conservative guess for how long it will take to hit the jackpot is 37 trillion years. Setting aside this much time gives you a better-than-even chance of success during your attempt. However, if you want to begin your efforts with a near-certainty of success predicted, you’ll want to set aside a quadrillion years. 

The mortality problem you might solve by creating “The Cult of the Seventy Tails” into which you would induct new adherents who could take over for you after your death. However, the cult will run into a problem in a few billion years because, at that time, the sun will have exhausted its fuel and will go out. Unfortunately, this will happen before your coin-flipping project has even really gotten a good start though there is a small chance you might have succeeded by then. So, unless you move the project to another star or figure out how to keep the sun burning, The Cult of the Seventy Tails will need extraordinary luck to succeed before the end of the world comes. 

Oxfordians typically start with this idea. Even given that Shakspere has the right name, a connection to the theater, and is identified as literate in the First Folio, the simple model proposed above causes us to doubt that he could even write his own name much less be Shakespeare. The seventy documents covering land, barns, stables, malt, grain, stone, money, houses, roads, pastures, orchards, and theater investments and the four signatures written for him and the utter lack of books, letters, or manuscripts found in his twelve-thousand-square-foot house after he died is just too much to NOT engender doubt. 

Then one looks at Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford who was, like Ben Jonson, known as a writer. Oxford was born into privilege unlike Jonson though both became accomplished writers. Jonson’s biography matches his writing and biographers have plenty to work with. Oxford’s biography likewise fits Shakespeare pretty much perfectly giving biographers who believe he was Shakespeare plenty to do. There’s a great book by Mark Anderson that assumes Oxford was Shakespeare and writes the biography — it may change the way you look at the great author. 

Oxford made a big splash as 21-year-old courtier in 1571: he became a favorite of the Queen. She “delighteth in his valientness” and so on . . . according to a diary entry. The diarist noted that Oxford was married to Burghley’s daughter and noted that the great lord didn’t seem to mind the attention Oxford was getting from the Queen. “My lord winketh at these love matters,” the diarist said.

So began the life of the ultimate literary insider. If Shakspere wrote the plays, he had to learn all about the Queen’s court from gossip while he was visiting London.

In 1575, Oxford went on a grand tour traveling through France eventually spending a year traveling in Italy where ten of Shakesepare’s plays are set. Shakespeare didn’t just set plays in Italy as an afterthought. The settings are created with loving, microscopic, assiduous detail some of which are still being discovered in the 21st century by scholars who traveled to Italy and stumbled on a long-lost Shakespearean bit of detail. Geography, art, culture, and all things Italian overflow from these plays. Whenever it looks like Shakespeare made an error is his desciption, it always turns out he was right and the critics were wrong.

Whoever wrote the plays also had first-hand knowledge of Italy. Shakspere may have visited Italy but it seems unlikely that he did so and this causes mainstreamers to engage in some of their most spectacular contortions. Shapiro claims Shakspere could have learned enough about Italy to write the plays by talking to travelers who had been there. My only question is this: did the emperor believe he was dressed?

After Oxford returned from Italy in the late 1570’s, the Shakespeare era began. By the early 1580’s, it was going full steam ahead. A Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, The Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, King John, Henry V, King Lear, Richard III, and Hamlet define the decade.

Errors, assuming it was originally called A History of Error, had been written anonymously in the late 1570’s and was played frequently at court starting in 1577. Twelfth Night portrays the early 1580’s rise of Sir Christopher Hatton whom Shakespeare tore to pieces and whom we know Oxford hated; Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona eleven years after the 1570 earthquake; much of The Winter’s Tale was actually published as a novel in 1588 by a notorious plagiarist who stole parts of the Shakespeare play word for word; and the famous line et tu Brute was being bandied about by a number of other writers by the end of the decade. Shakspere still had never been to London.

The versions of the four “King” plays from the 1580’s bear many fingerprints of the great author such as his habit of making up words. If they really are first drafts of Shakespeare plays that would make it virtually impossible for Shakspere to have written them. But Oxford was there, in the right place at the right time.

A famous quip by Thomas Nashe about “whole Hamlets of tragical speeches” is likewise bad for the mainstream as it dates an early version of what eventually became Shakespeare’s masterpiece to sometime before 1589, when Shakspere would have been just getting ready to explode onto the scene as the magical twenty-something genius from Stratford. But the timing is perfect for Oxford who was about to turn forty. Most mainstreamers assume there MUST HAVE BEEN an earlier “Hamlet” written by another author. 

In 1593 and 1594, the great author, whoever he was, got involved in publishing and two epic poems appeared, beautifully done and floridly dedicated to the Earl of Southampton — the most controversial earl in England. At the same time, the great author was writing private sonnets to this same earl. Southampton is not named in the sonnets but they fit his life from his refusal to marry a young woman to his imprisonment for treason to his miraculous release after the Queen’s death.

Private sonnets written in the first person to the young, headstrong earl aka “O thou my lovely boy” telling him what to do and how to live his life and offering unconditional support and forgiving him for his mistakes cause problems for the mainstream’s Shakespeare-was-a-commoner theory.

For some Oxfordians, the Sonnets disqualify Shakspere. The first seventeen sonnets — the “marriage sonnets” — are intense exhotations beseeching the boy to marry and create a male heir for his own good and for the good of his family. Here are the first two lines of the first sonnet.

From fairest creatures we desire increase
That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die. 

No one knows why Rose was capitalized and italicized.

The sonnets were personal to the point of being invasive: they admonish — the earl is called a “tender churl” — and they finger-wag — the earl is ordered “be not self-willed.” The sonnets were (of course) not published for many years, but were eventually rumored to be circulating amongst the author’s “private friends.” The Queen’s death and the new King’s ascension are recorded in the sonnets toward the end. Finally, “O thou my lovely boy” is advised, as only Shakespeare can advise, to make the most of every precious minute of life.

A year later, Oxford died. Five years after that, the sonnets were published and with the hope that the promises made in the sonnets by “our ever-living poet” would be delivered by fate.  

One mainstream biographer, Levi, confronts the obvious issues brought up by the sonnets. A commoner can’t write personal sonnets to the Earl of Southampton, telling him how to live his life and so on. There’s just one answer: Shakspere wasn’t writing in his own voice. That is, the sonnets must have been commissioned. There is no evidence for this, but it does fix the problem assuming it is true.

According to Levi, a series of over 100 sonnets written to Southampton over ten years were, not only “among the most perfect poems ever written in any language” but were also “commissioned poems.” Although there is no evidence connecting Shakspere to Southampton, there must have been some connection at least with a Southampton family member that has been lost to history.  

Let’s review where we stand. Someone wrote probably to the Earl of Southampton “thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee calls back the lovely April of her prime . . .” and this person either knew Southampton as he wrote and the boy’s mother when she was young or was writing “probably on behalf of the young man’s mother.” There is a third possibility of course: maybe the sonnets are not written to anyone at all and are just poems and are “not personal” as Shapiro informs us in Contested Will. 

Oxfordians, eschewing wild guesses and not willing to embrace utter nonsense and realizing that their guy seems to show up pretty regularly when one talks about Shakespeare, politely ask the following question: Who was Southampton supposed to marry in the early 1590’s? The idea here is that history might perhaps provide us with more clues than premises, wild guesses, and desperate assumptions.

Is it possible, say Oxfordians (those sly dogs), that Southampton’s betrothed could give us a clue to the identity of the man who wrote the marriage sonnets? Maybe the young woman he was supposed to marry was Shakespeare’s daughter or something momentous like that. That would almost be too good to be true but if it were true, say the Oxfordians, would you then be willing to have a beer with us without spitting in our faces?

Just asking.  

Southampton’s betrothal was obviously a big deal in Elizabethan England with huge political implications. Marriages among the nobility were almost always more about power than about love. So it’s easy to find out who it was Southampton was supposed to marry. History tends to (and does in this case) record this sort of crucial information. 

Lord Burghley, quite sensibly, wanted Southampton to marry his grand-daughter. It was Burghley’s decision because Southampton’s father, having gotten on the wrong side of the Queen and having been tortured one too many times, died when Southampton was young. So Southampton was a ward of the state and Burghley had authority as his legal father.

Burghley’s grand-daugher was called Susan though to be polite, you might call her Lady Susan Vere. Perhaps the biggest decision of Southampton’s life — should he or should he not ally himself with and become dependent upon the most powerful man in England?  — was being writ large in the marriage sonnets and we want to know now who was this Lady Susan Vere.

Oxfordians note gain, that it is NOT a big surprise at this point to discover that Lady Susan Vere was the daughter of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. It’s almost as if history itself if taking sides in the Great Shakespeare Authorship Debate. It’s not really very fair to the mainstream, is it? 

The mainstream, despite this foul play on the part of history in delivering to the Oxfordians yet another amazing coincidence, remains absolutely certain that Oxford was not Shakespeare and absolutely unwilling to have a beer with any Oxfordian unless said Oxfordian promises not to discuss religion, politics, or Shake-Speare’s Sonnets.

If Oxford wrote the sonnets the point of the marriage sonnets — Oxford who had himself boarded the Burghley train through his marriage wanted Southampton to do the same. That said, we still don’t know why Oxford identified so strongly with the young earl of his daughter’s generation: “My glass shall not persuade me I am old, so long as youth and thou are of one date.” That’s strong stuff. Whoever wrote it, Shakspere or Oxford, we don’t know why he felt that way about the controversial earl.

In 1609, the sonnets came out in a little book. As usual, no author participated in the publication. The date and the dedication are important to Oxfordians. The publisher wrote his own dedication telling a mysterious Mr. W. H. that he (the publisher) hoped this Mr. W. H. would be granted the “eternity” promised by “our ever-living poet” — Shakspere according to the mainstream and Oxford according to the rebels. 

Whoever wrote the sonnets repeatedly claims the poems will give the lovely boy eternal life because they are just so damn good that even brass and stone will turn to dust while the sonnets will be good as new forever and forever. Southampton’s name was Henry Wriothesley so it could be him with initials transposed, but his earldom was restored in 1603 after he avoided being executed for treason so the appellation “Mr.” was not appropriate in 1609. 

Ben Jonson was also called “The Immortal Jonson” after he died and 1 Henry VI has a line in it extolling Henry V as “that ever-living man of memory” so “our ever-living poet” is a perfectly good Elizabethan eulogy especially apropos for Shakespeare.

For some Oxfordians, the “our ever-living poet” reference in 1609 makes it incomprehensible that the mainstream would claim absolute certainty about Shakspere’s (d. 1616) authorship. Most mainstream commentators wisely omit it from their discussion. When they do mention it, they say it could mean anything (a technically correct statement) and leave it at that. 

If you believe Oxford wrote the plays, they suddenly look completely different. In the Oxfordian framework, it is assumed that Oxford wrote all the plays between about 1580 and 1600 and it is assumed he was unhappy about having to conceal his name and also unhappy that there was a real person named, more or less, William Shakespeare who might get credit for his, Oxford’s, work. A scene in As You Like It that is otherwise pointless and that otherwise seems out of place in the pastoral love comedy devoted to all things Rosalind and that some critics note could easily have been left out of the play is suddenly loaded with real-life pathos. 

In Act V, Scene I, a character called Touchstone is ready to draw blood. Touchstone is one of those characters who act as a classical Greek chorus telling us what must be told. Touchstone is clearly, according to none other than Bloom himself, a stand-in for the author. That is, he speaks to us with the author’s voice.

Touchstone wants to marry Audrey, a nondescript character who doesn’t seem to understand much and who asks naive questions. It isn’t clear who or what Audrey stands for but your guess is as good as anyone’s. Anyway, to marry Audrey, Touchstone must first drive away an idiot who has nothing to do with her but who wants her anyway. Audrey tells Touchstone that this idiot who wants her “has no interest in me in the World.” 

We will jump part way into Act V, Scene I, where by this time Touchstone has worked himself into a rage. He is speaking to the idiot character. Nothing Touchstone says has anything to do with the rest of the play and it is not clear what he is getting at. 

Touchstone mentions “writers” but there are no “writers” in the play. He says “to have is to have” which also means nothing. He launches into a fine point of “rhetoric” in which a liquid is poured from cup to glass. We don’t know what he is getting at but it may be a reference to Plato where there is a discussion of wisdom: in the Platonic discussion, the ease of pouring a liquid from a cup into a glass is contrasted with the difficulty of one person’s wisdom being tranferred to another. Finally Touchstone offers a meanspirited lesson in Latin which, again, makes little or no sense in the context of the play. No wonder critics regard the scene as disposable 

If you are an Oxfordian, it may be your favorite scene in all of Shakespeare. If, for other reasons, you think Oxford wrote the play, Act V, Scene I, makes perfect sense.  

TOUCHSTONE [angrily]: Then learn this of me: to have is to have [Itlalian: avere è avere]; for it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being poured out of a cup into a glass by filling one doth empty the other; for all your writers do consent that ipse [Latin: he himself] is he: now, you are not ipse for I am he.

WILLIAM [stupidly]: Which he, sir?

TOUCHSTONE: He, sir, that must marry this woman. Therefore you, clown, abandon, which is in the vulgar leave, the society, which in the boorish is company, of the female, which in the common is woman; which together is, abandon the society of this female, or, clown, thou perishest; or, to thy better understanding, diest, or, to wit I kill thee, make thee away, translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage: I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado [a club], or in steel; I will bandy with thee in faction [throw you down]; I will overrun thee with policy [talk you to death]; I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways: therefore tremble and depart.

William departs. 

Even the parrot in Monty Python wasn’t dead in so may ways as “William” might have been. William is a decidely odd character by all acounts who has nothing to do with the play except serve as fodder for Touchstone who is murderously angry at William because you are not ipse for I am he

Oxfordians theorize that Edward de Vere chose the pseudonym “William Shakespeare” without considering that there might be a number of people with that name in and around London and that when a man actually named William Shakespeare arrived in London and became a shareholder in the acting company, Oxford and other Londoners thought the coincidence both amusing and — if Touchstone’s rage at William is to be interpreted as the anger of the true writer — maddening.

The scene cannot be used as evidence for Oxford because there’s much too much interpretation involved to make it valid even as circumstantial evidence. It’s nothing like “our ever-living poet” and Southampton’s betrothal to Oxford’s daughter or the top literary earl getting a huge stipend and being involved with Lyly and Munday and having the plays published by a member of his family. All of that is compelling-though-circumstantial evidence for Oxford.  

Act V, Scene I of As You Like It is better viewed as a reward you get once you have boarded the Oxfordian train. Suddenly, you know what Touchstone means when he utters those eight words to the stupid William: You are not ipse for I am he. 

Legal Reasoning

To stem the tide of Oxfordianism, the mainstream has something to offer beyond the name, the theater connection, and the First Folio preface. There exists a stone monument in the church where Shakspere is buried — it is referred to in the First Folio as “thy Stratford moniment” — and this monument is literally rock-solid evidence that Shakspere was the great writer.

But there are actually two Shakspere monuments in the Stratford church which dilutes the mainstream’s triumph somewhat. One is Shakspere’s gravestone itself which has some ridiculous doggerel on it which is so un-Shakespearean that Mark Twain takes this monument as proof that Shakspere wasn’t Shakespeare.

It’s the other monument the mainstream focuses on. Affixed to the wall of the church is a plaque with an inscription comparing Shakspere to  Socrates, Nestor, and Virgil. The Socrates-Nestor-Virgil monument clearly implies Shakspere-the-businessman was some kind of intellectual though it is too cryptic even for experts to translate. We simply don’t know what the person who composed the inscription was talking about.

Shakespeare was known as an Ovidian poet. So the Socrates-Nestor-Virgil connection doesn’t make sense unless the person writing the text for the monument knew nothing of Shakespeare’s works. Nevertheless, it is a “Stratford moniment” and it does say the businessman was wise, practical, and artful and that’s that.

Fom a legal standpoint, the Stratford monument is unimpeached evidence as long as you don’t regard the gravestone’s testimony as definitive or as impeaching the veracity of the plaque’s testimony. Still, stone is stone and Socrates was a smart guy so the mainstream has a real argument here, especially if you include the First Folio preface and take a legal perspective.

If Shakespeare Didn’t Write Shakespeare, You Die

You’re life is on the line. You can choose the mainstream story, but if they are wrong you die. The mainstream is brilliant, erudite, and even decorated. They profess 99.99% certainty or, anyway, sufficient certainty to prevent their own colleagues from publishing in the journals about Oxford as a possible Shakespeare.

If you don’t like the mainstream’s case, you may choose a 50-50 coin toss instead: heads you live; tails you die.

Now that the facts are laid out, let’s step back and have one last look at the theoretical frameworks created out of those facts by the mainstream and by the rebel Oxfordians. Then you can finally decide what’s better, 99.99% mainstream certainty or a coin toss. 

In 1623, the year of the First Folio, England was going through one of its periods of boiling catholic-protestant strife and the Shakespeare manuscripts —  strong pro-protestant propaganda — were in someone’s hands gathering dust. Oxfordians theorize that the renewed religion-focused power struggles may have motivated the publication of the First Folio. It’s a cliche to say the situation in England at the time was “fraught with peril” but it undoubtedly was. Oxfordians believe the political situation led to both the First Folio itself and the extraordinary efforts to conceal the dead author’s identity.

The mainstream says the First Folio preface especially together with the acting company affiliation makes a very good argument for Shakspere (and it does). They note also (correctly) that there is no direct evidence for Oxford. There is some ambiguous commentary from the period all of which, with some effort, can be interpreted to align with the First Folio claims. The mainstream ends the discussion there. They profess certainty, explain that everyone knows that “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare,” and leave it at that. 

So, dear reader, assuming you don’t find the mainstream’s mindless tautologies convincing but are prepared to weigh the First Folio preface against the circumstantial evidence for Oxford, what say you? Would you rather stake your life on Shakspere or on a coin flip?

Before you decide, there are a few more things you should know.

Have you ever sold anything or bought anything “for a song”? Whether or not you have actually done such a thing you probably know the saying though you might not know you are quoting Shakespeare. It’s a line in All’s Well That Ends Well: “I know a man . . . sold a goodly manor for song.”

Who would sell a goodly manor for a song? Well, how about an earl with 350 properties and no desire to hold them? The wildly generous Oxford actually did sign over an estate, apparently with no remuneration, to the great Elizabethan composer William Bryd.

And then there’s travel. It’s quite expensive. There’s a line in As You Like It where Rosalind says to Jaques (who is another author-chorus just like Touchstone in the same play), “I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s.”

When Oxford wasn’t giving his lands away he was indeed selling them — pretty much all of them — to fund his lavish life of travel and revel. He was almost as well known for this behavior as he was for his literary talents. 

And then there’s the scary swashbuckler named Peregrine Bertie who married Oxford’s strong-willed sister Mary against pretty much everyone’s wishes. The pair began began a scandalously tempestuous marriage complete with alcohol-fueled feuds and terrified family members writing horrified letters which survive. Oxford hated Bertie — at first. Of course, it didn’t take long for the two bad boys to become besties. 

When Bertie wasn’t making scenes or carousing with his literary brother-in-law he was off to Denmark as an abassador. On his return, his unpublished report to the Queen (the original document survives) made mention of a certain habit of firing canons during meals and also named certain Danish courtiers. If you already know two of the fine polysyllabic appellations appearing in Bertie’s penned report, I’ll give you a hint: think of the letters “R” and “G.”

So who wrote All’s Well That Ends Well and As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet? Was it Shakspere of Stratford or the man who really did sell a goodly manor for a song?

I know what you’re thinking. You’d rather stake your life on Oxford than have to choose between Shakspere and the coin.

Sorry, scholars aren’t even allowed to publish articles in journals about the possibility that Oxford wrote the plays so, in solidarity with them, you don’t get an Oxford coin. It’s Shakspere — 99.99% likely according to almost anyone you ask — or the coin. I’ll let you bet your life on Oxford when the journals let credentialed experts publish their research. 

The Thiokol managers were smart people who decided that a playing Russian Roulette with five bullets in the gun was perfectly safe. The question you have to ask yourself is this: could it possibly be the case that hundreds of academics over a period of decades are really as mindless as the Thiokol nincompoops? 

I’ll tell you what I would do (feel free to disagree): I would go with the coin flip and hope for the best. 

I give Shakspere no better than a 1% chance of being the author even with the First Folio preface. I go back and forth between the “our ever-living poet” reference and the two illiterate daughters when I ask myself why I think the way I do. But when it comes down to it and I try to ignore those two bits of information and just focus on the First Folio as the mainstream does, I’m still an Oxfordian because I just don’t buy all those unpublished manuscripts sitting in the hands of the acting company for decades and then suddenly appearing in one grand volume. I don’t think there’s any precedent for it. The fact that Oxford’s family was involved puts an end to it for me. 

The Lawless Bloody Book of Forg’d Rebellion

I’m a physicist so I’m big on evidence. Shakespeare doesn’t seem like a close call to me. The Cheshire Cat/virtual particle magical businessman-artist who doesn’t own books or write letters and literally can’t write his own name, but supposedly does write his only first-person work in someone else’s voice falls flatter than flat at my feet.

It could be true, but am I really supposed to believe that the most erudite man in all of England, the creator of Rosalind, Beatrice, Portia, and Cordelia, didn’t see to it that his daughters learned to read? Not bloody likely.

For me, Lyly’s connection to Shakespeare, Munday’s connection to Shakespeare, 1000 pounds a year for life, Southampton’s betrothal to Oxford’s daughter, an obvious eulogy delivered in 1609 by the man who held in his hands Shake-Speare’s Sonnets in manuscript, and a spendy literary earl whose romances come with family sword battles and who can’t spit without hitting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and who really does sell a manor for a song and who really did sell his lands to see other men’s, and whose sister’s marriage was so crazy that horrified letters flew back and forth like so many bullets . . . it keeps adding up and ultimately seems like an avalanche.

Maybe I’m kidding myself and maybe you could pull connections to Shakespeare from anyone’s life. I’m biased. Oxford was just some narcissistic earl who liked writers. Maybe the Queen paid him 1000 pounds a year to keep quiet about their love affair.

But then the plays show up in 1623, the whole stack of them. With Oxford’s family behind it, I’m told that an acting company held the manuscripts for thirty years and then just gave them away? Acting companies don’t collect an author’s life’s work. The mainstream has offered no precedent any more than they’ve offered a precedent for an Elizabethan author signing his name five different ways (different spellings, yes, but not different handwriting, oh my God!).

Mark Twain just couldn’t abide the gravestone in the church in Stratford with doggerel that Shakspere supposedly wrote himself:
Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blessed be he that spares these stones

And cursed be he that moves my bones.

This, Mark Twain reminds us, is Shakespeare:
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like an insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Of course there’s the Socrates-Virgil-Nestor monument too and of course if the First Folio and the monument are twin pillars of deception, it slipped by without any direct evidence against it. It’s success is one reason to disbelieve it. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Is Oxford extraordinary evidence? You now know enough to decide for yourself and make up your own probabilities. How hard would it have been for Oxford’s family to falsify the preface and have the Socrates-Virgil-Nestor monument put up? Yes, it’s a conspiracy theory, but if an Elizabethan nobleman didn’t concoct five conspiracies before breakfast, he was behind the curve.

I haven’t forgotten that I’m just a lowly physicist as opposed to a Shakespeare expert or a professional historian and I know I don’t have the background to make strong claims. How about this for a claim: it’s ridiculous for mainstream scholars to stop their own colleagues from publishing their ideas in peer-reviewed journals.

Other lowly physicists believe the mainstream with the “wall” it is so proud of is out of its narrow little mind. One such is Roger Penrose. He’s kind of smart. Actually, he’s one of the most brilliant people who has ever lived. He just won a Nobel Prize. So how about a little grace for Stritmatter and company? I don’t expect anyone to listen to me. But Stritmatter has a Ph.D. in the field and yes, he deserved to get it. 

Michael Hart, another physicist, wrote a wonderful book of short histories of influential people called The 100. For the first edition of his book, Hart swallowed the traditional theory whole and used it to write about the great grain-dealing author. But then a friend asked Hart to look into it and like a good physicist, he quickly changed his mind when confronted with evidence. The second edition of The 100 corrects the error unless of course Hart was right the first time.

And the real experts — not mere physics Nobel Prize winners — are finally making waves in their professional pool.

Recently, Stritmatter and Lynne Kossitsky published a pretty clear proof that Shakespeare’s probable last play, The Tempest, was written in the early 1600’s, a fact which does a lot of damage to the conventional chronology and may even put an end to any possiblity that Shakspere wrote the plays.

It’s a lot better for the mainstream if Shakespeare is writing until at least 1610. Having things wrap up around 1600 leads to the necessity of considering the 1580’s as prime Shakespeare time and the mainstream really doesn’t want that.

You would think the mainstream wouldn’t mind including the 1580’s as productive time for Shakespeare since et tu Brute and “whole Hamlets of tragical speeches” and “King Leir” were the talk of the town during that decade. The problem for them is Shakspere was a teenager who had never been to London when 1580 rolled around. He was probably not in London at all until the early 1590’s.

So mainstreamers have to say the 1580’s Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare at all but that all the Shakespeare from the decade instead proves that Shakespeare copied work from others to write his plays including the outright plagiarizing of The Winter’s Tale from a novel written by a notorious plagiarist! So now the Cheshire Cat-virtual particle who holds down two full-time jobs and writes first-person heartfelt sonnets because he was commissioned but can’t seem to sign a legal document and doesn’t teach his children to read even though he’s the most erudite man in England, now he’s a plagiarist too. But he must be kept away from the 1580’s at all costs.

The mainstream is stuck with the plagiarist theory. If they accept the 1580’s Shakespeare, they would have to abandon their man: he just wasn’t old enough and he wasn’t present enough either. But now, with The Tempest likely written around 1600 rather than around 1610, they face the necessity of compressing Shakespeare’s productive period into ten years. They’re caught between a rock and hard place. Maybe they can wriggle out, but they’ve got a big problem.

A death knell is ringing and Stritmatter is under the bell.

Some mainstreamers are hearing the bell tolling for them and they are all but admitting the change. You see, Stritmatter and Kossitsky’s research was praised by Oxford University Press itself. The famous OUP has full institutional knowledge of the implications of Stritmatter’s and Kossitsky’s work for the once-forbidden authorship question. It was an OMG moment if there ever was one. The wall Shapiro is so proud of is crumbling. 

Mark Twain was sure what he called the mainstream’s “fetish” would persist for at least three centuries beyond 1909, but we may do better than that. I daresay it’s looking better and better as we proceed into the 2020’s. Honestly, as I write, not much is looking better for this decade, but at least there’s Oxford University Press which of course has no relation to Oxford as in the Earl of Oxford except maybe for geographic overlap.

Congratulations. Unlike virtually anyone you ask, you know something about Shakespeare. You even know enough to disagree with your humble servant who is writing this for you. Maybe the fact that no one said the First Folio preface was a big lie is crucial by your lights. It is a fair point not to be ignored. Feel free to disagree. This is scientific reasoning, not a debate. I don’t think the mainstream is even 50% likely to be correct, but I don’t claim to know either way. 

So what’s next? Well there are a few things to learn about to fill in the story. The biography of another well-documented Elizabethan, Ben Jonson, is illuminating. Jonson, of course, was actually a writer and we’ve got more than title pages, investments, and posthumous claims to prove it. The contrast with Shakspere, who left behind a similar number of documents, couldn’t be more stark. So I’ll share some of the details and some of the telling denials the mainstream offers about evidence for other Elizabethan writers that they discovered but that they now pretend doesn’t exist. 

It is also interesting to read some of the cryptic things people were saying about “Shakespeare.” There’s a good argument that a lot of people knew exactly what was going on. The mainstream interprets these comments to support their theory and you may find these interpretations convincing. Or not.

The signatures are worth a look along with signatures of actual writers. When it comes to the signatures, the mainstream arguments are funny. They just fall off their collective rocker. 

You’ve already seen the best mainstream sonnet theory, that they were commissioned. Other mainstream sonnet commentary is scary-crazy but worth looking at just so you can see how low they can go. Studying the sonnets without the mainstream nonsense takes you places: they appear to be connected to the Essex Rebellion (even some mainsreamers recognized this in the old days before they realized they had better shut up). So the sonnets open up a fascinating historical connection between Shakespeare and the nightmare (averted) that England faced as the Queen lay dying without a clear successor.

Finally, Shakespeare’s Italian travels so beautifully represented in the plays have to be denied by the mainstream and they REALLY fall on their faces when they do that. It’s embarrassing like someone’s bathing suit splitting wide open. It’s as bad as bad gets.

The closer one looks at the agreed-upon evidence and at desperate commentary by brilliant scholars, the more one absorbs the horror of Kuhnian irrationality. It is interesting in the sense of a horrific accident being interesting, but I can’t say I like it even though I’m studying it. It’s scary. The only comfort is this: the “Shakespearians” aren’t launching space shuttles.

umass
UMass Amherst, where the lawless bloody book of forg’d rebellion was sealed.

A Kuhnian World

It’s a simple question really: How do you know a person was a writer as opposed to someone whose name (or a close approximation thereof) appeared on title pages? We know the man born “Benjamin Johnson” was also the author “Ben Jonson” because he wrote letters about writing, received letters about writing, gave inscribed books as gifts, went to jail for writing, was paid for writing, visited patrons who were supporting his writing, had an extensive library much of which survives to the present day, left behind dozens of pages of handwritten manuscripts, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. When Jonson died, he was called “the immortal Jonson,” eulogized in print, and buried in Westminster Abbey next to Beaumont, Spenser, and Chaucer.

Ben Jonson’s Library

In 1974, David McPherson — a heroic figure in the annals of famous private libraries — published the still-definitive “Ben Jonson’s Library.” Some interesting excerpts follow:

Although the books once owned and annotated by Ben Jonson are scattered all over Western Europe and America, his habit of inscribing his name and motto has enabled scholars to reconstruct his library. 

In 1614, Jonson’s library was called “well-furnisht” by the great scholar John Selden, who would not use the term lightly. Because only 206 extant books can be safely placed on the genuine list at present, it seems likely that many of his books were destroyed in the fire of 1623 which he immortalized in the poem “Execration Upon Vulcan.”

Jonson’s habit of selling his books explains why they are so widely scattered today.

He owned so many anthologies that it has been impractical to insert cross references to individual authors contained therein. It is safe to assume, however, that Jonson owned works of every single Greek and Latin Poet of any importance whatsoever.  

Personal libraries of about five hundred books seem to have been fairly common in the first half of the seventeenth century. 

So we know a lot about Jonson’s library and what see above is only the tip of the iceberg for a Jonson biographer who must do a great deal of work to even begin to assemble the literary evidence pertaining to Jonson. A Shakespeare biographer, by contrast, has no work to do at all.

If Shakspere was really the most famous writer in England, it is more than a little odd to find document after document concerning the business transactions of Shakspere of Stratford, whilst simultaneously finding nothing at all about writing activities, about the process of writing, or about living as a writer.

Commonplace evidence for Jonson . . .

When his “Poetaster” was published, he sent Camden a gift copy with the inscription: “Alumnus offin, acternum amicus” — “a pupil once, now a friend forever.” Another copy went to an equally important recipient in another way, his patron the Countess of Bedford. For this copy, Jonson had a special dedication printed and bound in with the text: “Go little book, go little fable unto the bright and amiable Lucy of Bedford; she that bounty appropriates still unto that County . . . But with a kiss (if thou canst dare it) of her white hand; or she can spare it.” — Rosalind Miles

. . . would give a Shakespeare biographer heart palpitations.

Even though Shakspere of Stratford was a teenager in 1580, his work was already appearing in London. By 1588 work from a mature play, The Winter’s Tale, appeared word for word in London along with virtually the entire plot. Biographers have to explain this somehow and the only way is to assume Shakespeare didn’t merely rework plots from classical stories but also stooped to outright plagiarism.

There’s no evidence of Shakespeare’s writing life, so biographers have to do a lot of assuming and the assumption of plagiarism (it is not limited to that one play although this is the worst example) is perhaps the most pernicious result of the furious work of fitting Shakspere’s life into Shakespeare’s works.

Frank Kermode, late of Cambridge University, editor of The Arden Shakespeare, analyzed the striking similarities between Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Greene’s Pandosto (1588). Kermode assures us, “the picture is inescapable of a Shakespeare [who was a plagiarist.]

Kermode theorizes that sometime after 1600, Shakespeare copied The Winter’s Tale, “sometimes almost verbatim,” from the notorious plagiarist Robert Greene. Kermode was forced to his conclusion by a premise he was unwilling to question.

Let us escape the tyranny of certainty. The giants in the field cannot accept the possibility of another author even when their own work points to it. But we can. I offer you here the belly of a sheep and a waiting ship. The occasional rock may splash off the gunwale; pay it no mind.

We will escape.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 7.09.14 PM

Read on but do not trust me. Ivy League Professor James Shapiro provides an erudite-but-never-dull, must-read overview of the whole history of the authorship question from the point of view of the mindless mainstream. His book is well worth a look and is frequently quoted below.

A shameless First Folio-esque plug for “Contested Will” by James Shapiro

It is your privilege to read and censure. Do so. But buy it first. Indulge your six-pence-worth and your wisdom. But, whatever you do, buy.

Shapiro’s delicious takedown of Mark Twain, his spirited attack on Roger Stritmatter’s dissertation, and his stinging dismissal of Diana Price and “her followers” are not to be missed.

James Shapiro’s great work, a fortress of certainty built in the swamp of reality, is a monument to Thomas Kuhn, our ever-living philosopher.

Read it sooner rather than later.

slap
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 our fetish is safe for three centuries yet. — Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain 1909

The Mythical Writer

Shakspere — that’s his family name, the name he was baptized with, the name of his seven siblings, the name of his three children, the name on his burial record, and the (first) name of his grandchild — couldn’t write his own name.

Five “signatures” are extant. One is a blotted scrawl on a court document — he testified in a domestic dispute case. Two appear on two copies of a real estate document for one of the biggest transactions of his life, but they don’t match one another and neither of them matches any of his other signatures. Shakspere’s final attempts to write his name are on his will. One signature is a childlike scrawl, the other has the first name written by a clerk who knew how to hold the pen and the last name written by someone not used to writing or perhaps someone used to writing but extremely ill.

We don’t have anything that qualifies as handwriting from Shakspere and we don’t have anything that qualifies as a legitimate signature either. Jane Cox of the London Public Records Office was quoted by no less than Samuel Schoenbaum. Here is Cox.

It is obvious at first glance that these signatures, with the exception of the last two, are not the signatures of the same man. Almost every letter is formed in a different way in each. Literate men of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries developed personalized signatures much as people do today and it is unthinkable that Shakespeare did not . . . Some [mainstream] scholars, perhaps more familiar with literature than with the calligraphy of the period have failed to recognize the problem . . . [heretics] on the the other hand, have argued that [Shakspere of Stratford] did not sign the documents himself because he was illiterate . . . the legal sanctity of the signature was not firmly established; the medieval tradition was that of an illiterate landowning class with scribes to do their writing and signing. 

To be clear here, Cox does not mean to take sides. She is clear on the obvious fact that Shakspere did not write all of the signatures and she understands that this can be interpreted as evidence of illiteracy. But she also points out signatures were just not that big a deal in those days (from a legal standpoint) because there was a tradition of people having documents signed for them. So Shakespeare could have been illiterate and unable to sign OR he could have been literate, but using proxies to sign for him as a matter of convenience. About the real estate signatures, Cox says, “Possibly Shakespeare was not even in London to sign the mortgage deed . . .”

Without books, letters, or manuscripts and without documented contacts with patrons, publishers, or fellow writers and without even a signature, mainstreamers grow desperate: they worship the title pages. Yes, really.

Title pages from the period do indeed overflow with printed “Shakespeares.” And these title pages constitute “overwhelming evidence” (Shapiro, page 225) that Shakespeare was not a pseudonym, that Shakspere could write his name, that Shakspere could write complete sentences, and that Shakspere was the most famous writer in England. Here’s Shapiro.

Most doubters also brush off the overwhelming evidence offered by the title pages of these dozens of publications by claiming that “Shakespeare” — or as some would have it, “Shake-speare” — was simply the pseudonym of another writer — that hypen a dead giveaway. 

Shapiro mocks the fact that some people see the hyphenated name as a bit strange and possibly indicating that the publishers knew Shakespeare was a pseudonym, but, as we’ll see below, the hyphen that often appears in the name on the title pages may indicate just that. 

WARNING: You are entering a place of imagination, a dimension of mind where logic and reason are bit part actors in a universe where Euclid never existed. It is a place we call the “Title Pages Zone.”

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It is March 1616. The writer Francis Beaumont has died. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. March passes. April comes. William Shakspere dies in Stratford. The businessman’s illiterate wife and two illiterate daughters and their husbands hear the will. Shakspere’s eldest daughter (Susanna) and her husband are the executors. The great wheeler-dealer of Stratford has surpassed his wheeler-dealer father and has left his heirs all that they could wish for: boatloads of cash; five houses; zero books.

Even in the Title Pages Zone, professional writers didn’t own more houses than books. We have a bookless mansion. What is a Professor Shapiro to do?

The problem is the plays and poems come from a place of unparalleled learning and extraordinary understanding requiring access to books. Scholars (e.g., Shapiro himself) say so many books “echo through” Shakespeare’s works that even the Queen’s own library would not have been sufficient to satisfy the needs of the great author.

Another problem is that the money-man who supposedly read all those books was far richer than Ben Jonson, richer, in fact, than any ten Elizabethan writers put together. Jonson, as we have seen, owned hundreds of books.

Yet another problem is that Shakspere’s house stayed in his family for decades after his death. When someone showed up at the house many years later, he did find a book there and he bought it. It was the medical journal of Susanna Shakspere’s husband who was a (literate) doctor. That book is in a museum. Everything else, all of Shakspere’s books that he had to have owned to be the writer, are gone.

Shapiro notes that the inventory of possessions that sometimes accompanies Elizabethan wills has, sadly, been lost and that there are other Elizabethan writers who didn’t leave behind any books and whose wills didn’t mention books. Shapiro assures us that if the inventory is ever found, it will of course list Shakespeare’s books. Two points for the professor.

But Shakspere’s five signatures are still with us and there’s nothing Shapiro can say to fix it because the signatures are hard evidence of illiteracy. So, in keeping with the tenets of the First Failure, Shapiro simply doesn’t discuss the signatures because that’s not a question he wants to talk about.

But here they are along with actual signatures of Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser, George Peele, and Christopher Marlowe.

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Blotted scrawl, court document.
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This signature on a real estate document was obviously written by a clerk.
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This signature on another document for the same real estate transaction was written by a different clerk. 

Below are the signatures of the other two people involved in the real estate deal above. Unlike in the case of Shakspere, the two other signatories obviously wrote their own names.

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A scrawl on Shakspere’s will. He may have written this one.
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This is the last thing Shakspere of Stratford did and he appears to have only done half of it. 
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The first half of the signature is beautiful. 
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One biographer says “his strength failed him” at this point in the signing process. That’s absurd. He simply had help as with all of the signatures except maybe the fourth. 
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Ben Jonson. All of Ben Jonson’s many extant signatures look exactly like this. 
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Edmund Spenser had a flowing hand.
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George Peele wrote with straight clarity.
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Christopher Marlowe’s wild and wooly but still pretty signature. 
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Thomas Nashe wrote this as an inscription, more like a work of art than a signature. But he was certainly literate. 
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Shakspere may not have been literate. But his son-in-law certainly was. The one book known to have been in Shakspere’s house was found in 1642 by James Cooke. Cooke was pleased to acquire a handwritten manuscript from the hands of Susanna Shakspere Hall herself. Susanna wasn’t literate and could not recognize her late husband’s handwriting, but that didn’t matter. Cooke knew what he had found. Dr. Hall’s medical journal is now in the British Museum where it resides today alone in a room set aside for all the books found in the great author’s house, a room that echoes with austere and sad grandeur.

Scipio Who?

The signatures are hard evidence but they can be explained by hypothetical logistical necessities or they can simply be ignored.

The will, with its plethora of bookless detail — cash, real estate, a sword, a bowl, and a bed — might read the way it reads and detail what it details by happenstance: other book owners left bookless wills as Shapiro breathlessly emphasizes every chance he gets.

And the daughters’ illiteracy may be ascribed to any number of versions of fatherly neglect.

The lost library was, well, lost.

The letters are missing too, but still there’s no problem. Andrew Hadfield of the University of Sussex, writing for the collection of essays called Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, tells us that “Personal letters did not survive in an age when paper was scarce and expensive, and so was invariably re-used for a host of purposes.”

We humbly ask how many Elizabethan writers besides Jonson can be proven to have written letters: Nashe, Daniel, Spenser, Massinger, Peele, Harvey, Drayton, Chapman, Drummond, Marston, . . . STOP! I think that’s enough. We don’t want to hold things up too much.

The mainstream will object at this point that not every Elizabethan writer wrote letters that survived. That is true.

Scott McCrea at SUNY Purchase is a master at explaining everything and his discussion is worth quoting at length before we get to piece of evidence that is not, in fact, explainable. McCrea also uses the First Failure in his reasoning. He doesn’t ignore the question of the signatures; he seems to confront it but then notes that the signatures don’t offer absolute proof.

This classic First Failure move is the same one that doomed the space shuttle crew. Of course the question at this point is whether or not there is reason to consider authors other than Shakspere: of course it is possible Shakspere was the author, but that’s not what we’re asking.

McCrae wrote “The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question.”

Either he didn’t sign his name very often and thus his autograph never developed a consistent pattern, or he was a man so creative he never let it become static, or both. The autographs are curious, and it’s easy to see how one might question them. But they don’t prove the man who signed them wasn’t a writer. Their oddness might just as easily reveal their maker’s teeming imagination.

. . . other factors — like unsharpened quills, arthritis, ill health, or writer’s cramp — may have contributed to the imperfect state of his autograph . . . none of the extant signatures was penned before 1612; they may all post-date his writing career. 

If he were the only writer of the time with few biographical traces, then we would have cause to be suspicious . . . we know less about Marlowe, Kyd, Dekker, Heywood, Fletcher, or Webster — to name just a few. 

McCrea argues that since it is possible Shakspere could possibly have been literate, that means we can be certain he was the author. Then McCrea makes use of the Fourth Failure: outright nonsense. He says we know less about Marlowe and others. But this is false and he knows it is false.

Three weeks after Marlowe’s death, George Peele wrote a tribute to him praising his verse; Kyd wrote a letter noting his experience writing with Marlowe; a letter written by Dekker to Edward Alleyn survives as do numerous records of payments to Dekker for writing; Heywood’s manuscript of “The Escapes of Jupiter” survives; Fletcher and Webster were repeatedly paid for writing and the payments were documented.

Our betters remind us that the current absence of books, of letters, of manuscripts, of inscriptions, and of anything approaching the signature of a professional writer, is NOT, logically speaking, evidence of absence of these items then.

We bow to the mainstream’s experience, knowledge, and impeccable logic and concede this point. Maybe, somehow, Shakspere was Shakespeare. But there’s a little a problem. He wasn’t and John Davies of Hereford, a contemporary knew this and said so.

John Davies of Hereford 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, he published a series of 292 epigrams about various timely topics and numerous real people, including Shakespeare whom he called “Shake-speare.” It was called The Scourge of Folly. Epigram 159 tells us all we need to know.

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EPI. 159. To our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare.

SOME say good Will (which I, in sport, do sing)
Had’st thou not plaid some Kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst been a companion for a King;
And, beene a King among the meaner sort.
Some others raile; but raile as they thinke fit,
Thou has no rayling, but, a raigning Wit;
And honesty thou sow’st, which they do reape;
So, to increase their Stocke which they do keepe.

EPI. 160. To his most constant, though most unknown friend; No-body.

You shall be sev’d; but not with numbers now;
You shall be serv’d with nought; that’s good for you.

EPI. 161. To my neere-deere wel-knowne friend; Some-body. 

You looke th as myself I you should use;
I will, or else myself I should abuse;
And yet with rimes I hut myselfe undoo,
Yet am I some-body with much adoo.

Davies also addresses Ben Jonson for example. He calls Jonson his friend and says that even though some people have criticized Jonson for being too envious of others, he, Davies, would be happy if Jonson envied him but he, Davies, figures he’s probably not good enough to elicit Jonson’s envy.

So he writes a nice clear poem to the unhyphenated Jonson and three impenetrable poems to Shake-speare, No-body, and Some-body all three names hyphenated and not because they were on two lines. None of the other of the hundreds of names in Davies’s book of epigrams was hyphenated. Maybe professor Shapiro should do a little more reading before he mocks the ideas of his fellow scholars.

The List of Davies’s Friends

Fifty-five of the 292 epigrams in The Scourge of Folly addressed by name or by initials individuals that Davies either knew or knew of. The addressees were earls, knights, fellow writers, friends, students, and the author’s wife.

Thirty-six salutations included one of the following words: “friend,” “deere,” “beloved,” “loving,” “wife,” and “pupill.” These thirty-six people were named by Davies as follows: Alexander, Ashfield, Boughton, Brooke, Butler, Cheyny, Daniell, Mistress M.D. (Davies’s wife), Gough, Gwin, Mr. H.H., Hackwell, Holcroft, Johnson, Jones, Locky, Lucy, Marbery, Maynwarring, Murray, Murray (brother of the first Murray), Norton, Panton, Parrham, Poynes, Sanderson, Seager, Sharpe, Sherley, Simonds, Smith, Speed, Towne, Tracy, Twiddy, and Welsh.

Davies also addressed nineteen epigrams without including anything personal in the salutation. Nineteen people were named as follows: Bond, Carre, Chapperline, Coningesby, Constable, Dun, Fletcher, Hayes, Hall, Harrington, Herbert, Marston, Marten, Mountgomerie, Northumberland, Ormond, Percy, S.I.H., and Smith.

The hyphens are interesting certainly but nothing compared to the dead giveaway of “our English Terence.” Terence, as you know, was a Roman playwright who acted as a front-man for Roman aristocrats. We don’t know if that’s true but it’s what the Elizabethans believed. But the mainstream is absolutely certain that Davies did not mean to call Shake-speare “our English front-man” because he can’t have meant that because if he did then Shakspere didn’t write Shakespeare and we know he did so therefore . . .

First of all, we can’t ask Davies what he meant so this doesn’t count as absolute proof that Shakspere was an illiterate businessman. Second, we already know Shakspere wrote Shakespeare and therefore we know Davies didn’t mean to refer to Terence’s status as the most famous writer in history to have been a front-man for an artistocrat. Third, and lastly, anyone who thinks the Davies reference indicates a front-man is an idiot. Fourth, and really that’s all, we can just ignore the whole Scipio thing.

Various members of the mainstream collectively practice all four of the Four Failures when it comes to Scipio: they insist that the question is, “Is there absolute proof?” or they use circular reasoning to interpret Davies or they spew invective or, when all else fails, they keep quiet about Scipio.

We don’t have certainty about “Our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare.” If you must have certainty, you can always gouge your own eyes out, but this is not recommended. Let us look, with open eyes, at actual evidence.

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Roger Ascham was an Elizabethan scholar who wrote about Terence. Ascham was one of Queen Elizabeth’s tutors. Ascham’s book, The Scholemaster, was published in three editions in 1570, 1579, and 1589. Here’s Ascham.

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.

Montaigne’s Essays, published in French in the 1580’s and translated in 1603 into English by John Florio tells the same story. Here’s Montaigne.

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 went on with a detailed explanation of what he thought was going on in the Terence-as-front-man history: Scipio and Laelius were “great personages,” Montaigne tells us (in French) for whom “the perfection of well-speaking” would not bring them appropriate “glory.” Thus, they “resigned the honor of their Comedies” to Terence. Simply put, it wasn’t cool for aristocrats to stoop to comedy and so they needed a front-man. That front-man was Terence.

Of course, Shapiro’s book and McCrea’s book are Scipio-free zones even though they are both well aware of this issue and this trick of ignoring important facts goes under the heading of the Fourth Failure: outright nonsense.

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Who is Scipio? No one. Scipio is a refreshing drink of which one partakes after one attends the theater.

The Upstart Crow

It is not altogether surprising to find that Shakspere appears not to have written the plays and poems. He was a shareholder in London’s leading acting company, part-owner of the Globe Theater, part-owner of the Blackfriars Theater, and a major Stratford real-estate and agricultural investor with over 100 acres, multiple buildings, and an interest in corn, grain, hay, and wool as well as a seller of malt and grain.

Ernst Honigmann, late of the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, discussed Shakspere’s business activities in detail in William Shakespeare: Businessman: “If one lists all of these various activities in chronological order . . . one wonders how the dramatist found time to go on writing plays.

Honigmann was certain the businessman had somehow written the works in his spare time but must ignore his own analysis because it doesn’t match a premise. Still, like “virtual particle” Bloom and “Cheshire Cat” Honan, Hongimann gets points for honesty.

Shakspere appears to have been a theater magnate who in fact did not have the time to write plays. Instead, he purchased the works of others and sometimes took credit for them. And Davies wasn’t the only one who knew about this.  

Robert Greene wrote a deathbed story about an impoverished writer called “Roberto” who meets a rich “gentleman.” The gentleman is a “player” (i.e., an actor). The gentleman player owns clothes worth 200 pounds, spouts doggerel, and offers to buy Roberto’s work. Greene warns his writer friends about this dangerous man whom he calls “Shake-scene.”

Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit may be the first personal reference to Shakespeare. If it is, Greene is telling us about an idiot who pretends he is a writer.

Robert Greene’s Dying Words

Greene famously called the theater owner an “upstart Crow” who was “in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.” He’s also a “Usurer” and an “Ape” who can do nothing but “speak from our mouths.”

Greene’s friends (usually identified as Peele, Marlowe, and Nashe) should “seek better Masters.” They must not allow their “admired inventions” to fall into the hands of this Ape who by rights 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 had a “Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide.” Shakespeare’s remorseless Queen Margaret had a “Tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide.”

Ben Jonson knew also. He wrote an epigram called “On Poet-Ape.” Poet-Ape is an egregious phony who, Jonson says, “would be thought our chief.” This man, who is impersonating whoever Ben Jonson regards as “our chief” is “so bold a thief” that he “makes each man’s wit his own.”

Jonson describes the play broker in some detail: “Having grown to a little wealth and credit in the scene,” this hack can now commit his “crimes” with impunity. Jonson points out that no one has been fooled except maybe the criminal himself if he thinks anyone living actually believes his nonsense. Presciently, Jonson worries that posterity might indeed be fooled. And, although it might be a bit obvious, Jonson writes his attack on this phony in the form of the Shakespearian sonnet (abab-cdcd-efef-gg rhyme scheme).

Here is Jonson’s tell-all Shakespearian sonnet. Here is an interpretation by a non-mainstream scholar. Note: Frippery is from the French freperie, discarded clothing.

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Finally, London students knew what was going on as well. They wrote and performed a trilogy known as the Parnassus plays in which Shakspere-the-phony is spoofed yet again. In one scene, an actor (Kempe), portrayed by a student, gives the audience a rip-roaring speech in which he explains idiotically how his “fellow Shakespeare” is a wonderful writer. This writer better than “that writer Ovid” and better even than “that writer Metamorphosis.” Ha-ha.

The audience knows perfectly well that Metamorphosis is not a writer at all and that the real Shakespeare is a writer famous as an Ovidian poet.

A Deep and Abiding Whiff of Ovid

Kempe: “Few of the university pen plays well, they smell too much of that writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphosis, and talk too much of Proserpina and Jupiter. Why, here’s our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down, aye and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow, he brought up Horace giving the poets a pill, but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit.”

Kempe is portrayed here as a moron who has no idea who the actual writer is.

Calvin and Hobbes ROFL
Elizabethan audiences appreciated the classical roots of Shakespeare’s work. Meanwhile, actors were commonly regarded as lower forms of life.

Scholarly Schizophrenia

Schoenbaum understood the problem: “Perhaps we should despair of ever bridging the vertiginous expanse between the sublimity of the subject and the mundane inconsequence of the documentary record.”

Modern scholars such as Shapiro, David Kathman (a linguistics Ph.D.), and McCrae follow in the footsteps of Schoenbaum, Bloom, and Honan and practically kill themselves to keep Oxford as far from the plays as possible. And it is sad.

Scholarly Schizophrenia

Kathman and McCrea pretend they’ve never heard of Scipio.

Terence was an ancient Roman playwright who came from humble origins, just like Shakespeare. Kathman.

Although this epigram is cryptic, two things are certain: Davies thinks Shakespeare is a poet and a player and thinks he’s still alive. McCrea.

**********************************************

Greene’s warning about a gentleman player who spouts doggerel and will steal your work must be re-interpreted.

[Shakespeare] doesn’t need Greene, in other words, because he can do the writing himself. McCrea in a WTF moment.

A lot is packed into the attack, a good deal more than we can understand four hundred years later. But we are left with the impression of a veteran writer shrewdly taking the measure of an upstart he doesn’t much like. Shapiro whistling in the dark.

**********************************************

Jonson’s Poet-Ape sonnet quite clearly speaks of a total phony who can’t write his way out of a paper bag. Again, we must re-interpret.

This mocking sonnet’s subject is being accused of plagiarizing from Jonson and from other writers, not of concealing someone else. Many scholars think that Jonson’s Poet-Ape is Shakespeare, who indeed stole lines and ideas from Marlowe and from old plays like “The Famous Victories of Henry V.” McCrea.

**********************************************

Kathman and McCrea manage to read the Parnassus plays without getting the joke.

This passage establishes that the playwright Shakespeare was a fellow actor of Kempe. Kathman.

Kempe is made to seem ignorant here, like his stage characters, which is why he thinks “Metamorphosis” is a poet instead of a poem. Since the Author’s plays are also redolent of Ovid and speak of Porserpina and Jupiter, the joke may be that Kempe doesn’t realize his “fellow” writes like the scholarly graduates. But Shakespeare and Jonson are clearly contrasted with the university men. McCrea

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Monty Python goes all the way back to Shakespearian times. In this scene the idiot who actually works with Shakspere would be saying, “E’s a better writer than Metamorphosis init e, I erd it from a litl bird.”

A Euclidean Debacle

Another problem for the businessman-who-was-obviously-not-a-writer is that he never met the Earl of Southampton, the beloved dedicatee of Shakespeare’s two epic poems. The first 126 sonnets address the young nobleman.

The subject of the sonnets was first identified as Southampton in 1817 by Nathan Drake. Even modern scholars, despite their terror of the authorship question, will admit Southampton is the most likely candidate for the “lovely boy” of the sonnets.

“The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end . . .” (Lucrece, 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);
“Your name from hence immortal life shall have” (Sonnet 81);
“O thou my lovely boy . . .” (Sonnet 126).

Centuries of searching turn up no link between the businessman from Stratford and the earl. Meanwhile, the link between Southampton and Oxford is immediate and convincing: the young earl was supposed to make a politically consequential choice of Oxford’s daughter (Burghley’s grand-daughter) as a bride and the sonnets began with repeated imprecations on the imporance of marrying of making babies.

But Shapiro “proves” that the businessman knew Southampton by ignoring everything he (Shapiro) has ever learned.

Shapiro’s Words of Kuhnian Beauty

Price and her followers define authorship in such a way that Shakespeare is always narrowly excluded, if need be on semantic grounds. According to [them], there’s no evidence of Shakespeare having had a “direct relationship” with a patron, though he wore the livery of the Lord Chamberlain, served King James both as a King’s Man and as a Groom of the Chamber, and directly addressed a patron, the Earl of Southampton, in the letters prefacing both [epic poems] “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece.” 

Shapiro says the actor Shakspere wore livery and was a Groomsman (TRUE) and “directly addressed a patron” (FALSE). In fact, the author,  whoever he was, addressed a patron. For this Columbia University Professor, the conclusion (actor = author) supports the conclusion (actor = author).

Two thousand years ago, Euclid built what is still the outstanding example of a complete deductive structure and changed the world forever, not with his geometry but with his reasoning process. Euclid of course says no to circular reasoning, something Shapiro should have learned in tenth grade. This is a perfect example of the Second Failure: twisted logic.

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If professors abandon Euclid, the ivy will wither and die.

Conspiracy Theory

Maybe the mainstream’s strained interpretations of “our English Terence,” the “Poor Poet-Ape,” the “gentleman player,” the “upstart Crow,” and “that writer” who doesn’t “smell too much of Ovid” are right; they would have to be if we are to accept Shakspere as a great author.

Do we re-interpret the documentary record so that it fits the prefatory material in the First Folio? Or do we accept the documentary record for what it appears to be and regard the prefatory material in the First Folio and the monument in Stratford phony or as a joke?

Technically, Oxford = Shakespeare is a conspiracy theory: his family conspired to publish the plays and keep his name out of it. Conspiracy theories are justifiably looked down upon because you can use the idea of a conspiracy as a tool to support any idea no matter how outlandish.

But there are two important points here. Keeping the actual spiller of the beans who wrote the plays full of Elizabethan dirt unknown to the general public is not exactly a crazy conspiracy; there are plenty of good reasons to do something like that. Front-men for example were quite common for us during McCarthyism and Elizabethan Jacobean politics were every bit a fraught with peril as our own McCarthyism.

The second point is that conspiracies were the norm in Elizabethan and Jacobean life as the nobility jockeyed for power. Poisonings and other methods of murder were quite common: Marlowe was apparently murdered for political reasons, for example. And there was a very real Elizabethan conspiracy relevant to the present discussion called the Essex Rebellion.

The Essex Rebellion was aimed at the crown itself and the Earl of Southampton was neck-deep in it.

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The Earl of Southampton

Note: We do not wish to impose too much upon the reader’s credulity, but we shall assume in what follows that the dedicatee of Shakespeare’s epic poetry was indeed also the “lovely boy” of the sonnets since this is fairly obvious and not terribly controversial.

Outrageous Fortune

In 1601, the Earl of Southampton, the Earl of Essex, and four extraordinarily unfortunate knights were arrested and charged with high treason. Southampton, Essex, and the four commoners were swiftly 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 dates with the axeman, the hangman, a knife, and four horses — not a fun date.

In mulling the fate of the popular Earl of Essex (who had once been “master of the horse” giving him daily close contact with the Queen just as the Earl of Leicester had enjoyed years before), the ailing Queen, the last of the Tudor Rose monarchs, Cynthia the Moon Goddess herself, chose mercy. Elizabeth could not bear to see Essex hung by the neck, his intestines torn out, his arms and legs ripped from his body thence to be beheaded. He had, after all, been one of her favorites in better days.

One. Two. Three. And it was over. Three strokes of the axe severed Essex’s fool head from his body. He died (mostly) painlessly. The four knights, unfortunately, hadn’t had a close relationship with the Queen but only two of them were actually tortured to death while the other too died like Essex.

With his five friends worm food, Southampton languished in the Tower perhaps contemplating the “long life still lengthened with all happiness” wished for him by Shakespeare himself in his epic poem. The great writer’s wish was looking more and more forlorn. With luck and with mercy and by the grace of God, Southampton could hope that once it began it would be over quickly.

But then something happened that no one understands. The Moon Goddess chose a totally different kind of mercy for Southampton. The clouds parted to reveal a ray of light shining cutting through a young fool’s darkness.

Guilty of a crime worse than murder, having threatened the God-sanctioned Crown, the young nobleman would live on, and not just in Shakespeare’s poetry. Southampton’s sentence was set aside. He would remain in the Tower indefinitely.

No one knows why Southampton was not torn limb from limb or at least divested of his head. But he lived on in the Tower while the Queen slowly died of old age.

Two years passed. Finally, the Queen died. King James of Scotland packed his bags. He would succeed Elizabeth just as Burghley and his son had planned for years. Yes, it was a conspiracy.

And then it happened. King James ordered Southampton released. 

By the grace of no-one-knows-what, the Earl stepped into the sunshine with his intestines comfortably curled in his body and his head firmly attached to his shoulders. But that’s not all. His Earldom was restored along with all of his privileges and all of his lands. And even that’s not the end of it.

Southampton accepted two promotions that summer. The new King made him Captain of the Isle of Wights and a Knight of the Garter, this last a singular honor throughout history up to and including the present day. Short of actually becoming royalty, gaining entrance into the Royal Order of the Garter is about as high as you can rise in the nobility in England.

So now the convicted traitor who spent his entire life battling the great Lord Burghley and who tried to keep Burghley’s choice, James, from the throne, was granted by this same King James admission to the most exclusive club in all England. And no one knows why, but Shakespeare seemed to know.

Shakespeare, we know by now, was an insider. He wrote of these events in Southampton’s life in two sonnets, not published until a few more years had passed but indicating the same intimate knowledge with the royal court the Shakespeare had exhibited throughout his career.

Sonnet 106 tells of “fairest wights” and “lovely knights” apparently speaking of the stunning promotions that would come after Southampton’s release. But the author cannot “sing” of Southampton’s “worth” and he lacks the “tongue” to praise the still-imprisoned earl. In other words, he can’t tell us why things are going to go so well for Southampton.

In the ebullient Sonnet 107, the mortal moon (Elizabeth was always the moon in Elizabethan poetry) has endured her inevitable eclipse. The Queen was dead. The country, having feared civil war, was universally relieved as “peace proclaimed Olives of endlesse age.” Southampton’s life, no longer “forfeit to a confin’d doome,” glowed anew as the idiot earl stepped into the sunshine for the first time in more than two years.

In Sonnet’s 106 especially Shakespeare’s insider’s voice is, in my view, not just apparent but glaring. The sonnets can be interpreted in other ways of course (we don’t technically know what the author means when he speaks of “prefiguring” and “divining” and “wights” and “knights” and “prophecies” and “praises” and not having “skill enough your worth to sing” but Sonnet 106 is at least interesting. This is as close as history gets to explaining why a convicted traitor was first spared, then released, then restored to his earldom, and then honored beyond all other honors.

Sonnet 107 is much clearer: the Queen is dead, you are being released, peace reigns, and your memory will live forever in this beautiful sonnet.

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Twenty years after Southampton’s stunning deliverance, the First Folio compiled all thirty-six Shakespeare plays in one magnificent volume. But something was missing — namely, all things Southampton. Half of Shakespeare’s plays were rescued from oblivion, but the two epic poems and the 154 sonnets were left to fend for themselves — they would survive Time’s scythe, or not.

The epic poems, overtly dedicated to Southampton, had been published in several editions each and were still popular; they were relatively safe from Shakespeare’s dreaded scythe. The sonnets, however, had seen just a single edition. They were not safe at all.

In 1609, Thomas Thorpe got his hands on the sonnets and made a little book out of them. Thorpe wrote his own dedication calling the dead author (Oxford, obviously) “our ever-living poet.” The great author’s most personal writings, his “sugared sonnets,” previously circulated only amongst his “private friends,” were now public. But the sonnets, unlike the epic poems, didn’t get reprinted.

By this time, Shakespeare was already the dominant figure in English literary history with tens of thousands of copies of his plays blanketing London. Either no one wanted to read the only first-person writing of the most famous writer in history or Thorpe’s little book was suppressed.

The first 126 sonnets, written to Shakespeare’s “lovely boy,” were an everlasting “monument” to him — such virtue hath my pen. There followed a particularly intense series of twenty-six missives addressed to a “mistress” whose eyes are raven black. In my favorite of these sonnets, Shakespeare dramatically warns her to be wise as thou art cruel.

Finally, two sonnets about a little Love-god lying once asleep as the author watches over the boy bring tears to the eye. The author’s anguish has a “cure” dependent upon his mistress’ eyes.

It’s hard to imagine anything more juicy than Shake-speare’s Sonnets.

Let us summarize: Shakespeare dedicated the first works published under his name to Southampton; Shakespeare wrote a series of heartfelt sonnets to the young earl; Southampton committed treason; Southampton’s comrades were butchered; Queen Elizabeth died; King James ascended the throne; Southampton was released into a shower of royal favors; Shakespeare’s sonnets and his epic poems were excluded from the First Folio; the Sonnets continued to languish in a single edition; the prefatory material in the First Folio pointed to a businessman named Shakspere and identified him as Shakespeare.

The Sonnets

Sonnet 87 contains the following line: “So thy great gift upon misprision growing, comes home again on better judgement making.”

Misprision is a legal term referring to a failure to carry out one’s duty; Shakespeare used it once in the sonnets and five times in his plays. Misprision of treason is a non-capital offense in which one does not report treasonous activity. Misprision would have saved Southampton’s life and, in fact, it probably did.

History doesn’t explain what happened to Southampton. Shakespeare did explain it. Shakespeare was obviously quite close to the most consequential politics in the realm. He was not a commoner.

In Sonnet 22 Shakespeare tells Southampton, “My glass shall not persuade me I am old, so long as youth and thou are of one date” showing, perhaps better than any other line the close identification of the author with his subject a generation younger than he and matching Oxford’s age but not Shakspere’s.

Professor Shapiro suggests we “steer clear of reading these remarkable poems as autobiography.” It’s hard to imagine a stupider suggestion. Does Shapiro, one of the top Shakespeare scholars in the world, not know that the sonnets are the only first-person writings of Shakespeare and some of the most personal poems ever written?

Rational Speculation

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

Shakespeare wrote 126 heartfelt sonnets to a boy whom he loved beyond measure: Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.

Ten sonnets speak of the unkillable earl’s “worth.”

Southampton’s “worth” is “wide as the ocean is” (Sonnet 80).

Once upon a time — “thy own worth then not knowing” — Southampton himself was in the dark about this “worth” (Sonnet 87).

Southampton’s “worth” is a secret. We don’t have “skill enough your worth to sing” says the author. We bear witness to “these present days,” but we “lack toungs to praise” (Sonnet 106).

What was Southampton’s “worth”? Why did he think he could control the succession? Why wasn’t he executed along with Essex? What was his relationship to Oxford?

We can’t answer these questions, but saying these aren’t good questions seems like nonense to me.

*******************************

Utter Nonsense

An astute businessman from Stratford in his late twenties dedicated two epic poems to a teenaged earl he had never met.

The businessman from Stratford addressed the “lovely boy” earl in 126 sonnets calling him “my love,” “my all-the-world,” “my Rose,” and “all the better part of me” and telling him how to live his life but they are just poems, not personal at all because if they are personal the businessman didn’t write them and we know the businessman wrote them because we believe the preface in the First Folio.

The businessman dared admonish him as a “tender churl” and a “self-willed” young man while waxing poetic about the boy’s mother whom he had never met: “thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee calls back the lovely April of her prime” but the sonnets have nothing to do with Shakesepeare’s life; they’re just poems written by a businessman who was certainly Shakespeare.

The fact that the author was called “our ever-living poet” while the businessman still lived does not create even a whiff of doubt about the traditional authorship attribution. All facts can be ignored if they don’t fit the premise.

Houston, Houston, Do You Copy?

Today, almost 400 years after the First Folio buried the sonnets and elevated the shrewd businessman to what would eventually be worldwide fame, Lord Burghley’s heir, Michael William Cecil, the 18th Baron Burghley, is a signatory on the “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt.

The “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” is a rational document that basically says to mainstream scholars, “Houston, we have a problem.” There is obviously a HUGE problem with the traditional story of Shakespeare and just about everyone who looks into the issue is convinced it is worth discussing (the only people who don’t want to talk about it are academics).

James Shapiro bucked the mainstream’s usual silence by writing Contested Will. For that, we thank him since his book makes clear the weakness of his argument. Shapiro’s book, needless to say, is a Scipio-free zone. No serious arguments in favor of Oxford are discussed. Shapiro, a brilliant man, stoops to pot shots and then travels to the theater for a play and a glass of Scipio who of course is not a Roman aristocrat who used Terence as a front-man.

Diana Price is NOT an ivy league professor. Her book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, explains the rational viewpoint with extensive references to primary sources and mainstream scholarship. Her book, unlike Shapiro’s, actually discusses the issue. She does not purposely mischaracterize opposing arguments, use circular reasoning, or resort to insults. Her book is scholarship. Shapiro’s isn’t. Price is NOT ten thousand times smarter than the ivy league professor Shapiro. Price is rational and that makes all the difference.

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Lord Burghley’s descendant, Michael William Cecil, discussing Shakespeare’s apparent intimate knowledge of his ancestor.

P.S. For a fuller general discussion with details about the documentary records of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, click here. For the full story of Southampton, the sonnets, and the Essex Rebellion, click here.

P.P.S. I offer one last appeal to the 99.99 percenters.

Let us assume you are a mountain climber and that you have scrambled past the ten rocky possibilities below and have the Shakspere wrote Shakespeare peak in your sights.

It is possible the five different signatures were a result of Shakspere’s teeming imagination and that he was literate.
AND
It is possible Shakspere wrote letters but they were all lost.
AND
It is possible Shakspere had a magnificent library which was also lost.
AND
It is possible Shakspere created Rosalind, Portia, Cordelia, and Beatrice even while not bothering about whether his daughters learned to read.
AND
It is possible Davies did NOT mean Shakspere was a Terence/front-man.
AND
It is possible Greene did NOT mean Shake-scene was a rich idiot who put his name on the works of real writers.
AND
It is possible Jonson did NOT mean a phony Shakespeare was strutting around London.
AND
It is possible the Cambridge students really meant Shakspere of Stratford was a great writer, better than “that writer Metamorphosis.”
AND
It is possible calling Shakespeare “our ever-living poet” in 1609 was NOT meant as a eulogy.
AND
It is possible a Stratford businessman wrote a ten-year series of private sonnets to the most controversial earl in England.

Shakspere must have written Shakespeare, so any sequence of possibilities upon which this depends, no matter how unlikely, must be true. You have almost reached the top of the mountain. Just one more rocky pitch to conquer and you’ll be there: you’ll be standing on top of a mountain of 99.99% certainty that Shakspere was Shakespeare.

But what if the man who was the most successful writer in history up to that point, the man whose influence during his lifetime reset every standard ever written, the man whose popularity with Queens, Kings, Princes, and commoners was beyond overwhelming to the point of being utterly dominant like Katie Ledecky swimming the 1500, the man who was a great among greats, the magical (and far from modest) William Shakespeare who repeatedly predicted his immortal works would outlast stone and brass monuments — what if he wrote in his private sonnets that he was going to be forgotten as if he never existed?

Don’t look down! Keep climbing.

This is a man already as famous as a writer as Chaucer. And this man predicts his name will mean NOTHING to history. But don’t worry. Stay focused.

He didn’t say it once: “Although in me each part will be forgotten.” He didn’t even say it twice: “Though I (once gone) to the all the world must die.” He said it three times: “The earth can yield me but a common grave.”

He said it in his most personal writing, the only thing we have from him in the first person, the sonnets, kept private for more than ten years and finally published and dedicated to “our ever-living poet.”

Again, one can interpret to one’s hearts content. Maybe the most famous writer since Chaucer, when he talks about being forgotten and dying to all the world and having a grave no one visits, wasn’t talking about writing under a pseudonym. Maybe he was just being humble.

Maybe. But if I thought my professional life depended on Shakesepeare NOT being a pseudonym, I would be VERY unhappy to read Sonnet 81. I’d be better off on top of Everest without oxygen. But that’s just me.

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furuiue = survive

It’s a long way down when you’ve made assumption after assumption and declared absolute certainty.

cliffface

P.P.P.S. It is hard to imagine a worse fate than being Professor Shapiro. I would not want to spend my days looking over a sheer drop with no bottom. Keep your eyes closed, James, and live as long as you like. But after you die, the truth may come out and you may be seen as willfully blind.

Truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. — Max Planck, quoted by Thomas Kuhn in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

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 its case is 99.99% bulletproof that sends them off the rails.

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 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 “Shakspere,” his name is spelled “Shakespeare.” Thus, the documentary record tells us of Shakspere of Stratford, real estate investor and 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.

globe

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 has more or less the right name; (2) he was involved with the theater as an investor; (3) seven years after he died, twelve Shakespeare plays published in reasonable versions in his lifetime and twenty-four plays that were either not published at all or published in disastrous editions were collected in a single volume — this publication included prefatory material identifying Shakspere not as merely as an investor but specifically as the great author too; (4) there is a monument at Shakspere’s gravesite in Stratford that spells his name “Shakspeare” and says 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.

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.

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. John Davies said enough to instill reasonable doubt in any reasonable person. Ben Jonson was there and knew all about the idiotic man who would be Shakespeare. A hilarious group of college students hammed it up and over the top. Robert Greene was burned and burned so that he would never forget it.

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. The documentary record from Shakspere’s lifetime makes him appear to be a semi-literate businessman. The contemporary references confirm this: Shakspere wasn’t Shakespeare until seven years after he died.

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, “Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography,” discusses a question she is not afraid to ask: Did Shakspere write Shakespeare?

Price’s scary answer: “Probably not.”

cheshirecat

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 sometimes more information about Jonson’s literary activities in one paragraph of a Jonson biography than you find in hundreds of pages of a Shakespeare biography.

That is Price’s point.

benjonsongrave

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 run into the same brick wall that is the Shakspere/Shakespeare documentary record. She believes the writer did not actually annihilate the sense of himelf but rather simply used a pseudonym.

Mark Twain thought the mainstream’s interpretation of the nonexistent Shakespeare paper trail was laughable.

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, some members of the mainstream no longer 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.

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 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 at all or bookshelves or writing desks or ink or quills.

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.

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.

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 at least two people believed Shakspere could read. They might have sent him letters about business. We also have solid evidence that Quiney, Sturley, and Greene could read and write. But this is a consolation prize. 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.

Jonson, Nashe, Daniel, Spenser, Massinger, Peele, Harvey, Drayton, Chapman, Drummond, Marston, Munday, Greene, Lyly, Heywood, Lodge, Middleton, Dekker, Watson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Kyd, Marlowe, and Webster were ALL called writers by friends while alive.

Shakspere invested in real estate, sold stone, malt, and grain, loaned money, invested in the theater and maybe acted. Fifty-thousand-plus Shakespeare books rained down on London for more than twenty years. Nothing connects them to the investor. Two epic poems were dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, but centuries of searching has turned up no independent connection between the earl and the investor.

Shakspere, if he was the writer, might have been paid due to his status as a shareholder in the King’s Men which supposedly owned the plays. If there was some special deal under which Shakspere received additional cash as not just a shareholder but also as a writer, documentation of this special deal has not survived. Also, no action by the King’s Men concerning publication of plays was recorded during Shakspere’s lifetime until, in 1623, dozens of manuscripts suddenly turned up and became part of the First Folio.

Jonson, Nashe, Daniel, Spenser, Massinger, Peele, Harvey, Drayton, Chapman, Marston, Munday, Greene, Lyly, Heywood, Lodge, Middleton, Dekker, Watson, Kyd, and even our friend Webster were paid explicitly and personally for writing and/or had a documented personal connection to a patron.

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?

Jonson, Nashe, Daniel, Massinger, Peele, Harvey, Drummond, Munday, Heywood, and Middleton left behind manuscripts.

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.

First_Folio_open_book_image

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, and 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. If the sonnets really contain inside information about the results of Southampton’s attempt to control the royal succession, Shakspere-the-businessman-from-Stratford can be confidently excluded as an authorship candidate.

The Southampton interpretation of the sonnets, if true, explains parts of Southampton’s political life that history knows only the outlines of.

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 from Shakspere are almost all phonetic spellings such as the Shagspere on his marriage certificate. No other author avoided using his publication name in his personal life the way Shakspere did.

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

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

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Closeup of the part Shakspere wrote.

BenJonsonSig

Ben Jonson was a writer and had a smooth hand.

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

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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 — he says they didn’t “trouble their heads about the plays and poems.” Schoenbaum goes on to say, “business was another matter.” Schoenbaum was immune to his own research.

Diana Price picked up where Schoenbaum left off and verified that what the classic biographers marvel at — Schoenbaum was far from the only one — 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. Being an actor in a play whose author has a name similar to yours does not make you the author. The arguments made by experts using Shakspere’s acting as an indication that he was a writer are simply embarrassing.

Shakspere’s two grown daughters were demonstrably illiterate. Other writers not only saw to it that their children could read their work, 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, called his subject his “lovely boy” in Sonnet 126. In Sonnet 10, he asked him 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 line “the charter of thy worth gives thee releasing” could mean a lot of things. The references to “misprision” and to a “better judgment” seem apt as misprision of treason (knowing about it but not reporting it) is not a capital crime and Southampton certainly got a better deal than the Earl of Essex or the four knights who were all slaughtered.

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. Bad idea. History does not tell us what was so special about Southampton that he got to keep his head (not to mention his Earldom).

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.” Shakespeare seems to have known what was going on behind the scenes.

IF the speculations indulged in in this “bite” regarding Shakespeare’s knowledge of Southampton’s fate are true, we can eliminate Shakspere as an authorship candidate.

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 wrote letters, who owned books, 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” had already taken his place amongst the most famous writers in English history.

Of course, one can argue that any cover-up theory is full of unknowns and unknowables. 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’ll never know.

The timing of Shakspere’s arrival in London is a problem if you want to believe in 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.

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 not that Shakspere couldn’t have written the plays. The problem 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. But whether one looks at his signature or the Italian plays or the Sonnets or the comparison to the records of Elizabethan writers or Shakspere’s extensive business-related documentation or any of the other rock-solid reasons to doubt the traditional attribution, there is simply no rational way to argue that there is NO issue here.

The mainstream scholars are, essentially, 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.

sonnets

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. The sonnets celebrating him hung by a thread. Eventually 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.

essex

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 very good guess, but one can quibble if one wants to. Shakespeare’s epic poems were overtly and lavishly dedicated to the young earl making him an automatic suspect for the subject of the sonnets. The sonnets contain thirty-six lines repeated almost word for word from the first epic poem. Most importantly, the sonnets fit Southampton’s exciting life quite well. Shakespeare never dedicated anything to anyone else — Southampton was his one and only.

Thus, in 1817, Nathan Drake proposed in print Southampton as the obvious 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 almost certainly the Earl of Southampton.

We gamble when we assume, but our modest wager rewards us: a coherent and dramatic story is our payback.

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 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 introduced himself to the public with his epic poem Venus and Adonis. It featured a beautiful young man who refuses love and dies. Shakespeare and Southampton are now 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. They were not for public consumption.

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.

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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.

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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 have made themselves clear. When interacting with Italian police, follow these three rules, or else.

Rule 1: When police question you without a lawyer present in the dead of night you are allowed to say these six words and only these six words: È un bel giorno per morire — “It’s a good day to die.”

Rule 2: If police offer you a pen, do NOT, under any and all circumstances, so much as TOUCH it.

Rule 3: If, at any time, you are not sure what to say, 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 2007, the mentally ill burglar who would soon tear open Meredith’s throat with a pocketknife was arrested in Milan. The next day he was back in Perugia. Four days later, Meredith found him in her house. Half an hour later, Meredith died.

By the time police realized the bartender was bartending on the night of 1 November, 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, wondrous exemplars of stillness and calm. They simply 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. Waiting turned out to be a smart move for police. The special day had finally arrived — it was “Rewrite Day.” Lumumba went home and Perugian authorities revealed to a waiting world and to Meredith’s distraught family the monstrous 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 swallowed the Knox of Seattle story hook line an sinker. So did Amanda’s former boss. Lumumba became a fierce Knox of Seattle exponent: the day he was released, he spoke out against his pretty waitress 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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When Felice found out he was responsible for Kercher’s death, he offered the Kercher family perhaps the worst apology in the history of humanity. He said he needed “further evaluation.” It was a reasonable comment to make. After all, Rewrite Day might induce disrespectful guffaws or solemn head-nodding. One never knows whether some child is going to call out an emperor.

As you already know, Rewrite day was a smashing success: even the Kerchers were fooled.

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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 had 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, also nonsense from beginning end. This statement 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. Only quantum mechanics can explain Meredith’s scream.

Mignini alone saw past the 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 miraculous 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.

Not-quite-clever-enough-Knox knew the perpetrator was black.

The Kerchers nodded solemnly and cooperated respectfully. A Harvard professor leapt to a strident defense of the Italian justice system. Millions around the world demanded “justice” for a young woman who would be alive today if police hadn’t protected a deranged burglar.

Almost four years after Mignini’s dazzling display and the world’s eager gawking, 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 the 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. The brilliant Monica Napoleoni then had an inspiration. The bearer of brioche and chamomile told Knox Raffaele had abandoned her already.

With a well-timed assist from the flat of Ficarra’s hand, 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 Napoleoni and Ficarra were nevertheless proud of their performances. Sure, the choreography was a little clunky, but it was bound to be. This wasn’t 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 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 with the 1 November date on it. The horror of 2 November was then 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 utterly 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; he had lied for Amanda. It looked okay, despite the incorrect date, except for one thing. Raffaele objected to the coup de grâce, to the snake in the grass.

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 restful 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. This was guilt on a platter: Raffaele Sollecito was the type of 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. Listening to this interrogation would surely tell us a lot.

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 during the four years of his incarceration. This was the fantastic flip side to the miraculous “vorrei ordinare due pizze” interception.

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, we idolize for all eternity.

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. Oh, the horror of it! It went to the same place as Amanda’s two-hour interrogation, also tragically lost. Precious words are now but wisps of speech floating voicelessly in the infinite aether.

But wait! Raffaele signed the document saying he and Amanda separated on 1 November: she was out until 1 am! Surely we can continue to admire the sacred text.

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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 and Lumumba’s customers promptly tore it to pieces. Raffaele signed off on impossible gibberish and 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. Imagine that!

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.” Millions of Perugians, impaired by the Grappa di Silenzio, agreed with Mignini: “Why lie if you aren’t guilty?” they said again and again.

They say one cannot be a prophet in one’s own land, but that’s not what I experienced. —  Giuliano Mignini

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rsfamily

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 stupid 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. (For the record, she is uninhibited. 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 authority figures 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.

edward-oxenford-signature

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signatures

BenJonsonSig

Marlowe-Signature-1585

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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.

 

The Marching Morons

In Kornbluth’s great short story, humanity arrives at a future in which most people are so stupid they believe everything the tabloids tell them. A few million intelligent people remain; they must live out their lives surrounded by billions of morons whose stupidity and violence represents an ever-present danger.

We’re live in Kornbluth’s world today. Millions sincerely believe Amanda Knox is guilty. Amongst them is a Harvard law professor. A large fraction of the Italian judiciary could be characters in Kornbluth’s story.

The story has a happy ending; unfortunately, the modern day crystallization of Kornbluth’s dark vision appears horribly permanent. To soothe myself, I made a list of the seven most moronic antics in the Knox case.

Here it is, The Marching Morons by Cyril Kornbluth — the 100% true to life version.

7. The Psychological Method

Patrick Lumumba was known throughout Perugia for his gentleness. But one of his employees was the stunning Amanda Knox. When Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher, was murdered by a deranged maniac, police focused their attention on the quirky but compelling young woman. They eventually came up with a really brilliant theory: Knox and Lumumba had together murdered Meredith.

The physical evidence in the case had yet to be analyzed, but that had never stopped a group of morons before. Police openly bragged about how they used what they called “the psychological method” to quickly solve the case. “We don’t need to rely on other kinds of investigation,” one officer helpfully explained.

Chief Moron Arturo de Felice and at least 11 other officers used a classic tag team interrogation technique to break the distraught Ms. Knox who had hardly slept in the days since finding her roommate dead. Terrified and “howling,” as one of the officers put it, she confirmed their Lumumba theory. Knox even (briefly) believed it herself.

The great thing about morons is they don’t know they’re morons. At a triumphant press conference the next day, the idiot Felice actually laid it all out for the international crowd of reporters: “Initially the American gave a version of events we knew was not correct. She buckled and made an admission of facts we knew were correct and from that we were able to bring them all in. They all participated but had different roles.”

Yes, of course. Patrick Lumumba was not the kind family man he appeared to be: not at all; he was actually a psychotic killer. Officers arrested Lumumba that same night; the sweet hippie kid from Seattle who trusted everyone, especially police, went straight from the interrogation room to a jail cell; Knox’s bewildered Italian lover was also arrested and jailed. And so police had, in custody, the three least likely suspects in Perugia.

You know the guy who loses his keys in the woods but searches under the street lamp because the light is better? Well, it happened in Italy. Meredith’s other two (Italian) roommates lawyered up immediately following the murder; they knew better than to trust the police. Knox, on the other hand was an easy (and lovely) target.

Today, the Knox confession is gospel to millions of morons all over the world.

6.  See You Later for a Quick Little Murder

Arresting the three least likely suspects in a city has to be some kind of moron high water mark for murder investigation. As word of the amazing arrests spread from Italy to England to the United States, witness after witness came forward patiently explaining to dumbfounded police that Mr. Lumumba had been in his bar all night serving drinks just as he was every night, night after night. After all, he was a bartender. Hmm.

Since they had neglected to measure the temperature of the victim’s body (!), they did not have a precise time of death. So they kept Lumumba, Knox, and Knox’s fantastically unlucky boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, imprisoned. After all, Lumumba might have slipped out of his bar at some point, murdered Kercher, and might then have returned, serving drinks, bantering with customers, smiling and laughing, and setting up his alibi. Clever fellow.

Knox went back to the story police had so forcefully rejected — she had been at Raffaele’s apartment all night getting high and having sex. Raffaele himself, who had been a lonely virgin a week before, simply couldn’t believe the whole thing wasn’t a bad dream.

But the morons were committed at this point so they stuck to their guns.

You see, Lumumba’s text on the night of the murder to his beautiful young waitress — “slow night, don’t come in” — and her reply —”okay, see you later” — had convinced the imaginative officers that the Congolese bar owner and the American student must have been conspiring. So they made Knox say so.

Police told Knox she had repressed her “memory” due to shock. If she didn’t “remember” what they wanted her to remember, she would never see her family again, they told her. A couple of slaps to the back of the head from officer Rita Ficarra did the trick. Knox suddenly had what she called a “vision” about her and her boss Lumumba paying Meredith a visit on the night of the murder just as police suspected. Amanda’s “vision” became the “facts” police “knew were correct.”

The moment the weepy college kid signed their little paper, police celebrated, hugging one another in a charming display of camaraderie. But now Lumumba was spoiling all the fun. He claimed he had been at his bar all night. Even worse, he could prove it. No one said being an Italian cop was easy!

Lumumba’s lawyers eventually documented a minute-by-minute account of his activities the entire night and police had to let him go. The innocent businessman returned home, but was unable to reopen his bar.

Meanwhile, the forensics people did their jobs. Someone had left a complete handprint with a clear fingerprint in the victim’s blood on the wall. The fingerprint was matched to Rudy Guede, a habitual burglar well known to police. Guede had fled to Germany. He was quickly found by German police and extradited to Italy.

Knox, the winner of the world’s least believable confession award, and Sollecito, winner of the unluckiest computer geek in the universe award, remained in jail. Police apparently couldn’t bear to admit their outrageous mistake. So they tweaked the story a little and, in the process, filled tabloid hearts with joy for thousands of miles in every direction.

5. Amanda Knox: Controller of Men

Kercher had been murdered by a troubled drifter with a terrible abuse history going back to childhood. Rudy Guede was burlarizing her apartment when Meredith came home at 9 pm and surprised him. They would have recognized one another as they had seen each other around town. At some point he attacked. Guede stabbed her in the throat twice with a pocket knife which hit bone, slipped, and sliced his fingers. Guede, an extraordinary athlete with mental problems, was obviously quite dangerous, but he had never killed before and didn’t really know how. His minor injuries had not yet healed when he was caught.

Kercher could not defend herself against Guede. His third stab plunged the knife to its hilt into the soft part of Meredith’s throat. The deranged man slashed sideways tearing open a gaping wound. Two liters of Meredith’s blood poured all over Guede and onto the floor saturating Meredith’s clothing. Kercher went down, still alive, but drowning in her own blood, feebly struggling. As she died, she exhaled a bloody mist while Guede removed her blood-soaked clothing and sexually assaulted her.

All of these details were determined by the Italian forensics team. Once they had identified Guede, the police had his friend contact him via Skype from the police station. “She was clinging to me very hard,” Guede told his friend. Guede claimed she had been attacked by someone else and that he tried to save her. But this did not explain why his DNA was found in her vagina.

Police knew Rudy Guede well. He had broken into at least three buildings in the two months prior to his murder of Kercher. He was caught in Milan in a building he was in the process of looting and he had on his person stolen goods from two previous burglaries. Milanese police arrested him and confiscated the loot, and let him go. No charges were filed. Most rational experts assume the kid-gloves treatment was due to Guede acting as a police informant. We’ll never know. Five days later Meredith Kercher drowned in her own blood while Guede molested her.

We don’t know why Guede wasn’t jailed for the burglaries. We do know that Arturo and his friends will never be topped. They will simply never, ever be topped unless something happens that is beyond imagination. Guede didn’t just burglarize buildings in the months before he killed Meredith. Let’s talk about a man named Christian Tramontano.

During his crime spree, Guede invaded a home in Perugia where he pulled a knife on the resident. Christian Tramontano called the police. Christian Tramontano visited the police station three times. Christian Tramontano did NOT report that Guede had by his side his trusty accomplice, a sweet hippie girl from Seattle brandishing a kitchen knife. He tried mightily to get the attention of the police, but apparently suffered from an unfortunate lack of female curves.

On 1 November 2007, Guede’s life of abuse and abandonment, of desperation and poverty, hit rock bottom. The mentally ill 20-year-old, who apparently possessed some sort of get out of jail free card, left a nightmarish scene in Meredith’s bedroom and went dancing. Yes, he went dancing. Witnesses at the dance club later reported an odd body odor exuding from the first-time murderer. Two days later, the athletic burglar from Ivory Coast who had transformed into a monster fled to Germany where he slept on trains for a few days.

Guede’s DNA was found not only inside Meredith’s body, but also on her clothes and in her purse. No other DNA on the scene was found by the police lab other than the victim’s. Perugia police engineered Guede’s release from a Milan jail. A visiting student lay brutally murdered. Guede was in custody and there was enough DNA evidence to convict him of being the Devil.

Case closed? Of course not. It was time for MAJOR ass-covering. And don’t forget how pretty Amanda was back then. She’s behind bars, terrified. Let’s keep the party going.

The Perugia morons now knew the truth: Knox, Sollecito and Lumumba were all innocent; even worse, they had been protecting the killer. To non-morons this probably seems like the ultimate crash and burn. It wasn’t. In fact, for the Perugia police force, it was actually no problem at all.

In the new “news” story fed to the tabloids, the teary-eyed beauty now sitting in a jail cell was actually a dangerously clever adversary whom police had outwitted using their amazing psychological techniques. The tantalizingly flexible Knox — she had performed a split at the behest of an admiring officer — had fooled the decent and honest police officers when she said “yes, sir” to their idiotic Lumumba theory.

That’s right. New story. Reset everything. Here we go.

Knox convinced her virginal Italian boyfriend — she had broadened the computer geek’s horizons just six days before — to assist her and the deranged Ivorian, also in her thrall, in the brutal murder of her beautiful British roommate whom she hated. Later, under questioning, she desperately substituted an innocent black man for the real black perpetrator in an last-ditch attempt to evade the tightening net of brilliant police work that had ultimately uncovered the shocking truth.

Moron’s everywhere smoked from the tabloid pipe — it was legal ecstasy.

The Knox confession remains exhibit A for the moron crowd: Amanda was in the house when Meredith died — the yoga aficionado had outright admitted it to police in the wee hours one morning and that’s all you need if you are a moron. The confession as a whole — with every single word written in Italian and consisting of 100% utter nonsense without the slightest relationship to any of the facts of the actual murder — was a real charmer for the morons. Knox signed the document. She had not only admitted to being present, she had even gone so far as to accuse an innocent man — her boss, Patrick Lumumba — of murder and cruelly ruin his life.

The police — who were almost as flexible as the delectable Knox herself — took the opportunity to charge the jailed beauty with slander.

Yes, really. They also conveniently claimed they had forgotten to turn on the recording equipment in the room where Knox was interrogated. But they were lying. The recording equipment in that room was on all the time. While waiting in that very same room, Knox and Sollecito had been recorded again and again. When the two hungry kids talked about getting some pizza after they were done at the police station, they were recorded. The first thing the police did after the murder was to tap their cell phones; every call was recorded. All of Knox’s later conversations with her family and her lawyers while imprisoned were recorded. And forty thousand (40,000) calls made by Sollecito’s family members in the succeeding years as the endless legal battles went on were also recorded.

In fact, just about the only thing the Perugia cops are good at is recording conversations. Of course they recorded Knox’s “confession.” They just couldn’t release it. Arturo and his bright boys and girls were bright enough to know what would happen if anyone actually listened to their little game of “let’s make the pretty girl say what we want her to say.” For all anyone knows, the recording may still exist.

Much of the world blithely went along with the Perugian brainiacs. In Boston, a Harvard law professor nodded his head in agreement. In England and in Italy, the tabloid photographers polished their camera lenses and buttoned up their designer shirts. Morons by the millions stood impatiently in line to purchase the latest photo spread of the hot young murderess.

Even Meredith Kercher’s own family went along with the same morons whose gross incompetence (remember, Guede had pulled a knife on a Perugia resident in addition to the multiple burglaries) had killed their beloved daughter and sister.

4. The Presumed LCN Sample

As joy spread across the tabloid universe, police tested a large kitchen knife taken from Sollecito’s apartment and found no DNA of any kind on the blade, no human residue on the blade, and no blood on the blade. The triple negative result presented no difficulties whatsoever for the prosecution and the knife took its place as the central piece of physical evidence in the case.

If you’re not a moron, you may need to pause here and re-read that last paragraph (there are no typos, read it again). The thought process of a moron can have a wonderful simplicity to it that is almost artistic, but it does take time and effort to fully appreciate this particular kind of art. Do read it again, you’ll be glad you did.

Ready? Okay, I’ll tell you how they did it. You may want to sit down if you aren’t sitting already. If you’re sensitive like me, you may want to find someone you trust and hold his or her hand. Okay. Here we go. Hold on. It’ll be over quickly. I promise.

Negative = Positive.

Yes, that’s it. The perfect solution. It is a thing of beauty, is it not?

Negative = Positive was the brainchild of the Moron Queen, Patrizia Stefanoni, who looked at the three negative tests on the most important piece of evidence in the most important trial of her career and “accidentally” wrote the word “positive” on a form due to what the second court diplomatically called an “understandable oversight.”

Now the great Queen Patrizia could do PCR. PCR on a negative sample is the standard test for contamination in a genetics lab — even the slightest contamination shows up clearly on a blank sample magnified by the magic of PCR. “Negative controls” are used routinely in all labs — advanced labs with reverse pressure and ultraviolet decontamination and low-end labs like Patrizia’s — to check for the ever-present contamination. A microscopic spec of dust carrying DNA can easily contaminate a sample even in advanced labs with careful technicians.

So a negative sample doesn’t always come back negative after amplification. Just because the knife tested negative three times doesn’t mean it would always be negative. Patrizia’s approach was brilliant in its simplicity. Call the negative sample positive, amplify it using PCR, hope to get a tiny signal, say your lab doesn’t have contamination, and, above all, make absolutely sure that under NO circumstances, including a court order, do you release negative controls done by the lab technicians since the contamination will show up there as well of course. Then all you have to do is keep a straight face as you take away someone’s life. Easy as pie if your name is Stefanoni. After all, even though the knife DNA was contamination, it was obvious Knox did it; just look at her.

And so it came to pass that the great Queen Patrizia strode into the courtroom with her fashionable boots and her mane of thick black hair and stated clearly and unequivocally that contamination simply doesn’t occur in her lab. The tiny signal she got from the negative sample that matched Meredith’s DNA was therefore not contamination and the original triple negative result must have been wrong. The great Patrizia had in fact made a very fortunate mistake in classifying the negative sample positive because the amplification result proved that the sample had actually been positive all along and the kitchen knife, far from being used to cut bread, was actually part of a murder most foul.

The Stefanoni gambit created a wondrous Kornbluthian phrase, never before uttered in a courtroom: “presumed LCN sample.” Let us parse this wondrous phrase. The knife swab was presumed to be a sample that, if only it had been analyzed more accurately, would have registered as LCN (meaning extremely tiny) rather than as triple negative because it must have really had blood on it even though it seemed not to. And there is one and only one forensics genetics lab in the world that never has contamination — the one controlled by the great Queen Patrizia.

No one before had ever had the balls to even try to introduce a negative sample as evidence, withhold the negative controls, and claim that contamination simply was not an issue. The Knox defence didn’t have access to the lab data so they couldn’t get their hands on the routine negative controls that are automatically run. Stefanoni released only the data she chose to release.

And so the Massei court became the first court in history to find someone guilty based on a DNA sample that started out negative, became positive only after amplification, and was presented with no control data to back it up.

In the U.S., the initial negative result would immediately disqualify the sample and it would not be admissible at all, much less become a lynchpin in a murder conviction. Peter Gill, the inventor of modern forensic genetics and probably the world’s foremost forensic geneticist, said in his book that the knife sample gave a “classic” contamination signal. But Knox was put away anyway.

Knox once said of her beauty, “I’m not that pretty . . . I’m not Helen of Troy.” But she is. How many women can say they turned negative into positive? Launching a thousand ships was nothing.

Years later, when the second court repeatedly demanded that Stefanoni finally turn over the negative controls, she repeatedly refused, stating that the court had all the information it needed and issuing veiled threats to institute one of Italy’s ubiquitous slander suits over the court’s vile insinuations that she was hiding something.

The second court asked two of Italy’s top geneticists (not morons) to examine the DNA evidence — such as it was. The independent experts noted the triple negative result and the likely contamination and the unfortunate lack of negative control data. They provided the most concise characterization of Stefanoni’s negative-equals-positive-no-negative-control charade on record: “incomprehensible.”

And that was that. The moron judge was over-ruled by an honest judge and Knox boarded a plane where, in the exhuberance of her deliverance, the emotional young woman, now fluent in Italian, kept forgetting to speak English to her parents.

Peter Gill is, like the Kerchers, a British citizen. Peter Gill, like every other geneticist in the world, regards the Knox case as a grotesque miscarriage of justice. If a rational word is spoken and there are only morons there to hear it, does it make a sound?

No. The Kercher family still, to this day, believe Knox is a vile murderer. Will they ever see the light of day? Will they ever realize the Perugia police first killed their daughter by releasing Guede and then cynically used them to railroad Knox and Sollecito? Are they stupid or just gullible?

The fact is, without the support of the Kercher family, the case against Knox and Sollecito would never even have gone to trial. Had they declared the police case absurd from the start, their moral authority as the victim’s family would have carried the day. Arturo de Felice, Giuliano Mignini, Patrizia Stefanoni, Rita Ficarra, and the other morons would have been laughed out of town.

But it was not to be.

3. Anything is Possible, Mr. and Mrs. Kercher

Having lost their daughter to a deranged maniac with a pocket knife and no money, the Kerchers wanted to believe their daughters death was something less horribly banal. So they believed the knife story concocted by police morons.

The kitchen knife police took from Sollecito’s apartment was much too large to have been the murder weapon, so it didn’t actually matter whether the lab found anything on it because the wounds on Meredith’s throat were obviously made by a pocket knife, not by a large kitchen knife. But Amanda’s lovely hands had cut bread with Sollecito’s knife meaning her beautiful DNA was on the handle.

The “presumed LCN sample” gambit turned water into wine for the prosecution: Meredith’s DNA was officially on the blade of a big kitchen knife randomly selected from amongst the many kitchen knives in Sollecito’s drawer. Amanda on the handle, Meredith on the blade: done deal, likelihood be damned.

The too-large knife was inches from being the official murder weapon. But it was way too big. What to do?

No problem. We cannot in fact say all three wounds on Meredith’s throat were caused by a pocket knife. Theoretically, the final slashing wound that opened up Kercher’s throat before she drowned in her own blood could have been made by any sharp object — from a broken bottle to an axe to a pocket knife to a carefully-wielded kitchen knife.

Police told Meredith’s grieving family that two knives must have been used on their beloved’s throat with the assailants switching from the small pocket knife that made the first two, non-fatal wounds to the too-large, randomly selected, triple-negative-but-really-positive kitchen knife. Yes, in the middle of the assault, the assailants switched knives and carefully made a pocket-knife-sized slash with a large kitchen knife. It’s possible. Knife switching happens all the time. Well it could, theoretically happen. Besides, Meredith’s DNA was found on the knife blade after the three negative tests were ignored and the sample was amplified anyway. So there.

Morons everywhere believe and still believe this bushwah wholeheartedly. The Kerchers follow along, ever gullible.

2. Every Horror Movie Needs a Bloody Shower Scene

The oops-we-forgot-to-record-it confession confirming the nonsensical police theory and the gigantic triple negative knife that magically became positive in the lab that doesn’t release control results even when the court requests it have their places as true derring do in the annals of morondom. But the Perugia police may have set unbreakable records in this case. They may have found a low point in public stupidity that makes a good case for rivaling what you might see in a Monty Python sketch.

I know, it’s hard to believe. Read on.

Amongst the weaponry employed by Italian police officers are such diverse elements as phenolphthalein, cameras, and tabloid reporters. The Perugian Inquisition gave the gullible public and Meredith’s family a real treat when they treated Knox’s bathroom with phenolphthalein and waited a few hours. The bathroom now appeared to be covered in blood. Get out the camera. Now we have a weapon to wield against the beautiful Amanda.

And wield it they did.

The police made no statements whatsoever about their psychotic little photograph. They simply released it to the press. Morons were, as you might expect, rapturous, but in no danger of overdosing as there is no known limit to the stupidity a moron can ingest without ill effect.

The picture of the “bloody bathroom that Amanda Knox showered in after the murder” even made it onto a CNN newscast, proving once again that morons lurk everywhere.

Perhaps the best of Monty Python Comes to Perugia is not the Spanish Inquisition sketch, but the witch scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “We did do the nose. And the hat. But she’s a witch.”

Worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.

1. Logic is a Wreath of Pretty Flowers Which Smell BAD

When grotesque stupidity lurks under a judges robes, be afraid.

Knox left footprints in her own house. The footprints, needless to say, tested negative for blood. In fact, ALL tests to determine Knox’s involvement in the murder were negative except for the stand-up-to-a-dozen-police-officers-in-a-foreign-country psychological test which she failed.

But a thousand negative chemical tests would not sway the great Judge Massei. He is a man with the courage of his convictions! As part of his 400-page decision he wrote that negative tests don’t matter. Here it is word for word from page 282 of the English translation:

“It must be noted that the negative result for blood does not necessarily indicate that no blood was present.”

The best part of this is that Judge Moron is entirely correct! He gets 100 percent on his moron exam. It is indeed true that the fact that a scientific test is negative for blood does NOT mean there was no blood. Indeed, there might well have been blood. We don’t know and will never know that Knox had NOT stepped in Kercher’s blood and had NOT tracked it all over her house. Maybe she did. In fact, Amanda Knox might be guilty, guilty, guilty even if a million chemical tests come out negative.

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 that was NOT the case.

Our hero, Dr. Massei, explained the damning evidence against Knox with such wonderful clarity and detail: a sample swabbed from a large area of the girls’ bathroom sink which they had shared for weeks did in fact contain DNA from (guess who?) both girls — shocking evidence of murder; Knox’s footprints in Knox’s house tested negative for blood, but might really have been positive if only the test had been more sensitive; the knife tested negative three times, but if PCR shows a faint signal and Patrizia says there is no contamination that’s good enough — who needs negative controls?; the experienced and athletic burglar named Rudy Guede would have found it so terribly difficult to climb a few feet up a wall and so Knox had obviously let him in — the defence video showing someone scaling that very wall in less than three seconds is irrelevant; finally, and most important, Knox’s transparent attempt to implicate poor Patrick Lumumba and fool the honest police who just wanted the truth implicates her — we don’t need a recording of the interrogation.

Massei distorted no facts and made no false statements; he simply confiscated Knox’s twenties and thirties and explained himself in full detail.

The Massei decision is, in fact, a beautiful document, perhaps more beautiful even than Amanda Knox at her most alluring peak. It is as fine an example of a self-refuting document as exists since reading it once is more than enough to convince non-morons that Knox and her absurdly unlucky virgin are innocent beyond a shadow of doubt. No defence team was needed at all. If only Kornbluth were here to see the reality of his vision: 400 pages of pure word play trying to pass itself off as a legal decision.

Case closed. Those were the beautiful words uttered by the world class idiot Felice at his frighteningly mindless press conference in 2007 when the terrible loss of Meredith Kercher was still fresh. Today, the Italian Supreme Court having vacated Knox and Sollecito’s convictions in their shocking move on Friday 27 March 2015, the not-quite-so-delectable Amanda Knox lives and writes relatively quietly. I note here, sadly, that Kercher’s family members — John and Arline and Stephanie and Lyle — were unhappy that the whole absurd case was put to rest and have thus been formally inducted into the panoply of morons where they will most likely remain for eternity.

I’m so sorry for all concerned, including the survivors.

Posting in the Crazy House

It is painful, even excruciating, to realize that my fellow humans may lack empathy, embrace cruelty, and/or renounce rationality. Somehow our ability to put innocent people in prison after a careful process involving highly trained scientists, police, lawyers, and judges and leave them there or even kill them (Todd Willingham, Earl Washington, Anthony Yarbough and many others besides Amanda Knox) is worse than anything else we humans do; even a war in which 50 million die is not, in some ways, quite so unreasonable as Yarbough spending 20 years of his life in prison or Willingham being executed or Washington’s confessions to numerous crimes (including giving Eve the apple) being believed.

Knox, with her case followed by millions and, at length, spawning books, BBC documentaries, movies, comments on news sites, comments at the same level from Harvard professors (maybe Dershowitz should write for the tabloids), and widespread incredulous outrage from human beings, has created a whole new class of injustice in which it’s not just the system failing us, it’s whole nations, whole peoples. Perhaps this is why I, without good reason, think about the Knox case so much even though others have suffered more.

As an exercise, I posted comments on a news site in which I argued that Amanda and Raffaele were guilty. I did this to the best of my ability but did not stoop to leaving out crucial facts or making up nonsense. I tried to argue powerfully, eloquently, and honestly, but did not entirely eschew the occasional low blow. Of course, when one does this, it reads as nonsense. Nevertheless, I did learn something. The mindless people – not stupid people as they do not all have low IQ’s as Dershowitz proves – who believe in the modern-day Perugian fairy tale have, I think, an extremely simple set of beliefs: first, no one would tell police, under any circumstances whatever, that they were present at a murder when they were, in fact, not; second, once you have what amounts to a confession, all other evidence may be interpreted from the standpoint of guilty until proven innocent. Indeed, Massei’s verdict overtly reverses the usual standard of justice. This is assuming, of course, that at least some of the people who say they believe Knox is guilty actually do believe this and are not simply monsters who know she is innocent. Maybe they just think it’s all a big game. Who knows?

What follows below are two comments I posted on news sites where the typical commenters are, for the most part, “people” who cause me to doubt what species I belong to.

Comment 1:

Knox and Sollecito are obviously deranged but dangerously clever. They used a kitchen knife to make a wound that looked like it came from a pocket knife and then they cleaned the kitchen knife exceptionally well and then used it again for cooking and just tossed it into a drawer with half a dozen other knives. They probably figured no one would test a knife that didn’t seem to fit the wound. But they thought wrong. The investigators not only zeroed in on the correct knife right away, but they also didn’t stop after three tests on the knife came up negative for blood, for anything human, and for any type of DNA. Thank goodness they broke international protocols and did the amplification procedure anyway on the apparently-clean knife. Their positive result matching Meredith’s DNA obviously does NOT mean the lab was contaminated; in fact, it means Knox and Sollecito didn’t clean the knife quite well enough. The pair of murderers left at least one cell from Meredith on the knife which the PCR procedure amplified into the DNA equivalent of a billion cells which were then analyzed and matched to Meredith (it was a perfect match, absolutely unassailable unless you believe the contamination theory).

And thank goodness for the persistence of the Perugia cops. They knew Knox was lying and they knew she and Lumumba had killed Meredith. They explained this at the post-arrest press conference: “Initially, the American gave a version of events we knew was not correct. She buckled and made an admission of facts we knew were correct and from that we were able to bring them all in.” Later police explained that they used what they called the psychological method to solve the crime, essentially studying Knox’s behavior and reactions to identify her as the killer. They clearly succeeded and they are clearly a formidable investigative team.

It was just a matter of breaking Ms. Knox. Once they got her to admit that Lumumba had sex with Meredith and then killed her, they were able to arrest both the Congolese bar owner and the Seattle native Knox. Later the cops were able to nail Knox for slander when they found out that actually the bloody handprint belonged to Rudy Guede who removed Meredith’s blood-soaked jeans and then sexually assaulted her while she was choking to death on her own blood (the blood on the front of her jeans and Guede’s DNA in her vagina make it clear that the fatal wound preceded removal of the clothing). Knox was there of course (as she admitted) and knew what really happened, so she was obviously purposely misleading the police when she described the sexual assault and the murder in the wrong order. Really Knox should have gotten two extra prison terms for her vile slander: one for saying Lumumba raped Meredith and one for saying he killed her. It’s a good thing Knox’s boss had enough customers that night to give him a minute-by-minute alibi completely covering the time that Knox, Sollecito, and Guede spent murdering poor Meredith.

If only the cops had collected the bra clasp early on when they first picked it up. If they hadn’t left it lying around for so long (46 days, come on guys!), they would have been able to identify all four (or five or six or more) of the male DNA signatures on the bra clasp and arrest ALL of the people who were involved in Meredith’s murder. We’ll never know exactly how many people committed this murder because of this serious oversight on the part of the cops who otherwise did a terrific job except for a few mistakes: not taking the body temperature of the victim when she was discovered, not taking proper care of the computer hard drives they took into custody, and, worst of all, allowing the bra strap itself to degrade so that it cannot be retested to 1) confirm Sollecito’s presence in the room and 2) identify the rest of the gang. When I think of all the murderers who are still at large, a whole deranged group who murdered that poor girl for fun, it makes me sick.

The true genius of the pair of murderers we do know about is the cleanup job they did or seemed to do. What most people don’t realize is that they didn’t simply clean up their DNA and leave Guede’s. They clearly planned the whole thing from the beginning. They undoubtedly both wore gloves and probably caps too to prevent any hairs from them from becoming part of the crime scene. They must have purposely let Guede do most of the dirty work and they undoubtedly thought that no one would believe that they could have killed Meredith without leaving any DNA behind (except for the bra clasp which they probably figured the police wouldn’t bother collecting – and they were almost correct).

This explains why they acted in such an obvious way, kissing each other at a murder scene(!); they thought their DNA trick would prevent anyone from suspecting them no matter how they acted. But they didn’t realize that the Perugian police would see right through their plan. The police and forensic investigators weren’t fooled, they didn’t focus on the lack of DNA at the scene AND they kept at it with Sollecito’s kitchen knife until they got a positive result AND they collected the bra clasp eventually AND, most important of all, they broke Knox who obviously isn’t nearly as tough or smart as she thinks she is.

Most importantly, we have to thank Judge Massei and the rest of the panel for finding them guilty in the first trial. Faced with the luminol footprints that tested negative for blood, he could have just left it at that, but he realized that luminol reacts to blood and, just because one test seems to show that there was no blood and just because the luminol print could, theoretically, be bleach or fruit juice, doesn’t mean you have to discount this evidence. Also, he knew that the swab taken in the bathroom sink that showed Meredith’s and Knox’s DNA mixed together could have been explained away because Knox used the bathroom. But Judge Massei, looking at all the evidence together, was able to conclude that the luminol footprints probably actually were blood and that the swab with the mixed DNA in the bathroom probably actually was a result of the murder. Of course, these things alone might not have been enough for a conviction. The key for Massei was seeing the big picture, from Knox’s admission that she was present when Lumumba raped and murdered Meredith all the way to the luminol footprints and the mixed DNA in the sink.

And, for the record, all police interrogations are a little harsh. It doesn’t mean all confessions should be ignored. Even if one of the cops gave Knox a smack in the back of the head to jog her memory (this cannot be proven and there was no bruising or any identifiable injury at all), it wouldn’t matter. She obviously needed a little help to do what she needed to do and tell the police what happened.

Comment 2:

I really don’t see why everyone thinks I’m being sarcastic. People who agree with me that Knox was there think I’m really a Knox supporter and Knox supporters are complimenting me. It’s surreal.

I think Knox was there because she said she was there and I believe her. It’s as simple as that. I don’t believe the backpedaling she’s done since her statements at 1:30 am and 5:45 am on 6 November 2007.

She said, and I quote, “I do not recall whether Meredith was there or arrived afterward. I struggle to remember these moments, but Patrik had sex with Meredith with whom he was infatuated, but I do not recall whether Meredith had been threatened beforehand. I recall confusedly that he killed her.”

That statement speaks for itself. Her other statement about 4 hours later reads in part as follows:

“I cannot recall how much time they stayed together in the room but can only say that at a certain point I heard Meredith screaming and I, frightened, covered my ears. Then I don’t remember anything anymore, I am very confused in my head. I do not recall whether Meredith was screaming and if [I? she?](*) also heard thuds [tonfi] because I was involved, but I was imagining what could have happened.”

Again, this is pretty clear and stands on its own.

I realize that Lumumba didn’t (and would never) kill anyone. He’s a gentle, decent man. But he never admitted to being present when Meredith was killed. Guede did admit this as did Knox. I realize also that no one had sex with Meredith and that the brutal attack came before the sexual assault.

Here’s what I think happened: Probably Knox let Guede in, helped him subdue Meredith, slashed her “friend’s” throat with the kitchen knife while Guede held her down (or perhaps it was the other way around), then helped him remove Meredith’s bloody jeans, and then watched in fascination as he fingered Meredith’s vagina as she was dying. Knox, of course, was smart enough to wear gloves. Feeling a little guilty about having helped to murder her housemate and “friend”, she covered the victim’s body. This is something the police, who spoke at length about the psychological method they use to solve crimes, realized that only a woman would do.

The fact that Knox twice says she was confused and says “do not recall” or “I was imagining” or “I don’t/struggle to remember” seven times in the above excerpts doesn’t mean we should ignore her confession. She confessed. Period. She, like Guede, is obviously a very confused person with many serious issues.

It’s true that her confession doesn’t fit in some ways with the actual crime as it happened and it’s also true that experts say that confessions that get the details wrong may be false confessions. But Knox did get a detail correct. As others have pointed out here, Knox said the victim screamed and that she (Knox) covered her ears. That seems like a pretty precise detail to me.

Once a Knox supporter (I used to be one but I changed my mind) realizes that the confession should be taken for what it is, it is easy enough to realize that the other evidence, such as the kitchen knife, should not be discounted.

Without the confession, the fact that the knife was tested for blood (TMB) and this test was negative and that it was tested for anything human (“species-specific test”) and this was also negative and that it was tested for DNA of any kind (Q-bit fluorometer) and this was a third negative would lead me to doubt the knife evidence. But the police knew Knox had confessed. They knew she was guilty, so they did the PCR amplification in spite of the three negative tests and did get a positive match to Meredith Kercher’s DNA (there is no question about this match as others have pointed out).

As Italian jurists have repeatedly explained, an “osmotic” evaluation of the evidence, in which each piece of evidence affects the evaluation of each other piece of evidence so that the evidence may be seen as a whole, allows us to conclude that the DNA found as a result of the PCR amplification was NOT due to contamination and was in fact on the knife from the beginning despite the three negative tests.

And suppose it was contamination after all. Knox supporters should remember: she confessed to being present when Meredith died.

NOTE: The second comment actually received a neutral response from a guilter and it showcases I think the power of scenarios. When you just make up what might have happened, as is legal in Italian courtrooms, you encourage all concerned to suspend disbelief as if watching a movie. The result: reality and logic go out the window.

Down the Rabbit Hole with Amanda Knox: Forsaking Legal Shangri-la

In polite society, we are supposed to presume an accused person is innocent and piously lay the burden of proof squarely upon the shoulders of the prosecution. Few of us actually do that, however, when evaluating a case. How can we? Even as members of a jury, it is difficult or perhaps even impossible for human beings to avoid saying to themselves, “Suppose she’s guilty, what would that look like?”

“Innocent until proven guilty” is legal Shangri-la, a perfect world that even the most disciplined juror is likely to depart from at some point, perhaps fleetingly, but more likely for a modest interval. Let us do that here, openly, with the Amanda Knox case. Let us admit that part of anyone’s decision process must be to assume guilt and see where it leads.

Amanda Knox was Meredith Kercher’s housemate and does not have an airtight alibi. Thus, she may have murdered Ms. Kercher and we will assume she did just that. She had means if her boyfriend (Raffaele Sollecito) and Rudy Guede were willing to help her as the prosecution theorized. Knox did not have an identifiable motive unless there was something going on between her and Meredith that no one knew about, which is of course possible. She certainly had plenty of opportunity as Meredith was home alone on 1 November 2007 and Knox was close by with keys to the house.

Means? Maybe. Motive? No. Opportunity? Yes.

The first hurdle we must cross with our presumption of guilt is Rudy Guede. A drifter/burglar, Guede was present in the room when Kercher died; he fled to Germany the next day after spending time at a dance club the night of the murder. On the run in Germany, short of cash and sleeping on trains, he spoke to his friend via Skype and described the events that caused him to literally have Meredith’s blood on his hands. He first told his friend that he wasn’t in the house at all, but then said he was there and had been making out with a willing Kercher when he left her briefly to go to the bathroom. He heard the doorbell ring and then heard Kercher scream at which point he left the bathroom, fought with her assailant – a man slightly shorter than himself who insulted him in Italian and then ran off – and finally tried to save Meredith who was bleeding to death. He said Knox was not there and indicated he didn’t know who Sollecito was – by this time, both were in jail. Guede also said that Meredith had complained to him of missing money and, at the same time, told him she had quarreled with Amanda. There is no evidence Kercher had any prior association with Guede.

The police heard every word of the Skype conversation.

Since we assume Knox was present at the murder scene, it must be the case that Guede was purposely concealing her participation. Based on his conversation with his friend, he seemed to be trying to make it look like Amanda was innocent of the murder, but guilty of stealing Meredith’s money. Guede of course is not a reliable witness: he had been arrested for burglary a week before but had been released, he was implicated by hard evidence in two other burglaries, and he almost certainly murdered Kercher. Since we don’t have any reason to trust him – he dramatically changes his story even during the brief conversation with his friend – we are free to discount his statements and to assume Knox and Guede are guilty.

However, Guede’s claim that Amanda was not there is bolstered by the physical evidence. Quarts of Meredith Kercher’s blood were spilled in the room. Guede himself was covered in blood: he left bloody handprints and bloody footprints in multiple places in the room. He also left DNA traces on the victim’s clothing and on her purse and inside her body. Knox lived in the house, but there was no trace of her in Kercher’s room at all: no DNA; no handprints, gloved or otherwise; no footprints; nothing. (Small footprints that could have belonged to Amanda or to her housemates were found using luminol, but these tested negative for blood.)

So we have one unreliable witness as well as missing physical evidence indicating Knox was NOT present at the crime scene. But she may still have been there. We can say that in addition to being willing to kill for no apparent reason and being surprisingly persuasive, Amanda Knox was also extraordinarily cautious: she undoubtedly wore gloves (probably multiple layers) and seems to have convinced Guede to lie for her during any phone conversations he might have after the murder.

And Ms. Knox was exceptionally well informed. She apparently knew Guede’s MO for breaking and entering and attempted to duplicate his usual entry method by breaking her other housemate’s window (Filomena’s) with a rock. Thus, she set up a scene that looked a lot like something the Perugia cops were rather familiar with – a Guede break-in. It was good enough to hoodwink the second jury who acquitted her and allowed her to walk away after serving 4 years in prison (Knox returned to Seattle in 2011). Her handiwork, though well done, was not sufficiently professional to fool the first and third juries who saw through it and convicted her not only of the murder but also of staging a crime scene.

Our presumption of guilt remains intact although it does now depend upon Knox having some unusual abilities and knowledge. One last hurdle remains.

After committing what was almost the crime of the century, a dangerously-persuasive, glove-wearing, burglary-scene-staging, no-motive-needed murderess made an interesting pair of decisions that are somewhat troubling: first, she retained no lawyer; second, she offered the police her full, unreserved cooperation. Her two surviving housemates hired lawyers immediately, made statements with their lawyers present, and went home. Ms. Knox chose instead to spend all night at the police station the same day her victim’s body was discovered.

Our presumed guilty case must now be reconciled with this behavior. In the days after the murder, Knox spent 20-40 hours (accounts vary) at the police station frequently repeating her claim that she was at her boyfriend’s house the night of the murder, but finally broke down sometime after midnight on the fourth day and admitted she was present at her house while her housemate was being raped and murdered. Unfortunately, her statements are filled with uncertainty and, of even more concern, she got the details wrong. This presents us with our most intransigent problem thus far.

Here are excerpts from her two statements, taken down by police in Italian and later translated into English. One statement was signed by Knox at 1:45 am and the other at 5:45 am on 6 November 2007.

I felt confused . . . 
I do not recall whether Meredith was there or arrived afterward . . .
I struggle to remember these moments . . .
I do not recall whether Meredith had been threatened beforehand . . .
I recall confusedly that he
[P. Lumumba] killed her . . .

I am very confused in my head . . .
I heard Meredith screaming . . .
I don’t recall whether Meredith was screaming . . .
I imagined what could have happened . . .
When I woke up . . . I was in bed with my boyfriend.

Patrick Lumumba, a bar owner, was Amanda’s boss and was, as usual, at his bar making his living; he raped no one, murdered no one.

Normally, “breaking” a suspect and getting a load of garbage for your trouble is very bad news. In fact, police usually withhold some details from the press hoping to hear them related by the suspect: a confession containing unpublicized details is rock solid, unshakeable. Knox’s confession was, from this standpoint, a disaster: A bizarre fairy tale, it was every bit as accurate as a wild guess.

Knox’s cooperative behavior and fabricated confession need not derail our presumption of guilt, however. Consider the following: “The naiveté was pretense; in reality, she was a daring young woman, overconfident and arrogant, eager to play cat and mouse with police interrogators. When they finally broke her, she gave them nothing but nonsense as a ruse in a last-ditch effort to save herself.”

In fact, Knox’s claim that Lumumba murdered her housemate was itself a crime (calumny) for which she would later be convicted. As for the interrogation, we do have to admit no lawyer was present which made it technically inadmissible in the murder trial. But this changes nothing. We remain free to assume what many say is obvious: she was lying about Lumumba but telling the truth about watching her housemate die.

How is our “house of guilt” doing? We’ve constructed it assiduously; however, the support beams do appear to be a trifle weak. We would be much happier if Knox had mentioned Guede in her early morning breakdown (even police didn’t know about him at that time) or if she had left some DNA on Meredith’s body or if Guede had told his friend she was the ringleader.

Unfortunately, as it stands, it wouldn’t take much of a temblor to bring our presumption of guilt down upon our heads. In Italy, by the way, if there happens to be an earthquake and if, God forbid, your house should fall on you and kill you, your family can actually charge seismologists with a crime. The seismologists might even get prison sentences. (Yes, really.) Now suppose our house of guilt should collapse. You will be crushed, rhetorically, but you will have no legal recourse, even in Italy. Thus, I am bound to remind you in the most emphatic possible way, you can walk out of this little house we’ve built any time. Please remember, earthquakes of all kinds are quite common in Italy. I’m just saying.

Let’s get back to the story. It is difficult to fathom the reasons for Lumumba’s arrest. The night of the murder, he was – surprise! – pouring drinks for customers. Knox told police he had texted her telling her not to come in as it was a slow night.

But in the 1:45 am statement – written by police in Italian and signed by Knox – Knox changed her story:

I received a message on my cellular phone from Patrik, who told me that the premises would remain closed that evening, because there were no customers, and thus I would not need to go to work. I responded to the message by telling him that we would see each other at once; I then left the house, telling my boyfriend I had to go to work.  

Police might have wondered how Knox got it into her pretty little head that this popular, gentle, family man, who had been living and working peacefully in Perugia for many years, had killed Meredith. “What are you smoking, Ms. Knox?” was one possible response. They could have brought Lumumba in for questioning and verified his alibi. They didn’t.

Virtually the moment the exhausted college kid “remembered” leaving her boyfriend’s house, meeting her boss, and sitting in her kitchen while Patrick raped and murdered her housemate who may or may not have been screaming, police arrested the nonplussed Lumumba.

They held the law-abiding businessman for two media-filled weeks with the result that his business shut down permanently; years have passed and he still has not been able to re-open his bar. Later, police indicated they were shocked, shocked to find out he was serving customers when Meredith was murdered.

No one knows what they were thinking. I can feel the ground shaking.

Amanda Knox has repeatedly claimed she was heavily pressured by police interrogators and told exactly what she was supposed to “remember.” According to Knox, the Lumumba-dunnit squad came up with their own nonsensical narrative and forced it on the one surviving housemate who hadn’t hired a lawyer. Perhaps she’s lying.

It’s too bad the interrogation wasn’t recorded. Police recorded every one of Knox’s cell phone calls starting 3 November, but unfortunately neglected to record the interrogation. The lead prosecutor, a man by the name of Giuliano Mignini, explained why in a CNN interview: Perugia’s police had “significant budget problems,” he said.

No one has ever calculated the total amount of money spent investigating the Knox case, so we can’t  compare it to the estimated cost of establishing a colony on Mars or to the value of the gold in Fort Knox. We can only say they spent lavishly. In addition to the phone taps, police were recording Amanda and Raffaele as they conversed alone in the waiting room. Later, they recorded conversations on prison phones as well as almost forty thousand calls made by Sollecito’s family members over a multi-year period. But there was not enough money to record the interrogation. Another decision in the difficult to fathom category.

The air of mystery surrounding the behavior of Perugia’s police is becoming a dense fog. The windows are rattling.

When the sun rose after Knox’s wee-hours Lumumba-dunnit session, it was the 6th of November 2007. Knox, Sollecito, and Lumumba were all jailed. At a triumphant press conference, the chief of police made the following statement.

Initially, the American gave a version of events we knew was not correct. She buckled and made an admission of facts we knew were correct and from that we were able to bring them all in.

Mr. de Felice meant to brag but instead let the cat out of the bag. And “difficult to fathom,” found a whole new level. There is a low-pitched rumbling now. I do hope you got out of the house.

The guilty 20-year-old American girl we’ve been concocting with no history of violence and no motive who teamed up with someone she didn’t know to murder her housemate and got this man to lie to his friend for her and who somehow left no trace at a horrific crime scene while also staging a burglary fitting the man’s MO and who then practically lived at an Italian police station for four days – an act, it must be said, whose stupidity is so extreme it cannot be measured on any normal scale – where she chose to put an end to an aggressive interrogation (remain silent, IDIOT girl!!!) by confirming the cops’ ridiculous theories, all the better to fool us, is not going to come into focus, now or ever, despite all our attempts to conjure her.

The chief of police and the lead prosecutor themselves wrecked our presumption of guilt. While Guede was sleeping on trains in Germany, these public officials were busy dreaming up a “version of events” they “knew were correct,” putting their story into a young woman’s mouth during an unrecorded interrogation, and then, relying on what has to be the most hesitant “admission of facts” in the long history of interrogations, arresting the husband, father, and local bar owner known as Patrick Lumumba, a man we can confidently describe as the least-likely suspect in all of Perugia.

Knox and Sollecito were likewise unlikely suspects, to put it mildly, but that would be remedied. It was just a matter of rearranging the pieces on the chessboard while your opponent gets a cup of espresso. Police and prosecutors have provided us with many years’ worth of sick entertainment with their willingness to do whatever was necessary to make Knox and her hapless boyfriend look like suspects who might be detained by competent officials.

The twisted story of the vicious, seductive, insane Foxy Knoxy, written with the assistance of the tabloids, began in earnest when police released without comment a terrifying photograph of the blood-soaked bathroom where Knox had showered the morning after the murder, before she and her unfortunate boyfriend called the police. Knox claimed, incredibly, that she didn’t realize anything was wrong with the bathroom. Her bizarre, psychopathic behavior is truly amazing.

Except for the ‘truly’ part. The bathroom wasn’t actually covered in blood – there were a few drops on the sink and a dull footprint on a bathmat, that’s it. Actual pictures of the bathroom found in court documents are night-and-day different from the nightmarish vision released by police.

Here’s what happened: The police, while investigating the murder, treated the entire bathroom with phenolphthalein, a chemical that turns a delightful pink after a little while. The cops then snapped a dramatic photograph and – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – released the pic to a hungry press corps.

Stories about the shower in the bloody bathroom are still being told.

It doesn’t stop there. Prosecutors claimed, before the first trial, they had receipts that proved Knox had purchased bleach the morning after the murder in order to wash the house clean of her DNA. No such proof made it to the trial, however. Cleaning your DNA from a murder scene while leaving someone else’s untouched is impossible in any case, but that’s unimportant if your only goal is to get a million idiots to line up behind you.

It’s hard to imagine, but it gets worse. Once Knox was in prison, awaiting trial, a prison doctor told her she was HIV-positive and got her to list all her past lovers. This list was – you guessed it – promptly leaked to the press by the next corrupt official down the line. Amanda was of course perfectly healthy.

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice. Hippocrates did not protect Amanda Knox and space considerations force us to stop here, with the phony HIV diagnosis. There is no need to continue in any event. We can simply say the list of prosecution tricks is a lot longer than the list of Knox’s lovers and leave it at that.

Here, in the land of rationality, we did not fall for the stories promulgated by the bizarre alliance between the tabloids and the prosecution, but we did assume guilt. Indeed, we labored mightily, but failed to create a portal by which Amanda-Knox-the-deadly-siren might enter the real world. We are left with the horribly banal: beautiful Meredith in the prime of life cut down by a nobody with a knife because she arrived home ten minutes too soon.

Our presumption of Knox’s guilt buckled, you might say, under its own weight. If even a presumption of guilt cannot stand, then Knox is innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. Of course, we still have some doubt. Maybe she did an amazing job pretending to be a naive young girl (she sure fooled her parents!). There is always doubt. But reasonable doubt? Not in this universe.

Post Script

After the police had spent four days and countless hours of expensive overtime for the interrogation team breaking a delicate young woman suffering from trauma and sleep deprivation, threatening her with prison, telling her that her boyfriend had disputed her account (he had not), getting her to doubt her own memory, and convincing her to fabricate a nonsensical story implicating both herself and her innocent boss, they shuffled off to her boyfriend’s house and found a knife in a drawer that could not possibly have been the murder weapon (it was much too large) and took it to the lab and tested it. Not surprisingly, lab tests confirmed no DNA on the knife and no blood on the knife.

HOWEVER, the lab proceeded with the full testing procedure anyway in violation of every international standard in the book and performed a duplication process called PCR capable of producing significant DNA from a single cell. This lab had tested dozens of samples containing large quantities of the victim’s DNA and was not, by any stretch of the imagination, properly equipped to guard against single-cell contamination. Of course, they got a positive result for the victim’s DNA on Raffaele Sollecito’s too-large kitchen knife and the prosecution declared they had found the murder weapon.

The violation of international standards by the police lab was confirmed by independent court-appointed DNA-testing experts at one of the most prestigious universities in Italy; their report was scathing and stated unequivocally that the knife could easily have become contaminated with a microscopic trace of the victim’s DNA while it was being handled and analyzed at the police lab.

Given that the knife was actually too large to have been the murder weapon anyway, you might wonder how the prosecutors kept observers in the courtroom from laughing at them. They came up with the following theory, beautiful in its simplicity: Meredith Kercher was murdered with two knives, not one. Guede and his accomplices grabbed her, pulled her hair, struck her, sexually assaulted her, and stabbed her twice in the throat with a small knife. This knife hit bone and slipped, cutting Guede’s hands. The trio of murderers then switched knives. Since the final, slashing wound could, theoretically, have been made by any sharp object, the prosecutors ask us to imagine that it was the kitchen knife, not the original smaller knife, that made the wound that left Meredith Kercher choking to death on her own blood.

And now we have the prosecution’s case in its full glory and at its full power. The two-knife theory explains why there was a microscopic trace of Kercher’s DNA on Knox’s boyfriend’s knife which explains why Knox eventually admitted to being present at the murder scene which explains why the Guede break-in appeared to have been staged which shows how diabolical Knox really is which helps to explain how she managed to avoid leaving any traces at the murder scene, why she thought she didn’t need a lawyer, and how she succeeded in confusing the police with her misleading accusation of an innocent man. As far as how she got Guede and Sollecito to go along with her desire to end her housemate’s life, that’s easy enough to explain: just look at how seductive she is. Add in some drug use and don’t worry overmuch about a motive and you’ve got yourself a murder.

We’ve come full circle. Previously, our presumption of guilt collapsed rather spectacularly. But I had withheld information. Is it now possible, keeping in mind the two-knife theory and the DNA evidence, to imagine Knox killing Kercher?

Certainly, if you’re Meredith’s parent or sibling, you are going to reasonably ask, “What exactly is my daughter’s/sister’s DNA doing on Raffaele Sollecito’s kitchen knife?” Explaining that it was a laboratory error (oops!) may, understandably, not carry much weight with the Kercher family. Even though the prosecution has abandoned logic and honesty and simply engaged in a witch-hunt, the Kerchers may have legitimate questions about the DNA testing. They have no motive to falsely accuse anyone, so we must assume the Kerchers really believe Knox and Sollecito murdered their beloved.

For the rest of us, however, the case is quite clear. We humans are good at telling stories like the two-knife theory. We could make up a story about how you must have paid Guede to murder to Meredith. That trip to the bank you made in October 2007 was rather suspicious. Why did you go to the bank on that particular day when it’s not your usual routine? Are you saying you can’t remember what your account balance was? Are you saying you suddenly gave up on years of good financial habits that particular October? We know you’re lying. With a dozen cops, the tag-team interrogation technique, and a few credible threats, we could have quite a party. Maybe we’ll even take you to a foreign country to have our little celebration. I’m sorry, but I don’t think you will enjoy it much.

Most people involved with the prosecution or on the various juries presumably know Knox and Sollecito are innocent; after all, they have quite a bit of information at their disposal, more than enough to prove the them that the two kids are innocent. It would be interesting to subject a number of the participants in what is essentially a noir farce to lie-detector tests in an effort to determine who actually harbors irrational beliefs and who is feigning irrationality. However, this assumes the prosecutors and jury members have actually taken the trouble to form an opinion about the case. They may not have. A child can wholeheartedly believe something he or she knows nothing about, simply parroting a parental belief. A weak student can memorize an idea and spit it back without having thought about it. For all we know, most of the people involved in the Knox case, including jurors, have no opinion about it at all!