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Need Another Seven Astronauts

The space shuttle blew up and now NASA stands for “Need Another Seven Astronauts.” Get it?

It’s not funny.

Christa McAuliffe died for no reason. What happened was, for me, a touchstone, something to keep coming back to, something terrible to avoid. It’s way worse than most people realize.

It was January 1986. Florida had historic cold weather. Morton Thiokol (aka MT) engineers told their bosses no fucking way (this is technical language; any resemblance to profanity is coincidental). The MT bosses, quite reasonably, cancelled the launch.

Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Michael Smith, Christa McAuliffe, Ellison Onizuka, and Gregory Jarvis boarding the space shuttle in January 1986.

The engineers at MT knew their shit (another technical term) and their bosses knew they knew their shit. Specifically, they knew the o-rings had never worked the way they were supposed to and they knew all about the danger this presented to the billion \-dollar shuttle and to the astronauts aboard. The previous year, a launch at 53 degrees — the coldest launch ever — almost blew up on takeoff. The primary o-ring failed; the secondary o-ring held. The shuttle launched without apparent incident. No one knew anything was amiss until the solid rocket boosters were recovered and the engineers got a look at the soot on the wrong side of the primary o-ring. 

The engineers and their bosses considered redesigning the o-ring system but instead decided to upgrade the secondary o-ring to “critical” status which recognized the fact that a failure of this component could doom the shuttle. A redesign would have fixed the problem but that would have taken a year or two and NASA had a schedule to keep. 

A year later on that terrible day in January 1986, it was 23 degrees in Florida, historic cold. Given the failure the previous year at 53 degrees and given the fact that rubber gets stiff when it’s cold, the engineers delivered the official “no fucking way” recommendation. And that should have been that.

NASA, which at that time stood for National Aeronautics and Space Administration, pushed back on the launch cancellation. On the phone call with an annoyed NASA administrator who had probably been president of the debating team in college, the MT engineers admitted they couldn’t PROVE temperature was the reason one of the o-rings had failed during the 53-degree launch. Since they couldn’t PROVE temperature was a factor, the NASA administrator suggested the MT engineers reconsider their it’s-too-cold cancellation.

Off the phone, speaking with their four bosses who were engineers by training promoted to management, the MT engineers said, again, that even though they couldn’t PROVE the o-rings were affected by temperature, they had very good reason to be concerned and strongly recommended keeping the launch fucking cancelled. They pointed out that “no fucking way” is usually means “no fucking way” and fucking definitely did this time too.

On the edge of tears, two of them actually went so far as to approach the boss’s table and draw impromptu diagrams to better explain what they were saying. They got nowhere. Somehow, “we think the shuttle might explode” didn’t make an impression on what had become four brick walls that only looked human.

He was told to take off his engineering hat.

You don’t think bricks think? Think again. 

It’s always been safe in the past; therefore, it is safe now.

You can’t prove it is unsafe; therefore, it is safe.

The evidence indicates it may not be safe; but evidence can be wrong.

“Am I the only one who wants to fly?”

“It’s time to take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat.”

The second to last line was spoken by the senior management guy to everyone in the room. The last line was spoken by the senior management guy to the newest member of the management team. The first three lines, irrationality distilled, came out during the hearings and the late Sally Ride, staring at the faces at the heart of the disaster, was left momentarily speechless. 

I often imagine Christa McAuliffe and the other six occupants of the shuttle’s cockpit listening to the back-and-forth first between Morton Thiokol and NASA and then between the managers and engineers at Morton Thiokol. If McAuliffe and her fellow astronauts been privvy to the discussions, there would have been no launch. 

All seven astronauts survived the explosion but died when the intact cockpit arced into the Atlantic ocean at 200 mph. Christa McAuliffe’s students watched on live TV. With the dead buried, the formal inquiry began and Sally Ride and the others on the board spent a week drowning in insanity.

The intact cockpit arced to the right. McAuliffe and the other astronauts were alive but doomed.

My great uncle was dying. It was the early 1980’s. He had stomach ulcers and there was no cure. Drastic surgeries could be tried but they did not guarantee success. Ulcers were caused by excess stomach acid. A study decades before (as in one study) had shown this definitively and absolutely and there was no point questioning it. My great uncle died at about the same time as Christa McAuliffe. (As far as I know: my family history has a few gaps.) 

At this time, in the early 1980’s a medical researcher found evidence indicating that ulcers were actually caused by bacteria and he realized that ulcers were probably curable. In fact, he believed he had proved it beyond doubt. He claimed he knew the specific type of bacteria causing most ulcers and he claimed he could cure the ulcers. 

He was able to publish, but he was ignored. He was as sure he was right as his colleagues were sure he was wrong. So he did something crazy. He cultured bacteria from an ulcer patient’s stomach, turned it into a cocktail, and drank it (it was NOT happy hour).

Kneeling on his bathroom floor after making his fateful decision, throwing up with truly horrific violence, he looked up and found himself staring into the eyes of his terrified wife. She was about to call 9-1-1 when the medical researcher, the loving husband, the father of two young children informed his partner in life that he had purposely infected himself with a dangerous disease to prove something to his not-so-scientific colleagues.

The researcher-husband-father later said his only regret was not having had the foresight to get video of his wife’s reaction. Suffice to say it was memorable. In between eruptions, he managed to promise to cure himself as soon as he collected the data he needed (another eruption ensued at that point). He did collect his data and he did cure himself.

His wife accepted his promise to never do that again and his colleagues made it clear it didn’t matter how many “stunts” he pulled: they would never believe him. The only thing he gained from his attempt to change the world was the knowledge that his wife possessed heretofore unimagined reservoirs of anger.

Ten years later, my great uncle was dead and the man who had been willing to experiment on himself had gotten exactly nowhere. And then there came the inspiration, the moment that made all the difference. He was visited by an idea even more brilliant than the analysis that led to his discovery that bacteria caused ulcers. It was a radical idea, exceptionally powerful. I mean just WOW. 

Our hero went to the offices of a big pharmaceutical company and said to the people he met there, “Do you want to make a lot of money?”

I personally think he should have gotten the Nobel Prize just for that idea, but that’s another story. Anyway, the humans in question responded as you might expect. A few years later, with ulcers being cured all over the place, the community of scientists decided to actually look into the “outlandish” claims about ulcers.  

The mainstream of any field is like a jackhammer. You can’t sculpt David with it but it sure is useful for the right job. One person, even a committed scientist willing to risk his life (in more ways than one), can’t make the final decision. Mainstream scientists must have the the final word; you have to convince the skeptical; you need lots of people verifying any new discovery; there’s no other way. And so it came to pass.

The mainstream’s final word was this: “Oh my God, we’ve been wrong all this time.”

Unfortunately, our hero did NOT win a Nobel Prize for involving big pharma in his quest for rationality for one simple reason: no one ever listens to me. Fortunately, however, he did win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2005.

Barry Marshall accepting the Nobel Prize.

The wine at the Nobel dinner is said to be exceptional and I like to imagine the researcher’s wife, with the contents of a couple of glasses of wine resting in her belly and twenty years’ distance between her and the events in the bathroom, staring into her husband’s Nobel laureate eyes. I figure he looks good in a tuxedo and his eyes are probably gleaming what with the pretty medallion you get and all. I imagine this is the moment when she finally forgives him for putting his research ahead of his own life. 

That year, 2005, was a banner year for rationality. In addition to ulcers being officially curable, the terrifying and deadly human irrationality phenomenon called “arson investigation” was finally discredited. This nonsense would no longer be admissible in U.S. courts and people convicted on the basis of drivel would be released from prison. 

Unfortunately, it was too late for Todd Willingham. He had been executed the year before for supposedly setting fire to his house and murdering his three children with no motive. Now, one year later, with the worms crawling in and crawling out of Willingham’s rotting corpse, the pseudo-scientific arson investigation that had condemned an innocent man to death was finally taken out with the trash.

This thing called “arson investigation” was a bizarre form of pseudoscience involving a coterie of people who credentialed one another so that they could provide “expert” testimony in court. The fox was guarding the hen-house. “Arson investigation” was allowed in U.S. courts into the early years of the twenty-first century. Today, we know it as the equivalent of tea-leaf reading not quite up to the standards of Madame Trelawney.

After being fingered by people who were basically clowns, and not the entertaining kind, Todd Willingham was convicted on the basis of “pour patterns” and “crazed glass” and other fantasies. The judge allowed it while Willingham’s lawyer, the free kind, went through the motions, punched the clock, assumed his client was guilty, and did not insist that the scientific tests using modern equipment be considered in the case. These tests, with the results available during the trial, ruled out gasoline or any other type of accelerant being used to start the fire. 

In 2004, with his last words, Willingham professed his innocence. The New Yorker had a heartbreaking piece about it some years back. The fire that killed his three children was an ordinary electrical fire. He died for being too poor to not have space heaters in his house. Unless the New Yorker article is a tissue of lies, there would seem to be no doubt the state of Texas killed an innocent man.

Todd Willingham did not purposely burn down his house to murder his three children.

In 2007, Rudy Guede murdered Meredith Kercher in Italy, left his DNA inside her body, and fled to Germany where he was quickly caught. But Amanda Knox was just too pretty for police to ignore. Before Guede was identified as the murderer, they bullied her into “confessing” that she had seen her boss kill her housemate. In fact, they told her they knew she was present when Meredith died and told her that she must have blocked what happened out of her mind and at 2 am had her convinced that if she didn’t “remember” she would go to jail for life as an accomplice to her housemate’s murder.

A smack to the back of Knox’s head was enough to “convince” her to “remember” the absurd story concocted by police about her (totally innocent) boss. Knox’s boss had an alibi with half a dozen witnesses. Knox had an alibi too: her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. The police took care of that by nailing Sollecito with their little confession game and the two naive kids ended up in prison for four years before the judge in the second trial sent them home. (Lesson 1 of traveling in Italy: NEVER say a single word to the police without a lawyer present and if offered a pen with which to sign your name, do NOT touch it.) 

The strange little farce that ensued might be called a “trial.” Actually, it was Monty Python’s Burn the Witch skit brought to life. Knox and Sollecito didn’t need a defense to show that the whole thing was ridiculous: the prosecution’s case took care of that. The tabloids went crazy and the guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, the actual murderer entered a guilty plea and was quietly imprisoned.

It didn’t matter how obvious the whole thing was. If we don’t mince words we cas see that Amanda Knox has really nice breasts and so millions of people decided believed the prosecution’s theory that she had bewitched Sollecito and Guede into killing for her. I know that sounds crazy but that was actually the prosecution’s theory. For the general public and even for the judge in the case, the story was too good to not be true.

Even the victim’s family fell for it and, to this day, Meredith Kercher’s parents and siblings believe their beloved was murdered by an irresistible woman, her sweetie-pie boyfriend, and a mentally ill drug dealer as some sort of prank. 

For Knox, being pretty was a crime.

After the verdict, with Knox and Sollecito facing much of the rest of their lives in prison, the first judge explained everything in the report he produced per Italian law. This report is one of the most eloquent defenses of circular reasoning you’ll ever see. The judge carefully explains that all evidence is uncertain and that once you have an idea of what will be proven you can always create a self-reinforcing scenario and surround it walls so high and so strong that no amount of evidence will ever breach your fortress of certainty. It was and is breathtaking. 

Sollecito was offered a deal by police: if he testified against Knox, he could go home. He told them to go to Hell. 

Knox and Sollecito and their lawyers appealed and there was another trial. The second judge wanted to cut through a mountain of nonsense that had fooled so many people. He contracted a couple of scientists at Italy’s top university to evaluate the “evidence” presented in the case. The two scientists had no reason to do anything but tell the truth and they told the judge that what seemed to be nonsense was in fact nonsense. The second judge put an end to the farce. Knox and Sollecito went home. The actual murderer, Guede, remained in prison and was released in 2021. 

The speed of light is constant. It couldn’t have been faster in the early universe because we know the speed of light is a constant. That’s what we call things like the speed of light: physical constants. As in constant. As in unchanging. We don’t need evidence. It is constant because it is constant.  

Except for one thing. Physicists have no knowledge about how or why or when the physical “constants” were set to their present values. There is no guarantee at all that any physical constant is truly constant over astronomical time. In fact, anyone wondering about the big bang and the current uniformity of the observable universe might wonder if a faster speed of light at the moment of creation might have smoothed things out enough for the universe to look the way it does today. 

I had this idea myself as an undergraduate when I first learned about the big bang. It would be really interesting, I thought, if the physical constants weren’t constant and it might explain some things. A lot of people had this idea. A few of them pursued it seriously and created detailed theories incorporating the fairly obvious idea.

They found the door to the journals locked by physicists who, having been raised on relativity and quantum mechanics, were nevertheless so unwilling to think outside the box that they could not accept even the possibility that the speed of light might vary in astronomical time. This is more like just opening the box a tiny crack than actually thinking outside it but apparently it was still too much for mainstream scientists. 

The theory might still be languishing in the minds of a handful of people if it hadn’t been for a particularly strong-willed physicist who basically took a battering ram to the locked door. It took ten or twenty years but today variable speed of light (VSL) theories make up a thriving sub-field in physics and may have already sown the seeds of the next big breakthrough.

Joao Magueijo, the physicist who wouldn’t stay in the box.

No one gets hurt when physicists or other scholars in arenas not involving life and death dance the irrationality jig but that’s cold comfort. I’m not a believer in the guaranteed survival of humanity: if the human race dies out our end might be traceable to our failure to make use of an amazing gift: rational thought. I hope I’m exaggerating the importance of evidence-based reasoning, but I fear I am not.

 I don’t know any way to prevent scholars, scientists, researchers, and even judges from pulling the kind of nonsense they seem to pull so easily and so automatically. In the cases of the space shuttle, ulcers, Todd Willingham, Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito, and VSL, smart people claimed absolute certainty or near-certainty when they didn’t have any evidence that would begin to support even a moderate level of certainty.

In all of these cases, professionals dropped evidence-based reasoning and embraced social reasoning. This is easy enough to do because even very strong evidence is always uncertain — if you don’t like a piece of evidence you can use any of four options to get rid of it: (i, squid ink) cloud it with excessive detail or (ii, demand perfection) note that the evidence isn’t 100% perfect which it never is or (iii, anything is possible) make up a plausible scenario in which the evidence you don’t like is explained or (iv, denial) you claim the evidence you don’t like is wrong or meaningless or misunderstood which often requires you to spout nonsense.

Social reasoning often relies on the four techniques laid out above: squik ink; gotcha; anything is possible; and denial as a means to block the more boring careful analysis of evidence without preconception and (this is important) without using one piece of evidence to interpret another piece of evidence.  

Social reasoning also comes in four broad types or at least I like to divide it into four types. Type I is what con artists do. They know the truth but want to fool people. The first judge in the Knox case knew she was innocent and laid out all the evidence in the case and then used mostly denial to ignore it all. Reading the report in which a judge openly ignores mountains of evidence is a jaw-dropping experience. The second judge had read this report and obviously intended to free both Knox and Sollecito before the second trial began: he stated plainly that the entire case was nonsensical (he actually said it was beyond imagination). 

Type II social reasoning is based on faith. If there is something you want to be true, you believe it for that reason alone and just ignore any evidence to the contrary. Many ordinary people regarded the Knox-as-murderous-seductress story to be too good not to be true so they believed it and ignored evidence. This doesn’t mean religious faith is bad: if you believe a higher power wants us all to be kind to one another, there’s no need to prove it. But you don’t want arson investigation or space shuttle launches to be faith-based. 

Type III social reasoning is based on fashion. If everyone believes something, then so do you. It’s embarrassing and sometimes dangerous to be a maverick. Many Italians regarded believing Knox guilty was a matter of patriotism. Most physicists were unwilling to even consider VSL mostly because they feared ridicule. A theory that “sounds funny” will be almost impossible to even discuss. 

Type IV social reasoning is based on trust and is very practical. I believed Knox was guilty because I trusted the Italian legal system. I believe we went to the Moon because I trust my own sense of what sort of hoaxes are possible. Most scientists studying ulcers trusted the stomach acid study and then reverted to type III social reasoning when it was challenged.

Evidence-based reasoning requires us to be scrupulously honest, ignore our personal interests, ignore authority, and drop premises. It’s hard to do: often all four types of social reasoning work together to defeat evidence-based reasoning.  

Before we have a look at the “main course,” there’s one more example of social reasoning Trumping evidence-based reasoning that we should look at. This is a matter of type III social reasoning taking hold of an entire scientific community. 

When I was twelve years old, I learned that our solar system formed about four billion years ago from a cloud of gas and dust. Based on these theories, I concluded that of course there must be planets around most stars in the galaxy.

I also learned that life arose almost immediately on Earth after it was formed (though mult-celled life took a very long time to evolve). I concluded that the galaxy was probably teeming with life although 99.9999% of it would be far removed from us developmentally simply because a billion years is a long time so running into anyone within 1000 years of us developmentally would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

I was surprised scientists didn’t speculate about this or at least state their expectation that most stars would also have planetary systems. But type III social reasoning means real scientists can’t talk about or be imagined talking about or allude to or speculate about anything that might have anything to do with “space aliens.” 

The first visual exoplanet. The twelve-year-old boy was right.

Of course, I was right about the exoplanets. And I may have been right about a galaxy teeming with life. 

An object tracked in 2017 came from outside the solar system. At first astonomers thought it was an asteroid. But then it went off course which is something comets do because gas evaporates from them and acts like an accelerating engine. Comets have visible tails from this gas and comets stop accelerating when they get far from the sun and comets change their rotation rate when the gas evaporates and comets are more or less round. 

This thing didn’t have any of the comet characteristics and it was still traveling far from the gravitational trajectory. What was making it accelerate? Astronomers had no idea what it was and they still don’t know. They called it “Oumuamua” which is Hawaiian for “messenger from afar.” It’s out of the solar system now and we’ll never know what it was unless we chase after it someday.

This is where type III social reasoning comes in. Obviously we know of something that isn’t and asteroid and isn’t a comet but that would deviate from a gravitational trajectory. But we’d better not say the words. It might sound funny. We might lose our status as scientists. Careful now. Oumuamua must be a natural object that is different from anything we’ve seen before. Maybe it’s a “hydrogen iceberg” or a tenuous cloud of gravitationally bound gas or some other exotic thing.

But . . . don’t say it! Except he did. Avi Loeb, the chairman of the astronomy department at Harvard did evidence-based reasoning. He said it might be some exotic thing but it might also be a derelict spacecraft. Uh oh. So much for your reputation. 

The ridicule was automatic. 

Someone should have taken the Oumuamua data to an astronomer who hadn’t heard about it yet and presented the data as a hypothetical: “What would you think if you saw this?”

The astronomer would have laughed and said, “You’re describing a spaceship. Don’t worry, we’ll never see anything like that.”  

Harvard professor Avi Loeb says the only thing we know of that would act like oumuamua is a spacecraft.

All of the previous cases are done deals in one way or another. The shuttle exploded, ulcers are curable, Willingham is dead, Knox is free, VSL is a going concern, and Oumuamua is long gone. Of course, there are cases that are still in process, one in particular that is a virtually perfect example of the power of social reasoning and its intellectual cost. In this example, no one’s life is at stake and yet there is still a LOT at stake in general if you think rationality matters. 

The breadth, power, and persistence of this final example make it, for me, a touchstone at the level of the space shuttle disaster. Even though no one will die from this particular nugget of irrationality, it is a reminder of echo chambers, closed minds, dogmatism, hubris, and the power of propaganda to prevent progress, stifle thought, crush creativity, and even kill. So let’s dig in. 

In the 1990’s, a doctoral student at UMass Amherst (Roger Stritmatter) told his professors he wanted to write his Ph.D. thesis on a forbidden topic: “Shakespeare,” according to this otherwise completely normal student, may have been a pseudonym used by an aristocratic playwright who didn’t want to put his name on the plays.  

They listened patiently. Stritmatter said the leading court playwright in Elizabethan times had left behind a bible — one of Shakespeare’s primary sources — with many underlined passages. It seemed obvious that this aristocrat was either a big fan of Shakespearean biblical allusions or was, in fact, Shakespeare. Wouldn’t it be interesting to study this bible and write up the results in a dissertation?

You would think the professors would say no to this crazy project. Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. We know all about Shakespeare. The theories that the man named Shakespeare who was definitely in London at the right time wasn’t really Shakespeare are silly. If you ask about Shakespeare you might just as well join the Flat Earth Society.

But the professors said yes and this dangerous heretic did his research, wrote his dissertation, and got his Ph.D. 

UMass Amherst: headquarters of the rebellion.

Today (circa 2020) the heretic of Amherst is a tenured professor. He even recently published a scholarly book examining the evidence for the date of composition of Shakespeare’s probable last play, The Tempest. If The Tempest was written within a few years of 1600 as Stritmatter and Canadian author Lynne Kositsky argue and if it really was Shakespeare’s last play, the date would seem to be too early for the businessman named Shakespeare to be wrapping up his career as he had just got to London. Thus, if the heretic’s analysis is correct, it is likely that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.

Oxford University Press is as mainstream as mainstream gets and they were actually willing to review the book of heresy. Not only that, the review had good things to say about the work, very good things. Stritmatter and Kositsky’s work is “informative and well-written” and would “spark renewed debate and discussion of this topic.” Everyone at Oxford University Press knows exactly why Stritmatter is so interested in the dating of The Tempest and they all know the stakes. And yet they sanctioned a positive review of Stritmatter’s work. 

After UMass Amherst broke ranks but before the heretic’s Tempest blasphemy, professor James Shapiro wrote a book of his own (not a scholarly book — a popular one) to address what he saw as a disturbing lack of reason spreading through the public. He couldn’t understand how the UMass Amherst faculty could have handed out a Ph.D. He found it “vexing” that many “thoughtful and well-informed” people regarded “Shakespeare” as a possible pseudonym. 

Even one of his own colleagues at Columbia, Professor Kristin Linklater, questioned the usual premise. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), Justices Powell and Blackmun, Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir John Gielgud, Nobel laureates John Galsworthy and Roger Penrose, Professor Don Rubin of York University, Professor Ros Barber at the University of London, and many others (there’s a list at have been duped by the conspiracy theorists. 

Fortunately, Shapiro tells us in Contested Will, the journals of his profession are “walled off” from any and all of his colleagues who would question the conventional wisdom. 

But that was before Oxford University Press weighed in.

I hold it to be self evident that If some number “X” of experts want to question a premise, there has to be a point where they will be allowed to do so using the core communication vehicles of their profession. Pick any reasonable number for “X” but once it is passed, journal editors must allow the debate to proceed. 

Shapiro’s wall is going to crumble eventually as well it should. 

A personal note: I’m the skeptical type and always assumed that the Shakespeare authorship question really was Flat Earth Society nonsense. Then I read an author I trusted (Michael Hart, a physicist like me) who had also believed that but who had changed his mind upon looking into it. I looked into it myself and now I find the blockade of people like Stritmatter and Linklater as hard to understand as the space shuttle launching when the engineers said “no fucking way.”

I hope you enjoy the rest of the essay and I hope it helps convince the Shapiros of the world to tear down the wall sooner rather than later.

Here’s hoping Shapiro’s wall doesn’t last as long as this one has.

Why did the wall get built in the first place? Shapiro and the rest of the mainstream are knowledgeable and intelligent: surely their viewpoint has reason behind it. Actually, mainstream Shakespeare-wrote-Shakespeare people have more to point to than did the ulcers-are-caused-by-stomach-acid people.

A half-dozen or so people named William Shakespeare were living in and around London as the 16th century came to a close. One of them was a successful businessman from nearby Stratford who traveled for a few days and showed up in London in the mid-1590’s. While in London, he became a shareholder in London’s leading acting company. So his name is William Shakespeare (it was spelled “Shakspere” in the Stratford records but spelling, even of names, was fluid in those days so this doesn’t stop him from being Shakespeare) and, crucially, he has more than just the name:he is heavily involved with the London theater as of the mid-1590’s. 

Over the next ten years and beyond, Shakespeare plays would line the shelves of London bookstores making all other authors put together look like so many fourth place finishers. The plays were loaded with insider quips and jibes and commentary that seemed to come straight from the Queen’s court. The popularity and dominance of Shakespeare has no modern parallel. If Meghan Markle and Prince Harry decided to leak photographs of the pair passionately kissing along with the occasional photo of one royal undressing the other and if magazine editors got their hands on the photos and published them, then we’d have something like the phenomenon of Elizabethan Shakespeare. Short of that, however, nothing like it is likely to ever happen again.

Needless to say, Elizabethan publishers were dying to get their hands on good, clean Shakespeare copy. However, they had to resort to bootlegging to get the works into print because, unlike every other Elizabethan playwright we know about, Shakespeare just wasn’t there when it came to publication of plays. No one disputes this: “he had no interest in when or even whether his plays were published” is how Shapiro puts it.

Normally, publishers were happy to work with authors since an accurate printed version was in their mutual interests. In the case of Shakespeare, publishers sometimes could get their hands on a decent script and turn it into a passable printed version but might also have to sit in theaters writing down lines to create what scholars call “performance texts.” Bootlegging happened occasionally to other playwrights but only the only plays that were 100% bootlegged were Shakespeare plays.

Jonson, the second-most-popular Elizabethan playwright, worked with publishers and even did some of his own publishing to make sure his work was preserved for the ages. Shakespeare didn’t care. However, the two epic poems by Shakespeare were published in 1593 and 1594 in what appear to be authorized editions complete with lavish dedications to the young Earl of Southampton to whom Shakespeare was simultaneously writing Sonnets in which the earl was told in no uncertain terms that he must marry and produce an heir.

This is frustrating for biographers of Shakespeare because while Jonson had known relationships with his patrons, the businessman from Stratford and shareholder in London’s leading acting company seems never to have met Southampton. And yet the Sonnets, circulated privately and written in the first person, were imposing themselves upon Southampton’s marriage negotiations: the young earl, a royal ward, had been ordered by Lord Burghley himself (the Queen’s right-hand man and the most powerful man in England) to marry Burghley’s grand-daughter.

One biographer (Levi) guesses that perhaps Southampton’s family, hoping the marriage would go through and created a powerful alliance, commissioned the Sonnets. It’s as good a theory as any but there’s no evidence either way. Another scholar (McCrea) guesses that Shakespeare got his inside information about the Queen’s court from plays, now lost, written by court insiders which Shakespeare used as sources for his work. 

The acting company shareholder died quietly in Stratford in 1616 leaving his lands, barns, stables, five houses, and a lot of cash to his two daughters. He left bequests and personal items to business contacts. A three-page will spends most of its time talking about the “issue” of his daughter’s bodies and who will get what money. The will doesn’t offer any further information. 

Seven years later, in 1623, a miracle was sponsored by two earls. The First Folio — a massive compilation of Shakespeare — was published. Twenty plays including masterpieces like Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Othello, Taming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Tempest, and a dozen other plays unpublished in any form as of 1616 were preserved for the ages. In addition, sixteen previously bootlegged plays including Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Much Ado About Nothing were properly published for the first time.

The First Folio is Shakespeare as we know Shakespeare. 

Two letters in the First Folio preface bear the printed signatures of two of Shakespeare’s fellow acting company shareholders. The letters say London’s leading acting company had been holding the Shakespeare manuscripts for decades. The “stolen and surreptitious copies” of Shakespeare with which the public has previously been “abused” were now being replaced by the “true and original copies” that, the shareholders promised prospective readers, are “perfect of their limbs.”

The two shareholders — we assume they were acting on behalf of their fellow shareholders — say they are making a “present” of the complete set of plays to the two earls with no thought of “self profit or fame” but only to preserve the memory of their “friend and fellow,” William Shakespeare of Stratford.

And there you have it, the Stratford businessman identified as the author and the whole multi-decade bootlegging story explained. Apparently, the acting company owned the plays and did not want them published right away, but was unable to stop the bootlegging or “the frauds and stealths of injurious imposters” as the shareholders put it in the First Folio preface.

The First Folio was put together under the auspices of two earls and identifies Shakespeare as a businessman from Stratford.

The mysteries here have led to lots of guesswork. 

Kristin Linklater, not publishing in a journal, said the plays — Love’s Labors Lost for example — are so loaded with inside baseball that a commoner would have had great difficulty writing them. Mainstreamer Scott McCrea at SUNY Purchase, also not publishing in a journal, says of this same play, “the Author seems to have an insider’s knowledge . . . one possible answer derives from a source play now lost . . .” McCrea doesn’t guess who wrote the lost source play but it would have to have been a court insider. 

So we’ve got a strange publication history, strong indications of a connection to the Queen’s court, hard evidence that the businessman from Stratford wrote the plays, and two groups of scholars who can’t talk to each other. 

Do certain scenes in plays like Love’s Labors Lost prove Shakespeare was a member of the nobility? Is the scenario laid out in the First Folio preface suspicious? According to the mainstream, a commoner could possibly have obtained inside information and could have had an unusual deal with an acting company and the First Folio preface is hard evidence that that is exactly what happened. 

According to the rebel forces carrying the banner of Amherst, a story that starts with a tickle of suspicion builds to a tidal wave of fraud and the First Folio preface ultimately takes its place as the greatest hoax in history. 

Let us continue with a somewhat more detailed history. 

If you assume “lost” plays you can explain anyone’s access to inside information.

The “Shake-speare” plays appear to have emerged in the late 1570’s as courtly diversions. They were absurdly erudite — according to Shapiro, whoever wrote them had read just about every book in the Queen’s library and then some. With plots reworked from old classics and an author with a facility with language never before seen, the plays kept getting better and better as their creator matured. The plays made a lot of courtiers squirm as they were lampooned with merciless accuracy. The plays even (gently) teased the Queen. The popularity of the plays, as you know, went beyond anything anyone had ever imagined. 

The Queen knew a good thing when she saw it. She had a thick skin, no problem with controversy, money to put where she needed it most, and the “street smarts” of one of the most successful monarchs in history. She, and the one person she regarded as indispensible, her right-hand man, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, were busy ruling England with astonishing efficiency. For them, the humor, the brutal honesty, the erudition, the beautiful language, and the sheer wisdom of the works were all well and good, but the patriotic uplift offered by the history plays was pure gold to a monarch facing multiple threats from abroad. 

The monarch is divine. The Tudor-Rose dynasty was the best thing that ever happened to England. Dying for your country is an honor. If you’re the Queen, these sentiments are priceless. She went all in. 

Sir Francis Walsingham, the top national security man in England, was directed to create the largest acting company ever seen. He poached the top actors from London’s leading companies, making them offers they literally could not refuse. The Queen’s Men was thus born full-grown in 1583. Walsingham also tapped London’s leading court playwright, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford to be part of the plan. England’s literary earl would be paid the unheard-of sum of one thousand pounds a year, more than anyone in the Queen’s government was ever paid, including Burghley.

The Queen’s gamble was called by one observer the “Policy of Plays” and it changed history: London became, and still is, a city of the theater and the media became, and still is, a powerful way to wield influence (this is not to claim that Elizabeth necessarily invented the idea of state-sponsored media, but she certainly brought it to a new level).

Centuries later, with bombs falling on London from airplanes that the 16th century Queen Elizabeth could scarcely have imagined, less had changed than you might guess. Indeed, Shakespeare’s Henry V was still being played for Londoners under seige who hung on every word of the play’s stirring patriotic rhetoric. Half a century after that, a fictional Captain Picard, facing a Romulan threat, was still quoting Shakespeare. 

During the formative years for the greatest writer since Chaucer, the anonymous A History of Error (probably the 1570’s version of The Comedy of Errors), an apparent early anonymous version of Cymbeline (a classic wicked stepmother tale), a play that may have been Troilus and Cressida (anonymous with a related title), and another anonymous play with a title reminiscent of Two Gentlemen of Verona as well as Henry V, Richard III, King Lear, and King John, were played repeatedly before what one assumes were rapt audiences.

The early versions of Henry V, Richard III, King Lear, and King John were eventually published, like many other Shakespeare plays, as anonymous bootlegs although occasionally the name Shakespeare appeared on these plays. They aren’t nearly as good as later versions either bootlegged or published in the First Folio but one would not expect early Shakespeare and rewritten Shakespeare to be the same level of quality. 

Here’s an example: the line “A horse! A horse! A fresh horse!” is not so memorable. But the line “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” was destined to become a classic. 

Differences in quality aside, these four early history plays have largely the same plots, many of the same lines, and almost exactly the same titles as the later versions. Both the early and later versions are full of Shakespeare’s trademark neologisms (made-up words).

Also in the 1580’s, much of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale appeared in the form of a novel called Pandosto written by the notorious hack writer Robert Greene, a well-known plagiarist.

Hamlet had also apparently been played by 1589: Thomas Nashe threw off a quip about walking down the street and being barraged by “whole Hamlets of tragical speeches.” Of course, no other Hamlet complete with “tragical speeches” is known from the period. 

Other Shakesepare plays published much later were apparently known to other writers in the 1580’s and early 1590’s. Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labors Lost, and Taming of the Shrew show up as a line here and a line there — early Shakespeare allusions before any official Shakespeare publications.

Finally, in 1594, a Shakespeare play appeared in print: it was Titus Andronicus as an anonymous bootleg which advertised that the play had been put on by one of London’s lesser acting companies.

All of the above is a problem that has to be reconciled with the First Folio preface.

The first Shakespeare play ever published was a bootlegged version of Titus Andronicus with an anonymous author.

It’s a big problem. In 1580, the Stratford Shakespeare was a teenager who had never been to London. He didn’t get there until well into the 1590’s as far as anyone can tell. Having him writing courtly comedies and histories in the 1580’s doesn’t sit well with most biographers.

The solution to the problem is simple enough: mainstream researchers explain that what looks like 1580’s Shakespeare isn’t.

The Hamlet that Nashe referred to must be a pre-Hamlet or ur-Hamlet as it is sometimes called. This Hamlet was not Shakespeare’s Hamlet but was a Hamlet written by an unknown author who also wrote tragical speeches and whose title Shakespeare appropriated.

The direction of the allusions to Romeo and Juliet and the other Shakespeare plays must be reversed: all of the apparent allusions TO Shakespeare by other authors in the 1580’s and early 1590’s were actually allusions BY Shakespeare who had read the works of these other authors.

Needless to say, the 1570’s is right out. That is, there’s no way the A History of Error could have become The Comedy of Errors — Shakespeare must have written a different play with a similar title. 

The five early Shakespeare plays for which we have text — Henry V, King Lear, Richard III, and King John and Pandosto (The Winter’s Tale) — pose a tougher challenge.

The Henry V, King Lear, Richard III, and King John performed in the 1580’s and early 1590’s must not have been Shakespeare’s Henry V, King Lear, Richard III, and King John no matter how similar they seem to the later Shakespeare works.

These four history plays were someone else’s Henry V, King Leir (with that spelling), Richard III, and King John that Shakespeare used as “sources” for his later, superior work with titles changed only just barely and plots and lines rewritten and improved but hardly changed. 

So, to stay true to the First Folio preface, many biographers assume Shakespeare didn’t write “A horse! A horse! A fresh horse!” Someone else did and Shakespeare later improved it. And Shakespeare took The Winter’s Tale from Robert Greene’s Pandosto “using it sometimes almost verbatim.”

Shakespeare hacked the hack. 

This is all according to authoritative mainstream sources such as The Arden Shakespeare. The great mainstream biographer Schoenbaum said it was “preposterous” to ascribe the early versions of the history plays to Shakespeare; any such theories “need scarcely be considered.” Thus, there is a pretty solid consensus and this consensus has come about because the businessman was, as far as we know, not in London at the right time and not the right age to be 1580’s Shakespeare. 

Mainstream scholars do occasionally buck the trend and suggest early dates for some of the plays but their illustrious colleagues, such as Honigmann, respond that these early dates “must be resisted at all costs.” It’s not impossible to assume the businessman from Stratford was 1580’s Shakespeare but it is rather uncomfortable so most scholars assume 1580’s Shakespeare was anonymous authors later used as sources by the great writer.

Re-imagining plots created by classical or foreign authors was clearly something Shakespeare did all the time and was NOT regarded as plagiarism by the Elizabethans. However, if Shakespeare used contemporary plays by London authors line for line and plot element for plot element and if these plays were his “sources,” this would have constituted plagiarism by Elizabethan standards and by our standards.

Mainstream biographers don’t use the p-word to describe Shakespeare but Park Honan called him “an accomplished parasite” which gets the point across perfectly well albeit with a different p-word.

Some people have a problem with the mainstream’s apparent need to re-attribute 1580’s Shakespeare to other authors. Ramon Jiménez argues in his book, Shakespeare’s Apprenticeship, that the great author plagiarizing lesser writers is not just unlikely on its face — at least for the four history plays, Jiménez argues, it is clearly not the case.

Jiménez argues that Shakespeare himself was 1580’s Shakespeare. His work is thorough and his arguments detailed. Jiménez studied all previous work done on this question for his book which obviously cannot even be adequately summarized here though I can provide a taste of his reasoning.

Shakespeare is the undisputed master of neologisms and coined more than 2000 words. Neologisms are like a Shakespeare fingerprint. This “fingerprint” and others are evident in the four early versions of the history plays clearly identifying them as Shakespeare’s own early work that he later revised, rewrote, and improved immeasurably. It is not as Schoenbaum said, “preposterous” to imagine a writer improving on his own early work and is in fact, according to Jiménez, fairly obvious. 

Shapiro’s wall prevents these issues from getting the attention they deserve but we’ve got more than a tickle of suspicion now. We have 1580’s Shakespeare and it really is a problem as in, “Houston, we have a problem.” 

Mabye the mainstream has wriggled out of its dilemma by assuming 1580’s Shakespeare were sources for the 1590’s playwright. But things get worse for those who are so sure 1580’s Shakespeare is “preposterous.” 

This is a scholarly and heavily researched book but the mainstream won’t talk about the issue at this level.

Mainstream scholars have done a marvelous job uncovering information about the Stratford businessman’s life; they found dozens of documents.   

Shakespeare of Stratford was a rich man who, along with a few other people, basically owned the town. If you grew a bit of grain in Stratford, you would pay something to Shakespeare and that was a good thing: farmers need capital to operate. Investors like Shakespeare were part of the system. Shakespeare outdid his investor father and, in the end, owned houses, land, pastures, orchards, barns, and stables — the works, so to speak.

Shakespeare stored grain, sold stone, loaned money, and repeatedly went to court to collect what he was owed. His will mentions his cash and his land and his houses and includes a list of business associates (detailed below) who were to receive modest bequests at his death. 

Speaking of associates, the writer Shakespeare undoubtedly knew most of London’s writers. Two in particular stand out.

A John Lyly biographer (Bond) called Lyly Shakespeare’s chief exemplar and regarded Lyly and Shakespeare as co-creators of Elizabethan theater. Their styles are so similar and there was so much cross-fertilization that it is impossible to know who influenced who: probably the influence flowed in both directions.

Anthony Munday wrote a manuscript which has survived and which has a fully Shakespearean scene in it that appears to have been written or dictated by Shakespeare. The final manuscript is in Munday’s handwriting and is priceless just because all agree that it is the only handwritten Shakespeare from the period coming directly from the great author.

So the list of people Shakespeare remembers in his will is crucial. Daughter Judith, daughter Susanna, neice Elizabeth, sister Joan, nephews William and Michael, the poor of Stratford, business associates Combe, Russell, Nashe (not the writer), Heminges (shareholder), Condell (shareholder), Burbage (shareholder), Robinson, and Collins, neighbors Sadler and Reynolds, godson William, son-in-law John and of course Shakespeare’s wife who received a perfectly good bed even if it was “second-best.”

Here’s a problem. Lyly and Munday are not mentioned. In fact, no writer is mentioned. Also, needless to say, no manuscripts, books, inkwells, art, music, maps, or anything intellectual is mentioned in the longish three-page will. Shakespeare’s two illiterate daughters and the future “issue of their bodies” got his cash and real estate and that was that.

Shakespeare died quitely in Stratford in 1616. There were no eulogies that year or the following year. If you like, you can count the First Folio, published seven years later, as a eulogy. 

When Ben Jonson died, he left behind an extensive library. At least one contemporary commented on his library saying it was “well-furnisht” and scholars can now argue about whether Jonson owned 500 books or 1000 books. Two hundred plus books from Jonson’s library exist today. A fire destroyed much of Jonson’s work while he was alive but manuscripts in his handwriting survive as well as letters to and from his friends all of whom knew him as a writer. Jonson had a distinctive signature which is often found in his books or in books he gave as gifts. When Jonson went before a judge, it was usually over his writing. He did time in jail because of his writing. The year he died, Jonson was eulogized by his fellow writers. 

One page from Jonson manuscript with his signature.

Poem handwritten by Jonson celebrating an earl’s wedding.

The most boring bit of information about Ben Jonson found in any random place in a Jonson biography would be front-page news if found for Shakespeare.

Diana Price, aka the Elaine Morgan of the authorship question, wrote Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography. Price argues that what is known about the businessman’s life disqualifies him from consideration as the author of the great works. Jonson, as the second-most-famous Elizabethan author and the only one besides Shakespeare of Stratford for which scholars have unearthed dozens of documents, is just one comparator she points to. Price notes that ALL other Elizabethan authors, even the ones with just a handful of documents unearthed, were identified as writers in their lifetimes.

If you like, you can start with the assumption that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. If so, then even though there are no letters or manuscripts or books, the title pages of the printed works that say either “Shakespeare” or “Shake-speare” on them can be used evidence that the Stratford businessman was a writer and so Price’s argument is thereby countered.

In fact, Shapiro says exactly this: to him, the title pages constitute “overwhelming evidence.” Also, for Shapiro, the First Folio can be thought of as “notice at death as a writer” that is, as a eulogy. 

Shapiro seems to find Diana Price and those he calls “her followers” (I guess I’m one) rather exasperating and I feel for him: despite his position as an ivy league professor, neither Price nor I have find his arguments very convincing. 

Shapiro, after countering Price with circular reasoning and stretching the idea of a eulogy way past the breaking point, says on page 244 of his paperback edition, “Readers are invited to make up their own minds.” 

And readers will, if Shapiro has anything to say about it, decide that Price’s demand that Shakespeare have the biography of a writer is all nonsense. Shapiro doesn’t mention 1580’s Shakespeare but would undoubtedly regard Jiménez’s demand that Shakespeare be present in the 1580’s to write his own works as more nonsense.

Even if you read Shapiro’s book and let him have the last word, I don’t think you will agree with him any more than someone sitting the cockpit of the space shuttle would agree with the Morton Thiokol managers. You know too much now to be fooled. 

Price asks why the mainstream is ignoring its own discovery.

Shapiro writes a 21st century celebration of circular reasoning.

You are sitting in the cockpit of a very special space shuttle: if the businessman wrote Shakespeare you take off safely; if not, you die. You can hear Stritmatter addressing the faculty at UMass Amherst.

Here is what he said (conjectural paraphrase):

“There’s no way a commoner who didn’t get to London until the 1590’s and who didn’t own books or write letters or leave behind manuscripts or even know any writers personally wrote a series of plays in the 1580’s that were basically exposés of the Queen’s court and no I don’t think Hamlet wasn’t Hamlet and I don’t care if there’s no direct evidence that the First Folio preface was falsified because, for God’s sake, the First Folio is claiming something that is basically impossible so I don’t have to prove it is nonsense any more than I have to prove the sun can’t fit into a breadbox. Oh, and by the way, I know who wrote the plays and it’s bloody obvious.” 

Shapiro is dismayed by his colleagues in Massachusetts:

“When independent scholars [he names three people] looked at the evidence, they pointed out a good deal that Stritmatter’s dissertation committee had apparently failed to notice.” 

Shapiro then uses the fact that the bible isn’t a perfect piece of irrefutable evidence to argue that it should be ignored because three “independent scholars” questioned it and presumably the UMass Amherst faculty who worked with Stritmatter for years are the types of people with a couple of centuries of combined experience amongst them that “fail to notice” obvious things such as the fact that the bible isn’t a smoking gun. 

Shapiro also brags about the blockade that keeps dozens of professionals like Stritmatter from publishing in mainstream journals: 

“There yet remains one subject walled off from serious study by Shakesepare scholars: the authorship question . . . Those who would deny Shakespeare’s authorship, long excluded from publishing their work in academic journals or through university presses . . .” 

Do you launch or abort? 

One of the scholarly journals Shapiro mentions which only accepts scholarship that doesn’t question the premise.

We have aborted the launch and are now reduced to wondering if the Stratford businessman was even literate.

The great mainstream biographer Schoenbaum quotes an expert who wants nothing to do with the authorship question but is simply doing her job at the London Office of Public Records. The expert, Jane Cox, states (1) it is “obvious at a glance” Shakespeare’s signatures are written by different people and (2) it is “inconceivable” that a literate Elizabethan would not have a consistent signature.

Schoenbaum agrees with the expert since there’s nothing to argue about and the expert is merely stating the obvious. However, Schoenbaum must, somehow, salvage the First Folio preface since that is his job as a mainstream biographer. Schoenbaum makes two suggestions: (1) Shakespeare of Stratford must not have been present in London when the real estate deal was signed with two completely different Shakespeare signatures and (2) Shakespeare of Stratford must not have been healthy enough to write as he usually would when he tried to sign his will. 

Schoenbaum praises the expert from London for being willing to “milk a sacred cow” and exits stage left. 

Professor McCrea studied the signatures also and has graced us with a lengthy discussion. He works his way up to calling the signatures “troubling” but then bows to the First Folio and offers the following suggestion: (3) the changing signatures could be the result of Shakespeare’s “teeming imagination.” 

I am happy to have the three suggestions of Schoenbaum and McCrea. At least they are discussing the issue.

I like data so I looked at the signatures of every Elizabethan writer I could find. Chapman, Daniel, Dekker, Drayton, Drummond, Fletcher, Greene, Harvey, Heywood, Jonson, Kyd, Lyly, Munday, Marlowe, Massinger, Middleton, Nashe, Peele, Spenser, Watson, and Webster all had signatures. Each of these authors was demonstrably able to write his name.

Here, for your perusal, are Shakespeare’s five signatures followed by nine signatures from seven literate Elizabethans. I’ve got writers Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, and Edmund Spenser. I also included two signatures each from Joseph Jackson and William Johnson who were business associates of Shakespeare’s and who signed the same two real estate documents as Shakespeare on the same day. 

Joseph Jackson and William Johnson of course provided ordinary, matching signatures for the real estate deal. 

Court document. Shakespeare had to testify in someone else’s domestic dispute.

Real estate deal in London involving three people (Shakespeare, Joseph Jackson, and William Johnson).

A second document from the same London real estate deal.

Second page of Shakespeare’s will.

Last page of Shakespeare’s will.

Ben Jonson.

Christopher Marlowe. Elizabethans didn’t care about spelling even of names.

Francis Bacon.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Edmund Spenser’s signature was smooth and distinctive though not easily readable.

William Johnson signed his own name twice on the real estate deal involving Shakespeare. The signatures of course match.

Joseph Jackson also signed his own name twice on the London real estate deal. Again, the signatures of course match.

No one has ever put forward an example of a literate Elizabethan whose signatures make them appear illiterate.

Mark Twain, at least two Nobel laureates, a number of U.S. Supreme Court Justices, theater and literature professors at colleges on multiple continents, and the living descendant of Lord Burghley all doubt the mainstream’s claim that a man who appears to have been demonstrably illiterate was actually the greatest writer in England because a document published seven years after his death says so.  

The fact that the businessman owned shares in the acting company is, I think, crucial to understanding what happened to the mainstream’s thought process. Here’s a longish quote from Shapiro about how we “know” the businessman with two illiterate daughters was Shakespeare [my comments are in brackets] because he was an acting company shareholder who had the right name:

“Shakespeare . . . wore the livery of the Lord Chamberlain [as a shareholder of the acting company], served King James both as a King’s Man and as a Groom of the Chamber [as a shareholder of the acting company], and directly addressed a patron, the Earl of Southampton, in the letters prefacing both Venus and Adonis and Lucrece [assuming the First Folio preface is correct].”

It’s not impossible for the shareholder to have also been a writer: Moliére was involved in the business of theater while also being a writer. But being a shareholder does not make you a writer.

If a letter from Southampton had been found amongst the businessman’s possessions, that would be evidence that he knew Southampton. For now, we don’t have any such evidence. All we know is that whoever wrote the epic poems probably knew the young earl. 

Diana Price notes that Elizabethan writers exchanged letters and gifts and were seen with their patrons. She suggests that the businessman and the earl didn’t know each other. To counter her argument, Shapiro says we know the businessman was Shakespeare and Shakespeare dedicated work to Southampton and therefore the businessman knew Southampton.

That’s the best the wall builder can do: circular reasoning. 

We can now draw two conclusions that are likely to be correct: (1) the Stratford businessman and acting company shareholder was at best semi-literate and (2) erudite courtly comedies, tragedies, and histories appearing in the the late 1570’s, bearing fruit in the 1580’s, and extensively bootlegged in the 1590’s, were sometimes graced with the pseudonym “William Shakespeare” after 1598. 

As corollaries we have (i) the First Folio preface was falsified to hide the author’s identity and (ii) the actual author was Edward de Vere, England’s leading court playwright in the pay of the Queen.  

The story of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, as Shakespeare is coherent and sensible unlike biographies of the businessman as Shakespeare which require us to ignore the signatures and the rest of his biography, conjure lost source plays to explain insider knowledge, and assume plagiarism.

If de Vere wrote the plays we have to assume he didn’t want credit for them and we must also assume his family didn’t want him getting credit even though he was dead. That doesn’t seem like such a stretch. 

For me, the fact that de Vere was the top court playwright being paid handsomely by the Queen and the fact that he never published a play under his own name coupled with the fact that all plays that were published were bootlegged pretty well wraps it up: “Shakespeare” seems to have been a pseudonym for the court playwright.

I might think differently if the businessman had been able to write his name but he couldn’t and so I don’t.  

When one takes a good look at de Vere’s life, everything falls into place and no big assumptions are needed. 

Michael William Cecil, descendant of Lord Burghley himself (the Queen’s right hand man) is the 18th Baron Burghley. He believes the businessman was not the author.

When the Queen was setting up the largest acting company ever assembled we know she added a crucial element: a courtly writer. Edward de Vere as a teenager was already outgrowing some of the finest tutors in England. As an adult, he was known to be wild, irresponsible, and brilliant. He was also known as a great playwright. Other authors dedicated dozens of works to him and praised his literary skills to the skies. This level of praise continued long after his death.

Edward de Vere was “matchless” and “the best” and “more polished than Castiglione” and “sacred to the muses” and so forth. In 1586, he became the highest paid person in Elizabeth’s government.

Here’s what (may have) transpired between Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford and the national security man, Sir Francis Walsingham, who was in charge of putting together the Queen’s Men and setting de Vere up with his money.

OXFORD (glaring at Walsingham): You took the top actors from my company you mouldy rogue! I know the Queen ordered it but what kind of flesh-monger would take all my best actors?

WALSINGHAM: I’m afraid I had no choice. Orders are orders. But that was three years ago and today there is a happy ending for you. 

OXFORD: Yes, I have a nice troup of players to write for. But I had that before. 

WALSINGHAM: Ah, but there is more in heaven and earth than you have dreamt of.

OXFORD: You butchered the line. Don’t quit your day job!

WALSINGHAM: Well, here’s another line for you, one that might soothe your tiger’s heart. You are going to get a thousand pounds a year for life. 

OXFORD: Ha! Mirth cannot move my soul! Away with your poorly timed jests! I need money. You know I need money. And you torment me. Please tell me how much it will be and in truth this time, I beg you. Dare I hope for a hundred pounds a year? 

WALSINGHAM: It’s a thousand. You don’t believe me?

OXFORD (smiling): I am that I am and though I live on a stage of fools I am yet no fool. I don’t believe you. 

WALSINGHAM (smiling more broadly and handing him two hundred and fifty pounds): This is your first installment. The Queen orders that you’re to be paid four times a year. Or should I take it back?

OXFORD (reeling): Uh, well, I, now, how, uh, where, it’s uh, hmm, I think . . . I just . . . uh, really?

WALSINGHAM (shaking his head and bowing slightly): The most eloquent man in England speaks! I feel I am in the presence of greatness and I am sure her majesty will not regret her choice. 

The Queen indeed had no regrets and Oxford received the unprecedented stipend throughout his life; it continued even after King James ascended the throne. 

Scholars afflicted with First Folio-itis must face Oxford’s four-figure stipend. They could say he was obviously being paid to write plays while noting that that doesn’t necessarily make him Shakespeare.

But they don’t say that. Shapiro doesn’t mention it at all. McCrea’s explanation is incoherent.

I read every mainstream scholar I can find hunting for and often finding reasonable theories to support the First Folio. But I have found no commentary from the mainstream regarding the Queen’s payments to her leading court playwright that are worth repeating and so I was forced to create my own reasonable theory above: just because he was paid a thousand pounds a year to write plays doesn’t make him Shakespeare.

I think the problem for the mainstream and the reason I can’t find a coherent theory is that actually the thousand pounds a year pretty much does make him Shakespeare. The First Folio preface is strong evidence but it isn’t strong enough to rewrite history. The leading court playwright was paid a gigantic sum. That’s just the way it is. 

Of course, we would like to see if there is any other connection between Oxford and the Shakespeare plays. That is, if we didn’t already think he was Shakespeare because he was the Queen’s playwright and because the businessman couldn’t write his name, is there anything about his life or the people he was involved with that would lead us to believe he was Shakesspeare independent of the other evidence?

Let’s have a look at Edward de Vere. 

A line in Shakespeare says “I know a man who sold a goodly manor for a song.” The leading composer of the day, William Byrd, did have a large property gifted to him by a nobleman. It’s an interesting coincidence but Shakespeare may or may not have had Bryd in mind when he came up with the line. However, the nobleman who signed over the property to Bryd happened to be Edward de Vere.

In the early 1580’s, Edward de Vere slept with one the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. The high-born young woman was striking physically, brilliant socially, and exceptionally elegant. She got pregnant and had the baby and it was a huge scandal. The Queen tossed mother, baby, and her wayward earl in the Tower. (Don’t worry, the baby was fine.)

When her highness cooled off and released the now ex-lovers, members of the young woman’s family and parts of de Vere’s retinue met on the streets of London. Swords were drawn; blood was spilled. 

Modern protrayal of the famous sword-fight scene in Romeo and Juliet.

That’s nice but is there anything stronger than possibly coincidental connections between the plays and de Vere’s life? What about Lyly and Munday, the two Shakespeare collaborators conspicuously absent (along with all other writers) from the businessman’s will?  

Edward de Vere hired two literary secretaries in the 1580’s. Guess who?

Wow, you must be some kind of genius. You’re right. He hired John Lyly and Anthony Munday. This is a stunning connection in my opinion even though de Vere hired plenty of people so it too could be a coincidence. Still, this one seems better than a goodly manor sold for a song and better than two households both alike in dignity actually going to battle though I have to say (maybe I’m biased) I really like the William Byrd thing.  

At this point, we are not surprised to learn that the “incomparable pair of brethren,” the Earl of Montgomery and his brother the Earl of Pembroke, the two men who made the First Folio happen, were members of Edward de Vere’s family. The Earl of Montgomery was de Vere’s son-in-law married to his youngest daughter Lady Susan Vere, now Countess of Montgomery. 

So that’s that. Either de Vere wrote the plays or historical facts have conspired to make it seem like he did.

Susan de Vere Montgomery. The manuscripts apparently pass from her to the Earl of Montgomery to the First Folio.

One nice thing about jumping on the de Vere bandwagon (should you choose to do so) is that it partially solves the mystery of Southampton, the only dedicatee of Shakespeare’s works and, even according to mainstream scholars, the obvious subject of the Sonnets.

Two epic poems beautifully published in the early 1590’s were the only publisher-author collaborations in the canon. The epic poems were lovingly dedicated to Southampton and contain the first occurrence of “William Shakespeare” printed beneath the dedications. (Shapiro thinks this proves the businessman was the author.)

The Sonnets, meanwhile, were circulating privately.

The Sonnets are first-person poetry offering guidance, admonishment, love, and unconditional support to Southampton who was referred to by the author as “O thou my lovely boy” and is today often called the “fair youth” of the Sonnets. The first seventeen Sonnets are known as the “marriage sonnets” because they are eloquent exhortations to Southampton to marry and produce an heir. 

It has long been a mystery what on earth a commoner businessman could have had to do with an earl’s marriage decision. 

Shakespeare’s “lovely boy” of the Sonnets and an earl of extreme controversy.

In the early 1590’s, Lord Burghley proposed a hugely consequential marriage alliance: he ordered Southampton to marry his grand-daughter.

Southampton wasn’t sure he wanted to throw in with the Burghley clan. He ultimately decided not to and, ten years later, made an attempt with the Earl of Essex to control the royal succession. Burghley’s son, who had inherited his father’s position, made short work of the conspiracy: Essex was executed and Southampton was sentenced to death.

Elizabethan politics makes ours look tame, obviously.

So Southampton’s marriage decision was a big deal at the time and a bigger deal later. And it’s all in the Sonnets including Southampton’s miraculous escape from the axe and his release from the Tower when the Queen died. The new King, James, gave Southampton back his earldom and even made him a Knight of the Garter, a singular honor to this day. 

We don’t know why James didn’t just leave Southampton in the Tower for the rest of his life and we don’t know why he didn’t lose his head along with his friend Essex.

We don’t know the precise nature of Southampton’s relationship with de Vere but the two were quite clearly connected. Both were orphaned earls brought up in the Burghley household as royal wards a generation apart. Burghley’s grand-daughter, the young woman Southampton was supposed to marry, was Edward de Vere’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth.

So Southampton joins Lyly and Munday completing for de Vere what many regard as a crucial triumvirate of Shakespeare connections and we don’t have to assume de Vere was Shakespeare in order to prove he knew Lyly, Munday, and Southampton — the connections are independent of the works themselves. (I don’t mean to insult my readers’ intelligence; I’m only pointing this out for Shapiro’s benefit.)

Whoever wrote the Sonnets thought the world of Southampton: “thy worth is wide as the ocean is” is just one of a long list of powerful expressions of support of, closeness to, and even identification with the Earl of Southampton that appear all through the Sonnets.  

The ebullient Sonnet 107 which experts agree is about the death of the Queen (the mortal moon), the peaceful transfer of power to King James, Southampton’s freedom, and Shakespere’s own triumph over death by virtue of his brilliant verse is worth quoting in its entirety:  

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.

One mainstream biographer (Levi) assumes Southampton’s family must have commissioned the businessman to write the Sonnets because the businessman could not have been writing in his own voice which is that of an older peer of Southampton. This is possible and saves the First Folio preface, but, at this point, is perhaps a bit of a reach. 

Most mainstream scholars are afraid to admit the Sonnets couldn’t be in the businessman’s voice. Shapiro, after using circular reasoning to declare that the shareholder “directly addressed” a patron, now switches to plain old nonsense: Shapiro says the Sonnets are “fictional creations.” 

Shapiro is careful to cover himself with the word “primarily” in front of his “fictional creations” claim but that changes nothing. What he is saying might save the First Folio preface, but it is at odds with reality.

Shapiro, in his book, cleverly turns a liability into an asset by focusing on people who over-interpret the Sonnets and read “triangular love plots” into them allowing Shapiro to deliver his zinger on page 53: “Who could resist such voyeuristic pleasures?” 

It’s good writing in the marketing sense (who doesn’t like a good zinger?) but meaningless as analysis. Shapiro has taken off his engineering hat and put on his management hat. Shakespeare, as usual, said it best: “the professor doth protest too much, methinks.” It’s not that there’s wrong with Shapiro’s opinion. He thinks the businessman was Shakespeare because he regards a successful First Folio hoax as unlikely and that’s perfectly fine agument.

For all I know, Shapiro is right. But I do object to circular reasoning and I object to nonsense and I object to walls. The real problem is the journal editors: if they were impartial, it wouldn’t matter if a Columbia professor overstated his case.

Professor Shapiro’s opinion is valid, but the majority has too much power.

With apologies to Professor “fictional creations” Shapiro, I am going to continue to assume the Sonnets are what they appear to be — first-person missives written by Shakespeare to Southampton and circulated privately for many years that speak directly to the young earl. 

If the Sonnets really are what they appear to be, the provide a lot of information. 

The author of the Sonnets is immodest. He often reminds the reader than he is the world’s greatest writer. His words will outlast “tombs of brass” and so forth. His subject (Southampton) will be remembered forever because he, the author, is so amazing. But, as amazing as the author is and even though the name “Shakespeare” is famous and even though the Sonnets are immortal, the author’s name will be lost to history. 

Here is Sonnet 81: 

Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten,
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read;
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
   You still shall live, such virtue hath my pen,
   Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

The Sonnets and the poems dedicated to Southampton were left out of the First Folio. Had they been included, they would have contradicted the First Folio preface. The Sonnets are telling us in no uncertain terms that the author was a nobleman close to Southampton writing under a pseudonym.

The Sonnets were published by Thomas Thorpe in 1609; the dedication signed T.T. seems to be saying that the author was dead. The Sonnets, as you know, promise Southampton immortality and T.T. wishes the “begetter of these insuing sonnets” — Southampton — “that eternitie promised by our ever-living poet.” T.T. alludes to a line in Shakespeare’s 1 Henry VI in which Henry V lies dead and is eulogized as “that ever-living man of memory.”

Even without knowing the Shakespearean reference, we can guess that “our ever-living poet” is a dead poet. 

Mr. W. H. could be a light disguise for Lord Henry Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton.

To begin wrapping up it’s interesting to see just a little of what Shakespeare’s contemporaries had to say. Basically, they knew he was no writer and said so pretty directly though not directly enough for the mainstream to let go of a broken theory.

In a cryptic epigram, John Davies calls Shakespeare a “Terence” referring to a man who had been enslaved by the Romans and who was known both as a writer and as someone who acted as a front-man for the Roman aristocrats Scipio and Laelius. Today, we know Terence only as a writer but Cicero and Montaigne as well as Elizabethans Ascham and Florio knew Terence as a front-man.

The two epigrams following the “our English Terence” epigram are addressed to “No-body”and “Some-body” and are even more cryptic than the epigram they follow. These epigrams stand out amongst hundreds of straightforward missives expressing Davies’s admiration for the dozens of un-hyphenated address-ees.

McCrea puts epigram 159 in his book, but of course doesn’t mention Cicero, Montaigne, Ascham, Florio, Scipio, or Laelius, and of course says nothing about Terence’s reputation as a front-man, and of course does not mention or reprint the two epigrams that follow epigram 159. McCrea says epigram 159 proves Shakespeare the shareholder was also Shakespeare the writer because Terence was a writer. Shapiro doesn’t say anything about these epigrams. 

A second contemporary reference to the businessman was made by a group of Elizabethan students putting on a madcap skit. The skit features one of Shakespeare’s fellow acting company shareholders, a man named Kempe, talking about their business associate Shakesepeare and also talking about writing and Ovid and one of Ovid’s plays called Metamorphosis. Ovid was probably the single biggest influence on Shakespeare’s works so he was known then and now as an Ovidian poet. 

In the skit, the Kempe character is portrayed as a bumbling fool who doesn’t think much of a university education. The Kempe character says university trained writers don’t sound too good to him because they are too much like “that writer Ovid” and “that writer Metamorphosis.” Then Kempe says his friend Shakespeare is better than “that writer Ovid” and “that writer Metamorphosis.” 

Here’s what “Kempe” says:

Few of the university men plays well, they smell too much of that writer Ovid and that writer Metamorphosis . . . Why here’s our fellow Shakespeare puts them all down . . . 

It takes a lot of work to read this as an endorsement of Kempe’s real-life business associate, Shakespeare of Stratford. In the play, Kempe not only doesn’t know what an Ovidian poet is, he doesn’t even know what a writer is. And he’s bragging about what a great writer his friend Shakespeare is.

Who regards the businessman as a writer? The skit’s answer is succinct: Fools.  

It sounds to me like Davies and the students knew there was a businessman who happened to be named Shakespeare who was associated with the acting company. And it sounds like they regarded the businessman as, respectively, a front-man and a joke. But I am, at this point, pretty biased because the First Folio evidence seems so heavily outweighed by 1580’s Shakespeare, the signatures of the businessman, and the money paid to de Vere. 

Still, there’s no proof de Vere wrote the plays so you are free to regard Shakspere (the name on his birth record) as the legal author pending hard evidence. But “legal” isn’t the same as “actual.” And there was once a manuscript copy of a play written in Edward de Vere’s hand. The description of the play in a diary entry makes it sound an awful lot like Twelfth Night. If that manuscript is ever found and if it really is Twelfth Night, it would be a smoking gun. 

For the time being, I follow the famous Shakespearean actor Sir Derek Jacobi who notes that Shakespeare’s works are richer, clearer, more powerful, and more enjoyable when you read them while keeping the life of Edward de Vere in the back of your mind.

Once you have decided de Vere wrote the plays, Mark Anderson’s biography, which looks at the plays under the assumption that de Vere wrote them, is illuminating as no other Shakespeare book could hope to be. Much of the insider commentary contained in the plays can only be explained by de Vere’s authorship and some things become clearer once one takes it as given that de Vere is the author. Thus, Anderson’s book is partly a proof of de Vere’s authorship and partly an application of that knowledge. 

Edward de Vere was probably Shakespeare . . .

. . . and if that’s true, Anderson’s book gives you the full inside scoop on the Queen’s court.

Let’s review.

Circa 1580, a series of amazingly erudite plays containing accurate quips, jibes, and pokes referencing the Queen, her courtiers, and the goings-on at court come out and are wildly popular. The Queen loves the anonymous plays and supports them lavishly including the first-ever four-figure stipend handed to the leading court playwright, Edward de Vere. This writer who never put his name on a play has hired as literary secretaries John Lyly and Anthony Munday. In 1593 and 1594, two epic poems appear in beautiful form complete with dedications to the Earl of Southampton from “William Shakespeare.”

In 1594, an anonymous bootleg of a play appears. By 1598, more anonymous bootlegs have appeared and now plays are sometimes published anonymously and sometimes with the “Shakespeare” byline. In all, sixteen of the thirty-six First Folio plays are published in editions of wildly varying quality, all clearly without participation of the author.

The Sonnets are written during the 1590’s and early 1600’s. They are private, first-person missives expressing the author’s love of and support for the Earl of Southampton. The Sonnets begin with a passionate argument for the young earl’s marriage — Southampton was supposed to marry Elizabeth Vere. Later, the Sonnets chronicle Southampton’s miraculous release from the Tower after his disastrous attempt to control the royal succession.

In 1623, Edward de Vere’s son-in-law publishes thirty-six plays in the First Folio including plays that had not even been bootlegged as of 1616. The First Folio gives authorship credit to an illiterate businessman named Shakespeare who owned shares in London’s leading acting company and who died in 1616. The preface says the acting company has been holding the play manuscripts for decades. Two letters supposedly written by two of the businessman’s associates (but that bear stylistic similarities to the writing of Ben Jonson according to some mainstream scholars) say the play manuscripts are a “present” for the earls to preserve the memory of Shakespeare of Stratford. The acting company shareholders apparently aren’t interested in profiting from the publication of thte plays.   

Four hundred years later, after having gradually uncovered all of the above information, mainstream scholars cannot get away from their initial belief that the First Folio preface was accurate. They turn Shakespeare into a plagiarist in order to explain 1580’s Shakespeare (anything is possible), say bizarre things about the gigantic sum paid to de Vere in order to keep him out of the picture (denial), and regard Shakespeare’s only private, first-person writing as “fictional creations” (more denial). Magical “source” plays are conjured (anything is possible) out of the aether to account for the author’s knowledge of the Queen’s court. 

The unmistakable identification of the acting company shareholder Shake-speare as “our English Terence,” cryptic references to “Some-body” and “No-body” and comments about “that writer Metamorphosis” are not regarded by the mainstream as evidence contradicting the First Folio preface (denial).

Not even the demonstrable illiteracy of the well-known businessman identified by the First Folio preface creates any doubt whatsoever in mainstream circles (denial).

Normally, I don’t like to repeat a “theory” when it is just babbling drivel spouted from that all-important tool of the propagandist: the firehose of falsehood. Professional propagandists like Rush Limbaugh know that they can make up a hundred nonsensical stories in the time it takes to debunk one of them and so they always lace their diatribes with nonsense.

Normally, you would expect professors to be above propaganda, and I don’t like to rub their noses in it when they stoop to it, but I will mention here a few of the comments about the money the Queen handed to the leading court playwright. It’s an enormous amount of money obviously for de Vere’s writing which was the only thing he was good at. This does not prove she was paying Shakespeare: for all we know Edward de Vere was being paid to edit the businessman’s work or write other plays or some other thing we haven’t guessed. 

But professors seem intent on explaining the payments to de Vere as “not for writing.”

McCrea’s book is actually quite wonderful because he usually faces issues (like the signatures) squarely and proposes plausible scenarios to keep the First Folio true. However, when it comes to the thousand-pounds-a-year, McCrea descends into nonsense:

“By 1586, Oxford was ruined politically and financially. He had been selling off estates to pay his bills for years, dramatically reducing the value of his earldom. If there was to be an Earl of Oxford in generations to come, Elizabeth would have to provide [italics added] funds to support him. Which she did. She granted Oxford a pension of a thousand pounds a year.”

This is pretty well disguised and may sound perfectly reasonable, but it is actually drivel unworthy of McCrea or any other scholar. Elizabeth would NEVER lavish a huge stipend on an earl as a reward for being irresponsible. She wouldn’t have lasted five minutes as Queen with that attitude. If you displeased Queen Elizabeth I, you would end up in the Tower if you were lucky and without your head if you were unlucky and that was true regardless of your rank. 

Professor Alan Nelson of Berkeley (!) offered up the following whopper in a compilation of essays written by mainstream scholars wallowing in certainty. The collection is called Shakespeare Beyond Doubt. Here’s Nelson plying his wares:

“Then, beginning in 1586, in exchange for his good behavior [italics added], Oxford accepted an annuity of 1000 pounds carefully disbursed in quarterly increments.” 

McCrea and Nelson both claim to believe that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was paid a huge unprecedented sum because he was an irresponsible rascal who bankrupted his earldom. But they both know government bailouts for rich people are a modern invention. They both know no one with any instinct for self-preservation would have suggested such a thing to Queen Elizabeth even as a joke. 

Sometimes knowledge means nothing. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz knew all about the Amanda Knox case and is a world class expert in the evaluation of evidence including forensic evidence. He said Knox was probably guilty. He’s a Harvard professor and he was engaging in mindless posturing. This level of drivel from a professor was particularly egregious because lives were at stake.

Harvard should pretend they never heard of the guy.

I’m sorry to be impolitic. But the philosopher Paul Valérey said, “Politeness is organized indifference,” and I find myself in agreement here, sometimes unable to stay polite even though ad hominem attacks are usually unproductive and should be avoided to the extent possible. 

But sometimes there’s no choice.

Those special people at institutions large and small, renowned and humble, scholars and thinkers, professors charged with holding the chalice of research, rational thought, deep study, and intelligent debate, the keepers of understanding itself, the sources of all progress and knowledge, for them and of them I have the highest respect and the highest expectations. So words cannot express the horror I feel when literature professors Shapiro, McCrea, and Nelson dash what to me is a sacred chalice upon the hard stone of a wall built to block their own colleagues from expressing their opinions.

I don’t mind the books they write pushing certainty when there is none to be had — that’s expected. But they can write their books without turning into mini-Dershowitz’s.

Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, during a TV interview, opined that Amanda Knox might have received the “death penalty” if the tragedy in Italy had happened here. Knox was displayed for VIP’s for four years like a piece of artwork while she rotted in an Italian jail. One of the inventors of modern forensic genetics, Peter Gill, wrote a book in which the Knox case was a prime example of the misuse of the technology he and his colleagues developed. Professor Dershowitz is without parallel in the world of professors sinking to the level of slime.

I don’t think Shapiro, McCrea, and Nelson are in Dershowitz’s league, but even being in the same ballpark as the D-word would be a disaster. They just need to do a little editing of their work to stay on the straight and narrow and they also need to recommend that journals allow colleagues who disagree with them to publish so that a proper discussion can be had. 

The contributors are all brilliant and knowledgeable, but I had to hunt as for needles in haystacks in my effort to find coherent arguments.

The other place where mainstream scholars descend to scary-low levels is when they talk about Italy.

Again, there is nothing wrong with pointing out that Shakespeare had the right name, was involved with the theater, and was identified as the author by a reliable source that was not contradicted in any direct way by any known contemporary. It is also fine to say it is possible all of his books, manuscripts, and letters were simply lost and it is fine to remind us that just because his daughters were illiterate doesn’t mean he was. And, yes, it could be the case that he had clerks sign for him because he was very busy or he hurt his hand or any one of a hundred perfectly plausible scenarios.

I don’t buy it, but if you want to create a million different plausible scenarios each of which saves the First Folio preface for posterity with no thought of self-profit or fame, that’s all well and good with me. Feel free to create scenarios until the universe ends. 

Just don’t tell me Shakespeare never saw Italy. Whenever any of you try the Italy thing, the conversation goes straight into Dershowitzland. Whoever wrote the plays went to Italy and your guy might have been to Italy at some point for all we know so you can still save the precious preface. I realize assuming a businessman who probably never left England was in Italy isn’t a pretty picture for you, but it’s better than the firehose of falsehood spewed all over perfectly clean pages that never did anything to you for the sole purpose of keeping Shakespeare out of Italy. 

For Shapiro, Shakespeare never went to Italy. Instead he learned about Italy by engaging in “a few choice conversations” with travelers. This is like saying Einstein could have learned physics by “listening to a few lectures” but I note that Shapiro is savvy enought to utter his whopper and quickly move on. 

McCrea, however, goes into detail about Italy and of course digs himself into an embarrassingly deep hole. But we are indebted to him because he gives us a chance to see how ridiculous ridiculous gets.   

McCrea says Shakespeare referred to “absurd canals” in Italy. McCrea is sure canals did not connect Italian city-states to rivers in the 16th century. So Verona, for example, wasn’t connected to the River Adige via canals. Therefore, McCrea informs us, Shakespeare did not travel between Verona and other city-states on 16th century waterways and did not use this experience when he wrote Romeo and Juliet and had characters making such travels. The canals, McCrea says are absurd. Shakespeare just made them up. And that proves he wasn’t in Italy.

Except for one thing: whoever wrote the plays had been to Italy and had detailed knowledge about travel on the waterways that served as crucial trade conduits for Italian city-states in the 16th century. There are a few ways to begin to check this out. One way is to use this amazing technology called “Google Earth” where you can, in a minute or two with a decent internet connection, see the canals, some of which have been in use for centuries, in their modern incarnation.

Slightly more time must be expended to verify that whoever wrote Shakespeare was not the only person to have detailed knowledge of the “absurd canals.” Montaigne traveled on them and wrote about the experience just as Shakespeare did. And no, Professor McCrea, Montaigne’s descriptions are not sufficiently detailed to have allowed Shakespeare to write his plays. 

Finally, we note that there are things called papers that exist in places called archives that people paid to be scholars can visit. And on those papers and in those archives is this amazing thing called “information.” You can find out, as Richard Roe did when he went to Italy to write Shakespeare’s Guide to Italy, that the absurd canals were built by small armies of men hired by rulers of the city-states. And you can, thereby, avoid embarrassment. 

Edward de Vere, needless to say, traveled extensively in Italy. In fact, he literally “sold his lands to see other men’s” just as the line in Shakespeare says. He visited Verona, Venice, Padua, and many other Italian cities during a months-long sojourn south of England. He didn’t use Google Earth in 1580 and he didn’t have “a few choice conversations.”

The man who would become the Queen’s playwright spent the better part of year in Italy as a young man acquiring the minute geographical details found in the Italian plays that were not available in any book then in England and sometimes even today can only be verified by a researcher who takes the trouble to actually go to Italy. 

Google Earth is a recent invention so it’s understandable if some modern scholars haven’t heard of it.

In Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? with a question mark, Alexander Waugh writes what I think is the definitive essay on the mainstream’s painful attempt to keep Italy out of the discussion. One mainstream scholar (Doherty) Waugh takes to task claimed there is no Saint Peter’s Church in Verona (!) and concluded in fine McCrea style that the author of Romeo and Juliet (set in Verona) was therefore never in the city.

Doherty thinks the businessman who had a helluva time just getting from Stratford to London must have simply made up the name of the church complete with the fine detail given in the play. If Doherty’s “scholarship” sounds silly and unworthy of any professor, that’s because it is. 

Waugh, rather annoyed, says the problem for a researcher that wants to actually work is not that there is no Saint Peter’s church in Verona but that of the four (yes, four) Saint Peter’s churches in 16th century Verona (all of which exist today) only one matches the fine detail in the play. It is helpful to physically be in Italy, as Roe was, to determine which of the four (yes, four) churches the author had in mind when he wrote the play. In that case, it is easy to identify San Pietro Incarnario as the church so carefully described by the English author who had a love affair with Italy and with all things Italian.

Doherty, McCrea, and Shapiro embarrass the whole idea of a college professor not so much because they make mistakes but because a TON of research has been done regarding Shakespeare’s Italy and they can’t even bother with minor fact-checking because they feel they have no choice but too keep that author in England in order to save their precious First Folio preface whose interests they serve without question. But the First Folio preface is an inanimate object, with no interests at all and no need to be defended like a beloved monarch.

It’s just a preface. And besides, some mainstream professors have simply said the businessman must have gone to Italy at some point (which is plausible if not exactly likely) and have thereby avoided embarrassment. 

I have decried, I hope without too much of the shrill in my voice, circular reasoning. I have inveighed, I hope not too violently, against scholarship so sloppy it verges on the dishonest. One last transgression I wish to complain about, if you will indulge me, is petty meanness.

I have a Ph.D. in physics. My dissertation committee followed my work for years, read my thesis, read the journal articles I published, looked over my raw data, demanded corrections and additional studies, and granted my doctorate when they were satisfied with the work. With centuries of combined experience to guide them, they did their jobs. So it was excruciating for me to read Shapiro quoting “independent scholars” who found what they regard as flaws in Stritmatter’s dissertation that the UMass Amherst committee according to Shapiro “apparently failed to notice.” 

Shapiro followed these low blows with an attempt to show that Stritmatter’s thesis is invalid on the basis of a statistical argument whose speciousness set an Olympic record. Shapiro used technique ii, demand perfection to attack the thesis as not proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that de Vere wrote the plays.

Of course, no such claim was made. Stritmatter’s thesis identifies Shakespeare’s favorite biblical allusions from those repeated in multiple plays. Stritmatter also identifies similar numbers of favorite biblical allusions of other authors repeated in their plays. Stritmatter then checks how many favorite allusions from various authors are underlined in de Vere’s bible and also what percentage of an author’s favorite allusions are underlined. 

Dozens of Shakespeare allusions are underlined in de Vere’s bible. No other author Stritmatter used in his comparison gets past single digits. When this is done with percentages, the result is the same. This is not fancy statistics and there is nothing to argue about. If you want, you can say de Vere may simply have liked to underline Shakespearean biblical allusions in his bible more so than he liked to underline biblical allusions by other authors.

Of course Stritmatter didn’t prove de Vere wrote the plays. What he did in addition to some very basic and inarguable statistics was to carefully analyze underlinings that were not known to be Shakespearean. Working from the de Vere bible to the plays, he found many Shakespearean biblical allusions not previously recognized as such. Of course this work is interesting and of course Stritmatter deserved his Ph.D.

Shapiro’s whining about the percentages in Stritmatter’s thesis using “analysis” of the independent scholars is not just a low blow — it’s grotesque.

Let’s wrap this part up. Euclid’s demonstration of the power of deductive reasoning as applied to geometry and its subsequent absorption into the mindset of the entire world is millenia old. But we’re still facing circular reasoning used by college professors. Yes, it is possible the businessman was a great writer just as the First Folio preface says. No, the printed title pages are not “overwhelming evidence” the businessman was literate. 

Greta Thunberg, living somewhat more recently than Euclid, has been a beacon of honest assessment and we should all try to live up to her. In so doing we will of course not pretend the author of Shakespeare’s works “made up” hundreds of accurate details about Italy or got them from books or from “a few choice conversations.” I assume Greta frowns on that sort of thing. Anyway, researchers should do research if that is not too much to ask. 

I nominate Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) as the beacon of kindness. There is no need to claim someone’s Ph.D. isn’t valid. There is no need to claim it in a book. There is no need to claim it in a conversation. There is no need to claim it anywhere. The precious preface might yet survive one person writing a dissertation about how it may be exaggerating the businessman’s abilities by a tiny amount. And a little kindness goes a long way.

I fear that I myself may not have not lived up to the examples of Euclid, Greta, and Mr. Rogers. If so, I humbly apologize and I wish you to know I am always trying to improve. If we all make such an effort, I think we can reach understanding and create consensus and make progress.

Let us hope tomorrow is just slightly better than today. 

San Pietro Incarnario, the real church and the setting for Romeo and Juliet that one scholar says Shakespeare made up.

Waugh’s contribution is not exactly soft spoken but I think appropriate condemnation of mainstream Italy denial.

In Italy, Roe discovered that Shakespeare’s Duke’s Oak capitalized was a real place. The reason for the capitalization had long eluded scholars.

We mustn’t forget that despite all the nonsense that has been perpetrated, Shapiro and McCrea and Nelson and the rest of the mainstream might be right anyway: maybe the businessman was not really illiterate.

Maybe we’ll find a manuscript or a receipt for delivery of a play or a book Shakespeare of Stratford gifted to a friend or a diary entry by one of his friends about the businessman’s intense dual life as both full-time writer and full-time businessman or perhaps a letter the businessman wrote home to a literate friend in Stratford while he, Shakespeare, was in London researching one of the history plays will turn up or . . . well maybe someday we’ll have something other than the nothing we have at the moment.

It’s unlikely but possible.

If I someday have to admit to being wrong, that is perfectly fine with me and — and this is the most important part of this essay — it doesn’t matter at all if I’m wrong. 

Understanding why (the unlikely event of) my being wrong about de Vere would mean nothing at all is a matter of philosophy and, as I learned from a brilliant young woman while we were climbing a New Hampshire mountain, “All good conversations end in philosophy” and so it shall be today.

Suppose the space shuttle had launched successfully in January 1986 and suppose Christa McAuliffe were alive today. Had it gone that way, had we been lucky, does that mean it is suddenly okay to ignore engineers when they say “no fucking way”?

Of course not.  

If an apparently illiterate businessman is actually the most erudite man in all England, does that mean we should drop rational thought and embrace political calculation over honest inquiry?


If we find out de Vere was paid a thousand pounds a year because he had pretty eyes, should we then regard status as our gold, silver, and bronze medals and relegate to reality to tenth place, an afterthought hardly noticed?


If the businessman really is Shakespeare should we then give up on all progress and allow hallowed tradition to Trump hard evidence just because it’s easier that way?


If you had to bet a thousand pounds, who would you bet on? Would you put it on a businessman who couldn’t write his name or would you put it on the Queen’s playwright who literally sold his lands to see other men’s? 

What if you were offered thousand-to-one odds if you bet on the businessman? Would you do it then?

Is there any chance at all Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare or is the whole idea utter nonsense?

You know as much as you need to know (well, read the post-script) so you tell me. What are the odds?

— Thor Klamet 

Post Script

The gravesite, unmentioned so far, is literally rock-solid evidence and you may, after reading about it, regard me as a fraud for leaving it to a post-script. I am not trying to deceive you. I just think the gravesite doesn’t have any more information in it than a Rorshack inkblot. It’s worth looking at, but you can literally see anything in it that you like and what you see can change every time you look.

In 1623, the First Folio preface mentions “thy Stratford moniment” which seems to refer to stonework with inscriptions in the Stratford church. Shakespeare is presumably buried somewhere on the church grounds or maybe under the stones in the church itself. 

Epitaphs were common enough in Elizabethan times just as they are today. Here are some examples of epitaphs for writers. 

With thee our English verse was raised on high. (Spenser)

He that can write so well. (Beaumont)

A memorable poet of the age. (Drayton)

A christian philosopher and homerical poet. (Chapman)

These were typical. There’s an epitaph for Shakespeare. It isn’t typical. 

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear
To digg the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be that man that spares these stones
And cursed by he that moves my bonds. 

There’s no name on the stone but it sits next to Shakespeare family members in the church and is presumably his gravestone. No one knows why there is doggerel on it. One could guess or one could start with a premise and shoe-horn. But there is no point. It is what it is and it is doggerel.  

Mark Twain suggested the following epitaph for Shakespeare:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this 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.

Obviously, Mark Twain’s suggestion is Shakespeare (from The Tempest) while the doggerel is not. 

So far we haven’t found a great writer buried in the church. However, there is also a bust on the wall of the church complete with an indecipherable but still interesting inscription.

Here are two drawings of the bust, one from 1630 and one from a hundred years later. 

Engraving of Shakespeare bust circa 1630.

Engraving of Shakespeare bust circa 1730.

The first likeness doesn’t have pen and paper. But a century later the pen and paper appear. No one knows why there is a discrepancy. All sources agree on the text of the inscription.

Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem
Terra tegit, populus moeret, Olympus habet.

Stay Passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Read if thou canst, whom envious Death hath placed 
Within this monument Shakespeare: with whom
Quick nature died: whose name doth deck this tomb   
Far more than cost: since all that he hath writ
Leaves living art, but page to serve his wit.

The Latin in the first line says that Shakespeare was a Pylian in judgment, a Socrates in genius, and a Maro in art. The second line says the earth covers, the people mourn, Olympus holds.

The comparisons to King Nestor of Pylos, to Socrates, and to Virgil make no sense at all for the poet and playwright Shakespeare unless you know nothing and are just picking random people from antiquity as comparators. The English that follows is also mostly meaningless though it does say “all that he hath writ . . .” which makes no sense for an illiterate businessman but might fit a writer if you could figure out what it was saying which no one can do, not even experts.  

Much has been written by people trying to interpret the gravesite in their favor but none of it is definitive or even all that useful in my view. The doggerel either implies he wasn’t Shakespeare as Mark Twain argued or it does not imply any such thing. The original bust either had pen and paper or the pen and paper were added later. The phrase “all that he hath writ” either means he was Shakespeare, the greatest writer in England, or it doesn’t.

No analysis I’ve ever read is really acceptable because everyone starts with a premise and then interprets the monument based on their premise. There’s nothing wrong with this since there’s probably no other way to interpret the monument, but the monument, once interpreted, can’t serve to strengthen the premise used to do the interpretation. That would be circular reasoning. I claim we can’t interpret the monument until we decide by other means who wrote the plays.

All we know is that the doggerel and the phrase “all that he hath writ” appear to have been extant when the First Folio preface was written. The doggerel contradicts the First Folio preface while the mention of writing lends support to the First Folio preface. This is why I left the monument to a post-script.

Some people say the monument AND the First Folio preface were all falsified but this becomes problematic because if you are guessing that there was a hoax, you can always just say any evidence you don’t like is part of the hoax and there are limits to how far that can go before it becomes ridiculous. 

We’re stuck with all the evidence as it stands — the First Folio preface with its clear identification, the odd gravesite, the inconsistent signatures, 1580’s Shakespeare, inside information in the plays, money paid to de Vere, and everything else. We don’t have video from the time or living eyewitnesses to question and so we have to accept some uncertainty and some inevitable conflict in the evidence.

Conflicting evidence can be “resolved” and wrinkles smoothed out with clever scenarios, conjecture, guesswork, and so forth but, as a first examination, one has to look at all of the evidence without the bias introduced by a clever story that magically makes all of the evidence fit together. After one carefully weighs the evidence, only then can one risk making up some story or other from it and even then one has to always keep in the front of one’s mind how easily we fool ourselves.

We don’t know who wrote the plays: probably it was either the Queen’s playwright or the businessman identified in the First Folio preface, but for all we know it could have been someone else. Pay your money and take your choice. There are more details of course but I don’t think we’ll get much further until the mainstream pulls its head out of . . . um . . . the sand. 

The bust of Shakespeare as it appears today.

Post Post-Script

Whenever I read the work of the top mainsteam Shakespeare-wrote-Shakespeare scholars, I keep expecting to turn the page and read, “And this is why we aren’t sure we have the right guy.” But it never happens; they always seem to convince themselves that in spite of everything, the businessman from Stratford was somehow Shakespeare. And yet sometimes it almost seems like they know he probably wasn’t. 

Schoenbaum on the fact that people in Stratford knew him only as a businessman:

“What did fellow townsmen think of the [man who we think was the] distinguished playwright of the Chamberlain’s company and the [man who we think was the] 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 as a man shrewd in practical affairs [but not as the greatest writer in England] and approachable (if need be) for a substantial loan on good security.”

Schoenbaum on the missing biography:  

“Perhaps we should despair of ever bridging the vertiginous expanse between the sublimity of the subject [beautiful poetry] and the mundane inconsequence of the documentary record [a pile of business documents]. What would we not give for a single personal letter, one page of diary [which would at least prove him literate]!”

Honigmann wondering how non-stop business activity could fit in with a writing career:

“If one lists all of these various activities in chronological order, one wonders how the dramatist found time to go on writing plays.”

Park Honan channeling Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson):

“Shakespeare seems to have fluorished with a certain annihilation of the sense of himself.”

The real name of the Cheshire Cat’s creator was not Lewis Carroll.


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 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.

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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.

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.”


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. 
Edmund Spenser had a flowing hand.
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George Peele wrote with straight clarity.
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. 
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.


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.

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

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.

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.

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

furuiue = survive

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


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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).


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.


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?


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


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!


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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.23.56 AM

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

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.23.43 AM

Closeup of the part Shakspere wrote.


Ben Jonson was a writer and had a smooth hand.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.09.06 AM

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

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 2.16.03 PM

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

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

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

Shakspere biographer Schoenbaum marvels that Shakspere’s “townsmen” didn’t seem to know he was a writer — 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 8.13.24 PM

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.


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.


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.”


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 . . .


Only the finest for my lovely boy.


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. 


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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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.


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.


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.


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.

(Arturo de Felice, Chief of Police, Corriere dell’Umbria, 7 November 2007)

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


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


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.


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.


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.”


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:


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.


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.


“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.”


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.


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


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.”


Through closed eyes, Guede was “vede tutto rosso.


Only once before had Guede “vedere tanto sangue.


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


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.


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.



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.


In the United States, we would kill her.

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


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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


. . . 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.


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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 7.39.41 PM

“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.

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.


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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 1.06.54 PM

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



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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.




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.


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.


What we gave you already isn’t enough?


We don’t usually include the data you want.


The data you want won’t tell you anything.


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.


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


“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.


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.


Negative for blood. Negative for human species.


Negative for DNA. Negative for competence. 


No positive control. No negative control.


Your methods virtually guarantee contamination.


Without negative controls, your results are meaningless.


You have nothing.


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.


Dust carries large quantities of human DNA.


The bra clasp was visibly contaminated.


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


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.


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.


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.


She’s guilty. So there.

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


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).


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.


Yes, really.

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


“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.


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.


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


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!).


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.


Homecoming, 2011.


Exonerated, 2015.


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.


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.