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Scipio Who?

August 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Reasoning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s right, they cancelled the launch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Lund acquiesed.

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

Reality doesn’t obey authority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is the Most Irrational of Them All?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something was about to go down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shakespearean Tragedy in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Harold Bloom 1930 – 2019.

The First Folio Strikes Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Deadly Coin Flip Grows Nigh

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

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

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

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

The Stratfordian Framework

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

So goes the mainstream argument and it is perfectly sensible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oxfordian Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one knows why Rose was capitalized and italicized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just asking.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILLIAM [stupidly]: Which he, sir?

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

William departs. 

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

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

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

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

Legal Reasoning

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

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

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

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

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

If Shakespeare Didn’t Write Shakespeare, You Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lawless Bloody Book of Forg’d Rebellion

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

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

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

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

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

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

And cursed be he that moves my bones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Kuhnian World

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

Ben Jonson’s Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commonplace evidence for Jonson . . .

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

. . . would give a Shakespeare biographer heart palpitations.

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

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

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

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

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

We will escape.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 7.09.14 PM

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

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

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

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

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

Read it sooner rather than later.

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

The Mythical Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scipio Who?

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

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

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

The lost library was, well, lost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Davies of Hereford was a teacher, specifically a writing master — he wrote The Writing Schoole-Master, a popular manual that saw its 16th edition in 1636. In 1611, he published a series of 292 epigrams about various timely topics and numerous real people, including Shakespeare whom he called “Shake-speare.” It was called The Scourge of Folly. Epigram 159 tells us all we need to know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The List of Davies’s Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Upstart Crow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Greene’s Dying Words

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

Greene’s friends (usually identified as Peele, Marlowe, and Nashe) should “seek better Masters.” They must not allow their “admired inventions” to fall into the hands of this Ape who by rights should be left with nothing but the ability to “imitate your past excellence.”

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

Greene’s moneyed monster had a “Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide.” Shakespeare’s remorseless Queen Margaret had a “Tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide.”

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

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

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

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

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

A Deep and Abiding Whiff of Ovid

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

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

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

Scholarly Schizophrenia

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

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

Scholarly Schizophrenia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Euclidean Debacle

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

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

“The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end . . .” (Lucrece, dedication);
“From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die” (Sonnet 1);
“Make thee another self for love of me” (Sonnet 10);
“thou art all the better part of me” (Sonnet 39);
“Your name from hence immortal life shall have” (Sonnet 81);
“O thou my lovely boy . . .” (Sonnet 126).

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

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

Shapiro’s Words of Kuhnian Beauty

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

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

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

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

Conspiracy Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Earl of Southampton

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

Outrageous Fortune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it happened. King James ordered Southampton released. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sonnets

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

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

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

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

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

Rational Speculation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utter Nonsense

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

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

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

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

Houston, Houston, Do You Copy?

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 9.27.45 PM
Lord Burghley’s descendant, Michael William Cecil, discussing Shakespeare’s apparent intimate knowledge of his ancestor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t look down! Keep climbing.

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

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

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

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

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

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-10-31-00-am
furuiue = survive

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

cliffface

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

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

5 Comments
  1. Could you send me the (web)source where you found the signature of George Peele you illustrated in your contribution.- I suppose it’s from the last page of the anonymous play of Edward I, (attributed to Peele) written at exactly the same time 1593 in the same city (London) when Marlowe’s Edward II was written.-

  2. [Yesterday I wrote a comment that unfortunately has disappeared today – for whatever reason … I’ll try again].
    I recently became aware of your profound blog. Congratulations! Although I am deeply impressed by your immense knowledge and your conclusions, at the same time I am a little sad , since Marlowe does not seem to play any significant role …What a pity!
    According to my research, without the Marlowe Thesis you will not be able to ever solve the unspeakable authorship problem..

    but the problem (of a multiple pseudonymity) is more complex and complicated. Before I stretch out here for a long time, you may want to check out a recent youtube post

  3. Sorry the second link was falsely the same than the first

    • I’ll check out your link soon. Thanks for the input. Nothing wrong with multiple candidates in my view. The mainstream uses the number of alternative candidates proposed as an indication that the authorship question is not worth discussing. On the contrary, it is natural to have multiple candidates given the incredibly weak case for Shakspere of Stratford.

      Thanks for reading. I don’t have much of an audience yet I’m afraid. Someday.

  4. Sorry, I am not sure , you understood me correctly, I represent exactly the opposite thesis. There were no multiple candidates of literary geniuses around in Shakespeares time … only one, but an unimaginable outstanding and exeptional one, with a multiplicity of pseudonyms or pennames ,,,,and there was not such an inflation of “teamwork and cooperation” between Shakespeare and others…

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