Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Stromata    |     home
previous     next          up
Deconstructing the Stratford Man   |   A Test of Sobran's Method   |   VERitable Lunacy   |   A Malcontent of High Degree   |   Poets of the Queen   |   The Lesser Life   |   The Player's the Thing   |   A New Stratfordian Champion   |   The Gray Lady Flirts With the Earl of Oxford   |   From Mapplethorpe to Oxenford   |   Life (5 Stars) and Lit Crit (Zero)   |   Trollope Abroad   |   No Bottom to This Barrel   |   Querulous Notes (March 2002)   |   Querulous Notes (2002-2003)   |   Querulous Notes (2004)
A New Stratfordian Champion
Scott McCrea, The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question (Praeger, 2005)
In his introduction to Milward W. Martin’s Was Shakespeare Shakespeare? (1965), Louis Marder, founder of the Shakespeare Newsletter, wrote,
A book on Shakespeare that would completely silence the skeptics who deny the Stratford man’s authorship is an impossibility. The skeptics simply refuse to see, and those who refuse to see always continue to be blind.
He later quotes a psychiatrist’s reaction to polemics on the “Authorship Question”:
I doubt whether you have converted any heretics. The issue at stake is beyond the reality principle and fulfills emotional needs much as any illusory belief does and thus cannot be influenced by fact and reason.
Scott McCrea, too, concedes, near the conclusion of his study [p. 217] that –
. . . despite my subtitle, there can never be an end to the Authorship Question. No appeal to evidence can ever convince true believers, because nothing can disprove their fixed idea.
In the face of this pessimistic prognosis, Mr. McCrea, a practicing playwright who teaches at SUNY’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film, makes a game attempt to demonstrate to anti-Stratfordians that they approach “Who wrote Shakespeare?” from the wrong direction. His final paragraph is an appeal to break the bounds of dogmatism:
“If you get [the Author] wrong,” Oxford partisan Charles Vere has warned, “you get the Elizabethan Age wrong.” I would go further and say we get ourselves wrong. The idea that one must be born an earl to empathize with earls is a misunderstanding of the power of human imagination. It’s a child’s view of reality, in which one can gain knowledge only through experience. How we look at history and reality matters. We can try to make sense of the world and make decisions based on reason, or we can cling to our prejudices. We can defend our wrong ideas to the death or be open to the possibility of changing our minds. The time has come for Oxfordians to make that choice. They need to realize they’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope, and they should stop inviting the unwitting to take a peek. . . . It’s time for every conspiracy theorist to step off the intellectual carousel and become, in the words of an alderman’s son from Stratford, “as one new-risen from a dream”. [p. 223]
Anti-Stratfordians are, of course, convinced that it is the “orthodox” who have the telescope by the wrong end. To judge who is right, Mr. McCrea contrasts the opposing methodologies.
The Stratfordian “method”, reduced to its simplest terms, begins with the evidence that happens to be extant and draws from it what conclusions are possible. Inevitably some aspects of the Author’s life and works [Mr. McCrea adopts the useful convention of referring to the man who wrote the Shakespearean canon as “the Author”, which I shall follow] remain dark. We are unlikely ever to know with great confidence how far the Sonnets are autobiographical, what religious opinions the Author held, whence he derived his interest in and knowledge of Italy, whether he wrote or co-wrote plays that are not in the canon, or which episodes in the works reflect first-hand experience. On the other hand, the orthodox way of looking at the data, with its implicit assumption that they have not suffered any material degree of tampering, leads to certainty, beyond reasonable if not all possible doubt, that the Author was William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, born in 1564 to a prominent local family, educated at the Stratford grammar school, described in contemporary records as a member of the troupe that first performed most of the plays of “Shakespeare”, commemorated as a writer on a monument erected in his home town, and explicitly identified as the Author in the introductory matter to the First Folio.
The anti-Stratfordians proceed in an entirely different way. Their first step is to ascertain, largely through speculative reading of the works though occasionally, as in Diana Price’s Shakespeares Unorthodox Biography, with a color of empiricism, what evidence ought to exist. Because the plays frequently deal with warfare, are oft times set in Italy, contain more classical learning than the average contemporary American commands, abound in metaphors drawn from the law, and largely concern the doings of aristocrats, it follows that we ought to be able to find in the Author’s biography participation in military affairs, travel on the continent, matriculation at one of the great universities, legal training, and immersion in the upper class milieu. Since the “Stratford man” cannot be demonstrated to have possessed those indicia, he cannot be the Author, and all positive evidence in his favor must be the product of misapprehension or falsification. Any alternative interpretation of it, however far-fetched, is to be preferred to a straightforward one that supports the “impossible” Stratfordian claim.
Having dismissed Shakespeare of Stratford in this manner, the doubters proceed to find the genuine Shakespeare through a form of intuitive deduction:
Instead of looking at all the evidence and piecing it together like a puzzle – or a brontosaur – a single item of data is used to determine the Author’s identity, a single bone decides the shape of the whole skeleton. Other bones are either ignored or arranged in such a way as to construct the preordained outcome – a stegosaur, let’s say. [p. 129]
Once the candidate is selected, it is always possible to find coincidences between his life and something in the million-word Shakespearean corpus. Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland (1576-1612) [pp. 130-1], for instance, had a brother named Oliver with whom he quarreled (cf. As You Like It), attended the University of Padua (cf. The Taming of the Shrew and the Italian plays generally), where his fellow students included two Danes named Rosenkrans and Gyldenstjerne (cf. Hamlet), was a friend of the Earl of Southampton (dedicatee of the narrative poems), headed an English embassy to Denmark in 1603 (Hamlet again), and died at the same time that the Author ceased writing. Yet all of those coincidences mean nothing. While Rutland has a small band of anti-Stratfordian followers, he was born too late to be a plausible Author. It strains credulity that he produced at least 15 of the plays and the two narrative poems by his 21st birthday. There is, furthermore, nothing in the fairly copious documentation of his life to hint at any connection with literature.
Since Mr. McCrea is comparing and contrasting two methodologies, his book falls naturally into two parts. The first follows the Stratfordian path, assembling contemporary statements that identify the Author as “William Shakespeare”; William Shakespeare as an actor, member of the Lord Chamberlain’s and King’s Men, and part-owner of the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres; and the theatrical personality as a native of Stratford-upon-Avon. This kind of assembling of testimonia has been done before (e. g., in Dave Kathman and Tom Reedy’s “How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare”); Mr. McCrea’s version is the best that I’ve seen and manages to avoid descending to a dry factual catalogue.
Going beyond the bare records, he also surveys the various areas in which, according to skeptics, the Stratford man’s knowledge or attainments were unequal to those of the Author, showing in each instance that nothing in the works is alien to the experience of a man of Shakespeare’s background. Here there is a methodological issue that he discusses only in passing: Anti-Stratfordians refuse to accept inferences, no matter how likely, about what the Stratford man could have known. Thus many of them will not accept that he was literate, notwithstanding the existence of a well-regarded grammar school in Stratford-upon-Avon to which John Shakespeare had the right, as an alderman, to send his children free of charge. Nor does it impress them that acting, William’s profession, required literacy or that a letter written to him survives or that he signed his name to documents (normally a mark of literacy, though some literate men, such as the Shakespeares’ neighbor Adrian Quiney, preferred to “make their mark”). No, so long as we have no written record that Will was a student at the local school (no list of pupils exists from before 1800) and no manuscripts in his handwriting, it is “mere conjecture” to say that he could read and write.
Likewise, Stratfordians supposedly speculate wildly when they suggest that the Author’s knowledge of Italy could have come from expatriate Italians, very numerous in Elizabethan London, that he could have learned Italian from John Florio, a language teacher employed by his patron Southampton, or that Robert Armin, a member of his troupe known to have been fluent in Italian, could have translated for him. And the schoolgirl French that Princess Katherine recites in Henry V is presumed to be beyond the competence of a man who boarded for some years in London with a French immigrant family.
The same skeptics who will believe nothing but solid documentary evidence on points like those swiftly abandon their hard-headedness where their own candidate is concerned, leaping to such conclusions as: the £1000 annual pension that the Queen granted Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (or “Oxenford”, as I call him, since that is what he called himself), in 1586 must have been compensation for play writing; the appearances of earlier holders of his earldom in the plays are expressions of family pride; possible hints of Lord Burghley, one of the most prominent men in England, in the character of Polonius could only have been inserted by a writer intimate with the Court.
Assuming that the reader is more rational and consistent than the average anti-Stratfordian, he will leave part one of Mr. McCrea’s analysis with an appreciation of how powerful the case for the Stratford man really is. To borrow the language of detective work, credible witnesses peg William Shakespeare as the Author, and the Author’s work is compatible with what could be expected from a man with Shakespeare’s dossier. There are, furthermore, links between the Author and Stratford-upon-Avon that add weight to the surmise: Names of people who lived in the vicinity show up in the plays; the Author’s two long poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, were published by a Stratford native whose father was a friend of John Shakespeare; the predominant imagery of the poems is taken from country life; and traces of Warwickshire dialect can be found in the plays.
Contrariwise, there is nothing to suggest that the Author had the sort of experience that would be natural to an Elizabethan aristocrat. He seems unaware of the higher military ranks. (Recall that in Othello the second-in-command of a major expedition is a lieutenant.) His noble households are run like middle class homes. (The head of the Capulets personally supervises the cooks.) The ritual and retinue of monarchy are invisible. (Messengers burst in on kings, and Macbeth has to fetch his own nightgown.) All in all, his picture of royalty and nobility is an extrapolation from well-to-do middle class life, such as William Shakespeare led as a boy.
The Sonnets call for separate notice, as they are a frequent anti-Stratfordian playground. Mr. McCrea recognizes how problematic their interpretation is, given that we do not know whether they represent a personal poetic diary, a wholly invented sequence or a combination of the two. Anti-Stratfordians tend to assume that they are autobiographical, then seize upon details that, in their eyes, fit their preferred “Shakespeare”. Unfortunately for our curiosity about the Author’s life, the poems lack firm connections to the real world. It is impossible to tell when or in what order they were written. The only termini ad quem are the dates of publication, 1599 for numbers 138 and 144, 1609 for the rest. All of the personages alluded to are unidentified. One can guess at models for the Fair Youth, the Dark Lady and the Rival Poet, but what can be gleaned about them is too little (if they are in fact based on real people) to make the exercise more than guesswork. If the Author was Shakespeare of Stratford, they may well be acquaintances about whom posterity has no information. Complex, unhappy love affairs are not a beau monde monopoly.
Mr. McCrea does note a lone personal reference that could weigh on the anti-Stratfordian side. The theme of Sonnet 138, published when Shakespeare was 35 years old, is that the Author’s best years are past, though his mistress makes a pretense of believing him still youthful. Does that mean that Shakespeare was, like Roger Manners, too young to be the Author? Only if the poem really is autobiographical and 35-year-olds (not really a youthful age in Elizabethan times) are forbidden to strike a world-weary pose. Regarding the latter, Mr. McCrea cites the lines, “Behold my gray head, full of silver hairs,/ My wrinkled skin, deep furrows in my face”, from Richard Barnfield’s The Affectionate Shepherd (1594). The silver-haired poet was all of twenty. Also pertinent, though not quoted by Mr. McCrea, is a couplet by Oxenford, who, aged 27, wrote,
My life through lingring long is lodgded, in lare of lothsome wayes,
My death delaide to keepe from life, the harme of haplesse dayes;
[Stephen May, The Elizabethan Courtier Poets, p. 272]
Aside from this possibly discordant note, the Sonnets, taken as a whole, fit a moderately well-off country dweller as well as, or better than, a belted earl. “Did an earl write this?” Mr. McCrea asks of Sonnet 143:
Lo as a careful housewife runs to catch
One of her feathered creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe and makes all swift dispatch
In pursuit of the thing she would have stay;
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
Not prizing her poor infant’s discontent. . . .
Whatever the case with others, there are two Sonnets that unmistakably refer to the Author personally: numbers 135 and 136, a linked pair that pun mercilessly on the name “Will”. Another, 145, has a transparent play on “Hathaway”, the maiden name of Will Shakespeare’s wife.
The second half of the book moves from the case for Shakespeare to the objections to the principal anti-Stratfordian candidates. A reader who does not already know a great deal about the authorship debates is likely to find this part harder to follow. Though the discussion is confined to the top-tier candidates (Oxenford, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, and “group theories” that combine one or more of the pretenders with others, plus the already noticed glance at Manners of Rutland), there is far too much material to cover in fewer than a hundred pages, some of which are given over to potted biographies of the “suspects”.
The anti-Stratfordian corpus is voluminous. One of the leading works, Charlton Ogburn, Jr.’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare, runs to over 800 pages and doesn’t seem nearly that short. Hardly ever does Ogburn make a connected argument. His modus operandi is to throw a series of barely related facts at the reader, then magisterially pronounce a conclusion. In this he is typical of the school, indeed not the worst offender. Roger Stritmatter makes him look almost coherent.
Even an anti-Stratfordian who is capable of lucid prose, like Joseph Sobran, prefers allusive discourse that never quite comes to a point. In Alias Shakespeare he asserts earnestly that the omission of the Author’s poems from the First Folio was intended to obscure the fact that they had been the original foundation of his reputation. Yet he never lets us know why that intention, if it were provable, would have any bearing on the authorship question. He naturally pays no attention to the most likely reason why only the plays were included: that they were what the editors, members of the King’s Men, cared about and could readily obtain for publication.
Trying to argue rationally with such effusions is like trying to box with the marshmallow man. A thorough job would require, as a preliminary, rewriting thousands of pages of formless drivel into comprehensible propositions, a task that, if it did not exhaust the writer, would weary all but the most insomniac audiences. Most of the propositions would then turn out to be bald, unsupported ipse dixits.
To forestall such tedium, Mr. McCrea confines himself to sketching each candidate’s career, then highlighting the facts that most definitively disqualify him as the Author. In principle, that approach is adequate. For none of the pretenders is there an affirmative case of the kind that can be presented for the Stratford Man. A major portion of any anti-Stratfordian treatise consists of rationales for why the “true Author” could not let his name become public knowledge and why nobody ever hinted at his “secret”. When nothing tells in favor of a candidate, and strong considerations can be advanced against him, the logical conclusion is that he is not the Author.
In practice, Mr. McCrea’s discussion, compressed into too short a space, requires attentive reading and sacrifices the great attraction of the “heretics”, their delightful battiness. Those who read only Mr. McCrea will miss the Brame/Popova thesis (that Oxenford single-handedly penned not just Shakespeare but also Spenser, Marlowe, Sidney, Lyly, Peele, Holinshed and almost every other Elizabethan you’ve ever heard of), the Prince Tudor theory (that Oxenford and Queen Elizabeth were lovers and the Earl of Southampton their son), the Super-Tudor theory (that the Queen was also Oxenford’s own mother), Joe Sobran’s obsession with the Author’s supposed homosexuality and snobbery, Ron Hess’s multi-volume effusion (longer than Ogburn!) on how the key to the plays is the Author’s lifelong espionage rivalry with Don John of Austria, Nina Green’s claim that Oxenford secretly authored the Martin Marprelate tracts (other Oxenfordians are just as convinced that he wrote the Anglican establishment’s counterblasts), and much further amusement, if not enlightenment.
Mr. McCrea sweeps aside the claims made for Bacon, the groupists, Derby and Marlowe almost as briskly as Rutland’s. In Bacon’s case, the heavy lifting was done long ago by J. M. Robertson in his painstaking (and monumentally dull) treatise, The Baconian Heresy: A Confutation (1913), which compares and contrasts the style and vocabulary of the Author with that of the Lord Chancellor in as much detail as will ever be necessary. Robertson can be called the only successful anti-anti-Stratfordian, for serious Baconianism sank under his onslaught and remains moribund to this day. Nutty variants, placing their faith in cryptograms, persist, despite the similarly definitive effort of William and Elizabeth Friedman in The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined (1957).
William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, is an easy target, too, as the only reasons to suspect him of being the Author are his well-known fondness for the theater (hardly unique among Elizabethan aristocrats) and the statement in two intercepted letters of an English Jesuit that “Th’erle of Derby is busyed only in penning comedies for the common players”. As Mr. McCrea notes, that is as likely to be a coded message as a genuine piece of gossip. Be that as it may, Derby was patron of a company of players and, unlike almost all other patrons, paid attention to the troupe’s welfare. Had he been the Author, it passes understanding that he would have given his masterpieces to the rival Lord Chamberlain’s Men to perform.
Christopher Marlowe, who came from a background much like Shakespeare’s except for the fortuitous advantage of a university education, had literary talents approaching the Author’s. Believing that he was the Author requires accepting the bizarre theory that his death in a tavern brawl on May 30, 1593, was a put-up job to enable him to slip out of England, after which he spent years of exile writing under an assumed name. Of the many fatal flaws in this notion, Mr. McCrea chooses to single out stylistic differences between Marlowe and the Author, which is too big a topic for him to cover satisfactorily in a couple of pages. He might have done better to call attention to a chance-known fact that greatly complicates Marlovian theorizing: Venus and Adonis, whose author is stated on the dedication page to be “William Shakespeare”, was registered with the Stationers’ Company on April 18, 1593, and a diary entry reveals that a bibliophile named Richard Stonley (later found to have embezzled vast sums from the Exchequer to support his book buying habits) bought a copy less than two months later. [Sam Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life (1987), pp. 175-6] The rational inference is that what Marlovians regard as the pseudonym “Shakespeare” was already in use before Marlowe’s death, a peculiar fact if it was invented afterward to disguise a fugitive’s literary output.
The “groupists” really need no refutation except Ockham’s Razor. As with Marlowe, though, Mr. McCrea attempts a stylistic attack, presenting, all too sketchily, arguments for the unity of the Author’s oeuvre. His conclusion is certainly right, but proper explication would take up a sizeable volume.
All of these are preliminaries. The important debate is with the Oxenfordians, who have dominated anti-Stratfordian discourse for the past 80 years, not because the earl’s credentials are so terrific but because all of the alternatives, save for the hated Stratford man, are so negligible. An English schoolteacher named J. Thomas Looney identified Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxenford, as the Author by the prototypical anti-Stratfordian technique of composing a list of 18 attributes that, in his judgement, had to belong to the Author, e. g., “a mature man of recognized genius”, “an enthusiast in the world of drama”, “a lyric poet of recognized talent”, “a member of the higher aristocracy”, “loose and improvident in money matters”, “of probable Catholic leanings, but touched with skepticism”. He then searched for the man among the Elizabethan nobility, thought that a poem attributed to Oxenford in Palgrave’s Golden Treasury (now regarded as only possibly genuine) sounded Shakespearean, and, on the basis of a rudimentary acquaintance with the earl’s biography, concluded that he perfectly fit the Author’s profile.
Later Oxenfordians have elaborated Looney’s Shakespeare Identified without markedly improving its argument. Despite their strenuous efforts, which have performed the useful service of adding facts to our stock of information about Oxenford (such as the name and career of his illegitimate son), they have uncovered nothing that connects him in any way with the Author’s works. His surviving letters and memoranda, over 70 in number, say not a word about literature or the theater or any Shakespearean work.
The closest approach to affirmative evidence for Oxenfordian authorship is so distant as to be ludicrous: A Bible once owned by Oxenford is now in the possession of the Folger Library. It includes a large number of underlinings and other marks of emphasis, plus a few handwritten annotations. A diligent and imaginative Oxenfordian, Roger Stritmatter, has gone through these “marginalia” and claims that many of the marked Biblical verses are alluded to in the Author’s plays. His findings, which Mr. McCrea discusses briefly but doesn’t really engage, suffer from two fundamental defects. First, the “Oxenford” Bible was in private hands for over 300 years before being purchased by the Folger. Any of the now-unknown possessors after Oxenford could have written in it, and there is not the slightest reason to assume that all, or any, of the markings came from the earl. Second, the great majority of the alleged parallels are not recognized by any of the standard authorities on Shakespeare’s Biblical allusions. One or two of Dr. Stritmatter’s “discoveries” may be valid, but most are far-fetched, patently “found” by starting from the verses and trying to locate any passage of Shakespeare with a tangential resemblance.
Aside from that, Oxenfordians claim to find parallels between incidents in the plays and events in their hero’s life. These are on the order of Oxenford was on a ship robbed by pirates in the English Channel; Hamlet is captured by pirates while on his way to England; therefore, the former must have been the model for the latter – as if piracy had not been ubiquitous in that era and Hamlet’s capture were not a plot device to get him back to Denmark in time for Act V.
Mr. McCrea’s case against identifying Oxenford as the Author constitutes the longest section of the “destructive” half of his book and the most closely argued. While some of his minor contentions are damp squibs (e. g., the off-hand assertion that a man of Oxenford’s status would not have committed the genealogical blunders of the History plays [p. 155]), his two main lines of attack demonstrate that, even were the evidence for Shakespeare’s authorship much weaker than it is, Oxenford would be a highly unlikely alternative.
First and foremost is a difficulty that Oxenfordians acknowledge and strive to evade: Oxenford died on June 24, 1604. There are several references to the Author as a living man after that date. In 1612 he was said to be “much offended” by a printer’s attaching his name to another writer’s work [p. 191] and was praised for his “right happy and copious industry” [pp. 189-90]. More significantly, about a third of his plays are conventionally dated later than 1604. To assign them to Oxenford necessitates drastic rearrangement of the Author’s chronology, both at the end and at the beginning (for there must have been a period of development from The Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus and Henry VI to Hamlet, King Lear and The Tempest). Mr. McCrea reviews the reasons why a shift of a decade leads to absurdity. As he summarizes [pp. 206-7],
Let’s say that the plays were written earlier than the dates assigned to them. This means the Author could not have learned from many of the writers who are generally believed to have influenced him. Lyly, Marlowe, Spenser, Chapman, Daniel, Jonson, Beaumont, and Fletcher, must all have read his work, but he could not have read theirs. Influences flow in only one direction, and he becomes the originator of almost every trend in contemporary drama – Senecan tragedies, history plays, Elizabethan satires, Jacobean comedy, antimasques, and more. Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale must be models for the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, not conscious imitations of the duo’s manner, because the pair did not begin writing until Oxford was dead. The whimsical and elaborate Stuart court masques must have been inspired by the similar masque scene in The Tempest, because the first such masque was in 1605.
In this way, the Oxfordian’s Author is even more of a superman than the Stratfordian’s. And he was not only a visionary artist but a prophet. In Lear, in 1603, he writes of “these late eclipses of the sun and moon” and then two years later there are lunar and solar eclipses two weeks apart. He writes a play, Macbeth, which is pervaded with the idea of equivocation, and then three years later the word takes on treasonous significance [in the trial of Fr. Henry Garnett for allegedly being an accessory to the Gunpowder Plot]. He imagines a shipwreck in 1604 [in The Tempest] and five years afterwards it is enacted in life, right down to the bosky acres and berry wine.
Of course, coincidences happen all the time, and it’s possible they could account for some of the apparent fortunetelling on the part of the Author. But when coincidences pile up, as they do in this case, it’s time to look to a logical explanation. Logically, the events came first. The plays were influenced by the events. And the Earl of Oxford was silent in his grave.
While The Tempest, which appears to borrow its narrative framework and an occasional turn of phrase from a written account of events that occurred in 1609, is the classic example of a play that Oxenford could not have written, Macbeth may be a yet clearer case. It contains not only transparent allusions to the Gunpowder Plot and its aftermath but also reflects specific policies of King James I that were not enunciated until after Oxenford’s death. “[I]n the play we find Malcolm disqualifying himself from kingship with the words,
Nay, had I pow’r, I should
Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell,
Uproar the universal peace, confound
All unity on earth. (IV.iii.97-100)” [p. 201]
The royal slogan “Concord, Peace and Unity” was first enunciated in a pageant staged on July 31, 1606. If the Author wrote earlier than that and just happened to put the same trinity into the mouth of a pretender to the Scottish throne, that is another remarkable instance of prophecy.
Much of this material is familiar to observers of anti-Stratfordian, but Mr. McCrea adds an original twist when he compares the rhyme schemes of Oxenford’s genuine verses to those of the Author. Rhyme words are a good, albeit not perfect, guide to a writer’s pronunciation, and two texts that embody different pronunciations are probably not from the same hand.
Scanty though the Oxenfordian corpus is (16 certain and four probable poems, totaling fewer than 500 lines), its implicit dialect differs from the Author’s at several points.
Oxenford rhymes “was” with “case” and “face” with “glass”. “Yet in all the Author’s plays and poems, there is only one instance of a word that is rhymed with face rhyming with a word that is rhymed with glass, and it’s a dubious example” (“place” and “ass” in The Comedy of Errors, III..i.45-46, where the meter is irregular, and “place” may actually be intended to rhyme with “face”) [p. 211].
Oxenford rhymes “shows” with “lose”. With the lone exception of the Player King’s speech in Hamlet (III.ii.194-95; “propose” and “lose”), “the Author rhymes ‘lose’ with ‘choose’ and ‘abuse’. Since he also puns on ‘lose-loose’, he probably pronounced the word as we do in America today. . . . Other writers, however, preferred the long ‘o’. Spenser commonly rhymed ‘lose’ with ‘expose’, ‘dispose’, ‘rose’, and so forth, and Oxford seems to have done the same.” [p. 212]
Oxenford rhymes “grief” with “strife”. “The Author never rhymes strife with anything but life and wife (and, by extension, knife – which he rhymes with the other two). Grief he rhymes with brief, chief, relief, and thief. For the Poet, grief:strife was not a possible pair. But for Oxford, it was.” [p. 213]
“One thing that definitely never occurred to the Author was to rhyme a word that ended with an ‘s’ with a word that did not. Yet Oxford, in 368 lines (not counting the possible lines), does this twice.” [id.]
The rational, Ockhamite deduction is that different men produced the bodies of work that we associate with Oxenford and Shakespeare. Doubtless the Oxenfordians, once they become aware of this new problem with their analysis, will concoct an ad hoc explanation, just as they do for all the other myriad oddities that their theory creates.
All in all, The Case for Shakespeare is the best introduction yet written for the reader who wishes to acquaint himself with the pros and cons of the purported “Authorship Question”. There are, nonetheless, imperfections to be noted, on which Oxenfordians desperate to becloud the issues are bound to seize.
First, as already noted, the argumentation is now and then too rushed to be fully comprehensible to the neophyte. That fault is unavoidable in a book that aspires to cover so much without bloating into a mega biblion, mega kakon. Mr. McCrea would have been better advised to skip over inconsequential points and pare down his biographies. Once it is established that Shakespeare of Stratford fits the Author’s profile closely and that the alternative candidates suffer fatal flaws, many jots and tittles can be left unaddressed.
Second, the book has more factual slips than one likes to see. Philip Sidney did not coin “poet-ape” as a “derogatory term for actor-dramatists” [p. 21]; he used it as an epithet for incompetent playwrights. Nor do “many scholars” identify Shakespeare as the “poet-ape” of Ben Jonson’s famous sonnet on plagiarism [id.]; that is a speculation advanced by very few. Sixty pounds was a substantial sum of money in 1616 but far short of “roughly $60,000 in today’s money” [p. 22]. Verona’s altitude above sea level has nothing to do with whether it is “affected by tides” [p. 74]; its river has none because the Mediterranean is tideless.  Most “common people” did not, in Elizabeth’s and James’ time, “owe their allegiance to one or another noble lord” [p. 98]. Francis Bacon’s ambitions for official preferment were thwarted during Elizabeth’s lifetime not by Lord Burghley and Robert Cecil [p. 132] but by his conspicuous leadership of the parliamentary faction opposed to the Queen’s fiscal policies (and, despite that, he received a goodly share of plum assignments as Queen’s counsel). The French of Oxenford’s only surviving letter in that language is quite as “high-school”-ish as Princess Katherine’s speeches in Henry V [p. 155]. A “neck verse” was not “schoolboy Latin homework, carried around the neck” [p. 195]; it was the first verse of Psalm 55, which a literate felon could read to invoke “benefit of clergy” and escape hanging. Though trivial, slips like these are grating. A competent editor – if only such creatures still roamed the earth! – would have weeded them out..
Finally, Mr. McCrea’s concluding chapter, in which he strives to find a deeper meaning in the controversy, descends to lumping anti-Stratfordians with Holocaust deniers and spinners of political conspiracy theories. This comparison is quite unfair. Absurd though it may be, anti-Stratfordianism is a harmless dementia. All that it has in common with Holocaust denial is bad reasoning; if that is enough to create a link, then all of us are quasi-deniers, because we all reason ineptly at least once in a while.
Notwithstanding these imperfections, Mr. McCrea has produced an impressive contribution to Shakespearean polemics. He may not win over the doubters, many of whom are invincibly ignorant, but he offers a handy guide to anti-Stratfordian fallacies in a generally well-written and entertaining package.
<Return to Top of Page>