Shakespeare and DNA
March 8, 2001
keep saying, the Earl of Oxford wrote the Shakespeare works. Lets
approach the question from a new angle.
The Shakespeare authorship debate can be
distilled to one central point. The champions of William of Stratford rely on testimony
that he was the author. The champions of Oxford rely on circumstantial evidence: the
internal evidence of the plays and poems, suggesting a man who fits Oxfords
unique profile a courtier, trained in the law, who had visited Italy, was lame
and probably bisexual, among other things. The Sonnets tell us that the poet was a
public figure who had fallen into disgrace, as Oxford had.
Williams champions argue that all the
testimony favors William and that this is conclusive. It isnt. Testimony can be
false; circumstantial evidence is very hard to fake.
The author himself gave his name as
William Shakespeare in his 1593 dedication to Venus and
Adonis. Later this name appeared on the published plays. Contemporary
praise of Shakespeare never specified just who he was or where he
came from. In 1623, when the plays were collected into one volume,
Shakespeare was positively identified, for the first and only time, with
the man from Stratford. So the testimony is far from overwhelming. If
Shakespeare was a pseudonym, the witnesses could have been
misleading the public to protect the authors real identity.
centuries before readers began examining the works for circumstantial evidence,
clues no Elizabethan author would have planted deliberately. To appreciate the force
of this evidence, we should think of fingerprints and DNA. Detection discovered
fingerprints only in the nineteenth century, and DNA evidence was discovered only in
our own time. These two forms of evidence are powerful because a suspect may not
even be aware that he is leaving them. They are involuntary self-revelations, so
individualizing that coincidence is virtually impossible.
Involuntary evidence trumps testimony. When a
witness makes a statement, all you really know is that he wants you to believe it; you
dont know that its true. And witnesses may contradict each other. But
fingerprints and DNA cant be contradicted. Nobody can forge another
mans fingerprints and DNA code.
In other words, William has the witnesses
(though not many), but the literary DNA evidence, so to speak, favors Oxford. Oxford,
then, was the author.
Turn the case around. Suppose the plays and
poems had borne Oxfords name and witnesses attested his authorship, and
that nobody had questioned this for centuries. Then suppose that the authors
unconscious self-revelations in those works the literary DNA matched
what we knew of Williams life, but not Oxfords. In that case wed
have to conclude that William, not Oxford, was the author.
In other words, if William hadnt been
identified as the author in the first place if the works had been published
anonymously, or under another name nothing in the literary DNA would ever
have led anyone to think he wrote the works. The case for his authorship rests
completely on testimony, which by its nature can never be conclusive.
But why would Oxford conceal his authorship?
Why didnt those who knew the truth expose it earlier? How could so many
people be fooled?
These are all important questions, but they are
secondary. The DNA matches Oxford. However we explain it, that is the fact. We may
never have a full explanation, but that remains the fact. A fact may be baffling, but
its still a fact.
There is no literary DNA to support
Williams claim. Despite the enormous research devoted to his life by
countless biographers, his champions cant point to anything beyond a few
feeble coincidences (his sons name was Hamnet thats the
best they can do) to link him to his supposed works.
Meanwhile, the number of links to Oxford keeps
mounting as more is learned about him. A scholar named Roger Stritmatter has
recently found in Oxfords copy of the Bible that hundreds of verses cited in the
plays have also been marked by Oxford. Sheer coincidence?
Oxfords authorship also has explanatory
power. Unlike the old and fruitless assumption of Williams authorship, it helps
us to understand what motivated the plays and poems. It should be a source of joy to
anyone who loves Hamlet.
Archive Table of Contents
The Shakespeare Library
Return to the