April 17, 2001
April, the month Shakespeare was born. The
generally accepted author, William Shakspere (as the family name was
usually spelled), was born around April 23, 1564. The real author, Edward
de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford, was born on April 12, 1550.
Shakespeare lovers still debate about
which of these men, William or Oxford, was the real author. My own book
about the authorship question, Alias
Shakespeare, is about to be published across the Atlantic in a German
translation. Its about time I got some international acclaim.
My contention has always been that
the solution to the mystery lies in the Shakespeare Sonnets, published in
1609. There the poet tells a lot about himself: hes a public figure
of high birth, but is over the hill, out of money, lame, and in disgrace. All
this matches Oxford, one of the most scandalous figures of his day. It
doesnt describe William, who was young, obscure, prosperous, and
never notorious for anything.
Moreover, the poet tells a young man,
almost surely the third earl of Southampton, that its time for the
youth to get married and beget an heir. Why William would care whether
Southampton got married is anyones guess, but Oxford had an
excellent reason: Southampton was under pressure to marry
Yet William was identified as the
author Shakespeare by several acquaintances in the 1623
Folio edition of the plays, and for the last three centuries all Shakespeare
biographers have taken the Folio testimony as dogma. Unquestionable.
Beyond doubt. Documentary proof. Solid fact.
But what if the Folio testimony was
meant to mislead the public? Not a chance, say the professional scholars.
Its dogma, you see.
But what if the Folio testimony
conflicts with the poets own testimony about himself in the
Sonnets? Never mind, say the scholars. The Sonnets may be fictional.
Well, they certainly dont sound fictional
at all. The great critic A.C. Bradley, quoted in my book, settled that
question long ago. Not only are the Sonnets palpably sincere; if they tell a
fictional story, they tell it with a clumsy incompetence that is totally out
of character for the author of Romeo and Juliet and
Othello. They have the jaggedness of fact.
Here we have a curious situation. In
the minds of the scholars, the Folio testimony continues to trump the
poets testimony. It should be the other way around,
shouldnt it? Youd think what the great poet said about
himself to his intimates, in his own matchless eloquence, would take
priority over what others said about him for public consumption years
after his death.
The great majority of the Sonnets are
addressed to the lovely boy; only a few are written to the
more famous dark mistress. The ones to the youth allude to painful facts
in the poets life which the youth would have known already; there
is little chance of deception. Unlike the Folio testimony for William, these
poems couldnt have been designed to fool the public and
they seem not to have been intended for publication.
In fact the poet says he hopes
my name [will] be buried where my body is. How could he
mean that, if William Shakespeare, already appearing on
popular and celebrated works, was his real name? The Folio testimony
doesnt explain the Sonnets (which were omitted from the Folio);
but the Sonnets may explain why the Folio testimony was necessary
to keep Oxfords identity buried.
In short, the scholars never even
consider the possibility that the Folio testimony, rather than the Sonnets,
may be fictional. They base their conviction that William of
Stratford was Shakespeare not on what the poet says about
himself, but on what was said about him by others in implicit
contradiction of his own heartfelt words.
By taking the Folio testimony instead
of the Sonnets as their crucial document, the scholars have made their
naive faith in the Folio witnesses a methodological postulate, which
requires them to discount any conflicting evidence. Common sense would
seem to dictate that the poets biography begin, at least, with his
autobiographical poems and if what these poems tell us conflicts
with the Folio testimony, so much the worse for that testimony.
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