Shakespeare and the Snobs
April 9, 2002

by Joe Sobran

     April! That can mean only one thing -- the Earl of 
Oxford's birthday. On April 12 he will be 452 years old.

     That would be Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of 
Oxford (1550-1604), the one who, as independent thinkers 
now generally agree, wrote under the name "William 
Shakespeare." Of course if you are an accredited academic 
scholar, or aspire to be one, you'd better scoff at 
Oxford and those who believe in his authorship.

     Belief in Oxford's authorship is, as we now say, 
politically incorrect. It's a sin against the prescribed 
faith in "democracy" and "equality." If you argue that 
Oxford rather than William Shakspere of Stratford wrote 
all those plays, you'll be accused of preferring to think 
that a "common man" couldn't have written them -- that 
only an aristocrat could. In other words, you must be a 

     Actually, the real snobbery is on the other side: a 
stubborn academic snobbery that assumes that only 
university scholars are competent to decide such 
questions. But never mind that; even a snob may be right, 
just as even an ax-murderer may make a sound syllogism.

     The case for Oxford's authorship is based not on 
snobbery but on sociology, or simple realism. He had the 
background, in education and personal experience, to 
write these plays. Some of them reflect his life -- at 
court, in Italy -- in striking detail.

     You can even argue that in an equal-opportunity 
society, William of Stratford might have acquired the 
wide knowledge the plays display; but to say that is to 
recognize that Elizabethan England was certainly not such 
a society. You may rail against the social injustice that 
would equip an earl but not an ordinary man to write 
HAMLET; and you'd have a point. But the point is that 
Oxford could draw on his own life to write it, and 
William couldn't.

     HAMLET might still have been an inferior play, while 
reflecting Oxford's life. It's incidental to the argument 
that it's a great classic. Aside from his background, the 
author happens to have been a genius. If William had been 
a genius, he might have written wonderful plays 
reflecting his own very different life; but they would 
have been very different from HAMLET, even if they were 

     The author of the plays not only possessed 
aristocratic virtues and privileges, but also 
aristocratic prejudices and vices. He is said to display 
"universal sympathies"; but that isn't quite true. He 
created hundreds of vivid characters, but they are mostly 
of the upper classes -- ladies and gentlemen, in the old, 
strict sense of people who don't have to labor for a 
living. They are subtly individualized. But his lower-
class characters are generally buffoons with little 
individuality, and he constantly makes fun of their 
illiteracy, verbal blunders, and malapropisms.

     Put otherwise, the author has an aristocratic 
perspective. He knows the upper classes from within, and 
he gives them dignity of speech; he knows the lower 
classes only from without, and they appear silly to him 
-- or pitiful, at best -- and he never stops finding 
their manners absurd, even when he portrays them 
affectionately. The only ones he treats with real esteem 
are faithful servants, who display loyalty to their 
masters. This would have been Oxford's natural 
perspective, not William's. You can even argue that 
Oxford was a snob -- and that this fact supports his 
authorship claim!

     To take a specific case, Polonius, father of 
Hamlet's love, Ophelia, is clearly based on Lord 
Burghley, Oxford's guardian and father-in-law. Like 
Hamlet and Polonius, the two men were often at odds, 
partly because Burghley was, like Polonius, an annoying 
snoop. Burghley even sent a spy to Paris to keep an eye 
on his playboy son, Thomas Cecil; Polonius sends a spy to 
Paris to keep an eye on his playboy son, Laertes.

     The author of the play clearly had inside knowledge 
of Burghley, which Oxford surely had and William almost 
surely didn't. This is not a matter of education or of 
social class as such, but of personal acquaintance. Many 
such details connect the plays to Oxford. Names of men he 
met in Europe turn up in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.

     If Oxford didn't write the Shakespeare plays, then, 
as Orson Welles put it, "there are some awfully funny 
coincidences to explain away." And, we might add, an 
awful lot of them. Or are the laws of probability 


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