The Reactionary Utopian
The Queer Bard?
Since 1623, when the famous First Folio of the plays identified the wrong guy as the author, most would-be biographers have believed in the literal truth of the claim. I like to call this credulity First Folio Fundamentalism.
The Stratford mans name was actually Shakspere, just close enough to Oxfords pen name to allow him to be passed off as the Bard. Mr. Shakspere himself never even claimed to be a writer. But seven years after he died, Oxfords friends, including his son-in-law the Earl of Montgomery, respecting his desire for secrecy, found Mr. Shakspere a useful front man. So he became, posthumously, the most famous Englishman who ever lived. It would have surprised him very much. He has achieved literary immortality through no fault of his own.
Mr. Shakspere died in 1616. Nobody in London seems to have noted his passing, which is inexplicable if he was the citys greatest poet and most popular playwright. Why would they wait seven years before saluting him?
Mr. Shaksperes own will, signed with almost illegible scrawls, shows that he hardly expected to be remembered at all. He mentions no plays, poems, manuscripts, or even books he may have owned. There isnt the faintest indication of a writing career, let alone an expectation of posthumous glory. He leaves small tokens to three of his fellows, actors, but doesnt mention (say) Ben Jonson, who later claimed to have been his friend, or any other literary figure. Nor does he mention any of his three supposed patrons, all of whom have been linked to Oxfords three daughters.
The Folio-thumpers cant explain how Mr. Shakspere could be the author of the Sonnets. In the first 126 of these, addressed lovingly to a lovely boy, we learn that the Bard was considerably older than Mr. Shakspere. Writing in the 1590s, when Mr. Shakspere was in his early thirties, he worries about being old and in disgrace: his life is on the skids, and his reputation is ruined. He is even lame, and evidently bisexual. All this perfectly matches everything we know about Oxford. He had plenty of reasons to conceal his identity behind a pen name.
Creative writers always leave traces of themselves in their work; this is what makes literary biographies so fascinating. But we cant find any traces of Mr. Shakspere in the works the First Folio attributes to him; this is what makes his countless biographies so uniformly boring.
Its not that we know so little about him; on the contrary, we know too much about him. Over more than two centuries, diligent researchers have dug up dozens of records of his life. If he were the Bard, some detail, somewhere, would have turned up to confirm it. But nothing does.
By contrast, as Mark Andersons new biography of Edward de Vere shows, new details keep showing that the scandal-haunted Oxford was in all likelihood the Bard. When you know that Oxford was accused of such vices as buggering boys, you can appreciate why he might have to be, well, discreet.
Was the real Shakespeare a child molester? Heavens! I dont like the idea myself, but it may be close to the heart of the mystery. When Oxford was first named as the Bard in 1920, the question could hardly be discussed in print.
Today, however, the strong hints of homosexuality in the Sonnets are getting the attention they deserve. Squeamishness on the subject is pretty much a thing of the past. All that remains is to connect the Sonnets to the troubled man who actually wrote them. He was an embarrassment even to those who loved and admired him. They agreed to keep his secret even after he was dead, and they saw that the innocuous Mr. Shakspere, when he too was dead, might serve their purpose.
We can sum up the case by adapting a slogan of our own time: Hes here, hes queer, hes Edward de Vere!
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