TCEA: Breakfast – Reassessing Shakespeare

Texas College English Association meets with CCTE. Saturday morning is the TCEA breakfast.

This is a live blogging of the session.

Dale Priest
professor at Abilene Christian University from 1979-1986, when I was there
professor at Lamar University from 1986-present

Reassessing Shakespeare

Charles Dickens “It’s a great comfort that so little is known about the poet. …I tremble everyday lest something should turn up.”

Mark Twain “No, sir, I do not. I believe they were written by a different party of the same name.”
Twain believes that Shakespeare lacked the requisite biography to write the plays, not having the languages or the education.

The first man to question whether Shakespeare wrote the plays:
Rev. James Wilmont
could not find any books of Shakespeare
(and there were none in his otherwise very detailed will)

By the late 19th C Baconian heresy (Sir Francis Bacon wrote the plays) this was accepted around the world. Including by Twain, Helen Keller, etc.

In the early 20th C Bacon was joined by Edward de Vere, Christopher Marlowe, and X- another earl.

WWII brought the suppression of the anti-Shakespeare discussions.
The end of the 20th C saw its resurgence.

21st C both sides of the pond argue about Wm. Shakespeare.
Sir Henry Neville (Brit)
pro-Stratfordian argument by James Shapiro (Am)

Case for de Vere: In the 20th C, Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the most popular candidate.
At first glance he seems to be the best candidate.
But he died in 1604.

Case for de Vere was first named in Loney’s Shakespeare Identified.
Made a list of 18 characteristics of the author that are more and less useful.
good: knowledge of military, law, classics esp. Roman comedy, enthusiast for Italy
not useful: probable Catholic leanings, eccentric

The translator of Ovid was Oxford’s private tutor. This book was used for the illusions in the plays.
Resided in Italy.
Oxford’s Men was his acting company.
Oxford was, under his own name, a major minor poet. Many of his poems have been anthologized.

de Vere’s bio strengthened his case.
Many of the sonnets were similar to DeVere’s life.
Sonnets to the Young Man– bisexual
in the 40s in 1590s when the sonnets were written
Surely the Earl of Oxford was more likely to address another earl so cavalierly.

Oxford related to various folks parodied in Hamlet.
“falling out at tennis”
DeVere’s notorious tennis court squabble in 1580.
invested and lost 3000 pounds under Lock/Locke, perhaps the precursor for Shylock.

genuinely intriguing

Much about it seems wrong.
de Vere’s dates are wrong.
1590- de Vere was already nearly 40.
Some argue that his work that was published under his own name was his juvenalia.
They also argue that the plays were written earlier than the common conception.

Greatest stumbling block is that he died in 1604.
9-10 plays appeared later
Oxfordians argue that the late plays dating are especially conjectural.
Perhaps finished later.

Priest said that Oxford sounds like he could have been the author.
1609 sonnets address “ever living poet” (meaning dead)
1609 “never writer to an ever reader” a play? published addresses
Apparent references to someone dead are after 1604.

As with Bacon, a major argument, no smoking gun. No direct evidence for Oxford.

Oxfordians believe that Oxford’s Bible offers proof.
1579 Oxford’s Bible, 1000 underlined or marked passages, 40 annotated notes
Roger Stripmatter and Mark K. Anderson
1/4+ of the Bible were direct references to Shakespeare’s plays.
Among them 100 Bible verses that had not been previously noted by Shakespeare scholars.
This is HUGE, to me. If 100 Bible verses were not previously noted, does that mean all the rest might also fit? I find this very persuasive.

1987 Supreme Court Justice Stevens brought Shakespeare to the court. He is a devoted Oxfordian. Several justices agree he may be right.

Reasons why it was probably Oxford:
1. Only a nobleman could have produced writing so replete with courtly life and experience beyond England.
2. Dabbling in theater was not considered appropriate.
3. “Dead” poet when Oxford dead.
4. Bible verses marked; Shakespeare scholars hadn’t seen the connections beforehand, but they are clear in retrospect.

1986-1987 Mock Trial on the authorship of Shakespeare in the Supreme Court
The panel found insufficient evidence for Oxford as Shakespeare.

However, a big argument AGAINST Shakespeare being the author was repeated/offered by Justice Stevens, when he asked, “Where are the books?”
“You cannot be a scholar of that depth and not have books in his house.”
Shakespeare’s extensive and specific will named not a single book.

7 thoughts on “TCEA: Breakfast – Reassessing Shakespeare”

  1. The name’s spelled DeVere. (I bet you were hearing it, and they sound the same?)

    And the biggest proponent is the current earl of Oxford. Funny that.

    I’m confused, though. Did Priest argue for Oxford or Shakespeare, or was he just outlining the old stuff?

    Did he talk about evidence in Drummond, etc? About the social class of other playwrights?

  2. You are right. I will fix that, thanks.

    Priest was outlining a lot, because most people weren’t Shakespeare scholars. I think he was arguing FOR Oxford. I slowed down on my note taking towards the end, so everything he said wasn’t in here.

  3. Thanks for bringing attention to de Vere. Roger Stritmatter encouraged me to publish my findings about the metrical psalms bound at the end of de Vere’s Bible. My website has links to several of my articles that reveal previously unknown sources for Shakespeare’s works in the metrical psalms de Vere annotated with large pointing hands in the margins.

  4. I am under the impression that “de Vere” means of the line of Vere going back to Aubrey long ago. The scion only can use the “de Vere” usage. Others are mere Veres. (Susan Vere, Elizabeth Vere, Edward Veer) Variations can veer a fair space, across fords, becks, dales, fells, and falls, depending on the season and locale.

    After academically broaching the previously unspeakable possibility of an appropriate author of the Shakespeare canon, possibly the professor Priest will not need a police escort if he wears glasses.

  5. Bardiac really ought to know better than to publicly make such a silly statement as “the biggest proponent [of the Oxford case] is the current earl of Oxford.”

    Unfortunately the complete absence of accountability in this statement typifies the “state of the debate” in the rarified atmosphere of the Shakespearean industry. Charles Beauclerk is NOT an earl of Oxford.

    More to the point, Beauclerk is but one of dozens of contemporary researchers, among them Mark K. Anderson, Richard Malim, Robert Detobel, Nina Green, William Ray (who commented above), Alex McNeil, Kevin Gilvary, Professor Daniel Wright, Professor Rima Greenhill (Stanf0rd University), Professor Michael Delahoyde, Professor Felicia Londre, and Professor Ren Draya, (to name only some of the most obvious) who are currently developing the Oxfordian paradigm. It is simply not accurate to single out Beauclerk in this context as if he was a lone voice crying in the wilderness that Bardiac evidently inhabits.

    Finally, a thought about “old stuff,” which seems to mean, “pay no attention to this because we already know about it.”

    As Dr. Warren Hope noted twenty years ago in a letter to the editor of College English (I quote from memory), in re the Oxford case: “New evidence is not needed until academia deals with the evidence that is already on the table.” Twenty years later, there is an abundance of new evidence, and yet “scholars” have not even scratched the surface of the “old evidence” to which Hope alluded, and continue to deny (a la James Shapiro) the existence of the new.

    This is deeply unfortunate, not so much for the heretics, who continue to build their case with impressive attention to detail and a healthy respect for contingencies of literary interpretation. I hope that Bardiac will in the future take a little more time to examine the details of the discussion before announcing silly ideas such as the one contained in the third sentence of her comment.

    Best Wishes,


  6. My comment above also was on the frivolous side. The state of the authorship debate at present (June 2011) is low, in my opinion, because the “Stratfordian” persuasion has never been encouraged to study the Elizabethan historical circumstances, (thereby perpetuating the contradictory biographical rationale.) Once reaching an inter-disciplinary competence, participants may be less tempted toward useless rancor. For instance, as a starting point of plain factuality, it has been determined for quite some time that the Shakspere signatures on a 1612 deposition, on a 1613 deed document, and on the will are all by an illiterate, assisted by a clerk at times. Shakspere was in good health and of sound mind in January 1616, when the will was rendered. Illness was never a factor. He was surely in good health and of sound mind in 1613, when, it is conjectured, the model for the 1616 will was rendered but set aside, rendered not by the (putatively) legally gifted signer but by a scribe out of a standard book of the time. From this brief discussion, it should be plain that we have been struggling to validate the wrong man as our greatest poet and playwright. An enormous amount of scholarly mentation has been wasted on a false subject. This is shaming. The emotional uproar from facing the truth of these things may convert the topic into a political power struggle rather than just a simple historical whodunit. The pious and sanctimonious priesthood of Shakespeareana is unlikely to admit an error of this magnitude. Status counts. But that embarrassment, compared to arriving at a just and accurate appraisal of so important a cultural question, should not be insurmountable.

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