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The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare

by Mark Anderson

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 2005
ISBN: 1-592-40103-1
Publisher: Gotham Books

In which Shakespeare turns out to be Shake-speare, not Shakspere.

Young journalist Anderson revives a very old argument, most of it from silence, that the presumably illiterate William Shakspere (the actor) of Stratford couldn’t possibly have written the learned and wise work attributed to him as Shakespeare (the author). Article 1: There’s no record of Shakspere’s having signed up for school. Article 2: There’s no evidence that Shakspere got any farther than London. Article 3: Shakspere’s will mentions no books, though scholars have busied themselves for generations sussing out the books that Shakespeare drew on for inspiration and storylines. The problem with such arguments, as previous would-be debunkers have discovered, is that there’s no evidence that the actor didn’t attend school; there’s reason to think he fought as a soldier on the Continent; and he may well have disposed of his books before dying so as to get some much-needed cash into the estate. No matter: following Orson Welles’s lead, Anderson turns to the well-worn thesis that the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, had all the chops to be the real Shakespeare (pen name Shake-speare, with winking hyphen): he was brilliant, much traveled and splendid, but also noble—good reason to stay away from the tawdry life of the stage in Elizabethan England, which, at the time, was torn by enough religious strife and political intrigue to keep a fellow busy doing other things, making a front convenient. Anderson charges into literary-critical battle with an admirable lack of self-consciousness, offering inventive readings, including one of Hamlet as a vehicle for the heretical thoughts of the Italian monk Giordano Bruno. He is less convincing on other argumentative lines, such as whether The Tempest, long thought to draw on a 1609 account of a Bermuda shipwreck—that is, a book published several years after de Vere’s death—might have had some other basis.

Since the real Shakespeare is no longer around to stand up, such arguments are difficult to resolve. Anderson makes a spirited case, and even the staunchest anti–de Vere partisan will profit from hearing him out—though will likely remain unconvinced.