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article imageIf It Wasn't Shakespeare, Then Who?

By Joan Firstenberg     Apr 18, 2009 in Entertainment
Justice Stevens Renders an opinion on who wrote Shakespeare's plays. He says it wasn't the Bard of Avon and the evidence is beyond a reasonable doubt.
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is going way back in the books on a particular case that holds his interest. Justice Stevens, who dropped out of graduate study in English to join the U.S. Navy in 1941, calls himself an Oxfordian and says he is almost 100% sure that the works believed to be done by William Shakespeare, were actually written by the l7th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.
The thinking is that only a nobleman could have written such glorious passages depicting courtly life and exotic settings that were beyond England at that time. And since Shakespeare was in the entertainment business, considered extremely undignified at that time, the author chose to launder his works through him. Shakespeare was a member of the Globe Theater's acting troupe.
And many judges across a wide spectrum of the judiciary say he may be right. But take the issue to the rest of the public, and they're not so sure. Coppelia Kahn, president of the Shakespeare Association of America and professor of English at Brown University says about Justice Steven's findings.
"Oh my, Nobody gives any credence to these arguments."
Justice Stevens, who dropped out of graduate study in English to join the Navy in 1941, is an Oxfordian -- which means he believes the works commonly known to belong to William Shakespeare actually were written by the 17th earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. Several justices across the court's ideological spectrum say he may be right.
The bow-tied, 88-year-old Justice Stevens, who often leads the court's liberal wing, says he became interested in Shakespeare when he attended the Chicago World's Fair in 1933, where a replica Globe Theater presented many of the plays. Justice Stevens's father ran the restaurant concession nearby.
Justice Stevens admits he didn't really start thinking about the authorship question, until 1987, when he got together with Justices William Brennan and Harry Blackmun in a mock trial on authorship.
The justices couldn't find enough evidence to prove de Vere's claim. Justice Brennan vigorously rejected many Oxfordian premises, finding that "the historical William Shakespeare was not such an ignorant butcher's boy as he has been made out." It was a closer call for the other two justices.
Justice Stevens says in a visit to Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, he observed that the purported playwright left no books, nor letters or other records of a literary presence. Judge Stevens says..
"Where are the books? You can't be a scholar of that depth and not have any books in your home, He never had any correspondence with his contemporaries, he never was shown to be present at any major event -- the coronation of James or any of that stuff. I think the evidence that he was not the author is beyond a reasonable doubt."
Justice Stevens points out that all signs point to de Vere. For instance, Lord Burghley, guardian of the young de Vere, is generally accepted as the model for the courtier Polonius in "Hamlet."
"Burghley was the No. 1 adviser to the queen," says the justice. De Vere married [Burghley's] daughter, which fits in with Hamlet marrying Polonius's daughter, Ophelia."
Justice Stevens says Shakespeare dedicated two narrative poems to the earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley,
"who also was a ward of Lord Burghley and grew up in the same household, The coincidence...is really quite remarkable. Why in the world would William Shakespeare, the guy from Stratford, be dedicating these works to this nobleman?"
But Justice Stevens says he understands why people feel the allure of it being Shakespeare.
"a lot of people like to think its Shakespeare because...they like to think that a commoner can be such a brilliant writer. Even though there is no Santa Claus, it's still a wonderful myth."
More about Shakespeare, Plays, Edward vere
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