Will Shakspere and the Earl of Oxford


A film worth seeing


My wife and I just watched the movie Anonymous again.


I liked it.  I understand that it received mixed reviews from critics, and, quite predictably, the literary establishment panned it.


Perhaps they’re right.  Unlike Sir Derek Jacobi, who appears at the beginning and the end of the film, I’m not yet a confirmed Oxfordian.  I haven’t made a serious study of the topic.  But I’m no longer a confirmed Stratfordian, either.  I’ve read enough to have an open mind on the matter.  I used to think that the Shakespearean authorship question was silly — the province, merely, of cranks.  But it’s actually a genuinely intriguing mystery, and my impression is that there are legitimate grounds for doubting that Mr. Shakspere wrote the sonnets and the plays.


Posted from Park City, Utah



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  • Axel Bromley

    I buy it all. I would have liked to have more rough drafts and documented ‘garbage’ from him as he was learning rather than nothing except a signature that was written in three different ways and then several ‘Taj Mahals’ written perfectly about a life (the court) of which he knew nothing about. So, I guess I am 100% an Oxfordian.

  • Scott Vanatter

    My wife and I just watched it for the first time. Watching the movie with my Note II buzzing to review the various potential authors makes for a bifurcated experience. The movie begs a comparison to the authorship debates about Joseph and The Book of Mormon. We enjoyed the movie. It was very clever, e.g., how they had Johnson’s quip re Shakespeare’s importance spoken to the Earl. Of course, the movie was told with a convinced (if not convincing) POV. I’d like to see another movie with as much fervor for ALTERNATIVE explanations for “authorship.” And no, Shakespeare in Love doesn’t count (in this regard). Though it was VERY enjoyable. (It is reported that the movie cost $30 million to make and only brought in $15 million. Perhaps that was stateside revenue.)

    • florwood

      That’s an interesting comparison. As the Shakespeare discussion has Oxfordians and Stratfordians, perhaps the Book of Mormon authoriship discussion could have Rigdonians, Spauldingians, and Nativeintelligencians…

  • William Ray

    The rags to riches legend of poor Will Shakespeare of Stratford making good in London is so much a part of our cultural identity that you can expect to be looked at askance if you question the idea. The film does propose a plausible though lurid explanation for a body of work that concentrates completely upon the aristocracy and particularly upon the anguish and temptations of kings and tyrants. I wish that it had simply told the truth as it is presently available–that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, a rebellious aristocrat of genius, took revenge on his class and close relatives–highly placed in the Tudor regime–for the assassination of his father, the indecently soon re-marriage of his mother to the underling of the assassin, who also took over the orphan’s lands, while the officious advisor to the monarch tried to marry off the rebellious youth to his own daughter. As much as this is the plot of Hamlet, it is the autobiography of Edward de Vere. There is much more to know, and apparently readers and thinkers will have to do it on their own. The Establishment, i.e., the educational elites, is throwing dirt as fast as it can, indicating a re-writing of literary and political history is in the air.

    WJ Ray

    • DanielPeterson

      Thanks for chiming in here!

      • William Ray


  • Allen

    Personally, I find the de Vere theory unconvincing, though there are mysteries in Shakespeare’s biography. So much of the de Vere theory is along the lines of commoners don’t or can’t write about the aristocracy when such a claim is self-evidently silly.

    • DanielPeterson

      Your summary of the DeVere theory is, yes, both “self-evidently silly” and — surprise! — a caricature of that theory.

      PART of the Oxfordian argument is that Will Shakspere lacked the education and background and travels and court connections to have written the plays — there are specific features of Venetian microgeography and Elizabethan diplomacy that come into play here, for example — but that the seventeenth Earl of Oxford had all of those things in spades.

      • Allen

        I said much of it, not all of it.

        Arguments like the ones you have mentioned are somewhat solider than a lot of Oxfordian scholarship

        Terence G. Schoone-Jongen voiced his concerns with anti-Stratfordian arguments that “smack of elitism.”

        “They doubt that a boy from Stratford would have received the necessary education or would have been able to acquire the necessary erudition they find evident in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Diana Price, for instance, claims that “it is difficult to square Shakspere’s probable but incomplete grammar school training with the works of Shakespeare- works that attest to a highly educated mind.””

        Schoone-Jongen, “Shakespeare’s Companies: William Shakespeare’s Early Career and the Acting Companies 1577-1594,” p. 5.

        I’m honestly no guiltier of caricature than the comment to which I was responding.

        Positing that a “body of work that concentrates completely upon the aristocracy and
        particularly upon the anguish and temptations of kings and tyrants,” poses a particular problem that must be accounted for by an aristocratic author at the very least implies that a commoner could not have written it.

    • William Ray

      “So much of the de Vere theory is along the lines of commoners don’t or
      can’t write about the aristocracy when such a claim is self-evidently
      First it is not silly, when speaking of an authoritarian regime, to posit that no commoner could have written the things that “Shakespeare” wrote. And no commoner did, without serious repercussions–such as a branded ear, a cut-off hand, and torture that left the writer half-alive and soon to lose the rest. Second, I know of no Oxfordian author who asserts the inaccessibility of high power to the illiterate Shakspere as the main feature of the hypothesis. Third, flip judgments concerning a clouded and concealed history can justifiably be termed self-evidently silly. The dominant narrative provides cliches by which to brush off questions about this authorship topic, but it is far better to study and think for oneself. With such invested interests motivating the machinery of media and publishing, that independence will certainly not come from the status quo.

      • Allen

        If that is the case, what nobleman was behind John Webster?

        • William Ray

          None. Webster was the proxy for Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. She presided over a college at Wilton House, praised by Thomas Nashe among others for its profundity and contribution to culture. See “No Spring till Now” by Stephanie Hopkins Hughes, The Oxfordian /6, 2003, for an excellent argument. Webster was trained as a mercer. He was Lady Pembroke’s coach-maker’s son. He produced nothing on his own except the attributed plays ‘The White Devil’, ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, and a short sequel. All were from the point of view of a woman, the only Elizabethan plays that featured women as protagonists–except certain female orations in Shakespeare. –IN reply to the “elitist” charge, it is not so much that Shakspere of Stratford, or John Webster for that matter, could NOT have written lyrically or profoundly, as that, as Hugh Trevor-Roper put it in “What’s In A Name?”, “…[I]n his outlook Shakespeare was an unquestioning aristocrat. To him the established order is a mystical harmony, kings rule by divine right, and any challenge to that harmony, that right, is unforgivable. It was its usurpation of the throne which, in the historical plays, was the herditary tragedy of the house of Lancaster. On the other hand, popular leaders–whether Roman tribunes or English rebels–are to him merely vulgar demagogues. The people, indeed, are quit unfit for public affairs. Kings may make war for trifles, nations may be sacrificed to chivalric honour, but the duty of the people is to admire and obey.” It was an unbreachable gap of philosophy, social origin, point of view, and to some extent complete identification with the medieval and classical past that separated Shakspere–even if a genius–from the Shakespeare canon. Plus the practical fact that a commoner was in danger to portray succession, royal bastardry, or usurping tyrants.