We were surprised to see the New York Times give so much space to the fringe belief that the works of Shakespeare were written not by William Shakespeare, the actor from Stratford, but by Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford ("A Historic Whodunit: If Shakespeare Didn't, Who Did?", February 10, 2002). This was one of the silliest pieces ever to appear in the long history of the Times, displaying the same double standards and indifference to factual accuracy which are hallmarks of Oxfordian writings. It is bad enough when well-intentioned but badly misinformed nonspecialists such as Justice John Paul Stevens get taken in by Oxfordian propaganda, but it saddens us that the Times, of all publications, would relax its usual standards so dramatically and lend its prestige to this farrago of misinformation.
The evidence that William Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him is ample, indeed greater than the comparable evidence for most other playwrights of the time. No evidence connects the Earl of Oxford with these works. Denying Shakespeare's authorship requires completely abandoning the standards used by literary historians, indeed by historians in general, which is why professional Shakespeareans pay so little heed to such claims. Yet William S. Niederkorn presents a bizarre caricature of the scholarly position, apparently gleaned primarily from Oxfordians. He knows the location of our website, ShakespeareAuthorship.com, though it is sadly apparent that he has not read most of what is there. Nor did he bother to contact us, despite placing us in what he calls "a formidable cadre of anti-Oxfordians," and despite the numerous links on our site by which he could have emailed us. Has it become the policy of the New York Times when promoting eccentric views to ignore those who offer what the Times considers "formidable" refutations of those views?
Niederkorn's article is littered with factual distortions, most of them apparently taken straight from his Oxfordian friends. His claim that the Earls of Oxford and Southampton "had a close relationship" and "lived under the same roof" is sheer Oxfordian fantasy, as we explain on our web site; the two men were 23 years apart in age, and there is no documentary evidence that they even knew each other personally. Niederkorn's attempted "refutation" of the dating of Shakespeare's late plays is taken almost verbatim from the main Oxfordian web site, and even reproduces its errors; for example, he claims that no observers besides Sir Henry Wotton said that Henry VIII (All is True) was a new play in 1613, when in fact Henry Bluett called it "a new play called All is True, which had been acted not passing 2 or 3 times before."
In order to make the vacuous "case" for the Earl of Oxford's authorship of Shakespeare seem more respectable, Niederkorn is forced to downplay its many eccentricities. He notes that authorship claims for Francis Bacon "bogged down in a search for cryptograms in Shakespeare texts that would point to Bacon," but conceals the fact that the Oxfordian "theory" has also bogged down in similarly misguided cryptogram-hunting. Oxfordian publications are thick with mathematically worthless cryptogram claims, such as the claim that there are ciphers in the dedication to Shakespeare's Sonnets, or that the title page of Henry Peacham's Minerva Britanna contains an Oxfordian cipher despite the fact that neither Shakespeare nor the 17th earl of Oxford is mentioned anywhere in that book. If the search for cryptograms counts against the Baconians, why does it not tell against the Oxfordians?
Niederkorn also writes that "the Marlowe theory and the group-authorship theory share one big problem -- their authors' works are quite different from Shakespeare's." But the very same problem afflicts the Oxfordian view, to a much greater extent. Oxford's poetry is far inferior to Marlowe's by virtually any standard, and as we explain in great detail at our site, most of Oxford's poetry was written in forms and styles that had already become outmoded when Shakespeare wrote, while almost all of Shakespeare's verse is in forms unattempted by Oxford.
Niederkorn seems strangely impressed by Looney's attempt to toss aside all the evidence about who wrote the works of Shakespeare, and instead to infer from those works what sort of person Shakespeare should have been. Such highly subjective speculation has limited value even in the hands of experts, and when done by someone almost totally unfamiliar with the history and literature of the time -- as Looney admittedly was -- it becomes essentially worthless. Proponents of other "candidates" have made similar lists which target their man but exclude Oxford; how would Niederkorn respond to those lists? Similarly, the use of alleged parallels between Oxford's life and the plays, a key part of every Oxfordian argument, crumbles like a house of cards when put in context. Many of the alleged "parallels" are in fact common literary tropes of the time, and similar lists of parallels can be made for many other noblemen, such as King James and the Earls of Essex and Derby.
The antistratfordian rejection of historical evidence has been used by many Oxfordians (including some of the most prominent people in the movement today) to credit Oxford with having written works that are generally and properly attributed to Gascoigne, Golding, Lyly, and many others. This extension is an inevitable result of any antistratfordianism: rejecting the evidence for the authorship of Shakespeare's works leads, domino-like, to rejection of the evidence for other authors, whose works are usually then credited to the favored "candidate". Oxfordians do this well, but the Baconians are actually the champs, having credited Bacon with everything from The Faerie Queene to Paradise Lost to works written centuries after Bacon died.
Once you have decided to ignore historical evidence (and all strains of antistratfordianism require such a decision), you may make up anything you please. In the old days this might have been called "fiction," but for Niederkorn all claims seem equally plausible. Thus he notes, with a straight face, that "some Oxfordians have suggested that de Vere ... was the son of Queen Elizabeth; or that Southampton was his child by her" -- two claims which will cause gales of uncontrollable laughter in anyone even slightly familiar with 16th-century English history. It gets better: the latest Oxfordian book (Oxford, Son of Queen Elizabeth I by Paul Streitz) suggests that Oxford was both Elizabeth's son AND that Southampton was their child, as if Chinatown had been remade as an Elizabethan film noir. This book was written by the head of the Oxford Institute, one of the leading Oxfordian organizations.
Such silliness is the inevitable result of Oxfordians' wholesale rejection of scholarly and historical standards. It is that rejection, rather than any of the conclusions reached by Oxfordians, which causes Shakespeareans to dismiss this whole sideshow as an annoyance outside the realm of real scholarship.
We were surprised to see the Times devote space to the unsupported fringe belief that the works of Shakespeare were written not by William Shakespeare, but by the 17th earl of Oxford. William Niederkorn's article was an incredibly shoddy piece of journalism, displaying the same errors and double standards which are hallmarks of Oxfordian writings. Had Mr. Niederkorn consulted our web site (ShakespeareAuthorship.com), he might have avoided some of the many factual distortions which litter his article. Rejecting the ample evidence for Shakespeare's authorship requires a wholesale abandonment of the most basic standards of historical evidence, which is why Oxfordians are not taken seriously by real scholars. It is bad enough when well-intentioned but badly misinformed nonspecialists such as Justice John Paul Stevens are taken in by Oxfordian propaganda, but it saddens us that the Times would tarnish its reputation by uncritically publishing such anti-intellectual drivel.
Alan Nelson was also mentioned in Niederkorn's article, but Niederkorn never bothered to get in touch with him, either. See Nelson's response to the Times.
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