The debate continues, the mystery persistsWho wrote Shakespeare? [Archives:2007/1051/Education]

May 17 2007

Dr Murari Prasad
Faculty of Arts
Sana'a University
[email protected]

Since the publication of “a strongly pro-Oxfordian piece” in the New York Times (February 10, 2002), the claim for the 17th Earl of Oxford as the likely author of Shakespeare's works has got a substantial boost and considerable endorsement. While the Stratfordians (supporters of William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon) have dismissed the Oxfordians' ( supporters of the 17th Earl of Oxford) contention as “the unsupported fringe belief”, the latter have argued their point with immense vehemence and circumstantial evidence. In this context, an article published in Yemen Times (“William Shakespeare and his Challengers”, 25 April 2005) has evoked a measure of response. It is an opportune moment to tie up these responses with William Shakespeare's date of birth ( also the date on which he passed away, 23 April 1564-23 April 1616)).

Here is Willard Ron Hess, the author of a significant book in support of the 17th Earl of Oxford, the latest candidate for the Shakespearean works:

Dear Dr. Murari Prasad:

I read your very interesting pro-Oxfordian article in the Yemen Times ( after a friend forwarded it to our Oxfordian community. Welcome to you as an Oxfordian, in intellectual honesty if not in dues-paying membership. I've written several books in a series, “The Dark Side of Shakespeare,” which can be read for free online via instructions on my webpage (this needs a bit of updating, particularly about my forthcoming Volumes IIIA, IIIB, & IIIC). I'd appreciate getting some feedback from you and your students after you've read through my webpage.

You'll likely find most interesting my arguments that the 17th Oxford's trips to Belgium, France, and Italy from 1574 to 76 were part of a larger mission to encounter, beguile, befuddle, and then destroy Europe's most dangerous war-man, Don Juan of Austria, the “Victor of Lepanto,” who in 1573 had been ordered in a Papal Bull to take his fleet from Naples to invade England, free Mary Queen of Scots from her English imprisonment, put Mary on the throne of England, marry her, and thus make himself King of England. Then I show that Don Juan as inspiration for characters and situations appears to have been inserted into each and every Shakespeare play. And that would have been strange indeed for plays first emerging in 1594 to 1623, since Don Juan died (or was poisoned) in October 1578 just as he was preparing to invade England from Belgium, and later bogeymen, like his nephew the Duke of Parma, took his place in the English topicality. I argue that only someone like Oxford, who'd encountered and abused Don Juan, visited places like Milan and Sicily that were in Don Juan's governorship, could have had such a fascination with the quickly forgotten war-man.

Sincerely yours,

W. Ron Hess

[email protected]

Another Shakespearean scholar 'intrigued' by the YT article is Richard M Waugaman. He writes:

Dear Prof. Prasad

I was intrigued to read in your 2005 article on Shakespeare and his

Challengers in the Yemen Times that there is a “US-Aussie grant of

$170,000 to develop computer softward capable of analyzing” authorship

questions. I have not been able to find other references to that

grant. Do you happen to know what has become of it?

Thank you

Richard M. Waugaman, M.D.

Clinical Professor of Psychiatry,

Georgetown University School of Medicine

Reader, Folger Shakespeare Library

email: [email protected]

Further, seminars and conferences have been organized by the Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre at Concordia University to probe and resolve the issue. In response to my question pertaining to Ben Jonson's celebrated remarks on Shakespeare, ” Sweet Swan of Avon”, the Oxfordians have said that this evidence could apply to Oxford by asserting that Oxford owned an estate on the Avon river. While it's true that one of the many estates Oxford inherited from his father was at Bilton on the Avon river, the Stratfordians trash the plea by saying that the Earl sold this estate in 1580 (43 years before Jonson's poem), and there is no evidence that he was ever physically present there.

Recently, Prof David Crystal has come out with a scrap of argument , though far from joining this controversy, in support of Shakespeare's school education :

“I have actually recently discovered a fragment of a school report about Shakespeare, written by his teacher in 1571, when the lad was seven:

'Some small improvement this term. Needs to work on his handwriting. Still talking in class a lot. Frivolous attitude. Seems to have an unhealthy interest in ghosts, witches, and daggers.'

A forgery, do I hear you say?” (“Shakespeare and ELT”)

A performance lecture originally given, with the assistance of Ben Crystal and Hilary Crystal, at IATEFL 2003, Brighton”)

It remains to be seen how the Oxfordians respond to Crystal's plea once it is published. Ron Hess, in a recent email to me, hints at the upcoming intellectual sparring: “As to Prof. Crystal, let him publish his 'scrap of evidence,' since no scrap of evidence exists that Mr. Shakspere [Shakespeare] ever attended any educational institution. Indeed, if you read the Cox and Detobelarticles on my webpage (articles #3 & #4), you'll see that best evidence is he didn't even know how to write. And in a town overwhelmingly illiterate, in a family where everyone (parents, wife, children) 'signed with their mark,' nobody should be given the presumption of literacy, should they?”

So far the Oxfordians' contention has been derided as ” factual distortion” fabulously concocted and William Niederktorn's article in the Times , allegedly in support of their claim, as ” anti-intellectual drivel”. Yemen Times is yet to hear back from the Stratfordians. Meanwhile, for the mainstream Shakespeareans, in the absence of decisive evidence and lack of consensus amidst the swelling tide of contankerous spats, the Bard of Avon remains as potent as his pentameters.