Shakespeare too has been the victim of the assault on history and truth. Assorted conspiracy kooks identify “the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, a courtier poet with some twenty fairly conventional lyrics to his name,” as the real deal. Writes Brian Vickers, in the August 19 & 26 issue of the Times Literary Supplement: “There are several insuperable objections to Oxford’s candidature: he died with a dozen of Shakespeare’s sole and co-authored plays unwritten (or at least unperformed); the style of his poetic oeuvre is extremely limited and un-Shakespearean; he led a busy and wasteful aristocratic existence abroad and at home.”
The Oxfordians, says Vickers, have performed all manner of chicanery to get around these difficulties, including to re-date plays and to “invent a new chronology, improbably dating Shakespeare’s early comedies to the late 1570s, and postulating that Oxford left drafts of all the remaining plays for Shakespeare to touch up and pass off as his own, either completely hoaxing everyone connected with the Globe [one of the theatres the busy Shakespeare managed—he worked daily with a host of theatre people], or relying on their connivance.”
“The Oxfordian cause has been vigorously pursued, with perverse enthusiasm…Supporters may sustain themselves with a sense of cocking a snook at official culture, or exposing an evil conspiracy whose existence was unsuspected for 300 years. But whatever the Oxfordians are producing, it is not scholarship.”
Scott McCrea’s The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question is “the latest in an honorable line of books reaffirming Shakespeare’s authorship, of which the most notable are H. N. Gibson’s The Shakespeare Claimants (1962), Samuel Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives (1970; revised edition, 1991), Irving Matus’s Shakespeare in Fact (1994) and Jonathan Bate’s The Genius of Shakespeare (1997).” McCrea’s book is said to be of a high scholarly standard.
“In his final chapter, ‘All conspiracy theories are alike,’ [McCrea] suggests that ‘denial of Shakespeare follows exactly the same flawed reasoning as Holocaust denial’ in that it rejects the most obvious explanation of an event, and reinterprets evidence to fit a preconceived idea (‘the ovens at Auschwitz baked bread’).
Facts that contradict the theory are explained by conspiracy, but this ploy means that ‘conspiracy theories are really not theories at all,’ but faiths, which cannot be proved false. McCrea recognizes that, despite his subtitle, ‘there can never be an end to the Authorship Question,’ [ditto Holocaust denial], a depressing prospect.
He maintains a good-humored tone, a pleasant contrast to many works in this field, but one can be too cool. As we survey the never-ending flow of anti-Shakespeare books it is hard not to share the bitterness of Georg Brandes, moved in part to write his William Shakespeare (1898) by the ‘ignorant and arrogant attack’ of the ‘wretched group of dilettanti‘ who have ‘been bold enough… to deny William Shakespeare the right to his own life-work.'”