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Joseph Sobran on Shakespeare’s Bible

Bible holds proof of Shakespeare’s identity

©1993 Joseph Sobran
Universal Press Columnist
July 1993


I keep trying to convince you heathen that the works of “William Shakespeare” were actually written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. So far my success has been limited. Well if you won’t believe me maybe you’ll believe the Bible. The Earl of Oxford’s Bible that is.

A young scholar has recently made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of the Shakespeare authorship controversy. Roger Stritmatter, a graduate Student of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has studied Oxford’s copy of the Bible and it strongly supports the view that Oxford was in fact the author we call “Shakespeare.”

Oxford owned the Geneva translation of the Bible, the version Shakespeare echoes more than any other. Moreover Oxford marked his copy heavily—and he marked hundreds of verses that scholars have already found echoed in the works of Shakespeare.

As far as we know the Stratford man usually thought to be Shakespeare didn’t even own a Bible. His will mentions no books or manuscripts at all. Ironically Oxford’s Bible has been in the great Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington since 1925. But Mr. Stritmatter is the first scholar to examine it closely.

It would be a near-miracle if two different readers had taken special note of so many of the same verses, mostly little-known verses, as Shakespeare and Oxford did. Space forbids a full summary here, so let me concentrate on one Shakespearean character: Sir John Falstaff.

Falstaff appears in three plays and is mentioned in a fourth. He also quotes the Bible constantly, to wonderfully comic effect. And he and his companions quote, echo or allude to at least nine of the verses marked by Oxford!

Even if you’ve read the Bible, do you remember Achitophel? Falstaff does. He calls one of his myriad creditors (children, cover your ears!) “a whoreson Achitophel.” Oxford has underlined the entire verse (11 Samuel 16:23) that identifies Achitophel as the counselor of David and Absalom.

Falstaff humorously likens his drunkard friend Bardolph’s brightnose to “an everlasting bonfire-light”, recalling the phrase “everlasting fire” in Matthew 25:41, a verse Oxford also marked. But for that nose says Falstaff Bardolph would be “the son of utter darkness,” a clear allusion to I Thessalonians 5:5: “You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, neither of darkness.” Yet again Oxford has marked the verse referred to by Falstaff.

When his friend Prince Hal becomes king, Falstaff, mistakenly thinking his own ship has come in, exults: “Blessed are they that have been my friends, and woe unto my lord chief justice!” This plainly echoes the beatitudes and admonitions of Jesus, and Oxford has marked one of the verses Falstaff’s cry suggests.

Of course the words of Jesus are so familiar that an allusion to them is unremarkable. But most of Falstaff’s biblical echoes are arcane. Consider one of the most striking of them, Falstaff’s boast: “I fear not Goliath with a weaver’s beam.” This can only refer to 11 Samuel 21:19, where Goliath’s spear is said to be like a weaver’ beam. Oxford has underlined those same words in his own Bible. This can hardly be accidental.

These are only a handful of many examples. Mr. Stritmatter’s discovery has reinforced the already powerful circumstantial case that the Earl of Oxford was Shakespeare, the man who gave us Falstaff. Neither Shakespeare nor Oxford has ever been thought of as very religious: yet both fasten on these same verses in the same translation of the Bible—because they were the same man.

Until now the Shakespeare authorship question has usually been considered a marginal issue, if not a crank idea. “What difference does it make who wrote the plays?” people ask. “The important thing is that we have the plays themselves.”

But the annotations in Oxford’s Bible are more than a solution to whodunit; they are a major addition to Shakespeare studies. They give us a truly priceless look into the creative process of our greatest poet. To read them is to witness the birth of Falstaff.

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