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The Honor Roll of Skeptics

Questioning the orthodoxy

Doubts about Shaksper of Stratford’s claim to the Shakespeare canon have been around for centuries. Among the many political, literary, cultural and intellectual figures who have recorded their thoughts about the authorship question are…

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Delia Bacon

Delia Bacon (1811-1859) “[Shakespeare] carries the court influence with him, unconsciously, wherever he goes… He looks into Arden and Eastcheap from the court standpoint, not from these into the court, and he is as much a prince with Poins and Bardolph as he is when he enters and throws open to us, without awe, without consciousness, the most delicate mysteries of the royal presence.”

Mr. Justice Harry A. Blackmun. The Supreme Court Justice, speaking at the 1987 Moot Court Debate on the Authorship of Shakespeare’s Work, stated that “Oxfordians have come closer to proving their case than any other dissenters” [and] his mind, like Antonio’s in The Merchant of Venice , was “tossing on the ocean”. In 1992, in the Introduction to the second edition of Charlton Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare, Blackmun says: “If I had to cast my vote [today], it would be for the Oxfordians”

ImageCharlie Chaplin (1889-1977) “In the work of the greatest geniuses, humble beginnings will reveal themselves somewhere but one cannot trace the slightest sign of them in Shakespeare… Whoever wrote [Shakespeare] had an aristocratic attitude.”

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) (1835-1910) “We are The Reasoning Race, and when we find a vague file of chipmunk tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our reasoning powers that Hercules has been along there. I feel that our fetish is safe for three centuries yet.” From Is Shakespeare Dead?

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Charles Dickens (1812-1870) “It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking, that so little is known concerning the poet. The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery, and I tremble every day lest something should turn up.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) “The Egyptian verdict of the Shakespeare Societies comes to mind, that he was a jovial actor and manager. I cannot marry this fact to his verse.”

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Freud

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) “I no longer believe that… the actor from Stratford was the author of the works that have been ascribed to him. Since reading Shakespeare Identified by J. Thomas Looney, I am almost convinced that the assumed name conceals the personality of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford… The man of Stratford seems to have nothing at all to justify his claim, whereas Oxford has almost everything.”

Sir John Gielgud
Gielgud

Sir John Gielgud. “..extremely sympathetic to the Oxfordian cause.” (as reported in the London Daily Mail). The world famous actor is currently the President of the World Shakespeare Congress and signed a petition sponsored by the Shakespeare Oxford Society asking to have the Shakespeare authorship and the claims for Edward de Vere given a full and fair hearing by the Shakespeare establishment.

Leslie Howard

Leslie Howard. In his 1941 propaganda film Pimpernel Smith, Howard takes several occasions to allow lead character Professor Horatio Smith to expound on the Shakespeare authorship: “Now this [holds up Looney's book] proves conclusively that Shakespeare wasn’t really Shakespeare at all … he was the Earl of Oxford … The Earl of Oxford was a very bright Elizabethan light, but this book will tell he was a good deal more than that … ‘Alas poor Yorick’, –the Earl of Oxford wrote that, you know”.

Sir Derek Jacobi. “I agreed to put my name to a school of thought that maintains that the earl [17th Earl of Oxford], Edward de Vere, was the author of the plays,” Jacobi stated in an interview with The Washington Times in April 1997. “Where did this Shakespeare come from? Where did all that knowledge and eloquence and truth come from? ,,, I am highly suspicious of that gentleman from Stratford on Avon,” he continued. “I’m pretty convinced our playwright wasn’t that fellow. This opinion is very unpopular with the good burghers of Stratford, I realize, but they also make their living on the legend of Shakespeare’s local origins. I don’t think it was him.” (Quoted in The Washington Times, April 25, 1997.)

Henry James (1843-1916) “I am… haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world.”

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Malcolm X (1925-1965) “Another hot debate I remember I was in had to do with the identity of Shakespeare. No color was involved there; I just got intrigued over the Shakespearean dilemma. The King James translation of the Bible is considered the greatest piece of literature in English… They say that from 1604 to 1611, King James got poets to translate, to write the Bible. Well, if Shakespeare existed, he was then the top poet around. But Shakespeare is nowhere reported connected with the Bible . If he existed, why didn’t King James use him?” (From The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

David McCullough.”The strange, difficult, contradictory man who emerges as the real Shakespeare, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is not just plausible but fascinating and wholly believable. It is hard to imagine anyone who reads the book with an open mind ever seeing Shakespeare or his works in the same way again” (From the Foreword to the second edition of The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn)

Amb. Paul H. Nitze. “I believe the considerations favoring the Oxfordian hypothesis … are overwhelming. …It’s fashionable today to declare “the death of the author”; the author’s life and experience count for naught. Any consideration of the author’s intention or meaning is rejected. Rejected, too, is any thought that the author was communicating something important to the spectator or the reader. For those afflicted by this fashionable myopia, who Shakespeare was, how he lived and what he was trying to tell us are irrelevant. But fashions come and go, and I am told there are signs that the negation of authorial intention in academic literary criticism has peaked.” (From the Foreword to Shakespeare: Who Was He? by Richard Whalen)

Mr. Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr.. “I have never thought that the man of Stratford-on-Avon wrote the plays of Shakespeare. I know of no admissible evidence that he ever left England or was educated in the normal sense of the term. One must wonder, for example, how he could have written The Merchant of Venice.”

Mark Rylance. “As an actor my training is to look for the motivation necessary for any act. I find that the unfortunately limited evidence of the Stratfordian authorship theory seems to reveal little more than monetary motivation … I find the work of the Shakespeare Oxford Society reveals a character, in Edward de Vere, motivated to use the mask of drama to reveal the true identity and nature of his time, as only someone in his position would have known, and as was the well established habit so clearly demonstrated in Hamlet.” (From a letter to the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Winter 1997, p. 21. Rylance is the Artistic Director at the Globe Theatre in London)

Mr. Justice John Paul Stevens. In his 1991 Max Rosen lecture on the Shakespeare authorship, the Supreme Court Justice talked of the Sherlock Holmes principle that sometimes the fact that a watchdog did not bark may provide a significant clue about the identity of a murderous intruder. “First, where is Shakespeare’s library? … Second, his son-in-law’s detailed medical journals … make no mention of his illustrious father-in-law. [And] finally, the seven year period of silence that followed Shakespeare’s death in 1616 … Perhaps he did not merit a crypt in Westminster Abbey, or a eulogy penned by King James, but it does seem odd that not even a cocker spaniel or a dachshund made any noise at all when he passed from the scene.” (This lecture, “The Shakespeare Canon of Statutory Construction”, was published in 1992; an abridged version is available on this server).

Orson Wells

Orson Welles. “I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don’t agree, there are some awfully funny coincidences to explain away…” (As quoted in Kenneth Tynan’s Persona Grata (London : Allen Wingate Ltd., 1953).

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) “Conceiv’d out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism, personifying in unparallel’d ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) one of the wolfish earls so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendent and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works… I am firm against Shaksper. I mean the Avon man, the actor.”

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In addition to these individuals just quoted above, the following distinquished men and women of letters have also either rejected or seriously doubted the Stratford attribution.

Those who have rejected the Stratford attribution:

Hamilton Basso (novelist, reviewed 5 Stratfordian biographies in The New Yorker 4/18/50)
Prof. Louis P. Benezet (Dartmouth)
Richard Bentley (President, Chicago Bar Association, and Editor of The American Bar Association Journal)
Tom Bethell (syndicated columnist)
John Bright (Lord Rector of University of Glasgow)
John Buchan (novelist, historian & Chancellor of Edinburgh University)
Otto von Bismarck
Charles Champlin (Arts Editor of The Los Angeles Times)
Benjamin Disraeli
Senator Paul Douglas (also a Chicago University Professor)
Daphne DuMaurier
Cyrus Durgin (drama critic, The Boston Globe)
Prof. William Y. Elliott (Harvard)
Clifton Fadiman
Prof. Bronson Feldman (Temple University)
Daniel Frohman (famed producer of plays & theater historian)
W.H. Furness (literary scholar and father of the editor of the Variorum)
John Galsworthy
Charles DeGaulle
Prof. Louis J. Halle (Ecole de Hautes Etudes)
James Joyce
Helen Keller
Kevin Kelly (drama critic, The Boston Globe)
David Lloyd Kreeger
Lewis Lapham (Editor, Harper’s)
Prof. Abel LeFranc (College de France; one of 40 members of Academie des Inscription et Belles Lettres)
Prof. W. Barton Leach (Harvard Law)
Clare Booth Luce
Lord Palmerston
Maxwell Perkins (eminent literary editor)
Prof. William Lyons Phelps (Yale)
Canon Gerald H. Rendall (Litt D.)
Dr. Peter Sammartino (Founder & First President, Farleigh Dickinson University)
Lincoln Schuster (of Simon & Schuster)
Joseph Sobran (syndicated columnist)
Muriel Spark
Day Thorpe (Literary editor, Washington Star)
Philip Weld (Publisher, International N.Y. Herald Tribune)
John Greenleaf Whittier
Dr. Daniel Wright (Chair, Department of English, Concordia University – Portland, OR)

Among those who have expressed either some doubt, or at least “wonderment”, about the Stratford attribution are:

Prof. Crane Brinton (Harvard)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Tyronne Guthrie
Thomas Hardy
Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes
Prof. Sidney Hook (S.Y.U.)
James Russell Lowell
Prof. Hugh Trevor-Roper (Oxford University)
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And finally, some commentary on the authorship question as found in literature, but which does not necessarily tell us just what the author himself actually thought about the issue. We have created this section in response to questions raised in 1997 and again in 1998 about Vladimir Nabokov, who had been listed in 1997 on our Honor Roll as one who seriously questioned the Stratford attribution, but who we now believe should not be cited as an anti-Stratfordian, at least not on the strength of the following lines …but the lines are pretty good, so we do want to keep them here.

“His name is protean. He begets doubles at every corner. His penmanship is unconsciously faked by lawyers who happen to write a similar hand. On the wet morning of November 27, 1582, he is Shaxpere and she is a Wately of Temple Grafton. A couple of days later he is Shagsper and she is a Hathaway of Stratford-on-Avon. Who is he? William X, cunningly composed of two left arms and a mask. Who else? The person who said (not for the first time) that the glory of God is to hide a thing, and the glory of man is to find it. However, the fact that the Warwickshire fellow wrote the plays is most satisfactorily proved on the strength of an *applejohn* and a pale primrose.” From Bend Sinister

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