Answering Shapiro … A Reply to the Professor’s Op-Ed Column in the NY Times Part 1

In the New York Times of Monday October 17, 2011, on the Op Ed page, appeared a column by James Shapiro, a professor of English at Columbia University, author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?  The constraints of time and blog compel me to reply in brief segments, of which this is the first:

With Professor Shapiro, who is signing a copy of "Contested Will" for me

SHAPIRO:  “ROLAND EMMERICH’S film ‘Anonymous,’ which opens next week, ‘presents a compelling portrait of Edward de Vere as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.’  That’s according to the lesson plans that Sony Pictures has been distributing to literature and history teachers in the hope of convincing students that Shakespeare was a fraud.  A documentary by First Folio Pictures (of which Mr. Emmerich is president) will also be part of this campaign.   “So much for ‘Hey, it’s just a movie!’”

WHITTEMORE:  Right – it’s not just a movie, it’s a game changer.  This particular film holds the potential to turn the study of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan age inside-out.  For one thing, it will substantially alter Professor Shapiro’s classroom world, especially when students view the documentary film (“Last Will and Testament”) and demand to know why they’ve never been told any of this stuff.

(I admit that saying that Shakespeare was a “fraud” is catchy but misleading.  In the real world of Oxfordian research “Shakespeare” is a pen name, a pseudonym.  The only fraud, if you will, is the misattribution of authorship to William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon.  The true author of the “Shakespeare” works — Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, using a pen name — was every bit the genius we know that “Shakespeare” was.   They were one and the same man.  Moreover, Oxford brought the Renaissance into England – and yes, that’s a fact.)

To call the movie + documentary film part of a “campaign” is an attempt to cast suspicion on the project — conveniently forgetting that the whole Shakespeare industry, based on the Stratford man, is part of a “campaign” that’s been carried on for more than two centuries … a campaign that has also blocked all attempts to bring the Authorship Question to the attention of students, teachers and members of the general public.

SHAPIRO:  “The case for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, dates from 1920, when J. Thomas Looney, an English writer who loathed democracy and modernity, argued — ”

John Thomas Looney (1870-1944)

WHITTEMORE:  Whoa, now, good sir.  We learned that trick on the first day of journalism class.  You could start with “Hubert Humphrey, a brilliant man, today announced he is running for president” or, rather, “Hubert Humphrey, once a pig farmer, today announced he is running for president” – and so on.  Loathed democracy and modernity?  Well … no, no, I refuse … no, I am not going to stoop to the position of defending that unassuming British schoolmaster who wrote “Shakespeare” Identified to describe his remarkable feat of literary detection.  I’m not going to allow my attention to be diverted from the message to the messenger.  That was the trick of Contested Will — trying to tarnish brilliant anti-Stratfordians such as Helen Keller, Sigmund Freud and Mark Twain — and, sadly enough, it worked all too well for those readers who had no other information.

SHAPIRO:  “ — that only a worldly nobleman could have created such works of genius; Shakespeare, a glover’s son and money-lender, could never have done so.”

WHITTEMORE:  No, Professor, not so.  That is not what Looney argued and it’s not what any of us argue.  We look at the plain facts of life in London during that time; and we also look at what’s actually in the Shakespeare works – such as, to name two items, the author’s intimate knowledge of Italy and his use of Greek sources, both of which have been denied to Shakespeare by traditional scholars because (1) the Stratford man never went to Italy, as the Earl of Oxford did, and (2) those Greek sources were unavailable in England except in private libraries such as that of William Cecil Lord Burghley, who was first Oxford’s guardian and then his father-in-law.   (In fact, that may have been the only library with such source material.)  So, no – the argument has nothing to do with what you suggest, which, simply, is that Looney must have been a snob … and the rest of us, too.  No, that misstatement is just another attack on the messenger, just another attempt to divert attention from the message.

(Dear Reader, to tell you the truth, I don’t really enjoy arguing against false charges.  I’d much rather spend my time on the positive, that is, on reasons to conclude that Oxford wrote the Shakespeare works.  But the imminent arrival of Anonymous has triggered a full-scale attack, so we’ll continue our reply to the professor in upcoming blogs.)

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Excellent, Hank!

    • Thanks, Richard. Very good to meet you at the conference and to take in your fine paper.

  2. As always, a thoughtful reply to the same-old, same-old attack tactics.

    • Much appreciated, Riz. Thanks for keeping up the good fight, as ever.


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