What Winston Churchill Said About Questioning the Shakespeare Authorship

A favorite story among Oxfordians, which may or may not be apocryphal, is about what Sir Winston Churchill is said to have replied when it was suggested by someone – perhaps at the table during one of those talk-filled dinner parties, at which Churchill loved to hold forth – that he take a look at the 1920 book “Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford by John Thomas Looney.  Churchill shook his head and retorted:  “I don’t like to have my myths tampered with!”

Sounds familiar!  Churchill was well aware of Shakespeare’s importance as a symbol of English national pride.  In A History of the English-Speaking Peoples he concludes his chapter on the Spanish armada with the stirring final words of the Bastard in King John:

Come the three corners of the world in arms,

And we shall shock them.  Nought shall make us rue

If England to itself do rest but true.

The photo of Churchill reprinted here was taken by Yousuf Karsh of Canada, whom I interviewed for PARADE magazine in 1978, when the great photographer was seventy.  Here’s a summary of what Karsh told me about how he had created this world-famous portrait, which became a symbol of Britain’s fighting spirit:

It was December 30, 1941, when an embattled Churchill gave a rousing speech to the Canadian Parliament and, afterward, marched into an anteroom where Karsh, then thirty-three, was waiting to take his picture.  The British prime minister glared at the camera.

“You may take one,” he growled, clamping a freshly lit cigar in the corner of his mouth.

“Sir, here is an ashtray,” the young photographer said.

Churchill dismissed the offer with a frown.  Moments passed.  Then suddenly Karsh snatched the cigar from the Great Man’s lips.  Scowling, Churchill thrust his head forward in anger and placed his hand on his hip as if in defiance.  At that moment, the photographer clicked his shutter.

The portrait was published on the cover of LIFE magazine and won Karsh international attention.   The real story is that this marvelous symbol of Britain’s fighting spirit, staring down his enemies, was actually the picture of a man who was angry at the theft of his cigar!

The Second of 100 Reasons Why Oxford was Shakespeare: Uncle Golding & Ovid!

“Ovid, the love of Shakespeare’s life among Latin poets, made an overwhelming impression upon him, which he carried with him all his days: subjects, themes, characters and phrases haunted his imagination. The bulk of his classical mythology came from the ‘Metamorphoses,’ which he used in the original as well as in Golding’s translation.” –A.L. Rowse, “Shakespeare, The Man” (1973)

I’ve always loved this one.  It was one of the first things I’d tell people around the dinner table, whether they gave a damn or not:

The favorite classical source of the author “Shakespeare” was the literary work of the ancient Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.-A.D. 18).   As our two experts (quoted above) tell us, he drew upon the stories and rhythms and language of Ovid, from the original Latin text and, heavily so, from the English translation of the Metamorphoses by Arthur Golding (1567).  And this same Golding was the young Earl of Oxford’s uncle, living under the same roof with him at Cecil House in the early 1560’s, just when the translating of Ovid’s 15-book masterpiece would have been carried out!

“I mean … come on,” I’d say at the dinner table.  “Ain’t that a hoot? Why are you all looking at me like I’m speaking a foreign language?  Oh, well…”

A lot of times these things are astounding only because of the way in which you come upon them.  In this case, the British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney put forth hypothetically that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) wrote the Shakespeare works, which are filled with material drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in both the original and the Golding translation of the 1560’s — and then he discovered that Oxford had been physically present at Cecil House in London during the 1560’s, when his Uncle Golding had been acting as his “receiver” for financial affairs and apparently translating the Ovid work.

Hedingham Castle (what’s left of the original), childhood home of Edward de Vere

(John de Vere, the sixteenth Earl of Oxford, died in 1562, when his twelve-year-old son Edward, the future seventeenth earl, left his home at Hedingham Castle in Essex and went to London to live as a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in the custody of her chief minister William Cecil, the future Lord Burghley.)

I say Golding was “apparently” translating the Ovid because it’s far more likely that it was done by the young earl himself.  Golding was a puritanical sort who translated Calvin’s Psalms of David (which he dedicated to Oxford, his nephew) and would not have been crazy about translating Ovid’s tales of passion and seduction and lovemaking as well as incest by pagan gods and goddesses.  No, he was in every way incapable of it.

Here’s what I wrote about this in 1996, viewing the teenage Edward de Vere as “the young Shakespeare” at work:

“J. Thomas Looney used the phrase ‘long foreground’ for Shakespeare’s formative years, a period of necessary artistic growth and development which has always been totally missing from Stratfordian biography.  Unless he was a god with miraculous powers, the sophisticated English poet who wrote ‘Venus and Adonis’ went through much trial and error, creating a
substantial body of apprenticeship work beforehand.  By all logic Shakespeare must have begun translating Ovid in his earliest years, becoming thoroughly grounded in his old tales.  He would have labored over the original texts and ‘tried on’ various English nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, inventing new ones along the way; and in the process he would have acquired his astounding vocabulary of some 25,000 words, more than twice the size of Milton’s.”

The ancient Roman poet Ovid

And here is what Looney wrote in 1920 about the nature of some “discoveries” such as this one about Edward de Vere and Shakespeare’s favorite poet Ovid:

“The force of a conviction is frequently due as much to the intrinsic value of the evidence.  For example, when a theory, what we have formed from a consideration of certain facts, leads us to suppose that certain other facts will exist, the later discovery that the facts are actually in accordance with our inferences becomes a much stronger confirmation of our theory than if we had known these additional facts at the outset.  We state this principle in matters of science when we affirm that the supreme test and evidence of the soundness of a scientific theory is its power of enabling us to foresee some events as a consequence of others.  The manner, therefore, in which facts and ideas have been arrived at becomes itself an important element in the evidence.”‘Shakespeare’ Identified, 1920

“Shakespeare” Identified by J. Thomas Looney, 1920

So that’s the second of the first 100 reasons I conclude that Oxford was Shakespeare…

If there was any evidence of this kind in the life of William Shakspere of Stratford, would there be an authorship question?  I doubt it.  But such is the power of traditional thinking that, despite the fact that such evidence exists in Oxford’s life, the academic folks in the ivory tower won’t even consider it.

Another thought — which I should bring up in a separate blog, but I’d rather deal with it right here.  The orthodox camp loves to say that the doubters of Shakspere’s authorship are “creationists.”  Well, that’s ridiculous.  If anything in that metaphorical equation we’re evolutionists. The biblical creationists came first, as did the traditional Stratfordians; the evolutionists came later, just as we Oxfordians came later.

Stratfordians, echoing creationists, believe in the miracle of genius when it comes to Shakespeare’s vast knowledge and skill; we Oxfordians, echoing evolutionists, know that such amazing knowledge, skill and insight can be acquired — even by a genius — only through long development based on much learning and experience and painfully acquired artistic growth.  That they would stoop to calling us a name that should actually be applied to themselves is a measure of their growing desperation…

Cheers from Hank!

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