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!

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