WHAT WAS SHAKESPEARE LIKE?—THE OXFORDIAN VIEW. Oxfordians (who include Justice Stevens, Justice Scalia, Justice Blackmun, Freud, David McCullough, Orson Welles, John Gielgud, Michael York Jeremy Irons and Mark Rylance) believe that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s works. Their main argument is that the works are autobiographical and that certain plays and sonnets have parallels in Oxford’s life. For example, Oxford had three daughters and was once kidnapped by pirates. I have never paid much attention to the Oxford claims so I did not know what Charles Nicholl says in his review in the Times Literary Supplement (April 23) of CONTESTED WILL by James Shapiro. Nicholl describes Oxford as “one of the nastiest Elizabethans on record: shrill, violent, unstable and pathologically extravagant.” Nicholl adds that “Among his contemporaries [Oxford] was a byword for preening vanity….” Nicholl gives examples, including Oxford’s killing an unarmed cook (the coroner’s report concluded that the cook ran upon Oxford’s sword). My first reaction was amusement that this is the kind of man thought by Oxfordians to have written the plays. But then I thought that Shakespeare’s plays are filled with villains and villainies—and that perhaps if you take autobiographical theories seriously, this is the kind of candidate you wind up with.

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  1. Mary Jane Schaefer says:

    The James Shapiro book should put to bed all claims that anyone but Will wrote Shakespeare. However, Shapiro is realistic enough about the course of opposition to note that however well he has proven his Stratfordian position, it is unlikely that anyone who is predisposed to discount Will as a serious contender for the role of Will Shakespeare will be the least bit shaken by all his well-marshaled evidence and brilliant line of argument. At some point, people believe things simply because they believe them.

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