I really wish Derek Jacobi wasn’t an Oxfordian. It’s one of these things that depresses me unutterably. Here he is posing with De Vere in a chummy proprietorial pose that must be a conscious echo of David Garrick’s famous “selfie” (actually by Joshua Reynolds) taken for the Shakespeare bicentenary commemorations that were hosted 5 years late in 1769.
About eighteen months ago, I became one of a number of participants in one of the more consuming and exhausting online arguments I can ever recall… you can find it here http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/nov/04/anonymous-shakespeare-film-roland-emmerich#start-of-comments
The debate became increasingly heated, especially as one of the Oxfordians made it clear that respected Shakespearean scholars, some of whom are friends of mine, are moral degenerates, not merely intellectually flawed. The debate could not really end and had to be cut off at an arbitrary point for two reasons. Firstly, Oxfordians accept as primary evidence (indeed as the only evidence) a bunch of anagrams, analogies and coincidences, that most scholars don’t. The second reason is more theological.
At a key point in the debate I put it to the Oxfordians – “Look, there’s a deal of documentary evidence, solid legally verifiable paperwork, that Shakespeare wrote the plays that bear his name. There’s no similar or corresponding stuff that says that anyone else did. I therefore believe in Shakespeare’s authorship. But mine is an evidential not a religious belief. If evidence of a certain nature were to emerge – which pointed to the Earl of Oxford writing the plays, then I would have to reconsider my views to accommodate the new evidence. Tell me – what kind of new evidence would make you reconsider your beliefs?”
The answer was “None” – no evidence, no matter what form it takes, could possibly convince an Oxfordian that Shakespeare was “Shakespeare”.
This religious confession revealed a lot. It explains why evidence has to mean the opposite of what it seems. For an Oxfordian, the fact that a sonnet concludes with the observation “my name is Will” proves beyond doubt that such a sonnet could not possibly have been written by someone called Will. If we were to recover a letter from the Earl of Oxford tomorrow which declared “did see Romeo and Juliet last night by one Shakespeare of Warwickshire. Would that I might write playes half so fine” that letter would instantly become proof positive that Oxford and not Shakespeare had written Romeo and Juliet.
Some of the Oxfordians on this thread really really hated the Warwickshire man, whom they preferred to call “Shagsper”. Now not all Oxfordians are as bad… some merely enjoy the whiff of conspiracy – but the hardcore dedicated “scholars” seem to be motivated by something rather nastier. For these Oxfordians, the idea that someone from a relatively ordinary background can achieve extraordinary things is so horrific, so disgusting, so impossible, that the universe itself recoils. For such Oxfordians, the basic scumminess of most people is the great primary atomistic fact about the universe. Indeed all empirical method and scientific deduction has to first of all acknowledge and wrap itself around this great foundational reality that genius is confined to a rarefied elite.
Anyhoo – the thread is preserved – unfortunately curtailed by a Guardian sub-editor in a way that gives an Oxfordian the last word. There were plenty of sane and healthy correspondents sticking up for Will Shakespeare, people I would like to meet some time in so-called “real life”. But it had to end somehow. The Oxfordians were doing my head in.
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