Shakespeare at Roswell

CFI-LA is having an event next Wednesday featuring skepticism about Shakespeare. Oy. Skepticism about Shakespeare is like skepticism about vaccinations, or the collapse of the twin towers, or the moon landings. It’s skepticism turned inside out, skepticism in the service of silly conspiracy theories.

Doubts about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works have been raised over the years, most recently by the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition (SAC). To support those doubts, John Shahan, chairman and CEO of SAC, will speak at Café Inquiry on Wed., May 25, at 7:30 p.m.

In 2007, SAC launched its Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare, first in the U.S. in same-day signing ceremonies at UCLA’s Geffen Playhouse and at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. Later that year, renowned Shakespearean actors Sir Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, who won a Supporting Actor Oscar this year, led a signing ceremony in the U.K. The Declaration has been signed by more than 3,500 people – more than 1,300 with advanced degrees, over 600 current/former college/university faculty members, and 68 notables, including leading academics Robin Fox and Dean Keith Simonton, and U.S. Supreme Court justices J.P. Stevens and Sandra Day O’Connor.

Sigh sigh sigh. Yes lots of people are into it, including lots of people who should know better. Mark Twain was one. But it’s still a silly bit of nonsense.

What it is at bottom, of course, is sheer benighted snobbery – Will of Stratford was just some lower class bumpkin, so how could he have written all that glorious wording? He didn’t go to a university, and there’s no record that he even went to Stratford Grammar School!

True, there’s no record that he went to Stratford Grammar School, but there’s no record that anyone of his time went to Stratford Grammar School, because the records were all destroyed in a fire. And what there is is a mass of contemporary records of friends and colleagues and acquaintances of his, along with some enemies of his. They knew him. If he’d been a thicky who couldn’t possibly have written those plays, they would have noticed – especially his colleagues in the Chamberlain’s Men, later the King’s Men, who were shareholders in both the company and the theater building with him, and fellow players with him, and actors in the plays he wrote. How a beard could possibly have played that role for twenty years or so with nobody noticing that they weren’t his plays is hard to imagine.

Shakespeare was Shakespeare. He wrote the plays. He pissed off Robert Greene by being so good at writing plays while being just a player (an actor). Ben Jonson knew him well, and resented his success, but once he read all the plays together in the First Folio he was struck all of a heap and gave him one hell of a blurb. If Shakespeare had been an empty-headed zero who couldn’t have written the plays, Ben Jonson would have been all over it like a bad rash. Ben Jonson knew very well that Shakespeare was Shakespeare. So did Richard Burbage, so did John Heminges and Henry Condell, colleagues and editors of the First Folio. People at court knew him. The Earl of Southampton knew him. Doubt about the identity of William Shakespeare is not reasonable; it’s fatuous.

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