The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0425  Thursday, 4 November 2010

From:         Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:         Thursday, November 4, 2010
Subject:      Evidence of Authorship 

Editor's Message:

I began the Academic Response to Anonymous not to revisit the arguments concerning 
authorship but to discuss strategies academics might take in addressing questions 
arising from that film. In the most recent installment to this thread, David Kathman 
provided information about the film and its director. 

The film Anonymous is based on the book _Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom: The True 
History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth_ 
by Charles Beauclerk, a descendant of Edward 
de Vere. The film was originally titled _Soul of the Age_. Its director Roland 
Emmerich admits in a press release that he is an Oxfordian: "Once I examined the 
poems and plays through the lens of the life of the Elizabethan poet and dramatist, 
Edward de Vere, I knew I wanted to delve into it cinematically." Kathman explains, 
"the movie "Anonymous" is based on the "Prince Tudor 2" theory . . . that is also 
behind Charles Beauclerk's recent book "Shakespeare's Tragic Kingdom." Anyone who is 
interested can find reviews of the book at these links:



An Oxfordian with whom I have been corresponding asks, "Would it not be better for 
the academic community to produce those hard cold facts than to engage in analyzing 
the psychology of Oxfordians?"

I am not the person in the best position to provide this information, but I will 
give it a start.

In the first set of responses to my query 
<http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2010/0423.html>, John W. Kennedy and Tom Reedy 
identify places to begin reading:

Kennedy: "I strongly suggest that anyone who wishes to undertake this battle study 
"Shakespeare's Lives", "Contested Will", "Shakespeare, In Fact", and the Shakespeare 
Authorship Page. And "Monstrous Adversary" would probably be a good idea, too."

Reedy: "Five academic publications addressing the issue were published in the mid-
1950s-early 1960s: The Shakespeare Ciphers Examined (1957), by William and Elizebeth 
Friedman; The Poacher from Stratford (1958) by Frank Wadsworth; Shakespeare and His 
Betters (1958), by Reginald Churchill; The Shakespeare Claimants (1962), by N. H. 
Gibson; and Shakespeare and His Rivals: A Casebook on the Authorship Controversy 
(1962), by George L. McMichael and Edgar M. Glenn. . . . Academics, prematurely 
congratulating themselves on their earlier job well done, stopped paying attention 
and never caught up, as Shapiro [in "Contested Will"] makes clear. The academic 
response -- when one was offered -- was made up of nothing but ridicule and 
invective, saving a few scattered responses by Jonathan Bate and Alan Nelson, and 
any in-depth rebuttals had to be made by informed and committed non-academics: 
Shakespeare, in Fact (1994), by Irvin Matus; The Shakespeare Authorship Page 
(started 23 April 1994) at http://shakespeareauthorship.com/ by Dave Kathman and 
Terry Ross, and The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question (2005), 
by Scott McCrea."

In 1999. Louis Marder, one of the participants in the Boston Mock Trial, post a 
version of a letter he had sent to Harper's with an extensive list of challenges to 
the Oxfordian positions: http://www.shaksper.net/archives/1999/1094.html

He called his submission "Tearing the Oxfordian Obsession to Tatters: A Select and 
Still Incomplete Compendium for a Proposed Book on the Authorship Question." What 
follows is a small quotation prefacing this long list of objections:

I know that nothing I say here will be acceptable to Oxfordians who believe more in 
their assumed faith and intense emotions rather than in the known facts. I believe 
that the following numbered statements are based on irrefutable facts. I accept as 
evidence anything written or printed and accepted without question by Shakespeare's 
contemporaries and those who knew him, regardless of when it was recorded. I also 
accept the existence of some recorded evidence based on hearsay or untenable 
tradition. A solid fact is one that can be accepted by both sides as true. When it 
accords with all else that we know it must be accepted. It cannot be discarded 
because it doesn't fit the alternate theory. If there is a so-called "fact," we must 
make sure it is used properly and fits the place where it is introduced without 

[ . . . ]

I find no reason to disqualify Shakespeare because Oxfordians assert that 
Shakespeare could not have had the cultural heritage, courtly demeanor, taste, 
university and legal education, travel experience, knowledge of French and Italian, 
and sporting knowledge that Oxfordians believe are basic requirements for the 

I find no valid reason to believe that Shakespeare is merely a name and that another 
man who assumed his name wrote the works. There is no reason to believe that 
Shakespeare was an unlettered country bumpkin who couldn't spell his name twice in 
the same way, an impostor, a usurer, a nom de plume, a literary fabrication, an 
illiterate grain merchant, an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Shakespeare is no phantom 
of the opera. The members of his company of actors would have suspected and known it 
if an illiterate ignoramus was giving their company the great plays that so pleased 
Eliza and James.

I believe it is an established fact that the less people know of the documented and 
printed truth, the less they have read of the orthodox literature, the more likely 
they are to accept and believe anything that others tell them. It has been truly 
said that the less a person knows, the more certain he is that he knows it. I have 
been led to feel that those Oxfordians who have read widely in Shakespearean 
biography have read merely to find items to feed their own speculative 
interpretations. They certainly disregard the other documented evidence that is 

I write in the usual tradition that we have known "facts", printed on title pages 
and entered in official documents which were believed by his contemporaries and 
others for over three hundred years. These facts cannot be obliterated or drowned by 
pouring doubt over them and substituting for them conjectural, doubtful, 
presumptive, deductive, and speculative guesses, surmises, assumptions, hypotheses, 
inferences, extrapolations, probabilities, wishful thinking, and personal opinions.  
All this makes a case based on circumstantial evidence. It may sound credible from 
their point of view, but their point of view is all wrong. In the end it is only and 
still imaginatively circumstantial.

Can any number of such substituted conjectural and doubtful facts lead to a valid 
conclusion?  Virtually every argument presented by Oxfordians is based on 
controversial and manufactured interpretations of known evidence. No logic, no 
contrived syllogism can be applied when the basic premises are not tenable. A strong 
house can be built on sand, but it cannot stand long. "Not all the water in the 
rough rude sea can wash the balm" off the uncontested evidence of title pages and 
entries in the Stationers' Register (the Elizabethan copyright office) which prove 
the authorship of Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, no matter how the Stationers 
or printers spelled his name.

[ . . . ]

After his preface, Marder supplies 74 reasons why Oxford was not the author of the 
plays and poems. I encourage all who are interested to read this list: 

I have already expressed my endorsement for The Shakespeare Authorship Page: 

However, some of Kathman's essays solo and with others are of particular interest:

Why I Am Not an Oxfordian
by David Kathman

First of all, it may be useful to give a summary of the reasons for the traditional 
attribution. All the external evidence says the plays and poems were written by 
William Shakespeare. A man named William Shakespeare, from Stratford, was a member 
of the acting company which put on the plays. Heminges and Condell in the First 
Folio explicitly say that their "friend and fellow" Shakespeare was the author of 
the plays, and a monument to his memory was built in the Stratford church. There was 
no other William Shakespeare living in London at the time. There is no evidence that 
anyone else, including Oxford, was ever known as "William Shakespeare." Shakespeare 
of Stratford was consistently recognized as the author after his death and 
throughout the seventeenth century. There were abundant resources in Elizabethan 
London for such a man to absorb the knowledge displayed in the plays, despite 
Oxfordian attempts to claim otherwise; furthermore, there is no documentary evidence 
to connect the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford with any of Shakespeare's plays or poems, 
despite the fact that Oxford's life is quite well documented.

All this is perfectly standard evidence of the type used by literary historians; 
indeed, the evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays and poems 
published under his name is abundant compared to that for many of his fellow 
writers. Oxfordians, however, see such external evidence as an annoyance to be 
rationalized away; they have built up a picture of who the author must have been 
from reading the plays themselves, and that picture does not look like William 
Shakespeare of Stratford. A large part of the "evidence" used by Oxfordians is 
internal to the works themselves: reconstructions of what the author "must have" 
thought and what his background must have been like, and supposed allusions to 
events in Oxford's life, all taken from the plays and poems. Literary scholars have 
always treated such internal evidence with the utmost caution, especially when 
dealing with works written 400 years ago; interpretations are notoriously 
subjective, and whenever possible should be backed with external evidence. . . . 

I have tried in this article to explain the major ways in which Oxfordian methods 
differ from those used by literary scholars, using Ogburn's book as a case study. 
Oxfordians typically ignore or rationalize away the external evidence, relying 
instead on notoriously subjective internal evidence; they apply a sometimes radical 
double standard in order to make Shakespeare look bad in comparison to other 
playwrights, and to make Oxford look good; they confidently interpret texts without 
looking at the context those texts appeared in; they are distressingly reluctant to 
criticize previous Oxfordian writers, even when those writers are clearly wrong. Not 
all Oxfordians are equally guilty of these things; there are some who, to their 
credit, have tried to raise the standards of the movement and put it on a more 
scholarly footing. Even if the worst of the bad scholarship is trimmed away, though, 
the heart of the Oxfordian case rests on double standards and enshrinement of 
subjective interpretations as fact. Ogburn's book is essentially an elaborately 
presented rationalization for his fiercely-held ideas about who should have written 
Shakespeare's works, dressed up in the trappings of scholarship but employing a 
series of double standards which make it impossible to disprove his basic thesis. 
This is a harsh assessment, but one which I believe would be shared by any 
Shakespeare scholar who took the time to work through Ogburn's book. I realize that 
Oxfordians will disagree with much of what I have written, but I hope that it 
nevertheless causes them to take a second look at some of their assumptions and 
methods. The one thing which unites Oxfordians and orthodox Shakespeareans is a love 
for Shakespeare's works, and even if we disagree about some very basic issues, we 
can agree that it does matter who wrote those works.

How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts
by Tom Reedy and David Kathman

In addition to the documentary evidence that I have cited, there is also the 
stylometric analysis of Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza of the Claremont McKenna 
College Shakespeare Clinic. Background information about the Clinic and its work can 
be found here:


The Claremont Shakespeare Clinic
In Search of Shakespeare 

Interestingly as Ward Elliott explains, "A great source of inspiration for the 
Clinic was Elliott's father, William Y. Elliott (1896-1979). Elliott père was a man 
of brilliance, commanding presence, and glowing memory. He was a poet, a Rhodes 
Scholar, a senior professor of government at Harvard, counselor to six Presidents, 
mentor to world notables - and a firm and outspoken believer that the True 
Shakespeare was not William Shakspere of Stratford but Edward de Vere, Seventeenth 
Earl of Oxford. To this day Elliott père is probably the most prominent academic 
ever to take the Oxfordian position firmly and publicly." 

Nevertheless, the Clinic concluded, "Shakespeare's known writing is consistent 
enough, and different enough from that of his contemporaries, to distinguish him 
from everyone else we tested. If Shakespeare's works were written by a committee, as 
some anti-Stratfordians claim, the committee was astonishingly regular and 
predictable in its range of stylistic habits. If they were written by any of the 
claimants we tested, or by the same person who wrote any of the apocryphal plays and 
poems we tested, that person was astonishingly irregular and unpredictable."

Several of Elliott's and Valenza's papers are available online.

"And Then There Were None: Winnowing the Shakespeare Claimants," January 1996. With 
Robert J. Valenza. Summary of 1992-94 Shakespeare Clinics' final report, 30 
Computers and the Humanities 191 (1996 with updated tables)(PDF). 

ABSTRACT: The Shakespeare Clinic has developed 51 computer tests of Shakespeare play 
authorship and 14 of poem authorship, and applied [hem to 37 claimed "true 
Shakespeares" to 27 play- of the Shakespeare Apocrypha, and to several poems of 
unknown or disputed authorship. No claimant, and none of the apocryphal plays or 
poems, matched Shakespeare. Two plays and one poem from the Shakespeare Canon. Titus 
Andronicus, Henry VI. Part 3. and "A Lover's Complaint.'" do not match the others.

Oxford By The Numbers: What Are The Odds That The Earl Of Oxford Could Have Written 
Shakespeare's Poems And Plays? With Robert J. Valenza. 72 Tennessee Law Review 323 

Oxford By The Numbers: What Are The Odds That The Earl Of Oxford Could Have Written 
Shakespeare's Poems And Plays? With Robert J. Valenza. 72 Tennessee Law Review 323 

ABSTRACT: Alan Nelson and Steven May, the two leading Oxford documents scholars in 
the world, have shown that, although many documents connect William Shakspere of 
Stratford to Shakespeare's poems and plays, no documents make a similar connection 
for Oxford. The documents, they say, support Shakespeare, not Oxford. Our internal- 
evidence stylometric tests provide no support for Oxford. In terms of quantifiable 
stylistic attributes, Oxford's verse and Shakespeare's verse are light years apart. 
The odds that either could have written the other's work are much lower than the 
odds of getting hit by lightning. Several of Shakespeare's stylistic habits did 
change during his writing lifetime and continued to change years after Oxford's 
death. Oxfordian efforts to fix this problem by conjecturally re-dating the plays 
twelve years earlier have not helped his case. The re-datings are likewise ill-
documented or undocumented, and even if they were substantiated, they would only 
make Oxford's stylistic mismatches with early Shakespeare more glaring. Some 
Oxfordians now concede that Oxford differs from Shakespeare but argue that the 
differences are developmental, like those between a caterpillar and a butterfly. 
This argument is neither documented nor plausible. It asks us to believe, without 
supporting evidence, that at age forty-three, Oxford abruptly changed seven to nine 
of his previously constant writing habits to match those of Shakespeare and then 
froze all but four habits again into Shakespeare's likeness for the rest of his 
writing days. Making nine such single-bound leaps from a distant, stylistically 
frozen galaxy right into Shakespeare's ballpark seems farfetched compared to the 
conjectural leaps required to take the Stratford case seriously. Note, for example, 
the supposition that the young Shakespeare, who was entitled to do so, might 
actually have attended the Stratford grammar school. It is hard to imagine any jury 
buying the Oxfordians' colossal mid-life crisis argument without much more than the 
"spectral and intangible" substantiation that it has received. Ultimately, this 
argument is too grossly at odds with the available documentary record and 
stylometric numbers for Oxford to be a plausible claimant.

Latest Findings of the Shakespeare Clinic

The Shakespeare Clinic:
Students to Report on Latest Findings
In Continuing Authorship Question


In four years of testing, students in the original Clinics shortened both lists of 
claimants to zero. No claimant matched Shakespeare in style, nor did any play of the 
Shakespeare Apocrypha, Elliott says, and no one has successfully challenged their 
new-optics findings, which were reaffirmed April 6 with the publication of James 
Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

The first and best book by a lit-department professor on the Authorship Question in 
more than a century, Contested Will, says Elliott, used old-optics analysis first to 
narrow the principal claimants to Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford, then to show 
that Shakespeare was a far more credible candidate than either of these.

This year's Clinic, again sponsored by the Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable, tested 
27 early plays-or parts of plays-of uncertain authorship, which are probably not by 
Shakespeare but by someone else, Elliott explains. Who else could have written them? 
Or, better, Which of the 16 other known authors of the early 1590s could not have 
written them? The students' assignment, again, was to shorten the list of credible 
claimants to have written the unassigned plays and sections.

For more information about the works of the Shakespeare Clinic, visit: 

by Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza
Claremont McKenna College
850 Columbia Avenue
Claremont, California 91711
April 7, 1991


For three years a Shakespeare Clinic of Claremont Colleges undergraduates has been 
using computers to see which of 58 claimed "true authors" of Shakespeare's poems and 
plays actually matched Shakespeare's style. The focus in the Clinic's final year was 
on 27 poet-claimants, using both a new, modal test and a battery of more 
conventional tests. None of the poets tested matched Shakespeare. Walter Raleigh, 
the closest to Shakespeare by modal test, was 2.4 standard errors distant from 
Shakespeare's mean modal score, with not much better than a two percent chance of 
common authorship. John Donne, the most distant claimant, was 36.6 standard errors 
distant from Shakespeare. None of the three "leading" candidates with organised 
followings today -- Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward de Vere, 17th 
Earl of Oxford -- came out anywhere near Shakespeare. This paper concentrates on 
Oxford, the candidate with the largest following and the largest body of recent 
supporting literature. . . . 

I am not a specialist in authorship, and as I said I do not want to reopen the 
authorship debate. However, since my original query was concerned with ways to 
address those who might ask about authorship and in particular de Vere after seeing 
the film Anonymous when it is released, I though it important to provide a starting 
place for making the case that is self-evident to those of us who have studied the 
documents and the research and who have dedicated our professional careers to the 
study of William Shakespeare and his works. 


Hardy M. Cook
Professor Emeritus
Bowie State University
Editor of SHAKSPER
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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