In 2009 I published The De Vere Code, which demonstrates that the poems published as Shake-speare's Sonnets in 1609 were in written, not by William Shaksper from Stratford-on-Avon, but by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a nobleman at the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

As the promotional bandwagon for Roland Emmerich's Stratford-baiting Anonymous gets under way, this blog will chronicle the next few months in the life of The De Vere Code, to see how its arguments, and the wider case for Edward de Vere, fare during this time of unprecedented scrutiny around all things Authorship…

Friday, 21 October 2011

Let's hear it for the spear

A little off topic, but here's proof that one little prick can overturn a paradigm. Titter ye not.
Old American theory is 'speared'

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

What's in a name?

The luminosity of the combatants in the debate glows ever-brighter as Simon Schama pops his head above the parapet to offer his groatsworth on the authorship non-question in Newsweek – The Shakespeare Shakedown. Now, I happen to have read Rembrandt's Eyes and The Embarrassment of Riches, both by the aforementioned historian, and they were two of the most enjoyable history books I have read, for what it may be worth. So imagine my disappointment on reading the following in Schama's article:
"None of which would matter very much were there not something repellent at the heart of the theory, and that something is the toad, snobbery—the engine that drives the Oxfordian case against the son of the Stratford glover John Shakespeare. John was indeed illiterate. But his son was not, as we know incontrovertibly from no fewer than six surviving signatures in Shakespeare’s own flowing hand, the first from 1612, when he was giving evidence in a domestic lawsuit."
Where we might have hoped for some devastating synthesis of hitherto unconsidered or unconnected facts, we get the (repeated so sadly often in this blog) refrain: "snobs, snobs, yer all snobs!"

Furthermore, whilst I am endeavouring at all costs not to sully these posts with the actual arguments one way or the other in this struggle, it is hard to resist (so I won't) taking Schama to task on the one substantive claim he makes in the above:

"John was indeed illiterate. But his son was not, as we know incontrovertibly from no fewer than six surviving signatures in Shakespeare’s own flowing hand"

It is indeed very instructive to look at the Shakespeare signatures, as much for what it can tell us about historians as about the author of Cymbeline. But before we examine those of the Bard, here are a few signatures in the flowing hands of other noted writers of the period.

First, the beloved Queen herself:

Second (boo! hiss!) you know who…

Third, courtier poet (and mortal foe of the above) Sir Philip Sidney:

Fourth, bricklayer, murderer (and sometime poet) Ben Jonson:

All pretty natty eh? And lastly, not to be outdone, here's one by the Soul of the Age himself:

Actually, that's a bit cack, try this one:

Mmm, does that say Splatsyor? Not sure. What about this one?
Same handwriting so far? Well, to be fair they were all written at different times on different documents, so maybe the Bard alternated his (three) hands. But the remaining signatures all come from the same final document, Shakespeare's will:

 And he couldn't even do those three the same way? Remember this man wrote the best part of a million words, with a feather. One might reasonably expect him to have decided on one signature, or may be one spelling – even if he was determined not to be neat. 

Of course it is the discrepancies between these signatures, and the apparent absence of much art in any of them, that lead some to propose (and not just anti-Stratfordians, some sane people too) that they are all (with the possible exception of the last two) written by different hands. Perhaps they say, the signatures  were added by clerks, on behalf of the signatory, who did not apply the pen himself because he was elsewhere at the time, and at the end was too weak to hold a steady quill. Others go in a different direction, and infer that the glover's son wrote none of these signatures for the simple reason that he could not write at all.

But as to "Shakespeare’s own flowing hand" that demonstrates "incontrovertibly" the literacy of illiterate John Shakespeare's son, well, perhaps we need Rembrandt's discerning eyes, or at least those of a celebrated historian, to see it. 

Monday, 17 October 2011

Get thee to a Nunnery

Mark Rylance and Sir Trev Nunn toe-to-toe in Saturday's Guardian, So Who Did Write Shakespeare? Rylance puts Francis Bacon, de Vere, and Mary Sidney at or near the scene of the crime, and it seems likely that IF there was something going on around 'Shakespeare' it involved a group of interested parties, each involved for different reasons. Many blows are traded, but interestingly no knock-out punch from Trev. If it  really is so obvious that anti-Stratfordians are daft - why doesn't he, of all people have it up his sleeve? The post list following the article demonstrates the extremes of feeling the subject provokes. Even those who are indifferent are really angry about just how indifferent they are.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

All for one and one for Allfordians

Interesting review of Charles Beauclerk's Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom by Bill Niederkorn, New York Times columnist and self-styled 'All-fordian'. Allfordians, I think, might be characterised as people who think Shakespeare was the Stratford man, or someone else - but not both. Wittgenstein would not approve.

The review is lengthy, but worth a look, as Niederkorn provides an all-too-rare example of what Shakespeare lit crit might look like if it were to be accepted that there is an authorship question. He reviews Beauclerk's book as if it contains an argument, rather than as a work of paranoid fantasy. He's interested in the interesting stuff, and sceptical of many of the claims - in other words, he's not a loony. Perhaps the future belongs to the Allfordians.

Friday, 30 September 2011

U and non-U

The Anonymous debate is showing its first signs of breaking out of the confines of movie blogs, as a mini-row breaks out  in the Times Higher Ed over an entry in the previously mentioned  Sixty Minutes with Shakespeare, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's pre-emptive volley against the anti-Stratfordians:

"William Leahy, head of the School of Arts at Brunel University, was startled to discover one contributor questioning the "intellectual justification" of "degrees awarded to those doubting Shakespeare's authorship at Brunel and Concordia (Oregon) universities"."

In a bizarre twist to the "Snobs, snobs, yer all snobs" accusation levelled against Oxfordians, it seems the academic establishment is now turning on its own. Again, it all comes down to whether you think the authorship of Shakespeare's works is a subject worthy of serious study. Some clearly don't. But some, like Brunel, do. But whichever side one is on, I don't think the Brunel course, or even a module on it, is entitled "Proving Stratfordians Wrong", let alone "Solving the Authorship Question", and the idea that exploring a subject indicates that one is not intellectually the full shilling is, of course, snobbery par excellence. Perhaps Brunel should award James Shapiro, and Alan Nelson honorary degrees. They are after all academics, and they have published on the authorship question. It wasn't beneath them.

PS: Having met William Leahy, I know that he's an extremely serious academic. But then I would say that, as he was kind enough to read The De Vere Code in manuscript, and described it as 'convincing', among other things. But, and it's a big but he said, the difficulty I would face was getting anyone to take encipherment seriously, as it was a subject so tarnished (and rightly so I reckon) -  by the Baconian nonsense of the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

That has turned out to be true enough. As I have discovered, in a landscape already over-populated by ostracised fanatics, the cipher-discoverer is the loneliest loony of them all.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Alan Nelson v Emmerich, Orloff and co

Well, it certainly was fun. Once again, the standard Stratfordian approach  -  a patronising lack of preparedness garnished with a knowing nod - collapsed under the weight of reasonable objections from the Oxfordian camp. 

 As the intermittently flickering studio lighting added an unintentionally Elizabethan fireside atmosphere, Professor Nelson single-handedly fended off the uncompromising director Roland Emmerich, screenwriter John Orloff and Oxfordian author Charles Beauclerk. Amazingly, he actually opened his remarks by saying that he'd written a book demonstrating that Edward Vere was a really bad person - and bad poet (see previous post). This was greeted with a ripple of laughter from the audience, but only served to goad Emmerich and co. It was the Professor's last laugh of the evening.

It provided a wonderfully bad start, however, with the prof delivering a seven-minute (according to Emmerich) tirade against Anonymous, after which the director spluttered, 'My god, is this how you teach?' 

Awkward shuffling of papers. Nobody seemed sure who was chairing the debate (no one - it turned out appropriately enough), so screenwriter Orloff launched a salvo on historical accuracy, stating that dating Shakespeare's plays is subjective. No it isn't, replied Nelson. Yes it is, Orloff parried. Alright then, it is, Nelson countermanded. 

In appeasing mood, Emmerich conceded that he was not 100 per cent sure either way who wrote the plays - but thought it more likely that Oxford was the author. Orloff chipped in that a fundamental issue for him was that Shakespeare's daughters were never taught to read or write - how could a man of Shakespeare's intellect allow that to happen? In addition, though it is documented that the Stratford man went to and fro between Stratford and London over a period of 20 years - not a single example of a letter from him exists in London or Stratford. Yet there are many examples of letters from other poets of the time.

Professor Nelson then announced that the discussion was a waste of time.

At this point Emmerich introduced Beauclerk  - a wise move guaranteed to bring calm and order to the unruly proceedings. The Earl duly intoned into the gloom at little above a whisper that the dynamic of the Stratfordian account was 'inert' and consigned the works of Shakespeare to a historical vacuum devoid of context or motivation. It's the dynamic of the plays in the context of Oxford's life that makes them exciting (mild applause). Oh, and Shakespeare's my great-great-great-granddad. Nearly.

At this point apropos of nothing, Emmerich interjected, "I would hate to have you as my teacher." I think it was directed at the Professor. He then continued, "I made the film because when I read the script I was upset that I had not been told this in school - that there is a problem, I was kept ignorant. And I knew that without me it probably wouldn't get made, because in Hollywood you have to be very powerful to even make a movie like this."

This hit a nerve with everyone, going as it does to perhaps the core of the authorship issue for many. 

"Don't you think there is a problem, a puzzle?" Orloff asked Nelson.

"No, I don't," replied Nelson.

A question from the audience, "I'm an English teacher - what should I do?". (laughter).

Emmerich: "No -  it's serious, just be honest and say I believe this or that, I believe it was Stratford. Whatever. Be honest."

Beauclerk: "Shakespeare is an icon, inert to schoolchildren. The authorship opens the plays up as a lens to view this period of history. Is true writing arid fantasy? Or is it the attempt of the writer to remake his shattered world? Is it good to divorce art from life for children?"

You could almost hear the audience ripping up the Declaration of Independence and pledging allegiance to the crown, so impressive is Beauclerk when he gets going, but sadly we ran out of time. So, after an interesting discussion of the relevance of historical accuracy to drama, and some fascinating stuff about why Orloff and Emmerich rewrote some of the history for film purposes, the debate closed. In his hurry to leave, Emmerich at first appeared to forget to shake hands with Professor Nelson. But then he remembered, and all ended well. 

The fundamental question: Is there an Authorship Problem? was I would say, won by Emmerich and co. The Stratfordians need to get their act together in these situations, if they are serious in hoping to nail the coffin lid down on Oxfordiansim. These guys - particularly the articulate and well-versed Orloff - are not dummies. They really think there's an issue - and they've thought about it quite hard. 

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Admirable Nelson

This should be interesting:

"A live webcast has been scheduled for Wednesday, September 28 from 8:15 - 9:15pm Pacific Time [4.15-5.15am Thursday morning GMT] with Anonymous director Roland Emmerich, writer/producer John Orloff and historian/writer/lecturer Charles Beauclerk on the Shakespeare authorship debate. Emmerich, Orloff and Beauclerk will face off against UC Berkeley's Professor Alan H. Nelson in the webcast."

Alan Nelson is the attack dog of the anti-Oxfordians, so there could be fireworks. He wrote a highly entertaining, swingeing character assassination of De Vere, Monstrous Adversary 'demonstrating' that the Earl of Oxford was far too horrible to be the Bard.

His perspective is interesting in that while Oxfordians are accused of being snobs for suggesting that the Stratford fellow wasn't capable of writing the plays, Nelson and others adopt a similar snobbery in suggesting that De Vere was such a morally bankrupt chap that he was incapable of the elevated thought of Shakespeare.

Additionally, Nelson argues that De Vere wasn't actually well educated and was a demonstrably rubbish poet - thereby having his cake and jolly well eating it too.

There's no love lost between Beauclerk and Nelson, so it should be fun.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The law's an ass?

Following on from Stephen Fry's ribbing of Oxfordians as 'looneys', it is interesting that there are some on that side of the fence who many would consider more than capable of distinguishing valid inference from lunatic speculation. Not least Bert Fields, the eminent US entertainment and media attorney. As his Greenberg Clusker biog puts it:

"Mr. Fields has represented virtually every major Hollywood studio and talent agency, and he has tried many of the landmark cases in the entertainment and communications industries over the past 30 years..."

Today  in the Hollywood Reporter, Fields (who has written a book on the various candidates) talks about why  he thinks there is a case to be answered. 

"I’m an agnostic. I think there’s a serious issue as to whether the guy from Stratford, who I call the Stratford Man, really wrote the poems and plays of William Shakespeare. His name is William Shakespeare, but there’s an issue over whether he wrote the plays. I don’t rule out the possibility that he did, but I can make a strong argument that indicates it’s a real stretch that this man wrote them by himself."

Of course he could  be wrong. But a loony? I guess he won't be representing Mr Fry any time soon.

Good Evans

Things you don't expect to hear on Radio 2: Chris Evans debating the authorship question, with none other than Hamlet-to-be Michael Sheen. But there it was at 8.15 on Friday morning. Evans gave a very good impression of understanding the basic puzzle (though he didn't actually plug Anonymous), and Sheen sounded pretty open-minded himself.  (start  listening at 1hour 46mins if you're interested)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

More 'bad' news

The Guardian:
'Roland Emmerich's meticulously crafted and often well-acted exposé of the "real" William Shakespeare is shocking only in that it is rather good.'

The Hollywood Reporter:
'Easily director Roland Emmerich’s best film. Instead of blowing up the world or engaging in other sorts of mass destruction, he actually steers a coherent path through a complex bit of Tudor history while establishing a highly credible atmosphere of paranoia and intrigue. His British actors deliver their usual reliable performances while designers and digital environmentalist stunningly re-create Elizabethan London right down to the tiniest detail.'

Anonymous not a disaster movie?

Anonymous has now debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, and despite expectations to the contrary, initial reactions seem to be that, far from being a disaster movie of the unintended kind, the film is rather, well, good. MovieLine calls it "at the very least, a curiosity, one with some clever casting and a very fine performance at its core", while according to George Prentice in BoiseWeekly, "you can literally count up the Oscar nominations as the movie progresses—it gets better with each passing minute".'s Kristopher Tapley was equally, if unexpectedly, approving: "the film is an elaborate piece of work (from an engaging screenplay by John Orloff), dense but rewarding, smart but entertaining, and Emmerich pulls it off without a hitch."

It remains to be seen whether the length and complexity of the film will limit the audience, but if these reactions are anything to go by it's not what the Orthodoxy want to hear. The last thing Stratford needs is a film that is watchable, even critically successful, especially from a director with a predominantly young fan base. Imagine all those English teachers having to answer awkward questions, or tour guides at the Birth Place: "You have no proof he ever entered this building? Is there a discount for that?"

It must be a worry that the Stratford tourist economy is based on so many half-truths and outright falsehoods, even before you get to the authorship debate. The question is: would the Birthplace Trust sue Sony Pictures for damaging their brand, and if they did, who would win?

Friday, 2 September 2011

Birthplace Trust pre-emptive debunk

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has clearly been busy since the meeting at the ESU, despite protestations that Emmerich's 'historical B-movie' poses no serious threat to the bastions of orthodoxy. '60 minutes with Shakespeare' lines up some pretty impressive talent, who all have a minute in which to hammer a nail of truth into the coffin of lies that is Anti-Stratfordianism. Except for Stephen Fry, who gets four and a bit minutes. And this morning, the BBC were enlisted to the cause with an article on the Today programme in which the usual suspects explained that Oxfordians are very silly, though no Oxfordians were actually given a chance to prove it.

Returning to Stephen Fry's four minute warning, he opens his salvo with the following ad hominem quip:

"Well, I suppose it would be rude to point out that the man who came up with the Oxfordian theory was called Looney, and I don’t wish to be mean against those who try hard to push the case for Oxford but it’s an uphill battle."

I've yet to meet the Stratfordian who can resist the temptation to ridicule the author of the first presentation of the Oxfordian case (in Shakespeare Identified, 1920) for having a 'silly' name. It gets the whole thing off to a good start, it would seem, to allow the imputation of mental illness to hang like an unpleasant aroma around Oxfordians. The first recorded instance of concern at this possibility actually came from Looney's publisher, who feared that witty types might use the author's name as a stick with which to beat him, and urged Looney to use a pseudonym. The plucky author refused, no doubt providing further evidence to some of his psychological unreliability, and to others of a naive faith that intelligent critics left such rhetorical techniques behind them in the playground. 

I suppose it would be rude to say that as someone who campaigns for greater understanding of mental illness, it is surprising that Fry opts to open with this 'argument'. But then, sledging is all part of the game these days, I suppose.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Emmerich at the ESU

I attended the Shakespeare Authorship Debate at the English Speaking Union on Monday evening featuring, surprisingly perhaps, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust heavies Prof Stanley WellsRev Dr Paul Edmondson, and Birkbeck's Michael Dobson. Given that Anonymous isn't released until September, it's quite a coup for Roland Emmerich to draw the fire of the heavy guns so early in the campaign. Couldn't be the lure of Sony Picture's free wine, surely.

In the blue (Oxfordian) corner, Emmerich, Charles Beauclerk, and Dr Bill Leahy of Brunel University (Wittenburg to Stratford's Rome). 

Despite the intractable nature of the Authorship debate, the most baffling question facing the assembly appeared to be how to pronounce Charles Beauclerk's name correctly. 'Boo-clark', 'Ber-cloak', 'Boar-kler' and 'Berk-luck' were all assayed, but none proved definitive. Suggestions are welcome. How much simpler it would have been to address the de Vere descendent (for truly he is so) by his proper title, 'my lord Charles, Earl of Burford'. But though easier to get right, that would sadly play into the eager hands of those Stratfordians desperate to shout 'snobs! snobs! yer all snobs!' at every juncture. And there are some of them out there, I believe.

Professor Wells delivered the standard-issue volley of Stratfordian dates, names, quotes and 'definitive' corroborations that establish Homo Stratfordiensis, 'Stratford Man', at the scene of the rhyme (sorry). To those unfamiliar with the debate, these sound impressive enough. To those versed in the opposition case, the response is off pat: for Stratford Man substitute Piltdown Man.

With his customary long-suffering charm, Beauclerk gave an elegant and emotive five minutes on the Hamlet parallels with de Vere's life, a powerful plea cogently articulated by a man admittedly with a Ver-y large axe to grind. 

Aside from losing his lines early on, the Rev Edmondson struck several savage blows to the Oxfordian case, each accompanied by raised eyebrows and a knowing nod to the 'not mad' members of the congregation, expressing his sorrow that the anti-Stratfordian conspiracy theorists were missing out on so much real history by basing their beliefs on an elaborately constructed fantasy. One wonders how he gets his Sunday flock to swallow the virgin birth, the resurrection, and transubstantiation – perhaps a nod and a wink helps there too. Several times he guiltily avowed his affection for 'historical costume B-movies', which clearly delighted his audience – though multi-million-dollar-blockbuster-maker-Emmerich seemed somewhat baffled as to whose work the Rev intended the term 'B-movie' to apply to.

The director will no doubt be careful who he invites to his discussion evenings in future and he would be wise to be so. The first three audience members handed the 'talking-stick' (as the chair inexplicably insisted on referring to it - perhaps a nod to inclusivity) were all clearly wracked with unarticulated passions, and incapable of asking a grammatical question. 

"Are the Shakespeare deniers bonkers, m'lud? Exhibits A, B and C. Case closed. Take them down."

The Stratfordians increasingly smelt blood, and the pitch and frequency of the sniggers increased. A round of hurrahs greeted an eminent actress who rose to her feet and brushed away the proffered talking-stick, "I'm not sure I'll need that!", before offering, very much after the manner of Janet Suzman, to take on Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi in single combat, and chastising Jeremy Irons for his apparent defection to the Oxfordian camp: "I'm very disappointed with Jeremy." As no doubt are a great many of us, but Damage is only one film in an otherwise illustrious career. 

She then succumbed to the microphone and trotted out the old canard that Shakespeare clearly was a 'man of the theatre' as any actor knows who has been there on stage with him and excavated the text and so on, etc, and that it is snobbery to suggest that "he weren't clever enough to have wrote all them plays by hisself" (I paraphrase).

At this point the insouciant Earl finally lost patience, slipped the lead and unleashed Bill Leahy into the midst of the bleating Stratfordians. "Using terms like 'snobbery' and 'conspiracy' is just lazy thinking. Lazy," he growled. "And I wish people would think a bit harder about what they're saying before they start 'feeling sorry' for those who take a different view of the facts. It seems, quite frankly, arrogant." There was a queasy moment as the chair hurriedly checked to see if anyone present had a valid firearms licence. "Did I say Shakespeare was stupid?" continued Leahy, his east-London growl eerily reminiscent of Sir Alan, Lord Sugar. "No. I said he was a businessman."

For a second, it seemed Dr Leahy might spring across the table, take a chunk out of said priest and possibly attempt to "fire" the actress, a contest the outcome of which no-one would dare to predict. Thankfully, the chair stepped in, the proceedings were drawn to a swift conclusion, a hasty show of hands was had and the day was given, thankfully for the safety of all, to Stratford.

Overall, the Stratfordians seemed very happy to attempt to use humiliation as the primary weapon in their armoury. But confidence and condescension are two sides of a rather thin coin and as the debate moved beyond the preliminaries, the name-calling and joke-making, the unease persisted that the Oxfordians might not just be blown over with a few silly put-downs.

Emmerich meanwhile seemed fascinated and bemused by the passions on display. "I'm a storyteller you know. You want to make the story the biggest you can. I think there is a view of Elizabethan time that is not known. I want to tell that story. Its just my little costume B-movie."

Of course, if you want to entirely circumvent the debate, you could just read The De Vere Code. For a limited time, you can get it for £11.99 (rrp £14.99) if you use the code(!) DVC1 at the checkout...