Shakespeare Studies as taught in the universities today relies largely on the lifetime effort of E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, published in four hefty volumes in 1923. Based largely on the earlier collecting efforts of W.W. Greg and his cohorts, it comprises everything located up until then that can be considered relevant to what (expanding coverage from Henry VIII through the early Stuarts) I prefer to call the London Stage. Chambers’s method in his great masterwork was to group the facts as he found or inherited them into sections based on the names of acting companies, theaters, actors and stage managers, and what titles of plays have remained.
Forced to ignore the glaring anomalies with which the official narrative is peppered, problems that by Chambers’s time had long since given rise to The Authorship Question, Chambers deals with these (some of them anyway) in a subsequent two-volume account, published seven years later, titled William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems. Among the many problems that he describes (but can’t resolve) is the weak biography of William of Stratford, which––in over the 1000 pages of these two volumes together, comes to a mere 27 pages. Despite the efforts of numerous authorship scholars to resolve these by means of locating the author’s true identity, among them J.T. Looney’s Shakespeare Identified, the first convincing biography of a genuine candidate, Edward de Vere (pronounced d’Vayer), Earl of Oxford, published in 1920, the Academy continues to leave “the Shakespeare problem” on the cutting room floor where Chambers left it back in 1930.
Fast forward to the late 1980s when I first set about to resolve for myself the two questions about Oxford that remained unanswered in Charlton Ogburn’s The Mysterious William. I could not have foreseen how deeply what seemed then as just another passing enthusiasm would lead me into a whole slew of seemingly unrelated historical mysteries. Again and again, I would find that information about Oxford, his great tutor, the statesman and scholar Sir Thomas Smith, had simply vanished, along with all records that must, at one time, have touched on the creation of the London Stage.
Even more disturbing was the glaring fact that in the 1970s, a group of Cambridge University trained Tudor historians had conspired to destroy the career of an innocent (female) historian who had, all unknowingly, supplied a crucial piece of evidence for Oxford as the most likely recipient of Shakespeare’s incredible education. So my book, intended to unearth what history had to say about Oxford and his fellow writers, evolved into a sort of cold case forensic aimed at resolving who was responsible for the obliteration of Oxford’s story, of his creation of the London Stage, and why on earth they would do such a thing.
Thus the book, which began as a simple examination of Oxford’s education, has turned out to be a reconstruction of much of what we thought we knew, not only about English literature of the 16th and early 17th centuries, but its political history as well. To understand what happened to the real Shakespeare, the dark side of the English Reformation has to be examined for its longlasting effects, not just for our better understanding of the literature that survived that period, but equally for the culture that then fled its racks and jails to start a new life in America and Australia, and that has repercussions that have lasted until today.
Perhaps the place to begin this effort to come to terms with our beginnings is with the truth about this great champion of human rights and the arts, and why he and his supporters found it so necessary to hide his true identity. That the Academy that has so successfully blocked our efforts to recover the truth about Shakespeare was formed by the very culture that Oxford attacked, again and again, in his plays, that turned on him in an all out attempt to destroy the plays, their actors and their theaters, had not there been a huge if silent audience that so loved his works that his enemies, fearing to provoke it to a dangerous level of public outrage, were forced to be satisfied with the great lies about the Stage, its primary author, and its origins.
Long story short, the search for the truth about Shakespeare has led to the examination of several other historic and literary puzzles that, as it turned out, stem from, and lead back to, the question of his identity. When, by the mid-1590s, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men under pressure to protect their playbook from being pirated by other companies, were forced to demonstrate ownership by having his plays registered and published, they found themselves in a quandary with regard to what name to put on their title pages. Constrained by the need to continue to hide the identity of their brilliant and popular playwright, it had to be something that that would pass muster as belonging to a real person, while containing enough of a clue to the author’s identity that the questioners would be satisfied, or at least, silenced.
As Fate would have it, Oxford had already used just such a proxy a few years earlier when faced with the need to publish his great narrative poem, Venus and Adonis. Pressured to claim ownership of the plays that were turning London into a national entertainment center, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men did what they could to secure the use of William’s remarkable name (it formed a pun, “Will shake spear,” a clue that would alert the audience that meant the most to Oxford that he was the true author).
Desperate to protect this new power, that of the Fourth Estate in its earliest form, it’s unlikely that the Lord Chamberlain’s Men had any idea in 1598, when they published the second editions of Richard III and Richard II as the work of “William Shake-speare,” how this act of expediency, driven to escape the crushing political disaster that was even then threatening to destroy them and their means of survival, would redirect not only the course of English Literature from then on, but the course of English politics and all that has gone with it ever since, so bound together were the plays with the political situation at that moment in time.
Faced for so long by a publishing establishment totally dedicated to promoting only what the Academy will allow, perhaps the continuing collapse of the old publishing establishment brought about by the recent rise of the Internet, blogging, and Amazon.com, will clear the way for books like this to reach their natural audience. One of the effects so far has been the rise of independent publishers like Forever Press, which has just made available a very readable edition of J.T. Looney’s Shakespeare Identified, the book that back in 1920 first brought Oxford’s claim to authorship to those with ears to hear (and unfortunately also to those determined to do whatever they could to destroy what remains under their control). Available through Amazon for a modest $22, not only was it the first giant step on the path to the truth about Shakespeare, it’s a great read, one anyone who loves good writing can enjoy.
As for my book, we’ll see.