Don't Forget Shakespeare Denialism!

By Chris Mooney | November 12, 2009 10:01 am

shakespeareWe’ve been having a lot of fun this week talking about Tom Bethell’s anti-Einstein views and how they may or may not relate to modern American conservatism. And inevitably, the dialogue has also dredged up a lot of context about all the other areas in which Bethell challenges a firmly accepted scholarly or scientific body of knowledge–including one I hadn’t even recognized yet [until David Kathman put me on to it]. But first, let’s review:

Bethell questions the link between HIV and AIDS. He is also, as I have noted, a climate change “skeptic” and an evolution denier. And then there is the whole Einstein business.

But even I didn’t know that he was also an “Oxfordian”–e.g., adherent to the theory that William Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford, and not from Stratford-on-Avon (the mainstream “Stratfordian” view). The Oxfordian “theory” is most emphatically not the view held by the vast bulk of Shakepeare scholars…but hey, if you’re willing to throw out Einstein and Darwin in favor of some dubious contrarian view, why not go for the trifecta!

My father happens to be an English professor who specializes in Shakespeare–and, of course, is a Stratfordian–so the analogies with other kinds of denial and conspiracy theorizing are especially striking to me. I will grant, of course, that the anti-Stratfordian position on Shakespeare’s identity does not–unlike climate change denial–pose a great threat to the human future. But it remains, nevertheless, a classic case of throwing out historical evidence and scholarly expertise.


Comments (39)

  1. The Earl of Oxford theory isn’t the only one out there. I’ve also heard Richard Burbage as a big one (for the early stuff, under the idea that someone else took over later), and Christopher Marlowe, though if you’ve read or seen Marlowe plays, the differences in tone and approach are pretty obvious. There’s a lot of thought that Shakespeare simply wasn’t educated enough to write such powerful plays, but I think that’s a lot to do with modern perceptions on the Shakespearean style. If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be writing for HBO (in a good way).

  2. Anthony McCarthy

    I’m a skeptic on the question. I don’t find the Statfordians to be very convincing.

    I’d suggest that the best thing to do is to read Mark Twain on the qustion.

  3. gillt

    The Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is in good company with the rest of the know-nothing conspiracy theorists.

  4. David Kathman

    For anyone who may not have seen my comment in the other thread, check out my web site,, where Terry Ross and I explain in great detail why Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare and why anti-Stratfordian “theories” have no merit:

    As much respect as I have for John Paul Stevens as a Supreme Court Justice, he simply has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to Shakespeare, and routinely makes embarrasingly false and distorted comments on the subject. He was snookered by Oxfordian propaganda years ago, and the Oxfordians have been carefully cultivating him and stroking his ego ever since, because they like to trot out lists of famous people (none of them literary historians, of course) who have expressed doubts that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

  5. Anthony McCarthy

    David Kathman, you must have read what Mark Twain says about the lack of any evidence that Shakespeare had any training in the law. I can’t see anything recent that would make up for that.

    I think his list of facts known about Shakespeare are still current, or nearly so.

  6. Chris Mooney

    I forgot to credit David Kathman’s post for putting me on to this. Thanks, David. Will add a link.

  7. I’m still reeling from the hitherto-unknown fact that there are relativity-denialists out there, and now Shakespeare denialism? What other types of denialism are out there lurking in the dark corners of the denialosphere? Gravity denialism? Aristotle denialism? Photosynthesis denialism? Nathaniel Hawthorne denialism? Mitosis denialism? Charles Dickens denialism? Long division denialism?

    There’s got to be some sort of profit in it. It’s the only explanation for this denialsplosion. It almost makes me want to start my own denialist sect, just to get a piece of the action.

  8. In the classic words of Douglas Hofstadter (not his view, just playing with words): “Shakespeare’s works were not written by him, but by someone else of the same name.” 😎

    In fact, this guy’s contrarianism on literary history could be viewed as a play for sympathy with ordinary joes: “those pinhead academics don’t really know whether Shakespeare really wrote those plays, and will never be able to prove it absolutely. Thus contrarians can never be refuted or silenced. You ordinary joes can feel confident in tossing out anything reported by pinhead academics, including {HIV/evolution/global warming/Einstein} – they never agree on anything.”
    It does seem like extreme Dunning-Kruger to claim to be overthrowing the orthodoxy in so many different fields at once. What kind of genius is this guy, that he knows better than everyone else about Einstein AND Shakespeare AND evolution AND virology … AND climatology!?

  9. Guy

    I think some people just love contrariness even if it means believing in the absurd.

  10. David Kathman

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Twain’s summary of what is known about Shakespeare is ridiculously inadequate. See “How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts”:

    Also see “Shakespeare’s Knowledge of Italy, the Classics, and the Law”:

    There’s plenty more on my site addressing all the most common claims made by Oxfordians and other antistratfordians.

  11. gillt

    So McCarthy’s a Shakespeare denialist…er I mean “skeptic.” That should in no way surprise regular readers here.

    Along with exobiology, the evolution of complex traits, and the psychology of aesthetics and morals, we can add “Shakespeare denialist” to the list. Not bad, McCarthy.

  12. V.O.R.

    I assume Bethell also believes in homeopathic medicine?
    He, after all, seems to believe in homeopathic science: The theory with the least evidence is probably true.

  13. Anthony McCarthy

    Ah, gillt unable to produce evidence to back up his assertions down thread comes here to gillt the lily on this topic as well.

    David Kathman, I don’t have anything novel to say about any of it, you know the case against the Stratfordian view. I’m not taking any side, I don’t think it’s known who wrote the plays. I find the lack of any books associated with Wm. S. or any explanation of how he could have learned what he’d have had to know to be the biggest problems. I’ll read what you linked to but I doubt it’s going to be anything new.

    None of this does anything to further the cause of putting on the plays or getting people to watch them.

  14. Google alerts alerted me to this discussion.

    Read Dave Kathman’s essay Shakespeare’s friends on his website too. The deniers seems to forget that fame is a cumulative process. the illiterate claim and no books is nonsense when you examine the historical record as Historians do.

    There is no way Shakespeare or anyone pretending to be Shakespeare could have known what they were writing would become the greatest pieces of literature in the English language.

    So this conspiracy started with some youthful forays into comedy and slapstick gorefests like Titus and then matured into a knowledge that they are genius and ‘ you know what these plays are so brilliant i must make a folio and hide my true identity in anagrams for sleuths to decipher 200 years from now’ mystery.

    Mark Twain (or Clemens whatsisface who really wrote Twain’s works), had it in for Shakespeare because of that annoying riverboat captain who got up Twain’s nose with his bardolatry.

    Shakespeare was the most published playwright in his time. Shakspere the actor was perfectly placed to write his plays and poems and do nothing else but that. Not to mention he was the only one to profit from them.

    Shakespeare should also thank his lucky stars he was born British and would be exported along with the Empire to be hated by generations of schoolkids. Who wants it to be boring old egghead and not crispy bacon or some deadbeat Earl or puffy spy or… ? (There’s more than a hundred to choose from. They can’t all be right)!

    This question is becoming more relevant now that Roland Emmerich is going to release the
    Oxfordian nonsense. Starring roles for Mark Rylance, Michael York, and Derek Jacobi, and a bit part for Keanu I’m guessing. Kirstin Linklater will do the voice work and Mark Anderson will praise the forward-thinking of such an enlightened and explosive director.

  15. oh yes, the Earl of Oxford’s training in law didn’t help him much during his lifetime whilst he lost all his lands and bankrupted his children’s legacy. Too busy putting it into ‘ his’ plays of course. Though his defence when he killed his under-cook at age 17 was brilliant.

    The Oxfordian’s or undecided could try reading Shakespeare’s Legal Language a dictionary by the B.J. and Mary Sokol for a non-partisan look at how it is used in Sh’s works. Also take a look at Duke University Law professor james Boyle defending the Stratfordian against Justice Stephen’s claims here on youtube:

    The Oxfordians have never won one of these legal debates though they like to pretend they have!

  16. Anthony McCarthy

    Again, has a production of any of the plays come from this strife?

    The play’s the thing, isn’t it?

    I’ve been reading the lesser quality plays off and on this year, Pericles, Timon, Titus, etc. as well as re-reading some of the others. I was inspired by watching Slings and Arrows, which might be a more productive approach to take.

    william S. I think Twain was pretty clear in why he had it in for the bladder faced myth that had grown up purporting to be Shakespeare during his time. Not a little of it had to do with the absurd story telling that fictional biography was passing off as truth. I think his case is still pretty good and a lot more interesting to read than, say, Lamb on the subject.

  17. SLC

    It’s rather interesting to study the history of the anti-Stratfordians over the centuries. Up until the 1960s, their most popular candidate for authorship of the plays and sonnets attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon was Sir Francis Bacon with the backup candidate Christopher Marlowe. However, I recall a computer analysis done sometime in the 1960s which compared several plays (I believe Hamlet was on of them) with known works of Bacon and Marlowe, relative to things like language, spelling, juxtaposition of words, etc. I believe that the result was that the researchers who conducted the study concluded that it was unlikely that either Bacon or Marlowe authored the plays evaluated. This, of course, hasn’t caused the hardcore Baconians or Marloweians to abandon their champion. However, a number of anti-Stratfordians went looking for another candidate and found one in Sir Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. Since there is, apparently, little or nothing known to be written by de Vere, such an analysis can’t be done. However, as I understand it, at least one of the plays is known to have been written after de Veres’ death. Thus, the Oxfordians have to provide a candidate other then de Vere for that play (and any others that can be shown to have been written after his death).

  18. a lurker
  19. Will Monox

    With all due respect to Chris Mooney’s father, David Kathman, Terry Ross, et al., I beg to differ: Justice Stevens has a very good idea what he’s talking about when it comes to Shakespeare, and “anti-Stratfordian ‘theories’ do have merit.” On the contrary, it is the incumbent Stratfordian theory that has very, very little merit. After the next generation (or two) of interest-vested academics have journeyed into that undiscovered country, their seats will be filled by a fresh tier of incredulous and logic-applying scholars who will get down to brass tacks at too long last, but better late than never… the truth will out eventually. By all means, continue to use the standard arsenal of diversionary ad hominem attacks and straw man arguments in the interim to deflect the open-minded from the spark of revelation; if it comforts you to label anti-Stratfordians “conspiracy theorists,” help yourselves (never mind that Shakespeare’s plays are full of conspiracies). I’m not certain who did write the works of William Shake-Speare, but I’m certain who did not. The far reaches of the fictive imagination to which Stratfordians must contort themselves in order to come up with scenarios of how Shakespeare could have come to the wealth of knowledge and perspectives displayed throughout the Canon boggles the mind, ranging from how he would have been capable of reading the source material for so many of his plays that had never been translated into English in his lifetime, but were only available in Latin, Greek, Italian, French, some Spanish, German, possibly even Hebrew, let alone where he came by the books themselves, to concocting an Ur-Hamlet out of thin air, when there is not a scrap of evidence for an Ur-Hamlet; only the several mentions of Hamlet as early as 1589 simply don’t fit the Stratfordian chronology, so there MUST have been an Ur-Hamlet, and so it goes, ad nauseam. Many very famous, highly respected men and women in myriad fields have expressed their skepticism about the Stratford man since the Nineteenth century. I’d venture they were all on the saner side of this controversial issue. I highly recommend all open/interested minds to begin to explore exactly what’s known about the man from Stratford and why there is a legitimate Shakespeare Authorship Question at

  20. SLC

    Re Will Monox

    On the contrary, it is the incumbent Stratfordian theory that has very, very little merit. After the next generation (or two) of interest-vested academics have journeyed into that undiscovered country, their seats will be filled by a fresh tier of incredulous and logic-applying scholars who will get down to brass tacks at too long last, but better late than never… the truth will out eventually.

    Unfortunately for Mr. Monox, this is a tune that has been warbled for some 300+ years by the anti-Stratfordians and has yet to come to pass. Every generation of skeptics has made this claim and yet each succeeding fresh tier of scholars continues to accept the Bard of Avon as the author. Well as they say, hope springs eternal.

  21. Dawood

    Oscar Wilde: “We become lovers when we see Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet makes us students.”

    ..check other notable tributes and quotes on William Shakespeare from famous peers:

  22. Anthony McCarthy

    SLC, I hope you can appreciate how funny it is that you would hold it’s impossible for the true believers in the Bard of Avon to be overturned on the basis of 300 years of skepticism when you fully expect a far more entrenched position to evaporate in the near future.

    I hope everyone who has a position here has actually read all of the plays. I’d suggest everyone should have to weather the rigors of Titus Andronicus before they venture an opinion. Though,given the state of our entertainment, maybe T.A. would revive interest in the plays. And it might do something for vegetarianism too.

  23. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    I did not say it was impossible for the Stratfordians to be proven wrong. It is always possible that some document will turn up that will falsify their position. However, so far, 300+ years have gone by and that document has not yet appeared.

    After all, it took some 280 years to show that Newtons’ laws break down at higher speeds and an additional 20 years to show that they break down for very small objects. It is even possible that some one will find Haldanes’ cat in pre-Cambrian strata which would raise grave questions about the theory of evolution but so far the can has not surfaced.

    By the way, I don’t have a dog in this dispute. If the falsifying document shows up proving that, say, Sir Francis Bacon, is actually the author of the plays, that would not bother me in the slightest and I suspect that Mr. Mooneys’ father, being the fine scholar that he is, would not have a problem either..

  24. I agree with Anthony McCarthy and Will Monox that the Stratford biography as known is boring. I want there to be another Shakespeare that fits the bill. The egghead that’s there is not my favourite conception of Shakespeare.

    I have given the other candidates a fair and open hearing and found myself sick of all the misreading of the historical record and misappropriations of rhetoric; applied like base lawyers tricks. Anything goes for a quibble and the verdict. Ad hominem with reason: you make my candidate, therefore me, into a cabbage brained blockhead.

    I have seen stratfrodians defend their burrows time again with nothing but straws to clutch onto. Not once have the orksfordians conquered, like Tamburlaine, cruelly dragging the fallen King and feeding him scraps in a cage.

    I don’t doubt.

    I have read all his plays and seen them all live at least once. I’ve read all his poems and memorised his sonnets. I’ve even read all Oxford’s extant poems, and letters. And believe me if the stratfrodians had a collection that big we’d be cross-examining them for clues to plays, handwriting style to personality etcetera. We know Oxford was a degenerate, that’s why he’s a good candidate. Kick ol goody two-shoes from his throne.

    The orksfordians candidate and those conspiracists who would have him Will, (let’s not shy from the word: one is needed for Shaksper to comply) have such letters and do no such thing. Why? Because there is nothing in them to connect him with writing plays and secreting them to be published 19 years after his death. Now there’s a well-thought out plan. What if they hadn’t been published? would we be having this discussion?

    He is the fallen Earl, begging for scraps from the monarch’s table. An aristocrat to the end and such a fall. He died in 1604, is buried who knows where, whilst Shakespeare lived to write Timon, Lear, The Tempest, Winter’s Tale and Henry the Eighth, that phoenix-like would fire up the house at the Globe in 1613. Oxford dead near ten years since. Verily.

    Oxford straddles the downfall of Noblesse Oblige with loss of Land and inheritance,
    as Shagsberds does the rise of the Gentleman and the pragmatic Business classes.
    I doubt Oxford’s influence on the world of printers and booksellers.
    I doubt Oxford’s influence behind the scenes in Public theatre companies.
    I have no doubt my Will knew both worlds from the typeface to the straw onstage.

    The doubters doubt because there is no evidence connecting our Will to writing, or even being capable of conceiving these plays, most based on stories stolen from extant sources he did have access to through the printers and booksellers he knew. Esoteric knowledge and foreign languages aren’t a barrier to an inquisitive mind. I speak, read and write four languages, why couldn’t Shaksper learn any? I have a middling grammar school education.

    You tell me your Earl speaks five or six, so does the compositor at Vautrollier’s shop.
    Many second and third sons of Noblemen were illiterate. Learning other languages doesn’t demand great intelligence, it takes an accurate ear and the ability to imitate what you hear, and then learn to think, read, write and speak it for yourself.

    Oxford squandered a fortune, wardship took the rest, leaving him nothing but a name.
    And then he gives that away so he can use some schmoke from stratford to put his creations onstage and preserve them for immortality. For why?

    The crucible of theatrical London involved hundreds of people to sustain it as a viable platform for making money. It happened from the mid 1570’s through the 80’s
    and into the 90’s , when Shakespeare hits his publishing stride midway through the decade. Theatres slowly start to move indoors and the players and playwrights exploit this fact.

    Oxford of course had foreseen this darker trend and written these plays during the Essex Rebellion and the death of Elizabeth and James arrival. Not to menion tossing out Macbeth to flatter the new scottish King. How he collaborated with Fletcher beats me.

    No. The life of Shakespeare were enough if seen as a practitioner of theatre and a best-selling published author in a world where no celebrity scene outside the Nobility, Adventurers, Warriors and Players exists. No authors were famous.

    The name Shakespeare as a writer of plays would have been known all over London by readers who bought one of the several re-prints of his 18 published quartos. Plus his pomes in the smaller Octavo size. NO-ONE asked the question, who is writing this stuff?

    How is this hidden? How is this secret? Why these plays?

    I doubt the alternative candidates more than i doubt Will of Stratford. But please 3 centuries have gone by since Reverend Wilmot, so can’t we just agree it doesn’t really matter, as we have the plays and poems. Stuttering John Heminges and Henry Condell two truer or falser men who ever lived, hit it on the nose in their sell in the First Folio, read him and read him againe.

    Sorry for the length of this defence but i am open minded and interested in anything that truthfully examines the historical record and doesn’t try to force it to suit any particular character over all possible candidates. Always with Occam’s razor poised and ready to slash away the hopes and fears of biography. So he’s boring, it doesn’t matter, his plays and poems aren’t. Not like Oxford’s.

  25. The Shakespeare question should be looked at differently than evolution denialism or the like, because just about any “fact” in history has a practically finite chance of being wrong (not perhaps the well-attested battles, but most facts about persons and particulars of events). There is, no doubt, a small but meaningful chance that Oswald did conspire with someone else to assassinate Kennedy (no evidence, and it would be a stupid thing for anyone to do), and it could turn out that Shakespeare did not write his plays after all.

    I held it as a personally open question for a couple years after reading Sobran argued against Stratfordians, but without being particularly impressed by Sobran’s claims. The conspiracy to keep the whole issue quiet even after Shakespeare and the supposed “true writer” were dead seemed especially telling against the anti-Stratfordians, however, and really the writing of Shakespeare is excellent but without much evidence of the higher education whose lack is supposed to tell against him as the author of the plays attributed to him.

    And doesn’t he write like the outsider who notices in exquisite and wonderful detail everything about the upper classes?

    Nevertheless, would I be truly shocked if someone finally came up with evidence that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays? No, certainly not like I’d be surprised and at least somewhat discomfited if plate tectonics or evolution turned out not to be true at least in important respects as we understand them to be true.

    Bethell does seem to be addicted to contrarianism, conspiracy-theories (anti-evolution is almost impossible without them), and bad thinking, which apparently spills over into his anti-Stratfordianism. I do think that some allowance for the possibility that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays attributed to him is necessary, however, quite unlike the denialism of evolution.

    Glen Davidson

  26. Anthony McCarthy

    The doubters doubt because there is no evidence connecting our Will to writing,

    I’m a lot more doubtful because it seems his daughters were illiterate. I can’t believe that a prosperous man who invented Portia, Helena in Alls Well, the obviously literate Lady Macbeth,…. would allow his daughters (and perhaps granddaughter) to grow up illiterate.

    And there is the shaky “evidence”, quite a lot of it pure invention that ties him to the work.

    I don’t think the question if the Stratford guy wrote the plays will be settled without some very compelling evidence. And that doesn’t get to the question of who wrote them.

  27. SLC

    Actually, some of Shakespears’ contemporaries and near contemporaries cited him. For instance, John Milton in his poem L’Allergo has the following 4 lines:

    Then to the well-trod stage anon,
    If Jonson’s learned sock be on,
    Or sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy’s child,
    Warble his native wood-notes wild.

    There is also a poem by Ben Jonson, who was a friend an colleague of Shakespeare eulogizing him.

    by Ben Jonson

  28. Dominic Hughes

    Anthony McCarthy said:
    The doubters doubt because there is no evidence connecting our Will to writing.

    To the contrary, the evidence that does exist — documentary, testimonial, and circumstantial — is more than sufficient to establish a prima facie case that Mr. William Shakespeare of Stratford wote the works that are attributed to William Shakespeare. The challengers can speculate all they want, but they have done nothing to rebut that prima facie case.

  29. John Kwok

    Much of the skepticism surrounding Shakespeare’s ability to write these plays stems from the fact that he was a “kid” from the “sticks”. But those who insist on Shakespeare denialism forget that Shakespeare had had an active career in London, and probably knew well the likes of Christopher Marlowe, and maybe, the Earl of Oxford too, operating in a more rarefied atmosphere than what he knew growing up in the countryside. Have yet to see any convincing, quite persuasive, proof which would demonstrate that Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays should be considered suspect.

  30. Anthony McCarthy

    SLC, there is a total lack of contemporary tribute to the Stratford man on his death, no one seems to have noticed that the greatest poet of the English language had died and no one seemed to have mentioned him until they published the first folio. This is in notable contrast with the tributes to many far lesser talents upon their deaths. And it was clearly not a matter of the work having fallen into obscurity.

    There doesn’t seem to be any indication that the man from Stratford corresponded with Ben Jonson or anyone else, there isn’t any example that he knew how to write anything except his name, sort of. And the tribute by Jonson is rather odd given some of the other things he wrote about Shakespeare. That is a mystery in itself.

    Milton, of course, came after the death of the author. I hadn’t thought until looking up his dates just now, he was the same age as Wm. Shakspeare’s only grandchild, so he was eight when the Stratford guy died. Seems that the merchant of Stratford couldn’t be bothered much with her education either, by the look of it. Anyway, Milton is hardly contemporary evidence.

    And there are the contemporary attributions of works to Bacon and denials by others who were in a position to know that the Stratford Shakspeare wasn’t the author of the plays.

    Maybe the Stratford man did write it all and the disbelief in him is the posthumous cost of his being such a notably rotten husband and father. As I said, I’m not anywhere near as interested in the authorship question as I am in the actual plays, read, produced and watched. If the plays are the best thing about the money-grubbing, widow stiffing, daughter neglecting guy, maybe it would be best to forget about him altogether and concentrate on what he wrote. As I said, if he could be such a hypocrite as to write Portia and Helena, not to mention other educated women in his plays but to have neglected the education of his own daughters, the guy was a jerk.

    Minus some startlingly overlooked document I don’t think we’re ever going to get past this state of affairs, sort of like the never ending fight over the (non-)existence of God. We don’t have the information and what we do have is incomprehensible.

    As much fun as these are, I’ve got to be away for several weeks so this is going to be it for me online for a while. Sort of an early Christmas present to the online new atheists, despite their distinct lack of good behavior over the year.

  31. Anthony McCarthy

    Early moring, that should read, “And there are the contemporary attributions of works to Bacon and denials by others who were in a position to know that the Stratford Shakspeare was the author of the plays.”

  32. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    1. As Mr. McCarthy correctly states, Milton was 8 years old when Shakespeare died. However, he was certainly close enough in time to have met and corresponded with individuals who personally knew Shakespeare and would certainly been aware of any questions as to the latter being the author of the plays.

    2. Ben Jonson was a close associate of Shakespeare as both were members of the same playhouse and, in fact, they were drinking pals who frequented the same taverns. If anybody would have been aware that Shakespeare was not the author of the plays, it would be Jonson. Thus, in order to conclude that someone other then Shakespeare wrote the plays, one would have to conclude that Jonson was in on the conspiracy.

  33. SLC

    Although this thread is probably dead as it is now on the second page, a further comment is in order. Mr. McCarthy, as part of his evidence against Shakespeare, opines that he was not a very nice man in the way he treated his wife and children. Thus, not being a nice man is evidence that he didn’t write the plays. This is not a very substantial argument as one can point to any number of un-nice men who nevertheless made significant contributions to the scientific and intellectual culture of the Western World.

    1. Issac Newton, arguably the most important scientist who ever lived, was a thoroughly nasty individual who engaged with numerous feuds with his contemporaries, including Hooke, the Bernoullis, Huygens, and von Liebnitz. His tenure as director of the mint was also evidence of his nasty personality, in particular, advocating the death penalty for counterfeiters.

    2. The composer Richard Wagner, arguably one of the most important operatic composers who ever lived, was an even more unpleasant individual then Newton. Aside from his anti-Semitism, he was an ingrate and a man who dumped his wife to trade her in on a newer model. Attached .is a link to an article about him by the American composer Deems Taylor. As the article states, he was a monster.

  34. Mr Mc Carthy,

    Susann Hall, Sh’s daughter was described as witty above her sex.

    gosh that sounds like an illiterate moron!

    get over your ridiculous anachronisms of thought. Nobody knew Shakespeare was the English language’s greatest literary genius. He became that. Your projection that his age knew and didn’t acknowledge the genius is equally valid for any other candidate you care to mention.

    He benefitted from his works whilst he lived. His biography is enough to link him with the leading acting company of his time and as author of 18 published quartos, 2 best-selling narrative poems and 154 sonnets.

    Your speculation that he cared so little about his family therfore couldn’t have written these works is a little skewed as evidence and comes across as ad hominem slander. As if the Earl of Oxford was such a family man!

  35. Evolution and relativity are scientific matters. The authorship of Shakespeare’s works is a historical and literary question. Apples and oranges.

    Quite a few smart, open-minded people have expressed doubts about Mr. Shakespeare of Stratford as the author of the works published under his name. Ad hominem attacks on those people, or generalized mockery of them, do not constitute refutations of their arguments.

  36. And quite a few have doubted and found little in the doubters arguments, especially when ad hominem attacks on the Stratfrodian dominate their refutation that it was him. The burden of proof lies on the doubters shoulders and their seeds of doubt may in turn be doubted.

    Ben Jonson and Wm Sh never corresponded?
    Refutation: They didn’t need to. Sh acted in Ben’s plays as recorded by Ben. Why would Ben talk with Drummond of Hawthornden who owned several quartos of Sh’s plays and not let him in on the fact that actually it was someone else who wrote Sh?

    Sh’s daughters are illiterate why would a genius allow his kids to be?
    Refutation: his daughter is noted to be witty above her sex. What percentile of the population was literate in his age?

    Sh was a rotten husband and father?
    Refutation: it is irrelevant for genius also to be Mr nice guy. Personally I don’t think he was this rotten father but then ad hominem attacks occur from both sides.

    Lack of tribute to Sh in the form of eulogies?
    Refutation: There are tributes by those who were closest to him and little reason for anyone else to eulogise an author of mere plays. This constant harping that his genius should have been recognised belies the fact that his reputation grew in response to many cultural factors over which he had no control after his death.

    The hints of argument that are offered as evidence against Sh can all be refuted and have been by patient scholars. However each time they re-appear as if never answered.
    Where are these contemporary allusions to Bacon et al?
    What tributes exist to many lesser talents?
    Why does evidence automatically fail or become suspect if it is after the death of Sh?
    Why does spelling of names even enter into the argument if it is non-standardised in his age?
    Why can evidence on his monument collected 18 years after his death by someone known to have made mistakes representing other monuments be trusted and not someone who in all likelihood saw Sh’s plays?

    Here’s a direct contemporary of Shakespeare whose opinion is never heard because his comments were printed some 27 years after Shakespeare’s death. His name is Sir Richard Baker.

    ‘In his Chronicle of the Kings of England, Baker treats in turn the reign of successive sovereigns and at the end he discusses the famous men of the time. For Elizabeth’s reign he notes statesmen such as Burleigh and Walsingham, famous seamen and soldiers -Raleigh, Drake, and the Earl of Essex- and the literary figures who are mostly theologians with the exception of Sir Phillip Sidney. In conclusion Baker observes:

    After such men, it might be thought ridiculous to speak of Stage-players; but seeing excellency in the meanest things deserve remembring, and Roscius the Comedian is recorded in History with such commendation, it may be allowed us to do the like with some of our Nation. Richard Bourbidge [Burbage] and Edward Allen, two such actors as no age must ever look to see the like: and, to make their Comedies compleat, Richard Tarleton, who for the part called the Clowns Part, never had his match, never will have. For Writers of Playes, and such as had been Players themselves, William Shakespeare and Benjamin Johnson, have specially left their Names recommended to posterity.

    This being the attitude of the times, as a large number of other writers testify, it is small wonder that most playwrights did not bother to see that their works were printed.’
    (Taken from the introduction to my facsimile of the First Folio by Charles Tyler Prouty. Note Baker’s spelling of names throughout, not one is how we standardise them today, except for Shakespeare’s).

  37. Wes Rogers

    I am a software engineer, not a literary historian. However, after reading through several websites dedicated to proving that Shakespeare did not write his plays, I have to conclude that they are a mass of appeals to incredulity, ignorance, and authority.

    There is no rational reason to doubt the simple truth: Shakespeare was a literary genius in the same manner that Mozart was a musical genius and Einstein a mathematical genius. Genius happens. Get over it.

  38. Anonymous

    “But it remains, nevertheless, a classic case of throwing out historical evidence and scholarly expertise.”

    This has to be one of the dumbest and least informed things I have ever heard. Chris you really should know better.

    Historical evidence? What there is is almost non existent and if anything is clearly suspicious.

    Scholarly expertise? That is worse than a joke it is a ridiculous case of appealing to authority. Which last time I looked was known as a logical fallacy.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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