Nibbling on our breakfast scone at a B & B in Stratford, Ontario last weekend, we were pleased to learn that two of our fellow guests, a couple from Dearborn, Michigan, were fellow Oxfordians. That is, they shared our view that the plays traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare were probably — no one will ever know for sure — written by Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford.
This led us to wonder, in turn, how many other Stratford Festival patrons share our irritation every time they open their play programs to find the five canned paragraphs that purport to sum up the life of William Shakespeare.
For most playwrights, biographical blurbs in theater programs have to be greatly condensed. Not so with William Shakespeare. So little is really known about him that at least half of the material about him in the Stratford Festival’s 2008 programs is filler — educated guesses about his life and career. We detect the dramaturge’s struggle for hard facts about the playwright from such speculative phrases as these:
“The exact date of his birth is unknown . . . .”
“[T]radition has it . . . .”
“The young Shakespeare is assumed to have attended what is now the Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford, where he would have studied . . . .”
“Nothing further is known of Shakespeare’s life until 1592 . . . .”
“Possibly as early as 1610, the playwright retired to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon . . . .”
Conspicuously absent from the Stratford Festival’s programs is any hint that this man of whom we know so little may not actually have written The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Love’s Labours Lost.
But surely the powers-that-be at the Stratford Festival are aware of the issue. And they are surely also aware of the new evidence pointing to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth, as the true author — far more evidence, both in quality and in quantity, than was ever brought forward in decades past to support the candidacies of Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, or other Elizabethans.
Emsworth does not complain that the Stratford Festival has not come out in favor of Oxford. This is a matter on which reasonable minds can differ.
As it stands, though, the Stratford Festival is effectively siding with the actor from Stratford. Have the Artistic Director and the dramaturge decided simply to leave things as they are until someone actually produces a draft of Macbeth in Oxford’s handwriting? What will it take for the Stratford Festival to acknowledge that there is at least a serious question as to authorship?
In the meantime, simply ignoring the case for Oxford is not what one might expect from the most influential Shakespeare organization in North America.
Emsworth refers curious readers to the website of the Shakespeare Oxford Society, which outlines the principal reasons to doubt that the actor from Stratford wrote the Shakespeare plays, along with the facts that point to Edward de Vere as the actual poet and playwright. (We are not connected with this organization.) Emsworth has just noticed that Wikipedia now includes an extensive and seemingly objective entry on “Oxfordian theory,” which sets forth arguments both for and against authorship by de Vere.