by William M. Murphy
Union College Symposium
In libraries that catalogue books by the Dewey Decimal System works dealing with the supposedly non-Shakespearean authorship of Shakespeare's plays and poems are classified under 822.33A (English Literature, Shakespearean Authorship) - Modern librarians are hardly responsible for a practice that began (quite innocently a long time ago, but surely the time has come to recognize the melancholy truth that the books properly belong under 132 (Abnormal or Pathological Psychology). Abnormal Psychology attempts "to explain human conduct and thought that cannot be understood in terms of ordinary common sense," and is therefore precisely the discipline by which anti-Stratfordianism must be examined and evaluated.
Most of us know that irrational behavior carried to extremes can result in a form of mental disturbance that may require hospitalization. In many cases, however, the victims seem superficially in control of themselves and act perfectly normal except when concerned with the subject through which their derangement is manifested; here they inhabit a universe of their own creation, like those unfortunate beings in mental institutions who think they are Napoleon or Jesus Christ. In its simplest form the affliction is called Paranoia. Any student who has devoted considerable thought to the question of the authorship of the Shakespearean plays cannot avoid the conclusion that the tortured attempts to prove Shakespeare didn't write his own works are the product of paranoid thinking. The subject is clearly not one for Professors of English or of history but for psychologists.
For the evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon (1564-1616) wrote the works attributed to him is not only abundant but conclusive. It is of the kind, as Sir Edmund Chambers puts it, "which is ordinarily accepted as determining the authorship of early literature. It is better than anything we have for many of Shakespeare's dramatic contemporaries." If, to satisfy those who insist that anything is possible in a complex world like ours, we admit a theoretical possibility that someone else wrote the works that possibility would have to be expressed as 1 : ~. In the real world of our experience, however, there is not the remotest possibility that anyone else was the author.
It might be profitable to review very briefly the evidence bearing on authorship. It is the same kind of evidence we use to determine what Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, or Dante, or George Washington. In evaluating it scholars use simple common sense, the kind that tells you that if your tire is flat it probably has no air in it. Briefly, it can be reduced to five positive arguments and one negative.
(1) Of the plays in the First Folio of 1623, all of which are universally conceded to be by the same man (although some may be inaccurate in places and may even occasionally show the work of another hand), fifteen were published as separate works in one or more editions during Shakespeare's lifetime; fourteen of these bear Shakespeare's name on the title page. The First Folio is entitled "Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies." No one else's name is associated with the quartos or folios, although Shakespeare's name was used by some unscrupulous publishers on the title pages of other plays which he did not write. In short, at the time of the publication of the First Folio, the plays were commonly believed to have been written by someone named William Shakespeare, whoever he might be.
(2) The company that produced Shakespeare's plays numbered among its members John Heminge (or Heminges), Henry Condell, Richard Burbage, and William Shakespeare. It was quite common in those times for men to bequeath sums of money to their friends for the purchase of "memorial rings." The William Shakespeare who died at Stratford-on-Avon in 1616 and was buried there in the Church of the Holy Trinity left in his will money for the purchase of memorial rings to Heminge, Condell, and Burbage. Common sense tells us that the Stratford Shakespeare was the partner of the other three in the theatre.
(3) During his lifetime Shakespeare was referred to specifically by name as a well-known writer at least twenty-three times, not counting the appearance of his name on title pages. The references range in time from 1595 (W. Covell's "All praise worthy Lucretia Sweet Shakespeare") to 1614 (when Sir Thomas Freeman praises the poet in a sonnet entitled "To Master William Shakespeare"). Among those who acknowledged Shakespeare as a poet or playwright during his lifetime were Richard Barnfield, Gabriel Harvey, William Drummond of Hawthornden, Sir John Davies, Edmund Howes (John Stow's successor as editor of the Annals) and, perhaps most significant of all, William Camden, the great teacher and antiquarian. After Shakespeare's death his greatest rival, Ben Jonson, not only commented on his poetry (including a specific reference to Julius Caesar) but also acknowledged that Shakespeare was a friend whom he admired "this side idolatry."
(4) In the most remarkable listing of Elizabethan works recorded by a contemporary, Francis Meres, a young clergyman who came up to London in the mid-1590's, in his Palladis Tamia (1598) mentions Shakespeare by name no less than nine times and as the author of twelve plays, two poems, and some sonnets.
(5) In 1623 appeared the First Folio, the title page of which has already been given. In addition to that, two facts are of interest to us: (i) that in a commendatory poem Ben Jonson referred to the author as "Sweet Swan of Avon"; (ii) that the volume was edited and published by John Heminge and Henry Condell, who tell us in a preface that they undertook the labor "only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare." Common sense would suggest that the Shakespeare of whom they wrote was the one who left them money to buy memorial rings. Again, all the known evidence points to the Stratford Shakespeare as the writer of Hamlet, Macbeth, Henry V, and the other plays and poems that have kept the world at the author's knees for almost four hundred years.
(6) Equally important, in view of the foregoing five arguments, is the fact that none of the plays or poems is attributed to anyone but Shakespeare not only during his lifetime but for a century and a half after his death. No document of the period has been found which connects any other person directly with the plays or poems. All such claims have been thoroughly exploded, but in a brief paper of this kind it is not possible to consider them in detail. This will infuriate those anti-Stratfordians who feel that their own arguments have not been heeded. I must fall back on the same explanation given by H. N. Gibson in his valuable book, The Shakespeare Claimants: "It is hardly necessary to state that I cannot include in my survey every individual argument put forward by every individual theorist. Their very number makes any such idea absolutely impossible. Hundreds of books and pamphlets have been produced in the course of the controversy, and the literature of the Baconians alone would stock a fair-sized library. It is true that there is much repetition and overlapping in these works, but even so it would require several bulky volumes to review them all adequately."
It should be apparent to anyone possessing normal common sense, then, that Shakespeare's authorship of the works is not merely "probable" or "likely," as some softheads have put it, but absolutely compelling. Yet it is common knowledge that after Delia Bacon published her vague notions about authorship in 1856 defenders of her unorthodox views and creators of others multiplied like rabbits, and any reader of the modern newspaper knows that the tribe increases every year. How can it be, one asks, that questions arise about the authorship of Shakespeare's works but not about Jonson's or Greene's or Marlowe's? How is it also that the doubts have given rise to a major preoccupation of thousands of people with a vast body of writing to their credit?
The answer to the first of these questions is not far to seek. It lies in Shakespeare's unique position. He is by common agreement the greatest writer the world has ever known. Despite certain defects - his carelessness, his willingness to write about trivial subjects for the sake of the commercial theatre he worked for - he has spoken directly to the individual human being in the western world in the centuries since his death. His manner of expression was such that people of the most diverse views have found in him the perfect expression of exactly what they themselves felt. It is a commonplace of literary evaluation that Hamlet is Everyman -and Everywoman. We all find something of ourselves in one or another of the characters in the plays. As Emile Legouis has expressed it, in a famous passage: "No other literature, whatever its beauty, does not seem monotonous after Shakespeare. Free of every theory, accepting all of life, rejecting nothing, uniting the real and the poetic, appealing to the most various men, to a rude workman as to a wit, Shakespeare's drama is a great river of life and beauty. All who thirst for art or truth, the comic or the tender, ecstasy or satire, light or shade, can stop to drink from its waters, and at almost every instant of their changing moods find the one drop to slake their thirst." To some extent we all share Legouis' views. But Shakespeare is not only a writer who expresses himself beautifully: he is an oracle, a prophet, almost a divinity. No other mortal writer shares his pinnacle. And so it becomes necessary to deify the poet, to make him more than he is. Just as thousands of years ago man created God in his image, so the anti-Stratfordians have created a Shakespeare in their own image, or in the image of what they would like themselves to be or imagine themselves to be.
To the second question the answer is equally simple: that eccentric ideas arise at random about almost every subject. Whether they catch on is another matter. When the two answers are combined the aberration falls into place. It was not in itself surprising that in 1781, a hundred and sixty-five years after Shakespeare's death, an obscure English divine, James Wilmot, should profess to find similarities between the works of Sir Francis Bacon and Shakespeare and suggest a connection. (His views were not made known until 1805 and then only to a private society.) Nor was it surprising that a similar idea should have occurred to a frustrated spinster in New Haven in 1846. What might appear more surprising to those who do not recognize the force of Legouis' interpretation of Shakespeare's universal appeal is that Delia Bacon's strange spark should have lighted so many fires.
Delia, a crusty, highly intelligent lady, one of the famous female lecturers of the nineteenth century, was a sister of the formidable Congregational minister Leonard Bacon, pastor of the Centre Church on the Green in New Haven, within slingshot range -- unfortunately for Delia -- of the Yale Campus. Miss Bacon had developed her theory in its essentials by 1846, when she took time out to be seduced by a handsome and wealthy young blackguard eleven years her junior. Badly hurt emotionally by the experience, she traveled to England with Emerson's encouragement, bearing his letter of introduction to Thomas Carlyle. She was to remain there until her magnum opus was completed and published (at Nathaniel Hawthorne's expense) in 1857, after which she completed the descent into the insanity that was to darken the remaining two years of her life. The prose in her book, The Philosophy of Shakespeare's Plays Unfolded, was so impenetrable that, according to Hawthorne, only one person was known to have read it through. Miss Bacon promised a second volume dealing with the "historical" proof of non-Shakespearean authorship; the first (and, as it proved, the only) confined itself to an analysis of the plays designed to show that there was a "hidden undercurrent of philosophy" in the works of both Bacon and Shakespeare. The works of the latter were the property of Bacon, Ralegh and others; Shakespeare himself was a blind. The philosophy and the secret of authorship were concealed in an allegory and cipher which she intended to explain later. Unfortunately she was soon committed to a mental institution in England, brought back in confinement to Connecticut, and died in Hartford in 1859.
A year before her book was issued Delia Bacon had found a publisher for her views in an American magazine. But Putnam's printed the first part of her two-part article in 1856 only at the insistence of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who feared for her sanity if the essay should be rejected. With Emerson's recommendation it was not surprising that Putnam's should print her first essay; having printed the first it was not surprising that it should flatly refuse to print the second.
Upon the appearance of the Putnam's article an anguished outcry arose in England from one William Henry Smith, who claimed he had the idea first. Whoever deserved the priority, Smith at least had the advantage of Miss Bacon in the clarity of his style. He asserted simply that Sir Francis Bacon (with whom Delia claimed no kinship, incidentally) was the Real Author and so supplanted Delia's vague and ill-defined notion of multiple but never clearly defined authorship. Soon other men looking for a cause flocked to his banner, or to Miss Bacon's. In America a judge from St. Louis, Nathaniel Holmes, soon to become a professor at the Harvard Law School, exercised the logic of his profession to prove," in the teeth of the evidence, that Sir Francis Bacon was the Real Author. He was not the last lawyer to enter the fray; indeed the attraction the anti-Stratfordian madness has always exercised upon lawyers is enough to persuade any sane person to compose his differences out of court, especially if his cause be just. Needless to say, neither Smith nor Holmes, nor Miss Bacon, adduced any documentary evidence of any kind to link Bacon with the works.
But Delia Bacon had unconsciously struck a chord that vibrated in harmony with the newly-educated middle classes of England and America. By 1877 the hundredth publication on the subject had been printed. Today a student could spend a lifetime reading nothing but anti-Stratfordian argumentation and never come to the end of it. In 1947 a mere listing of books and articles on the subject filled more than 1,500 typewritten pages; it was so vast that no publisher could afford to print it. By 1962 the number of rival claimants had increased to 57.
In order to give some idea of the broad approach of the anti-Stratfordians as a class, however, the following outlines may be delineated.
First and most important, of course, is the necessity of destroying the formidable claims of William Shakespeare. This is done in one of two ways. The first is to deny his authorship negatively: we are told that a man capable of writing such great plays would have left behind a treasure-house of information about himself, or that his contemporaries would have done so. But we know little of Shakespeare. True, we know where and when he was born, died, and was buried; we know the names of his parents, brothers, sisters, wife, children, and grandchildren; we know the names of his colleagues in the theatre and the name and location of the house and the land he bought in Stratford when he became wealthy; we know about his dealings with the College of Heralds, and with his townsmen in the controversy over enclosure of the pasture-land. But we don't know about him. He tells us little about himself - the Sonnets cannot be autobiographical, of course - and we don't know the color of his eyes, or his height, or whether he had table manners and was really in love with his wife.
The second method of denial is as ingenious as the first and requires a simple reversal of it. It holds that the author of great plays must be a great man, as the term "great" is defined by the anti-Stratfordian conducting the argument. But we have abundant testimony, it is claimed, to the shabbiness of Shakespeare's moral character. It is here that the anti-Stratfordians reveal the first clear symptoms of their disturbance. From Appleton Morgan, who in 1880 denounced Shakespeare as "a letterless rustic, with a reputation in his native village for scapegrace escapades, gallantries, and poaching expeditions, rather than for meditation, study, or literary composition," through Gelett Burgess, who in 1948 described him as a "sordid provincial nonentity" who indulged in "petty lawsuits and peddling malt," to Mr. Robert Montgomery of Boston, who in 1955 called the Stratfordian a young provincial" who attended "a hornbook grammar school" in "the filthy little town of Stratford," the denunciations have been violent and picturesque. Shakespeare was a mean and lowly bumpkin who got his wife pregnant before he married her and then left her only his "second-best" bed when he died. He hoarded grain in time of peril, probably to make home-brew. He was a nasty little money-grubber interested only in buying up real estate in his home town and waiting for it to rise in value. He reveals in the Sonnets -- which are autobiographical, of course -- that he had latent homosexual tendencies and that he carried on a protracted and degrading adulterous affair with a repulsive dark-skinned lady who probably gave him a loathsome disease. In short, Shakespeare didn't write the plays because we don't know enough about him -- or because we know too much. The layman takes his choice.
Having disposed of the Stratfordian's pretensions with such thumping finality the doubters then proceed to look for an author who might have written the plays if Shakespeare hadn't gotten around to writing them first. Or, it would be more accurate to say, they reveal the identity of the fellow they've been hiding in the closet all along until the embarrassingly present Shakespeare can be shuffled out of the house. It is an amusing game to watch. The Real Author, when finally revealed, proves to have been chosen, not necessarily for his ability to write the plays (although this is always presumed) but for a variety of other reasons, usually his social position. A partial list of the Real Authors suggested up to now includes Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount Verulam; Edward De Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford; William Stanley, the Sixth Earl of Derby; Roger Manners, the Fifth Earl of Rutland; Sir Walter Ralegh; Sir Edward Dyer; Christopher Marlowe; Sir Philip Sidney; John Donne; Mary Pembroke (Sidney's sister); Sir Anthony Sherley; Anne Whately (who probably never existed); Anne Hathaway; and Queen Elizabeth. All the candidates who have commanded extensive support are either noble or have connections with the nobility, a not surprising circumstance which will be discussed later. It should be added here that there are those, like Delia Bacon, who are afflicted with what has been called the "Corporation Syndrome," holding that such distinguished literature must be the work of a committee. Its members would include, in addition to Bacon and Oxford, Robert Greene, George Peele, Samuel Daniel, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Lodge, Michael Drayton, and Thomas Dekker.
Agreement among such a disparate group can be expected on only one matter, and there it is unanimous: a loathing of William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon. Beyond that unanimity ceases. Baconians hate Oxfordians even more than they hate Shakespeare, and the Oxfordians, if with an air of contemptuous superiority, return the irrationality in kind. Generally, at any given moment, the two anti-Stratfordian schools which lead the pack in popular superstition hate each other most. During the last thirty years or so the Baconians, after having led the field for almost a century, have given way to the Oxfordians, after Marlowe's stock rallied briefly, then plummeted. Since the pretensions of the latter are if possible even more ridiculous than those of the former, a new candidate is bound to emerge soon perhaps Desdemona or Mistress Quickly.
Having decided the Real Author is, the claimants proceed to "prove" their case. The methods have generally been two in number. The first, popularized in an enormous book by Ignatius Donnelly, The Great Cryptogram (1888), is to find a secret cipher in the works that reveals the fact of Shakespeare's non-authorship and the identity of the Real Author. Donnelly's book was persuasive, even though he coyly refused to reveal the cipher itself but only its message: that Francis Bacon wrote the works.
The most remarkable and surely the most pathetic of the cryptographers was a Mrs. C. F. Ashmead Windle, who published two pamphlets at her own expense, in 1881 and 1882. In Shakespeare's slightest word she sees more devils than vast Hell can hold. The title of every play suggests a jingle which is in itself suggestive. For Othello the jingle is:
A tale, oh! I tell, oh!
Oh, dell, oh! What wail, oh!
Oh, hill, oh! What willow!
What hell, oh! What will, oh!
At will, oh! At well, oh!
I dwell, oh!
"Desdemona" suggests "With a demon A, with a moan, ah!" and means, to Mrs. Ashmead Windle if to no one else, "the double tragedy of Bacon's muse." The jingle suggested by Titus Andronicus is:
Tie t'us and drone accuse;
Tie t'us and drown a curse;
Tie t'us and drum the news.
The play is supposed to be Bacon's judgment of himself, "since Martius means 'March you us,' and refers to his service; Publius means Publish us,' and refers to his fame."
There is more, much more, of the same. I have not been able to learn whether Mrs. Ashmead Windle died in a private institution or a state hospital.
A contemporary successor, one Mr. J. R. Weagant of Eagle Rock, California, who still lives and should be available for interrogation, circulates cards and slips of paper "proving" that Bacon wrote the works. In one offering he quotes a passage from Antony and Cleopatra and surrounds it with extracted code letters, as follows:
She shall be buried by her Anthony
No grave upon the earth shall clip in it
payre so famous: High events as these
Strike upon those that made them:
characteristic pattern of Bacon sig.
After carefully reflecting upon this revelation, which Mr. Weagant had graciously mailed to me, I wrote him and confessed that he had me completely baffled. Unhappily, in a development that was to become characteristic of my correspondence with anti-Stratfordians, Mr. Weagant declined to clarify his position and I have not heard from him since.
A numerous breed, most of the cryptographers have been Baconians. In 1957, William F. Friedman and his wife Elizebeth published an exhaustive survey and analysis of all the secret codes or ciphers that had been "found" in the works up to that time. The Friedmans brought unusual gifts to the study; he headed the United States cryptanalytic team that cracked the Japanese diplomatic cipher just before Pearl Harbor; his wife was chosen by the International Monetary Fund after World War II to establish its system of secret communications. Observing that any legitimate cipher must have a key that will unlock its secret not only for the anti-Stratfordian with a cause but for everyone else, they demonstrated with crushing finality that none of the ciphers or cryptograms or codes suggested up to that time had any validity whatever. The Friedmans, in one devastating display, employed the system used by one Baconian to prove that they themselves wrote the plays!
The second method of "proving" authorship is even more engaging than the first. The cryptologists at least believed, even if they were deluding themselves, that they had found hidden messages in the plays. The Historical Reconstructionists are above such childish behavior. They simply disregard or dismiss with a lofty contempt all documentary evidence of Shakespearean authorship and go right to the task of finding another Elizabethan who might have written the plays during his lifetime. If the circumstances of the Real Author's life happen to correspond to the accepted dating of the plays so much the better. If they do not the doubter is not troubled. He merely changes the dates, a device freely employed by the Oxfordians ("Romeo and Juliet was first written in 1581-83"). No documentary evidence is given for the changes; the reader is expected to assume that in some scholarly work someone has already established the new date as authoritative, even though nothing of the kind has ever been done.
HISTORICAL RECONSTRUCTION is the device of Alden Brooks in his Will Shakespeare and the Dryer's Hand. Brooks devotes the first 400 pages of his book to demolishing poor "Will Shakespere" of Stratford. (Brooks, like other anti-Stratfordians, sees a great difference between "Shakespere," the Stratford boy, and "Shakespeare," the Real Author; spelling becomes of enormous significance). The Stratford fellow, Brooks concludes, "had nothing of the poetical spirit. . . . He had no literary merit whatever. . . . He was primarily a money-lender and businessman with eye always on the main chance. . . . Tavern frequenter, his swagger and pretense were immense; his morals, of a low standard. According to those whose ill-will he aroused, he was fool, knave, usurer, vulgar showman, illiterate bluffer, philanderer, pander, and brothel keeper."
To a man who can tell us so much about Shakespeare on no visible evidence, no flight of illogical fancy is impossible. "Will" was not an "utterly bad fellow," Brooks tells us. For he had a lasting association with the Real Author, whose achievement he conspired in and helped to conceal. The breathless reader turns to the second part of Brooks's volume and discovers that "Shakespeare" was really Sir Edward Dyer, known to most readers as a major courtier and minor poet. His dates (1543-1608) might seem to disqualify him in the eyes of ordinary people, who note that the earliest published work attributed to Shakespeare was Venus and Adonis in 1593, when Dyer was 50. But Brooks is equal to the challenge. Obviously, the fact that a work was not printed until 1593 or 1595 or 1600 does not mean it could not have been written earlier; with this proposition no student of elementary logic could disagree. Buttressed by its irrefutability, Brooks simply fits the plays and poems as we know them into the known facts of Dyer's life.
Brooks shares two other dark suspicions with most of his fellow doubters. One is that Shakespeare of Stratford was a partner in a gigantic conspiracy of concealment. His name was allowed to be associated with the plays because those in on the secret wanted desperately not to have the Real Author's identity known. The reasons for such modesty vary according to the Real Author's identity; but whether Bacon, Marlowe, Derby, or Oxford is the candidate, the champions of each manage to create hypothetical situations in which exposure would be dangerous. What none has yet presented is any documentary proof to support the assumptions.
The other is the Blue Blood theory, the view that only someone of noble birth and breeding could have written the works. Shakespeare was too base; no one so lowly in origin could possibly have conceived the soaring poetry of the plays and poems. This view is at the root of the position of most of the principal anti-Stratfordians; Bacon, Rutland, Oxford, Essex, Southampton, Dyer, and Cecil were all close to the throne; and even Marlowe, if the son of a shoemaker, at least owned a degree from Cambridge which was granted out of season at the special request of the Queen. Elizabeth herself and Mary Queen of Scots, who have also had champions, are of course royal and could therefore easily have written the plays. (A story which we hope, without too much confidence, is apocryphal is that when a supporter of Queen Elizabeth expounded his views, a listener objected. "What!" he exclaimed, "The Shakespeare plays written by a woman?" "You miss my point," said the first quietly. "Queen Elizabeth was really a man.")
Nowhere is the Blue Blood theory better observed than in one of the most amazing and amusing examples of misguided if laborious scholarship in the history of human folly. This is the work of Charlton Ogburn, Sr., and his wife Dorothy entitled This Star of England ( with a foreword by Charlton, Jr.). The Ogburns believe in the theory first advanced by a man with the unfortunate name of Looney (a Battey and a Feeley are also numbered among the anti-Stratfordians) that Edward DeVere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) was the Real Author either in his own right or as primus inter pares of a syndicate. They also claim he was the father of the Earl of Southampton by a secretly legitimized union with Queen Elizabeth. Since the English are understandably reluctant to accept such a novel view of their Virgin Queen, most of the Ogburns' disciples are American. Their work is of great interest to toilers in many vineyards: to the philosopher for their easy substitution of the declarative sentence for logical argumentation; to the literary historian for their cavalier treatment of dates; to the general student for their superb indifference toward all documentary evidence that might dispute their own superstitions. ("Shakespeare was never referred to, while living, as a writer," we are told; so Francis Meres and Thomas Thorpe, Gabriel Harvey and Sir John Davies and all the rest, are categorically disposed of.)
But it is the psychologist who has most to learn from their labors. The Ogburns and their supporters are preeminent among the anti-Stratfordians in their belief in the congenital literary ability of those of good birth. Any earl would make a good writer; but DeVere was the Seventeenth Earl, the premier earl of the kingdom. The imagination reels at the blueness of his blood. When the Ogburns reflect upon Oxford's position they cannot restrain their adulation: "heir of the ancient and honorable family of DeVere which was second in eminence only to the monarch"; "the proud young Earl, sensitive, generous, impetuous, bred in a conception of honor as absolute as a religious code." Sir Philip Sidney, even though he had demonstrated some poetical ability by writing one of the world's great sonnet sequences, could not have composed the poetry of Shakespeare because, the Ogburns sniff, he was not knighted "until three years before his death."
It is melancholy to report what the reader will already have suspected: that neither the Ogburns nor any other Oxfordian presents any documentary evidence of any kind to link Oxford with the writing of the plays and poems. If for amusement we were to presume that the Stratford Shakespeare didn't write the works, we should still have to conclude that Oxford is among the least likely of the Real Authors.
But A 1200-page volume can be impressive. It convinced some professional writers like Gelett Burgess (who once wrote that he never hoped to see a purple cow but who must have seen even odder fauna in the anti-Stratfordian menagerie). It is not surprising that other innocents have been taken in. And of course it is well-known that many men distinguished for achievements other than those of scholarship or logic have lent their names to the anti-Stratfordian cause and have undoubtedly contributed to the swelling ranks of doubters: Coleridge, Emerson, Mark Twain, Palmerston, Henry James. But the fact is that none of these men devoted any time to a consideration of the evidence that leads directly to Stratfordian authorship and that none was accustomed to dealing with the common and sensible, if rigid procedures by which authorship is determined.
It is clear that anti-Stratfordianism is a symptom of deeper disturbance. The fact has been recognized for almost a century but never thoroughly explored. In 1884, W. C. Wyman noted that the work of Delia Bacon, William Henry Smith, and Judge Nathaniel Holmes was important "not so much for the light which they throw on the question of authorship, as for their interest as examples of wrongheadedness."
If it is true that Delia Bacon died in a mental institution and that Mrs. Ashmead Windle belonged in one, it is also true that most anti-Stratfordians have reconciled their problems with the necessities of daily living and have learned to walk abroad among us. But the symptoms of their distress are still visible. Students of abnormal psychology have neglected a rich mother-lode of basic research by ignoring the anti-Stratfordians, who exhibit clearly defined symptoms that mark the paranoid mind. Among these may be noted the following:
(1) A belief in conspiracy. Most anti-Stratfordians believe that there is a vast conspiracy of silence by the members of what they call the "Stratford Establishment." In May, 1956, twenty-two Oxfordians, including nine lawyers, took a half-page ad in The Shakespeare Newsletter to berate members of the Establishment for refusing to give their case a fair hearing. The fact is, of course, that their case has been heard, thoroughly explored, and found without merit.
The modern conspiracy is simply a counterpart of the earlier one in which the Stratfordian Shakespeare connived with Bacon (or Oxford, or Dyer, or Derby) to keep the Real Author unknown. The fact that the conspiracy was so beautifully managed that no records were left to betray it to later generations is additional proof of its existence.
(2) An extreme hatred of an imaginary enemy. The enemy, of course, is William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon.
(3) The invention of new logical systems to provide desired answers that fail to be revealed by older and more widely accepted ones. Here the Ogburns and their crew are supreme examples. But we should not fail to acknowledge their debt to Ignatius Donnelly and his ciphers, nor forego a word of praise for Mrs. Ashmead Windle and Alden Brooks for their splendid gifts.
(4) Preternatural persuasiveness. When the reader finishes a hundred pages of Delia Bacon or Ignatius Donnelly or Alden Brooks or the Ogburns he is so bedazzled by the outpouring of verbal argumentation that he may forget that none of the logicians has offered any sensible refutation of the positive documentary evidence of Shakespearean authorship.
( 5) Unconscious self-identification of the afflicted with the heroic or the divine. The Real Author must be a person of unusual distinction, royal or noble; and the one who unmasks him shares his distinction because of his sole possession of the knowledge, or of his membership in a small but distinguished coterie that shares the knowledge.
(6)The intense hatred of other heretics and their false gods. If the anti-Stratfordians hate Shakespeare they despise with a raging fury other anti's who don't share their candidate. Perhaps a quarter of the enormous nervous and emotional energy expended on the subject has been devoted to the attempted extermination of rival heresies.
(6)An inability to keep their aberrations within bounds. This is one of the principal marks of the anti-Stratfordian disorder. It is not sufficient for the Ogburns to advance the highly improbable thesis that the Earl of Oxford wrote the works; he must also become the lover of Queen Elizabeth, her secret husband, and the father of the Earl of Southampton. And if Oxford wrote Hamlet why couldn't he have written The Spanish Tragedy too? And so poor Thomas Kyd is denied the one play which history has granted him. An extreme exemplar of this particular aberration is Parker Woodward, whose illness began when he identified Bacon as the author of Shakespeare's works; but he was unable to stop, and before long he had added to Bacon's canon the complete works of Stephen Gosson, Thomas Watson, John Lyly, George Peele, Robert Greene, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Nashe, Geoffrey Whitney, William Webbe, and Robert Burton.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual: Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1952) under the main heading "Disorders of Psychogenic Origin or without clearly defined physical cause or structural change in the brain," and the subheading "Psychotic disorders," there is listed "Paranoid reactions . . . (b) . . . Paranoia." The description is given as follows: "This type of psychotic disorder is extremely rare. It is characterized by an intricate, complex, and slowly developing paranoid system, often logically elaborated after a false interpretation of an actual occurrence. Frequently, the patient considers himself endowed with superior or unique ability. The paranoid system is particularly isolated from much of the normal stream of consciousness, without hallucinations and with relative intactness and preservation of the remainder of their personality in spite of a chronic and prolonged course." (Italics mine.)
When the paranoia is accompanied by a separation of the personality from its surroundings, schizophrenic paranoia results, usually requiring institutionalization, as in the cases of Delia Bacon and, probably, Mrs. Ashmead Windle. The paranoid anti-Stratfordian, with instinctive shrewdness, knows he will be carted off to the booby-hatch if he claims to be George Washington or the Angel Gabriel. But if he only claims to know who really wrote Hamlet and can support his assertions with endless verbiage that dazzles as it dulls, who can prove him wrong?
It must be admitted that the paranoid anti-Stratfordians have been fantastically successful. Poor Mrs. Ashmead Windle may have been demented, but her name will live as long as men study Shakespearean esoterica. She and her kind are the Jack Rubys of literary history. At least we can be grateful that minds that expend their substance on Shakespearean authorship are likely to be harmless as long as they don't stray into other pastures. Imagine the damage they might cause if they were involved in real life. Translated from the world of biography into the world of politics, they become the John Birchers of our day who, by the exercise of some mental process not easily comprehended but closely akin to that of the anti-Stratfordians, believe in the teeth of all the evidence that Dwight Eisenhower and Earl Warren are "conscious agents of the communist conspiracy."
I contend that the irrationalities of the anti-Stratfordians are as harmless as thunder, a loud noise upon the air frightening some but hurting none; I contend that the passionate bickering and the outpouring of verbal vitriol that characterizes their dialogue is a healthy medicine for them and a source of endless amusement for their readers. I confess that I strongly prefer anti-Stratfordian literature to detective stories. Among the anti-Stratfordians one is in pure fairyland, where escape from the pressing problems of real life is complete. In each work is a villain named William Shakespeare who is completely different from the William Shakespeares in other anti-Stratfordian works and is, like them, totally unreal. One meets strange heroes named Bacon or Oxford or Manners who resemble nothing so much as an imaginary ideal in the head of the writer and who often prove to be only thinly disguised versions of the author's view of himself or of his imagined ancestors. The very richness of their dementia is one of their principal charms, as is their fertility. For it is almost as certain as daybreak that before long a now unknown member of the tribe will burst into print with an ingenious theory not previously dreamed of but more ridiculous than any yet proposed. I, for one, will welcome him. He and his kind have provided me with uncountable hours of pleasure, and in simple gratitude I wish for them and their movement a continued long and happy life.