Bill of Goods

     I hate to disagree with a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, but John Paul Stevens doesn’t know Shakespeare from a goose.
     I’ve been studying this Shakespeare business for several years now. By “this Shakespeare business” I mean the proposition that someone other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.
     The theory is that Shakespeare is too good for Shakespeare to have written Shakespeare, so someone else must have done it.
     Really, that’s the theory.
     I have the same theory about Tiger Woods.
     Who is he really?
     Justice Stevens weighed in on the Shakespeare business this spring, when he told the Wall Street Journal, “He never had any correspondence with his contemporaries, he never was shown to be present at any major event – the coronation of James or any of that stuff. I think the evidence that he was not the author is beyond a reasonable doubt.”
     Stevens’ claim reappears in a Scientific American column this month.
     Justice Stevens wouldn’t know reasonable doubt about Shakespeare if it bit him on the butt.
     We don’t know if Shakespeare wrote letters to his contemporaries. That was 400 years ago. Such letters are hard to come by.
     We know that one jealous contemporary, Richard Greene, made fun of Shakespeare in a pamphlet, calling him a “Factotum” who “in his own conceit is the only Shakescene in a country.”
     We know that Shakespeare acted in “MacBeth” before King James II – though he might not have been invited to the coronation – and that someone knocked out “the Scottish play” in a few weeks especially for the new king, who liked ghost stories.
     We know Shakespeare belonged to the King’s Men, and to other prominent acting companies, that he owned part of the Globe Theater, and that his fellow actors thought so highly of him that they published the First Folio after Will died.
     This whole Shakespeare-denial industry is bogus.
     One of the most persuasive books written about it is Mark Anderson’s “Shakespeare By Another Name.” Anderson thinks the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward DeVere, wrote Shakespeare. Anderson’s argument is a pretty good one for 200 pages or so – until he fetches out some stuff that DeVere wrote under his own name.
     Dreck, is what it is.
     Like most Shakespeare-deniers, Anderson cheats. He claims, for instance, that Mark Twain studied the issue, and agreed with him – that Shakespeare could not possibly have written Shakespeare.
     Actually, what Twain wrote was that someone else wrote Shakespeare – who also happened to be named William Shakespeare.
     For Anderson to cite Twain – without actually pointing out what Twain actually wrote – shows the lengths to which some people will go to try to hurt a poor man who never did them any harm.
     Aurelia Cammerleigh’s aunt believed Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare. To which Archibald Mulliner replied that if he did, it was dashed sporting of him. Maybe Bacon did it because he owed Shakespeare money, Mulliner said.
     The fact that Aurelia Cammerleigh, her aunt, and Archibald Mulliner are fictional characters should not detract from their arguments, now that we see how the Shakespeare-deniers play the game.
     The fact is, we wish we had more documents about Shakespeare, but we don’t. Nor do we know why Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth herself and everyone else who the Shakespeare-deniers prefer never claimed credit for any of his plays or sonnets.
     But the most persuasive argument against Anderson’s theory is psychological. Anderson claims DeVere holed up at home as an old man and spent years polishing the plays he had written – for Shakespeare’s acting companies – years before, some of them decades before.
     Sorry, no.
     Whoever wrote Shakespeare was a creative genius. And a creative genius does not spend his old age polishing up stuff he wrote as a pup.
     A guy as prolific as Shakespeare – whoever he was – would retire a) to write no more; or b) to write new stuff. He would not retire to z) rewrite his juvenilia.
     World-class creative geniuses don’t do that. They are more likely to get tired of the stuff they write as soon as they’re done with it.
     Beethoven couldn’t stand to hear some of his old music played.
     Haydn sometimes couldn’t even remember his old stuff.
     Mozart lost his.
     The notion that the man who may have been the greatest creative genius the world has even known would spend his old age rewriting his old plays over and over, after they already had been acted, is psychologically ridiculous.
     I intend to keep reading up on this absurd proposition, though I’m not sure why. Probably it’s because I find it more peaceful and pleasant than nearly everything that has happened during my own lifetime. But until you hear different from me, you can take my word for it: Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.
     Mark Twain is another manner. I have it on good authority that his stuff was written by a man named Clemens.

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