“Shakespeare” by Another Name: The Life of Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare

By Mark Anderson

I’ve heard from vaccine deniers, HIV deniers, evolution deniers, but I’ve never given the Shakespeare deniers a chance. I don’t worry overmuch about who wrote the plays, but I do consider myself a New Historicist when I can be bothered to analyze literature, so I am very interesting in learning about why this is important. Still, it never bothered me that Shakespeare could have been a commoner with little formal schooling. Or some formal schooling. Pretty much once you learn to write, genius can manifest.

If you don’t want to read the book there is a series of podcasts by the author that highlight the main point. I listened to them and found the ideas intriguing, although they were very much highlights. This book is much thicker than it looked like it would be from the website. I want to warn you, though–because of the podcasts, I never progressed beyond page 75 or 100. This book was a blow-by-blow retelling of De Vere’s life, accompanied by references to specific scenes and lines and plots from Shakespeare plays regarding the same topics. It’s interesting enough, but a blow-by-blow recap wasn’t what I was looking for. There was too much De Vere Had to Have Accomplished This and not nearly enough No Way Shakespeare Accomplished This.

I will admit that the conspiracy theories regarding the topic are fascinating. Look them up. I also think it’s interesting that the conspiracy theories didn’t start until people started regarding Shakespeare’s places as having significant literary importance. My suspicion–and I plan to read up on this someday–is that the establishment didn’t want a plain old kid from the suburbs in their canon. You know how the British Empire used to claim its start in those noble refugees from the Trojan War? I have this idea that this Shakespeare Is a Nobleman comes out of the same desire for grandeur.

It was fun to read this book, but the podcasts made the same overarching points faster, and my experience reading the book was an exercise in filling in details. I moved on to other things, none of which were biographies of Shakespeare/Shakspur (as Anderson refers to him in his book). There are two on my list to read now, but I’ll probably not read them both:

The World As a Stage by Bill Bryson

Becoming Shakespeare by Jack Lynch

Becoming Shakespeare is much higher on my list than The World As a Stage, only because I am interested right now in how he became revered (see above).

This isn’t a very long review, mostly because I didn’t read very much of the book. I don’t really have personal Shakespeare expertise, either, so I can’t counter Anderson’s arguments with my own. Of course, he isn’t really making arguments. He’s read everything by Shakespeare and everything by De Vere, and points out the similarities–of which there are many–but I’m sort of in the position of having to take his word for it. I haven’t read everything by De Vere and can’t really access it. Maybe he gets into why he says Shakspur was illiterate and crude and not the author at all in the four-fifths of the book I didn’t read, but he doesn’t make that argument in the podcasts.

I just closed the book one day and never reopened it. Stuff was going on, true, but I would have found time for a book that was holding my attention. The one-sidedness of the stuff I was reading (again: not that the author should have argued for Shakespeare more, but that he should have argued against Shakespeare more) wasn’t giving me a lot to do intellectually, and I already knew where he was going with it. I made no conscious choice to stop reading, no grand statement, but when it came up for renewal at the library, I just turned the book in instead.

My too, too solid curiosity just melted, I guess. I probably should look harder and find a better line for my parting allusion, but I will let you, Gentle Reader, do my work for me. Our Christmas decorations fell out of their box at the bottom of the garage stairs, and I have to go down there and clean them up.

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