I'm not a conspiracy theorist.
I believe we landed on the moon. I believe that the attacks on 9/11 were committed by al Qaeda terrorists, and that the towers went down because airplanes crashed into them. I vaccinate my children. I don't believe that adding flouride to the water supply is actually a way for the government to control our minds. I believe that Elvis is dead, Paul McCartney is alive, President Barack Obama was born in the United States, and Paul from the Wonder Years is not, in fact, Marilyn Manson.
So I have this one thing. Just one thing.
I kind of sort of think that maybe William Shakespeare never wrote all those plays. And sonnets. Shocking, I know, but as a skeptic, I am in good company. Liberal Supreme Court Justice Stevens and conservative Supreme Court Justice Scalia agree on one thing: that the man from Stratford probably didn't write Shakespeare. Henry James, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Orson Welles, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Malcolm X, Jeremy Irons, Kenneth Branagh, and Keanu Reeves were or are dubious about the true authorship of the Bard.
Keanu Reeves, people. I don't know about you, but when I'm faced with a tough decision, I ask myself what Keanu Reeves would do.
I believe Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the probable author of the plays. I am an Oxfordian. There. It's out. However, it's not something I often bring up in conversation. Stratfordians (those who believe Shakespeare to be the true author) are incredibly sensitive about the issue, and write scathing articles with titles like "Only Foolish Snobs Don't Believe in William Shakespeare." It's pretty hurtful.
I'm not a expert in Shakespearean literature by any means, but I'm not completely ignorant about the subject, either. I've taken several courses on the guy, and I've written several long and boring papers with titles like "A Winter's Tale and the Pastoral," and "'O sleep!' The Somnabulent Shakespeare." I own Harold Bloom's "Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human," which I've actually flipped through on an occasion or two. I've read at least eight Shakespeare biographies. More like five, actually. Okay, two. I've read two.
The fact is, all the information we have about William Shakespeare can be neatly contained in a single paragraph. There are many pages of information about de Vere, however, and the evidence that suggests he wrote the plays is pretty compelling. (A good de Vere primer can be found here.)
Which bring me to the events of last evening at John's annual firm Christmas party. My husband is afflicted with a condition called extreme extroversion while I suffer from whatever the opposite of that is, so, as you can imagine, I find social events stressful. Not only that, but my only pair of black shoes are slightly too large for my feet, which makes mingling physically uncomfortable. I was sitting at a table, lamenting my poor choice in footwear, when John introduced me to his attorney friend and his friend's wife, an English professor. Who went to Harvard. But whatever. (Please note that she was not a Shakespeare specialist.)
After a brief introduction, John, trying to form a connection between me and the professor, chose that inopportune moment to bring up my interest in the Shakespeare authorship question. He thinks it's a topic of common interest among literature buffs (it's not) and that he would make me sound erudite by bringing it up. (It didn't.) The subject is controversial, and coming out as an Oxfordian is a decision an Oxfordian has to make for him or herself. The husband should never out his wife as an Oxfordian, especially to an academic snob.
The not so smooth transition from introductions to Shakespeare went exactly like this:
John: This is my wife, Holly. Holly, this is the professor of English! Holly believes the Earl of Oxford is really William Shakespeare!"
He might as well have said: This is my wife, Holly, and she hates impoverished children! And she kicks puppies for fun! Have at her!
English professors hate Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theorists. This particular one raised her eyebrows and said, and I quote, "Oh, you're one of those crackpots, huh?"
This is the very first time I have ever been called a crackpot. It wasn't pleasant.
I forced a grin.
"I am," I said.
"I think I did a little paper about the authorship issue in high school. I made it pretty clear that Shakespeare was Shakespeare."
"A lot of compelling evidence has come forth in the last few years regarding de Vere," I said.
"Oh really? Since 1997?" she said. I ignored her sarcasm.
"Yes," I said.
She didn't regard me for the rest of the evening, and I had good stuff to say about all of the Harry Pottery imagery in the latest Donna Tartt novel, not crackpot stuff at all.
We stayed at the party for a long time; my extreme extrovert likes to talk. A lot. I finally got him to head in the direction of the coat room.
"The crackpot is leaving the building!" I announced. Then I tripped over my too-large shoes, which really cemented my crackpot image. Then we went home.
So, now it's out there: that evening, the entire table heard my exchange with the professor and I'm sure the news is spreading. I wanted to address it before you heard it from someone else. I am an Oxfordian. I'm not ashamed. Someday I may even get the courage to walk in the Oxfordian Pride parade.
(I am not a crackpot!)