From the Publisher
Who wrote Shakespeare's plays? Today, the long-standing and impassioned debate about the so-called authorship question is perceived by Shakespearean scholars as the preserve of eccentrics and cranks. But in this contrarian work of literary detection, author Joseph Sobran boldly reopens this debate and allows the members of Shakespeare's vast contemporary public to weigh all the evidence and decide for themselves.
An enormous shelf of biographical scholarship has grown up over the past 300 years around the "Swan of Avon." But what are these histories based on? Revealing that no more than a handful of fragmentary documents attest to Shakespeare's existence -- and virtually none which link him to the plays themselves -- Sobran delightfully debunks this elaborate egalitarian myth concocted in equal parts of speculation, wishfulness, and fantasy.
More importantly, Sobran shows how many questions the myth leaves unanswered: How could a provincial actor from Stratford gain such an intimate knowledge of court life? How could he know so much of classical authors and not own a single book? How could he write compromising love sonnets to his social superior, the powerful Earl of Southampton? How could he know so much of Italy, a place he never visited? Why was there no notice of the famous writer's death in 1616? Why, in short, does Shakespeare remain such an obscure and shadowy figure?
Methodically demolishing the case for "Mr. Shakspere," Sobran shows it is highly implausible that he wrote the-poems and plays we know as The Works of William Shakespeare. Other candidates exist, of course, including Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and Francis Bacon. Sobran dispenses with these claimants, then sets forth the startingly persuasive case for Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford.
Oxford was a widely traveled, classically educated member of the Elizabethan court. A swashbuckling spendthrift, he swung high and low in the eyes of his peers. Having spent most of his fortune on adventures in Italy and elsewhere on the Continent -- like Hamlet he was captured by pirates in the English Channel -- he fell into disrepute for reasons that included rumors about his homosexuality. Still he topped many lists of the best Elizabethan poets at the time, even ranking above Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney. He was an avid book collector, and a love of the literary arts ran in his family. His uncle not only pioneered the sonnet form that came to be known as Shakespearean, he also translated the English edition of Ovid that indisputably guided Shakespeare's pen. More strikingly, Oxford was the ward of Lord Burghley -- the man widely acknowledged as the model for the character Polonius in Hamlet. Ultimately, Sobran shows us why a disgraced nobleman such as Oxford would have sought solace in the anonymity of writing pseudonymous plays and poetry.
This riveting solution to the Shakespeare puzzle will not please Stratford's tourist industry or many academics devoted to the status quo. Yet for those who are open-minded and curious, and have a healthy disregard for conventional wisdom, Joseph Sobran is a genial and entertaining guide through a mystery that promises to reinvent the greatest poet and dramatist of the English language.