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Alias Shakespeare Hardcover – May 7, 1997

3.7 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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The debate over the true authorship of Shakespeare's plays has raged for more than a century, fueled by fans like the National Review's Joseph Sobran, who cannot accept that a country bumpkin like William Shakespeare could ever have written the rich plays full of high literary references, intimate knowledge of court politics, and familiarity with personalities in foreign lands. Like many before him, Sobran fingers Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Where Sobran makes a useful addition to the so-called Oxfordian debate is his sober, Holmes-like laying out of the evidence, especially as found in two useful appendices that contain the full text of the real Shakespeare's flatfooted will, contrasted with specimens of Oxford's own acknowledged poetry, which contains many locutions similar to those found in Shakespeare's plays.

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.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (May 7, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684826585
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684826585
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #411,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Miles N. Fowler on July 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Most people accept the tradition that the plays and poems attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon were indeed written by him, and they assume that doubters of the Stratford man's authorship (anti-Stratfordians) must be irrational elitists. They might also assume that anti-Strats have nothing to offer those who simply wish to understand and enjoy the plays. But all of these assumptions are either debatable or wrong. In any case, though both sides of the authorship debate have been known to engage in circular arguments based on questionable evidence and to hurl childish ad hominems at one another, this is not true of Joseph Sobran who is reasonable in his arguments and civil toward his opponents. (Reviewers here who accuse Sobran of mudslinging, bashing etc. merely betray the fact that they have not read this book!) Rather than ask whether anti-Stratfordians are elitists, Sobran suggests that we ought to be asking if Shakespeare was one. For example, Shakespeare often makes cruel, unfair fun of social-climbing commoners exactly like Will Shaksper (a common variation of his name in contemporary legal documents). Arguing from evidence in the plays and poems, Sobran also demonstrates that the authorship debate can and ought to be relevant to the enjoyment and understanding of the Works.
While I am not wholly on the side of the underdog anti-Strats, I believe that Stratfordian scholars (which too often means mainstream scholars) have done such a disservice to the general public's enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare that I must take them to task.
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Format: Hardcover
If I were a betting man, I still wouldn't bet on any of the possible answers to the "Who Wrote Shakespeare?" question. There are just too many gaps in our knowledge. But there is surely a mystery to be solved, and "Alias Shakespeare" by Joseph Sobran lays out an effective case that the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, is the most likely solution to that mystery.
The book dispenses with the usual ad hominem attacks, amateur psychology, and farcical searches for hidden anagrams that have too often characterized all sides' arguments. He instead approaches this third-rail subject with refreshing objectivity and an apparently sincere search for the truth.
Marshalling a series of arguments and associated facts that point to Oxford, the book is well-organized at the macro level. It fails at times however in structuring the particulars. Threads of the argument are sometimes introduced, developed to a certain level, dropped, and then picked up again at a later point.
For example, Sobran [speaking of an introductory letter Oxford wrote to a friend's translation of "Cardanus Comfort"] writes "The whole letter, which especially foreshadows the [Shakespearean] Sonnets, is of utmost importance to the authorship question." Having raised our utmost curiosity, he abandons this argument with the parenthetical "See Appendix 3."
But his logic, when ultimately reconstructed, seems unassailable. The aforementioned Sonnets are at the core of this logic, and he convincingly lays out the parallels between their content and the well-documented course of Oxford's life. He effectively exposes the circular reasoning used by the defenders of the man he calls Mr. Shakspere - that is, the actor from Stratford-on-Avon.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had never even heard of the Earl of Oxford before picking up the book. I likend the authorship question to fantasies like 'Where is Elvis' and 'Roswell, New Mexico.' Sobran presents a good deal of circumstantial evidence for Oxford. History records little circumstantial evidence for Shakspere, other than he shares the same name with the bard and he was an actor in some of these plays. Ghost writers are common. As a nobleman, Oxford had two reasons to stay quiet. 1) It was beneath his dignity to write plays 2) He could more easily satire his court friends (and enemies) with anonymity.
Oxford's experiences seem to reflect the experiences of the playwright in many cases. Numerous phrases from Oxford's private letters, appear again in Shakespeare's plays. Sobran offers better and more specific arguments than these. If I were a Shakespeare scholar, I would no doubt be angry at any probing book debunking the accepted theory, but this study is a well-made case for the Duke of Oxford.
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By A Customer on July 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating book that makes an very solid case for Edward DeVere, Earl of Oxford, as the true author of Shakespeare's works. Sobran breaks down all the myth and reverential pseudo-biography that exists around Shakespeare into a list of known facts. There is a temptation to bill anyone who questions the authorship of the man from Stratford as a member of the lunatic fringe, however Sobran is a careful journalist. He uses documented evidence to build a case against the curiously personality-less figure of the historic William Shakespeare being the author of such works. He convinced me, on literary and sociological grounds, that it was far more likely that Oxford is the author of the works. Fascinating and easy to read.
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