Questioning Shakespeare’s authenticity

Medford, Oregon Mail Tribune
September 20, 2007
Bill Varble

Author will be in Ashland Monday to sign his book, which suggests the Bard’s plays were written by one Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford

William Farina came to the Shakespeare authorship question through a friend’s cleverness.

“He told me to just not worry and to believe what the experts said.” Farina says. “He knew how to push my buttons.”

Farina worried enough to write De Vere as Shakespeare: An Oxfordian Reading of the Canon (McFarland & Company, 2006), a book which examines the 37 plays, two long poems and sonnets attributed to William Shakespeare to make the case for Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, as their author.

Farina concedes that a smoking gun may never be found, but he’s convinced the evidence points strongly in one direction.

“I’d bet a buck he was the main guy involved,” he says. “I’m about a seven on a scale of one to 10.”

Farina plans a book signing and talk at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland.

An amateur researcher who holds a law degree and is a commercial real estate executive in Chicago, Farina says he quickly discovered that there is surprisingly scant evidence connecting Will Shakspere, the man from Stratford-Upon-Avon who became a London actor, with William Shakespeare (a spelling Shakspere never used).

It’s an old – sometimes heated – argument. Those on the orthodox side are “Stratfordians.” Academia remains predominantly Stratfordian. Many Stratfordians deny there is an “authorship question.”

Many have refused to believe that Shakspere wrote Shakespeare, including Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance and many others. Several candidates have been put forth, but de Vere’s star took off during the past century. His advocates are “Oxfordians.”

The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, a nonprofit California group, recently issued its “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare” to heavy media attention (visit, saying, “It is simply not credible for anyone to claim, in 2007, that there is no room for doubt about the author.”

Farina claims to have found countless parallels between the themes of the plays of Shakespeare and the life of de Vere. Take “The Tempest.” Farina says the themes of isolation, Prospero’s books, his dispossession and the marriage of children of former enemies all mirror the earl’s later life. Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” thought to be Shakespeare’s favorite book, was translated by de Vere’s uncle. A Spanish prose romance and possible “Tempest” source was translated by Anthony Munday, a de Vere employee. Another influence, the commedia dell’arte, would have come to de Vere’s attention during his travels in Italy. There is no evidence Shakspere ever left England.

Stratfordians say the shipwreck in “The Tempest” disqualifies de Vere as the author, claiming it was based on a 1609 English shipwreck in the Bahamas (de Vere died in 1605). The play refers to “the still-vexed Bermoothes.” But the “Bermoothes” was a London vice district near Charing Cross – and perhaps a very Shakespearean pun pointing to the play’s drunken revelers.

Farina finds parallels to de Vere’s life in “Hamlet,” which Oxfordians consider a barely disguised de Vere biography. De Vere’s father died, and his mother remarried, like Hamlet’s. His guardian (later his father-in-law) was William Cecil, Lord Burgleigh, analogous to Hamlet’s Polonius. Like Polonius, Burgleigh pontificated. He also sent a son to Paris. He wrote advice to his son much like Polonius’ advice to Laertes (“to thine own self be true”). Like Hamlet, de Vere was captured by pirates on the English Channel. And his brother-in-law was the English ambassador to Elsinore.

The biggest objections to the Oxfordian case are the traditional dates of the plays (many after de Vere’s death) and the question of why such an elaborate conspiracy would have been necessary.

Oxfordians date the plays earlier than Stratfordians. And Farina thinks de Vere’s Shakespeare conspiracy not only spared him the stigma of being a playwright (beneath a noble’s dignity), it covered up the fact that the pro-Tudor slant of the history plays came not from a country commoner but the high nobility, and an ostracized noble living on a grant at that.

“My main point,” Farina says, “was to show people this is a real question.”

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