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SIR DEREK JACOBI: 'Shakespeare writer wasn't the man from Stratford'

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Sir Derek Jacobi

Published: 14 June, 2012

The Elizabethan world of William Shakespeare was comparable to any 20th-century dictatorship – which is why the real identity of the author of the greatest works in the English language is still shrouded in mystery, according to Sir Derek Jacobi.

Sir Derek, who this week gave a talk at Cecil Sharp House to help raise funds for the independent Primrose Hill Library, has long harboured doubts about whether the son of a farmer could have been solely responsible for all the 37 major plays attributed to him.

Instead, he believes the name was a handy pseudonym for a much better educated and well-travelled writer who had to keep his identity secret.

“Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare – it is just my contention that he was not the man from Stratford,” states the Belsize Park-based actor.

“The name on the plays is hyphenated all the time and I believe it was a pseudonym. I believe the man from Stratford Upon Avon, known as Shakespeare, became the front man for Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

“The simple fact is the earl could not be seen as a common playwright. He was living in a Stasi-type London.”

Sir Derek believes the Earl could not be found to be contributing to the bawdy low-life of London’s commoners.

Facing the wrath of the easily angered Elizabeth I would be too big a risk, so he used the pen name instead.

And while this conundrum has haunted literary scholars for decades with no conclusive answer forthcoming, Sir Derek has performed so many Shakespeare texts that is intimate knowledge with the writing means he is certainly in a position to hold a plausible view.

“Writers obviously draw on themselves – they write from their own personalities, backgrounds, education, performances, and their own accomplishments,” he says. “And if that is the case, then it can simply not be the man from Stratford.”

Furthermore, there is firm evidence form the texts that our playwright was well travelled – something in the 1600s the poor lad from Stratford was unlikely to be.

“Did he go to Italy?,” asks Sir Derek.

“The texts have clear evidence he did. The texts show who ever wrote the plays was ultimately familiar with Italy.

He knew certain cities – and certain places in those cities – that appear in his plays.

“For example in Romeo and Juliet, there is a clear description of a place in Verona that has a group of sycamore trees – and it is there, exactly as it was described. The texts are littered with little pieces of local colour and they are not put in the foreground or with great fanfare. You could easily miss them because they are so incidental.”

Sir Derek’s theories have long been played out by others and whether the answer will ever come out is doubtful – it will remain one of those enduring mysteries.

“The Shakespeare who wrote the plays and the sonnets were familiar with the places they wrote about,” he argues.

“If he was writing a play set in Italy he had all these impressions and places and specific houses – he had to have gone there, he just had to.

“We know my candidate had gone on these travels and had these ideas. It is one of the best detective stories in the world and we are still looking for the silver bullet, the answer that will prove it.”

While the actor is renowned for his high brow work – he has played the Bard’s greatest roles, King Lear and Hamlet – it’s not all Tudor drama.

He was recently filming a new series set in Yorkshire where he plays a gruff and archetypal Yorkshireman.

“I’m Joe Bloggs with a Yorkshire accent,” he explains. “And while we were filming I decided to pop into Manchester and take in a tour of the Coronation Street set.”

A long term Corrie fan, he was given a behind the scenes peek in Britain’s longest-running soap.

“They showed the Rovers Return and they were about to film a scene, so I asked them if I could be an extra,” he says.

The writers agreed – as long as he kept his back to the cameras so his easily recognisable visage didn’t throw Corrie addicts.

“I had a pint of beer but they wouldn’t give me a speaking part. I threw out so many hints that I’d like a storyline. Ian McKellen was in it for six weeks – and that’s just what I would like to do.”



"hyphenated all the time" According to Wiki it was hyphenated on only 15 out of 48 editions published in his lifetime.

Furtrhermore on King Lear it was hypheanated as Shak-speare (without the 'e' that oxenforders go on about. And it was also hyphenated as shake-speare on a cast list for him as an actor. Was Devere the actor too?.

If jacobi has to spew knowing lies to make his case why would anyone have any faith in his integrity or the integrity of the conspiracy theory?

It's like those who say the amercan flag fluttered in the wind on the 'moon' when it can be clearly seen that it moved when handeled exactly consistent with an airless environment, yet still the moonlanding deniers howl on

Oxford was Shake-spere!

John appears to be a might vitriolic. I consider myself, not a conspiracy "theorist" but a conspiracy factualist. If conspiracy can best account for all the facts of a case, then the preponderance of evidence is that a conspiracy may well have taken place. If the preponderance of evidence counts against a particular conspiracy, then it is discarded. Why do so many less thoughtful people assume that conspiracies are all of one stripe?

Anyway, what the moon and the fluttering American flag have to do with the Shake-spere authorship issue I have no clue. One thing I do know about William of Stratford is that he did not teach any of his children how to write (or probably read) nor were Williams parents literate--quite the opposite. When John can explain why the purported author of the Shake-spere corpus did not teach his children how to read or write, I might take him a little more seriously. Vaughn K.

Shakespeare's Identity

It is not true that "this conundrum has haunted literary scholars for decades," it has only bothered "psitchotics"--as I call "psituational psychotics." It is also untrue--ridiculously untrue, that there has been "no conclusive answer forthcoming" to the "conundrum."

The title-pages of several of the plays state they were written by Mr. William Shakespeare and there was only one "Mr. William Shakespeare" in England at the time, the one born in Stratford. Moreover, these title-pages were for plays published after William Shakespeare of Stratford became a gentleman, and therefore entitled to be referred to as a "Mr."

Added to this is the fact that no one of the time ever explicitly stated that anyone other than William Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems attributed to him.

All this by itself is enough to satisfy any rational person beyond reasonable doubt that the Stratford man wrote the works credited him by more than 99% of the experts in the field. And there is a good deal of better evidence for it--and NO direct evidence for Oxford.

--Bob Grumman

Earl of Oxford

Bravo to Sir Derek for his dauntless stand for the Earl of Oxford! I would only suggest that the Shakespeare name was hyphenated frequently, not all the time, indicating possibly that the name was a kind of "brand," as we'd say today.

But some writers, among them several in the De Vere circle, were in on at least part of the secret (some may have known about the pseudonym, but not necessarily for which nobleman or gentleman it stood).

Some may simply have accepted "William Shakespeare" as a real person's name, perhaps a legitmate spelling of the Stratfordian's birth name, Latinized in the register as "Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere."

However, it is very interesting that, in the poem "Venus and Adonis," the name "William Shakespeare" does not appear in its expected place on the title page, but instead is merely subscribed under the dedication to the Earl of Southampton, where the name can be interpreted as what the writer means by the "first heir of my invention."

Tom Goff
Shakespeare Oxford Society

Myths we like are often hard to prove wrong

There is little evidence for this theory other than a great deal of Ought's and should have been's.

There is evidence that Shakespeare was traveling around Europe before his return to theater, thus making it just as likely to have been him writing about Italy.

The authorship debate

I would be more than pleased if anyone could give references to any sort of evidence that Shakespeare was travelling around Europe before his return to theatre.
Sten F. Vedi


I hope QE2 listens to you, but HRH just doesn't seem to budge even at the Great Precipice of all the characteristics between Oxford and the plays confirming him as the playwright. I believe HRH perpetuates the myth of the Stratford man out of the real fear millions won't flock every year to see a spoiled rich kid who outclassed QE1, was allowed unlike no one in the kingdom to put on performances at court about the cruelties of royals and nobles!

Instead, the devout come to kneel before the mythical effigy of an ignorant, unknown man, from a tiny town near an unimportant river.

Sir Derek and the Shakespeare Puzzle

I agree with Sir Derek's assessment that the aristocratic and heroic Shakespearean plays, set in classical contexts, were indeed conceived and written by an aristocrat steeped in the classical heroic tradition.

I do not see any indication from the record that Gulielmus Shakspere, a prudential and predatory materialist personality, ever fronted as the author of these plays. He did try to pirate them and was ridiculed for pretending to be (also) a poet and author. But after he died, and after Edward de Vere had been dead for almost twenty years, de Vere's followers, the Herbert brothers and William Stanley, sponsored a compilation of the great author's works. They were de Vere's in-laws, two married and the other nearly married to the Great Oxford's daughters. Their compilation was the First Folio, which is so trumpeted presently as proof of Stratford Shakspere's authorship. It is riddled with ambiguities instead of clear-cut tribute and remembrance.

And for a good reason. de Vere was political trouble to the Tudor and Jacobean reigns. The author and the works had to be separated or left unpublished. Since they contained the foundation myth of England, there was political reason to let them see the future light of day.

Whereas Shakspere of Stratford was never mourned as anything but a mundane businessman with few friends, in 1621-3 the high-born scheme organized by William Herbert, Lord Chamberlain of Revels in charge of publishing play texts, made him the fictional, fantastical author of the lyric and masterful 'Shakespeare' oeuvre. Ben Jonson was the artificer. Interested readers can easily find hints and references that it was a blatant ruse, beginning with the idiotic portrait. No one questioned their betters then.

The truth of who wrote this magnificent set of plays and poems is something that a healthy Western civilization will insist upon eventually. First, because it is the truth, and the truth must be the basis of any sane culture, no matter how much governments and institutions may lie. Second, because it is manifestly just to attribute a man's artistic works to that man who created them. Third, because a tangle of lies, myths, and omissions has been substituted for what actually happened in Gloriana and has corrupted the education of the youth generation after generation. Insisting to them that Genius or Imagination can do anything is mainly a political instruction to encourage personal ambition, but is a poor example of thinking, in no way a reasonable examination of the facts, and an empty distortion of what human creativity and motivation are.

This ideologically-based Stratford tradition, being false historically and psychologically, is permanently fouled and has had its day. Its intentional incurious ignorance, herd instinct perhaps, has perpetuated the fictional paradigm that still declares an illiterate who had shown not one iota of interest in writing somehow still was the greatest author in recorded history.

Human gullibility and fear of authority should not, four hundred years after, keep ancient ruses on their paper pedestals.

Edward de Vere/Shakespeare

Thank you, Sir Jacobi for having the courage to speak out about the truth as you see it. I too have studied the works of Shakespeare and I find it hard to believe that so many people still can't see that it was certainly a man whose life resided in the royal courts who wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. The plays perspective is definitely from a noble's perspective. If the author had been a highly educated commoner--then they would read like Ben Jonson wrote them. Edward de Vere's Bible in the Folger Library is marked at many of the places Shakespeare cited, de Vere's maternal uncle, Arthur Golding was the translator of Ovid's Metamorphoses, the same translation that was used extensively by Shakespeare--not to mention many Stratfordians even see personalities from Elizabeth's court as templates for various characters--like William Cecil as Polonious--who was de Vere's father-in-law. On and on the pieces are there.

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