Circumstantial Evidence?

Author promotes alternative Shakespeare theory

By Rebekah Hearn

Historian Charles Beauclerk, author of “Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom,” discusses the humor in a picture of Shakespeare.  Photo: Lance Murphey

Literature and history buffs often have questioned whether William Shakespeare is a true historical figure or simply a pseudonym.

But members of the legal profession have become interested in the subject as well, focusing on the debate from an evidentiary perspective.

Author and historian Charles Beauclerk has a real interest in the subject: The man many people claim is the real author of Shakespeare’s works is his direct ancestor. Beauclerk appeared last week at Davis-Kidd Booksellers to read from his book and discuss the debate.

“Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom,” which was published this month by Grove Atlantic Inc., advocates for the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere, as the author of Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and other literary jewels.

“I think the reason lawyers have become interested in the question is because there’s no evidence linking the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare, with the works he’s supposed to have written,” Beauclerk said. “If you considered writing the works of Shakespeare a crime, and you had to solve that crime, and who’s responsible, no one would arrest William Shakespeare of Stratford, because there would be no fingerprints, no trails, nothing.”

Beauclerk is the founder of the De Vere Society, former president of the Shakespearean Oxford Society and trustee of the Shakespeare Authorship Trust. He said his grandfather knew a bit about the subject, and that sparked Beauclerk’s interest.

“(My grandfather) owned one of the portraits of the Earl of Oxford; there was a presence in my life, but I didn’t become truly interested until someone sent me a copy of Thomas Looney’s book, ‘Shakespeare Identified,’ which was the first book to put forth the Earl of Oxford as the author,” Beauclerk said.

“Shakespeare Identified,” written in 1920, contains a section called “De Vere and the law.” Many people who support the earl as the author point to the overwhelming knowledge of English law and courts during Shakespeare’s time, and the fact that Shakespeare was a citizen, while De Vere was a man of the courts.

“There’s an awful lot of circumstantial evidence – obviously, there’s no absolutely documentary evidence on either side – but there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that connects the Earl of Oxford to those works,” Beauclerk noted.

“Among the most important things to me is that those works seem to me to tell the Earl of Oxford’s story very fully and with great accuracy.”

The topic has garnered enough interest to earn the dedication of the entire Fall 2004 issue of the Tennessee Law Review, the University of Tennessee School of Law journal. Oxford studied law at Gray’s Inn law school and served on several panels of jurists trying treason cases, according to Richard F. Whalen, the author of the article “Who Wrote Shakespeare? The Preponderance of Evidence,” available in the Tennessee Law Review issue.

“(The works) reflect a subtle, ingrained knowledge of the law, found through the Shakespeare poems and plays,” Whalen wrote. “A leading example is ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ which contains numerous references to Venetian law and the topography of Venice.”

The UT law journal contains an article specifically dealing with the earl as the author, “The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford as Poet and Playwright,” by Steven W. May.

“To accept the Oxfordian hypothesis we must believe that the earl, after publishing both prose and verse under his own name, adopted a manic insistence on anonymity,” May wrote in his article.

May goes on to suggest the earl covered up his identity as an author at the same time he was “(petitioning) the Crown for more income,” and that this “deception was sustained in absolute and unviolated secrecy … for well over three hundred years after his death.”

Other people have been considered the “real” Shakespeare, including Jakob Marlowe and Francis Bacon, who, like the earl, was a courtier.

During his more than 20 years of research, Beauclerk said he examined those other cases.

“There have been an awful lot over the years,” he said, adding that over the course of time, the question has become “polarized” – for most people, the evidence points most strongly to the earl or Shakespeare.

“Of course, the scholars, people like (James) Shapiro, try to sort of wheel out all these other candidates, like a parade of puppets, because that is like a smokescreen; they know perfectly well that if it’s just a straight choice between William Shakespeare and the Earl of Oxford, then Oxford wins every time,” Beauclerk said.

He said nothing new has come out in the past few years promoting different candidates for the authorship question, but that the earl “consistently, every five years or so,” surfaces in the debate again.

“I think the evidence is just mounting, the research is becoming more and more impressive and more and more people are being convinced,” he said.

The movie “Anonymous,” directed by Roland Emmerich and scheduled to be released next year, makes a case for the earl as being the famous writer. It could take the authorship debate out of the academics’ hands and place it into the hands of the public.

“The genie will be out of the bottle; it will be a totally different game,” Beauclerk said. “Students will be going into classes and asking some pretty pointed questions of their teachers and professors.”