The Earl of Oxford was NOT Shakespeare Shakespeare completely Misidentified

Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare?

Looney and family

the single-page answer to the claims of edward de vere

Looney and his Big Idea

It's 100 years since J Thomas Looney published Shakespeare Identified, currently being celebrated by Oxfordians as a great centenary, and in that time not a single item of evidence has turned up to corroborate the idea. Nothing exists to show that Looney's choice of alternative author, the 17th Earl of Oxford, amounted to anything more than a mediocre court poet who contributed nothing to the growth and development of the Bankside theatre revolution.

Looney had a big idea, like most authorship pioneers, stemming from a combination of arrogance, a lack of self-appraisal skills and an inexplicable disdain for genuine scholarship. He thought to himself, as thousands have since "if I can't recognise the playwright in the plays, then the playwright must be someone else". So, blithely ignoring the consequence–that every scholar and historian who had ever written on Shakespeare must be completely in the wrong–he looked for an alternative candidate in an already crowded field. After long months of research, he found one who better suited the playwright of his imagination.

He picked Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. He did not allow himself to be discouraged by the fact that Oxford died in 1604 before a third of the canon was written. Everybody was wrong about the timeline too, he argued. The Tempest appeared to have secure moorings in 1610, so Looney just threw it out of the canon to help his proposition (that everything was written before 1604). Shakespeare, he argued, was Oxford's pseudonym (though what he then describes is an allonym). And the Elizabethan and Jacobean men in grey doublets conspired to keep the true author's identity a secret.

Unencumbered by any inconvenient knowledge at first hand of what he is writing about, Mr. Looney proceeds to build up his case very easily.” TLS review, Pollard 1920.

He set about what he, and Oxfordians, like to call "forensic profiling" in their long and shameful relationship with the word "forensic". After Shakespeare failed his notional qualification test, Looney "forensically profiled" alternative candidates, judging them against a list of criteria he deemed essential for identifying the true author. And Oxfordians still revere and celebrate his investigative work today. The tests epitomise the crazy derailment of the critical faculties necessary to support his core idea—that the entirety of Shakespearean scholarship is an exercise in confirmation bias and only the anointed can see the truth.

Original from the Oxford Shakespeare Fellowship Looney Centenary Page

Hostage to fortune

our case will either stand or fall as readers are convinced that De Vere's poetry does in fact “contain the natural seed and clear promise" of Shakespeare's verse ...”

So the last 100 years will have been a big disappointment.

QI, Stephen Fry's quiz show for ubermenschen: discovering that de Vere didn't live long enough to write the last third of the canon "that ought to have been the point that they gave the theory up" says David Mitchell, who plays Shakespeare in the TV series Upstart Crow.

J T Looney

Not all that propitious a choice as an apostle, let alone a Messiah—devout when young—Looney lost his orthodox faith and became caught up in a short-lived sect called the Church of Humanity. The Church embraced positivism and the work of man. In particular, the positivist pilgrims were attracted to work of Shakespeare. Looney himself funded a bust of the Bard for the Church's place of worship. A disenchantment with Looney's object of worship took place during the First World War. He became perplexed by the lack of positivism in Shakespeare's private life. Instead of turning to another object, Chaucer or Milton for example, Looney became fixated on the idea that Shakespeare might have been someone else. Like all founding conspiracy theorists, having stepped through The Looking Glass, he soon found his man and his man was unique. Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, 1st of that name.

He published Shakespeare Identified in 1920.

In his book, Looney rehashed all the Baconian argument that had survived the purges of the 1890s. He 'deduced' from the plays that Shakespeare was a courtier, superbly educated, trained in the law, travelled to Italy and so on. He claimed that events in the plays, when tied to corresponding events in the life of De Vere, constituted proof of his theory. He 'deduced' in other words, that the writer of the plays was a perfect match for De Vere.

So acute were Looney's analytical skills in tying De Vere's style to Will's that he failed to spot that seven of the poems on which he was basing his case were not written by De Vere at all. He detected 'terse genius' in a long and rambling piece of Oxford's prose and a 'wealth of figurative language' in a piece that contained no figures of speech.

His book, intended to start a revolution, in 100 years of mostly intemperate debate, has failed to spark a single accurate shot.

Here is what Looney, and all of his followers since, got wrong.

Shakespeare is not Oxford's pseudonym: There is no credible evidence that anyone from Shakespeare's time suggested that the canon was written by anyone other than William Shakespeare, nor did anyone express an opinion or even hint that the name 'Shakespeare' might be a pen name. Even if an aristocrat did not wish to put his name on plays for the professional theatre (though at least one Earl did publish a play under his own name), Oxford can have had no possible reason for withholding his name when publishing Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, the first fruits of his invention. The success and quality of these poems could have secured the return to court and favour he was so earnestly (and unsuccessfully) seeking by other means.

Oxford was dead before a third of the work was written: Almost all other authorship groups have sensibly chosen candidates who were alive when the plays were written. Oxford was dead before a third of the work was complete. Oxford died in 1604. This was before Fletcher arrived on the scene, with whom Will collaborated on three plays, before the Gunpowder Plot which hangs like a miasma throughout Macbeth, before the food riots of 1607 which provide the entire political context of Coriolanus, before the move to the indoor theatre for which The Winter's Tale and Cymbeline were clearly written, before he could have seen a Masque at the court of King James or seen a play written for the new Romantic Genre or seen any of the 1610 source material for The Tempest. Oxfordians are entirely alone in attempting radical departure from the scholarly consensus on the dating of the plays, yet none of their attempts to establish an alternative chronology have been successful. No alternative chronology has acquired even the tiniest amount of support or respectability outside the small Oxfordian community. In addition to hundreds of topical references which post-date Oxford's death, the theatre, the language and blank verse continued to develop in the ten years Shakespeare was active after the Earl died. These changes can be seen as a progression in Will's work and are consistent with the same developments in the work of other contemporary dramatists.

Oxford's writing and use of English eliminate him as a candidate: There is no evidence of genius or even much talent in any of his writing. Although Oxford's candidacy was based on the stylistic analysis of Looney, Ogburn and Sobran who identified 'the germ' of Shakespeare in Oxford's writing, all subsequent analysis, especially the computerised stylometry which began in the 1990's, has completely and definitively ELIMINATED Oxford as a potential author of Shakespeare's work. Extensive batteries of tests statistically confirm that there is no chance that the author of Oxford's undisputed work is also the author of ANY of Shakespeare's work. Modern big data stylometry nails the plays together and nails the authorship, via the Hand D manuscript, to Shakespeare. The effective probability that Oxford wrote any of the work, something which Looney did not have the resource to calculate, is nil. It is debatable whether science is actually needed to prove this. Oxford is obviously not Shakespeare. He is almost a stranger to metaphor and lacks any of the delicacy of expression and imagination that is everywhere in the canon. Looney and his followers were mistaken in their impressions that the work of one man could be detected in the work of the other.

Oxford's education and birth do not give him an advantage: There is no elite knowledge of court life or the law in the plays which Oxford could have acquired and Will could not. In fact, only Will's last play, Henry VIII shows any detailed and accurate knowledge of life at court. Were the plays written by a courtier, they would be very different. Oxford did not study at Cambridge, his degrees were honorary decorations, awarded to him as part of a group of courtiers, accompanying the monarch on tour, nor is there any evidence that he studied at Gray's Inn. In his letters, Oxford's legal latin contains basic mistakes and his prose contains eccentric fenland expressions which do not appear in Shakespeare's work. In 100 years of argument and discussion, Oxfordians have not been able to produce any examples of elite knowledge or any knowledge based on education, background or sources which make Will's authorship problematical. The argument even rebounds on them when they are asked to explain the detailed knowledge of the wool trade or the glove-making industry or detailed references to life and around Stratford on Avon such as that to 'Marian Hackett, fat ale-wife of Wincot'.

Oxford had no experience of the professional theatre: Playwrights and actors of the time were commoners, working under contract for money, not aristocrats. We even have details of the hierarchy and their Terms and Conditions from Ned Alleyn's surviving documents. Oxfordians argue that Will was illiterate yet it is unthinkable that an actor could be either illiterate or an an aristocrat working anonymously. And Will was definitely an actor and one of the best. Apart from his patronage of two minor groups of players, Oxford had only slight connections to the professional theatre and none at all to the Chamberlain's/King's Men. He had no theatrical training of any kind, nor knowledge of stagecraft, both of which are necessary for writing plays. The later plays, "Henry VIII" and "The Tempest" for example, have extensive stage direction for special effects, costuming, and entrances that would require a working actor's knowledge, some even an indoor theatre. They may have been added later by producers but they are scarce or non-existent in the early plays. By the time Shakespeare was writing The Tempest his plays were being performed far from The Globe. Abroad even. Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet share inside knowledge of how plays were produced and throughout, the plays themselves are replete with references to acting, strutting and fretting an hour upon the stage. The craft takes time to learn. Experience of being on stage in performance and rehearsal would have been essential. Oxford had none.

Oxford's poetry can't be related to Shakepeare's: The movement has suffered a recent disaster on this front. Leading Oxfordian, Roger Stritmatter, previously coy on the subject, decided to publish a whole book on Oxford's poetry, linking it to Shakespeare's work. Did we say "book"—we mean a new self-published, print-to-order, Oxfordian collection of Word documents perfect-bound in a single volume on Amazon. Stritmatter identifies "parallels" between Shakespeare and De Vere. These are extracted from EEBO, the online compendium of Early English Books Online, using the basic, vocabulary search features. Sounds like an appalling way to compare the work of two poets? It's catastrophic. Stritmatter inadvertently omitted half his data from his frequency analysis, using only the subscription-free half of EEBO, invalidating all his claims. Emboldened to make qualitative assertions based on lots of numbers, he attempts to provide what Looney was always looking for. He makes the claim that two passages, one from each author "are so dynamically similar as to defy credible explanation outside the hypothesis of shared authorship". Pish. Stritmatter is comparing work separated by a visible gulf in quality. The authors have merely used the same figure of speech, anadiplosis. Oxford's work is the usual, self-pitying, plodding, mediocre complaint, asking in every line "What plague is greater than grief of mind". Though it follows the pattern for anadiplosis, each line expresses the same thought. Shakespeare's anadiplosis leads the reader up a staircase, step by step, to a conclusion. Oxford just repeats himself. It is Strimatter's claim that defies explanation.

The Poems of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford . . . and the Shakespeare Question: He that Takes the Pain to Pen the Book, Dr. Roger Stritmatter Ph.D. (Author), Prof Bryan Wildenthal J.D. (Author), p19.

The book provides an inadvertent anatomy of the shortcomings of the whole Oxfordian contention and its underlying foolishness.

There are, of course, many more than these few reasons confirming the impossibility of Oxford's candidature as the author of Shakespeare's work. Occam's Razor, all things being equal, favours the solution with the fewest hypotheses. Shakespeareans have one hypothesis. The man whose name is all over the work and to whom it is attributed by his contemporaries, is the man who wrote it. Oxfordians have hundreds of non-interconnecting hypotheses. All of which can be dismissed.

Written after The Earl of Oxford died

The Earl died in 1604. Yet Macbeth is a Jacobean play, through and through. It celebrates the accession of James VI & I, and his descent through a true line of Scottish kings, foreseen to “stretch out to the crack of doom.” In the vision summoned by the witches to appall Macbeth, the distant heirs of Banquo carry “treble scepters”: emblems of the kingship of England, Ireland, and Scotland. Elizabeth I did not rule Scotland; her rival Mary, James’s mother did. He sought the union of his realms.

Macbeth alludes to the policies and slogans of his reign: Concord, Peace, and Unity. Malcolm feigningly protests that he would “pour the sweet milk of concord into hell, /Uproar the universal peace, confound / All unity on earth.”It plays to his obsession with witches, the subject of his book Daemonologie (1597).witches

And above all, it speaks to a king and country still shivering from a near-apocalypse. Had it come off, the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605 would have killed not only the King, but most of his succession; his Privy Council; the House of Lords, with the highest judges of the realm, its prelates, and its aristocracy, along with the members of the House of Commons. (That quantity of powder would probably have burned much of London to the ground as well.)

A medal struck in 1605 commemorates the king’s escape. It shows a serpent lurking among lilies and roses, with the legend, Detectus qui latuit (that which was hidden is disclosed). As Lady Macbeth says to her husband, “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.”

Shakespeare's Handwriting

It's three years since the British Library attributed to Shakespeare three pages of the unproduced manuscript Sir Thomas More, effectively ending the Shakespeare Authorship Question.

There really is no doubt about Hand D or that it belonged to Shakespeare of Stratford.

Hand D belongs to one of six different individuals, five authors and one scribe, who contributed to the manuscript of Sir Thomas More. Today, aside from anti-Stratfordians, scholars who do not accept Hand D as genuinely Shakespeare's can be numbered on the fingers of one hand. The different strands of proof, forensic, orthographic and documentary, when taken together, are conclusive.

The passage, which addresses human rights and who has them, has become one Shakespeare's most popular in these trying times. There are three very different versions below.

The Paleographer

Will's signature

Six witnessed signatures remain. What can really be told from the signatures Will left behind? Since they are from the same hand, can they be tied to Hand D? Sir Edward Maunde Thompson (pictured here), one of the 20th century's foremost palaeographers, examined the signatures, preparing an analysis for Oxford University Press to honour the tercentenary in 1916. He examined the signatures compared to the Hand D manuscript. While having no doubts himself that the pages were written by the signatory , he managed to communicate some doubt to others—scepticism which has lingered long. Recent scholarship has overcome this hesitation, however. Three other professional paleographers have conducted analysis of the signatures and Hand D. They all agree with Maunde Thompson.

"In my examination of the hands of many writers I found twelve who linked h and a with those faddish bulbous spurs, but I found no writer who even once produced that link with the sharp point closing the circle and forming an a with a long, flat bottom. I have seen such an h-a link only in Shakespeare's signature to the Belott-Mountjoy deposition (5 A) and in Hand D."

Not everyone who accepts Hand D as Shakespeare's agrees with the analysis of the signatures. Doubters, Oxfordians and a few academics are looking for 100% certainty from Thompson's handwriting comparison.

Why? The witnessed signatures are unquestionably those of Will Shakespeare and the owner of Hand D is unquestionably that of an Elizabethan playwright who is really good at his job. When we eliminate playwrights whose handwriting is known to be different, the number of candidates for Hand D sinks to a single handful. When you read The Stranger's Case speech, so good it has acquired a title, there's only one name left on the list.

When other factors are taken into account, there is no doubt left. And without doubt, there is no authorship question.

A modest courtier poet—no more

The most authorative work on Oxford and his contemporaries at the court of Elizabeth is The Elizabethan Courtier Poets by Professor Steven May, one of the very few people qualified to call himself an expert in the field. His verdict underlines the difference between those who write about the real Oxford, searching for the truth with respect for the evidence, and those who write about imaginary Oxford without the slightest respect for the evidence in order to make a name for themselves and part Shakespeare from the credit for his work.

If you look hard at anything written by Oxford, you can see that no germ of the writer we know as Shakespeare is in his work. As Professor May says;

"As I worked on my edition of the Earl of Oxford's poetry during the 1970s, I hoped, as I still do, that I might find some connection between De Vere's work and the writings, any writing, of William Shakespeare. Unfortunately, I discovered instead a gulf between the two poets' styles that rules out any direct ties between their output. I looked further into De Vere's life as I prepared my book, The Elizabethan Courtier Poets. The facts of his biography and career at court made any connection with Shakespeare or his writings even less likely. I regret these enforced conclusions, however, because no one has more to gain than I from discovery of persuasive evidence linking Shakespeare's works with Oxford. That discovery would catapult me from my obscure role as a professor of English at Georgetown College to the exalted status of a pioneering editor of the poems of "Shakespeare.

Ironically, Oxford's verse does not feature in the many versions of The Oxford Book of English Verse. Only three of the Earl's poems appear in E K Chambers' The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse. This lack of notice has made some Oxfordians keen to attribute other, better work to Oxford. Some have gone so far as to credit De Vere with authorship of everything of significance written in his lifetime; books of prose criticism, the Marprelate Tracts, and even The King James Bible. One Oxfordian Professor infamously detected Shakespearean qualities 'apparent to anyone widely and closely read in the canon' in a poem he was keen to attribute to Oxford. When asked to point out these qualities, he could not provide a single example. https://oxfraud.com/100-Dyer-consequences

In truth, Oxford's poetry is separated from Shakespeare's by the widest of gulfs.

Theatres Oxford never saw

Although he was never a professional playwright, it's not quite true that Oxford has no connection to professional theatre. In addition to patronising two groups of players, one an adult group, the other a children's group, the Earl was a one-time lease holder of a theatre in Blackfriars. Oxford's theatre connections are a poison chalice for Oxfordians. The more they make of them in their attempts to polish the earl's playwrighting connections, the less explicable becomes the fact that all Shakespeare's plays are connected to other groups and other theatres. Patronising two companies yet, anonymously, turning a third company into the most renowned and successful in history, all without connections, profit or credit is inexplicable behaviour on the part of the penniless Earl.

Although Oxfordians desperately try to confuse the two, the Earl's Blackfriars was not the same Blackfriars theatre the King's Men used from 1608, four years after The Earl died. Oxford's name went on an earlier Blackfriars theatre lease in 1583 as part of a series of sub-lets designed to prevent the building's owner repossessing it.

Shakespeare's Blackfriars, sumptuously recreated next to The Globe, was small, expensive, intimate and candlelit. Plays written for smaller audiences, new stage effects and music suited to the small intimate space, cannot have been written by the Earl, dead years before its first première.

Oxfordians and literacy

Oxfordians, in their attempts to de-educate Shakespeare, like to argue that he was illiterate. They claim his family were illiterate. It's impossible to understand why. His father was Mayor of Stratford, entitled to send his son to the Grammar School visible from both his childhood home and the house he bought for himself as an adult. All anti-Shakespeareans want Shakespeare's daughters to be illiterate. They want his father to be illiterate. Many of them want the whole town of Stratford-upon-Avon to be illiterate. Shakespeare's father John, a man who applied to the College of Heralds for a coat of arms, once served as Mayor. If a man in the town's highest office couldn't read, why should anyone else? No one bothers to explain how a Town Council could work with illiterate councillors. Mere detail.

Sounds like nonsense? It is. That's his daughter's writing. It's Susanna Hall 's signature in the picture. Before you say anything, find yourself a Rotring calligraphic pen with a broad italic nib and see how much practice it takes to produce anything like the elegance of Susanna's shapely obliques.

“Witty above her sex, but that’s not all, Wise to salvation was good Mistris Hall,

The critics rave

"a sad waste of print and paper" tls

The book appeared in 1920 but failed to create the sensation that Looney was hoping for. His leading followers, however, still go to bed expecting TV cameras and journalists to appear on their lawns in the morning, the penny having finally dropped at the Academy. In reality, things have turned out just as badly as the first reviews predicted. Or worse.

The Times Literary Supplement

A W Pollard reviewed the book for The Times Literary Supplement, 4th March, 1920. A front rank scholar, Pollard produced the anthology of analysis of Hand D in 1923. He was not very impressed with Looney's methods, as you may have noticed.

"When he cannot explain as he would the name “Boyet” in Love’s Labour’s Lost by any simpler means, he writes happily:— “If, however, we replace ‘Boy’ by its old equivalent ‘knave’ we get (do we?) the name of one who was possibly the most pronounced foe of Edward de Vere—namely, Sir Thomas Knyvet.” Having begun, on the usual “Baconian” lines, by insisting that “there was subterfuge in the manner of publishing the First Folio edition”—-which implies, if it implies anything, that the publishers were aware of the true authorship—he ends by maintaining that the play to which they assigned the place of honour was by someone else. To be suspicious about gnats and swallow camels seems the inevitable beginning and end of all these identifications of Shakespeare; but Mr. Looney exemplifies the process with a frankness all his own."

New York Times review—“A Curious Mania”

…amazing as is such a lack of literary and dramatic understanding, painful as is the perversion of so much critical searching and argumentative industry, a more preposterous thing underlies this whole industry. It is the assumption that supreme genius cannot arise from yeoman stock but may be easily credited to the son of sixteen Earls…

Who is Baconian Now?

Review in The Nation 28th August 1920

Another stinker. "Being somewhat naive, Mr Looney was not struck by by the ease with which his guess received confirmation, and he seems never to have suspected that the qualities which he found common to De Vere and Shakespeare were simply Elizabethan". Try explaining that to a modern Oxfordian.

The Stranger's Case

In 2017 British Library unequivocally attributed the Hand D additions to Sir Thomas More, one of its surviving manuscripts, as the work of William Shakespeare, written in his own hand. Even hardened Oxfordians accept that if this is true, the Shakespeare Authorship Question is over. If the handwriting of the three pages matches the signatures on Shakespeare's Will, there's no room for doubt. Chagrined Oxfordians have been quick to try and degrade the content. A leading Looney fan went so far as to call it "drivel". Another claimed that Oxford dictated it to a secretary who had very similar handwriting to Shakespeare's.

Is this an aristocrat whose most famous social comment was "mine is made to serve me" talking directly to us across the centuries? I think not. This is a great dramatist at the top of his game. Ian McKellen has done half a dozen versions.

Photos from oxfraud.com


We launched this website seven years ago to a chorus of jeers from Oxfordians everywhere, many of whom wrote to us explaining our insignificance and pointing out that we would be swamped by the onslaught of the new ‘post-stratfordian' paradigm. Well, we survived that onslaught, and every other one since including The Stritmatterian Big Fist, the Declaration of Reasonable Unreason, the Wavian Teflon Fortress and here we are still doing business.

Far from being unread, when we were mentioned, during a recent debate between Sir Jonathan Bate and Alexander Waugh, an audience of Oxfordians heaved a huge collective sigh. So at least they're reading. But the business end of this argument is over. Oxfordians rarely now emerge in public.

And theatre is the better for their absence. Especially Shakespearean theatre.

The Shakespeare Authorship Site

Many books and articles have been written arguing that someone other than William Shakespeare, the glover's son from Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote the plays and poems published under his name. There exist sincere and intelligent people who believe there is strong evidence that Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, was the author of these plays and poems. Yet professional Shakespeare scholars -- those whose job it is to study, write, and teach about Shakespeare -- generally find Oxfordian claims to be groundless, often not even worth discussing.

Why is this? Oxfordians claim that these scholars are blinded to the evidence by a vested self-interest in preserving the authorship of "the Stratford Man," and some more extreme Oxfordians claim that there is an active conspiracy among orthodox scholars to suppress pro-Oxford evidence and keep it from the attention of the general public. The truth, however, is far more prosaic. Oxfordians are not taken seriously by the Shakespeare establishment because (with few exceptions) they do not follow basic standards of scholarship, and the "evidence" they present for their fantastic scenarios is either distorted, taken out of context, or flat-out false.

This web site is for the intelligent nonspecialist who doesn't know what to make of these challenges to Shakespeare's authorship. Oxfordian books can be deceptively convincing to a reader who is unaware of the relevant historical background and unused to the rhetorical tricks used by Oxfordians. Our aim is to provide context where needed, expose misinformation passed off by Oxfordians as fact, and in general show the nonspecialist reader why professional Shakespeare scholars have so little regard for Oxfordian claims. We know from experience that we are not likely to convince any Oxfordians to change their views, but we hope that other readers will find something of value here. We will be updating and adding new material as time permits, and we welcome any comments or suggestions.

A W Pollard
New and revised edition