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Stirring up the animals

The title of this post is H.L. Mencken’s description of his favorite occupation, provoking the dim and bigoted of his day. I will confess to a taste for it myself — and how could I deny it after tweaking those earnest Wikipediasts and the horde at The Web Site That Must Not Be Named? — which leads me today to direct your attention to a venerable group of cranks.

The Abbeville Manual of Style blog reports in "Supreme Court Shakespeare Screw-Up!" on the decision by a group of venerable jurists, inveigled into one of those inane mock trials of historical issues, that William Shakespeare was not the author of the plays of William Shakespeare.

Anti-Stratfordism has been a magnet for cranks since the 19th century, and their numbers appear to be annually replenished. It appears to draw people who are screwy about credentials, since Shakespeare lacked the two, noble blood and university education, that appear to matter to them.

That Shakespeare was widely acknowledged as the author in his own time, that the cranks have to resort to ingenious manipulations of known chronology (Christopher Marlowe and the Earl of Oxford having inconveniently died before all the Shakespeare plays were produced), or that they can only establish alternative authorship through bizarre and unproved (and unprovable) conspiracy theories does not give them pause.

And why should it? The Internet is a real big tent, and it can accommodate many freak shows. And that publishers continue to bring out the occasional anti-Stratfordian book indicates that the easily gulled remain, as ever, a lucrative market.

This way to the egress.



Posted by John McIntyre at 6:13 PM | | Comments (3)


Picking apart the anti-Stratfordians is one of my hobbies; occasionally some too-earnest student, friend, or acquaintance will start in about Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere, and usually all I have to do is mention that the originator of the Bacon hypothesis, one Delia Bacon, had an unorthodox research method that mostly consisted of sitting in places Bacon had inhabited or worked and "absorbing the atmosphere." Further, she died in an asylum, convinced she was the Holy Ghost.

Personal tragedy for her and her family aside, that usually shuts them up.

If it doesn't, I point them to two great books: Bill Bryon's "Shakespeare" or "Shakespeare, in Fact" by Irvin Leigh Matus.

You can fool some of the people some of the time. And that's enough to make a nice living.

People underrate their ancestors. People confuse change and progress.

I wonder what the reaction would be in a geometry class if the teacher started the year by saying, "You students don't know much about geometry, so right now you aren't as smart as people who lived in ancient Egypt." Maybe I'm too optimistic there -- probably at least one student will have listened to mom's and dad's oldies and will start to "walk like an Egyptian" on the way out of class, and that will be what the students remember.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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