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U.S. Supreme Court

Justice Stevens, a Shakespeare Buff, Says Real Author Was Nobleman

Posted Apr 20, 2009 7:52 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A mock trial held in 1987 has pushed Justice John Paul Stevens, a Shakespeare buff, to conclude that the real author of the plays was the 17th earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.

Stevens told the Wall Street Journal that the evidence proves “beyond a reasonable doubt” that William Shakespeare was not the author of the plays attributed to him. The theory is that the nobleman de Vere laundered his work, considered undignified at the time, through Shakespeare, an actor who performed in the Globe Theater.

Stevens says Shakespeare left no papers and no letters after his death—an odd fact, if he was indeed the author. "Where are the books? You can't be a scholar of that depth and not have any books in your home," Stevens told the Wall Street Journal. "He never had any correspondence with his contemporaries, he never was shown to be present at any major event—the coronation of James or any of that stuff. I think the evidence that he was not the author is beyond a reasonable doubt."

One piece of evidence supporting de Vere: His guardian as a youth, Lord Burghley, appears to be the model for Polonius, whose daughter married Hamlet, just as de Vere married Burghley’s daughter. Another piece of evidence: Shakespeare dedicated two poems to the earl of Southampton, who was also a ward of Burghley’s.

“Why in the world would William Shakespeare, the guy from Stratford, be dedicating these works to this nobleman?" Stevens asks.

The Wall Street Journal surveyed other justices for their opinions. Supporting Stevens is his ideological opposite on the court, Justice Antonin Scalia.

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