The Shakespeare Wars: 150 years of vicious conflict

My experiences in the Stratfordian-Oxfordian conflict, including a meeting with infamous Oxfordian rebel Alan Tarica.

shakespeare-war

BACKGROUND

A few days past I received an unsolicited email with the subject line “Writers Fun”. It was from someone called Alan Tarica. “I thought you might enjoy know about my Shakespeare Sonnets exegesis/adaptation,” it read. There were links to various webpages, one of which looked like a heavily annotated version of Shakespeare´s Sonnets.

I wrote back: “Thanks. Who are you and how did you get my email address?”

The reply came swiftly, that same day.

Mr Tarica thanked me for my appreciation – I had said his theory looked interesting – but added, “in truth, I already can´t remember how I came across you”.

Alarm bells ringing, I Googled Tarica and up came a list of derogatory comments and references to his ´theory´ dating back to 2013. I sent off some messages and emails to friends, colleagues and trusted strangers, asking for further clarification on who this man was, and went to bed thinking him a strange crank or internet troll.

I should declare at this point that I have a novel for teenagers coming out early next year. The book is about children at a school who become involved in the plot of Shakespeare´s Macbeth. Self-promotion and an interest in all things Shakespearean mean I have of late been connecting with various people across the usual social networks. This is, I supposed, how Mr Tarica had got hold of my name and email address.

The next morning brought a flood of information from various sources.

Tarica was infamous, it seemed, in academic circles. He was a “megalomaniac”, a “sexist” and “deluded”. From what I could glean, Mr Tarica was an amateur Shakespearean scholar who had formulated a theory describing how, by reading the Sonnets from the end to the beginning, the last poem first and the first poem last, certain truths were revealed, one of which was that the Earl of Oxford, not Shakespeare, was the true author of the bard´s cannon.

On another forum, where I had posted a thread asking for help, I was advised to speak only in private messages as “he might be watching”, he being the all-powerful Tarica.

Once hidden from this sinister, omnipotent figure, I learned that Mr Tarica was an Oxfordian, a label unfamiliar to me. Another academic wrote to tell me I was simply the latest in a long line of people Mr Tarica had bothered and that “he was just an internet ghost” who enjoyed abusing scholars via anonymity. “Welcome to an extremely large and pissed off club,” my informant added.

Far from being put off by all this, I became even more interested in the mysterious Mr Tarica. I wrote to him and asked him if he would like to do an interview for me. I had a look at his Twitter account, an odd, masked photo accompanying various shouted exhortations about the truth of what he had uncovered. Where any academic had dared to respond to Mr Tarica, insults had flown. I stroked my chin and said, “Hmm…”

He agreed to talk and I sent him a list of questions.

 

THE WAR

Unbeknown to me I had stumbled across the SACT War, which has been raging for over a hundred and fifty years. SACT stands for Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theories.

War was declared in 1857 when Delia Bacon wrote a book suggesting that Shakespeare´s plays might have been written by a group of people, rather than one, the famous Will of Stratford-Upon-Avon. The attack might be visualised as a noble’s revolt against the King, in a country which had hitherto been at peace for almost two hundred years.

It was not until the Looney Uprising of 1920 that a schism truly developed. Looney´s Shakespeare Identified in Edward de Vere, 6th Earl of Derby enshrined the basic philosophy of those who would become Oxfordians: that Shakespeare was too unworldly and uneducated to have written the plays; that there were examples in the extant handwriting samples that the plays were written in Oxford´s hand and that a close reading of the plays linked phrases and actions with Oxford´s own life, thoughts and political condition.

This anti-orthodox approach quickly gained popularity and became an uprising against “entrenched authority” whom, its followers claimed, seeked to silence their views and protect vested interests. As the war heated up, the Oxfordians – some under the banner of Marlowe, some Raleigh, many under Oxford´s colours – became entrenched in their position and began to make ground.

Among the ranks of the “doubters” marched famous names such Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, John Gielgud, Charlie Chaplin and Charles Dickens. More recently, the first artistic director of the Globe Theatre, Mark Rylance, and the actor Derek Jacobi, have stood up and been counted.

Faced with this mounting barrage, cracks have appeared in the previously pristine façade of the Stratfordian citadel. The Oxford University Press recently named Christopher Marlowe as co-author of two of Shakespeare´s history plays and over the last thirty years there has been an acceptance that parts of other Shakespeare plays may have been co-authored and speeches scratched out by quills other than Shakespeare´s own.

 

THE FOOT SOLDIER

Mr Alan Tarica is a fifty-year old married computer software engineer from Maryland in the United States. He gained a Master´s degree in Management Information Systems from the John Hopkins University and lives quietly with his wife in a nice neighbourhood of Bethesda. But he is also an Oxfordian foot-soldier, firing off internet broadsides and regularly engaging in viscous tweet skirmishes with an enemy he accuses of dirty tricks and “a real and demonstrable lack of ethical behaviour”.

What could possibly have radicalised this otherwise ordinary, American male?

Mr Tarica says he had an uneventful childhood and is grateful for his father, who promoted critical thinking and wasn´t afraid to question orthodoxy. “That led me to a fascination with paradigm shifts,” he says, “and the people who were responsible, like Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and those responsible for Quantum Mechanics.”

He says writers like Asimov and Stephen J Gould helped form his “foundations for thinking and questioning.”

Tarica´s personal theory links the Earl of Oxford with a conspiracy of silence reaching right up to the velvet hems of the British royal family. He says that a close reading of the Sonnets reveals that the Earl of Oxford, the real author of the poems and plays in his eyes, was begging, publicly, the then Queen of England to acknowledge their illegitimate son Henry as the rightful heir to the Tudor throne. Oxford had maintained an illicit affair with his Queen.

When King James I took the throne, beginning the Stuart line, it follows that it was in the crown´s interest to hush up Henry´s existence and so a certain William Shakespeare, bit part actor and owner of a useful surname, was coerced into becoming a “front” for Oxford, keeping the troublesome Lord out of the picture. Thus was one of the greatest acts of dissemination of false information in history perpetrated.

But why is the world, particularly the academic world, so unwilling to even listen such views?

“Because,” Mr Tarica answers, having Shakespeare as the author of the plays, “is so ingrained in our social consciousness and has become such a tenet of so many people´s views with respect to meritocratic and democratic views.” He likens people who question Shakespeare´s authorship of the plays, in the eyes of the orthodox, to people who, in his eyes, question the shape of the world.

“I would suggest that my efforts at promulgation and dissemination have resulted in very few people that are even willing to acknowledge my work. And I would further suggest that this is both revealing and there is likely collusion in this regard.”

And his online persona and behaviour? His chosen guerrilla tactics, lobbing emails onto unsuspecting bystanders in Shakespeareland? His vitriolic tweets?

“My outrageous behaviour always had the intention of revealing that the scholarly establishment is familiar with me.  I would suggest it is far more familiar with me than you are likely aware.  But only time will likely reveal that…”

 

THE OLD GUARD

Up in the old citadel on the hill, deep in the remains of the once-impregnable fortress, the Stratfordians regroup and sigh wearily, drawing close to each other for comfort. The war has been long and hard and there looks to be no end to it. It is a war against intelligence, they believe: an assault on knowledge.

What doubt can there be about Shakespeare being the author of the plays? Is not the man´s name written on the title pages of many originals? Are there not countless contemporary testimonies? Is there not the evidence of those who knew him?

But how to fight on a field which is constantly changing? Where the enemy is seventy-headed, constantly changing, whose only aim is to do away with history and truth? Why, the Oxfordians are even setting up their faith schools, running expensive degrees, courses and seminars, encroaching on the Stratfordians own turf. They will not listen to reason! They are not interested in conciliation!

Yea, think upon those weary guardians of true history as a minstrel´s tune from the marketplace drifts up over the ramparts and echoes through the hallowed yet peeling English Department-like halls of the beleaguered scholars.

Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon, the Coward sings,

The author of Lear remains unshaken.

Willie Herbert or Mary Fitton,

What does it matter?

The Sonnets were written

 

TRUCE?

After I´d written the above, in the interests of balance and not wanting to kick a man when he was down, I contacted Mr Tarica and sent him a copy of the text, asking him to consider it and tell me if there were any inconsistencies or points he would like to clarify. His answer, in full, is quoted below:

James I think you were a bit selective but probably better than can be expected from someone whose view apparently reflected in characterizing myself and others motivation (assuming yours) as “whose only aim is to do away with history and truth?”.  

 Perhaps one day you’ll learn only mythology remains constant and unchanging and that actual knowledge is provisional and subject to evidence.

 At least happy to have learned of how much I’ve pissed off the intellectually cowardly simpletons whose aim appears to be a vast conspiracy to ultimately make me look brilliant.

 Best,

Alan

 

I hereby declare myself a Stratfordian.