Shakespeare at 450, Oxford at . . .

by Richard Brookhiser

One of the many strange periods in the history of NR was when Joe Sobran became enamored of the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were written by the Earl of Oxford. Joe’s love of Shakespeare was profound, but compulsive: I always thought his conversion to the Oxford thesis was just another way to run the numbers.

At Joe’s urging I read a big fat book making the case by one Charlton Ogburn. It suggested several insights that would have been interesting had Oxford written Shakespeare’s plays, though for that it made no persuasive case.

Joe converted his friend Tom Bethell to the Oxford cause, and Tom wrote a piece for Harper’s which ran head to head with an orthodox scholar. I thought the latter blew the Oxfordians to smithereens with one simple maneuver. The Earl of Oxford owned tin mines in Cornwall, which obsessed him. William Shakespeare had the largest vocabulary of any major writer in English. Yet in all his works he never used the word “tin.”

Any commenter who advances this as an argument from silence shall be taken to the grassy knoll and flogged. 

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