Apocrypha

What about Oxford’s own scriptural interests? Surely somewhere in the plod and dribble of his writing—what Stritmatter calls “the breathtaking mellifluence of [his] early poems ... and the Ciceronian peal of his prose correspondence” (354)—he must have alluded to the Bible, all-pervasive in his culture? He did: but exceedingly rarely. Mad as he is, even Stritmatter can find only eight Bible references in de Vere's correspondence and poetry, three marked (he claims), and five unmarked, but “show[ing] manifest influence in Shakespeare.” (117)

2. The Dissertation

Dickens“The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery... 
I tremble every day
lest something should ‘turn up’.”


—Charles Dickens 

On his website, called Shak-speare's Bible, Professor Stritmatter introduces netizens to his thesis on bible references with this treasured quote. Oxfordians believe it effects the Assumption of Dickens into the Oxfordian Appeal-To-Authority Hall of Fame. Dickens is big and Dickens is a Doubter, they conclude. It's our opinion that Dickens would have set his dogs on any Oxfordians who chanced up his path for a chat.

The quote is a very revealing choice as it demonstrates a technique used over and over again in Oxfordian argument. Using a combination of misdirection, selective detail, suggestively inventive comparison and a dash of brightly spangled mendacity, the Oxfordian performer claims to be demonstrating one thing to his audience, while in the wings and backstage, everyone can see how the tricks are worked.

5. False Grails


CoverThe math is simple enough. 550 marked passages, 1000 marked verses, 31000 verses altogether and around 107 matches (or around 216 with the Stritmatter additions). Why not just take the biggest positive headline figure (216) and divide by the smallest (550). Why doesn't Roger Stritmatter claim that 39% of the marks are referenced, rather than claiming that 20% of the references are marked?

The answer lies in where the Professor was hoping to conduct the debate. Tying the 550 marks to references results in a crude sum which would focus attention on the nature of the references and the validity of the math. It would be too easy to come up with alternative sets of totally unmarked references which supported counter claims, as Stritmatter discovered when he made his own search for additional references to the marked subset.

What the thesis is really trying to do is position the author alongside Cornelius on Marlowe and Shaheen on Shakespeare. It is designed to build a creative hinterland of bible references which matches De Vere rather than Shakespeare. And the Folger Bible, unquestionably bought by the De Vere estate, arms Stritmatter with a tool denied to every other Oxfordian seeking to augment De Vere's claim. The marked Folger Bible is a Primary Source. An item of hard evidence. Real marks in a real bible owned by his own authorship candidate.

8. Leklywhodes

Whilst clearly not Stritmatter's starting place, building tables is how Cornelius began his survey of Marlowe's biblical references and is surely how any serious surveyor would begin. If there is a relationship between the dataset created by the marks and the dataset created by the references, it should show up in these basic tabular calculations, almost the first we performed, once the dataset was completed.

Two different things show up instead. First there is clear support for the idea that the interest of the playwright and the interest of the annotators is concentrated in completely different areas of the Bible. Contrary to Stritmatter's claim that the more a verse is referenced in the plays, the more likely it is to be marked (chorused everywhere by fellow Oxfordians), the evidence tends to show no relationship beyond the province of coincidence. This is mildly surprising in itself. Elizabethans heard the Bible in church every week. It could be expected that a large number of well-known references would turn up in every subset where frequency is being compared.

4. Unjustified claims

Having looked at the possible identities of the annotators, it's time to look at the distribution of the marks they made in the Folger's Geneva Bible. Oxfordian hopes rest on the discovery of pronounced similarities between what is marked and what is referenced in the Bible. Since the dissertation committee at Amherst administered their benison to Stritmatter's thesis, most Oxfordians (though not all, by any means) have been taking the connection between the annotators and the playwright for granted.

It is not, on the face of it, an unreasonable hope.

In the age of big data, comparing one large dataset to another ought to be able to reveal any strong indications that the annotators and the playwright have close ties. There is no problem with the location of the marks. The Folger has them all available online.

The problem lies in defining the nature of references. Their numbers cannot be derived programmatically from online texts. The Bible verses do not sufficiently resemble the references in the plays for computerised extraction. Instead, we have worked with lists extracted by scholars, a single scholar in our case—Naseeb Shaheen. The only calculated field in the dataset extracts matches where a reference occurs within the range of a marked passage. Even there, a little manual help was required.

3. Annotators and their marks

There are 31,102 verses in the Geneva Bible, including The Apocrypha. There are 550 marked passages which add up to around 975-1100 marked verses depending on how carefully you count.

Prepared by English Reformers in exile in Geneva during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary, The Centre for Reformed Theology and Apologetics describes the Geneva Bible thus,

"While other English translations failed to capture the hearts of the reading public, the Geneva Bible was instantly popular. Between 1560 and 1644 at least 144 editions appeared. For forty years after the publication of the King James Bible, the Geneva Bible continued to be the Bible of the home. Oliver Cromwell used extracts from the Geneva Bible for his Soldier's Pocket Bible which he issued to the army."

Our charts are based on marked passages in Oxford's copy and make no reference to verses at all. Since one mark can cover three verses but may refer to a single item in the Shakespearean canon, this can inflate the headline figures unnecessarily. Like David Kathman, we have classified the marks as ranges, exactly as they appear in the Bible, rather than producing a secondary list of marked verses. If a single reference occurs in a marked range, it counts as one match. If there are two references, this counts as two matches but still only one mark. If there are eight verses covered by one marked passage (or one series of underlinings), that counts as eight matches but still only one mark. That's why our marks total is 550.

1. Bible Home

argument

Literary arguments about authorship, especially Oxfordian arguments, are easily subjectivised, stretched and exaggerated. You can't do that so easily with mathematical arguments. The data says what it says. In The Case of the Folger Bible Marks, the data isn't saying what Oxfordians say.
These pages look at an Oxfordian mathematical conjuring trick and what the distribution of the marks reveals about those who made them.