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Can't write when you're dead

The choice of an alternative candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays would seem be limited to people who were alive when they were written.

Oxford wasn’t.

He died in June 1604 before almost a third of the plays were first performed.

Oxfordians airily take issue with what they call the ‘orthodox’ dating of the plays and move them around in time to suit the Earl’s inconvenient demise. Some have argued, without a shred of factual support, that Oxford did not die in 1604 and was able to keep writing anonymously, as before, while he lived in hiding on the Isle of Mersea. Others argue that the plays were all complete before 1604. This involves the claim that the writing can be divorced from the dates of the first performance of the plays and thus simply moved back in time, by five or ten years or even longer.

 Volumnia pleads with Coriolanus

One leading Oxfordian authority moves Coriolanus back almost 30 years in time to synchronise it with Oxford’s CV. I think that if Coriolanus actually had been performed in 1580, with its incorruptible aristocratic hero turning traitor in the face of the demands of democracy, the playwright may very well have been strung up for sedition by the Master of the Revels. The play would have been far, far ahead of its time in 1580. About 30 years ahead, in fact.

The Oxfordian backdating process completely ignores two insurmountable difficulties.

  1. Many tens of thousands of hours have been spent on detailed analysis of the structure and language of the plays. Shakespeare’s skill as a dramatist developed over time, so the order in which he wrote the plays is important and worthy of study.  This stylistic developemnt and growth manifests itself in Shakespeare's work just as clearly as it does in Beethoven's music or Bob Dylan's lyrics.

    Thirty or forty enthusiasts writing in support of Oxford cannot displace the work of the tens of thousands of university scholars who have arranged the work chronologically according to linguistic and stylistic principles. They refer contemptuously to ‘the Shakespearean orthodoxy’ as if it was a plot or a cabal. However, what they call orthodoxy, scholars call hard, solid, factual research. And they’ve been doing it for hundreds of years.

    There is little room for doubt as to when the plays where first performed as performances of all the plays in the First Folio can be tied to the dates of an actual premiere or a first recorded performance that could have been the premiere. Since the plays can’t have been performed before they were written, there’s no arguing with that.

    First performances give the plays a chronological order and using this in conjunction with stylometric analysis results in an approximate but close consensus on the order which plays were written. Amongst the champions of alternative authors, only Oxfordians seriously question this consensus. Because only Oxfordians are compelled to explain death of their candidate before almost a third of the plays were written.

  2. All the plays have some topical content that can be accurately dated. The plays written after 1604 are no exception. Just as the plays can’t have been performed before they were written, they must have been written after any historical facts to which they refer. For example, details about an actual shipwreck in Bermuda, circulated in 1610, show dozens of similarities to the shipwreck in the The Tempest, down to the separation and reunion of the crew, the size and geography of the island, the crew’s fear of evil spirits and noises, details of St Elmo’s Fire and the rigging of the topsail.

    Although Will made use of the first hand accounts, he didn’t really need any of it. He wrote a perfectly good shipwreck in Twelfth Night, there’s another in one The Comedy of Errors and Pericles has a brilliant father/daughter seafaring reunion—“put me to present pain, lest this great sea of joy, rushing upon me, o’er-bear the shores of my mortality, and drown me with their sweetness”

    The list of similar topical references is far too extensive to be explained as pragmatic updating.  There are court manners which the plays ape which did not come into fashion until well after the death of Oxford, such as a predilection for Masques and they likewise feature changes theatrical practice about which the dead Earl could have known nothing such as evenly spaced interact divisions to replace candles in indoor performances.

Only in the wildest dreams of blinkered advocacy could 11 or 12 plays, six of them masterpieces, be lying around for years, waiting for posthumous performance.

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