Good afternoon friends and fellow residents of Rossmoor. Thank you very much for inviting me to speak today. My subject is Shakespeare. How are Shakespeare and Kiwanis connected? Well, up in Canada they are very closely connected. In the town of Stratford, Ontario there is a Kiwanis Club. In Stratford, Ontario there is also a Shakespeare Festival. The two organizations, it turns out, are practically married to each other. How is that?
Well, there is an Avon River in Stratford, Ontario just as there is an Avon River in, in... – well, in Stratford-upon-Avon in England where William Shakespeare was born. Next to the Avon River in Ontario stands the Kiwanis Community Centre. And in this community center is the Tom Patterson Theatre, where the Stratford Shakespearean Festival performs some of its plays. When the Kiwanis Club meets in Stratford, Ontario they frequently discuss Shakespeare. “We often have actors from the festival as speakers,” says Pam Dawes, Kiwanis member. “And every year we have the director of Education speak to us about the upcoming theater season. We plan a number of meetings around the theater and are planning a tour of the costume warehouse — one of the world’s largest!”
How many of you have been to the Shakespeare Festival in Ontario? How many have visited the Kiwanis Club up there? Well, this coming summer will be a great time to do both. During the upcoming 2008 season the Festival will present five Shakespeare plays - Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. At these performances the Kiwanis club will operate a concession stand in the theatre where snacks and beverages will be available.
Now, at Rossmoor Retirement Community in Walnut Creek, California there is a Kiwanis Club. Also at Rossmoor there is a very active Shakespeare Society. Hmmm... I wonder if Kiwanis and Shakespeare here in Rossmoor could get together as do Kiwanis and Shakespeare up in Ontario. Why not? Every year our Shakespeare club brings a group of players here to perform a Shakespeare play. It’s an all-female company. This year they will perform Macbeth. The Kiwanis Club here might want to operate a little concession stand in the Sierra Room at Del Valle Clubhouse. “Kiwanis coffee with your Shakespeare, anyone?” Just a thought...
But seriously: I want to talk today about Kiwanis and Shakespeare and truth. As I study the six permanent Objects of Kiwanis International that were approved by Kiwanis club delegates at the 1924 Convention in Denver, Colorado, I read of noble ideals such as “human and spiritual values, the Golden Rule in all human relationships, higher social, business, and professional standards, a more intelligent citizenship, altruistic service, better communities, sound public opinion, high idealism, righteousness, and justice.”
I did not see the word “truth” in this catalog of ideal human values. But I think that inherent in every word in that catalog is respect for truth. The Kiwanis Club, especially because it directs so much of its effort toward children, must revere the truth.
And so today I want to question the truth of a claim that was made in this very room about eight months ago. Do you remember back in July of last year? A speaker attempted to convince you that the glorious plays and poems known as the works of William Shakespeare were written not by a son of Stratford - that little market town in the middle of England – written not by a son of a tradesman in that town – a man who made gloves – written not by the actor William Shakespeare, but by an aristocrat, Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.
Why would a man stand up here before you and make that claim? Why do people deny that William Shakespeare wrote those plays? Well, for over 200 years nobody did question Shakespeare’s authorship. But all this time Shakespeare’s reputation as a poet and playwright increased in intensity so that by the middle of the 19th century he was regarded as the greatest genius of all time, practically a god. “William Shakespeare was the greatest genius of our world,” said Robert G. Ingersoll – “the highest mountain, the greatest river, the most perfect gem.”
Harold Bloom says “Shakespeare has become the first universal author, replacing the Bible in the secularized consciousness. If any author has become a mortal god, it must be Shakespeare.” Yes, Shakespeare has been worshipped as a god. Do you know there is a story that Shakespeare fell asleep under a crabapple tree one day when returning home from a drinking contest with the guys over in the next village? He fell asleep drunk. Well, after Shakespeare’s death that tree was cut up root, branch and all – cut up in little splinters which were sold as once people sold relics from the holy cross!
Shakespeare’s work is “immortal” we hear over and over again. The body of work is so astonishing, so beyond belief, so, so... - miraculous we might say, that we cannot believe a human being created it. The work is superhuman; it must be the work of an immortal, a god. Certainly a glover’s son from Stratford could never have created such divine poetry and drama. Why, young William dropped out of the Stratford Grammar School at the age of 13! Yes, he left school to work in his father’s shop. His father made gloves from animal hides. Young William, whom we might even call a butcher boy, did not attend university – did not go to Oxford or Cambridge. How could he have written those glorious poems and plays? Only an aristocrat could have the experience, the intelligence to produce such a brilliant body of work. The Earl of Essex, the Earl of Rutland, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh... Queen Elizabeth herself some say was the aristocrat who wrote the plays!
Queen Elizabeth? Sure, after holding off the Spanish Armada, after imprisoning and beheading her Catholic cousin Mary Queen of Scots, after dealing with the Irish Rebellion... – sure, after fending off day after day persistant demands that she marry and leave an heir, Queen Elizabeth retired to her chamber at night and wrote Othello, Hamlet, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet – The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, Much Ado about Nothing and 28 other plays plus 154 sonnets and two long lyric poems.
Francis Bacon? Sure he was a great statesman, essayist, scientist, philosopher. But his concerns and his writing style were totally unlike the author of the plays. It’s all so ridiculous. Would you believe that there are eighty candidates proposed as the so-called “true author” of the plays? And that thousands of books and articles and Web pages have been published with these “proofs”?
But the most ludicrous of all these so-called “true authors” is a dead man! I’m not kidding. Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is incredibly the most popular today of the eighty candidates. Who was this man?
He was an interesting aristocrat. At seventeen he killed an unarmed man, a cook in his household. An older Oxford betrayed several of his Catholic friends, accusing them of treason. He denounced them to the Queen, asked mercy for his Catholicism and then repudiated his own Catholicism. Thirteen of Shakespeare’s plays are set in Italy. Did William Shakespeare of Stratford spend time in Italy? No, but the Earl of Oxford did, so perhaps he did in fact write the plays. But his time in Italy was taken up with sexual escapades! He was brutal to women. All in all he was an egotist, a thug, a sodomite, vulture, traitor, murderer, rapist, adulterer, libeler, fop, playboy, truant, tax evader, drunkard, snob, spendthrift, deadbeat, cheat, blackmailer, malcontent, hypocrite, conspirator, and ingrate. This is the portrait of Edward De Vere that emerges from the records.
And what’s more, members of the Oxford Society and the De Vere Society – two organizations dedicated to prove that Oxford wrote the plays - even they acknowledge much of this to be true ! Is this the character of the man who wrote the glorious plays? Is this our “gentle Shakespeare, our “Sweet Swan of Avon”?
There are hundreds of proofs that the Stratford man wrote the plays, and dozens of reasons why it was impossible for the Earl of Oxford to have written them. The biggest reason of all why it was impossible is that Oxford died in 1604! Almost a third of the plays - the greatest of all including Measure for Measure, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest and half a dozen others – were written after 1604. William Shakespeare, according to all records and testimony, died in 1616.
How do the Oxfordians get out of that terribly tight spot? They squirm out of it. First, they try to say the plays were written much earlier than the accepted chronology. They say that Oxford wrote all the plays before he died and handed them over to others to deliver to the theater. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the theater knows that is stupid. Shakespeare practically wrote his plays in the theater, for and with particular actors. He changed his drafts during rehearsal. He collaborated with the other artists around him – even other playwrights.
Let’s look for a minute at a horrible happening of the time and then we’ll finish up. There was an appalling terrorist conspiracy back then - the 9/11 of the time. There was a plot to kill the king and all the members of Parliament in one fell swoop in a massive explosion. Imagine if the Rotary Club or the Lions Club hated the Kiwanis Club. Imagine if they were hiding in passageways under this very building with 36 barrels of dynamite ready to set off, and a man named Guy Falkes was holding a flame to the fuse!
I’m just kidding, of course. The Rotarians and the Lions Club people do not hate the Kiwanis Club. But the Catholics were not kidding. They really did hate the Protestants. So okay - imagine we are the Protestant establishment up in this large meeting room and a bunch of conspirators - Catholics who hate us - are primed at this very moment to blow this Hillside Clubhouse and all of us in it to kingdom come! This was the Gunpowder plot of November 5, 1605. It was the most terrifying thing of the time. The Gunpowder plot was discovered only at the last second, with officers crashing into the cellar just as Guy Fawkes was standing - torch in hand - to light the fuse. Kink James' intelligence services, his ‘FBI and CIA,’ were actually superior to the intelligence services of our own King George. His administration managed to foil the plot and prevent the explosions.
But the terror of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was so, so... - terrible that it is reflected in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth – there are a number of allusions to it. This dates the play Macbeth after 1605; in fact, it is commonly accepted that Macbeth was written in 1606. I remind you the “true author” Oxford died in June of 1604. No problem for the Oxfordians: they twist and turn their way out of that tight spot – no problem!
I can show you that The Tempest was written in 1610 or 1611 – long after Oxford had died. But I’ll leave you with this crucial point to remember: The Oxford claim is entirely dependent on a conspiracy, a colossal, mind-blowing conspiracy that defies all reason. You think Roswell, New Mexico was a conspiracy - Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Martin Luther King, jr.? Why, they are all as open as the high noon sun compared to the conspiracy required to keep secret an Earl of Oxford writing those 37 plays – not to mention the Sonnets and other poems - and hiding behind another man.
The amount of documentary evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the poems and plays is abundant and irrefutable. Some refuse to accept this evidence and claim someone else was the author. Are these people sincere? Well, I think that those who deny the earth is round are sincere. They believe with all their hearts that the earth is flat. They are sincere - eccentric and mistaken but sincere.
How about those who deny the reality of the Holocaust – are they sincere? I’m not so sure about them. But it seems to me that to deny the man from Stratford is akin to denying the Holocaust. Both are gross and grotesque errors. Malicious and malevolent errors! In both cases truth is treated with contempt.
To deny the truth of the Holocaust is an atrocious offense. To deny the truth about Shakespeare is also an atrocious offense. It is to deny a heroic story, a story worthy of admiration. Here is a lower-middle-class kid from the countryside with no university education. He did have a tremendous grammar school education but no university education and yet he managed to accomplish work of astonishing quality. It’s like a story of a kid from a very poor background – a Dennis Kucinich who lived at times with six brothers and sisters, with his mother and father in the family car – and still able to become president of the United States.
The Oxford theory is so superior, so snobbish – all these aristocratic theories are. Behind all these theories is one universal claim: that the man from Stratford was, in the words of Delia Bacon, a “stupid, ignorant, third-rate player,” and a “vulgar, illiterate deer poacher” who could never have written the plays. You can almost see the hatred dripping off her words. Is it any wonder that these people have been called snobs? They refuse to accept that a kid from the boondocks, the son of a working man, a school dropout, wrote the most magnificent collection of poems and plays in the English language. It had to be a lord. These snobbish theories say that you have to be a mighty aristocrat in order to write mighty works. This is very offensive to each and every one of us. Unless... - unless there is a great lord or lady sitting here among us!
Is anyone in this room a so-called nobleman, a blue-blooded aristocrat? If any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so proud that would not be a commoner? If any, speak; for her have I offended. Who is here so vile that will not love the people? If any, speak; for him have I offended. No, no! Friends, neighbors, Kiwanians: lend me your ears! I come to bury Oxford – once and for all! I come to bury the lie that the author of these plays was Edward de Vere, an aristocrat. No, the man who wrote these plays is William Shakespeare, one of us, and so none have I offended.
Let me conclude, members of the Kiwanis Club, by appealing once more to truth - respect for truth. Truth matters. Facts are important. Things did happen in a certain way; that’s history. We’re not allowed to make things up. We’re talking about real people of flesh and blood. William Shakespeare of Stratford was one such real person. So was Edward De Vere. But one can never be passed off for another.
Perhaps the Kiwanis Club would like to organize a trip to Stratford, Ontario in Canada this summer. A bunch of us in the Shakespeare Society would go with you. We’ll see a few Shakespeare plays and we’ll tour the Kiwanis Center up there. Let’s ask the folks in Ontario what they think of the idea that a jerk of an aristocratic like Edward De Vere - who was dead long before the best plays were written – if he was the true author of the most magnificent body of work in the English language. Let’s see what the Kiwanis folks up in Ontario have to say about this preposterous idea. Shall we?
Thank you very much...