Saturday, 16 November 2013

Coming Out is Not Easy: Especially for an Oxfordian!

            Okay I’ll start by telling you everything. It’s true, I'm a drag queen. I am also an associate professor, not a full professor. I hold a University Research Chair at the University of Guelph -- but only in the arts, not in science. During my long and checkered career I have held many far left political opinions. And yes, I sometimes fart, in the presence of my long-term partner -- late at night, when no one else is around. And finally, yes, I have a cat. And, truth be told – that cat has the ungodly name of well…. Booger. And yes, he is now being treated for constipation. And finally well, my cat is -- the vet tells me -- not grossly, but at least very, very, very overweight.
Why did I feel it necessary to unburden myself in this way? To reveal these personal, nay disgusting details of my private life (things that might make Rob Ford blush)?
Because I’m coming out.
            I am one of those who think that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was the real Shakespeare.
            I made all those horrible admissions before telling you I’m an Oxfordian for one reason only. When we Oxfordians reveal  ourselves, we know that our ideological opponents -- those who believe that Shakespeare was The Man From Stratford (Stratfordians) --  are not the least bit interested in discussing matters of proof.  In fact they are not interested in discussing the issue at all. Instead, they will employ the Ad Hominem, argument, i.e. -- they will proceed to attack us, personally.
            This is what happened to Don Rubin and I, when we organized a Toronto Shakespeare Conference (‘Shakespeare and the Living Theatre’) in October 2013. Don was criticized for wearing leather vests. My own colleagues attacked me in the local newspaper for giving students ‘incorrect points of view.’ One Guelph doctoral candidate compared my views to ‘creationism.’
            Some people think that an English professor who says that The Man From Stratford was not the real Shakespeare is the equivalent of a science professor who says that the sun revolves around the earth. But universities provide tenure, and support academic freedom, so that professors cannot be fired for having unpopular views. If professors had to operate in a sort of scholarly ‘wild west,’ then new research would be impossible. If a science professor says that the sun revolves around the earth, he or she will most likely not be published, students will laugh at them, they will lose academic support, and soon slip into (albeit, paid) oblivion.
            However, more and more academic essays are being published around the authorship issue, and several universities are teaching courses that take it for granted that Oxford could very well have been Shakespeare.
            One argument that is often raised against Oxfordians is that we are classist. It is an Ad Hominum argument -- one I would like to address here.
            Yes, I think the Earl of Oxford – not a lowly gentleman farmer -- probably wrote the plays that have been attributed to Shakespeare. But of course, yes, even a gentleman farmer can be a genius! That is not the issue. What is the issue? The plethora of education and information evident in Shakespeare’s plays. Such a display of knowledge and erudition would only have been possible for someone who had Oxford’s extraordinary privilege, privilege that allowed him (for instance) to tour Italy for fun, to access the library of magician Francis Dee, and be tutored by the leading Ovid scholar of the day (Arthur Golding) at a very young age.
My argument for supporting the candidacy of Oxford is the opposite of classist.
            Bardology has popularized the myth that a real writer must be (like The Man From Stratford) an ordinary, model citizen, a heterosexual, and, most importantly: a man who cannot be discovered in his work.
            Oxfordians, on the other hand, believe that the Earl of Oxford (Shakespeare) was possibly bisexual, possibly a murderer. We believe that he led a somewhat tragic life, and that his biography and personality are revealed in his  works.
            Could the greatest writer in the English language have been a flawed human being? Could he have been, even a  ‘failed’ person? (The Ad Hominum argument returns!)
            The answer to that question is part and parcel of your very own humanity.
            And a message to Stratfordians everywhere: you won’t find the answers to these, or any other questions, by continuing to do what you are doing: trying desperately to protect your own, failed, scholarship.
And the rest (someone said) is silence.