In his 34 years on the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens has evolved from idiosyncratic dissenter to influential elder, able to assemble majorities on issues such as war powers and property rights. Now, the court's senior justice could be gaining ground on a case that dates back 400 years: the authorship of Shakespeare's plays.
Justice Stevens, who dropped out of graduate study in English to join the Navy in 1941, is an Oxfordian -- that is, he believes the works ascribed to William Shakespeare actually were written by the 17th earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. Several justices across the court's ideological spectrum say he may be right.
This puts much of the court squarely outside mainstream academic opinion, which equates denial of Shakespeare's authorship with the Flat Earth Society.
"Oh my," said Coppelia Kahn, president of the Shakespeare Association of America and professor of English at Brown University, when informed of Justice Stevens's cause. "Nobody gives any credence to these arguments," she says.
Nonetheless, since the 19th century, some have argued that only a nobleman could have produced writings so replete with intimate depictions of courtly life and exotic settings far beyond England. Dabbling in entertainments was considered undignified, the theory goes, so the author laundered his works through Shakespeare, a member of the Globe Theater's acting troupe.
Over the years, various candidates have attracted prominent supporters. Mark Twain is said to have favored Sir Francis Bacon. Malcolm X preferred King James I. De Vere first was advanced in 1918 by an English schoolmaster named J. Thomas Looney. More recently, thanks in part to aggressive lobbying by a contemporary descendant, Charles Vere, Oxford has emerged as a leading alternate author.
Justice Steven's opinion on the matter stems from a moch trial case he was involved with in the 1980s (see the article.) What I want to know is (1) is Justice Stevens an ENglish heretic? and (2) how does one prove his case if you believe Shakespeare did not write the works of Shakespeare?