Six Brand New Lies, or Where does the New York Times Keep its Fact Checkers?

Posted By on October 26, 2011

Dr. Helen Heightsman Gordon.

The New York Times has bent down from its imperial perch to offer a few correspondents an opportunity to talk back to Professor Shapiro and  Stephen Marche (no relation, apparently, to Bon), the newspaper’s two featured columnists on authorship studies,  who both seem to have trouble distinguishing between facts and wishful thinking.

Mark Anderson and Roland Emmerich weighed in with thoughtful critiques for the Oxfordians, while Daniel Blank contributed a  tragical-historical-pastoral lament about how hard it is to be a graduate student when movies like Anonymous are being made. Emmerich, according to Blank, has contributed  to “dangerously and irresponsibly lowering public understanding of an important cultural issue,” so that “those of us who wish to become the next generation of Bard scholars and educators” have had  “our lives [made] more difficult.”

Andrée Aelion Brooks and Julia Newton may have the solution to Mr. Blank’s problem. They voted, respectively, for committees and  monkeys.

“Who cares?” wrote the creative Ms. Newton. “A monkey could have written [the plays]  for all I care.”

The Times, in keeping with what appears to be a policy never to print anything suggesting that the paper Ipse has got a problem with its own dumbness quotient — meaning at least in part an almost complete abdication of making even a pretense of following the journalistic principle that factual accuracy is an important public value and intellectual responsibility — has carefully controlled what comments and letters it has allowed to appear in response to its more or less official  “all the news we could think of” display of contempt for Emmerich’s intellectual independence from academic groupthink.

One submission that did not make the cut was by Dr. Helen Gordon.*

We are pleased to reprint it here.

As Dr. Gordon implies, The Times owes its reading public something more than printing a couple of letters.  It owes an apology for the thoughtless, irrelevant, deceptive, and inflammatory rhetoric it has sanctioned on the authorship question in the missives by Marche and Shapiro.  -Ed.

To the New York Times:

If you fact-checked the column by James Shapiro (Oct 17) you would do your readers a great favor. Here are some of the lies in that column that any responsible reporter would have questioned:

1. Lie #1- The lesson plans by Sony Pictures are being distributed to literature and history teachers “in the hope of convincing them that Shakespeare was a fraud.”

Not true.

These plans are being provided to teachers to inform them about the authorship controversy, which has been subject to much censorship in the academic world, and to encourage students to think for themselves on this controversial issue.

2. Lie #2- J. Thomas Looney [pronounced LONE-ee] “loathed democracy and modernity” and argued that “only a worldly nobleman could have created such works of genus.”

Not true.

Looney was a schoolmaster who was dissatisfied with teaching the traditional biography of Shakespeare, who argued that the Bard’s marvelous works revealed characteristics that we would expect to find in the author. These traits included a superior education, knowledge of several languages, familiarity with European courts and powerful aristocrats, some ambivalence about women, and so forth.

Shapiro’s ad hominem attack attempts to paint this sincere, dedicated teacher as a snob. That oft-repeated accusation has been decisively refuted by many brilliant non-snobs who question whether the Stratford businessman had the background necessary to have produced works of such profound knowledge and literary talent as Shakespeare produced.

3. Lie #3 – “Promoters of de Vere’s cause have a lot of evidence to explain away, including testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else that confirms that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him.”

Not true.

These supposed records either refer to non-literary court records about the Stratford man’s legal problems or they refer to the author by his pen name, “William Shakespeare” — like saying “Mark Twain wrote Mark Twain‘s work.” They do not in any way “confirm” that the Stratford resident is the same person as the author.

4. Lie #4 – This one is REALLY a whopper.

“Not a shred of documentary evidence has ever been found that connects de Vere to any of the plays or poems.”

Demonstrably not true.

Many scholars have provided documentary evidence of de Vere’s writing talent in letters and published poetry. There is also printed evidence that he was regarded by his peers as being a talented playwright and poet. Many scholars have provided evidence that de Vere had the background necessary to write the plays, including ability to read classic Greek and Latin works that had not been translated into English, evidence of travel through Italy in places accurately described in the plays, and so forth.

Researchers are frustrated by the fact that de Vere’s father-in-law Lord Burghley (accepted by many informed scholars as the historical prototype for Polonius – Ed)  may have suppressed or destroyed evidence that might have proved one way or the other that he wrote the plays and the sonnets. Ironically, it is the Stratford-worshippers who have never produced one single piece of writing in Shakespeare’s hand, and no documentary proof that Mr. Shakspere (that’s how he spelled his own name) attended the Stratford Grammar School (those records have been destroyed).

5. Lie #5 might be convincing if it were true: “The greatest obstacle facing de Vere’s supporters is that he died in 1604, before 10 or so of Shakespeare’s plays were written.”

The truth is that nobody knows when the plays were written.

We only know when they were performed and when they were published (sometimes in pirated quartos as “anonymous” work). Dr. Shapiro cannot explain why Mr. Shaxpere (another way that he spelled his name) did not edit his own plays for publication during his years of retirement, if indeed he were the same person as the famous author.

The First Folio was not printed until 1623, long after Mr. Shagspere’s death (another way that he spelled his name). And the Sonnets were published in 1609, while Mr. Shakspere was alive, yet the Dedication refers to the author as “ever-living” — which means that the author is dead, but his works are still immortal.

6. Lie #6 – “later de Vere advocates . . . claimed that de Vere was Elizabeth’s illegitimate son and therefore the rightful heir to the English throne.”

There are only two strong advocates for the “incest theory,” and the movie does not give this theory any credence (the subject is mentioned and then dismissed as a lie).

On the other hand, there is considerable evidence that Elizabeth had a love affair with Edward de Vere, and at least one noted historian reports a rumor that they had a love-child who was being raised as Henry Wriothesley,  the 3rd Earl of Southampton. Those Oxfordians who find that to be a credible scenario would consider Southampton the possible heir to the throne. The first 17 sonnets are addressed to the “Fair Youth” that a consensus of Shakespeare scholars believe to be Wriothesley.

That makes a lot of sense when you read those sonnets as being from a loving father to the son that he cannot acknowledge, as he says in Sonnet 36:

I may not evermore acknowledge thee
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor you with public kindness honor me,
Unless thou tak’st that honor from thy name.

So let us indeed stop telling lies to school children.

Let’s give them the facts — ALL the facts, not just those carefully selected by the traditionalists who have maintained a taboo over the subject of the authorship for decades now.

Students can learn to think for themselves, and Roland Emmerich will give them much more to think about than Dr. Shapiro has done.


*Helen Heightsman Gordon, M.A., Ed. D., is a professor emeritus of English at Bakersfield College in Bakersfield, California, and the author of The Secret Love Story in Shakespeare’s Sonnets [2008].

About the author


2 Responses to “Six Brand New Lies, or Where does the New York Times Keep its Fact Checkers?”

  1. helenhgordon says:

    Congratulations to Mark Anderson and Roland Emmerich for their fine letters in the NY Times editorial page of Thursday, October 24.

    And thanks, Roger, for posting my somewhat lengthier rebuttal of James Shapiro’s non-scholarly, error-filled column in the NY Times October 17.

    I especially appreciate your providing a link to the Amazon page that gives further information about my book, THE SECRET LOVE STORY IN SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS [2008]. This book complements Hank Whittemore’s MONUMENT by telling the Prince Tudor story but focusing more on the love story.

    I make the case that Oxford wrote the sonnets and that he dedicated the 1609 sonnet collection to his natural son, Henry Wriothesley, whom he could not acknowledge without harming Henry and Elizabeth. His lifelong love for Elizabeth (one of the “dark” ladies who had dark eyes) is touchingly rendered in Sonnet 125, lines 5-12: :

    Have I not seen dwellers on form and favor
    Lose all and more by paying too much rent
    For compound sweet, forgoing simple savor,
    Pitiful strivers, in their gazing spent?
    No! Let me be obsequious in thy heart
    And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
    Which is not mixed with seconds, knows no art
    But mutual render, only me for thee

    That beautiful thought is that Oxford loved Elizabeth for herself, not for her royalty, and he recalls the lovely time when the two of them gave freely to each other in mutual render, as equals in the euphoria of love.

  2. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Helen, I was pleased to print your fine letter. The post is getting lots of hits. Your careful identification of the great liberties Shapiro feels compelled to take with the truth has a punch to it. No belief system, however, fortified with the trappings of professional prestige, can long endure such representations as those made by the good Professor from Columbia. He is his own worst enemy.

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