Posted By on December 6, 2011

Guest post by Leda Zakarison*

Pullman Senior High school student Leda Zakarison has "O-philia."

I’m one of those people who should love Shakespeare. I fit the bill perfectly for a teenage Shakespeare fanatic – I read books, speak French, and participate in class discussions.

I’ve always bought into this notion, too. I liked the idea of sitting in a corner of the library, sipping fancy tea and pondering Hamlet.

And yet, try as I might, I could never really get into Shakespeare the way I was “supposed” to.

I tried every angle of Shakespeare study – I read the plays in class, watched the movies, got myself those read-along guides, even played Juliet in a class production. I could understand the plots, the things you write about in 9th grade book reports, but Shakespeare didn’t come alive for me the way I thought it should. I never identified with his characters, never had an insight about humanity while reading his plays.

I felt like there was an impenetrable glass wall between Will and me – I could see the depth in his words, but I couldn’t figure out how to get to it, to really understand. I blamed my problems mostly on the oldness of the plays; I told myself I just didn’t “get it” because the language was so archaic, the contexts were too ancient for me to understand. The plays were just big, dusty, out-dated books to me.

Yet I continued to be obsessed with trying to adore the Bard. So fall semester of my senior year, I found myself in English 205: Intro to Shakespeare. Reading our first play, Twelfth Night, I found I could indeed understand the words; I was even getting some of the word play and hidden meanings by myself. But there was still something very two-dimensional about it all. I honestly couldn’t imagine the words to be stemming from anything greater than some character’s mouth. There was no context behind them for me.

But then I met the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.

He was, in my mind, everything I expected Shakespeare to be – well-educated, interested in poetry and art, connected to the court, a bit rash, and somewhat mysterious. Okay, so my vision of de Vere sounds more like the perfect 16th century boyfriend. But you have to understand how much this guy changed my life (or at least my Shakespeare studies).

The concept that Shakespeare was, as the movie Anonymous bills him, “a fraud” opened up an infinite number of doors for me. Suddenly, it was acceptable to question Shakespeare, to look critically at his works, to do my own reading about him. Being allowed to question Shakespeare’s authorship allowed me to question other elements of the work. It freed me from the need to sheepishly copy down and parrot back whatever my teachers told me “the point” of a play was.

It was like the first time your parents are wrong about something, the first time you realize that hey! maybe the planets don’t really revolve around the Earth. It opened up myriad possibilities for my further studies.

But my love of Oxfordian studies (or O-philia, as you might call it) wasn’t fully cemented until I read Hamlet.

I figured that Hamlet, being the most most alluded to and most revered of Shakespeare’s works, would prove the especially frustrating for me since in the past I couldn’t seem to grasp any of Shakespeare’s larger meanings. I tried to read the play before but always stopped frustratedly somewhere in the middle, unable to figure out what Shakespeare was getting at. I just couldn’t understand the character’s motives or mindsets at all. The essential problem, I realized, was not the Bard’s but my own.

I have been raised thinking that empathy was everything. I was taught that there are always two sides to every story, and that it was my job to learn both. At my church, context is always contemplated – we constantly discuss the time in which Jesus was living, the mindset of early Christians, and the other cultures the Israelites were surrounded by. It’s hard for me to understand people fully unless I know where they’re coming from.

Needless to say, trying to analyze Shakespeare with only the scantest bit of knowledge of his life was nearly impossible for me. I mean, you’re talking to a girl who reads that little inside back flap of books so she learn about the author before she starts reading. And before this year, I had no inside book flap whatsoever for the Bard.

Approaching Hamlet with my new Oxfordian mindset was a whole different story. Now I had context. I had back story. I knew about the author’s childhood, his wife, his relations with the Crown, his areas of expertise. I could understand a little bit more about how Oxford’s mind might have worked, what internal conflict he might have been struggling with as he wrote, his struggles with questions of identity and reputation.

In turn, I gained insight into Oxford’s mind by reading his works. Being able to place Hamlet in time transformed his story from a random, tedious contemplation of mortality into a journey into the multifaceted world of a troubled, brilliant mind.

Knowing that the ideas of the play were stemming from a tangible person’s experience, that the pain and joy expressed were someone’s real, deep-felt emotions brought the play to life for me. All those things I had been searching for in my Shakespeare studies finally fell into place.

Hamlet’s last words, entreating Horatio to “draw thy breath in pain/to tell my story” (V.ii.344-345), are perplexing and a bit troubling when taken at face value – why would someone who exerts a great deal of effort to convince people that he’s crazy have last words that are so focused on reputation?

Even I was a bit upset that a character who spends as much time in self-reflection as Hamlet, who seems to understand life so well, would have such a superficial last request. But if you look at Hamlet as essentially Oxford’s autobiography, pair this perspective with the preoccupation with reputation seen in Othello, and add a bit of an idea about Oxford’s mindset (he was hiding the secret that could have cemented his deserved place in history), suddenly Hamlet’s words make perfect sense – they are, perhaps, Oxford’s own personal entreaty to make his story, his secrets known.

The Oxfordian context makes these lines even more heartbreaking than they are when taken at face value. With my Oxfordian knowledge in mind and my Hamlet text in hand, I was finally able to break down the barrier of understanding that lay between Will and me.

In everything we do, there’s that “ah-ha” moment – the moment we finally stay up on our bike, that e=mc2 finally make sense, that we figure out what really happened in the War of Roses. For a very long time, I was looking for that “ah-ha” moment to occur for Shakespeare and me. It wasn’t until I learned about the Earl of Oxford that that happened.

Though I’m nowhere near the most prolific Shakespeare scholar out there, I’m finally able to come to some conclusions on my own, to divine those long-sought hidden meanings without having to rely on a professor or Sparknotes. I can now empathize with Shakespeare’s characters, feel their sorrow and joy with them. And, most importantly, I’m finally beginning to love Shakespeare the way I always aspired. And for that, I will always be grateful to Edward de Vere.


*Leda Zakarison is a Senior at Pullman High in Pullman, Washington. In fall 2011 she enrolled in Dr. Michael Delahoyde’s popular ENGL 205, Introduction to Shakespeare course at Washington State University. Warning: Don’t take this class. You might actually start to understand Shakespeare.

About the author

On a whim, Leda took an Intro to Shakespeare class with Dr. Michael Delahoyde and fell in love with the stuff. Her current Shakespeare-related obsessions include religion in the plays, anything having to do with Hamlet, and the King James Bible. When she's not reading 400 year-old English literature or talking about herself in the third person, Leda likes to play piano (classical and jazz, with a special fondess for Christmas carols) and bake. She also manages to find time to "apply to college", which may just be university speak for "torture herself with essays." Feel free to contact her at leda.zakarison@email.wsu.edu


5 Responses to “O-Philia”

  1. Leda!
    Your experience matches mine many years ago – but with a difference! For whatever reason, Shakespeare haunted and fascinated me and I had John Middleton Murry’s Keats and Shakespeare to make a connection via a poet who fascinated me and who is the closest to Shakespeare of the English poets:

    So I never got frustrated with Shakespeare. But I did something else, which is why your experience intrigued me. I am both ashamed of it and pleased, in another way. Whilst I was still a Stratfordian, I dealt with the gigantic factual chasm by turning it into a mystery, a kind of sacred mystery analogous to the mystery surrounding Christ’s incarnation, but wthout the theological justification! HOW I managed to convince myself that THIS one author could escape all the known conditions linking work and life in every other case, I do not condone, and I am ashamed of it at one level, it was a retreat into an irrationalism that makes me distrust my own judgement. At another level I am proud, because I managed, somehow, to retain the magic of Shakespeare, despite the massive disparity, I managed to turn my eyes from it.

    But it also meant that the moment I picked up Charlton Ogburn in a bookstore in 1988 the light dawned almost instantaneously! ‘Thats the one!’ I thought. And in that way I recognise your experience. Thank you for such a vivid account!

    II wrote about it here:

  2. Dayraven says:

    Hi Leda,

    Your story is very inspiring, and bodes very well indeed for the Oxfordian cause. My own story is very similar, except that my journey of discovery began after I left academia. My background and training is in Medieval Studies, essentially Beowulf through Chaucer or Margery Kempe, i.e., up to the Early Modern Period, but with a heavy dose of Germanic linguistics, medieval German literature, and contemporary literary theory.

    Although I certainly studied Shakespeare in high school and college, I gravitated towards the medieval side of things through my time at grad school, and thus had no real occasion to encounter Shakespeare until I was teaching at a small liberal arts college in New England, and found myself entrusted with teaching whole classes on the Bard. Preparing to teach those classes is when I rediscovered him. More accurately, I discovered him for the first time. Just like you (it never changes) I found myself able–all the more so with my medieval background–to find Shakespeare’s puns on my own, even and especially those not annotated by his editors! This was then naturally transferred into the classroom.

    Three years after leaving that job, I read Mark Anderson’s book. And I read it again. And the footnotes two times over. It was, quite simply and wonderfully, a revelation. Over the next few years, I read plays I hadn’t read before, and reread some that I had.

    Then, as I was finally ready to begin some original research on my own (you can’t leave something like this alone!), I made a tiny discovery, while studying Thomas Nashe’s “Strange Newes,” and it seemed like the germ of an article. The germ of something fresh and new, anyway, and something I needed to do, and relished doing. I pursued my initial discovery and lo and behold it was as Othin says in “Havamal”: “one verse led on to another verse, one poem led on to the other poem. Runes wilt thou find, and rightly read..”

    I am now finishing an article that I hope will advance our cause. With that I wish you well in all of your academic endeavors.

  3. Roger Stritmatter says:

    Dayraven, thanks for the intriguing and inspiring story of your own. I would say that between you and Leda, the Stratfordians are in big trouble. 🙂 Well, may a little trouble, at least? May you be the role models for many more.

  4. Leda Zakarison says:

    Dayraven and Heward — thank you for sharing your personal Oxfordian epiphany stories. I have to say, Shakespearean/Oxfordian studies is possibly the only discipline I’ve ever heard of where people seem to regularly have such huge “ah-ha” moments — I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a chemist who had a similar “conversion” experience 🙂

    Also, Heward, I loved your comparison of Shakespeare to Christ — this particular connection is one that I’ve been struggling with/ruminating over for a few months now. I’ll probably be burned for saying this, but the similarities between the way in which people have mythified Jesus and Shakespeare to the point of super-humanity are astonishingly similar. And the way that I interpret Shakespeare is so similar to the way that I interpret the Bible — ie, as a metaphorical version of truth rather than a literal truth (in the case of the Bible) or simply fiction (in the case of Shakespeare’s plays) — that my Shakespeare and religious studies are *still* very intertwined. Anyways, all that goes to say that I’m always very excited to find people who are interested in the dialogue between Shakespeare and religion.

    p.s. I’m guessing, if you’re on this site, you’re familiar with Dr. Stritmatter’s dissertation about de Vere’s Geneva Bible, but if not, check it out. It’s provided me with a vast amount of inspiration this semester (and I promise I’m not being paid to say this 😉 )

  5. Dear Leda
    You raise some whopping questions in your response to me, and I shall only partly be able to reply to them here, as I am brewing some fairly large scale papers, and blog posts, on these matters of my own on all of this. Whenever Roger invites me to do a guest post, he shuts me down for about a week! Fortunately you guys are getting involved so that is happening less – of course I do not regret it once I have written the post, because he makes me dig deep and I feel pleased with the results! You seem to have the same quality!

    First as regards those ‘aha’ experienees – scientists DO have them, all the time, and then they have to find proof. A famous one is Kekule’s discovery of benzene rings, which came to him in a dream
    Arthur Eddington the scientist used to say that inspiration and discovery comes in the 3 Bs – the bed, the bus, and the bath!! ie when we are relaxed! Remember Archimedes in HIS bath!

    Arthur Koestler wrote a book about the affinities between jokes, artistic creation, and scientific discovery, which is still worth a read:

    Now as to the connection between the Shakespeare issue and the Christian narrative, that is indeed a very important connection! And that led to another of my guest posts here, indeed the first, that Roger nudged me into:

    It drew me into engagement yet again with James Shapiro
    who has the temerity to touch on the overlap between Biblical Studies and the Shakespeare Authorship question in his book Contested Will, which I am sure you have come across! Whenever Shapiro tackles a really big question it seems that he engages in major self-contradiction and acts of bad faith, and I took him to task on another one here, which leads us slap into the whole Critical Problem, as Kant in Capitals might call it, of the Authorship Problem.

    This takes us to the question of Shakespeare’s Christianity, and one of the gratifications of my visit to Washington in October:
    was that
    a. I saw Oxford’s Geneva Bible at the Folger in the tour Roger had been central in organising [I also saw ‘Anne Cornwalys Her Book’ which was an amazing bonus
    b I saw the First Folio with the staggeringly incongruous Droeshout Portrait which only fully hits you when you see it full size [http://www.briefchronicles.com/ojs/index.php/bc/article/view/65/126]
    c. I was indeed able to snap up a copy of Roger’s Dissertation which I proudly have here in the UK now.

    I have the honour to be a second Oxfordian Doctor, as my Doctorate, based on my book, was avowedly Oxfordian.

    But of course Roger’s work is a major Oxfordian classic. I think it probably is the majjor smoking gun evidence since Looney’s original correlation of the inferred character of the author of the plays with Edward de Vere. I mean by an Oxfordian classic a book which is radically innovative AND properly scholarly and disciplined, which far from all Oxfordian writing is! Other Oxfordian classics, in that sense, include:
    Mark Anderson Shakespeare By Another Name
    Kevin Gilvary The Dating of Shakespeare’s Plays
    Diana Price Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography
    [I shall be writing here soon on why I think this IS an OXFORDIAN classic, despite appearances]
    Peter Dickson Bardgate: Shakespeare and the Royalists who Stole the Bard
    Despite Peter Dickson’s hyperbolic self-praises, this is a crucial book which has several pieces of real smoking gun evidence PLUS a unique historical perspective I have not found in any Oxfordian writing before.
    JT Looney Shakespeare Identified
    Richard Roe The Shakespeare Guide to Italy
    Bronson Feldman Hamlet Himself

    You will notice that what is missing is Oxfordian SHAKESPEARE CRITICISM.
    I myself am trying to make a start on this
    In both of these I try to draw out Shakespeare’s Kenotic understanding of Christianity, as you will see!
    and I think something major will come from Earl Showerman drawing out links with the great Greek Tragedians etc

    Fairie Lands Forlorn….

    Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
    To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
    Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
    As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
    Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades 75
    Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
    Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
    In the next valley-glades:
    Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
    Fled is that music:—do I wake or sleep?

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Categories

  • Archives

In "From Crackpot to Mainstream"Keir Cutler, PhD, takes down the recent Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (OUP, 2013)

Criticism of Cutler's "Is Shakespeare Dead?": "A magnificently witty performance!" (Winnipeg Sun). "Highly entertaining and engrossing!" (EYE Weekly). "Is Shakespeare Dead? marshals startling facts into an elegant and often tenacious argument that floats on a current of delicious irony" (Montreal Gazette).