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Was Shakespeare Really The Bard? That Was The Question Considered at Karpeles Manuscript Library

Norman Cohan, director of the Karpeles Manuscript Library and Museum introduces a presentation on the Shakespeare Authorship Question.
Norman Cohan, director of the Karpeles Manuscript Library and Museum introduces a presentation on the Shakespeare Authorship Question. (Steven Sabel)

More than 100 local residents and literary enthusiasts opened their minds to the Shakespeare Authorship Question during a presentation at the Karpeles Manuscript Library and Museum Feb. 16.

The Karpeles, which offers free lectures to the public, welcomed law professor Bryan H. Wildenthal, vice president of the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship, to deliver a presentation titled Why "Shakespeare" Was Edward de Vere (Earl of Oxford).

“I always liked to think it was the man from Stratford,” said Sol Morrison of Santa Barbara. Morrison attended the presentation at the suggestion of s friend. He said he was familiar with the controversy surrounding Shakespeare authorship, but the “idea of the controversy was not big my mind.”

“I am now much less set in my views, and much more open in my mind,” Morrison said. “I loved (Wildenthal’s) knowledge and eagerness to discuss every question.”

Wildenthal’s presentation proposed that the businessman from Stratford-upon-Avon, who was christened Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere, did not really write the plays and poems credited to William Shakespeare.

The name Shakespeare was used to conceal the true identity of the Earl of Oxford, said Wildenthal.

“Professor Wildenthal, is an engaging Oxfordian speaker, who enchanted us with the greatest literary detective story ever — who wrote Shakespeare,” said Norman Cohan, director of the Karpeles.

Wildenthal is professor emeritus at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, where he has taught for more than 20 years. He has established himself as an independent scholar of the Shakespeare Authorship Question, lecturing frequently on the subject.

“It is often claimed that no one doubted the Stratfordian authorship theory until hundreds of years after his death. But when it comes to evidence dating to his own lifetime, there is none that explicitly and personally links Shakspere of Stratford to any literary career,” Wildenthal said.

Randy Cox of Santa Barbara said he was familiar with the controversy through his continued education in Shakespeare studies, but he was not convinced either way by the presentation.

“I’m not sure I subscribe to either side,” said Cox. “To me, it doesn’t matter. We have the works, and that’s what matters,” Cox said.

Wildenthal has a major new book forthcoming on Early Shakespeare Authorship Doubts dating to 1589-1616, during the lifetime of the man from Stratford.

“Many writers during his lifetime expressed doubts about who the author was, often hinting that Shakespeare was a pseudonym. The posthumous evidence is ambiguous and highly suspicious, raising still more questions,” said Wildenthal.

Lila Deeds of Santa Barbara was another attendee who opened her mind to the possibility of a pseudonymous writer. Deeds, a former English major, said she, too, was aware of the authorship issue prior to the presentation, and attended in order to learn more about it.

“The presentation was fabulous. (Wildenthal) presents the information very evenly, and substantiates the question,” she said.

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum houses a collection of rare literary and historical documents. On display during Wildenthal’s presentation were:

A rare page with a printing blunder from Shakespeare’s Second Folio; John Milton’s first published poem An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramaticke Poet, W. Shakespeare; one of four extant signatures of poet Edward Dyer on a letter stating that Queen Elizabeth had been informed of a plot for freeing Mary Queen of Scots; several important Queen Elizabeth I historical documents concerning the Spanish Armada; and the Second Folio title page of The Life and Death of King John.

The Karpeles Santa Barbara is known as the dean of the Karpeles Museum locations across the country. The museum has played an important role in the educational and cultural life of the area, regularly hosting special exhibits, as well as regular lectures in its large auditorium.

Wall space at the Karpeles is offered without charge to well-known artists and photographers to display their work at the museum. The library and museum is open noon-4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. There is no admission fee. Information, 805-962-5322.

The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship is a non-profit educational organization devoted to research and discussion of the Shakespeare Authorship Question: www.shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org.

— Steven Sabel for Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum.


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