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John Byrne
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 11:31am | IP Logged | 1  

Wandering around online, I came upon a bio page for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, in the online version of the Encylopedia Brittanica.

The article is mostly straight facts, even allowing for the many coincidences that connect Shakespeare and de Vere (rather more snug a fit than with the Stratford man, in fact!) but ends with this:

"A major difficulty in the Oxfordian theory, however, is his death date (1604), because, according to standard chronology, 14 of Shakespeare’s plays, including many of the most important ones, were apparently written after that time. The debate, however, remained lively into the early 21st century."

There is a surprising omission in this seemingly innocuous paragraph, one I would not expect of so worthy a tome as the Brittanica. And that is that the "standard chronology" is a series of conjectures BASED on the life of the Stratford man. "If he was living here and doing this, then he probably was also writing this. And if he wrote this, then, then he probably wrote this other piece when he was over here doing this. . . " And so on.

Thus, de Vere's death in 1604 actually presents NO barrier to him having written those remaining 14 plays. The very fact that he was some 14 years older than Stratord Will easily shifts the entire chronology of the Works back by an equivalent span. De Vere was known to be writing poems from his late teens, when the Stratford man was a mere babe.

Some are quick to point out topical references in those later plays, which obviously could not have been included if de Vere was dead when they were written. But they COULD have been included if someone else added them. Today, the works of Shakespeare are treated as Holy Writ, and messing about with the text is largely frowned upon, but Back in the Day, it was common practice for actors to extemporize, ad-lib, toss in references to the amusement of the crowds. Even Shakespeare's reference to "this wooden O", in HENRY V, was routinely modified to fit the theater in which the play was being performed.

As I have mentioned before, I once saw a performance of THE MIKADO in which the Executioner's Song included a reference to Rubics Cubes, a toy invented long after the death of Gilbert and Sullivan. Does this prove G&S did not write THE MIKADO?

An interesting point along these lines -- the contemporary references -- has been made in that so many are conspicuous by their absence in plays first performed after 1604. Shakespeare peppered his works with references to what was then Modern Science, for instance. Hamlet's suggestion to Ophelia that she "doubt that the Sun doth move" was included as a nod to what was then a new thought. But, as one instance, a spectacular supernova, visible after de Vere's death in 1604, oddly finds no reference in the works.

Ah, well. As most of you can guess, I have no plans to stop flogging this particular horse. I mention this as it illustrates how deeply ingrained is the prejudice toward the Stratford man, that even the Brittanica can (inadvertently?) skew its reportage in his favor.

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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 11:50am | IP Logged | 2  

An interesting subject. I only read something recently in the Daily Express. It was a very brief article. As interesting as this subject is, it's inaccessible in a certain sense, I do not know where to start.

So, Mr Byrne, as my Kindle is long overdue for some new books, are there at least 2, preferably 3, books on the subject which could you please recommend?

Thanks!

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John Byrne
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 12:00pm | IP Logged | 3  

I don't know how Kindle-friendly they are, but there are several good places to start.

I would recommend Diana Price's "Shakespeare - An Unorthodox Biography". Ms Price does not have "a horse in the race" and offers no candidate for the authorship. She does, however, thoroughly demolish the Stratford man.

Richard Whalen's "Shakespeare - Who Was He?" presents a concise overview, and is one of the shorter volumes on the subject, if you want to learn to swim without fear of drowning!

A much large tome is Charlton Ogburn's "The Mysterious William Shakespeare".

And then there is the granddaddy of the modern theory, "Shakespeare Identified in Edward de Vere", by John Thomas Looney (pronounced Loh-nee, but the damage is done. . . )

You can also take a quick look HERE.

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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 12:06pm | IP Logged | 4  

Thank you for the recommendations, Mr Byrne. And the website link, too.

I wasn't lazy in not searching because I would have if need be, but as you know the subject, I guessed you might be able to name a few books. I'll see if they have them on the Kindle or even as books (but I really do not have any shelf space for any more books!).

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John Byrne
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 12:12pm | IP Logged | 5  

I wasn't lazy in not searching…

••

Did not for one moment think you were!

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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 12:18pm | IP Logged | 6  

That's fine, I know you didn't, I just always feel lazy asking anybody for recommendations. Feel like I should be doing the homework myself, but always appreciate recommendations from anyone.
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Doug Campbell
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 1:39pm | IP Logged | 7  

JB:There is a surprising omission in this seemingly innocuous paragraph, one I would not expect of so worthy a tome as the Brittanica. And that is that the "standard chronology" is a series of conjectures BASED on the life of the Stratford man.

The chronology of Shakespeare's works is of course based on considerably more than that.  The widely accepted chronology derives from a careful examination of both the text of the plays themselves as well as their publication and performance histories, and contemporary references to them.  Usually that is sufficient to establish a date no later than which the play must have been written, and is usually sufficient to date it within a span of a few years.

Some of the topical references are much more of a problem for the Oxfordian camp than you admit, JB.  Macbeth, as a rumination on treachery and royal legitimacy in Scotland, for example, largely only makes sense in the context of the first few years of the reign of James I, climaxing in the notorious Gunpowder Plot of 1605, two years after the death of Oxford.  None of that stuff is an "add-on" but rather constitutes the entire play.  Likewise, The Tempest, includes nearly verbatim quotations of a popular account of a shipwreck by William Strachey published in 1609, again several years after Oxford's death.  Moreover, that play and some of the other later works in Shakespeare's corpus show evidence of having been written specifically for the environment of a more intimate theatrical setting than was typical in London theater, such as Blackfriars, which had been opened by Shakespeare's theater company in 1608, once more well after the death of Oxford.  And of course, there is the issue of The Two Noble Kinsmen, a play attributed in print to Shakespeare and the young playwright John Fletcher, which does indeed appear to have been a work in which two authors traded off scenes and collaborated throughout.  Fletcher only burst on the scene as an author several years after Oxford's death, so to collaborate intimately with him, the good earl presumably would have had to rise, mouldering, from his crypt.

All of those features are woven into the very warp and woof of the plays, and go far beyond a "rubik's cube" reference to give an old play some topical zing.  If those plays were added to, they had to have been substantially re-written well after Oxford's death.  So, yes, that is in fact a "major difficulty" for the Oxford thesis. 

I'm not sure why it counts as "prejudice" for Britannica to note some of the weaknesses in the Oxfordian thesis.  As an encyclopedia, the job description is to describe topics of interest as objectively and succinctly as possible, not to wade into an ongoing debate with elbows flailing.  This is even more the case when the side of the debate in question is a fringe theory which has failed to garner much in the way of support from historians and literary scholars.

JB: Ah, well. As most of you can guess, I have no plans to stop flogging this particular horse.

I always enjoy reading your insights on the matter, even if I rarely agree with them.
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Doug Campbell
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 1:51pm | IP Logged | 8  

For those interested, JB's book recommendations only give you one side of the discussion.  In addition to any of the standard biographies of Shakespeare (Samuel Schoenbaum's is probably the best regarded), you might look at the following works which directly rebut the arguments of Oxfordians and other anti-Shakespeareans:

James Shapiro, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Scott McCrea, The Case for Shakespeare: The End of the Authorship Question.

Irvin L. Matus, Shakespeare, In Fact.

And for those interested in material from a Shakespearean perspective online, there is of course: http://shakespeareauthorship.com/

Make sure to examine both sides!
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Richard White
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 4:34pm | IP Logged | 9  

Having read 'Becoming Shakespeare' it's pretty much tradition for people to add whatever the hell suits them to the bard. 

On Tuesday, my girlfriend and I are off for a week in Stratford, including tickets for The Tempest  at the RSC.


Edited by Richard White on 28 July 2012 at 4:35pm
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Richard White
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 4:47pm | IP Logged | 10  

Just wanted to add my 2 cents by the way....Stratford Will as Shakespeare makes no sense to me.
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Darren Taylor
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 6:13pm | IP Logged | 11  

I watched an episode of Time Team that had the archaeologists brushing against this provocative historical mystery.


http://www.channel4.com/programmes/time-team/episode-guide/s eries-19/episode-10

-D
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John Byrne
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 6:22pm | IP Logged | 12  

Some of the topical references are much more of a problem for the Oxfordian camp than you admit, JB. Macbeth, as a rumination on treachery and royal legitimacy in Scotland, for example, largely only makes sense in the context of the first few years of the reign of James I, climaxing in the notorious Gunpowder Plot of 1605, two years after the death of Oxford.

••

So Gilbert & Sullivan DIDN'T write THE MIKADO! Fascinating!

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John Byrne
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 6:27pm | IP Logged | 13  

Make sure to examine both sides!

••

Indeed! And as you examine the "other" side, count the number of direct references to the Stratford man being an author OF ANY KIND. See how far you can get into his biography without encountering phrases like "could have", "might have", "most probably would have", etc.

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John Byrne
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 6:30pm | IP Logged | 14  

Just wanted to add my 2 cents by the way....Stratford Will as Shakespeare makes no sense to me.

••

That is the ultimate bottom line. In his surprisingly well documented life, the man from Stratford presents us with no indication of being a poet, a playwright, or a writer of any kind. No letters to or from him survive. No bills to or from him in any context as a writer. No mention of him as a writer in any journals, day books, letters, official document.

"Shakespeare" moved thru London invisibly, but the Stratford man left a big footprint -- NO PART of it in any way connected to the craft of writing.

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Doug Campbell
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 9:34pm | IP Logged | 15  

JB: That is the ultimate bottom line. In his surprisingly well documented life, the man from Stratford presents us with no indication of being a poet, a playwright, or a writer of any kind.

Horsefeathers.  This argument is akin to proclaiming, "I disqualify any evidence naming Shakespeare as the author because it doesn't specifically say William-Shakespeare-the-guy-from-Stratford-the-glover's-son- no-really-not-de-Vere-or-Marlowe-or-Bacon." and then saying, "And my gosh isn't it suspicious that there's no evidence for Shakespeare as an author!"

All the actual evidence all points to William Shakespeare as the source of the poems and plays.  He is named as the author of those works in more than 80 individual documents dating from his own lifetime.  There has yet to be discovered EVEN ONE document in the past four hundred years linking Edward de Vere's name to the work.






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Doug Campbell
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 9:37pm | IP Logged | 16  

JB: So Gilbert & Sullivan DIDN'T write THE MIKADO! Fascinating!

I can only presume that you missed the very next sentence I wrote which read, "None of that stuff is an 'add-on' but rather constitutes the entire play."

None of what I referenced is as simple as jazzing up an old lyric with a reference to a Rubik's Cube. 
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Glen Keith
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Posted: 28 July 2012 at 10:16pm | IP Logged | 17  

The fact that the "controversy" is mentioned at all in the Britannica reminds me of how just about every news story reporting on the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing had to mention the Moon hoax "theory". It's a sickness of our times that fringe theories must be acknowledged in any news article or reference source at all. And despite a movie and other media hypings, the "Oxenford theory" is still just that: a fringe theory.

Most encyclopedias are written with a "bias" towards scholarly consensus, and the vast majority of scholars agree that Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him. And baring any smoking gun pointing to another culprit, I doubt we will see a consensus shift towards any other candidate any time soon.




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John Byrne
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Posted: 29 July 2012 at 4:29am | IP Logged | 18  

The fact that the "controversy" is mentioned at all in the Britannica reminds me of how just about every news story reporting on the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing had to mention the Moon hoax "theory". It's a sickness of our times that fringe theories must be acknowledged in any news article or reference source at all. And despite a movie and other media hypings, the "Oxenford theory" is still just that: a fringe theory.

••

True -- but for entirely different reasons than the Moon landing "hoax".

The Moon landing "hoax", as with most "conspiracy theories" of the 20th Century, spring from a LACK of scholarship. Oxford's candidacy springs from precisely the opposite. And, perhaps even more significantly, requires no "conspiracy" to make it happen. It requires only the society of the time, a very different world from the one we now inhabit.

The Authorship Question demands attention because there really does seem to be something there.

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Doug Campbell
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Posted: 29 July 2012 at 6:52am | IP Logged | 19  

JB: The Moon landing "hoax", as with most "conspiracy theories" of the 20th Century, spring from a LACK of scholarship. Oxford's candidacy springs from precisely the opposite. And, perhaps even more significantly, requires no "conspiracy" to make it happen. It requires only the society of the time, a very different world from the one we now inhabit.

The Authorship Question demands attention because there really does seem to be something there.

But don't you think that all partisans of fringe theories say something like that?  "Those other theories are kooky, but mine is the real deal!". And yet, the Oxfordian theory has not made terribly much progress in the 90 years since it was first proposed.  It remains solely the purview of passionate amateurs.  The vast majority of historians and scholars, the people who know the most about Elizabethan/Jacobean society, don't find the arguments for Oxford convincing.

If nothing else, that almost requires a conspiracy.  How can four generations of the most well informed people on the planet about Shakespeare fail to recognize the supposedly obvious truth that he was a fraud?  If the "authorship question" is based on the accumulation of scholarship, it is most peculiar that almost all professional scholars don't seem to think that there is much of a question at all.

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Michael Penn
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Posted: 29 July 2012 at 6:59am | IP Logged | 20  

"...the Stratford man left a big footprint -- NO PART of it in any way connected to the craft of writing."

...or...

"He is named as the author of those works in more than 80 individual documents dating from his own lifetime."

How can two intelligent, reasonable people disagree that much, the difference between 80 sources and 0...!?

Somebody's fudging facts -- it has to be!

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John Byrne
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Posted: 29 July 2012 at 7:10am | IP Logged | 21  

But don't you think that all partisans of fringe theories say something like that? "Those other theories are kooky, but mine is the real deal!". And yet, the Oxfordian theory has not made terribly much progress in the 90 years since it was first proposed. It remains solely the purview of passionate amateurs. The vast majority of historians and scholars, the people who know the most about Elizabethan/Jacobean society, don't find the arguments for Oxford convincing.

••

Your comments are extremely disingenuous. The body of scholarship surrounding the Oxford claim is "fringe" only in the sense that it is not the largest body of scholarship. There is hardly to be found a single modern ACCEPTED theory, in any field, that did not begin its existence in the "fringe".

Likewise, referring to the orthodox scholarship as representing the "vast majority" is falling back on tricks of language. We can, indeed, say that most Shakespearean scholars still hew to the orthodox lines, but "most" doesn't have the drama, does it? It doesn't carry with it an automatic implied victory.

+++

If nothing else, that almost requires a conspiracy. How can four generations of the most well informed people on the planet about Shakespeare fail to recognize the supposedly obvious truth that he was a fraud? If the "authorship question" is based on the accumulation of scholarship, it is most peculiar that almost all professional scholars don't seem to think that there is much of a question at all.

••

Again, you stack your argument with hyperbole. Experts all too often fall into the trap of protecting the area of their expertise. The "most well informed" scholars are precisely the ones who turn out volume after volume of Shakespearean biography that are about everything BUT Shakespeare. Portraits of the theater of the time, of London of the time, of society of the time, peppered with occasional guesswork about where Shakespeare MIGHT have been, and what Shakespeare COULD have been doing. Ah, if only he -- like every other playwright of his day -- had left some kind of paper trail. Yet, no. Shakespearean "scholarship" is all too often a study of everything BUT Shakespeare.

This is why Looney, himself having no horse in the race, approached the Authorship Question from an entirely new angle, asking how we might set about finding "Shakespeare" if the works had come down to us anonymously. His investigations led him to the Earl of Oxford, and from there a veritable cascade of Shakespearean connections. MORE connections, in fact, than can be made for the man from Stratford!

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Doug Campbell
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Posted: 29 July 2012 at 8:34am | IP Logged | 22  


JB: Your comments are extremely disingenuous.

It would be nice to be able to discuss this without being accused of arguing in bad faith.  In this discussion I assume that you and any other partisans of the Earl of Oxford present assertions you believe to be accurate and free of distortion, however much I may disagree with the assertions themselves.  I would appreciate the same courtesy. 

JB: The body of scholarship surrounding the Oxford claim is "fringe" only in the sense that it is not the largest body of scholarship. There is hardly to be found a single modern ACCEPTED theory, in any field, that did not begin its existence in the "fringe".  Likewise, referring to the orthodox scholarship as representing the "vast majority" is falling back on tricks of language. We can, indeed, say that most Shakespearean scholars still hew to the orthodox lines, but "most" doesn't have the drama, does it? It doesn't carry with it an automatic implied victory.

A "majority" could be as small as 50.1% of scholars.  Given that the actual percentage is probably in the high nineties, I fail to see how "vast majority" could be seen as inaccurate.  Looney's thesis has failed to convince a popular majority, and failed even more spectacularly to convince a scholarly majority.  It's been 92 years since he published his work.  While what you say about the number of fringe theories which have become mainstream consensuses is true, an intellectual paradigm shift doesn't take that long.  By way of comparison, 92 years after Copernicus published De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, most educated people accepted that the Earth revolved around the sun rather than vice versa.  92 years after the introduction of the Documentary Hypothesis by Graf and Wellhausen, a majority of scholars agreed that the Pentateuch had been written by several authors rather than just Moses.  And that was with the opposition of dogmatic religious authorities.

92 years after the publication of Shakespeare Identified, the Oxfordian thesis remains a fringe theory, despite only having to convince a bunch of people in tweed jackets without the power to burn anyone at the stake. 

JB: This is why Looney, himself having no horse in the race, approached the Authorship Question from an entirely new angle, asking how we might set about finding "Shakespeare" if the works had come down to us anonymously. His investigations led him to the Earl of Oxford, and from there a veritable cascade of Shakespearean connections. MORE connections, in fact, than can be made for the man from Stratford!

Of course Looney had a horse in the race.  As an alienated conservative nostalgist, he had formulated an idealized picture of the sort of man he wanted Shakespeare to be.  Shakespeare did not match that template, so he went in search of the sort of the sort of flamboyant aristocrat who matched the portrait he had formed in his mind.

The main weakness of the thesis of course is the absolute lack of evidence for it.  Not so much as a single document has been found explicitly linking Oxford to the works of Shakespeare.  Contrast this with the enormous contemporary paper trail tying Shakespeare to the plays and poems and you have the reason why scholars have been unimpressed with Looney and his successors.
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Doug Campbell
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Posted: 29 July 2012 at 8:43am | IP Logged | 23  

Michael:  How can two intelligent, reasonable people disagree that much, the difference between 80 sources and 0...!?

Somebody's fudging facts -- it has to be!

Nah, we just have a different interpretation about what really counts as a legitimate source linking the historical Shakespeare to the literary works.  I recognize that.  Who knows, maybe some more common ground can emerge from discussing this.

Stranger things have happened on the internet.
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Mark Haslett
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Posted: 29 July 2012 at 1:17pm | IP Logged | 24  

If Oxford could not have written MacBeth -- case closed, Q.E.D.

If it's that simple, then why discuss fringe vs. orthodox or any other issues?

I think the pro-Stratford case would be clearer if it would stick to "Stratford Shakespeare wrote the plays and that is very clear because of such-and-such". But that does not appear to be the pro-Stratford debate strategy.

The simple fact that Shakespeare's name appears as author in his life time is pretty good evidence.

But the question has to be, is it conclusive?

And if it's not conclusive then there is an authorship question, isn't there?

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Michael Penn
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Posted: 29 July 2012 at 3:58pm | IP Logged | 25  

When one side posits that dozens and dozens and dozens etc. of sources constitute evidence that Shakspere was incontrovertibly Shakespeare while the other side avers that that very same wealth of sources in its entirety amounts to ZERO evidence, this dispute can't be only a matter of alternative interpretive models.

My "Shake-speare" sense is tingling! Facts must be being fudged, nu...?!
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