Derek Jacobi is a brave man. The acclaimed Shakespearean actor, apparently unafraid of peers castigating him as a heretic, boldly argues on PBS’s “Shakespeare Uncovered” that the Bard was not the son of a glove maker from Stratford, but the nobleman Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.
Little more than half way through an episode of the program about the play Richard II, Jacobi explains that Oxford wrote the Shakespeare plays anonymously and allowed William of Stratford to take the credit.
Among other facts, Jacobi cites that the Stratford man’s children were illiterate, and that his will makes no mention of books, manuscripts of plays, or the theatre, strong evidence that the Stratfordian was not the playwright.
Jacobi acknowledges that the Shakespeare authorship question is “hugely controversial.”
The PBS show includes a rebuttal by Oxford University professor Jonathan Bate. Bate asserts that the “middle class grammar school boy” from Stratford who became an actor could understand “courts and kings and politics” because he performed at court, and “courts and kings and politics are things you can read books about.”
I imagine Bate’s remark elicited chuckles from “Oxfordians,” those who believe Edward de Vere was Shakespeare.
I find it surprising that Jacobi was allowed to express his opinion about Shakespeare’s authorship on “Shakespeare Uncovered,” given that its producer, Richard Denton, considers it “nonsense.”
It’s also interesting to me how some folks belittle the view that Shakespeare was de Vere’s pseudonym, given that many serious people – such as the esteemed historian David McCullough – have concluded there’s convincing evidence to support that view.
I found Jacobi’s discussion of Richard II, which included clips from a 1978 production featuring him in the lead role, fascinating, making me want to see again the only play Shakespeare wrote completely in verse.
In the subsequent installment of “Shakespeare Uncovered,” Jeremy Irons provides an analysis of the Henry IV and Henry V plays that’s well-worth watching. Irons is an Oxfordian, too. However, unlike Jacobi, he steers clear of the authorship question.
PBS will broadcast the last two installments of “Shakespeare Uncovered” on Friday, February 8. They will feature David Tennant discussing Hamlet, and Trevor Nunn discussing The Tempest.