The Cowboy Who Wasn't There: E-book Companion Site

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Tale Told by an Idiot

John Loftus must have at least 20 feet, because it seems like he has a whole lot to put in his mouth. In a post titled "History, Faith and the Real William Shakespeare" poor John used Wikipedia as a reliable source -- which is dumb enough as is -- to support the even dumber argument that "there is a great amount of doubt about who he [Shakespeare] actually was..."

What this is, rather, is yet more evidence that John Loftus doesn't do serious checking on anything whatsoever before he opens his big fat yammer.

As James Hannam wrote for me in Shattering the Christ Myth, there is NO doubt about who Shakespeare was -- except among fringe loony tunes, the sort of people who would edit Wikipedia. I'll quote liberally from Hannam (you can find this at


Deep inside the vaguely fascist edifice of the University of London’s Senate House is a room that the university authorities view with some embarrassment. It forms part of the library and is mainly used for seminars and evening studies. I spent many happy hours there myself learning how to read Anglo Saxon manuscripts. Before class began, I once took the opportunity to scan the spines of the books that line the room’s walls. They formed an incoherent collection relating to late Tudor literature, textual criticism, cryptology and William Shakespeare. I learnt from the professor who took our class that the books all belonged to a certain Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence (d. 1914) who donated them to the library, with a substantial sum of money, on condition that they remained together in their original cabinets. The library was not too keen on the books but it wanted the cash so the deal was struck.

You almost certainly haven’t heard of Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence and neither had I until I found myself sitting in his room. So, why is the University of London embarrassed about him? Well, imagine if the library at Yale had a Graham Hancock Room full of books devoted to proving the existence of Atlantis. Or that Princeton accepted the Dan Brown Collection, containing the source material for the Da Vinci Code. That is how most academics feel about the life’s work of Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence – for he set out to prove that Sir Francis Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare.

In fact, you could fill a fair-sized library with all the volumes from the subgenre devoted to showing that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. It is not just Sir Francis Bacon who is fingered. Christopher Marlowe is the current culprit of choice, even though he died before most of Shakespeare’s plays were written. Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was a blameless Tudor aristocrat who was no more capable of penning King Lear than I am, but several ‘researchers’ have produced books claiming that he did just that. There is even a special name attached to those who deny the blindingly obvious fact that Shakespeare wrote his plays. They are called anti-Stratfordians.

Capacious though the output of the anti-Stratfordians may be, it has evinced little or no reaction from mainstream Shakespearean scholarship. Most critics do not want to give the harebrained idea any more exposure than it receives already. However, Professor Sir Brian Vickers, in the guise of a book review of the latest anti-Stratfordian tome, gave the whole lot of them a good blasting with both barrels in the Times Literary Supplement in 2005. And Professor Jonathan Bate (1958 –) devoted a chapter in his excellent book The Genius of Shakespeare (1997) to trying to understand the reluctance of so many people to give the Bard his due. It is worth mentioning that Vickers and Bate, eminent scholars that they both may be, agree on almost nothing apart from the absurdity of the anti-Stratfordians. Indeed, I would be reluctant to have them both of them around for tea at the same time in case their disagreement on the virtues of the First Folio descended into physical violence.

Bate suggests there are three reasons why people are prepared to believe that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays. The first is the lack of any original manuscripts. We tend to make a fetish of a certain kind of physical evidence and when it is not present, become unreasonably sceptical about everything else. As it happens, several documents signed by Shakespeare do exist but these not include any of his plays.

The second reason is that most people do not have a sufficient background in the subject to properly evaluate the evidence. Anti-Stratfordians tend to be amateurs who have not read enough on Elizabethan theatre to see just how wildly implausible their ideas are. Let me give you an analogy. I can recognise the difference between a Yorkshire and Lancashire accent without very much trouble because I am English. I would never mistake an Irishman for a Scotsman. On the other hand, when I was living in New Jersey, I was frequently assumed to be Irish and had no idea that Californians sound different to Texans. Distinguishing accents isn’t something you tend to be taught. Rather you learn it by experience and by being immersed in a particular culture. It’s the same with history. If you have been studying a period for long enough, ideas like the anti-Stratfordians’ are as obviously incongruous as a baseball bat on a cricket pitch.
The third reason that Shakespeare is frequently denied the credit for his plays is that after he died, he was deified. His reputation today is so stratospheric that it seems implausible that a grammar school boy from a small town in the Midlands could have achieved what he did. Much is made of the fact he never went to university or that he had bourgeois origins. Surely the man who reached such heights of greatness must have been born of the nobility or at least attended Oxford or Cambridge. The normality of Shakespeare’s life trips us up. He was a successful business man and professional actor as well as playwright whose career we can trace quite accurately. Furthermore, he was recognised as extremely gifted during his lifetime. It made him rich.

... The nature of the evidence brought forward by conspiracy theories is much the same whatever the subject. There is a false belief that we have relatively little contemporary evidence for the life of Shakespeare or Jesus. In fact, we know far more about both of them than almost any other personage of their times, barring military heroes and royalty. Likewise, the theorists tend to present contrived readings of the relevant texts, claiming they provide clues that simply do not stack up to careful analysis. Furthermore, the perfectly good testimony we do have for the orthodox view is rejected by the conspiracy theorist for bogus reasons. For Shakespeare we are told that all his fellow actors were in on the deception. While with Jesus, we are told we cannot trust any Christian text. In other words, the people most interested in both Jesus and Shakespeare, their followers and colleagues respectively, should be debarred from giving evidence.


John makes the idiot statement, "The answer to the question of who wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare depends on which scholar you read and accept. Different scholars on this question will place different probabilities to their own suppositions." NO, JOHN. No "scholar" believes any of this anti-Stratfordian crap -- not any scholar who knows anything abotu Shakespeare. This is yet another example of John's uncritical stupidity (as if relying on Wikipedia was not enough evidence). He has no sense of sifting through authorities critically. That's why he keeps getting gigged for using con artists like Spong as sources. There is NO doubt, here, John, except among, ignorant people. Meaning YOU.

John closes his post with the whiny-whine, " is barbaric of God to send people to hell if they get a historical question wrong!" Well, John, keeping in mind that I believe hell to be a state of shame and disgrace, not fire and pitchforks, I don't find it barbaric at all for God to send someone there who is as irresponsible with the facts as you are -- not to mention someone like you who lies constantly, insults and mocks people with disabilities, and can't admit error until you've had all your limbs torn off.

Do you get my point, John?


  1. Follow up: John decides to do damage control by punching himself in the nose!

    He admits his ignorance about this topic ("I don't know much about whether or not William Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him, as I mentioned. I really don't.") and many others -- so why'd you write about it in the first place, John? Is your ignorance so bad that you don't realize when you make a fool of yourself? Hmmm?

    Yeah, John, we all know here that there's a lot to learn. The point is that you've learned way less than other people, yet you continue to flap your fat-lipped yap as if you haven't! If you don't have the answers, why don't you stop blogging and shut up? :D

    It's because John doesn't believe what he says when he says he's "ignorant" is why. Notice that he says of truckers he listens to:

    "It’s black and white for them. They know the answers; most all of the answers, even though I can tell from their answers that they have never had a good education. (Hint: Most problems are more complex than simplistic solutions can afford). They are ignorant and don’t know they are ignorant because they've never learned or thought of the complexities of the issues they speak of."

    Well, gee, John, didn't you just admit here that you DON'T think you're ignorant after all, especially compared to these truckers? Make up your mind already!

    Unfortunately, John W. Loftus can't be honest with himself or others even on these most basic points. But that's what we've come to expect, isn't it?

  2. An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

    Karim - Positive thinking

  3. JPH, I much prefer your "shame and disgrace" view of Hell to the "eternal Auschwitz for Anne Frank" (which proponents, in turn, I've ironically found to be too ashamed of to openly defend - which makes me wonder if *they* shouldn't be eternally shamed themselves, since they're obviously so ashamed of their own God!) being pushed by so many others, but I haven't yet seen any open discussion or debate on this.

    If this interpretation is so clearly the right one, why are theologians so stubbornly still clinging to the fire and brimstone Hell that they secretly don't even want to believe in?

    I would guess they've at least heard about the "shame and disgrace" view - and would prefer it also - so I'd guess that means they're rejecting it because they think the evidence isn't there.

    Also, it seems that shame can be mitigated by people self-righteously taking the attitude that "God's a jerk, and I'd tell him to his face, if the coward would face me." I.e., shame only works on those feeling guilt.

    But that wouldn't do much good if Hell really is about punishment.

    Of course, I prefer universalism but I can't prove squat, either.

  4. Hey Ismellarat

    Just a few replies regarding 2 matters that you mentioned:

    " Also, it seems that shame can be mitigated by people self-righteously taking the attitude that "God's a jerk, and I'd tell him to his face, if the coward would face me." I.e."

    Shame isn't something one can possibly mitigate, once one has cast a low opinión on the shamed one, the only way one can mitigate it is take a mean to return to convince that person to cast a high opinion on the shamed one. It is possible to for one to merely ignore the shame cast upon itself, but one thing that reveals is that the person is exceedingly self-centered, caring only for him/herself.

    " Shame only works on those feeling guilt. "

    Mmhhh that is not true. Guilt (in the modern sense of feelings) is not a prerequisite to be shamed at all. Shame by it's nature is external, one gets shamed, wether they "feel" it, or not.

    shame only works on those feeling guilt. "

  5. I love this site!

    Looks like a lot is happening at DC; I guess I am out out the loop, but what happened to all John's contributors?

  6. Very thoughtfull post on belief .It should be very much helpfull.

    Karim - Creating Power

  7. John's former contributers are pretty much getting out of his bandwagon by strong disagreements regarding Mr. Loftus' management of his blog.

    In other words, he is going all Hugo Chavez about it. :P

  8. Rat:

    "If this interpretation is so clearly the right one, why are theologians so stubbornly still clinging to the fire and brimstone Hell that they secretly don't even want to believe in?"

    Ignorance is a high factor here. You say, "I would guess they've at least heard about" this view, but no, they haven't -- not with the support of social science aspects of the equation. The Context Group makes a regular point of that -- most Biblical scholarship imposes a Western mental template on the text.

    the "shame and disgrace" view - and would prefer it also - so I'd guess that means they're rejecting it because they think the evidence isn't there.

    >>>I.e., shame only works on those feeling guilt.

    The difference is not so much what people feel as where those feelings comes from -- from inside you (guilt) or from others (shame).

  9. JP, "A weasel hath not such a deal of spleen as you are toss'd with" (to cite Henry IV, part I).

    "For Jesus sake" (to cite a phrase from Shakespeare's tombstone) do you imagine John Loftus to be a "Shakespeare mythicist?" He may not know much about questions of Shakespearian authorship but one does not have to believe that Shakespeare is a myth to acknowledge uncertainties about a host of matters pertaining to events in his life, actions, even beliefs. And that appears to be a larger, more important point.

    Shakespeare’s biography in THE NATIONAL DICTIONARY OF BIOGRAPHY features the word ‘probably’ 46 times; ‘seems to’ 32 times; ‘may/might have’ 32; ‘perhaps’ 27; ‘possibly’, 25; ‘un/likely’ 19 times and so on. More than 200 words of speculation in England’s most prestigious sixty volume tome. That is over 200 guessing words with not one iota of proof. So... even if John Loftus is in seriously in error on the consensus of opinion concerning the authorship of some or all of Shakespeare's plays, doubts of other sorts remain.

    I know you have no respect for "doubters" and don't believe in giving them a second chance, but if you know so much why don't you rewrite THE NATIONAL DICTIONARY OF BIOGRAPHY and fill in each of the lacunae all those other scholars acknowledge exist?

    Continued next entry

  10. The consensus as I read it, concedes that Shakespeare did not attend college but learned a lot of stories, some historic, some mixed with legends, from books and well educated friends, and added/subtracted to such stories, creating more dramatic and interesting tales, often employing the names of people and places he'd learned about. He was in effect a creator of larger than life characters and enthralling plots based on histories, second hand stories, and legends. (Might not the authors of the Gospels have been doing something similar? I believe that's Loftus' basic view since he is not a Jesus mythicist, but argues that the stories about Jesus lay somewhere between history and myth.)

    "As for those who claim Shakespeare could not have written the plays because he never travelled (so how could he have written Othello, Merchant of Venice, etc.), nor had a formal education, they forget that with a few exceptions, none of the plays were original, but were taken from familiar stories and histories to which Shakespeare had access from his friends in college. When you read the originals, you will be surprised how much has been adapted for the plays, from the elaborate plot to even the names. Of course, Shakespeare added much to the stories.--To paraphrase Richard Abrams at the Skeptic blog of Michael Shermer

    "Marlowe seems to have influenced Shakespeare's style especially early on, when both men were alive (Marlowe died in 1593, by which time Shakespeare had only written four or five plays.) In the 19th century it was a commonplace amongst the first rank of scholars to assign co-authorship of Titus Andronicus and the Henry VI trilogy (early plays) to Marlowe, based on a wealth of stylistic similarities. And one cannot read any of the good biographies without being told how Shakespeare began his career “emulating” or “imitating” Marlowe.--To paraphrase Daryl Pinksen at the Skeptic blog of Michael Shermer

    To sum up Shakespeare's influences they included great classical authors (Ovid, Seneca, English historians like Holinshed). He also found nature an inspiration (for example, no other playwright mentions birds more than Shakespeare!), stories, ideas and books suggested by his friends who were more well educated, the playwriting style of Marlowe that he began emulating early on, the Geneva Bible (a Bible highly popular before the King James Bible was written under the command of King James, since there apparently were notes in the Geneva Bible with which the king and/or his court disagreed, so the king commanded the production of his own Bible). The book of the Bible that Shakespeare cited or alluded to most often is the book of Psalms, usually the translation in the Anglican Prayer Book--Leland Ryken, "Shakespeare and the Geneva Bible" entry at his blog

    Continued next entry

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  12. There even remains disagreement as to Shakespeare's religion. Was he Anglican? Puritan/Calvinist? Crypto or Closet Catholic? (Some say that if Shakespeare had Catholic sympathies as did some other members of his family, he may not have wanted to reveal too much due to the heated nature of the Protestant versus Catholic disputes of the day, and that might explain his reluctance to reveal his views. One interesting titbit I read, but haven't fact checked, is that Shakespeare's father was close friends with the father of the head conspirator in the "Gunpowder Plot" to blow the Protestant monarchy of Britain to smithereens. But search the web for the variety of discussions concerning that topic.) His plays present a variety of views and characters suffering both good and ill fortune, along with rollicking comedies, fairy tale figures, magic, the war bewteen the sexes, etc., that one may even note tinges of agnosticism in whatever faith he entertained. One can only say with certainty that Shakespeare revelled in the gamut of human experience, the joys and sorrows, the petty jealousies and hatreds, hopes and despairs, including everything from love to flirty frivolity, sexual puns, drunkeness, "adult" language (see the books, Shakespeare's Insults: Educating Your Wit, Shakespeare's Bawdy (Routledge Classics), and Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns)--oh yes, he also included lots of mention of birds, as already stated above.

    "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." (MacBeth, Act V, Scene V) In contrast consider Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Of course that could refer to almost anything.)

    In Shakespeare's early sonnets he wrote about his great love for a young man. We will never know for certain if this was love of a highly emotional but purely plantonic sort or mixed with sexual desire because we have such little information about Shakespeare's personal life. To find out more information on the subject, google up some scholarly analysis of sonnets 1, 2, 18, 44, 104, and 144.

    But one thing we know for sure, he could write frivolous "adult" dialogue and puns, much of which is lost on today's reader due to lack of knowledge of Elizabethan slang, or, depending on the edition one consults such language has likely been deleted by later editors appalled at such speech. The process by which such phrases were removed was called Bowdlerization, named after Thomas Bowdler (1754–1825), English editor of an expurgated edition of Shakespeare.

    William Shakespeare died at the age of 52 on April 23, 1616. The cause of his death is unknown. He had been retired for several years. He was buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. Four weeks prior to his death he made his will. Some writers have wondered if this was a coincidence or if he knew he was dying, perhaps of typhoid, pneumonia, or a weakening of his body due to a life spent drinking (everyone drank back then, since water from wells was not much safer than risking health ailments from drink, but he was in the theater and probably offered more drinks than most people simply in appreciation.). A contemporary of Shakespeare was said to have reported the following: "Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard."

    On Shakespeare's tomb is the message: “Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones”

    Lastly, speaking of another question related to "consensus" I seem to recall that you buck the opinion of the majority of the world's most highly trained biblical scholars who argue that the evidence points to the superior likelihood of "Mark" being the earliest written Gospel.

  13. JPH, I thought I'd subscribed to follow-up comments, but I guess I didn't, and didn't see your reply until now.

    I must not understand shame in the way you mean it, then. Shame IS seen as something that people feel - or if you mean it in the narrower sense of someone merely BEING shamed, why can't it be mitigated by the object just laughing it off with a "I don't care what you think?"

    The way I thought it worked is similar to (the example of) the shame girls used to feel upon getting pregnant out of wedlock. They felt that way because they'd lost their standing in society - something they *chose* to value.

    Today, "I'm a porn star, and I'm so much better off than these narrow-minded, gullible cripples who still cling to their outdated and dying faith," serves to make people just as happy (and "shameless") as a "good girl" would have been in earlier times.

    They don't value what others think, so they feel no shame. Or, with your definition of shame being something external, they are little affected by it, because they just don't care. "I'm being shamed. Oh, no. Hahaha."

    But the proof in the pudding on this, - for amateurs like me - will have to remain your track record with those (surely numerous) theologians you come into contact with.

    I'm too ignorant to say who's got it right, but don't you know a lot of knowledgeable people - with wide spheres of influence - who you could turn into professing converts to this view, simply by bringing this subject up?

    I think you've believed this for several years, now, but I don't see such a trend developing yet, although I'd like to. It beats what I'm hearing now!

  14. I guess I can see another angle on shame in the next life - the God of the Bible would then be undeniable (why he's so far from it now, I really haven't a clue - unless the atheists are right...)

    But people could retort that they just didn't know before, and still mitigate the shame.

    I don't know, I still don't get why this view of Hell a very few see as being so obviously true oddly isn't even known to exist by anyone else.

    They surely already know about the backward "honor and shame" societies existing even to this day in the Middle East (who are paradoxically supposed to be better reflections of God's ways than ours?) - so how difficult can it be for them to imagine Heaven and Hell seen through such a lens on their own, or to readily understand it, when it's pointed out to them?

  15. Edski,

    As usual, you vomit forth 200 pages of blatherskeit that says as little as possible in as many words as possible, which is the only social skill you've ever had.

    No, you moron, I don't think John is a "Shakespeare mythicist" -- by his own admission, he's too ignorant to pick sides (especially after being called down for giving air time to the lunacy side of the debate) but the mere fact that he thinks a case can be made for "Shakespeare mythicism" shows that he runs his mouth uncontrollably, much as you do, though he manages to have at least 32% content where you're still struggling to pass single digits content-wise.

    That there are "uncertainties" about his life is something news only to kindergarten commentators like you, and John's post isn't about "uncertainties," it is about an idea that Willie DID NOT EXIST. So quit blabbing about things that have nothing to do with the post he made or my reply. For once in your life get that verbal diarrhea of yours under control and stop molesting people with your run-on-at-the-mouth.

    As for Markan priority, as if you had an ounce of the brains needed to argue that point in the first place. But Markan priority is not a consensus to the same strength that "Shakespeare existed" is, and additionally, most advocates of Marcan priority have not done their own study on the subject and are not specialists in literary dependence; they assume Markan priority on the back of Streeter or someone else. In contrast, there's not even one Shakespeare scholar who goes for "Willie didn't exist."

    Now shut that sewage trap you call a mouth, you're attracting flies again.

  16. Rat:

    Some have asked that very question....and my answer is that although the mutants of Western society have desensitized themselves to shame to an extent, eternity will give them a hard lesson such that they'll regain that sensitivity whether they want to or not.

    You can desensitize yourself to pain by taking meds, but eventually, it'll wear off.

    And no....I find that most people have no idea that other cultures are any different than the fact, Michael Crichton has spoken of the "temporal provincialism" of Western culture that, in line with past imperialist tendencies, also assumes its cultural values on others quite readily.

  17. JPH, on the surface, this doesn't seem be too different from "Hell is just eternal separation," which many believe already.

    Here are a couple of links you gave me on this in 2006, which I kept meaning to get around to. (I keep meaning to get around to too many other things that have kept me from getting around to reading them. I'll get around to them.)

  18. Hey Rat.

    If you don't mind, a thing I'd like to add:

    " In the surface, this doesn't seem be too different from "Hell is just eternal separation," which many believe already. "

    It's about right. However, to give you an idea of the type of reaction that will occur, is the same that occurs when you had the chance to be a member of a high social elitist club, the chance to win a big prize, to hang out with the cool kids in the lunch hour, to join a company that offered a huge salary and recognition etc. You had the chance to win big, but you voluntarily choose to reject these opportunities that would have granted you a high status and merit amongst not only peers, but also strangers, and perhaps enemies.

    I don't know if you ever had such an experience, but I have, and boy it is not exactly the most thrilling of experiences knowing that you blew the chance to win big, especially when it was right at the grasp of the hand, and it's even worse when not only you know it, but others find out about it (aka, the shame that fell upon me for being such an idiot in rejecting such juicy prize.

    The same thing will happen I guess after our deaths and resurrection. Those that died without accepting God's gift of grace will be tormented eternally with the thought that they had the chance of forming part of the Great Kingdom of Heaven and blew it, and they will be have to continue existing for all eternity with that shame God bestowed upon them, they will be shamed by God for committing the idiocy of his generous deal.

    Hope this may help you get around.

  19. Correction:

    " they will be shamed by God for committing the idiocy of his generous deal. "

    I meant to say:

    they will be shamed by God for committing the idiocy of turning down his generous deal.

  20. I will check this out some more, Andius. Thanks for your input.

    You may have a point, although I don't see how there can be any earthly parallels. To your examples, I'd probably say in return that I'm "no respecter of persons." And I'd have to be convinced that everyone else God banishes really deserves to be.

    My problem is that I have trouble keeping what should be my greatest commandment - how can I love a god who hates the same neighbors I'm commanded to love? That's been one hell (pardon the pun) of a stumbling block, ever since it occurred to me, about 11 years ago.

  21. Wow, J.P., Jesus was right when he said "you will know them by their fruits." The humility and kindness that you exhibit really makes me want to consider going back to being a christian


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