Declaration of Reasonable Doubt

Declaration of Reasonable Doubt

The Declaration of Reasonable Doubt is an Internet signing petition that seeks to enlist broad public support for the Shakespeare authorship question to be accepted as a legitimate field of academic inquiry by 2016, the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death. The petition was presented to William Leahy of Brunel University by the actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance on 8 September 2007 in Chichester, England, after the final matinee of the play "I Am Shakespeare" on the topic of the bard's identity, featuring Rylance in the title role. The document has since been signed by more than 2,110 people (as of October 2011), including 380 current and former academics.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

The declaration was met by scepticism from academic Shakespeareans and literary critics,[7] who for the most part disregard or disparage the idea that some hidden author wrote Shakespeare’s works.[8][9][10][11][12]

The declaration has been signed by prominent public figures, including U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O'Connor, in staged signing events followed by press releases in order to gain publicity for the goal of the petition.[13]


Doubters named on the declaration

The Declaration named twenty prominent figures from both past and present that the coalition claimed were doubters:[14]

  • Mark Twain: "All the rest of [Shakespeare's] vast history, as furnished by the biographers, is built up, course upon course, of guesses, inferences, theories, conjectures — an Eiffel Tower of artificialities rising sky-high from a very flat and very thin foundation of inconsequential facts"[15]
  • Henry James: "I am 'sort of' haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world."[16]
  • Walt Whitman: "Conceived out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — only one of the 'wolfish earls' so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works".[17]
  • Charles Dickens is included on the list along with an incomplete misquotation that is interpreted as a statement of doubt. The misquote on the Declaration of Doubt is as follows: “It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking, that so little is known concerning the poet. The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery and I tremble every day lest something turn up.” What Dickens actually wrote is as follows: "I have sent your Shakesperian extracts to Collier. It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking, that so little is known concerning the poet. It is a fine mystery; and I tremble every day lest something should come out. If he had had a Boswell, society wouldn't have respected his grave, but would calmly have had his skull in the phrenological shop-windows." Dickens, however, did not doubt Shakespeare's authorship, and was in fact instrumental in the acquisition and restoration of Shakespeare's Stratford birthplace.[18] Moreover, on page 490 of Volumes 15-16 of Charles Dickens's periodical "All The Year Round," it is clearly stated that that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the poet. Charles Dickens wrote much of this periodical, and what he did not write, he edited.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson is included on the list along with an incomplete quotation that is interpreted as a statement of doubt: "Other admirable men had led lives in some sort of keeping with their thought, but this man in wide contrast".[19] However, Emerson did not doubt Shakespeare's authorship, nor did he ever make a statement to that effect.[20]
  • Orson Welles is included on the list on the basis of a comment taken from a collection of Kenneth Tynan interviews: "I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don’t agree, there are some awfully funny coincidences to explain away". A fuller quotation lends the statement context: "People have compared him to Thurber's Eliot Vereker, the explosive intellectual whose trick it was to throw hard-boiled eggs into electric fans, and who would loudly toss off aphorisms such as: 'Santayana? He's a ton of feathers', or: 'When you have said Proust was sick, you have said everything'. Welles's opinions are equally sweeping, but a trifle more amiable. 'Negro actors are all untalented', he may assert: 'Paul Robeson was just Brian Aherne in black-face'. A moment later: 'What's the problem about The Cocktail Party? It's a straight commercial play with a traditional comic climax that Saki used and Evelyn Waugh used—surprising martyrdom of well-bred lady in exotic surroundings.' What does he read most? 'You'll think me pompous, but P.G. Wodehouse. Imagine it! A benign comic artist in the twentieth century! Nothing about personal irritations, the stuff Benchley and Dorothy Parker wrote about—simply a perfect, impersonal, benevolent style.' Shakespeare: 'I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don't agree, there are some awfully funny coincidences to explain away. . . .' Welles's conversation has the enlivening sciolism of Ripley's Believe it or Not."[21] In other interviews conducted in the late 60's and early 70's, Welles expressed the orthodox opinion that Shakespeare wrote the plays: ". . . the old England, the Europe of the Middle Ages, still lived in the memory of the people of Stratford. . . . He was a country boy, the son of a butcher, who'd made it into court. He spent years getting himself a coat of arms. He wrote mostly about kings."[22]
  • Leslie Howard, English stage and film actor and director, is included on the basis of the lines he spoke as the lead character in the 1941 propaganda film that Howard also directed, Pimpernel Smith. In the film, the character only expresses doubts about Shakespeare when he is speaking to Nazis, and he generally tries to convince the Nazis that he is a harmless fool. Howard never stated any doubt about Shakespeare outside of that film role, which was scripted by Anatole de Grunwald, Roland Pertwee and Ian Dalrymple. Howard also appeared on the London stage as William Shakespeare in 1933 in This Side Idolatry by Talbot Jennings, and in a book of his collected writings he expressed the orthodox opinion of Shakespeare's authorship.[23]
  • Tyrone Guthrie
  • Charlie Chaplin: "In the work of the greatest geniuses, humble beginnings will reveal themselves somewhere but one cannot trace the slightest sign of them in Shakespeare.... Whoever wrote [Shakespeare] had an aristocratic attitude".[24]
  • John Gielgud
  • William James
  • Sigmund Freud: "I no longer believe that ... the actor from Stratford was the author of the works that have been ascribed to him."[25]
  • Clifton Fadiman (1904–1999, Noted intellectual, author, radio and television personality. Graduate of Columbia University, chief editor at Simon & Shuster): "Count me a convert… This [book's] powerful argument should persuade many rational beings, who, well acquainted with the plays, have no vested interest in preserving a rickety tradition."[26]
  • John Galsworthy (1867–1933, English novelist and playwright, winner of the 1932 Nobel Prize for literature. Best known for The Forsyte Saga and its sequels): Described Oxfordian J.T. Looney's Shakespeare Identified as "the best detective story" he had ever read.[27]
  • Mortimer J. Adler (1902–2001, Chairman of the Board of Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica.): "Just a mere glance at [his] pathetic efforts to sign his name (illiterate scrawls) should forever eliminate Shakspere from further consideration in this question — he could not write." "Academics err in failing to acknowledge the mystery surrounding 'Shake-speare's' identity … They would do both liberal education and the works of 'Shake-speare' a distinguished service by opening the question to the judgment of their students, and others outside the academic realm."[citation needed]
  • Paul H. Nitze (1907–2004, High-ranking U.S. government official; co-founder of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Among his positions were Director of Policy Planning for the State Department, Secretary of the Navy, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Member of U.S. delegation to Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, Assistant Secretary of Defense for international affairs, Special Adviser to the President and Secretary of State on Arms Control.): "I believe the considerations favoring the [alternative author] hypothesis … are overwhelming"[citation needed]
  • Lord Palmerston — Henry John Temple, Third Viscount Palmerston (1784–1865, British statesman, twice served as prime minister of the U. K.): "Viscount Palmerston, the great British statesman, used to say that he rejoiced to have lived to see three things—the re-integration of Italy, the unveiling of the mystery of China and Japan, and the explosion of the Shakespeare illusions." — Diary of the Right Hon. Mount-Stewart E. Grant[28]
  • William Yandell Elliott (1896–1979, Harvard government professor, counselor to six presidents, Rhodes Scholar and noted poet, he studied at Vanderbilt University, Oxford and the Sorbonne.): advocate of Earl of Oxford.
  • Harry A. Blackmun (Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, 1970 to 1994): "The Oxfordians have presented a very strong — almost fully convincing — case for their point of view. If I had to rule on the evidence presented, it would be in favor of the Oxfordians".[29]
  • Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (1907–1998, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1972 to 1987.): "I have never thought that the man of Stratford-on-Avon wrote the plays of Shakespeare. I know of no admissible evidence that he ever left England or was educated in the normal sense of the term."[30]


  1. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (2007-09-10). "Arts Briefly". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  2. ^ "Actors question Bard's authorship". BBC News (BBC). 2007-09-09. 
  3. ^ "Coalition forms to discredit Shakespeare's authorship". CBC News (CBC). 2007-09-09. 
  4. ^ Vanessa Thorpe (2007-09-09). "Who was Shakespeare? That is (still) the question". The Observer (Guardian News and Media Limited). 
  5. ^ "Coalition aims to expose Shakespeare". Associated Press. 2007-09-08. 
  6. ^ Hackett 2009, pp. 172
  7. ^ Farouky, Jumana. The Mystery of Shakespeare's Identity. TIME entertainment. 13 Sept 2007.
  8. ^ Kathman, David. "The Question of Authorship", in Wells, Stanley; Orlin, Lena C., Shakespeare: an Oxford Guide, (2003) Oxford UP, pp. 620-32: " " fact, antiStratfordism has remained a fringe belief system for its entire existence. Professional Shakespeare scholars mostly pay little attention to it, much as evolutionary biologists ignore creationists and astronomers dismiss UFO sightings" (621).
  9. ^ Alter, Alexandra, “The Shakespeare Whodunit”, Wall Street Journal, 9 April 2010, quotes James Shapiro: "There's no documentary evidence linking their 50 or so candidates to the plays."
  10. ^ Nicholl, Charles, "Full Circle; Cypher wheels and snobbery: the strange story of how Shakespeare became separated from his works"], Times Literary Supplement, April 2010, pp. 3–4, quotes Gail Kern Paster, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library: "To ask me about the authorship question ... is like asking a paleontologist to debate a creationist's account of the fossil record."
  11. ^ Nelson, Alan H. (2004), "Stratford Si! Essex No!", Tennessee Law Review (University of Tennessee) 72:1 (2004), pp. 149–171: "I do not know of a single professor of the 1,300-member Shakespeare Association of America who questions the identity of Shakespeare ... Among editors of Shakespeare in the major publishing houses, none that I know questions the authorship of the Shakespeare canon" (4).
  12. ^ Carroll, D. Allen. "Reading the 1592 Groatsworth attack on Shakespeare", Tennessee Law Review (Tennessee Law Review Association) 72:1 (2004), pp. 277–294; pp. 278-9: "I am an academic, a member of what is called the 'Shakespeare Establishment,' one of perhaps 20,000 in our land, professors mostly, who make their living, more or less, by teaching, reading, and writing about Shakespeare—and, some say, who participate in a dark conspiracy to suppress the truth about Shakespeare.... I have never met anyone in an academic position like mine, in the Establishment, who entertained the slightest doubt as to Shakespeare's authorship of the general body of plays attributed to him. Like others in my position, I know there is an anti-Stratfordian point of view and understand roughly the case it makes. Like St. Louis, it is out there, I know, somewhere, but it receives little of my attention" (278-9).
  13. ^ "News from and about SAC" Accessed 6 Nov 2010.
  14. ^ "Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare". Shakespeare Authorship Coalition. Retrieved 2010-10-10. 
  15. ^ Mark Twain Quotes
  16. ^ Letter to Violet Hunt, Letters of Henry James (1920), Macmillan, vol. 1, p. 432. Per Google Books, retrieved 16 October 2010.
  17. ^ Whitman, Walt (1889). "What lurks behind Shakespeare's historical plays?". November Boughs. London: Alexander Gardner. pp. 52. 
  18. ^ Churchill, R[eginald] C[harles]. Shakespeare and his betters: a history and a criticism of the attempts which have been made to prove that Shakespeare's works were written by others. Indiana University Press, 1959, p. 33.
  19. ^ Emerson's Representative Men (1850). In Works, 4:218
  20. ^ Churchill, 1959, pp. 68, 207.
  21. ^ Beaton & Tynan 1954, p. 98
  22. ^ Bogdanovich, Peter. This is Orson Welles. New York: Harpercollins, 1992, pp. 211-2.
  23. ^ Howard, Leslie. Trivial Fond Records. Ronald Howard, ed. London: William Kimber & Co., 1982, pp. 134-6.
  24. ^ Chaplin 1964, pp. 364
  25. ^ Freud 1927, pp. 130
  26. ^ Ogburn 1992, pp. front jacket
  27. ^ Schoenbaum 1970, pp. 602
  28. ^ Schoenbaum 1970, pp. 553
  29. ^ Ogburn 1992, pp. vi
  30. ^ Letter to Charlton Ogburn, following a moot court trial of the authorship of Shakespeare's works at American University in Washington, D.C., in 1987; quoted in Ogburn 1992, pp. vi.


  • Beaton, Cecil; Tynan, Kenneth (1954). Persona grata (2nd ed.). Putnam. 
  • Chaplin, Charlie (1964). My autobiography. Simon and Schuster. 
  • Freud, Sigmund (1927). "Autobiographical Study". In J. Strachey. The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmiund Freud. 21. J. Strachey translator. London: Hogarth. 
  • Hackett, Helen (2009). Shakespeare and Elizabeth: the meeting of two myths. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691128061. 
  • Ogburn, Charlton (1992). The Mysterious William Shakespeare (2nd ed.). 
  • Schoenbaum, Samuel (1970). Shakespeare's lives. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 

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