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The Shakespeare Oxford Society held its 27th consecutive conference in New York City, drawing healthy attendance from SOS members and various Oxfordian Societies: England's De Vere Society, the Chicago Oxford Society, the Shakespeare Fellowship and the Concordia University Conference, members of the press and publishing industries, as well as actors and theater students. A number of surprise guests punctuated the proceedings, adding a festive and exciting atmosphere to the various venues around New York.
The conference was, appropriately, kicked off by a debate between four leading Stratfordian and Oxfordian scholars and researchers--on a cool New York evening at Symphony Space's Thalia Theater on upper Broadway.
Given that the conference was in Manhattan, the nation's center of publishing, theater and media, it also yielded a fitting moderator--Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine, which had published, in April 1999, a cover story on the authorship of the Shakespeare canon assayed by 10 Oxfordian and Stratfordian scholars.
After opening remarks by Gerit Quealy, this year's conference chairman, to introduce the question to the nearly full 175-seat theater, Mr. Lapham set out clear instructions for both sides. "I don't know who wrote the Shakespeare plays," intoned the evening's moderator in his resonant basso voice. He asked each panelist to not only "stick to the facts" but to avoid making conditional and inferential statements. Then he put a powerful restriction to both sides of the debating table--only documentary evidence would be allowed into the debate, a standard not always honored by either side. To keep all debaters to the ten minute speaking rule, Mr. Lapham employed an equally resonant bell throughout the evening.
The moderator's initial question was directed at the Stratfordian panelists: what evidence do we have that William Shakespeare, grain merchant from Stratford, wrote the plays?
Professor Alan H. Nelson of University of California, Berkeley immediately shot back, "William Shakespeare from Stratford on Avon was not a grain merchant." As for documentary evidence, Nelson declared that William Shakespeare is a rare name, so much so, that no other person with that name was living in London at the time the plays were produced and printed. The name was attached to the published plays and poems since 1593. Richard Field, a fellow Stratford native, printed the first Shakespeare title, Venus and Adonis. Furthermore, the professor stated that the First Folio is replete with references to William Shakespeare and Warwickshire. "There is a perfect triangulation of contemporary references to William Shakespeare as the author of the plays," Nelson said. He went on to note the Stratford Monument to Shakespeare, the Blackfriars real estate lease, the Mountjoy lawsuit, the loan to Mr. Clayton and the reference to Roscius as several of these. There are internal references in the plays too, he added, such as the reference to Barton Heath, a village nearby Stratford in Warwickshire.
Robert Brazil's response included that William Shaksper of Stratford did sell malt and also hoarded grain during a time of famine, for which he was fined by the town of Stratford. That Richard Field also carried out publication projects for the Earl of Oxford. That the Clayton loan involved another William Shakespeare living in London at the same time. That the reference to Roscius is to an actor and not a writer. And that there is contemporary evidence that shows William Shaksper of Stratford to be brokering plays written by other people.
Hank Whittemore scored an early victory by …