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Shakespeare by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare, by Mark Anderson. New York: Gotham Books, 2005, (598 pages).
At some point in the future, the summer of 2005 may be seen as a watershed in Shakespeare studies, due to the publication of Mark Anderson's biography of Edward de Vere, which makes the case for him as author of the Shakespeare canon more thoroughly and succinctly than anything that has gone before.
A trained journalist (with an M. S. in Astrophysics), Anderson presents the case for de Vere in the best tradition of his profession, moving rapidly and with remarkable adroitness from one topic to the next. The speed with which he covers his material allows him to avoid that Scylla and Charybdis of Oxfordian discourse, overemotionalism on the one hand, and an excess of argument on the other.
Journalism has given Anderson the awareness that the story is the argument, or at least, the best argument. It is certainly the foundation of every other sort of argument, since without a coherent picture of de Vere's life we can't get far in connecting him to the plays. No matter how many facts we may uncover, they require a story to give them meaning. This is a book we can give without reservation to our friends, one that will explain why we believe Oxford to be Shakespeare while managing to communicate something of what it is about the authorship issue that has us so fascinated.
By reducing it to its basic elements, Anderson reveals the dramatic story of a genius who spent his life struggling against the constraints of rank, politics, and his own difficult nature to achieve what no one, including himself, could have realized would someday be seen as one of the major accomplishments of humankind.
Anderson does not allow his story to get bogged down with citations and scholarly disputations. Which is not to say that it is not well-documented; it is, and most thoroughly. He is diligent in presenting scholarship long past and recent, particularly that by Oxfordians over the past ten to fifteen years, much of it unpublished until now. Material published by the Shakespeare Oxford Society in its Newsletter and in The Oxfordian has found a place in this most important book. Anderson may have missed a few beats here and there, but they are surprisingly few, and he shows commendable care in attributing his sources. He is adept at providing the appropriate Shakespeare quotation and has a gift for painting a convincing picture in a few sentences--one that he could have put to use more often.
Anderson and his editors have also managed another difficult task in allowing the story to flow from one topic to another so as to easily inform and entertain the ordinary reader, while appending supportive material (an unusually large amount of it for a general biography) in the notes section at the back. The scholarship that has accumulated over the centuries on Shakespeare's literary sources is rich and vast, but because …