Shakespeare Goes to Court

This ProfoundNet may not seem, well, profound, but it illustrates perfectly that literary questions are not far removed from public debate. That’s one reason, besides pure humor, I’ve chosen The Court, Led by Stevens, (Mostly) Rules Against Shakespeare by Ashby Jones of the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a snippet:

Turns out the justices of the Supreme Court debate over more than just the outcome of high-profile legal cases: They argue Shakespeare as well.

Specifically, it seems that a handful of justices have gotten serious over the so-called Shakespeare authorship question—uncovering the true identity of the writer of Hamlet, Macbeth and Titus Andronicus…

You who are literati are probably familiar with the Shakespearean authorship question. Did William Shakespeare actually write the plays attributed to him? (For a brief summary of the debate, see Wikipedia).

According to this report, if the Supreme Court tried Shakespeare v. Edward de Vere, classic book publishers would have a lot of re-titling to do, as would curriculum writers, theatre companies, and programmers of robot teachers. Call in the MiniTrue!

The story doesn’t end there. A little over a week later, Jones wrote another blog post called More on Souter…And Specter and Shakespeare. Here’s a snippet:

When asked his views of the Shakespeare authorship question, Justice David Souter recalled the comment of the late Harvard professor George Lyman Kittredge, who in his day faced claims that Sir Francis Bacon was the true genius behind the Bard. “I’ll agree that Bacon wrote Shakespeare if you’ll tell me who wrote Bacon,” Kittredge liked to say, Justice Souter said.

As far as his own position, Justice Souter was far less decisive than he has been on recent cases involving the Fourth Amendment and punitive damages. “I have no idea who wrote the plays, but I’m glad someone did,” he said.

Well put.

Whether as a mind-sharpening activity, evidence of well-rounded interests, or simply a desire to seek truth in all matters, it’s refreshing to see  members of the United States’ most powerful court taking an interest in literary studies.

Nonetheless, since the outcome of Shakespeare v. Vere will not construct precedent for any pending Supreme Court cases, it’s also encouraging to see at least one justice keeping the debate in its proper perspective.

Thanks, Ashby, for a thought-provoking post. (For the original WSJ article, see Justice Stevens Renders an Opinion on Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays). 

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