The Supreme Court on Shakespeare

Recent scholarship on Shakespeare and his works have questioned whether William Shakespeare, who was not a nobleman, could write such eloquently detailed stories of nobility and far-away lands. Over the years various theories have been put forth on who this man really was, but as a history major and someone that, when there’s time, enjoys a good read, I have found this debate pretty fascinating.  The most recent scholarship has inspired a new movie coming out today called Anonymous (IMDB Info Here) which depicts the argument that Shakespeare was the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.

Surprisingly to me, and perhaps many others out there, I can link Shakespeare to law school.  How? Recently retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens issued his own opinion in 2009 against the common opinion on who Shakespeare really was.  Stevens subscribes to the Oxfordian view himself, as the movie Anonymous does, and as a result he was named Oxforidian of the Year by the Shakespeare-Oxford Society in 2010.

According to this Wall-Street Journal article, Justice Stevens was inspired by knowing that the Folger Shakespeare Library, just down the street from SCOTUS, has a Bible owned by de Vere, but his theories that a particular passage would be underlined because it was copied in essence in “All That Ends Well” and “Measure for Measure” did not come to fruition.

As of the 2009 date of the article here is where the court stands:

Active Justices
Roberts, Chief Justice No comment.
Stevens Oxford
Scalia Oxford
Kennedy Stratford
Souter “No idea.”
Thomas No comment.
Ginsburg “No informed views.”*
Breyer Stratford
Alito No comment.

*Justice Ginsburg suggests research into alternate candidate, Florio.

Retired Justices
O’Connor Not Stratford
Blackmun* Oxford
Brennan* Stratford


From: Jess Bravin, “Justice Stevens Renders an Opinion on Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays,” The Wall Street Journal, 18 April 2009.

If you get a chance to read that article I recommend it! It’s an interesting read that shows that the the Justices of the Supreme Court don’t just sit around reading law all day, so maybe we shouldn’t either!


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