Devotees of De Vere, 'the real Bard', mark 400th anniversary

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The Independent Online

Did an obscure 16th century nobleman write the works of Shakespeare? A group of literary enthusiasts who believe that Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the most famous plays in the English language are celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death this weekend.

The De Vere Society argues that William Shakespeare does not match the profile of the author of Hamlet, Measure For Measure and Macbeth.

The society believes the works were written by De Vere, an aristocrat at the court of Elizabeth I who was better educated and more widely travelled than Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon.

"We believe that William Shakespeare could not have written the works of Shakespeare, because he didn't have the educational or life opportunities to be able to produce the plays," said Richard Malim, general secretary of the De Vere Society.

De Vere spent time in Italy, where many of Shakespeare's plays, including Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet, are set.

Many scholars are sceptical of the claims. Professor Anne Barton, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, said: "I think it is absolute rubbish. There are all kinds of problems with this. We do have poems that are authenticated as his [De Vere's] and they are not very good."

Many of the plays are dated after De Vere's death, 400 years ago yesterday -"an insuperable problem", said Professor Barton. "It's like the attempt to attribute Shakespeare's plays to Francis Bacon. Like that one, this one is a product of snobbery, that a Stratford grammar school boy could not have written the plays, and I'm thoroughly fed up with it."

A conference on the authorship of Shakespeare is being held at the Globe theatre in London on 3 and 4 July, when theories that the works were written by De Vere, Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe or Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembrokeshire, will be discussed.

The De Vere Society is holding a day of talks and poetry and play readings in central London tomorrow.