of prosperous burgher parents, and aboutrnas interesting as another famous burgherrnartist, J.S. Bach, if less respectable byrnburgher standards. Shorn of legend,rnShakespeare’s life does not make a romanticrneffect. Insofar as it has a moral, itrnis that middle-class ambition, work, andrnthrift have scored again.rnNot surprisingly, quite a lot of peoplerndislike this new, documentable story,rneven resent it, and find themselvesrnimpelled to offer an alternative. JosephrnSobran is one of them, even though onernwould expect a conservative writer tornhave a soft spot for the scholars’ entrepreneurialrnShakespeare. “So severe isrnSchoenbaum,” he writes, speaking of S.rnSchoenbaum’s William Shakespeare: ArnDocumentary Life, “in rejecting all thernunproen legends about the playwrightrnthat he leaves Shakespeare a merernspecter. . . . From Schoenbaum it wouldrnseem a short step to doubting the wholernstandard account of Shakespeare.”rnSo Mr. Sobran takes that momentousrnstep into an undocumented void, and offersrnan alternative. According to thernrecord, he says—having disqualified forrnhis purposes all records of Shakespeare’srnliterary activity—Shakespeare was barelyrnliterate; he was “a shrewd, tough businessmanrnwith some rough edges,” a manrnof modest origins from a provincial town,rnwho made money in the London theater,rnbut about whom otherwise notrnmuch is known. Ergo, or argal, as therngravediggcr in Hamlet would sav, thernwriter must have been a different personrnwho concealed himself behind the businessman’srnname. Casting about for candidatesrnfor the lead in this story of conspiracyrnand concealment, other peoplernbesides Mr. Sobran have come up with arnsurprising number of names, includingrnQueen Elizabeth I herself. Mr. Sobran’srnfavorite, though, is Edward de Vere, Earirnof Oxford.rnOxford was a well-educated, well-traveledrnliterary aristocrat who wrote somernpoems which survive, and some comediesrnwhich do not. Like others of hisrnclass, he employed actors, and accordingrnto his father-in-law. Lord Burghley, hernliked to hang around the theaters and associaternwith unseemly people like writersrnand players. Burghley had other reasonsrnfor worry, too. Even from Mr. Sobran’srnadmiring account Oxford appears tornhave been a rather silly man—not thatrnthis disqualifies him, 1 suppose, as a writer.rnBeing a nobleman he would not wantrnto appear in print under his own name,rnso he borrowed Shakespeare’s.rnAnd there it is, a romantic story outlinedrnto replace the scholariy one. To finishrnit, all one needs to do is redate neariyrnall Shakespeare’s plays (since Oxfordrndied in 1604), rewrite Elizabethan theaterrnhistory, and explain why someonernlike Ben Jonson kept on talking aboutrnShakespeare as if he knew him.rnTo speak now solely of the plot of thisrnstory, there are some things wrong withrnit. First, it is supposed to be true. Scholarshiprnrequires true stories to be based onrndocumentary evidence, and in this casernthere is none. The plot also requires itsrncharacters to behave strangely. Mr. Sobran’srnOxford, as writer of the Sonnets,rnhas a homosexual affair with the Earl ofrnSouthampton; yet he devotes his first 17rnsonnets to persuading his lover to marryrnhis daughter. That’s a bit over the top,rneven for Oxford. And what about BenrnJonson, another conspirator? What wasrnin his mind as he trotted about Britain,rnlong after Shakespeare and Oxford wererndead, and chatted to his hosts, often cattily,rnabout his famous fellow-writer? Orrnwhat about Shakespeare himself, as hernwalked about London, and people hernmet said, “Oh Mr. Shakespeare, I do sornlike your poems.” What did he do?rnStand there and grin? Mutter somethingrnabout having to catch a wherry, and slinkrnaway? One place he could not slink awayrnfrom was the stage, whether at the Globernor at court, where he acted with his fellowrnactors in the famous plays attributedrnto him.rnMr. Sobran gets upset, even angry, becausernShakespeare scholars refuse, pointblank,rnto take this story seriously. Hernwould rather be a crank, he says, “thanrnbelong to the mass of scholars, who, everrnmindful of tenure, promotion, grants. . .rnand respectability, never deviate fromrnscholarly consensus.” Here we can detectrnthe outlines of vet another conspiratorialrnstory, powered by a strong animusrnagainst professional story-spoilers. Itsrnheroes arc independent-minded, evenrncranky amateurs confronted by a guild ofrnprofessional hacks who spoil everythingrnthey touch.rnThis is another usable story, especiallyrnin America, where some child of naturernis always proposing to reform the nation’srnintellectual life on lines proposedrnby the fellow who wanted to hang thernprofessors and burn the schools. Is itrntrue? Some of the most respected Shakespearernscholars have been amateursrnthemselves. There are still independentrnscholars abroad. As for the professionals,rnthey are a competitive lot, and, unlikernthe Oxfordians, by no means wedded torna consensus or a hypothesis. A scholarrnwho had e’idence that Shakespeare didrnnot write the plays and poems attributedrnto him would publish it, probably in thernNew York Times, and wait for the offers torncome in.rnThere is nothing unusual about thernfact that we know little about Shakespeare’srnpersonal life. We know very littlernabout any Tudor writer’s personal life,rnand especially the early part of it. Evenrnso, as a result of the scholarship Mr. Sobranrndespises, more is known aboutrnShakespeare than about most of his contemporaries,rnincluding the fact that hernwas a well-bred, gentlemanly sort ofrnman; in those days people who calledrnhim “gentle Shakespeare” were notrnspeaking loosely. No doubt people whornspoke highly of him as a poet meantrnwhat they said, too. The only reason Mr.rnSobran is ignorant of things like this isrnthat in his alternate world they were saidrnabout someone else.rnEvery now and again, too, new detailsrnabout Shakespeare, his family, and hisrnworks emerge, and find their wa)- into thern— LIBERAL ARTS —rnCRIME INDEXrnAccording to a report published inrnthe Winter 1997 issue of the LEAArnAdvocate (the journal of the Law EnforcementrnAlliance of America), thernI’nited States Armed Forces lost 512rnpersonnel in various foreign conflictsrnfrom 1977 to 1993. During the samernperiod, 400,000 American citizensrnwere murdered, which means thatrn7S1 citizens died for every soldierrnkilled in action.rnThe same issue publicizes a reportrnby the Bureau of Justice Statisticsrnwhich found that the “156,000 parolernviolators returned to state prisonsrnduring 1991 committed ‘at least’rn6,800 murders, 5,500 rapes, 8,800 assaultsrnand 22,500 robberies during anrnaverage of 13 months of freedomrnwhile on earlv release.”rnAUGUST 1997/27rnrnrn