Arguments about the authorship of the Shakespearean corpus have increased in frequency and ferocity in the last decade, particularly between “Oxfordians” (those who hold that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the poems and plays) and “Stratfordians” (those who hold with the man from Stratford). A rise in polemical temperature has resulted, it is argued, in part because new evidence has appeared, notably Roger Stritmatter’s analysis of Oxford’s Geneva Bible — and in part because considerable scholars are reconsidering old evidence, as in Diana Price’s marvelous Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, which appeared last year. The questions are in fact interesting, not to be compared to the work of the perhaps apocryphal 19th century German philologist who spent his life proving that the Iliad was not composed by Homer, but by another blind Greek — of the same name…


Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.” –The gospel according to John 18.33-8

In a five-year period in the late nineteen-sixties and early nineteen-seventies, I encountered three figures from a slightly earlier generation who it seemed to me put together the scattered themes of my eduction and offered a set of ideas with some intellectual coherence – that in short were true. Although there was some overlap, the three would by no means entirely agree with one another. And the annealing of their ideas for me was to some extent accomplished in the fire from the US assaults on southeast Asia and the ever larger questions of history, politics and ethics that those crimes posed.

That was in fact rather late in my formal eduction – I was doing a doctorate in the history of Christian thought and taking my first academic job (at Notre Dame), where I thought I was supposed to tell the truth to people even younger than I. In spite of time spent in schools considered to be the best in twentieth century America, I was still too ignorant to realize that the regnant attitude to truth in the American academy was that proposed by the Roman prefect in the occupied province of Judaea in the first century. And the source of the attitude was the same, too – people under authority: people who had to give up control over what made them human – their conscious work of head and hands – in order even to eat regularly. Some did that all too willingly; some less so.


‘Nobody lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel but on a stand so that it gives light to the all in the house.’ This may have been one of Jesus’ many little jokes, because according to one distinguished biblical scholar there probably were people who did exactly that. There were, it seems, three conflicting laws to be obeyed on the night of the Sabbath. One must light a candle; one should have sex to honour God; and one must not have sex with the lights on. Solution! Light a candle and then put it under a bucket!