The Shakespeare Conspiracy, or Did Batboy Write Hamlet?

In March I gave a presentation to the Atlanta Skeptics about the Shakespeare authorship question and compared the flawed reasoning of Shakespeare conspiracy theorists to more modern conspiracy theories. Here is the description that I provided for the talk:

I wrote Shakespeare. I am a time-traveling alien who built Stonehenge, the pyramids and wrote the works commonly attributed to William Shakespeare. I also created the earth 6000 years ago and helped fake the moon landing. You can’t prove that I didn’t.

Not all fringe theories are alike, but proponents of fringe theories tend to use similar reasoning (or lack thereof) to support their claims. Regardless of the specific fringe theory, the same logical fallacies will appear over and over again, as, for example, the attempt to shift the burden of proof. The argument that Francis Bacon/Christopher Marlowe/the Earl of Oxford/the Countess of Pembroke/Queen Elizabeth I/Batboy wrote Shakespeare thus has much in common with theories that suggest we never landed on the moon or that 9/11 was an inside job. Come for the strawman; stay for the red herring.

Mark Ditsler of Abrupt Media has made that talk and the accompanying PowerPoint presentation available online, and I repost it here as an .mp3.


8 Responses to The Shakespeare Conspiracy, or Did Batboy Write Hamlet?

  1. PrimroseRoad says:

    So glad to see the “authorship” issue being addressed as part of the skeptical movement. A few years ago, I attempted to create a Shakespeare authorship page on RationalWiki, and the page descended into conspiracy theory itself because of so many contributors claiming that the claims that deVere or Bacon wrote Shakespeare were in fact legitimate inquiries.

    As I often explain it, the argument that “one guy wrote another guy’s plays” is extremely anachronistic when we’re in the 16th and 17th century.

  2. Pacal says:

    I’m re-reading Shapiro’s Contested Will, and I’m finding it of great interest. I’m thinking about doing a piece on it at my own blog. It might get me some traffic!

    Wow! This posting might actually have no spelling or grammer errors!

    • Eve says:

      Congratulations! And it would have been totally error-free if not for the last sentence (it’s “grammar”).

      Sometimes I’m horrified at the typos and other errors that have sneaked into my writing while I wasn’t looking. I don’t know how many times I proofread my dissertation–roughly a gazillion, I think–and it was read by my advisor several times, plus the other members of the committee. Still, whenever I so much as glance at the bound version, new typos mysteriously appear. It’s probably a conspiracy.

      Similarly, listening to the recording of my presentation, I was mortified a couple of times when I misspoke and didn’t catch myself. My excuse is that I had a crippling migraine at the time and was cognitively impaired.

      • Ken says:

        Bit-rot. What, you thought it only affected electronic records? It’s why the spelling is so haphazard in the old records – they had standardized spelling, but the words on the page have since changed. Can you think of any other reason why Shakespeare would spell his name five different ways?

  3. Pacal says:

    Thanks for your comments. I have real serious problems with both grammer and spelling. It took considerable effort on my part to get through school and then University because so much of my written work would be littered with spelling and grammer errors. Even today I have as problem distinguishing between “as” and “has”, to say nothing of the proper use of ‘s or s’; ending sentences prepositions, not occasionally but often and so forth. My handwriting has always been horrible, and going through University and Law school taking notes made it much worst so now it is a scratch that only I can read. Which is why I much prefer to type rather than write anything. And I didn’t learn to type until well after Law school. Don’t know how I got by without it.

    I had to have anything I submitted checked and re-checked for errors. Going to Law School they found it so hard to read my scrawl that I had to read my exams into a dictaphone for them to grade them.

    I also used to have a stutter.

    Now that I’ve revealed my innermost being I hope I don’t sound like a whiny little #$%%$^&.

  4. Bradley A. Skene says:

    “I wrote Shakespeare. I am a time-traveling alien who built Stonehenge, the pyramids and wrote the works commonly attributed to William Shakespeare. I also created the earth 6000 years ago and helped fake the moon landing. You can’t prove that I didn’t.”

    That is more or less the plot of a Star Trek Episode:

    • Eve says:

      Damn! It’s impossible to invent a conspiracy theory that someone hasn’t already suggested, though at least no one ever really believed this one (I hope).

  5. Javier says:

    god i hated english class esp sapkesheaer, but i did ok.she/he wants you to pick out and show how one character tricked or was dishonest to another. and how did shakespeare show it? did he use humor? (i haven’t read it so forgive me i’m winging it now), did he use tragedy to present the misdeeds?good luck on your essay. and here’s a tipteacher’s love it when u go to them for help and ask, can u point me in the right direction.

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