Protesting Too Much

· 20 January 2016 ·

Humour itself doth of itself persuade
The wits of men without recourse to tutor;
What needeth then apologies be made,
To tweet forth that which is so singular?
Or why is Oxford himself publisher
Of those wry thoughts that he should keep unknown
From Stratford eyes, because they are his own?

Perchance the claim of Oxford’s sovereignty
Suggests this hurtful spite from Shaxian beings;
For by their blocks his pure heart wounded be:
Perchance they fear as he, good natur’d, sings,
Dreading compare, their unkind action stings
His simple japes, that such a man should vaunt
That golden truth which their beliefs do want.

adapted from The Rape of Lucrece, lines 80-93

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Is it necessary to become a stranger to humour in order to maintain one’s faith in the sui generis genius of the man from Stratford?

It’s a serious question.

Last September I signed onto Twitter, hoping that I’d be able to amuse myself and perhaps a few others. I wanted witty banter (140-character brevity is the distilled soul of wit, when it fits), and a spot of fun. Being dead is boring after four centuries plus – my quadricentennial was twelve years ago – so why not liven things up a little?

While I have cavorted in my tiny corner of the Twitterverse, I’ve been diligent in following the lodestar of civility. Call it noblesse oblige, or what you will. I don’t tweet rudely to anyone, and I don’t respond when rudeness is tweeted to me, or about me. (One of the several parodic Shakespeares gets downright ugly with his random ad hominem salvos.) But I’ve seen a lot of awful Authorship offal flung back and forth, on Twitter and elsewhere.

Of course I know that there are fundamental disagreements and academic rivalries between Oxforders and Stratfordites, these 21st-century Montagues and Capulets. I’m the cause, after all. But I say a plague o’ both their ivory towers if that’s how professional Bardologists, orthodox or protestant, choose to behave.

I’m not here to antagonize anyone.

It seems, however, that despite my good intentions, my name does just that, for some folks at least. Earlier today, for the second time, a person with a vested Stratfordian interest has reacted to an innocuous, non-personal jest of mine by summarily blocking me. The first time it happened (by someone else) I was given a perfunctory choice between deleting my tweet and being blocked. Today there was no warning, no appeal, and certainly no attempt to find out if a misunderstanding might have arisen between my intent and their umbrage.

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I was a judge at the trial of Mary Stuart. She was doomed, but at least the proper form was observed. As senior peer and Lord Great Chamberlain of England, I’m #26 in this drawing, with my staff of office, on the left end of the horizontal bench, my back to the viewer. At least I think so. 1586 was so long ago. The British Library holds this drawing. Names are written on the reverse, but only the front is posted online. Getting access to the original is… difficult.

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Today there was only the block.

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I wasn’t in attendance at Mary’s execution, but I have
it on good authority that it looked much like this.

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Whether it sounded like this I couldn’t say. I’m guessing not.

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’Sblood, even Essex got a trial, and he was in armed rebellion against the crown. I served as a judge at that trial, too. (For the record, I neither aided nor supported Essex’s megalomaniacal insurrection, despite fair young Henry’s involvement. Not all of Anonymous was correct.)

I’m not naive. I know how Twitter works and how people often act there (badly). I’m hardly a hothouse flower. It’s just so Vere-y disheartening. After all, the last man beheaded on the block at Tower Hill was Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat. In 1747. Yet twice now, within the short span of a few months, I’ve been axed as a response by two different people with the same hound in the hunt, and it’s not my hound. I can only describe these decapitations as disproportionate, bordering on paranoid, by people who seem to view my appearance on their timeline as an intolerable felony, or as some sort of threat.

What are they so prickly about? Or to put it another way, purloining shamelessly from @ShakespeareSong,

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Is the structure of their Shaksperean worldview so fragile that it can’t withstand a mild wobble of wit, even on Twitter? If they are too churlish to abide a patently playful tweet from a tongue-in-cheek earl who’s been dead since 1604, I venture to suggest that their approach to this life’s brief and comic tragedy might benefit from a change in attitude.

Why should they in their peevish opposition
Take it to heart? Fie! ’tis a fault to heaven,
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature

Even my father-in-law agrees.
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VERO NIHIL VERIUS

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