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You'll Never Guess Which Supreme Court Justices Don't Believe in Shakespeare

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

For decades, the Supreme Court has been filled with justices who did not believe in William Shakespeare. Indeed, for only the past few months has the Supreme Court been free of anti-Shakespeare conspiracy theorists.

The highest court in the land apparently has a long history of harboring Shakespeare-denying jurists, a shadowy cabal of so-called "Oxfordians" who reject the idea that "Hamlet," "Macbeth," and "Romeo and Juliet" were written by William Shakespeare.

The Oxfordian Conspiracists

Oxfordians are a group of fringe literary scholars, historians, and Supreme Court justices who believe that Shakespeare's greatest works, from Sonnet 18 to "King Lear," were penned not by The Bard of Avon, but by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

The pernicious theory was first put forth by the aptly-named J. Thomas Looney in 1920 and has been corrupting minds ever since. Looney believed that Shakespeare was too young to have written some of his greatest works and had too poor of penmanship to be a renowned playwright. The lack of official documents around Shakespeare's life was taken as further evidence that his existence was all a fraud meant to cover up the true authorship of his works.

The Oxfordian controversy doesn't make its way into many Supreme Court opinions, but these "Shakespearean Truthers" can be seen referenced throughout literature, despite the arcane nature of the debate. Some say they're the inspiration for the nihilistic followers of the "Archon of Shadow" in Italo Calvino's "If on a winter's night a traveler" and for Trystero in Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49."

Oxfordians are believed to be the inspiration for the character of Benjy Compson in Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" and are thought to have inspired Carlos Ruiz Zafon to create the book burning monster of Francisco Fumero. Some Iranian clerics even say Salman Rushdie was moved to write "The Satanic Verses" after learning of the Oxfordians.

Conspiracy on the Court

The past few months have marked the first time in decades that a known Oxfordian has not sat on the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia was apparently one of the Court's last open believers in the theory. According to Bryan Wildenthal, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and a Shakespeare conspiracy theorist himself, Justice Scalia was not just one of the Court's "most brilliant and influential members," he was also "one of the most distinguished figures ever to support the theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the works of 'William Shakespeare.'" (Scare quotes around William Shakespeare in the original.)

Like many people, Justice Scalia was recruited for this deviate lifestyle as a young man, when a family friend poisoned his mind with "a monograph propounding de Vere's cause."

But Justice Scalia wasn't the only Supreme Court justice to have been fooled into Oxfordian beliefs. Wildenthal counts former Justices Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, John Paul Stevens, and Sandra Day O'Connor as members of the Oxfordian camarilla.

Truly the Oxfordians' tentacles stretched deep into the Court. With Justice Scalia's passing, the Court may have escaped the Oxfordian grip -- but perhaps only for the time being. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are rumored to be in the pocket of Big Oxford, and would certainly relish the chance to restore Oxfordian reign to the High Court.

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