I'm glad Amy Schwartz {op-ed, Oct. 14} thought the Shakespeare-Oxford debate was important enough to write a column about, but I'm sorry she didn't read Charlton Ogburn's book "The Mysterious William Shakespeare" before taking such a confident stance on a question that probably will never be satisfactorily resolved.

The reason so many people have been interested over the years in the "Shakespeare authorship question" is that there is no concrete evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays. Despite autobiographies crammed with speculation, almost nothing is known about the man's life. There are only six signatures attributed to him (most on his will), and he left no books or manuscripts. There is no information on his education, his travels, when and how long he was in London and what he did the last 10 years of his life in Stratford (where most agree he apparently wrote nothing). No public notice was taken of his death until years afterward -- very odd for a man whose plays were much performed and admired during his life. There are perhaps two contemporaneous references to him, but they might well have been to a pseudonymous Shakespeare. This almost total, and certainly mysterious, absence of information about him is why there has been all the speculation.

If someone else wrote the plays, there is abundant circumstantial evidence favoring Edward de Vere, earl of Oxford, a prominent figure in Queen Elizabeth's court, a poet and patron of the arts. He loved Italy, where many of the plays are based, and he was deeply read in classical works, knowledge of which is reflected in the plays. The works reflect intimate familiarity with the ways of court, hunting, falconry, music, medicine, law and art, as well as the aristocratic attitudes and contempt for the mob that might be expected of a nobleman. Further, there are uncanny resemblances to events in his own life -- much of "Hamlet," for example, could be autobiographical (de Vere's father died, his mother remarried promptly and his foster father, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's right-hand man, is widely acknowledged to be the model for Polonius).

Granted, it is puzzling why he would keep his authorship secret. However, it was not de rigueur for a nobleman to publish under his own name, the stage was not respectable, and the queen might well have ordered secrecy because some of the plays served useful political purposes for her.

It seems to me that ultimately we are asked to choose between two improbable authors: to many people, Shakespeare of Stratford is even more improbable than the earl.

The charge of elitism is especially grating to Oxfordians. This has nothing to do with the argument. Although I can't see what this has to do with political beliefs, it does seem that liberals are more dogmatic in their support of Shakespeare of Stratford -- for example, Judge Brennan, said to be the most liberal member of the Supreme Court, dismissed Oxford out of hand (although he hadn't read the book).

The real issue has to do with whether a man's life has anything to do with what he writes. Liberals, it seems, cling to the romantic belief that true genius will express itself regardless of training or environment. This runs counter to modern research on genius and creativity, which discloses that proper nurturing is essential. (Mozart, for example, had the best musical training available from childhood, from his father.) The notion that genius substitutes for education and experience also runs against the conviction held by liberals that environment is far more powerful than heredity in determining character and achievements.

I think the authorship dilemma is an extraordinary demonstration of the obduracy and narrow-mindedness of academics, many of whom have dismissed the Oxford hypothesis out of hand, and have even indulged in snide ad hominem attacks on author Ogburn (tenure, it seems, is more important than the search for truth). If scientists had the same standards of evidence and lack of curiosity as literature professors the Earth might still be flat!

I think it was probably a mistake to subject the debate to a legal model; if a scientific model had been used, the judges would have had to acknowledge that neither side had proven its case, and the question, contrary to Amy Schwartz's confident conclusions, would still be very much open.

Constance Holden