Shakespeare in Love Not this guy. (Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton wants answers on Shakespeare.

Speaking to the New York Times book review on the subject of what literary figures she’d want to have at dinner (“You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?”), she said, “I’d choose to have one guest for a long dinner: William Shakespeare. I’m curious to see who would show up and what he really wrote.”

(Also, the Bible is her favorite book, apparently — “At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking.” Or, as I’m sure someone is spinning it now, “Clinton’s favorite book includes smiting, genocide, and advocates stoning of women.”)

At least she didn’t say that “I’d choose to have Shakespeare, because I’ve always wanted to meet Sir Francis Bacon.”

So she’s a Shakespeare truther.

The idea that Shakespeare was actually Shakespeare never sat well with everyone. If you don’t believe Shakespeare was Shakespeare, you join the ranks of such notables as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Orson Welles and Sigmund Freud. Robert C. Kennedy summarized the doubters’ question in the New York Times: “How could the ill-educated son of a small-town glover write such profound and beautiful literature?” Twain, in the pamphlet “Is Shakespeare Dead?,” went so far as to call Shakespeare “Brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred barrels of plaster of paris.”


There have been Shakespeare truthers as long as there’s been a Shakespeare. Some more fringe than others. There were, for instance, the Baconians, who thought Shakespeare was really Sir Francis Bacon and claimed to have found a cipher hidden in Love’s Labour’s Lost in the word “honorificabilitudinitatibus” that decoded to the Latin phrase “Hi ludi, F. Baconis nati, tuiti orbi” (these plays, children of F. Bacon, are preserved for the world). Of course! A child could see it! This word also occurs in Ulysses, proving that James Joyce was secretly Francis Bacon’s child and that Ulysses was actually a series of plays.

In the 1850s, schoolteacher Delia Bacon (not related to Francis) was big on this theory. She called Shakespeare a “vulgar, illiterate deer poacher” and wanted to have his grave dug up to see if someone had hidden documentation there.

Other theories on who else Shakespeare might have been include Kit Marlowe (Marlowe wrote some of his greatest plays years after his demise) and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

You can see why the theories are popular. The idea that anybody wrote Shakespeare is astounding enough. But William Shakespeare, glover’s son, not versed in falconry and Latin and court customs? How could it be? How much of a lack of education and culture can genius overcome?

And now Hillary joins the ranks of the bard-skeptics. Or maybe she’s just hoping to meet Queen Elizabeth. After all, some theories say she’s really the Bard. There’s only one way to find out. Let’s get that dinner on track.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".