Skip to main content

Duncan P. Walker/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Stratford Festival and a prominent Oxfordian have clashed in the lead-up to this week's Shakespeare authorship conference in Toronto – leading a number of incoming enthusiasts of the idea that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, wrote Shakespeare's plays to cancel tickets to productions at the Ontario theatre festival in protest.

The Bard brouhaha began back in 2012 when David Prosser, Stratford's director of communications, took part in a discussion as part of Don Rubin's class on the so-called authorship question at York University. In defending the traditional, fact-based narrative that a fellow named William Shakespeare wrote William Shakespeare's plays, Prosser made what he now calls a "rhetorical mistake" – asking if there might not be equal grounds for a class questioning whether the Holocaust happened?

"I should have said something less emotionally charged – like how do we really know the Americans landed on the moon," says Prosser.

In any case, a year and a half later, Prosser received a copy of Brief Chronicles, the Oxfordian journal published by the Shakespeare Fellowship and edited by Roger Strittmatter, along with an unsigned letter on its letterhead. It read: "Please refrain from further slander, thank you."

Prosser was tickled by the letter and tweeted out a picture of it. He then sent the following reply to Strittmatter:

"In return for your kindness, may I offer you a morsel of information that seems to have hitherto gone unnoticed by even the most perspicacious of Oxfordians: the fact that the name 'William Shakespeare' is an anagram of 'I, his wee pal, mask earl.'

"Surely this not only confirms that the Stratford man was a front for the Earl of Oxford but also offers a clear hint that he was a closet Scot."

After this letter was posted on a Facebook group, participants in this week's conference discussed cancelling tickets to the festival – and Strittmatter, for one, did. "I personally do take issue with the attitude of the existing leadership at the Stratford Festival," he says over the phone.

Despite the ensuing online storm – which involved Prosser sending out more cheeky tweets – he did not get in trouble with his boss, artistic director Antoni Cimolino. "We might have lost a few tickets, I don't know – but I think in a way, that's a fair price to pay for trying to take a stand on something that I think we believe in," he says.

Nevertheless, Prosser has since amended his Twitter bio to read: "Though I happen to be Director of Communications at the Stratford Festival, the opinions, prejudices and whims reflected here are entirely my own."