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Eye on the News

Benjamin A. Plotinsky
Poetic Justice
The shocking truth about Shakespeare and John Paul Stevens
28 April 2009

An important blow for historical truth has been struck by Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal. Stevens, it turns out, is among a brave handful who believe that Shakespeare merely pretended to have written his plays, which were in fact composed by someone else. A mere commoner without a college education, this theory holds, could never have written Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. These works of earth-shaking genius required blue blood and at least a B.A.

English professors—the overwhelming majority of whom call the theory bunkum—are unlikely to be swayed by Stevens’s case. Merely because they have spent their professional lives studying the subject, they pretend to understand it better than Stevens does. They point out that the grammar school that Shakespeare attended gave him a stronger grasp of Latin than most colleges could today. They say that to a natural genius like Shakespeare, the additional adornment of a Cambridge degree might be slightly superfluous. They add that Shakespeare’s style is so unmistakable that it could never be confused with that of the conspiracy theorists’ various candidates, such as Christopher Marlowe, the great playwright killed (not really, say the conspiracists) in 1593. The professors will conclude, if they are in an uncharitable mood, that Stevens’s theory stands exactly on a level with those that ascribe 9/11 to the CIA, the Kennedy assassination to the FBI, and the moon landing to a compliantly quiet camera crew somewhere in the Nevada desert.

Despite the professors’ petty objections, Stevens’s arguments would likely carry the day—if not for an alarming fact that has never before been printed. John Paul Stevens, I regret to inform the public, is an impostor. I have irrefutable evidence that Stevens’s judicial opinions were in fact written by someone other than Stevens. His morality and credibility are therefore open to question, and his opinions on Shakespeare (and anything else) must be considered doubtful.

The strongest piece of evidence is this: of the nine justices on the Supreme Court, only Stevens does not have a law degree from an Ivy League school! Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Breyer hold degrees from Harvard; Thomas and Alito, from Yale; Ginsburg, from Columbia. But Stevens’s J.D. is merely from Northwestern—a university so disreputable, by the way, that it would later bestow a bachelor’s degree on Rod Blagojevich. It beggars belief to suppose that opinions of the quality of Stevens’s could have been written by someone who lacked the enormous benefit of an Ivy education. It might be added: How many of the deluded millions who believe that Stevens wrote Stevens’s opinions have actually seen him write any?

As for the true author of these opinions, only time and investigation will disclose him, her, them, or it. Some will argue for Sandra Day O’Connor; others, no doubt, for the ghost of Thurgood Marshall. My own belief stems from Stevens’s own incautious admission that as a child, he once met Amelia Earhart, the great aviator who disappeared over the Pacific in 1937. The mystery of Earhart’s disappearance has never been solved, but it does not seem impossible that she staged her death, just as Marlowe did, and is secretly living in a cardboard box beneath Stevens’s desk, still scribbling dissents in longhand at the ripe old age of 111.

There are two more pieces of evidence in the case against Stevens. The first is that he has been known to espouse certain ludicrous ideas long discredited by serious scholarship and held only by quacks, simpletons, and those irksome conspiracists who fancy themselves superior to others by virtue of their special knowledge. The second is that Stevens has also been known to ignore, on occasion, a rule of wisdom so elementary that most students learn it in college: never make bold pronouncements in areas that you haven’t studied carefully. Surely someone so blind would never have been able to maintain unaided a place on our nation’s highest court.

Benjamin A. Plotinsky, the managing editor of City Journal, holds a doctorate in English literature from the University of Chicago. He is in no way qualified to make controversial statements about jurisprudence or the relative quality of law schools.

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