KENT — William Shakespeare. The name conjures some of most exquisite English language, great tragedy, whimsical humor, lyrical sonnets, characters who remain with us long after the last act is over. Most college and high school students study Shakespeare; in fact, he is being taught to children as young as seven-years-old. I would venture a guess that countless personal libraries have a Shakespeare compendium. Quotes from his work abound and many followers can recite scenes verbatim. His plays are invariably performed by many summer stock companies. In short, he is the consummate, universal playwright.
Over the years we have all heard and read about Christopher Marlowe and his relationship to William Shakespeare. Marlowe was one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, who was also a respected poet and playwright in the Elizabethan era. It has been thought that Marlowe and Shakespeare more than likely knew each other. Moreover, researchers and scholars have continually debated how much influence Marlowe had on Shakespeare’s work. Some have even claimed that the two writers were the same person.
Architect and author John Milnes Baker has taken the debate a step further by writing “The Case for Edward de Vere as the Real William Shakespeare.” There are many who may not have heard of him.
De Vere was the 17th earl of Oxford, an English lyric poet and theater patron, who became, in the 20th century, the strongest candidate proposed for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.
A South Kent resident, Baker is an award-winning architect who specializes in residential design — new homes, alterations and additions, and historic preservation. He was a 2018 recipient of Marquis’ Who’s Who Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award as a “Leader in the Field of Architecture.” The Connecticut Chapter of the AIA and The Fairfield Museum History Center co-sponsored Baker’s two-part program on “The History of the American House” in the spring of 2019.
He is the author of two books: “American House Styles: A Concise Guide,” and “How to Build a House with an Architect.” As an adjunct professor, he taught courses on the History of the American House at The New School in New York City.
A graduate of Middlebury College, Baker earned a Master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University. A member of the American Institute of Architects, he is registered with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards in Washington D.C. He is also a member of the Society of Architectural Historians and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A former resident of Bedford, New York, he was a long-time member of the Katonah Historic District Advisory Commission and also served on the Bedford Historic Building Preservation Commission. Since moving to South Kent in 2005, he has served on the board of Kent Affordable Housing and is a former member of the Kent Architectural Review Board.
Baker has always loved history and became intrigued by the controversy over Shakespeare’s works after reading “The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality” by Charlton Ogburn.
“He made such a strong case that Shakespeare might not be the author of his plays that I read all the major books on the subject,” Baker explains. “I became convinced that the Oxfordians made a persuasive case for Edward de Vere as the real author of the plays and sonnets.”
There are two movements: The Stratfordian, a proponent of Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon as the undisputed author William Shakespeare, and the Oxfordian, which believes that Edward de Vere was the author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. The Oxfordian movement began on March 4, 1920, with the publication of J. Thomas Looney’s “Shakespeare Identified” as Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Baker definitely clearly considers himself an Oxfordian.
While he admits he is not a Shakespearean scholar, Baker has done an incredible amount of research and is more of an expert than he admits. The speculation about Shakespeare dates back to the 1590s. The controversy has been perpetuated by authors like Delia Bacon, best known for her work on the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, which she attributed to various social reformers including Francis Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh.
Baker decided to write “The Case for Edward de Vere as the Real William Shakespeare” to set forth what he had learned, but also for a more personal reason.
“I wanted to demonstrate to my grandchildren that there are often two sides to every story. However, the project evolved from a children’s book to what I call ‘an elementary introduction to the authorship controversy.’”
And he has delivered a most convincing, well-documented book, easy to understand and very convincing in its belief that de Vere is the one to whom we owe the volumes of plays long attributed to the “Bard of Avon.”
“The book’s objective,” Baker continues, “is not to examine every aspect of the de Vere theory in detail, but to condense that material and present its essentials.”
In addition to his well researched, clearly written text, he has included an extensive list of references and additional reading suggestions for those interested in learning more about this debate.
Baker will be speaking via Zoom at the Kent Memorial Library on Thursday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. Books are available from House of Books in Kent and from Amazon.
For more information and to register for the talk visit www.kentmemoriallibrary.org.