On Stratfordians, Oxfordians, and “The Brain of Morbius”

A few months ago, I picked up off a clearance table at a bookstore Manga Shakespeare: The Tempest. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a manga-styled adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s plays, the comedy “The Tempest.” It’s a late play, written somewhere around 1608 or 1610 if memory serves, based in part on a real-life incident involving a shipwreck by an English ship in the Bahamas.

(The interest for me in Manga Shakespeare: The Tempest was this — the artwork is by Paul Duffield, the artist of Warren Ellis’ FreakAngels.)

Not everyone believes that William Shakespeare wrote his own plays. There’s the belief that “Shakespeare” is a pseudonym. Theories abound — Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Edward de Vere, even Queen Elizabeth herself. Whether or not the author was even alive at the time Shakespeare’s plays were written and performed doesn’t matter; Marlowe died before Shakespeare’s career began, de Vere died when Shakespeare was still establishing himself, and Queen Bess? Well, she died, too, before Macbeth and later plays like The Tempest, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

But a basic problem like mortality stands not in the way of Marlovians (fans of the Marlowe theory), Oxfordians (that would be Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford), Bessiates (not a real word; it just sounded neat), Baconians (fans of ham), or supporters of other authors, and elaborate theories are spun to make sense of how the impossible — like an author writing a play after he’s dead — can become, if not entirely possible, at the very least plausible.

To be honest, I’ve never made a great survey of the literature on Shakespearean authorship, though I do believe that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Unless Richard III actually wrote Shakespeare, which is entirely possible.

It’s Occam’s Razor, you see.

The simplest explanation is that the actor William Shakespeare, active in London, wrote the plays ascribed by contemporaries to William Shakespeare. 🙂

Which brings me to Doctor Who.

Is William Hartnell the first Doctor — or the ninth? Is David Tennant the tenth Doctor — or the eighteenth?

The orthodox belief — the Stratfordian belief, so to speak — is the first statement: Hartnell is first, Tennant is tenth. Many things tell us this. “Mawdryn Undead” tells us this. “The Five Doctors” tells us this. “The Next Doctor” mostly tells us this.

The other belief — the Oxfordian belief — is the second statement: Hartnell is not the first Doctor, probably the ninth, and Tennant thus is the eighteenth at the very least. “The Brain of Morbius” tells us this; there’s a sequence where the Doctor’s past incarnations are shown on screen, and familiar faces like Hartnell and Troughton are shown, followed by unfamiliar faces including Douglas Camfield, Robert Holmes, and Philip Hinchcliffe.

Of course, none of these unfamiliar faces were seen last week in “The Next Doctor.” But there’s an easy explanation for that; clearly the Doctor didn’t meet the Daleks until his Hartnell incarnation, and thus the Cult of Skaro would not have known about the Camfield Doctor or the Holmes Doctor. Thus, “The Next Doctor” doesn’t make the Oxfordian theory impossible. But you see — I’ve just had to theorize to explain away a possibly inconvenient data point. 🙂

Yet, the Stratfordian theory also has to explain away inconvenient data points. Are the faces seen in “Morbius” truly those of the Doctor? Well, that’s the intention of the producer, the writer, the director, and the make-up artist at the time. But since “The Five Doctors” and other episodes tell us that cannot possibly be true, then the faces must surely be either Morbius’ faces, another Time Lord’s faces, or something the Doctor made up entirely.

Oxfordians have to explain away several episodes. Stratfordians have to explain only one. Err, I mean, Morbiusites have to explain multiple episodes, while Orthodoxians have to explain only one away. 🙂

I think I prefer the Shakespearean terminology. Mostly because I’m crap at coming up with names.

I’m in the “Morbius” camp, as people who have known me for a long time know. I like the idea that the Doctor is much older — and much more mysterious — than we (or even he) suspect. I have no trouble with the idea that David Tennant is the tenth Doctor (as “The Next Doctor” heavily implies), while he’s also somewhere around the eighteenth.

Also, I like how bringing up “Morbius” gets some fans knickers in a twist. 🙂

I guess that makes me an Oxfordian, at least where Doctor Who is concerned. Now, maybe I need to read up on the Shakespeare Authorship Question. Of course, being the daft person I am, I’d probably come up with a completely new candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Like Edmund Blackadder.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

4 thoughts on “On Stratfordians, Oxfordians, and “The Brain of Morbius”

  1. I’m quite fond of the idea that The Other, mysterious third figure in the triumvirate with Rassilon and Omega, threw himself into the Looms to escape some plot hatched by Rassilon after Omega was lost to the anti-matter universe, and was then reincarnated in the form of The Doctor.

    So, WH was both first and not first, allowing Morbius to be true without contradicting the others.

  2. I’m a big Dr. Who fan – nobody every surpassed Tom Baker, in my humble etc. But I must tell you that you are woefully misinformed about the Shakespeare authorship. I must also warn you that if you choose to inform yourself properly, you risk opening up to one of the most seductively fascination historical questions ever, which is capable of eating your life.

    Nevertheless, you should know that Oxfordians do not blithely ignore the chronology question. Edward de Vere died in 1604. “The Tempest” is usually held out by orthodox defenders as the Oxford-killer, on the grounds that it had to have been written in 1610, as it supposedly makes use of excerpts from the Strachey Letter describing events in Virginia at that time. This has been conclusively disproven, in a paper published in peer-reviewed journals.

    But the primary reason that there is a controversy at all is the unique and bizarre documentary void for Shakspere of Stratford. Alone among some twenty-six writers of the day, he left no proof that he wrote for a living – or indeed, that he could write at all. If we had the kind of proof for Shakespeare that we have for Marlowe (as Marlowe), Ben Jonson, Kyd, Lyly, Fletcher, Beaumont, and a couple dozen others, all of whom left voluminous paper trails, the controversy would never have arisen. The problem with your Occam’s Razor approach (usually not a bad approach at all) is that it works against the argument that Shakspere wrote Shakespeare. Once one examines the evidence (and the spectacular lack of it for WS), the common sense conclusion is that he was a stand-in (a practice that we know took place in that era). If you’re interested in learning more, I would recommend the following sites:

    http://www.shakespearefellowship.org (scholarly site)

    http://www.doubtaboutwill.org (list of distinguished doubters)

    Happy New Year!

    Michael D.

  3. I’m an anti-Morbiusian, just because in the 80s I collaborated on a hypothesis to explain the extra faces away without claiming, as most anti-Morbiusians must, that they were really Morbius’ faces though they obviously weren’t.

    Naomi Pardue nee Konoff wrote that the mind-bending contest, even though never played to the death by normal dull Time Lords as the Doctor and Morbius were doing, is still not fair for Time Lords with fewer incarnations. Naomi postulated that, in order to level the playing field, the mind-bending machine wraps around, and when driven past a contestant’s first faces shows the contenstant’s future faces, last first (in only one cycle of course for the contest’s sake).

    I further postulated that the reason, as we learned starting on the Pharos Project grounds, the Doctor isn’t actually going to have the future faces presented us by Morbius’ mind-bender is that the mind-bender doesn’t actually look into the contestant’s future but just extrapolates from the contestant’s biodata.

    On the other hand, I keep Dimensions in Time in my canon just because it’s the only The Seven Doctors we ever got and I think that’s cool, so I know where you’re coming from.

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