Shakespeare, Hoover, and Calvin Hoffman

President and Mrs. Hoover attending the dedication ceremonies of the new Folger Shakespeare Library.
President and Mrs. Hoover attending the dedication ceremonies of the new Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Thomas F. Schwartz

William Shakespeare remains one of the most studied individuals in world history.  Among the many writers about the Bard of Avon, James Shapiro, the Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, explores the life of William Shakespeare and his writings for a general audience in a number of recent studies.  A popular theme among Shakespeare buffs is the question of whether William Shakespeare actually authored the plays and sonnets attributed to him or was it another contemporary such as Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, or the Earl of Oxford? In his book, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, Shapiro examines all of the authorship claims concluding that William Shakespeare did indeed exist and write the plays and sonnets attributed to him.   But this position was not always the accepted one, with many learned individuals championing Marlowe, Bacon and the Earl of Oxford.  Among those who accepted Christopher Marlowe as the actual author of Shakespeare’s writings were Herbert and Lou Hoover.

The Hoovers attended a number of Shakespeare plays during their residence in London as evidenced by retained playbills of numerous performances.  Lou attempts to expose her two young sons to the classics of world literature met with little success as they were not interested in Shakespeare’s plays.  According to an oral history with Calvin Hoffman, a proponent of Christopher Marlowe as the real author of Shakespeare works, Lou came to the conclusion that Shakespeare did not write the works attributed to him “on the basis of facts.”  She had difficulty accepting Shakespeare as author based upon the known information about him at the time, which was very little.  After Lou’s death in 1944, Hoover continued his interest in Shakespeare, fueled by his friend and colleague William C. Mullendore.  It was Mullendore who introduced Hoover to Calvin Hoffman.  Hoffman published a widely read study, The Murder of the Man Who Was “Shakespeare” (1955).  He believed that Christopher Marlowe was the real “Shakespeare” and tried to prove it by opening the crypt of Thomas Walsingham—Marlowe’s patron—where a chest of hidden unpublished plays allegedly resided.  Hoffman believed that the manuscripts would provide the forensic literary evidence showing the writing style known as Shakespeare to really be Marlowe. Like the live television broadcast of Geraldo Rivera opening up the vault in the Lexington Hotel frequented by Al Capone hoping to reveal a secret hoard of cash only to find discarded glass bottles, opening Walsingham’s crypt only uncovered sand, no chest with manuscripts.

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