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Sir Derek Jacobi: ‘Not one shred of evidence’ that Shakespeare wrote plays

Sir Derek Jacobi and Matthew Lewin at Burgh House, where Sir Derek was the special guest in the Lifelines series of talks. Picture: Polly Hancock Sir Derek Jacobi and Matthew Lewin at Burgh House, where Sir Derek was the special guest in the Lifelines series of talks. Picture: Polly Hancock

Thursday, January 23, 2014
12:00 PM

Celebrated actor Sir Derek Jacobi surprised a room full of admirers by insisting there is no evidence that William Shakespeare wrote the great works which bear his name.

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The stage and screen legend, star of TV shows Last Tango in Halifax and Vicious, opened up about his controversial views during a discussion about his life before a Hampstead audience on Thursday.

He called on academics to accept there are significant doubts about the authorship of the Bard’s plays and to enter into a “no holds barred” debate.

“There is not one shred of evidence that puts a pen in the hand of William,” he said.

“I would challenge anyone to give one solid piece of evidence that connects him to writing.”

The Belsize Park resident was appearing as part of the Lifelines series of interviews at Burgh House, in New End Square, hosted by former Ham&High editor Matthew Lewin.

During his distinguished career, Sir Derek has played the lead in countless Shakespeare productions – performing nearly 400 times as Hamlet alone.

He said he has become convinced that there is “an authorship problem”, despite being branded a “lunatic” for his views by some.

It was in the 1980s that his doubts really took shape, at a time when the theory that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was responsible for Shakespeare’s plays began to gather interest.

“It needs academia just to lower its guard, just slightly, to accept that it is a legitimate argument,” he said.

“Then we can talk about it, then we can discuss it.”

He added: “Let’s hope that in the next few years we can have a worthwhile, no-holds-barred debate about it.

“We may be quite wrong and it was William. Fine – but let’s discuss it.”

The 75-year-old recalled some of the key episodes in his life over nearly two hours during the Burgh House interview.

He opened by reflecting on the “luck” that has helped to carry his career forwards.

“You are looking at the luckiest actor you will ever see,” he said.

“I have been given the opportunities to strut whatever stuff I have got.

“I have never had to hustle, I have never waited tables, I have never had to work the room – things have always just happened.”

Sir Derek spoke fondly of Laurence Olivier, whom he worked under as a young actor for eight years at the fledgling Royal National Theatre.

He also touched on a crippling bout of stage fright that kept him away from theatre for two years in the early 1980s, and his views on the posthumous pardon given to Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing just before Christmas.

The mathematician and computer pioneer was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 after being arrested for having an affair with a man.

Sir Derek, who portrayed Turing in the hit West End and Broadway play Breaking the Code in the 1980s, said the pardon made him “hot under the collar”.

“I think he should have been given an apology, not a pardon,” he said. “He’d done nothing wrong – and what about all the others?”

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