Arts &
Arts Culture Analysis
Vol. 23, No. 3, 2024
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Robert J. Lewis
Senior Editor
Jason McDonald
Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
Music Editor
Serge Gamache
Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Photographer Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes

Past Contributors
Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Charles Tayler
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Had they smelled a rat?) A dozen uniformed thugs immediately staunched the flow of seditious verbiage by tackling me, which dislodged me from my perch. Unfortunately, they also bumped against the Dictator, causing him, too, to topple from the chair.

A collective gasp from the crowd gave way to giggles, and then to waves of derisive laughter. But before here are all sorts of theories about conspiracy theories, especially about how and why they start, and why some endure. As a connoisseur of what I call “meta-conspiracy theories,” I have invented several of my own. Two examples stem from the Bacon-Shakespeare theory and ‘pizza-gate.’

The B-S theory posits that Francis Bacon was the author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. The gist of the theory is that the plebeian genius, Shakespeare, was less likely to have written the sublime plays attributed to him than the high-born polymath, Sir Francis Bacon.

According to this theory, Bacon’s authorship was kept secret because his rise to high public office would have been hindered if his peers found out he had stooped to the low calling of dramatist, and written plays with seditious content (like Richard II). The Baconians allege numerous similarities of thought and expression between the plays and Bacon’s “other” writings. They also find many legal and other learned allusions in the plays that are unlikely to have come from Shakespeare, who had no legal, or university, education. Finally, they point to autobiographical details in the poems that connect them with Bacon’s life, rather than Shakespeare’s.

Even today, the Baconian theory is alive, not least on the Internet —alive, but not well. For the theory finds many summarizers, but few defenders.

One reason the B-S theory is unpopular is that the political landscape has changed so much over the last four centuries. In 2022, there is a chasm of belief between those who embrace conspiracy theories and those who condemn them. A specific corollary is that anti-conspiracy theorists tend to be progressives. The B-S theory affords legitimacy to Tudor-Stuart absolutism: it smacks of the Star Chamber.

In an attempt to buttress the B-S theory, I want to suggest an alternative explanation for its origin. I would maintain that Shakespeare did not exist. Like many other heroes of foundational nationalist myths, he was invented to fill a need. To mask weaknesses in the idea of a unified “Britain” (let alone Great Britain), English propagandists invented the story of a Warwickshire commoner who made his fortunes in the demimonde of the London theater. From polymath actor, director and producer, it was a short step to making him the author of immortal plays.

Given that Shakespeare did not exist, was it any wonder that, shortly after his death, his reputation was eclipsed for two centuries? Or that its revival was owed largely to the efforts of one S.T. Coleridge, who did exist, but whose own poetic oeuvre was given to extravagantly neurotic flights of fantasy? By my lights, Coleridge did not reinvent Shakespeare; he invented him.

Thereafter, through the shameful era of England’s industrialization (those “dark Satanic Mills”) and the equally shameful colonial exploitation of a host of Calibans, which ended in the dissolution of the Empire and England’s subsequent economic decline, the popularity of this mythical author never waned, least of all across the Empire.

One outgrowth of the national-myth phenomenon was the Bacon-Shakespeare theory. Given the Shakespeare craze of the nineteenth century, was it any wonder that there arose Shakespeare skeptics to suggest the somewhat plausible theory that the plays must have been written by a person whose educational and other experience was reflected in them? These theorists were oblique publicists for the national myth. In other words, it was Shakespeare who brought home the bacon.

Who actually wrote the plays? I would suggest that, like the King James Bible, they were probably written by a committee. If the Bible committee created a foundational myth for the belief system that sustained Great Britain for four centuries, the Shakespeare committee created a myth that still endures.

For what motive(s), you may ask, do I deny the existence of the man, Shakespeare, and in his place, invent the theory of a Shakespeare committee? Like the Baconians and other conspiracy theorists, and their acolytes, my motive(s) is/are complex and personal. The best way to explain it/them will be through a mini-memoir.

Born into a plebeian family, myself (father, a printer; mother, a beautician), I spent my early years under the expectation that I would be the first member of my family to go to College. As my father put it, during one of his worried harangues about who would pay for this, “You can pay us back, Ron, when you’re a (har har) successful attorney or physician.”

Although I did not verbally contradict this speech, my actions contradicted it. I majored in Psychology and, upon graduation, set out on my life’s path as a do-gooder. That is, I got an entry-level job in what was then called the Welfare Department. During the decades that followed, in addition to life’s usual landmarks (marriage, fatherhood, divorce, death of parents), I slowly climbed the ladder in the Welfare Department (which became the Department of Social Services, under the umbrella of the Human Resources Administration).

Thanks to the Department's concern for the welfare of its own employees, in 2008, I retired, and have since lived, on a generous fixed income. More than generous, in fact, owing to life’s ironies: of my two children, my daughter is a successful (corporate) attorney; my son, a successful physician (a dermatologist). My ex-wife is also successful -- a real estate agent -- which may, or may not, be ironic, since I live (illegally) in the same three-bedroom, rent-stabilized apartment that previously housed our family of four.

“When are you going to move to a smaller place, Ron,” scoffed my old friend, Jules, “so your apartment can be given to a family that really needs it? The kind of family you were supposed to be serving all those years?” Jules and I are a Mutt-and-Jeff couple. I’m “Mutt,” six inches taller, but I forget which of them was the straight man.

In 2009, Jules also retired, at the mandatory age of 65, from the Post Office. He had risen from mail carrier to a supervisory position that he waggishly called, “Supervisor of Non-Delivery.” Ever since his retirement, Jules has been a devotee of progressive causes -- a gadfly whose hero is Socrates, and whose principal oeuvre are hundreds of letters-to-the-editor of The Paper of Record.

That notorious third bedroom is my study, the place where I pursue my idle speculations into such matters as who wrote “Shakespeare’s” plays. On a hot summer day, as we sipped iced decaf in a park near my building. I confided my thoughts on the subject to Jules.

“Oh, my god, Ron!” he exclaimed, in the midst of my exposition of the point about Shakespeare and the British national myth. “Do you really believe that kind of shit?” And he spilled a bit of his coffee onto his lap, making it look as if he had pissed himself. Then, he added, “You really need to get a life.”

What with the Covid era, which had increased my isolation (and that of billions of other people), I realized he was right. And that, poor Reader, is my central insight about (other) conspiracy theorists: they need to get a life. (Or is it ‘lives’?)

But I do have a life: I read, write, and see friends. I work out at a gym and go for long walks (on off-days from the gym). Yes, I read —viz, as I was developing my Shakespeare theory, I read Freud’s The Future of an Illusion (1927). I found two sentences particularly salient:

Since religion, cut off from experience, is a form of wish fulfilment, we disregard its relation to reality, just as the illusion itself abjures confirmations.

We believe it is possible for scientific work to learn something about the reality of the world; through such knowledge we will be able to increase our power, and in accord with it we will be able to arrange our life.

Which brings us, finally, to pizza-gate. I think Freud was wrong to say that science could replace religion. Instead, our stubborn affinity for illusion has replaced religion with addiction to social media, the new Church of Socio-Political Illusion. Pizza-gate is a prime example.

You may already be familiar with the broad outlines of this conspiracy theory. During the 2016 presidential election cycle, hacked and ‘de-coded’ emails alleged the involvement of high Democratic officials in kiddie-porn, and child trafficking, rings. (The name of one of the alleged principals even sounds like ‘Pederast.’) The motive behind this theory seems obvious, and the theory was quickly discredited. Yet it is still alive and well on social media.

But here’s the rub: pizza-gate has migrated from right-wing, proto-Q-anon groups to sites such as Tic Toc, where it remains viral for people whose usual posts are about hot dance moves and “Black Lives Matter. Try to decode that one.

Since the sociopolitical motivations behind the endurance of pizza-gate seem vexed, to put it mildly, I would suggest an alternative origin theory. The initial rumor centered around a Washington D.C. establishment that offered both pizza and ping-pong. My theory is that, like my Shakespeare-Bacon origins theory, this one had an underlying xenophobic motive. The ping-pong world is dominated by the Chinese, Japanese, and other east Asians, whose economies have, for several decades, taken turns bashing ours. And the pizza craze in the U.S. goes back to the early 20th-century immigration wave, and reached full flood with the return of U.S. troops from Italy, at the end of W.W.2. I would suggest that pizza-gate was, at least in part, a gastronomic expression of the xenophobia that has more recently spawned the equally paranoid “replacement” theory.

But why, you ask, has pizza-gate migrated to champions of new dance moves and racial justice? For the same reason recent generations of Americans seem to prefer virtual reality to “RL.” Call it solipsism; call it despair. And call me Cicero Redux: o tempora, o mores.

Or just call me a grumpy old man? Maybe, Jules is right. I should move to a smaller apartment, without a spare room in which to hatch meta-theories. That way, I could spend more time IRL.



Alex L.
The idea that Shakespeare was a group makes good sense. But there are better candidates than Bacon for ring leader: Edward de Vere (Earl of Oxford) and Christopher Marlowe. While it's easy to discredit crackpot theories like Pizzagate, real conspiracies occur all the time, on matters large and small. Motivated and intelligent people, such as those associated with the court of Elizabeth the First, can pull them off. What is rare, however, is the conspiracy remaining secret, especially in this age of mass communication. Of course, investigators must keep Occam's razor in their front pockets


Also by Ron Singer:








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