Staking Claims in Cyberspace": Update

Writer: 
April 1, 2007
Staking Claims in Cyberspace

As a scholar, James D. Boyle, William Neal Reynolds Professor of law, focuses primarily on intellectual-property law.

At a Duke Magazine campus forum in 2003, he discussed his work protecting the “intellectual ecology” of the public domain. Last year, with two others, he published a legal comic book about the interface of copyright and documentary film.

But his latest project harks back to an interest he’s long pursued on the side. In 1987, Boyle argued in a public mock trial before a panel consisting of Supreme Court Justices William H. Brennan Jr., Harry A. Blackmun, and John Paul Stevens, 900 observers, and a national television audience, that William Shakespeare, and not Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the Shakespearean canon. The mock trial was covered on the front page of The New York Times and sparked a New Yorker feature story.

The Shakespeare Chronicles

The extraordinary level of interest in the event, as well as the nature of the conspiracy theories he unearthed in preparing his brief—and the vehemence with which they were put forth by their proponents—inspired Boyle to write The Shakespeare Chronicles: A Novel, a literary mystery about one man’s obsessive search for the true author of Shakespeare’s works.

The Shakespeare Chronicles jumps between Elizabethan England and a contemporary love affair, following English professor Stanley Quandary on his quest for the real Shakespeare. Quandary’s interest is sparked by a bizarrely detailed series of historical dreams. His growing obsession leads him to travel to Britain to find the truth his research suggests—in Shakespeare’s tomb if necessary. 

Between Elizabethan conspiracies and contemporary conflicts, the book has its share of drama. There are murders, cover-ups, and illicit love affairs, as well as plagiarism, arson, and professional disgrace. Boyle’s real interest is in the motivations behind both Shakespearean defenders and the “heretics”—the name proudly worn by those who do not believe William from Stratford was the true author.

“On the heretical side, there is a real sense that this is a wrong that needs to be vindicated—that Shakespeare was either a front man who was never supposed to keep the credit, or a necessary illusion supposed to be uncovered in time—that the true author was compelled for some reason to conceal his identity during his lifetime, but left clues for the truth eventually to emerge.”

Boyle spent many years crafting The Shakespeare Chronicles. “It was something I kept coming back to. The stories are so good, the conspiracies and intrigues so labyrinthine that I really felt it needed a novel, rather than a history book.”

The book is available in hardcover, in paperback, and as an eBook.