Of all the theses advanced to explain the incomparable abundance of Shakespeare’s language, perhaps the most audacious—and certainly the wackiest—is that propounded some forty years ago by an Iraqi professor at the University of Baghdad. In a massive tome, the professor argued that the lone survivor of the shipwreck of an Arab merchant vessel washed up on the shores of Elizabethan England and made his way, wet, bedraggled, and famished, to the nearest village where he found hospitality and shelter. Establishing himself, there our mariner quickly mastered English and in short order was churning out remarkable poems and dramas. Relocated to Stratford-on-Avon and London, he rose to prominence in the theater, even winning the favor of the Virgin Queen. His original name had been Shaykh Zubayr, but (though there is no letter p in the Arabic alphabet) this was soon anglicized to Shakespeare.

This thesis, which...


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