I often wonder whether those who espouse conspiracy theories are ever themselves called upon to organize a conspiracy of any complexity—on the order of, say, a surprise party. The difficulty of even the most mundane collaboration is a powerful argument that none can be kept silent for very long. Jacobean and Elizabethan London was a bad place for keeping secrets: Guy Fawkes was betrayed; so was Essex. “The truth will out,” their contemporary wrote—though that author’s identity and the truth about his life have long been argued.

Samuel Schoenbaum, in Shakespeare’s Lives, the authoritative and hugely enjoyable guide to what we know about Shakespeare and how we came to know it, patiently demolished the many speculative claims, untenable interpretations, and other “curious evidence of human credulity” displayed by the Bard’s biographers. Schoenbaum died in 1996, so future biographers...


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