This Saturday, Jan. 28, a unique party, the brainchild of a super-fan of Oxfordian discourse, is coming to an as-yet undisclosed townhouse in the West Village—the second iteration of the Edward De Vere Winter Ball, “a celebration of the true William Shakespeare.”
The event is sold out, but its organizer, filmmaker and writer Phoebe Nir, is an impassioned promoter of discourse surrounding “the authorship question:” a debate over who’s actually responsible for masterworks like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet that once riled up heavyweights like Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, and Helen Keller.
During the height of the pandemic, Nir became consumed with scholarship making the argument that a onetime Earl of Oxford called Edward De Vere was the true author of the plays of William Shakespeare (a pseudonym).
The ball, to which she’s invited NYC “dirtbag left” provocateurs like Anna Khachiyan and Dasha Nekrasova of the Red Scare podcast and downtown film scene podcasters The Ion Pack, is born of Nir’s pure enthusiasm for a perhaps bygone literary scene, and for an argument—to which she’s devoted a number of TikToks—that Shakespeare’s plays were the creations of a semi-obscure nobleman, not the Bard as we know him.
The Daily Beast reached out to Red Scare for comment; the Ion Pack guys confirmed that they were invited, though are unsure whether they’ll be going. (“Why is everyone covering this? I don’t understand what it is,” the Ion Pack DMd over Instagram.)
The Oxfordian question has been around for generations, and has been resoundingly debunked by certain intellectuals. “Absolutely no competent student of the period, historical or literary, has ever taken this theory seriously,” Elizabethan England scholar William Hunt told ABC News in 2011. “None of [Shakespeare’s] contemporaries or associates expressed any doubt about the authorship of his poems and plays. Nothing about De Vere (Oxford) suggests he had any great talent, and there is no reason to suppose he would have suppressed any talents he possessed.”
Nir’s goal, she says, is more general. “What I’ve been trying to do is resuscitate the literary salon tradition,” Nir told The Daily Beast. “Part of what’s exciting and thrilling about Oxfordianism is that it’s like, this alive question. It’s not totally resolved or settled, and it’s a frontier that you can keep working on.”
The Edward De Vere Winter Ball will include Shakespearian scholars engaged in debate and panel discussions surrounding Oxfordianism, and it will also include a performance by Ariel Pink, a former indie darling who’s caught ire in recent years because of his pivot to espousing pro-Trump views; his label dropped him in 2021 after he remarked, on a podcast, “I’m so gay for Trump, I would let him fuck me in the butt.”
Why perform at the De Vere Ball? “I heard that (journalist) Taylor Lorenz was gonna be there and just had to join,” Pink told The Daily Beast. And where does he stand on the authorship question? “I have a soft spot for the unauthorized version of all things.”
Nir is aware of how recruiting Pink for the ball could come off: she’s betting the raised eyebrows will help her cause.
“I trust in the work,” Nir said. “I think that it’s serious and beautiful enough on its own terms that even if it’s framed in a little bit of an edgy way, or it’s like a Red Scare thing, or the first time you hear about it is in the context of something that does seem a little edgy or a little bit canceled, I think it’s gonna get more people to read Shakespeare.”
And even if you have no interest in the authorship question, the ball serves another purpose: “Something that’s a real feather in my cap from the last ball is that multiple people are still dating who met at the De Vere Ball six months ago,” Nir said. That’s something I’m really proud of, and I think it speaks to the fact that it’s not some sweaty rave, or whatever. It’s its own thing.”