The Shakespeare Authorship Debate: One of literature’s toughest questions

The question: Did William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon write the plays, as is generally accepted, or did someone else use Shakespeare as a front? This month that question is getting the big-screen treatment in the form of Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous, which posits that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the “real” Shakespeare. (Anyone who believes that someone other than William Shakespeare wrote the canon is an “anti-Stratfordian”, those who support Anonymous’ hero, Edward de Vere, are “Oxfordians”.) In order to not get bogged down with this debate during the Anonymous review, I’m covering it here.

This question irks me. I think it limits human capacity. To question Shakespeare’s authorship is to say that no, a person of ordinary circumstances could not and did not achieve those things. Whether it’s your bag or not, the general consensus is that Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the history of the English language. In four hundred years, he’s not yet met his match. He represents the height of human achievement. And he did it with no more than a basic education and coming out of a “backwater” like Stratford. To take that accomplishment away is to say that unless a person has formal education, classical training, a moneyed background and access to the highest social circles could one do what Shakespeare did.

And I HATE that. I hate what that says about the human capacity for achievement, I hate what it says about the power of imagination and the grace of the muses, and I especially loathe and detest what that says about people that we would take that away from ourselves. Because WE are the only victims of this kind of thinking. We take nothing from Shakespeare—he’s dead. He has no surviving ancestors to be insulted or disenfranchised. We take nothing from literature for Shakespeare’s canon will stand regardless of who wrote it. WE are the only ones who lose here, for we lose the ability to say that anyone is capable of achieving such a height. When we put a limit on what any one person can do, we cheapen what everyone can do.

The Facts

Facts about Shakespeare are pretty skint. We know a little and a lot about Shakespeare, the man. Compared to many people of his day, we know quite a lot, but given the supreme interest in his life, we know too little. He was born in Stratford upon Avon in April 1564. His exact date of birth is unknown but he was baptized on April 26. His father was John Shakespeare, a glover by trade and a politician by aspiration. His mother was Mary Arden, a member of a prominent Warwickshire family. John and Mary had eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood, though Shakespeare’s three brothers all died before fifty. William was the oldest son and first to survive childhood.

John Shakespeare was a successful merchant when William was born but he would later sink into debt from which he would never recover. John was also a successful politician, rising from being the local ale-taster to high bailiff, a position similar to mayor. John’s political career was ended by some sketchy business dealings, which subsequently also landed him in debt. In 1569 John applied for a coat of arms and it was eventually granted in 1596. It’s commonly believed the honor was given thanks to William’s success in London, but we don’t know that for sure. The honor entitled John and his sons to be referred to as “Mister” or “Master”. Mary Arden married John in 1557 and she died in 1608. She inherited some land from her father in 1556. Little else is known about her.

Shakespeare’s childhood and youth is largely lost to history. We know he married Anne Hathaway on November 29, 1582. Shakespeare was 18, Anne was 26. Anne was also pregnant, as their first child, Susanna, was baptized only six months later, on May 26, 1583. Shakespeare and Anne then had twins, Hamnet and Judith, who were baptized on February 2, 1585. Hamnet died at 11 of unknown causes on an unknown date in 1596, but he was buried on August 11. Susanna and Judith lived to old age—Judith was almost eighty when she died. From the twins’ baptism in 1585 to Shakespeare’s first appearance on the scene in London in 1592 we know nothing of his life. Seven whole, crucial years are just non-existent. There are a lot of anecdotes about the “lost years” but there is absolutely no way to prove any of them. For all intents and purposes, Shakespeare was in a state of suspended animation for those seven years.

In 1592 a man named Robert Greene, a playwright and a member of the “University wits”, wrote a rather scathing condemnation of a fellow playwright, deeming William Shakespeare an “upstart crow”. Here, Shakespeare resurfaces. In 1594 he is first referenced as a partner in the acting company The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. After James I became king in 1603, he adopted the company and it changed its name to The King’s Men. In 1598 Shakespeare was listed as an actor in Ben Jonson’s Every Man In His Humor. Throughout his time in London Shakespeare lived in Cripplegate, Bishopsgate and Southwark. In 1608 The King’s Men moved into Blackfriars Theater (the second one, the first having burned down) for the winter seasons. Richard Burbage, the father of Shakespeare’s friend James Burbage, purchased the theater in 1596 but objections from the neighborhood prevented them from mounting a production there until 1609. Shakespeare also had an interest in the open-air theater The Globe, which his acting company owned from 1599 until it, too, burned down in 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII (Shakespeare, in all his wisdom, called for live canon-fire during the performance).

Popular wisdom is that Shakespeare retired to Stratford but we don’t actually know that. We do know that in 1612 he was in London, called as a witness in a lawsuit between his former landlord, Christopher Mountjoy, and Mountjoy’s son-in-law, Stephen Bellott. In 1613 he bought a gatehouse in the old Blackfriars priory, and in 1614 he was again placed in London with his son-in-law, John Hall. Real estate documents also show that Shakespeare bought a large house in Stratford in 1597 called New Place. The house was rundown when Shakespeare bought it and it’s believed the family didn’t occupy it until 1610. Upon his death, New Place passed to Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna. We also know, thanks to a taxation scroll, that Shakespeare was cited at least twice for failure to pay taxes in London throughout his time there.

Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. He was fifty-two. He had changed his will in March, and it still survives today. In it, he left his “second best bed” at New Place to his widow, Anne. He left cash to his sister Joan and her children. He also left Joan the use of the family home in Stratford on Henley Street, as well as, mystifyingly, his clothes. He left a provision for the poor of Stratford, and money for his friends to get memorial mourning rings on his behalf (though that bequest may have been added after he died). He left four houses, some land, and ₤350 in cash—a respectable portion—most of which went to Susanna. We do know that Judith received a gilt bowl. Shakespeare is buried in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. And that is all we know, for sure, of him.

The case against Shakespeare

The portrait that history paints of Shakespeare is, well, a bit boring. This is the problem, I think, with Shakespeare’s authorship. History tells us that Shakespeare lived to a reasonably old age and died, for all intents and purposes, fat and happy in his bed. There’s very little drama in that. The Shakespearean canon is so brilliant, so complex and high-minded that it’s hard to line up this frankly stodgy image of a middle-class businessman and merge it with an idea of the artistic genius who created the canon. Anti-Stratfordians would have it that these two images don’t line up, that Shakespeare was too much of a country bumpkin, too backwards, too uneducated—if not outright illiterate—to have written the canon. The question of Shakespeare’s literacy is the heart of the debate.

You’ll notice that there is no mention of his schooling in the “facts”. That’s because we have no facts about his schooling. Anti-Stratfordians point to this and say that he was illiterate. He did not go to school, thus he could not read and write. For further proof they point out that of Shakespeare’s six surviving signatures, no two are the same. The man couldn’t even spell his own name! Yet further damning evidence comes in the absence of an epistolary body—there are no extant letters from Shakespeare. And worse, he didn’t own any books. The greatest writer the English language has ever known owned zero books. Then there’s the fact that Shakespeare’s daughters were illiterate. A family of illiterates, then.

Leaving behind his literacy, or lack thereof, there is the problem of contemporary evidence of Shakespeare’s authorship. Once again, it’s a big fat blank. Anti-Stratfordians say that the historical record shows that Shakespeare was a businessman and an actor, not a writer. He is not Ben Jonson’s “sweet swan of Avon”, but is instead Jonson’s “Poet-Ape”, a faker. Jonson knew it! Also, when Shakespeare died, no one mourned him. There is no historical mention of memorials or eulogies for William Shakespeare in 1616. No one mourned him because everyone knew he wasn’t the great playwright. Right?

Argumentum ex silentio

Gaps in the historical record favor anti-Stratfordians, but gaps in logic don’t. To start with the question of his literacy, well, we know Shakespeare could write. We have signatures, after all. Of the six surviving signatures, three are abbreviations and three are variant spellings of his name. This was hardly uncommon in Shakespeare’s time. Language in Shakespeare’s day was in flux—Modern English was new at the time of Shakespeare’s birth and many leftovers of Middle English survived throughout his lifetime. Spelling was not regulated then like it is now. St. Paul’s Cathedral was also recorded as St. Powle’s and Stratford upon Avon also appears as Stratford upon Haven. Also consider Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe—in his one surviving autograph he signed his name as “Cristofer Marley”, he was registered at Cambridge as “Christopher Marlen” and his name appears in various records as “Morley” and “Merlin” as well. Yet no one questions Marlowe’s authorship.

As to his education, ownership of books, the literacy of his family and lack of letters, we simply do not have proof of any of these things. This leads us to argumentum ex silentio, the pit into which all anti-Stratfordians fall. Argumentum ex silentio is a logical fallacy that means, literally, “argument from silence”. It survives today in the legal system in context to lack of explicit testimony—if a defendant does not testify the jury is instructed that they cannot take that lack of testimony as proof of guilt under argumentum ex silentio. In rhetoric, it is used most to mean “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. And that is the trap.

We don’t have any record of William Shakespeare going to school. But we also don’t have any record of ANYONE in Stratford going to school. For a period of roughly three hundred years (1400-1700), no school records survive in Stratford. Using the same logic as anti-Stratfordians, this would mean that absolutely no one in Stratford ever went to school for three hundred years. I have literally never heard a comeback when this gets pointed out to them. Because there is no comeback. Of course people in Stratford went to school, despite the lack of extant records. Thanks to records at Oxford University, we know that there was a steady stream of instructors provided to a King’s Grammar School in Stratford upon Avon. We know courtesy of real estate records that that school was located less than half a mile from Shakespeare’s childhood home. We know that the instructors at this school—Oxford graduates, all—were paid ₤20 per year—more than the headmaster at Eton. Thanks to a royal charter, we know that the school placed emphasis on “good literature” and that the instruction was heavy in Latin and Greco-Roman classics.

General scholarship on Shakespeare accepts that he went to grammar school. Is it such a big assumption? Consider the distance to the school, and that it was free for all boys in Stratford. Consider his mother’s place in a prominent family and his father’s political ambitions. Educating your sons was an important indication of status. It meant your kid did not have to work but could afford to be in school seven days a week (grammar school back then meant six days of instruction with a seventh day devoted to religious studies). Surely John Shakespeare, an upwardly mobile man who rose to considerable prominence in his booming trade town would have his son educated. And remember, we know Shakespeare could write. Is it really such a leap? Or is it a logical conclusion when you also consider that all the school records from that period have been lost? Do we assume that he was illiterate based on that lack of records or do we assume that he went to school and the records were lost? Argumentum ex silentio—just because no records exist can we assume Shakespeare was uneducated.

As to the books, by virtue of argumentum ex silentio we can’t assume that he never owned books, but it is a conundrum. Surely Shakespeare owned some books? Most assume he didn’t because he didn’t will any, but the wording of his will is simply “house and all its contents”. With the exception of that “second best bed”, Judith’s gilt bowl and a sword, no other specific furnishings are singled out in the will. If Shakespeare had books, they would have been included in the “contents”. Impossible to know—New Place was razed hundreds of years ago. A second option for the fate of Shakespeare’s books is that he gave them away before he died, thus excluding them from his will. It’s equally possible that he did not, in fact, own any books but simply had access to a library. We can never really know what books Shakespeare may have owned, if any at all.

His daughters’ illiteracy is less intriguing because they were probably illiterate. Educating women wasn’t the standard back then and it wasn’t important to everyone. The general assumption is that his daughters were illiterate because he makes no provision for their education in his will, but both Susanna and Judith were grown and married by the time Shakespeare died. Why would he be providing for the education of grown women? Still, you could say that he didn’t mention it because the whole family was illiterate. But it’s just as easy to say that Shakespeare didn’t value educating his daughters, which is an unattractive thing to say about the greatest writer in the English language. But given the information we have, or rather, don’t have, it’s as easy to assume one as it is the other. The caution of argumentum ex silentio, though, is to not assume anything based on a lack of evidence. We have no evidence that they were illiterate, but we have no evidence that they were literate, therefore, we just don’t know what his daughters’ education was or wasn’t.

The lack of letters written by Shakespeare (there are a few extant letters written to him) is just like the situation with the books and his children’s education. None survive, but we can’t assume there never were any in the first place. You know who else left no surviving letters? Christopher Marlowe. Two of the cornerstones of the case against Shakespeare are that he couldn’t spell his own name and that he wrote no letters. Well, Marlowe couldn’t spell his own name, either, and he, too, appears to have written no letters. Anti-Stratfordians will say that Shakespeare was a businessman—surely he must have written letters for business? I say back, Marlowe was some kind of government agent—surely he wrote missives and messages and yet, none survive. These things that are held up against Shakespeare are, really, not at all uncommon given the age in which he lived. Huge amounts of records were lost in London’s Great Fire of 1666, and Stratford was plagued with floods from the Avon (and still is today). That we know as much as we do about Shakespeare is actually kind of a miracle.

Ben Jonson and Shakespeare’s contemporaries

I do believe that Shakespeare was Jonson’s Poet-Ape, and I think he was so for the same reason Greene called him an “upstart crow”—everyone knew Shakespeare jacked his plots from previously published works. (In fact, The Winter’s Tale is lifted from Greene’s Pandosto.) One of Shakespeare’s particular talents was taking common stories everyone knew and making them into brilliant plays. Jonson was a frequent critic of Shakespeare—though his friend he is the one who said Shakespeare had “small Latin and less Greek”, pointing out the deficiency in Shakespeare’s education. In fact, Shakespeare’s Latin would not have been that “small”, but it certainly would have been less than Jonson’s university-educated knowledge of the language. And his Greek was pretty bad—scansion of plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream indicates that Shakespeare was consistently mispronouncing Greek names and places. Both of those things are consistent with a sixteenth-century grammar school education.

The anti-Stratfordian idea that there is no contemporary reference to Shakespeare as a writer is patently false. As you can see, Green and Jonson are two writers who are on record criticizing Shakespeare the writer. And they’re criticizing him for being less educated than they were which is commensurate with traditional Shakespearean scholarship. Shakespeare is also mentioned by John Webster in the dedication of The White Devil in 1612, and in a 1608 letter to Jonson, playwright Francis Beaumont names Shakespeare as an author. The reason anti-Stratfordians think there are no contemporary mentions of Shakespeare is because they see all these references, and dozens of others, as secret coded messages. It’s The Davinci Code: The Shakespeare Years. Oxfordians see evidence of their man’s authorship in the number of times “E. Ver” appears throughout the canon, in the form of words such as “ever”, “never”, “sever” and so forth. But I could just as easily say I.B. Fartin wrote the plays based on the number of fart jokes Shakespeare used. (For a guy we hold as the best of our poets, he loved a good fart joke.)

The historical record is rife with mention of Shakespeare as a writer. There is epistolary evidence, his name is printed on the title pages of quarto editions of his plays, his name is entered as the author of the works registered on the Stationers’ Register (the record of publications) and on the Master of Revel’s scroll (list of plays performed before the monarch). All of these things are standard methods academics use to determine authorship. If he’s listed on official scrolls, if his name is on the title page and if other people call him a writer in extemporaneous writings (like letters), then he is the author of the work. The Earl of Oxford wrote at least a dozen plays—we know this because his name appears as the author of the works on publication and performance scrolls, but none of those plays survive today. Still, we credit Oxford with being a playwright because we have evidence that says he wrote plays. Yet that same evidence is not good enough for Shakespeare? No, with Shakespeare it’s a code.

And Shakespeare was eulogized. Jonson penned an elegy for the frontispiece of the First Folio, a collection of thirty-six of Shakespeare’s thirty-nine extant plays (we’ve lost a couple to history, sadly). Collated and edited by two of Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues, the First Folio was published in 1623, is 900 pages long, and there’s a rather astonishing collection of them in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. The First Folio was edited from texts including actor’s prompt books, Shakespeare’s own drafts and manuscripts, and previously published quartos. To appreciate the work done on the First Folio, look at the image to the left. It’s Hamlet’s famous “to be, or not to be” soliloquy in three forms—bad quarto, good quarto, and First Folio (a “bad quarto” would be basically just what some guy remembers the actor saying and a “good quarto” would be the officially published version). The First Folio was a serious labor of love, meant to immortalize Shakespeare’s works and it stands within reason the editors asked Shakespeare’s friends to save their eulogies to be published with the plays, which they were.


My particular problem with the movie lies in two thing: 1) Oxford’s line that “men such as [he] do not write plays” and 2) the timeline of Oxford’s death relative to Shakespeare’s. To the first, I say, bullshit. Oxford published plays and poems, was well-regarded as a comedic playwright, sponsored an acting company (the Earl of Oxford’s Men), and owned the Blackfriars Theater (the first one that burned down). He did all of this under his own name and no one gave a flying fig. In fact, Oxford and Shakespeare are mentioned in the same tract as separate playwrights—Oxford as a top talent of comedic writing and Shakespeare as an up-and-comer. Why would Oxford publish some plays under his own name and use Shakespeare for others? Especially when no one cared that he was writing plays in the first place? The reason the movie gives is quite silly and involves Queen Elizabeth, incest and illegitimate children.

But the bigger problem by far is Oxford’s death. He died in 1604, twelve years before Shakespeare and nine years before the last of Shakespeare’s plays appeared in public. Oxfordians hold that all of Shakespeare’s plays were written before 1604 and then were released in the following years according to some sort of predetermined schedule. The problem is Shakespeare’s later career is littered with political plays that reference events occurring after 1604. For instance, Macbeth alludes to the Gunpowder Plot (1605), and Coriolanus is cognizant of the Midland Revolt of 1607 and features a soliloquy inspired by lines from Camden’s Remains, published 1605. Oxfordians contend that these later references were added by mysterious authors for mysterious reasons, and that’s just the sort of insular logic that makes it hard to take them seriously.

Anti-Stratfordians will have it that the Shakespeare authorship question is a grand conspiracy by academics in their ivory tower to deny the rightful person, or persons, credit for writing the greatest canon in English literature. Academics will respond with “Feh”, which is literally what a former professor of mine said when I asked her opinion on this matter. The simple fact is, scholarship supports Shakespeare. There is a standard accepted practice for authenticating documents and that process, used to authenticate works by Marlowe, Jonson, Spenser, and every other writer of the age, supports Shakespeare. You cannot arrive at an alternate author without engaging in tortuous circular logic that too often involves ignoring the historical record. And there is that disturbing classist element of this debate—you cannot arrive at an alternate author without saying that it’s impossible for a Regular Joe to achieve something so great.

Shakespeare’s genius was his imagination—his ability to imagine himself in lands he’d never seen where they spoke languages he didn’t understand and lived lives he had no knowledge of. He could write of the royal and the commoner, ancient Egypt and contemporary England. He was a normal guy with a normal background and no special circumstances yet he achieved something extraordinary. Shakespeare was us. And in questioning him, we only question what the limit of what we can achieve is.

20 thoughts on “The Shakespeare Authorship Debate: One of literature’s toughest questions

  1. Lula

    Best post I’ve read regarding the Shakespearean Conspiracy. I’m slow clapping you right now. And maybe exclaiming, “Bravo!”

  2. Elle

    I’d find your argument more compelling if you didn’t start by stating that you really really want the anti-Stratfordians to be wrong, for political/emotional reasons. To decide which conclusion suits you before you even look at the fact strikes me as bad historical practice!

    That being said, I think the Stratford dude probably wrote those plays. Occam’s razor.

    1. Well, first draft had the intro at the end (and a section called “occam’s razor”) but after cuts and edits it ended up making a nice bookend with the final paragraph to move it to the beginning. If this were an academic paper, I wouldn’t have lead with that, for the reason you said.

      1. Bob Grumman

        You started with a disclaimer, which is honest and responsible. You then present arguments. Those arguments have nothing to do with whatever emotional bias you have. In short: excellent start to a fine entry. The title is ridiculous, though. The question of who wrote the works of Shakespeare is one of the easiest to answer in literature. The hard question is why it is that some people who seem sane in just about all respects turn insanely irrational when it comes to who wrote the works of Shakespeare. I provide an answer to that in my soon-to-be-published book, Shakespeare and the Rigidniks.

        Note: you need to rewrite the last sentence of your second paragraph.

  3. anaishilator

    Anonymous is the new Men In Black.

    What I mean by that is, I drew the same implications from MiB that you drew from Anonymous- specifically, that it seems as if in Hollywood, normal regular people cant do extraordinary things.

    Take for instance the scene where its Will Smith’s first day on the job. There is a wall of tv screens upon which many celebrities and celebrated people are shown. Naturally, all these talented, gifted people are aliens that they are “keeping an eye on”. I found that somewhat offensive, as it implies that humanity is by nature mediocre and that no one on earth is really capable of remarkable accomplishment.

    So, I understand your beef with Anonymous, which has worse implications than MiB. After all, in MiB the implication was an indictment on humanity in general, not limited to race or class. But Anonymous, at a time when class warfare is on the rise all over the world, sends a particularly condescending message.

  4. anaishilator

    That said, because of the intellectual disingenuousness of the subject matter, I probably wont go see the movie.

    Eh, never mind that it probably wont make it to my area anyway so, problem solved.

    1. The average lifespan was 35. However, if you survived your teens your lifespan went up to 40s-50s. Shakespeare was indeed an “old man” when he died. By the time he arrived in London in the late 1580’s/early 1590’s, his life was already half over. For comparison’s sake, Edward de Vere died at 54 and he, too, was considered old.

      Keep in mind how poor living conditions were, even for wealthier citizens like Shakespeare. People emptied their chamber pots and kitchen castoffs in the gutters that they then walked through. Medicine was rudimentary and the bubonic plague was a frequent occurrence. Life was just really fucking hard all around.

      1. Sneza

        35 is an “average” because so many children never survived infancy. Note the ages you give for the deaths of Judith and Susanna; and also note the ages of the following when they died: Elizabeth I: 69; Ben Jonson: 65; Walter Raleigh: 66 (and not because of ill health); Anne Hathaway: 68-ish; Francis Bacon: 65; Inigo Jones: 79; Thomas Arundell: 79.

        52 was “OK” but it wasn’t old.

      2. Shakespeare lived ten or more years longer than fellow dramatists Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, George Peele, and Francis Beaumont, and also longer than John Fletcher, Thomas Middleton and Henry Chettle.

  5. The film “Anonymous” is only for people who have an open mind, who do not believe everything that is told to them by authority figures, and who are willing to investigate to get at the truth, whether it turns out to be consoling or distressing, orthodox or unorthodox.

    Roland Emmerich has clearly stated that the film is only a possible explanation for the mystery of why we know next to nothing about the greatest writer in the English language, not the only explanation.

    All this talk about all the so-called evidence for the man from Stratford is pure bunkum. The references in his lifetime are to the author “Shake-spear.” If you have found references in his lifetime that state he was from Stratford, I would love to hear about them.

    While he was alive, no one ever claimed to have met the man, period. The name on a title page does not reveal the man behind the name (Mark Twain was Samuel Clemens). We all agree that Shakespeare wrote the plays. The question is who was Shakespeare? Here, the evidence strongly points to Edward de Vere for those willing to take the time to do the old fashioned stuff like read books and think for themselves, not parrot the latest Stratfordian pronouncements, all designed to stifle discussion.

    It is simply implausible, no matter how many tortured explanations you give, that a man who had little or no education, whose children were illiterate, who never left any writing other than six unreadable signatures with his name spelled differently in each one, who never traveled outside of London, who spent much time and effort engaging in petty lawsuits, who could not read books in French, Italian, or Spanish yet used untranslated material as his source material, who never left any books in his will, who left no letters, no correspondence, who did not elicit a single eulogy at his death was the greatest writer in the English language.

    1. Judas Christ

      Yeah, no one except Richard Burbage, John Heminges, Henry Condell, John Webster, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and Robert Greene.

      1. What I find fascinating is that almost every single argument Howard Schummann cites to defend his anti-Stratfordian dogma is actually debunked in the above essay! “Open minded” my foot! Talk about parroting! And implying those of us who have obviously read a great deal more on the subject as lazy, while exhibiting sloppy thinking and the inability to admit when he’s wrong . . “FEH” indeed!

  6. liked this, but one question. You said that we know a lot about SHakespeare compared to what little we know of some people of his day. Who would these people be?

    1. People like Ben Johnson, Edmund Spenser, et cetera. Many other upper-echelon theater folk and/or court hangers-on have been lost to the ages, known only through one or two sporadic mentions in epistolary volumes or surviving court records.

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