In memoriam RD

Robert Detobel was born in Beert, a village with about 300 inhabitants, in Flanders (Belgium) on 12 August, 1939. He was the fifth of seven siblings. Apart from the fact that his father was a brewer, we have no information about his family and their origin. It can, however, be surmised that the family name Detobel originally stems from “de Tobel”, as is the case in many Dutch words, and eventually the two words melted together. Tobel is still an existing family name in Germany.

After giving birth to Robert’s younger sister, his mother dies when Robert is six. That is why he is sent to his aunt in Brussels, with whom he stays for six years, attending elementary school there.

At the age of twelve it is up to him to opt for staying in Brussels or returning to his former home. He decides for the latter. As there is no middle school in Beert he goes to the one in Halle, the district capital, commuting by tram.

In 1959 he finishes school with the “Abitur” (a kind of equivalent of A-level-exams). The foreign languages he has to learn are German, English and French, which, next to his mother tongue Flemish, he masters quickly and speaks fluently. He then registers at the University of Löwen in order to study Political Science. It is then he reads Shakespeare for the first time, in a Dutch translation for the time being. He is particularly impressed by Hamlet and King Lear.

In 1964 he moves to Mönchengladbach, occupying himself with poets like Rilke, Trakl, Hölderlin and Eichendorff. From 1965 onwards he works at a German-French translation agency; in 1971 he begins to study Economics at the University of Cologne and graduates in 1976. He finally moves to Frankfurt/Main in 1977, working as a freelance translator, including the translation of books.

Studying Sigmund Freud in 1981 he comes across a footnote that encourages him to study Hamlet in depth. In this way he finds the subject that will accompany him throughout his life: Who wrote Shakespeare? It was in June 2016 that he described this scholarly enterprise on the website of the Shakespeare-Oxford-Fellowship in the section “How I became an Oxfordian”:

In his first Frankfurt years he is totally immersed in Roman-Greek history and mythology, reading both classical writers and many articles and books on the authorship issue and, needless to say, thoroughly reads Shakespeare, dramas and Sonnets.

In 1989 he earns his living as a translator in the field of economy and intensively deals with the authorship question. He is regularly to be found at the library of the Max-Planck-Institute and at the University Library. These institutions allow him to access important works like the transcription of the Stationers’ Register by E. Arber and the 17 volumes of A History of English Law by W. Holdsworth, which very few German libraries offer. For years he unremittingly does some basic research on the history of the publication of Shakespeare’s works and on English law in Elizabethan times; in doing so he turned into an expert in these special fields.

In 1993 he establishes contact with Walter Klier, an Austrian writer and editor of the magazine Die Gegenwart, to which Robert also makes some contributions. (Walter Klier published his book Das Shakespeare-Komplott in 1994, which is the first book on the authorship issue in the German-speaking world). In collaboration with the Hessischer Rundfunk he prepares a feature with the title “Wer war Shakespeare – oder was ist in einem Namen?”. At that time he also meets Dr. Uwe Laugwitz; together they publish the “Das Neue Shakespeare-Journal”, which appears regularly after the first volume in 1997. Robert Detobel’s extensive contributions are part of nearly all volumes. After that he comes into contact with US-American Shakespeare scholars, first with Peter Moore, from 2000 on with Christopher Paul and Robert Brazil. With his publications in “Elizabethan Authors” and in “elizaforum” he permanently takes part in discussions.

Robert worked and published in numerous fields, out of which three topics should be mentioned:

  • The Harvey-Nashe quarrel, which is perfectly mirrored in Love’s Labour’s Lost, is profound evidence for Oxford
  • In Shakespeare’s days the rights of authors did exist and ownership of Shakespeare’s works was not only confined to the playing troupes, as is often wrongly claimed
  • His article on Palladis Tamia by Francis Meres is of crucial importance; he proves that the separate mentioning of Oxford and Shakespeare must not make us jump to the wrong conclusions that the two are two different people (this is also covered in Brief Chronicles, vol. I, published together with K. C. Ligon)

Robert’s articles are most of the time extensive, including a wide range of information; they are profound and demand very much attention from the reader.

In 2001 Robert is honoured by Concordia University in Portland/Oregon with the Vero Nihil Verius Award and invited to a journey to the USA.

2004 marks the beginning of an exchange of ideas with Kurt Kreiler, who later wrote the book Der Mann, der Shakespeare erfand. In 2005 Robert Detobel’s Book Wie aus Shaxpear Shakespeare wurde is published as volume 10 of the Neues Shakespeare Journal. His book The Concealed Poet is published in 2007 as a manuscript. In 2010 he is actively involved in the foundation of the “Neue Shake-speare Gesellschaft”, being a member of the advisory board. In the publication house Laugwitz his book “Will”–Wunsch und Wirklichkeit is published, thoroughly covering and criticizing Shapiro’s book Contested Will. In more than 200 pages he lays bare the numerous and partly outlandish mistakes. Unfortunately the book could not be translated into English.

The website “” of the “Neue Shake-speare Gesellschaft”, in which he participated regularly, would be unthinkable without his many German and English contributions.

An overall view of all his publications and articles is difficult to produce. One incomplete list on our webpage names 54 titles. In addition he wrote articles in Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, in The De Vere Society Newsletter, in The Oxfordian and Brief Chronicles.

Some people may perhaps remember the unusual discussions concerning the authorship in The Guardian, New Statesman and Spectator. Robert participated in them with his typical sense of commitment – using a pseudonym most of the time. Whoever knew this got a great insight into Robert’s enigmatic humour.

Robert Detobl entertained a constant connection to very many people; he contacted people on the phone on a day-to-day basis or via email and repeatedly took part in discussions on Facebook. He actually led a secluded and solitary life for years, he had no relatives around him.

Going for a walk in Frankfurt on 15 September, near his home, he had the book My Shakespeare with him, in order to read it and write comments on the margin. In the intensive care unit, where he ended up after passers-by had discovered him collapsed on a bench, the book was placed on top of his belongings near his bed. The title can be interpreted as a headline to his life, the challenge that gripped him all his life: My Shakespeare!

Robert, however, was enthusiastic and impulsive, feeling the need to fight for the truth until the very end: From his comments one could clearly deduce that he saw the book very critically and disapproved of it – with the exception of one essay by Alexander Waugh, which he appreciated. One week ago he talked on the phone about his plans to write a repudiation. But it was not to be.

Robert Detobel passed away in Frankfurt/Main on 22 September 2018.

Elke Brackmann, Hanno Wember