A note to readers: This topic is regarded as quite controversial. As a result I have seen comments made elsewhere that have been derogatory or abusive in tone and/or words simply because one faction does not believe or even want to acknowledge the theory that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare. My request is that if you cannot respect another’s views and cannot be polite even while disagreeing (you are welcome to disagree), then please do not read further. All abusive posts will be summarily dealt with. Also, if the only comment you can make is along the lines of “so what?” and “who cares?” then I suggest you do not comment at all. Thank you.
I’m sitting here, in front of this screen, desperately trying to organise my thoughts. I’ve just had a bout full of information overload, and I haven’t even scratched the surface yet!
What I’m trying to say is that I’ve been doing a wee bit of research on the whole authorship question of the works attributed to Shakespeare. To make it easier for me to relate to you what I have learnt, my thoughts and my feeling regarding this whole controversy, I shall start at the very beginning.
My very first play by Christopher Marlowe was The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. Since I’d missed the days this play was read and discussed in university class, I ended up reading for myself in preparation for our exam — and I loved it. It stayed with me for so long, especially the final hours of Faustus’ life before the devil comes to claim his soul.
Now, it happened that after I read it, I went to my mom to gush over it. Mom was amused and pleased. Then she told me something that got me completely excited. She told me that it was believed, among many contenders, that Marlowe was the one who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Believe me, I didn’t disbelieve her. I thought I understood how this could be. Not only does Marlowe make very good use of the blank verse which Shakespeare is supposed to have perfected, but he was a learned man, unlike any educational evidence known about Shakespeare. You can say, I was intrigued. But then, mom had read a book about this a long time ago, and at the time, the internet was not our source for information. So I let sleeping dogs lie until last year when I re-read Doctor Faustus*.
I found myself doing a lot of reading up on the topic and I was all geared up to write about what I had discovered and how very sure I was that I was a Marlovian (those who believe that Marlowe was the real Shakespeare), when I read Shakespeare on Toast* by Ben Crystal. I must admit that reading this confused me a wee bit, and I wondered if perhaps the Stratford Shakespeare wasn’t the real author after all. Crystal is an actor who talks about the acting relevance of Shakespeare’s plays, never really going into the whole authorship question. But a couple of things he said had me second-guessing myself. I finally wrote this post* writing the few facts I had come across, and also noting my confusion over it all. In the post you will find a few links leading to various articles regarding why it is believed Marlowe was actually Shakespeare.
Then, yesterday, while I was reading the introduction to my Penguin copy of the Complete Plays of Christopher Marlowe, I found myself wondering at the raw passion and dark spirituality in Marlowe’s works that don’t really find themselves in Shakespeare — at least, I haven’t seen those things in the few works of Shakespeare that I have read. I decided to do a bit more research before I said anything about it on my blog, and I finally ended up reading Is Shakespeare Dead? by Mark Twain.
Is Shakespeare Dead? by Mark Twain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In this piece Twain questions the legitimacy of William Shakespeare, the man. He says there has never been a writer of whom so little is known. In fact, there has never been a writer who has left absolutely no evidence that he was a writer at all. Historians and scholars are in possession of only four or five signatures that belonged to Shakespeare of Stratford, and the only written document known to exist is that of this Shakespeare’s will, which again refers to absolutely nothing of books, plays and poetry.
Twain sums up the facts known of this Shakespeare thus:
I will make a list, now, of those details of Shakespeare’s history which are FACTS–verified facts, established facts, undisputed facts.
He was born on the 23d of April, 1564.
Of good farmer-class parents who could not read, could not write, could not sign their names.
At Stratford, a small back settlement which in that day was shabby and unclean, and densely illiterate. Of the nineteen important men charged with the government of the town, thirteen had to “make their mark” in attesting important documents, because they could not write their names.
Of the first eighteen years of his life NOTHING is known. They are a blank.
On the 27th of November (1582) William Shakespeare took out a license to marry Anne Whateley.
Next day William Shakespeare took out a license to marry Anne Hathaway. She was eight years his senior.
William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. In a hurry. By grace of a reluctantly-granted dispensation there was but one publication of the banns.
Within six months the first child was born.
About two (blank) years followed, during which period NOTHING AT ALL HAPPENED TO SHAKESPEARE, so far as anybody knows.
Then came twins–1585. February.
Two blank years follow.
Then — 1587 — makes a ten-year visit to London, leaving the family behind.
Five blank years follow. During this period NOTHING HAPPENED TO HIM, as far as anybody actually knows.
Then–1592–there is mention of him as an actor.
Next year–1593–his name appears in the official list of players.
Next year–1594–he played before the queen. A detail of no consequence: other obscurities did it every year of the forty-five of her reign. And remained obscure.
Three pretty full years follow. Full of play-acting.
Then In 1597 he bought New Place, Stratford.
Thirteen or fourteen busy years follow; years in which he accumulated money, and also reputation as actor and manager.
Is Shakespeare Dead? (Kindle Locations 222-236).
Then follows the content of his will in which he bequeath’s his wife the “second-best bed” and mentions nothing of books or plays or manuscripts. In fact, nothing to do with writing.
Chapters that follow these little known facts about Shakespeare, dwell on the innumerable assumptions that Stratfordians (scholars who believe that Shakespeare of Stratford is William Shakespeare of the best known works in literature) have made to fill in the many gaps.
Personally, I suspect, that Stratfordians have been ‘filling in the gaps’ only because it did not initially occur to them that the writer behind the Shakespearean plays could have been a()n alias for someone else. Twain refutes every other claim made about Shakespeare simply because they have only been assumptions and have absolutely no evidence to back them up. To name a few I will list some of the unproved ‘facts’ about Shakespeare that was taught to me in college:
- He went to grammar school (can you believe that there is absolutely no proof of this!!).
- He handled horses outside of theatres.
- He was well versed in Latin because he attended grammar school.
- He hung around law courts from where he picked up a great deal of law-jargon (this I wasn’t taught).
I dare say, if you are to name anything else that you ‘know’ of Shakespeare that isn’t a fact in the quote from Twain, it is 99.9% unproved.
Twain then moves on to talk about all the law terms and metaphors that keep coming into Shakespeare’s plays (hence the assumption that Shakespeare spent many hours in the courts), saying how lawyers have been astounded by how accurate these terms and usages are. He quotes many high-ranking lawmen who state that only another lawman or someone who expressly studied and practiced law could have used it so spot-on in the plays. Hence, there is a party that believes that Sir Francis Bacon, a brilliant lawyer in his day, was the man behind Shakespeare.
Twain goes into detail as to why Bacon is a likely candidate. Twain himself is not a Baconian, but is fully appreciative of the facts that lend weight to the theory that Francis Bacon wrote the plays popularly attributed to a nobody from Stratford.
I admit that I am mighty curious after reading the facts surrounding Bacon. I have read a few of Bacon’s essays before, and I was very disbelieving of him. But he definitely sounds plausible unlike the Shakespeare of Stratford.
Until a few months ago, I’d have been rooting for Marlowe. In fact, briefly, I considered myself a Marlovean. However, I have decided to do a bit of research into the theories surrounding the candidate-ship of Bacon and another strong contender, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.
You will have noticed that heading to this post reading “Part 1/4″. I intend for “The Man Behind Shakespeare” to be a four part series dealing with the authorship question of Shakespeare’s plays. The other three posts will each look at each of the three main contenders, mapping out their biography, education and claims to these amazing plays.
If you would like to know more about why Shakespeare the man is not believed to be Shakespeare the playwright then head on over to this site that holds the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare. It explains, in detail the reasons for doubt, and is an appeal that scholarly pursuit in this assumption be made legitimately academic.
Links with an (*) lead to my previous posts.