WHO WROTE SHAKESPEARE?? Analysis of the Authorship Question
(with support from the article "Who Wrote Shakespeare's Plays? Debate Goes On" by Renee Montagne)
The purpose of this section is to create a thoughtful understanding of why debate still ensues concerning the authorship of William Shakespeare's plays. This is not to dispute any of the credit given to Shakespeare in any manner or form, just a way to enlighten the curious and cause controversy for those who seek a greater understanding.
Much has been written in the last hundred years to dispute the claim that a William Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon was the sole writer of the 37 plays, 154 sonnets and 2 long narrative poems attributed to his name by means of the First Folio in 1623. However, names such as Edward de Vere (left), the 17th Earl of Oxford, and Sir Francis Bacon continue to be linked with writings that are the most famous in all of history.
In the mid-1800s, Americans were so enthused about William Shakespeare that a rivalry between the two foremost Shakespearean actors led to a riot. Well, there's something that makes modern-day scholars of Shakespeare want to riot: when anyone questions whether the man from Stratford-upon-Avon really wrote the works that bear his name.
It drives scholars mad. Still, a host of brilliant minds have done just that: Sigmund Freud, Charles Dickens and Orson Welles are among those who didn't believe that Shakespeare penned those famous plays.
Shakespeare skeptics need look no further than Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, England, where he was buried in 1616.
A Shakespearean Epitaph?
The epitaph carved on his gravestone reads:
"Good friend, for Jesus' sake, forebear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man who spares these stones,
and cursed be he, who moves my bones.
"Those who doubt that the man buried there is the great playwright point to this rough doggerel. How can it be from the man who wrote:
"And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.
Life's but a walking shadow..." (Macbeth)The epitaph is a small piece of what doubters say is a mountain of biographical material suggesting Shakespeare wasn't a writer.
"We have been able to discover, over many generations, about 70 documents that are related to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, but none of them are literary," says Daniel Wright, an English professor who directs the Shakespeare Authorship Research Center at Oregon's Concordia University.
"They all speak to the activity of a man who is principally a businessman; a man who is delinquent in paying his taxes; who was cited for hoarding grain during a famine," Wright adds. "We don't have anyone attesting to him as a playwright, as a poet. And he's the only presumed writer of his time for whom there is no contemporary evidence of a writing career. And many of us find that rather astonishing."
Records Raise Questions
There are playbills that show Shakespeare appearing as an actor in small parts and legal documents relating to his stake in the Globe Theater. He left a will distributing his precious possessions, including, famously, his second-best bed.
But there's no record that this Shakespeare owned any books, wrote any letters, and the half-dozen signatures attributed to him are on legal documents only.
"If there were a signature related to Hamlet, we wouldn't be having this debate," says Diana Price, who wrote the book that's become a bible for doubters, the meticulously researched Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography.
In it, she details all that Shakespeare would have had to know and be able to use effortlessly in metaphors and intricate puns: archery, astronomy, medicine, technical terms for falconry and royal tennis. The list is long.
To link any writer conclusively to the plays, Price argues, "we would certainly have to be able to support how he learned his languages, how he received his education, how he gained his exposure to the lifestyle of the rich and famous, how he had access to the court. And I don't mean as a servant in the court, but someone who actually was in there when the power-playing was going on. We cannot support any of that for Shakespeare."
Mark Twain Wasn't Buying It
Mainstream academics mostly deride efforts of independent scholars like Price. It's a tad bit harder to shrug off challenges put — with great wit — by the likes of Mark Twain.
The American humorist never could reconcile what was known about the man from Stratford with the writer who penned "such stuff as dreams are made on."
Twain even wrote a pamphlet in 1909 poking fun at the Bard, called Is Shakespeare Dead? The following is an excerpt:
"It is surmised by the biographers that the young Shakespeare got his vast knowledge of the law and his familiar and accurate acquaintance with the manners and customs and shop-talk of lawyers through being for a time the CLERK OF A STRATFORD COURT: just as a bright lad like me, reared in a village on the banks of the Mississippi, might become perfect in knowledge of the Behring Strait whale-fishery and the shop-talk of the veteran exercisers of that adventure-bristling trade through catching catfish with a 'trot-line' Sundays."For Bard Backer, Proof's In The Name
Stephen Greenblatt, a professor at Harvard and author of the best-selling biography of the Bard, Will in the World, is one of America's most esteemed Shakespeare scholars.
"Like most scholars, I think it's reasonably clear that the man from Stratford wrote the plays," he says. "But it's certainly a subject that doesn't go away. He does seem like he did drop in from another planet. The level of achievement is remarkable."
Remarkable, says Greenblatt, but possible, even for a village lad if he were a genius. Greenblatt has little use for those who question the authorship of Shakespeare's works and compares doubters to Holocaust deniers and those who don't believe in evolution.
He says the most powerful evidence of authorship is the simplest: that the name William Shakespeare appeared on some of the plays published during his lifetime.
"It's nothing that gives you the kind of certainty that can never be called into question," Greenblatt says. "Anything can be called into question. But you'd have to have a very strong reason to believe that there was skullduggery or an alternative account.
"It's true ... that there are no manuscripts and no letters, but we're talking about something a very long time ago."
So, this begs the question: Who wrote these works? Make your own conclusions based on the following support...
The Bard, William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Anti-Stratfordians sometimes make much of the fact that the early quartos of Shakespeare's plays did not have an author's name on them, implying that there was some effort to keep the author's name secret. But contemporary plays at that time were not considered literature, and most people didn't pay much attention to their authors, at least not until after 1600. Only about a third of all the plays printed in the 1590s named the author on the title page, and a significant portion of these were the Shakespeare quartos late in the decade.
From 1594 on, the plays of William Shakespeare were performed exclusively by the acting company variously known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men (1594-96, 1597-1603), Lord Hunsdon's Men (1596-97), and the King's Men (1603-42). William Shakespeare was a prominent member of this acting company. See http://shakespeareauthorship.com/howdowe.html for specifics.
Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604)
Perhaps the most notable of the claimants to Shakespeare's writings (besides the Stratford man himself), Edward de Vere set himself apart from the nobility due to his writing, in which some of his phrasing (if he were to have written the 'Shakespeare' works) was low-class or grosteque in nature...very unseemly and inappropriate of the upper-class.
Every issue that goes against Shakespeare seems to point to Oxford. Sigmund Freud even believed that Hamlet was about Oxford's life. His ancestor, the thirteenth earl, was the leader of the Tudor army in 1485 that defeated Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth field. He himself was second in command to repeal a Spanish invasion.
Other inviting pieces of information that may lead one to believe that Shakespeare was Oxford:
1. Graduated from Cambridge University at the age of 14, earned Masters from Oxford by 16.
2. Many Shakespeare characters seem to embody the life of Oxford reasonably well.
3. A number of similarities exist between the characters close to DeVere and Hamlet characters.
4. The held belief that Oxford used anagrams to conceal his identity in his works. Examples of this can be found in Sonnets 76, 104 and 125.
5. That at 23 he wrote about playing pranks on travelers on the stretch of road between Rochester and Gravesend -- which just happens to be the exact area Prince Hal's gang from the Boar's Head Tavern did the same thing in Henry IV, part 1.
6. 1580's -- four of deVere's friends were killed in street brawls, which parallels with Romeo and Juliet.
7. DeVere's ward, William Cecil, was openly satirized as Polonius in Hamlet. Hamlet's dialogue reveals many details about Cecil's career.
8. A major source of Hamlet was "Canfanus Comfort" to which Oxford wrote an Introduction and a poem.
Starting to wonder? See http://absoluteshakespeare.com/trivia/authorship/authorship_de_vere.htm for greater ideas.
Sir Francis Bacon
Bacon was one of the foremost thinkers of the Elizabethan age, who gave massive contributions to many different branches of knowledge: political science, economics, biology, physics, music, architecture, botany, constitutional law, industrial development, philosophy, religious thought, mythology, astronomy, chemistry, landscape gardening, and literature.
But Bacon is most famous for his vision of humanity's future, when knowledge would be based on verifiable experimentation, and science would be separate from theology. He was the first Englishman to use the word Essay to designate a brief discourse in prose...when generally were about humanity. He destroyed the old Aristotelian ways of thinking and was a stimulator of modern ones.
Dying in 1626 from complications of poor health and having been in the cold too long one day, Bacon's days as a scientist were what did him in. It is thought that his connection to the writings of Shakespeare are due to the vast amounts of humanity in the writings and the names of many in the plays that he would have had a friendship with on a regular basis, nothing more than that...which makes it a very weak case indeed. For greater depth into this argument, see http://absoluteshakespeare.com/trivia/authorship/authorship_bacon_marlowe_stanely.htm#Sir%20Francis%20Bacon
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
Part of the first generation of English Dramatists, Marlowe's career ended about the same time Shakespeare's began, although he was about only two months older than Shakespeare. When he came down to London from Cambridge at the age of twenty-three, he apparently became a spy, and maintained the espionage system which helped Elizabeth's government track Roman Catholics.
An exact contemporary of Shakespeare's, Marlowe was the author of "Dr. Faustus," "The Jew of Malta" and other classics. His career was cut short when he was killed in a tavern in 1593, at age 29. But was he? A whole Marlowe cult believes that he lived, that his death was faked and that he spent the next few decades cranking out plays under the Shakespeare pseudonym.
"Marlovians," who are both eccentric and vehement and rather sweet and believing, are willing to ignore the obvious -- that Shakespeare's and Marlowe's writing styles were completely different.
Theories about Marlowe's life and death are abundant; included in these tales are those who believe, without any substantiated evidence, that Marlowe wasn't murdered in the bar fight but lived on to write all of Shakespeare's plays for him. More than likely, it was simply Marlowe who showed Shakespeare what was possible in dramatic poetry though a number of his tragic poetic figures, such as:
*Tamburlaine, who was constantly seeking power through military conquests;
*Barabbas, the Jew of Malta, through money;
*Doctor Faustas, through knowledge of magic.
These greatest tragic heroes have been called "over reachers": self-driven, power-hungry men who refuse to recognize either their limitations as human beings, or their responsibilities to God and their fellow creatures. They all wanted to be more than mere men, and only death can put an end to their monstrous ambitions.
And now a movie emphasizes this issue!
But take this movie with a grain of salt, as it does promote a number of very hypothetical situations!