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Who wrote Shakespeare? Hilary Mantel and James Shapiro say it was Will

March 23, 2010

James Shapiro

The question of who wrote Shakespeare’s plays has always seemed to me akin to the question of who’s buried in Grant’s tomb, except so much more irritating. So it’s gratifying in the extreme to find no less a brainiac novelist than Hilary Mantel agrees with me on all counts–and marshals not only emotion but also evidence.

In an elegant and witty column in the Guardian, Mantel uses a review of James Shapiro’s new book, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare, to demolish the idiotic theories that Shakespeare himself, being an undereducated country bumpkin too focused on the grubby business of making money, could not possibly have written the sublime plays.

So it must have been Francis Bacon. Or Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford. Or perhaps Will’s friend Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, the alleged bisexual, alleged pro-Catholic spy, who was not murdered in that sordid drinking house but survived to conduct further espionage, all the while slipping the plays he wrote into Shakespeare’s hand.

Of course, we know very little about the details of Shakespeare’s life. And yet it doesn’t take Occam’s Razor to see the simplest explanation for the authorship of the plays is Will. What gets me so hot about those who say Shakespeare could not have written these dramas is their elitism, or, as Mantel says, “snobbery,” which is downright anti-democratic.

Plus, the notion that the plays’ author must have been refined and highly educated absurdly overlooks the matter of genius. All manner of highly educated men (and women) live in every age. Almost none of them write on the level of Shakespeare.

Let’s see what Mantel, winner of the current Man Booker Prize for her brilliant historical novel, Wolf Hall, has to say on this point.

Poor Will

“It’s a tale of snobbery and ignorance, of unhistorical assumptions, of myths about the writing life sometimes fuelled by bestselling authors who ought to know better. The trail is strewn, Shapiro says, with ‘fabricated documents, embellished lives, concealed identity, calls for trial, pseudonymous authorship, contested evidence, bald-faced deception, and a failure to grasp what could not be imagined.”‘

In the end, Mantel argues persuasively, the anti-Will faction takes on the psychological trappings of conspiracy theory, resembling nothing so much as those who believe George Bush authorized the 9-11 attack, or the CIA killed John F. Kennedy. “Once you stop believing in Shakespeare,” she says, “you’ll believe in anything.”

An English professor and scholar at Columbia University, Shapiro is the author of several previous books, including the much-praised 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. The new book comes out in April.

In the meantime, I wonder why, whenever the authorship question comes up, Peter Ackroyd’s 2005 book, Shakespeare: A Biography, is so seldom mentioned. Highly readable, redolent of 16th century life, it tells a credible and surprisingly detailed biography of the man about whom so little is supposedly known.

Perhaps Ackroyd indulges in too much speculation for some, I don’t know — although the Independent, in its initial review, said, “You will not find a better book on Shakespeare.”

But I digress in my enthusiasm for Ackroyd. Mantel’s essay/review contains more delights than I’ve been able to report  here, and I recommend it to your reading pleasure.

Meanwhile, who do you think wrote the plays of Shakespeare? Are there any closeted Baconians, Oxfordians, or Marlovians out there? If so, speak up!

59 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy permalink
    March 23, 2010 1:05 pm

    The bit about Twain thinking Queen Elizabeth was a man still has me laughing.

    The lack of verifiable biographical documentation about the man (Mr. Shakespeare) himself leaves the door open for all sorts of questioning, so this debate may continue into infinity. Just proves the power of the man”s work. I believe Will did all his own stunts, if you haven’t gathered by now.

    As to whether or not his lack of formal education as anything to do with the greatness of his work all I can say is; a dullard with a degree is still a dullard.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    March 23, 2010 1:07 pm

    You betcha. My bias may be influenced by all the American civics and history I swallowed as a wee lad, but doggone it, I still hold it dear. I’m looking forward to Shapiro’s book, and cannot recommend Ackroyd’s biography too highly. Not only does it present Will as a recognizable and credible human being, it captures the spirit of the Elizabethan age with considerable texture.

    • Tommy permalink
      March 23, 2010 1:29 pm

      The Shapiro book and Ackroyd’s biograpky both interest me. I will not be reading them anytime soon seeing as I am busy with Abbdelrahman Munif’s “Cities of Salt” (the Arabic novel I chose) and Petra Hulova’s “All This Belongs to Me” (decided to travel to Mongolia). Both of which are excellent books.

      • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
        March 23, 2010 1:35 pm

        Good lad! I’m impressed you took up the Arab challenge with such alacrity, and, of course, Mongolia is, like the truth, always out there. And always fascinating.

  3. boneislandbooks permalink
    March 23, 2010 1:31 pm

    Thanks for the link and the recommendations! BTW, have you read either Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare biography or Ron Rosenbaum’s book The Shakespeare Wars? I’ve been eyeing both for the last couple years but haven’t gotten there yet …

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 23, 2010 1:37 pm

      No, I regret to say I haven’t. I’ve heard good things about both, but I can vouch personally for neither. Allow me to restate my enthusiasm for the Ackroyd. Really, an amazing book. It will be less impressive for those who hold that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays, but I have no sympathy for them. Besides, it still captures Elizabethan life to an astonishing degree. Fun to read, too.

  4. Connie permalink
    March 23, 2010 2:17 pm

    I’ve always thought the whole “somebody else wrote the plays” bit was a conspiracy theory on par with the one about men never really walking on the moon but on a soundstage somewhere in the desert. Isn’t it just simpler if Shakespeare wrote them? Sure, we all like a dash of intrigue, but some of the stories are so needlessly complex. Kudos to Ms. Mantel!

    I have just bought tickets for this summer’s Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon…Peter Ackroyd’s bio will be a perfect thing to read there.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 23, 2010 3:21 pm

      As usual (I would say “always” if not for your odd blindness regarding baseball), you get to the heart of the matter with clarity and directness. Now that I think on it, I’m surprised the X-Files didn’t do an episode on who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Jose Chung probably wrote the tragedies, Cigarette Smoking Man wrote the comedies.

  5. Candice permalink
    March 23, 2010 3:28 pm

    I’ve always thought of it as Much Ado About Nothing, but As You Like It. Right now, I would settle for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I suppose Alls Well That Ends Well.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 23, 2010 3:29 pm

      Well, it’s pretty much A Tempest round here….

  6. Howard Schumann permalink
    March 23, 2010 3:38 pm

    Mr. Mabe, if you are so certain of your view, please answer the following questions:

    1. The Sonnets were published in 1609 bearing the most personal and intimate details of a man’s life. At a time when the author was still alive, he took no part in its publication nor did he attempt to stop publication. Why?

    2. The dedication to the Sonnets is written to our “ever-living author”, a tribute almost always reserved for someone who is no longer alive. Why?

    3. In Sonnet #125, the author claims to have “borne the canopy”. This refers to carrying the canopy over royalty during a procession. Oxford was known to have done this on several occasions. A commoner such as Shaksper would not have been allowed within 1000 feet of the monarchs. Please explain.

    4. The first 100 or so verses of the sonnets entreats a fair young man to marry. Scholars agree that the fair young man refers to Henry Wriotheseley, the 2nd Earl of Southhampton. No commoner such as Shaksper of Stratford would be allowed to address royalty in such a manner. Please explain.

    5. Shakespeare without question was one of the greatest if not the greatest writer in the English language, yet his daughters were illiterate. Why?

    6. None of Shaksper’s relatives from Stratford ever claimed that their relative was the famous author.

    7. Dr. Hall was the husband of Susan Shaksper, daughter of William. In his journals he refers to famous men he knew and treated, yet never once mentions his wife’s illustrious father. Please explain.

    8. The sonnets are widely accepted to have been written in the early 1590s at a time when the man from Stratford would have been in his late twenties, yet his sonnets tell us that the poet was in his declining years when writing them. He was “Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,” “With Time’s injurious hand crushed and o’er worn”, in the “twilight of life”. He is lamenting “all those friends” who have died, “my lovers gone”. His is “That time of year/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs that shake against the cold.” Please explain.

    9. The sonnets that most contradict Will of Stratford’s life story are those about shame and disgrace to name and reputation. Here Shakespeare’s biographers have nothing to go on. The sonnets talk about a man who was in disgrace from fortune and men’s eyes. What biographical connection is there to the life of the man from Stratford that would have disgraced him?

    10. Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey were literary pamphleteers who wrote about the most prominent literary figures of the day and have many references to the Earl of Oxford, yet are strangely silent on any writer named Shakespeare. Why?

    11. After two successful poems were published under the name of Shakespeare (Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece), all the plays were published anonymously for five years until 1598 when William Cecil died. Why?

    12. At the height of his popularity, Shaksper retired to Stratford and bought property. It is widely agreed that many of his latter works were collaborations. Why would the greatest author in the language suddenly turn away from his profession, become a wealthy landowner and entrust the completion of his work to lesser writers?

    13. Many of the known sources for the plays were books in Italian, French, and Spanish which were untranslated at the time. There is no evidence that Shakspere could read any language other than English and there is even some question whether or not he was literate since nothing of his writing remains. There is no literary paper trail of any sort. While Oxford was fluent in those languages, what is there in the known background of the man from Stratford that could explain this knowledge?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 23, 2010 4:23 pm

      Ah, like all conspiracy theorists, you are so very sure of yourself. While I am no Shakespeare scholar, and pretend to be nothing but a lowly general reader and yet still entitled to an opinion, I will attempt to respond to a few of your points.

      First, as Hilary Mantel ably argues in her Guardian essay, it is a mistake to look for clues to the author’s autobiography within the works — either the plays or the poems. Shakespeare’s genius, as Mantel says, is “transpersonal.” I would add that this is a mistake of psychological anachronism, reading back into the work of a much earlier and different time the egocentric conception of human nature and art that Freud has saddles us with, and which most of us find it impossible to wriggle out from under.

      So using contents found in the Sonnets to repudiate what’s known or suspect about Shakespeare’s life is a fool’s game. Shakespeare posed in the Sonnets as an old man? Yeah, writers NEVER do that. Shakespeare wielded a supremely powerful imagination. I doubt he would hesitate to pose as an old man, a noble man, a woman, a child, or anything that suited the purpose of a poem or play. To suggest otherwise is to utterly misapprehend the creative imagination.

      A strong case can be made that some of the Sonnets arise from a homosexual love affair. I have no opinion on whether this is so or not, wary of the autobiographical fallacy discussed above But if Will and Wriotheseley were making the beast with two backs, I imagine Shakespeare felt comfortable calling the fellow by his Christian name.

      Illiterate daughters? Yeah, great artists NEVER neglect their families, do they?

      Did Shakespeare’s relatives know he was a famous author? Actors, playwrights and theater folk in general were held in low esteem, were they not? And were not plays considered, as screenplays are today, to be of negligible reading and literary value? And was not Shakespeare only one of dozens of busy playwrights at the time? The distinction he enjoyed in later generations emerged slowly, did it not?

      You tell me why J.D. Salinger retired to New Hampshire at the height of his fame and creative powers, and then I will tell you why Will retired to Stratford.

      As Tommy implies below, if the good Oxford, with his travels and education, wrote the plays, then why are they so filled with geographical, historical and other errors?

      Many of the questions you pose about Shakespeare and be turned around and presented to Oxford, or Bacon, or whoever. Where are the autograph plays in Oxford’s hand? Where is the paper trail leading to Oxford’s authorship of the plays?

      Your objections have the superficial appearance of factual evidence, but they are in fact a tissue of minor and irrelevant details, the same kind of coincidental linkages that are used to “prove” that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for the Russians. Or the Mafia. Or the CIA. Or the anti-Castro Cuban exiles. Or the Castro government.

      Thanks for writing, though. It’s been fun.

      • May 31, 2010 8:43 am

        Your blogging on this subject is absolutely wonderful: clear, cogent, witty. I have been reading/watching Shakespeare since elementary school and have always found the authorship “controversy” ridiculous. I’m an author and know many authors–the Shakespeare doubters evince a profound misunderstanding of how writers create. Everything that happens around us, everything told to us, relayed to us by whatever medium, is ours to use if we choose. We don’t have to have any experiences at all, any expertise. We can read about something, study it, interview people formally or otherwise, absorb. Shakespeare was not just a genius as a writer, from Ackroyd’s book, from what we read in Shapiro, Harold Bloom and others, he was a genius of empathy. He took in the world. That may be too hard for small-minded conspiracy theorists to comprehend, but it’s true. They are determined to pull him from his pedestal, which points more to their own psychology than to any mystery about Shakespeare. You can never please them, because they will marshal fake questions and half-truths, and then count your resistance as proof, somehow, of their own rightness.

  7. Tommy permalink
    March 23, 2010 3:55 pm

    Michel De Montaigne’s Essais translated by John Florio became available for Shakespeare in English in 1603.

    ^ Collington, Philip D. “Self-Discovery in Montaigne’s “Of Solitarinesse” and King Lear. Comparative Drama Volume 35 Nos. 3,4. Fall/Winter 2001-2.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 23, 2010 4:23 pm

      Thanks, Tommy. I always appreciate help with the heavy lifting.

  8. Howard Schumann permalink
    March 23, 2010 7:43 pm

    In other words, Mr. Mabe you cannot answer the questions and prefer to throw around trite phrases like “conspiracy theory”. Whenever things can’t be explained by logic and common sense, you must fall back on that old canard “literary imagination”, though the Sonnets are widely considered to be the most passionate and personal poems in all of English literature.

    Demonizing those who disagree with you may be satisfying to your ego, but this is all about evidence and the evidence supports Oxford.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 24, 2010 12:10 am

      I have no intention of demonizing anyone, though you are quick to jump into the role of maligned victim. Sorry. And this collection of trivial factoids does not amount to “evidence,” I’m afraid. You are certain, I see, that you have vanquished me utterly. Please, be my guest. Enjoy the consolations of your Manichean world view.

  9. Howard Schumann permalink
    March 24, 2010 12:40 am

    I’m not trying to vanquish anyone. My only interest in this matter is to uncover the truth.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 24, 2010 11:43 am

      I apologize if I sounded churlish or dismissive in the back-and-forth. Not my intention at all. I am very grateful you wrote to represent the anti-Stratford point of view. You did well. Thanks.

  10. March 24, 2010 7:18 am

    The faith that a man named William Shakespeare actually existed is the same as a child’s belief in Santa Clause. There is genius behind the plays which is different from the downright miracle of Shagspur who would have recieved the plays in the form of tablets from on High.
    The truth is a much better story.
    Edwin Larson

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 24, 2010 11:48 am

      Well…A man named William Shakespeare actually existed, of that there is no doubt. The question is whether he wrote the plays. Forgive me if I infer amiss, but you seem to promote the notion an undereducated actor and businessman from the hinterlands could not have produced the sublime plays ascribed to his name. If that’s the case, then I suppose you must also believe someone other than Jane Austen, an obscure country lass, wrote the novels credited to her name, and that someone other than the New England recluse wrote the poems of Emily Dickens.

      As for me: Genius will out, trumping birth, breeding, education and refinement each and every time.

  11. March 24, 2010 12:21 pm

    Those who doubt Shakespeare have to take into account Ben Jonson’s poem “To The Memory of Wm Shakespeare.” Jonson calls him “the sweet swan of Avon,” and confesses that neither man nor muse can praise Shakespeare’s writing too much – “Soul of the Age … the wonder of our Stage … ” [alive as long as] “we have wits to read and praise to give.” Jonson says Shakespeare outshined Lyly, Kyd and Marlow, all playwrights of the age. Anyone who looks into the subject knows without doubt that Shakespeare wrote SHAKESPEARE. Unless, of course, Jonson’s plays & poems weren’t written by Jonson either (gulp!). Maybe Oxford strikes again? Puuleeeze!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 24, 2010 2:10 pm

      Yes, and I’m starting to doubt if that motherless 18-year-old girl, Mary Wollstonecraft, could possibly have written so great and far-seeing a novel as Frankenstein. Surely it was her accomplished husband, the poet Percy Shelley, writing his his left hand…

  12. Linda Theil permalink
    March 24, 2010 1:02 pm

    Dear Chauncey, you reference Jane Austin and Emily Dickenson to support your contention that recluses can create literature, but those writers belie your point that Shakespeare was anything like them:

    1. There are real and solid connections between those women and their works — manuscripts, letters, reports; there are none linking the Stratford man to the work of Shakespeare.

    2. Those women learned to read and write; the Stratford man could barely scrawl a portion of his name and only six paltry signatures of his exist. Having seen those signatures, no one could be blamed for assuming they are the work on an illiterate.

    3. Jane Austin and Emily Dickenson wrote intimately about the world they knew; the man from Stratford knew nothing of the world of Shakespeare full of allusions to law, science, mythology, statecraft, music, medicine, geography, and other knowledge only gained by a life steeped in learning and rich in experience.

    In your loyalty to Stratford, you cite authority and condemn snobs. But authorities are often wrong, and it is not snobbish to love and admire what is truly great about this greatest of all artists.

    • Fred permalink
      March 24, 2010 2:39 pm

      Ms. Theil, you stated the matter succinctly. Chauncey earlier said “While I am no Shakespeare scholar….”. Well, yes. The heart of the matter is that the author of the Shakespeare canon was a classical scholar; the plays are much more than intriguing plots peopled with colorful characters, they are deep wells of classical allusion and meaning. That’s what makes the plays literature. I’m astonished by Hilary Mantel’s attribution of snobbery to anti-Stratfordians. No one disputes that a lowly-born grain-merchant from the hinterlands could have been a genius (or that many members of the aristocracy were, and are, dolts) but even genius requires tools with which to work. There is no evidence the guy from Stratford possessed these tools, none; indeed, there is much evidence to suggest the contrary. The idea that the rustic genius had some sort of unsurpassed “imagination” simply doesn’t cut it.

      And Mr. Mabe, each of your above points can be easily taken apart. (I don’t think you know a heck of a lot about Elizabethan society.) For example, you said “Illiterate daughters? Yeah, great artists NEVER neglect their families, do they?”. No one has claimed great artists never neglect their families. But such fact…or near-fact….is merely one more cog on the evidence gear, such gear having many dozens of cogs which, taken together, point to someone other than the guy from Stratford. The case for Edward de Vere does not rely on only one cog.

      • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
        March 25, 2010 9:07 pm

        That business about cogs is as clear an example of conspiracy theory in action as we are likely to see. I guess you go for little gray men, the Grassy Knoll and the Mayan apocalypse, too.

  13. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    March 24, 2010 2:17 pm

    I hope no one ever judges my literacy by the quality of my signature, for I will surely be judge a cretin.

    Perhaps we have more connection between Austen and Dickens and their work because they lived so much more recently?

    If familiarity with the wider world is necessary for the creation of the great plays, then why does Shakespeare get so much wrong? I offer you: A shipwreck in Bohemia.

    Again I say, genius trumps all other considerations. And it is snobbery — of the worst kind, in my eyes — to assume that the plays of Shakespeare must be the work of a highly educated nobleman.

  14. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    March 24, 2010 2:23 pm

    But the comparison to Dickens and Austen stands, because what the Oxfordians seem to find so offensive is the notion that a common person or rural origin, lacking breeding and education, could be the recipient of genius or the producer of great works. That is snobbery, the very definition.

  15. Linda Theil permalink
    March 24, 2010 2:48 pm

    But Chauncey, isn’t that the point? No one will have to judge you by your signature because they have so many other ways to judge you. Many documents survive from the Elizabethan age, yet the guy from Stratford never wrote so much as a grocery list. I never said the man who wrote Shakespeare knew everything, I only said he knew a lot and had to have had a way to learn it. (Besides, Bohemia DID have a coastline during the Elizabethan era.) Genius does not emerge full blown like flies in meat — the maggot must be drilled into the flesh. You are devoted to Stratford; I get it. I don’t get why you think it’s important to call me a “snob” because I think you’re mistaken about Shakespearean authorship. I don’t really care if you call me a name, I just don’t understand why on this issue, it seems that name-calling often substitutes for information.

    • RA Rycraft permalink
      March 25, 2010 12:44 pm

      On what authority do Howard Schumann, Edwin Larson, Linda Theil, and Fred base their assertions? Are they scholars of and experts on Elizabethan literature and society? Are they Shakespearen scholars?

      They automatically reject – each time you make a comment about genius, Chauncey – the plausibility, possibility, and probability that Shakespeare was a genius. They make unwarranted assumptions and state as opinion – hardly fact – claims such as Shakespeare’s allusions “can only be gained by a life steeped in learning” and “unsurpassed imagination doesn’t cut it.” Why? Says who? What about being a keen observer? What about negative capability? What about the many great writers who never “steeped” themselves in learning (and I deduce when the nay-sayers say “learning” they mean educated in a school or college regardless the era not educated or self-taught through experience and observation) and are in the literary canon. Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, and, yes, even Jane Austen come to my mind. Hemingway and Faulkner never went to college. Hemingway wrote directly from his experiences. Faulkner? He’s self-taught. Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen self-taught, too. Does anyone dispute their genius, their unsurpassed imagination?

      What about Duff Brenna’s point that Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare “that neither man nor muse can praise Shakespeare’s writing too much – ‘Soul of the Age … the wonder of our Stage … ‘ [alive as long as] ‘we have wits to read and praise to give.’”? Are any of the nay-sayers familiar with Ben Jonson? Are they in a position to question his credibility as Shakespeare’s contemporary – Jonson being the man who said, “I love [Shakespeare] this side of idolatry.”?

      • Fred permalink
        March 25, 2010 2:27 pm

        “Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, and, yes, even Jane Austen come to my mind. Hemingway and Faulkner never went to college. Hemingway wrote directly from his experiences. Faulkner? He’s self-taught. Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen self-taught, too. Does anyone dispute their genius, their unsurpassed imagination?”

        I’m often amused by the authors presented as examples by Stratfordians (IMHO they would seem to reinforce the case for Oxford), Jane Austen in particular. I would think Austen would be the last author with which a Stratfordian would wish to bolster an argument for the Stratford guy’s genius powers of imagination: Austen wrote about nothing other than her own milieu, the English gentry, while the Stratford guy, supposing he was an author, wrote about, with one exception (Merry Wives of Windsor), anything but his own milieu. With the Stratford guy as author, characters from his own milieu re presented as dolts and buffoons. Don’t you find this a bit strange? Can you give me another example of “genius”-level artistic rejection of background and environment? Perhaps the Stratford guy was possessed of some sort of extreme personality disorder? Oh wait, I forget, he knew what would play well with the Globe attendees and was out to make a quick buck!

        Anyway, I respectfully suggest that in the future you offer Sir Walter Scott, rather than Jane Austen, as an example of what it is you attempt to persuade: Scott wrote about matters outside his own milieu….the Crusades, for example….and once lamanted his lack of Austen’s gift to interestingly and convincingly drill down into everyday aspects of her environment rather than having to “imagine” the romantic and exotic. Austen, however, is held in much higher regard than Sir Walter Scott, so on second thought, maybe you don’t want to go there: the example of Scott may tend to diminish the supposed strength of your argument.

      • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
        March 25, 2010 9:22 pm

        Nice points, Rycraft, and to self-education and experience, I add reading. All the possible worlds open to any person who can read for him- or herself. All you need is access to the books.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 25, 2010 9:11 pm

      I am not devoted to “the man from Stratford,” as you insultingly call the man everyone else calls Shakespeare. But I am devoted to the notion that genius can arise spontaneously, with no special tending and no precursor. The idea that Shakespeare had to be someone with an elite education is anti-democratic, that’s what really steams me, and it is by definition snobbery. But don’t take the word of a lowly provincial book critic and blogger. You can rely instead on Hilary Mantel, who has spent the past five years in Tudor England, and has a Man Booker Prize to show for it.

  16. Eileen permalink
    March 25, 2010 10:48 am

    Wow, this is fascinating — not in small part because of the passion the subject of Shakespeare elicits. Here’s a great piece by Colm Toibin on “Will in the World” by Stephen Greenblatt from several years ago: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/03/books/review/03TOIBINA.html

    In the review Toibin says something, using Henry James to reinforce it, that kind of explains why we argue so much: Shakespeare is the literary equivalent of God.
    “The rest, except for his name on poems and plays and some stray references to his work, is a silence we are barely able to tolerate. As Henry James wrote in his introduction to ”The Tempest”: ‘It is never to be forgotten that we are in the presence of the human character the most magnificently endowed, in all time . . . so that of him, inevitably, it goes hardest with us to be told that we have nothing, or next to nothing.’ ”

    …. Thus leaving us to make it up. Or imagine it, anyway.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 25, 2010 9:32 pm

      We know from Ben Jonson that Shakespeare wrote fast (“he never blotted out a line”), which leads me to suspect — and this is a personal thought only — that he did not know how great his work was. That’s not to say he didn’t know it was good, but in the heat of composition (plus acting, directing, stage managing, money lending and other business ventures) he could not see clearly his own work. Also, I think he rushed from play to play — how else did he compose so many, at such a high level of quality, in such a relatively brief lifetime — which might explain why he retired to Stratford, to write no more. He was written out. Creativity has a life, an arc, and sometimes the person through whom it comes outlives it.

  17. Howard Schumann permalink
    March 25, 2010 2:16 pm

    RA

    It is irrational to ascribe every thing we can’t explain about the man from Stratford as “genius”.

    The assumption behind the support for William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author has to be that he was no ordinary mortal because otherwise there is no accounting for the detailed knowledge of the law, foreign languages, Italy, the court and aristocratic society, and sports such as falconry, tennis, jousting, fencing, and coursing that appears in the plays. I do not have any doubt that genius can spring from the most unlikely of circumstances. The only problem here is that there is in this case no evidence to support it. Would the greatest writer in the English language have allowed his daughters to remain illiterate?

    As far as Ben Jonson is concerned, he never said anything laudatory about Shakespeare when he was alive and was silent at his death. In fact, while Shakespeare was alive, Jonson lampooned him, as “Sogliardo”, the colorful country self-made-man who tries to buy a coat of arms in Every Man Out of His Humor.

    Indeed, there is no known personal link between Shakespeare and any of the known writers of his day. No one ever claimed to have met the man and there is no biographical information about who he was in the First Folio. When contemporaries refer to William Shakespeare, they are referring to the name on the title page and nothing else.

  18. March 25, 2010 2:43 pm

    This is just plain wrong, Howard. Jonson knew Shakespeare well. They were rivals and worked for a time in the same stage company. Shakespeare even acted in some of Jonson’s plays. Jonson remarked that PERICLES was not up to the mark. Yeah, he poked fun at him, but also loved him and recognized his (gasp, there’s that damn word again) genius and said so in the posthumous tribute in the Folio. And yes, I am a Shakespeare scholar. I’ve taught him for 17 years. And have had to listen to the anti-Stratfordians spin their webs of nonsense out of little more than their imaginations, which, in the way they twist things, rivals at times the imagination of the Bard himself.

  19. Howard Schumann permalink
    March 25, 2010 3:39 pm

    Duff

    Your post is insulting and arrogant. If this is what is being offered to students, no wonder there is so much ignorance on the subject.

    Johnson said not word one about Shakespeare personally while he was alive and only decided to say how much he loved him seven years after his death. He may have been rivals with the author Shakespeare, the name on the title page, but never identified the man behind the name.

    • RA Rycraft permalink
      March 25, 2010 4:46 pm

      So let me get this straight. The verbose blogger who has yet to specify his authority or credentials on the subject of Shakespeare attacks as insulting and arrogant the blogger who identifies his expertise and authority. Unbelievable.

      You might want to verify your facts before stating them as absolutes. A simple Google search on Ben Jonson should suffice. But just in case – here’s a helpful link: http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/players/player30.html

  20. Howard Schumann permalink
    March 25, 2010 4:56 pm

    RA

    The article is sheer speculation. There is no evidence to support it – no anecdotes, no stories, no letters or correspondence, nothing in writing whatsoever. The only thing Jonson wrote about his Shakespeare was written in the First Folio, 7 years after his death which went completely unacknowledged by his supposed good friend.

    As far as relying on scholars to determine what you think, the academic establishment has a vested interest in perpetuating the Stratford myth. Look to the evidence not the supposed scholars. Read some books that offer a different point of view.

    As author Gerald Massey put it, “They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority”

    • RA Rycraft permalink
      March 25, 2010 5:12 pm

      Oh brother. You are out there, Howard.

      I’m done here.

      • Fred permalink
        March 25, 2010 5:45 pm

        May the best-authorized and best-credentialed win! And a little peer-review is also helpful for victory.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 25, 2010 9:43 pm

      Howard, your response to RA –the academics have a vested interest blah-blah — is amusing coming from someone who claims to defend logic and evidence, for a more anti-intellectual position is unimaginable. It is, in fact, exactly the kind of “logic” used by people who claim George Bush brought down the Twin Towers, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and that aliens abduct people by the thousands for sex experiments. Sorry. The more you talk, the less credible you sound.

      • Howard Schumann permalink
        March 25, 2010 9:54 pm

        Chauncey – I shouldn’t say all academics have a vested interest since 292 academics have signed the petition expressing doubts about the attribution of authorship to Shaksper of Stratford.

        http://doubtaboutwill.org/signatories/field

        There are quite a few academics, however, whose entire career has been based on promoting the Shakespeare orthodoxy and who must defend the status quo at all costs.

      • Fred permalink
        March 25, 2010 11:02 pm

        Re vested interest: Quite so, Howard. Contrary to what one has been lead to believe, and therefore contrary to one’s expectations, university humanities departments are not typically seekers of truth, instead defenders of the status-quo. At any rate, English departments don’t much care about authorship; their concern is the text. History departments consider authorship a matter of literature, although it would appear that Edward de Vere as author would rewrite much of Elizabethan history.

        Sidenote: I’ve encountered a handful of acquaintances over the years, all readers and persons interested in literature, who upon confrontation with the concept of Edward de Vere as Shake-speare have been visibly taken aback at the idea that their high-school English teachers may have led them astray. lol I suspect that Roland Emmerich’s film “Anonymous” which concerns the authorship and is now in production, will create a critical mass in popular attitude such that within a decade or two de Vere will be presumed to be Shake-peare and the academics will behave as if that had always been the case.

  21. Howard Schumann permalink
    March 25, 2010 5:52 pm

    Fred- This is not about winning and losing. This is about determining the truth about an issue that has puzzled people for two hundred years. To do that does not require credentials, authorities, or peer-reviews, just an open mind and a willingness to dig until the truth is revealed. If it turns out that William Shakespeare is indeed the part-time actor and businessman from Stratford, I will be the first to acknowledge it.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 25, 2010 9:45 pm

      Unless and until Tommy or somebody invents a Time Machine, Howard, you will be secure in your misconceptions.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 25, 2010 10:42 pm

      Howard, must you demonize your opponents? “There are quite a few academics, however, whose entire career has been based on promoting the Shakespeare orthodoxy and who must defend the status quo at all costs.” Really? There’s no chance that they have looked at the evidence and actually believe what they preach? Even if you are right and they are wrong, is it not possible to presume their error is honest? You show yourself in an ill light by such lack of graciousness.

      • Fred permalink
        March 26, 2010 1:58 am

        I hesitate to but in once again, Chauncey….sort of….but I find the authorship question fascinating, and on several different levels. I don’t believe Howard intended to “demonize” any “opponents”, he was merely presenting things the way they are. Think of it: English departments have been presenting (“preaching”?) the Stratford guy as Shake-speare (the hyphenation is intentional), as received wisdom for some time now, with only giggles and smirks remaining for the authorship issue. (Personally, I think the Baconites and their coded texts put most people off over a century ago). Well, now, do you imagine that many English departments would hire a newly-minted lecturer or adjunct who professed a belief in Edward de Vere as author? (There are some courageous exceptions. Not far from me a professor at a small liberal arts college teaches Shake-spear from the de Vere perspective.) The Stratford guy as author has been a self-perpetuating, and very powerful, meme. Also, an apparently hugely appealing meme for a great many people, which is something I don’t quite get. (Some sort of reverse snobbery, perhaps? An egalitarian trope?) For example, my high school and college English professors drilled the concept that great writers write about what they know; Invariably, and with Jane Austen high on the list of examples of that concept (see my post above), With. One. Exception: Yep, Shake-spear who was presented as an author of Great Genius and Imagination with the ability to Transcend Human Limitation. Oh well.

  22. Tommy Smart permalink
    March 25, 2010 6:09 pm

    My monkey just finished his rough draft of King Lear, anyone know where to get typewriter ribbon anymore. No rush, I am giving him as much time as he needs.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 26, 2010 9:40 am

      Fred,

      English teachers do love to say that writers write what they know, whereas writers go right ahead and write any damned thing they please. Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage after walking a few Civil War battlefields. Twain wrote Joan of Arc without being burned at the stake. Russell Banks wrote The Sweet Hereafter without having suffered the loss of a child. I could go on. And on.

      • Fred permalink
        March 26, 2010 5:30 pm

        Yeah? Well, the Nancy Drew series was published under the pen-name Carolyn Keene, so that shows that Edward de Vere was Shake-speare.

  23. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    March 26, 2010 2:54 pm

    Here are some links you all might find instructive:

    http://shakespeareauthorship.com/howdowe.html#5

    http://shakespeareauthorship.com/whynot.html

    • Howard Schumann permalink
      March 26, 2010 4:39 pm

      Chauncey – Thanks for the links. I am familiar with Kathman and Ross’ website. Even though the site declares Oxfordian claims to be not even worth discussing, the entire website is devoted to doing just that. Kathman and Ross assert that “some…extreme Oxfordians claim that there is an active conspiracy among orthodox scholars to suppress pro-Oxford evidence and keep it from the attention of the general public,” although I have never come across such claims and the website offers no evidence to support its assertion. The site makes broad, general assertions about contemporary evidence for Shakespeare mostly citing references to the name that appears on the title pages of some plays.

      The reference to John Davies dedication to our English Terence raises more questions than it answers since many people at the time believed that Terence was a Roman actor who stood as a front-man for one or more Roman aristocratic authors. For example, In ancient Rome two aristocrats (Scipio and Laelius) were suspected of being the true authors of the plays that appeared under the name “Terence,” a freed Carthaginian slave; the allegation is even mentioned in the prologue to one of Terence’s plays, The Brothers.

      Kathman also refers to a monument at Stratford proving that the man from Stratford was the poet Shakespeare. What he does not say, however, is that Shakespeare’s grave monument was altered after its original creation, the original monument merely showing a man holding a grain sack, instead of with the pen in his hand.

      All the other claims can be refuted but I simply do not have the time to refute all the assertions made on the website. I do want to say the following, however.

      In their attempt at a “case closed” explanation called “How do we know that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare?” they offer the following arguments. “We know because the historical record tells us so, strongly and unequivocally…

      These arguments of course ignore the following points articulated by Hank Whittemore, “Yes, the name “Shakespeare” was printed on the narrative poems and plays, but never during the Stratford man’s lifetime was he ever connected to that name or was that name ever connected to him. Up to his death in 1616 (and for years afterward) he can be identified only as a businessman — money lender, grain dealer, property buyer — and never, not once, identified as a writer.”

      Might I also make a suggestion. I assume you haven’t read any books challenging the status quo. If you have, I apologize and would like to know what you have read among the following:

      Shakespeare’s Unauthorized Biography by Diana Price
      The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn
      Alias Shakespeare by Joseph Sobran
      Shakespeare by Another Name by Mark Anderson

      Thanks Howard

      • Fred permalink
        March 26, 2010 5:26 pm

        Howard, what the Stratfordians engage in is known as Groupthink, and a more classic example of which I have seldom seen.

  24. Howard Schumann permalink
    March 26, 2010 7:04 pm

    Chauncey – Since I do have a life and do not have the time to do the research to refute every assertion by Kathman, here’s the best article I could find to counter it.

    http://www.shakespearefellowship.org/virtualclassroom/stateofdebate/LovesLaboursLost.htm

    Thanks Fred for your support.

  25. June 22, 2010 7:16 am

    Shakespeare the man or Shakespeare the Fraud? The debate is heating up, and author Lev Raphael tackles the arguments for the latest “real Shakespeare,” as well as the supposed reasons why Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have written his plays.

    http://www.bibliobuffet.com/book-brunch-columns-322/1304-anyone-but-shakespeare-062010

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