“We all know William Shakespeare. The most famous author of all times.Writer of 37 plays, 154 sonnets and several epic poems. And while we are here today, what if I told you Shakespeare never wrote a single word.”
~ From the movie “Anonymous”, 2011, Colombia Pictures
Act I, Scene I:
A couple of months back I had the opportunity to audition for Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. In this part of the world, the English theatre is still in its nascent stages and my life long dream of performing in a Shakespearean play seemed too distant and elusive to say the least, until “Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Magic Theatre happened. For every lover of literature and theatre, to emote the works of the great Bard, to get into the skin of his explosive characters with their multi layered persona and dark depths, is a challenge in itself…
Shakespeare’s stories carry with them the dichotomy of comedy and tragedy of the human condition. I have yet to read an author in all of history who can delve so deep into the psychological depths of his characters. Sometimes you cannot help but wonder at the almost savant like ability of William Shakespeare to make his protagonists so alive with the positive and negative characteristics so inherent in them, whether it be a Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth or Julius Caesar. One cannot but be in awe of the wide range of themes, and the in-depth knowledge that Shakespeare had from legal and political issues of the Elizabethan era to the psychology of human mind. In ways he was way ahead of his times.
I had to do some extensive character research into Helena, the slightly confused and overly dramatic character in the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” for the audition. And it was during those exhaustive Google searches for that perfect line, that glaring truth as nakedly ambigous as Shakespeare’s characters, flashed before my eyes. Google has the uncanny ability to do that. Sometimes to unearth facts during “search” that you least expect, that pull you deeper into its conspiracy filled world.
There lay within the confines of Google search, thousands and thousands of articles and manuscripts, one link leading to the other, questioning the authorship of William Shakespeare. I spent the whole night perusing through them, in shock and awe. That day, the seeds of doubt were sown in my mind. The unquestioned dedication and literary idolisation of the Bard came to an abrupt and semi complete pause. There was no looking back. I was now on the growing list of conspiracy theorists who laid doubts on the authorship of William Henry Shakespeare. That Shakespeare may not have been Shakespeare after all, and perhaps in all probability William Shakespeare was the nom de plume of someone far wiser, politically connected and socially bourgeois than our purported Bard of Avon; became a dawning possibility…
The Authorship Arguments
Despite a successful audition, I could not do the play and spent sleepless nights pondering on the revelations. I debated on my ” life altering find” with every lover of literature I knew. I wanted desperately for someone to convince me that I was wrong. It was around the same time that a good friend of mine, shared a transcript of “Is Shakespeare Alive?”, a bold but viciously argumentative text against the Victorian “Bardolation”, authored by none other than Mark Twain.
The proponents of the theory have very valid points. Around 230 years after his death, and after intense scholarly research and deconstruction of Shakespeare’s life, the arguments that the Anti-Stratfordianists present are varied and logical. According to Mark Twain, the celebrated American writer and author of “Is Shakespeare Dead?” and one of the strongest critics of Shakespeare’s authenticity, has the following to validate his stand:
1) There is no mention of Shakespeare during his lifetime (1564-1616) that says the author of the Shakespearean works was from Stratford. The first information of the Bard’s origin and life history as from Stratford began emerging in the First Folio in 1623, the only reliable text for about twenty of Shakespeare’s plays, and a valuable source.
2) At an age when eulogies were the tradition of the day, there is no evidence or documentation of it, when William Shakespeare died in Stratford. Once again the first memorial verse for William appears in the 1623 Folio. In Mark Twain’s words, “When Shakespeare died in Stratford it was not an event. It made no more stir in England than the death of any other forgotten theatre-actor would have made. There were no lamenting poems, no eulogies, no national tears – there was mere silence, and nothing more. A striking contrast with what happened when Ben Jonson, Francis Bacon, Edmund Spenser, Walter Raleigh and other distinguished literary folk of Shakespeare’s time passed from life.”
3) There is no mention in any of the available documents during the time of Shakespeare’s close association with the inner aristocracy as has been evidenced in the author’s dedications to the Earl of Southampton in two of his poems and from his other works.
4) The author of William Shakespeare’s works was a savant; to say the least. Someone who had in-depth knowledge of his time on all subjects such as law, music, classics, courtly mannerisms, sport and psychology. There is no documentation that William Shakespeare of Stratford had access to such information. On the contrary, he was born to good farmer-class parents who could not read, write or even sign their names. There is no documentation of Shakespeare’s school years either, or if he received any education at all at Stratford.
5) Despite evidence of Shakspere’s strong connection with the theatre, any documentation of his career as an actor is absent. There is no record that he had played any part in any of the plays. And yet, in the 1623 Folio, it enlists “William Shakespeare “ as the lead actor in the plays.
6) In Shakespeare’s will, which was humorously noted for the detailed distribution of household furniture; there is no mention of books, manuscripts, or of anything remotely of literary interest. The will did not mention any play, poem, not even a scrap of manuscript of any kind.
7) The only physical specimen of William Shakespeare’s handwriting available to us are a few of his almost illegible signatures, each very different from the other coming from the latter period of his life. None of these had anything to do with literature. The first syllable, incidentally, in all these signatures is spelled “Shak”, whereas the published plays and poems consistently spell the name “Shake”.
Potential Contenders for Shakespeare’s Nom de Plume:
There were many literary intellectuals during Shakespeare’s time. There were severe restrictions and censorship during the Elizabethean period against “blasphemy and profanity” in plays. Most often theatre companies needed the patronisation of the aristocracy. A play might be written, handed over to the manager of a company of actors, and produced with or without the author’s name. The plays were the property, not of the author, but of the acting companies. Thus there was a close interlink between theatre owners and mysterious writers during the time. Therefore, a lot of speculation surrounds the likely suspects who could have used Shakespeare as their pen name.
1) Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: His aristocratic knowledge of the upper classes and the structural similarities between his poetry and Shakespeare’s makes him one the favourites with the anti-Stratfordians . A strong similarity was seen between the character “Hamlet” and De Vere’s own life story. At courts, De Vere’s nick name was “Spear-shaker”.
“Anonymous“, a spectacular movie by Columbia pictures, is set in the political snakepit of Elizabethan England, and speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds ranging from Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to Henry James and Sigmund Freud, namely: Who was the author of the plays credited to William Shakespeare?
Anonymous poses one possible answer, focusing on a time when cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles hungry for the power of throne were exposed in the most unlikely of places: the London stage.
2) Christopher Marlowe: One of my personal favourites. He was an English dramatist, poet, translator of the Elizabethan era, and a government spy. Marlowe greatly influenced William Shakespeare, who rose to become one of the eminent Elizabethan playwrights after Marlowe’s tragic death. Marlowe’s plays are known for the use of blank verse, and their very strong overdramatic protagonists, just like Will’s. Shakespeare’s verses have an uncanny resemblance to the Iambic pentameter structuralisation that Marlowe followed.
3) Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St. Alban: Another strong contender, he was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist and littérateur. He was one of the leading intellectual political figures during those times. His knowledge on various subjects was exemplerary.
Act V, Scene V:
I: The haunting revelations have left me sleepless. Imagine that I was idolising you for the most part of my life. Your words became mine. Your verses, a basis of my life’s future interactions and inspiration. And now realising you are not the one who I thought you were.
Shakespeare’s shadow: Treasure my words for what they are, idolise the wisdom in every line that I have ever written… It’s not in my name, it’s in my thoughts and words that you must immortalise me. I am but a mortal and my works eternal.
I: I feel cheated William. And as much as all of Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth will always echo in the darkest recesses of my mind’s cavern, I can’t seem to forgive you. Speculations and conspiracies overshadow my loyalties.
Shakespeare’s shadow (laughing): My dear, “There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”