‘Who Wrote Shakespeare?’ by John Michell (Thames & Hudson) is, in my opinion, probably the best book of introduction to the ‘Shakespeare Authorship‘ Question. However, this book is not so easy to find these days.
I have been fascinated by this Shakespeare puzzle for several years now, though I am still a long way short of doing enough research, and even further away from coming to a firm answer which sits well in my mind. It is an enigma which has occupied many individuals their whole lifetime over the last two hundred years, or more.
So why is there any doubt that the man of Stratford Upon Avon in central England is the true author of the plays which bear the name William Shakespeare? The chief problem is that the known life of William Shakespeare, or Shakspere (the spelling of his name is a subject unto itself), does not appear to be that of the greatest writer of all time.
Where is Will?
To cut a long story short, there are around half a dozen known signatures purportedly of this man, but they are all poorly written. Some say that is because all those that survive are from when he was ill at the end of his fifty two year old lifespan.
More than this, out of around seventy or so pieces of other documentary evidence, none refer to anything to do with literature, or books.
What the records do seem to show are the dealings of a business man, with a keen interest in litigation. This man does appear to be in London at the right time and involved in the theatre, though not as a writer, but as a minor player – at best. His dealings with the London stage scene of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean times all centre around business.
These are the prime reasons for doubt. But who might have written the plays and the poems?
John Michell, who had a very find mind and wrote some fascinating, enlightening books, put the arguments across superbly. He has chapters for the prime candidates, including Shakspere (the spelling of his name is a subject unto itself) of Stratford. First comes Francis Bacon, a known intellectual of the period, a writer and philosopher with all the prerequisite knowledge and library of books to have written the works – if not the genius.
Then comes the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, who has consistently been the favourite candidate for around a century, even though he died in 1604 and the plays of Shakespeare are thought to have been written as late as 1611 with The Tempest. There is much to link his life to the works of Shakespeare, even down to a broad knowledge of Italy and other European areas which feature so prominently in Shakespeare.
Two other earls appear in Michell’s list, namely William Stanley the 6th Earl of Derby and Roger Manners the 5th Earl of Rutland. They both have intriguing links to the mystery, though we still apparently lack definitive and documentary evidence. Why are there so many aristocrats here? The primary reason is that when one looks at Shakespeare’s works as a whole, he does appear to have a deep familiarity with and love of the workings of courtly things and of history. A midlander with barely a grammar school education is far less likely to have been able to write what Shakespeare did. Yes, genius does exist, but even genius needs an education.
Nom de Plume
What is more, in those days it was rather unseemly for high ranking individuals, such as the aristocracy, to publish work in their own name – they would often use a nom de plume for disguise.
Equally intriguing is the case of Christopher Marlowe, born just two months before Stratford Will and the one man whose sheer brilliance as a playwrite and poet can stand alongside the author we know as Shakespeare, creating such masterpieces as ‘Tamburlaine’ and ‘Dr Faustus’.
A Reckoning Over A Bill
However, always a controversial figure, Marlowe’s candidacy is fatally flawed in that he officially died on May 30 1593 at Deptford, London, apparently murdered over a dispute about a bill, or ‘reckoning’. Marlowe was also an intelligence operative and much of his activity is murky. However, some feel that this story and the subsequent inquest are totally unsound, that he somehow survived and continued to write in secret with the nom de plume, William Shake-speare.
There are also proponents who believe that Shakespeare was a collaborative effort, involving two or more of the above. As strange as it sounds, at this point in my research, I tend to favour this, though as to the candidates involved I am not yet certain.
So there it is, a very fine book – if you can find it, whatever you may think of the subject. So who wrote Shakespeare? I don’t know! But I will continue to investigate, little by little. Many still close their ears and shout ‘conspiracy theorist!’ Cognitive dissonance is a feature of our times and is surely something to get over. Do we believe in freedom of thought, or not? That is the question.
I have only skimmed over the candidates here, but I intend to write some more involved pieces about specific men – and even a couple of women. I will also bring my astrological knowledge into play where I can.