You can say many things about William Shakespeare, but it is quite apparent that he never let the truth get in the way of a good story. He was a genius who wrote plays that entertained and if that meant that historical veracity had to give way, on occasion, to dramatic impact or poetic notions then so be it. It has a certain sense of inevitability then, to the fact that so many people are so eager for a good story that they will deny he wrote anything at all.
There are many theories extant today about who may have been the actual author of the works we attribute to Shakespeare. If you’re new to this field of conspiracy you may be suprised to find out that such people as Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain and Helen Keller believed that it could not have been Shakespeare. There are several theories on the authorship question but they’re united by one thing: a refusal to believe that such a literary genius could have been a humble playwright from Stratford-upon-avon. The core of any Shakespearean authorship conspiracy is that, because of his origins and education, he could not have had the knowledge or ability, to write as he did. You can almost hear the naysayers mumbling “Can there any good thing come out of Stratford?”
The theory that first rose to prominence was that the eminent Elizabeathean philosopher Francis Bacon wrote the plays under a pseudonym to allow him freedom to write without jeopardising his standing at court. The theory was brought to the fore by Delia Bacon and furthered by Whitman, Emerson, Twain, Hawthorne and Helen Keller. The fact that a lady born in a log-cabin in the middle of Ohio decided that she was in a position to question the world’s greatest playwright’s authorship due to his background amuses me greatly; someone call Miss Morisette, we finally found something that’s ironic for her song.
The other theory that is presently favoured by anti-stratfordian scholars is that the plays were written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. The main evidence for this is that people think Oxford was kind of cool but he didn’t real do that much worth writing home about so they have to give him credit for something – clearly that pleb from Stratford couldn’t have written well so it must be his work. Oh, did I over simplify it? Sorry. But the Oxfordian view is undone by many facts, not least that Oxford died in 1604, while new Shakespeare plays were continuing to appear until 1613.
It’s not the place of this blog to detail in depth the evidence in favour of Shakespeare as the genuine author. All contemporary evidence available points to him and all of the presented alternate authorship theories rest heavily on conjecture. James Shapiro has written an excellent book on the subject entitled ‘Contested Will’. The subject has only been pushed to the front of my mind at present by the forthcoming film ‘Anonymous’ that is set to give mass publicity to the Oxfordian cause. The main problem I have with this, beyond the fact that it’s just another conspiracy theory, is the fact that here is possibly the greatest literary figure of the last millennia being attacked and assailed, post mortem, by people who simply refuse to accept that someone so seemingly pedestrian as the bard could have reached such hieghts of achievment. The film itself looks highly entertaining, I may well go and watch it, but please, please, please, don’t suggest that it is anything more than a fiction. We have a large body of evidence to say that Shakespeare of Stratford was the author of the works attributed to him, just because our vision of him doesn’t meet the vision of an author in our celebrity obsessed time doesn’t make him any less the author.
If, over the course of human history, we have learned anything about genius it should surely be that it crops up often in the least expected people and the least expected places. It is not dependant on education or on high birth or anything else; the truth is that you can’t predict when and where genius will appear or how it will show itself, which makes it all the more important that every soul gets given the opportunity to fulfil their potential.