You may ask: what Shakespeare problem? He was one of the most successful screenwriters of the 1990's and he never has to be paid. He gets away with crude jokes that would be called tasteless anywhere else. Shakespeare's just fine the way he is! Shakespeare is high and low. Shakespeare is gay and straight. The Bard, whose personal story is unknown and unquestioned, has been reduced to an icon or symbol of rarefied intelligence, of impenetrable, unreachable genius.
All things to all readers, the author has conveniently disappeared in favor of his words.
The problem has emerged because the few biographical facts that exist about Mr. Shaksper of Stratford-on-Avon don't tally with what we would expect from the brilliant author of the plays and poems. The content, attitude, life experience, interests, and deep classical education evident in the plays surpass what is on record for William Shaksper of Stratford-on-Avon. Nothing in his life suggests that he was the author of the Shakespeare Canon, or had a reputation in his own lifetime to that effect.
The man commonly accepted to be the author Shakespeare was born in the village of Stratford-on-Avon in April of 1564. There is no record of his actual birthday, but the boy was christened on April 26, 1564, and his name, as given, was Gulielmus Shaksper. No, he wasn't Italian, … "Gulielmus" was the scribe's Latin spelling of William. The Shaksper family's name is spelled dozens of different ways, but the most frequent, in his own time, was Shaxper, or Shaksper. The boy's father, John Shaksper, was a glove maker. William Shaksper himself was essentially a grocer, grain trader and landlord by profession. No one in the village of Stratford thought of him as learned, bookish, poetical or theatrical, nor are there any legends, let alone records, of him producing any local entertainment.
The local records only confirm that William Shaksper was a merchant, not a lyricist or genius of letters. Shaksper's will mentions no books or manuscripts. There is no remnant of any evidence that he was even literate himself. His parents and his children could not read. (What writer would not teach his own children to read ?) Nor did his children benefit, or show they had any knowledge of his alleged celebrity as a playwright. The few historical connections which would place Shaksper as an actor or investor in the Globe Theater, or any other theatrical enterprise were all created after the "fact". There is no contemporaneous evidence that Shaksper, the grain dealer of Stratford, was the author of the Shakespeare Plays and Poems. In short, there is a rather big Shakespeare Problem, and it is one of the greatest historical and literary mysteries of all time. The modern image of Shakespeare the Author, in his quaint country cottage, writing for a living while suing his neighbors in small claims court, is a myth. The facts concerning William Shaksper of Stratford-on-Avon tell a different story.
Because of the peculiar facts stated above and more, critical doubt about the prevailing myth of the Shakespeare phenomenon has been raised over the past several centuries by some of the greatest minds in Literature, Philosophy, and Science.
The earliest speculation about a hidden hand behind the Shakespeare plays was in 1785, when the Reverend James Wilmot, D.D. attributed the authorship to Sir Francis Bacon. In 1848, an American consulate named Joseph C. Hart speculated in his book, The Romance of Yachting, that the Stratford man could not have written the plays. Hart proposed Ben Jonson as the author.
The issue became popular knowledge in 1857 with the appearance of The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded, by Delia Bacon. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the preface, and helped with both the publication and promotion. This can be considered to be the first Anti-Stratfordian book. Although this work is ponderous, pretentious, and thin on facts, the author launched a whole genre of thought and criticism with her idea that the Shakespeare plays were a vehicle for a new philosophy, that looked beyond religious minutiae, and was based on a higher love and reason. Because of her name, (though she was not related to Francis Bacon), people have assumed that Delia Bacon was the first Baconian. She was not. Delia believed in a group theory of authorship, though she offered that Francis Bacon supplied the philosophy that infuses the plays. In her book, she named Sir Walter Raleigh as the mastermind who created the Shakespeare Plays, using the talents of a circle of men. In Delia's view this is how it went with Raleigh and Company:
"He became at once the centre of that little circle of high born wits and poets, the elder wits and poets of the Elizabethan age, that were then in their meridian there. Sir Philip Sidney, Thomas Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget, Edward Earl of Oxford, and some other, are included in the contemporary list of this courtly company, whose doings are somewhat mysteriously adverted to by a critic, who refers to the condition of the Art of Poesy at that time ."
In the World War I era, research into the authorship problem took a different turn. Robert Fraser's The Silent Shakespeare, 1915, offered William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby as the W.S. behind the Shakespeare name. In 1919 Abel Lefranc published Sous le Masque de "William Shakespeare". LeFranc also zeroed in on William Stanley, who was the son-in-law of the 17th Earl of Oxford. The watershed year in this field was 1920, when John Thomas Looney, a British schoolteacher proposed the theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, a Courtier to Queen Elizabeth I, was the author of the Shakespeare plays and poems. He outlined his hypothesis and discoveries in his book, "Shakespeare" Identified. This book had a wide reaching impact among intellectuals. It was reviewed favorably in the London press by John Galsworthy. Both Sigmund Freud and James Joyce read "Shakespeare" Identified and wrote about their impressions. Freud actually revised his interpretation of Hamlet in the light of his new understanding.
The "Status Quo" opinion seems to be that "Shakespeare is just fine the way he is." This is essentially the Stratfordian Paradigm. Shakespeare is seen as a miraculous freak of nature: a self educated country merchant who somehow learned the theater inside and out and wrote the plays for money, and nothing more. Within the Stratfordian position there are a thousand mythical biographies of Shakespeare, based on each modern author's deconstruction of the plays and poems, with the few flimsy facts about Shaksper thrown in for color.
The next paradigm or world-view is based on the variation: "Shakespeare had a little secret." This we may term the Radical Stratfordian position. Within this umbrella are theories based on the idea that Shaksper-of-Stratford was indeed the author, but he had a secret life that shamed him, or was dangerous, and has thus never been verified. The most popular is the "Shakespeare was Gay" theory. Runners up are: "Shakespeare was a secret Catholic", "Shakespeare was a Spy", or "Shakespeare was a member of a Secret Society".
Venturing into un-orthodoxy completely we encounter the idea that "Shakespeare was really somebody else, but who knows who?" This is the classic Anti-Stratfordian paradigm. The 33 arguments against Shaksper's authorship of Shakespeare that I listed above have all been fleshed out into full explanations in countless books published in the last 100 years. There are many Anti-Stratfordians, and a good number of them are content to have the whole thing be a fine mystery, without yearning for a definitive answer.
The final stage is called Heresy or Truth, depending on your opinion. It is when one begins to make the claim, that "Shakespeare was __________ " (fill in the blank). If you fill in the blank with Francis Bacon, you are a termed a Baconian; if you complete the equation with the Earl of Oxford, you are an Oxfordian.
Robert Brazil, ElizabethanAuthors 4 Comments
[11/4/2017 5:31:46 AM]
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Submitted By: Katie