Shakespeare: Did He Or Didn't He?

Well it looks like it's time to play the academics favourite game again. Did he or didn't he, that is the question? What a piece of work is Shakespeare, how noble in style. How infinite in plot devices, and unlikely to be the work of William Shakespeare. But he, ill suited to strut before the wanton academics eye, a glover's son, scarcely of a class that could do not but descant upon their own illiteracy, cheated by nature of style, wit and position, ill suited for the title of literary master, must therefore be impostor and never written those fine upstanding words. Oh what peasants, rogues and slaves are they that do suggest such drivel! But they are so o're steeped in blood they can no longer turn back. Oh for a muse of fire to ascend the brightest heaven of invention, than might they have an original idea. Plots have they laid, inductions dangerous, to set us and William in deadly hate the one against the other. Their drunken prophesies that state Bacon or now Sir Henry Neville Will's plays be written by. A plague upon all their houses. Alas, poor academics, I know their type all too well. Sent before their time into this world scarce half made up, with hearts so dry and dusty, that emotions recoil from them, and their only joy is to make misery for others. In this world of pleasure and content, since they cannot play the hero, they are determined to play the villain. The latest entry into the pointless idiocy exercise of proving that Shakespeare didn't write the plays he wrote is by two folks, Brenda James and William Rubinstein, who have written a soon to be published book called The Truth Will Out: Unmasking The Real Shakespeare. In their, oh so cutely titled, book they claim that the above mentioned Sir Henry Neville had to have written the books. Their proof: all the references to his family in the histories, and that only a courtier such as himself would be able to describe the different geographies of Europe and the political intrigues at court. In other words that guy William Shakespeare just wouldn't have moved in the right circles to be able to write what is attributed to him. Well that's a good one. Snobbery as an explanation as to why Shakespeare couldn't have written any of his work: he was only the son of a Glover after all and what do they know. Now to give James and Rubinstein some due, literacy was no where near as common then as is now, and a knowledge of foreign geography was limited. However, all of our biographical information of Shakespeare suggests that he was an educated man. As for his insights into court politics, and the incidences of families appearing in his plays, that is easily answered as well. They both revolve around the fact that in order to survive he would have had to solicit the patronage of people in the court for financial backing. What better way to butter up a potential patron then promising to immortalize his family by including them in the plays (in fact the character of Banquo and his son Fleance in Macbeth were ancestors of the King James 1st of England.) To be able to secure patronage one would have to know as much about the intrigues in the palace as would any courtier, how else would you know who was safe to approach for money and who not. I also wonder at their assumption that in order to write anything the author would have had to have first hand experience of the circumstances. How many mystery writers have actually killed someone? How many horror writers actually know a vampire? If we were to follow their line of reasoning there would be no such thing as fiction anymore, simply reporting on what we'd seen in our lives.
" Neither side seems to give much credit to the artistic imagination: Whoever wrote Shakespeare's plays, he, she or they clearly rejoiced in a very large artistic mind capable of dramatizing a huge range of classes, experiences and places. No single person could possibly have had first-hand experience of all this.” Kate Taylor "The Globe and Mail" Wednesday Oct. 12th 2005.
Shakespeare's histories are full of glaring inaccuracies, ones designed to throw the current monarch in the best light possible, which only furthers the case in favour of the artist trying to sustain himself through the patronage of the court. He had access to the histories that had been written at the time and there was plenty of travel between the continent and England in those days. How difficult would it be for Shakespeare to pick up information about a variety of countries from sailors and traders he would meet in the bars down by the docks where the play houses were? Where else would such fanciful elements of the sea stories like The Tempest have evolved if not from the mouths of sailors? I find it easier to visualize a man of Shakespeare's class being able to imagine and recreate scenes at court, than a courtier being able to recreate the bawdy speech of the street that is predominant in all of his plays. Yes artistic imagination works both ways, but going down the class scale is far more traumatic than faking your way up for all involved. None of the past theories have stood the test of time and popular sentiment. We don't here very many people mentioning Sir Francis Bacon anymore, or even postulating that Chris Marlow wrote Shakespeare's plays. (the fact that Marlow was dead before Romeo and Juliet was produced seems to have put a crimp in that theory) So even if this new theory gains some notoriety, I don't foresee it ever knocking Will off his pedestal. Until someone comes up with an original folio signed by someone other than William Shakespeare, and not in ballpoint pen either, most of us will just keep on believing that the man from Avon was the one and only writer of the whole works. Nobody has provided sufficient proof of anybody else's credentials to even seriously erode that belief. All the world's a stage and Will has written the best lines for it.


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