Monday 18 July 2016

Did Shakespeare really write those plays?                                                     

Before I answer that question, I will give you some background information about this famous man.

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616 at age 52. He spent his life in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England He married Anne Hathaway ib 1582. They had two daughters and a son who died at age 11. At that time in England about a third of all children died before age 10

He left no surviving letters or autobiographical testimony that would tell us more about his life.  Only a few scraps of new material relating to Shakespeare in his lifetime have surfaced over the past century. But now, a researcher has uncovered nearly a dozen previously unknown records that shed clearer light on another much discussed side of the man. He was social climber.

Scholars have long known that Shakespeares father, John, was a businessman and justice of the peace in Stratford. He had first made inquiries about a coat of arms at around 1575. It has been speculated that it was William who renewed the effort in 1596, on his father’s behalf.

A threatening attack came in 1602 from Ralph Brooke, a herald in the College of Arms who had long been at war with his archrival, William Dethick, who held the title of Garter King of Arms. That year, Brooke, drew up for submission to the queen a list of 23 “mean persons” who had wrongfully been granted arms by Dethick, including “Shakespeare the player,”  I don’t know if Brooke thought of Shakespeare as a playwright or as a producer of plays.

And now I will try and answer the question I placed as the heading of this article.

The first time I heard that question was in 1954. But there is no doubt in my mind that that question has been asked for centuries.

Even people who have never actually read Shakespeare’s plays have heard the theories—Shakespeare's plays were written by Francis Bacon! Shakespeare's plays were written by the Earl of Oxford! Shakespeare's plays were written by anyone but William Shakespeare.

The most popular of the anti-Stratfordian theories is that the plays attributed to Shakespeare were written by the 17th Earl of Oxford. However, Edward de Vere died in 1604, and significant evidence indicates that some of Shakespeare's work was produced years later. It has been suggested that the 17th Earl of Oxford had actually written those extra plays prior to his death.                             

After the death of his father (16th Earl of Oxford) in 1562, he became a ward of Queen Elizabeth and was sent to live in the household of her principal advisor, Sir William Cecil.

De Vere travelled widely throughout Italy and France. He was among the first to compose love poetry at the Elizabethan court and he was praised as a playwright, although no plays traditionally attributed to him personally survive. It is believed that his plays and sonnets were given to Shakespeare.

It is my personal belief that the Earl of Oxford wrote them and passed them on to William Shakespeare and let him claim the authorship of what he himself had written. Why you ask, would the Earl let Shakespeare take the credit for his own writings? There is a very simple answer to that question.

The Earls of Oxford were also hereditary holders of the office of Lord Great Chamberlain from 1133 until the death of the 18th Earl in 1625. The author of Shakespeare’s literary works was in a tenuous position in the court. If it was known that he was the author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare; his property, freedom and perhaps even his life could be at risk.  Even today, some authors in various countries write their works under pseudonyms for fear of their lives.

As for lacking experience, anti-Stratfordians (as the authorship doubters are sometimes called) usually point to plays featuring royals or to plays set in foreign countries, and argue that a provincial commoner such as Shakespeare could not have been familiar enough with these topics to have written his plays about royalty or about foreign countries and their customs if he had never visited those countries—which he hadn’t.  

However, as a member of a royal acting company, Shakespeare had plenty of opportunity to experience the courts of sovereigns first-hand. And as an avid reader of history, he could certainly re-create a foreign country in his fictional plays.

However, the rising middle class of the nineteenth century and the centuries to follow could not believe that a mere country stripling could have written what scholar Stephen Greenblatt calls “the most important body of imaginative literature of the last thousand years.”

But those who can't believe that a man with a grammar-school education wrote these plays and poems overlook a sobering fact that only 70 documents linked to Shakespeare exist and more than 90 per cent of them are dealing with him as a businessman or an actor and not as a playwrightI should point out that there is no record of his schooling. Further, not one single manuscript in his own hand of even a fragment of his amazing body of work has ever been found.

The authors of modern English literature were overwhelmingly from the working class. Not only was Shakespeare the son of a glover; Ben Jonson was the son of bricklayer, and Edmund Spenser the son of a tailor, while Christopher Marlowe was the son of a butcher. I don’t claim to be a great writer but my work is published and I helped compile the first edition of the Gage Canadian Dictionary and my father was a mechanical engineer.

The case for the 17th Earl of Oxford is about the belief of class-conscious gentlemen that only an aristocrat could produce great works of literature. Of course that isn’t true at all. However one thing is for sure. He was familiar with royalty since the Earl was a cultured aristocrat in the court of Queen Elizabeth and as such, he would be familiar with historical facts related to past kings and queens and he traveled a lot in France and Italy.  This cannot be said about William Shakespeare.

There is also much belief that a real person named William Shakespeare wrote the poems and plays attributed to him and that this very Shakespeare also became an actor in the company that produced the plays. 

Mark Twain, one of the most famous doubters, author of the essay Is Shakespeare Dead? wrote: “So far as anybody actually knows and can prove, Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life.”

“I am ‘sort of’ haunted by the conviction,” wrote novelist Henry James, “that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world.”

Sigmund Freud, whose own work is often equated with Shakespeare’s in its cultural impact and who drew heavily on Hamlet for some of his own theories, also believed that someone other than the actor from Stratford wrote the plays. “It is undeniably painful to all of us,” he said, “that even now we do not know who was the author of the Comedies, Tragedies and Sonnets of Shakespeare.”

“I can hardly think it was the Stratford boy,” wrote Charlie Chaplin of the plays. “Whoever wrote them had an aristocratic attitude.”

There is a great many other people (and I am one of them) who feel there are many reasons to think that Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays and sonnets.

You get more of a rise if you say Shakespeare didn't write the work he is credited for than if you say there isn't a God. I have actually claimed both in my blog. However, I don’t publically make claims that I haven’t thoroughly researched first.

I do not believe that the son of an illiterate glove-maker born in a small rural town in 1564, whose schooling, if any, is unrecorded and who never left England, could possibly have acquired the knowledge of law, science, foreign languages and aristocratic mores that occurs in the plays, much less the command of such a soaring vocabulary. He had to have been an aristocrat or part of a group of aristocrats; each of whose members contributed different pieces of specialized information. Certainly, the 17th Earl of Oxford would fit that role. Do you really think William Shakespeare had those qualities?

On a balance of probabilities, it is my respectful opinion that the17th Earl of Oxford was the author of the plays and sonnets attributed to William Shakespeare with the latter being the man who actually produced the plays. 

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