Thursday, November 08, 2007

The real Shakespeare was Shakespeare

I just finished Bill Bryson's engaging (and brief) biography of William Shakespeare. Very little concrete fact is available about Shakespeare's life, so this slim volume is padded with fascinating tidbits about life in England in the late 1500's, in Bryson's ebullient style. The concluding chapter addresses the theories of the anti-Stratfordists--those who believe that Shakespeare never actually wrote his plays.

If there is anywhere a bigger group of killjoys than the anti-Stratfordists, I don't want to know about them. I was first introduced to the idea that Shakespeare may have been a fraud my freshman year in college, when my English professor claimed that Shakespeare was not one person at all, but an umbrella name for a diverse group of playwrights.

It all started with the delightfully mad American scholar Delia Bacon who became convinced that Sir Francis Bacon (no relation) was the real Shakespeare. Her arguments were impressive enough to win the support of worthies the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathanial Hawthorne. (Hawthorne wrote the preface to her book The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspeare Unfolded and immediately regretted it, saying afterwards, "I will never be kind to anybody again as long as I live." Lesson: always read the book you have agreed to provide a preface for. ) Bacon traveled to England and was so sure that the proof to her notions lay buried with Shakespeare that she actually bribed a guard to leave her alone in the church with Shakespeare's tomb. She had planned to open the tomb, but couldn't bring herself to go through with it. Delia Bacon eventually died in an institution.

She was the first of many who for some reason, could not accept that an ordinary middle class man from Stratford could be the author of so many brilliant plays and sonnets. Other possible Shakespeares were Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke and Christopher Marlowe (who was killed in a barroom brawl long before many of Shakespeare's plays were even written.) The Earl of Oxford also died before Shakespeare. Why the need to tear a person down? Is it that some people are so insecure about their own lack of brilliance that they can't accept brilliance in someone else? I prefer to believe in the possibility of greatness.

*I took that quote from Hawthorne from Shakespeare, the World as Stage by Bill Bryson. The facts about Delia Bacon came from this book and also Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity and Rotten Luck by Paul Collins.

Refreshing this post. It's childish, but I'm getting annoyed that there are a couple blogs linked to Cville blogs that seem to refresh themselves automatically, filling most of the first page and pushing the more interesting entries out of site. Not that I'm presuming that this blog is one that is interesting, but other people's are and I'd rather see their latest entries on the front page and not a repeat of the same posts that were up a week ago and won't go away.

1 comment:

  1. I just bought this book for my husband for Christmas and am looking forward to reading it soon after I give it to him.