Well, obviously, I do, or I wouldn’t bother to write about this occasion. I remember that in the spring of 1964 (the 400th anniversary of Will’s birth), while I was an undergraduate at Indiana U., the Theatre program focused the entire spring season (3 productions) on Shakespeare’s works. I remember working on sound for the production of The Tempest that spring and I think I also ran sound for The Comedy of Errors. I confess that I don’t remember what the other production was that spring, but I know it was a Shakespeare play, although I wasn’t in the cast or crew.
I think it’s a bit sad that there doesn’t seem to be much evidence (at least which I have found) of theatre programs, or even theatres, making much notice of today’s event, which, I believe, is somewhat sad. I think the day is of some importance So, the obvious question is; Why do I think so?
One, I don’t believe, anyone can deny that the plays and poems of William Shakespeare have had an major impact on Western civilization since the time that they were written. They are widely known, referred to, produced (both on stage and in film), studied and argued over today and have been since the time of their creation. Among the huge number of books about him and his works is Stephen Marche’s book How Shakespeare Changed Everything, which suggests that his influence has been greater than that of any political or religious leader of all time. I won’t go that far, but I think one could make that case. No, I’m not going to make this all “scholarly” and fill this entry with quotes from “learned” sources. If you wish to argue about the ultimate impact of Shakespeare and his works, I’d suggest that you read some of the many, many books on the subject and draw you own conclusions.
One question, which I can’t ignore (although perhaps I should), however, is the question of; “Who was Shakespeare?”, a question which seems to worry a fair number of people. Since roughly the middle of the Nineteenth century (Note: nobody much even thought about this until then), there have been something like 80 different candidates (including several groups of folks) proposed as the “true” author of Shakespeare’s works. A fair number of people, including Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Henry James, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles have all expressed real reservations about the idea that “that man from Stratford” actually wrote these works. Even a fair number of well-known actors and other theatre folk (including some alive today and known for performing in these works) have at least suggested that “he” couldn’t have written them.
Personally, I think that the arguments (and I have read a fair bit about this question) just don’t add up, although some are quite ingenious. I won’t repeat them here, if you’re interested, they are widely available for you to read on your own.
It’s worth noting that very few of these “anti-Stratfordians,” as they are known, are really scholars, although a few, legitimate institutions have gone so far as to create programs and degrees regarding the “Shakespeare question,” which seems to imply that it’s legitimate.
While I disagree in the legitimacy of the question, I can’t prove anything, any more than they can prove theirs. Still, I’m not going to wade into the many arguments. Others (many of who are established, reputable scholars) have written at great length about what they see as the flaws in these arguments. Again, there’s plenty to keep one occupied for a long time.
No, I’m not going to rehash all of this stuff. There is, however, one point, which seems relevant, which I haven’t encountered. Others may have advanced it, but I haven’t seen it in anything I’ve read. It’s not based on facts (a weakness, I admit), but I find the logic inescapable. That is what I call the “conspiracy theory” argument.
Not the theory that the “anti-Stratfordians” have that advocating the “man from Stratford” as the author is really a conspiracy of English professors and Stratford business interests to deny credit to the “real” author (fill in the one you choose). No, I’m speaking of what would have to be the most successful conspiracy theory in the history of the world; the one which set up William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon as the author of the plays and poems which have come down to us as “Shakespeare’s Works.” Let me explain….
If, as the anti-Stratfordians would have us believe, someone else (be it Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, or one of the other candidates) really wrote these works. (I should mention in passing that Oxford is probably the leading candidate today, advocated by many people and supported in the movie Anonymous and other places, but he is NOT the only choice [see above]). Anyway, IF, as Anonymous, and other sources suggest, Will Shakespeare was merely a mediocre actor (and something of a fool) who was used by Oxford as a “front” because a member of the nobility couldn’t let it be known that he was writing plays for the common stage, then I don’t understand how it would have worked.
After all, If Will was the boob he is made out to be, wouldn’t somebody have noticed? We know that there were a fair number of people who knew him. Among others, his fellow actors and (eventually) shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain’s (later the King’s) Men. Some of these same people also were fellow investors in the Globe and the Blackfriars Theatres. They HAD to have regular contact with Shakespeare, as they worked with him on a daily basis. There are references to Will as an author by other authors of the time, as well as by the general public. As a member of an acting company which we KNOW toured, he had to have had contact with many people of a wide variety of social ranks, including people with really good educations. There were folks in Stratford who MUST have known him and who made statements regarding his wit, etc. He was even, eventually, made a “King’s Man,” as a member of the company sponsored by King James which made him a “Groom of the Chamber” and required to do a number of things for the king, himself. Since some of his poetry was published during his lifetime, it seems likely that there was also some contact between Will and various people in the printing business. We know he engaged in a number of lawsuits, so Will had to have had some contact with lawyers, as well. We know he lived in various rented rooms in London during at least part of his time there, so he must have had contact with those people, too. If the theory is correct, he fooled them all. I think that would have to make him either the actual author or the greatest actor of all time.
Just think about it. If this theory is true, for about 25 years he fooled everyone he had contact with into thinking he was a highly successful author. He died in 1616, yet it wasn’t until close to 1850 that anyone suggested that Will Shakespeare wasn’t the author of the poems and plays which appeared over his name. That’s 230 some years of success with the conspiracy to make people believe that this “front” was the actual author. In fact, the conspiracy still works because there are many well-educated scholars (I’m not including myself as a significant scholar) who are still convinced that he actually wrote these works.
Given the number of people who he had to have contact with, to say nothing of those who had to know him well as a colleague, etc.; does it seem probable that NO ONE would have questioned his authorship until well over 200 years after he died? That doesn’t seem likely to me. That’s not any sort of proof, of course, although I think it’s at least as sound as some of the arguments I have read which claim to “prove” that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.
Whoever created these works, their influence has been profound. If someone wants to believe that someone other than Shakespeare wrote these works, that’s his/her right. It doesn’t change the actual works a bit. I may think you are incorrect, but I will admit that I can’t prove it. But, I don’t think anyone can prove differently. I doubt that ANY actual solution will ever be proven. I’m not sure that it really matters, except that I was raised and trained to seek the truth, at least as far as it can be known.
I don’t expect to convince anyone. That’s not important to me. I’ve just taken this opportunity to try to explain some of my thinking about what I think is an interesting question. I still firmly believe that the world is a better place because these works exist and I suspect that I always will.