Who Was Shakespeare?

by Brian on October 5, 2005

Today sees yet another round of stories about a claim to have discovered the real author of Shakespeare’s plays. Today’s candidate is Sir Henry Neville. A book claiming he is the author is about to be released by Brenda James and William Rubinstein.

The evidence for Neville being the author seems to be the following.

  • If you trace which Shakespearean play came out in which year, the location of the plays tends to follow Neville’s movements around the country fairly well.
  • Neville was familiar with details of court life in a way Shakespeare was not.
  • Neville spoke French, unlike Shakespeare, and some scenes of Henry V are written in French.
  • Neville’s ancestors, Plantagenets, are always favourably depicted in the plays.
  • When Neville was imprisoned in the Tower for his part in Essex’s rebellion, the plays suddenly turn from being light to being sombre. (As an aside, I wonder how on earth Neville escaped with his head if he played a role in the rebellion. There is probably an interesting story there.)
  • Allegedly his notes in the Tower contain ideas that are used in Henry VIII.
  • Neville, unlike Shakespeare, had access to a detailed story of the Bermuda shipwreck of 1609, which seems to be the base of The Tempest.
  • Alleged similarity of styles between Neville’s private letters and writing attributed to Shakespeare.

That all seems reasonably interesting, but it would be nice to see more by way of criticism of this claim. After all, it seems unlikely that James and Rubenstein are the first to have floated Neville as a name. And some of the points of evidence, particularly Shakespeare’s unfamiliarity with the court or the continent, have been hashed out many times before. But the stories read basically like press releases for James and Rubinstein. The only dissenting voice I saw comes from Professor Bate, a governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“These arguments always fall back on verbal parallels, which never stand up,” he said.

Well that’s not true. Arguments from verbal parallels are exactly how it was discovered who wrote Primary Colors, for example. So I wouldn’t dismiss such arguments out of hand. It still does seem fairly speculative to me, with a fair bit of just-so storytelling along the way. And in a small world like the aristocracy around that time, everyone knows everyone so there are plenty of prima facie plausible just-so stories to be told. So I’ll be waiting for more details than the press releases, and for the responses from expert critics, before giving up on the Bard.

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1

Jason Bridges 10.05.05 at 6:32 pm

It is perhaps worth mentioning that there is a long history of books purporting to establish that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays; that many of these books (like James and Rubinstein’s) get favorable press, have approving prefaces written by well-known Shakespearean actors or directors, and marshal circumstantial evidence in a seemingly compelling way; that all of these books (so far) have proven to ignore evidence that decisively contradicts their theses, and that most Shakespeare scholars regard this genre in the way most evolutionary biologists regard intelligent design.

2

Jason Bridges 10.05.05 at 6:45 pm

One more point: Bates’ comment may be interpreted as claiming that none of the arguments appealing to verbal parallels that have been advanced to dispute Shakespeare’s authorship have held up. So interpreted, it’s true.

3

Steve 10.05.05 at 7:08 pm

And as with the Oxfordians, I imagine we will see a whole host of telling circumstancial evidence, none of which will really explain why a well-known actor and producer* like Billy Shakes got the credit for the plays. Neville was a participant in the Essex rebellion, but claiming authorship of The Comedy of Errors was too controversial? And the “formal education” line has been dusted off again.

The amusement value in these things really goes down when we don’t have acrostics to play with.

* Oh, excuse me. “Grain merchant”.

4

Daniel 10.05.05 at 7:11 pm

I wonder if future generations will argue over who wrote Spielberg’s films, and if that debate will miss the point as spectacularly as the authorship debate does.

5

Ian Whitchurch 10.05.05 at 7:12 pm

The scene, somewhere in London in the late 16th century

Oxford : That speech sucks, kit. Lemme work on it.

Neville : I’ve got this idea for a plot for the next one …

Marlowe : ‘This Flora new who needs no other sun’ … ‘You are my sun, light up my envious moon’ … nahhh, needs one less syllable

Neville : Thats not bad as a start though

De Vere : We need more comedy dammit. Gotta have laugh lines. Liz loves laugh lines.

Bacon : Comedy’s out. We need more tragedy.

Marlowe : Dammit, I’m out of tobacco. Anyone got a pouch ?

6

Steve 10.05.05 at 7:35 pm

Here, for what it’s worth, is Prof. Rubinstein on the project:

http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000600.php

I will withhold my comments on that weblog as a whole, as I don’t know to what extent it’s reflective of Rubinstein or his research.

Although with some Googling, I find that there may be acrostics after all! Huzzah!

http://stromata.typepad.com/stromata_blog/2005/09/a_new_shakespea.html

7

Jeremy Osner 10.05.05 at 8:14 pm

I wonder if future generations will argue over who wrote Spielberg’s films, and if that debate will miss the point as spectacularly as the authorship debate does.

Could you expand on this? It sounds interesting but I’m not sure quite what you mean.

8

Backword Dave 10.05.05 at 8:22 pm

If you trace which Eliot pome came out in which year, the location of the plays tends to follow Pound’s movements around Europe fairly well.
Pound was familiar with details of court life in a way Eliot was not.
Pound was Pound, unlike Eliot, and some scenes of The Wasteland are written in Sanskrit.
Pound’s ancestors, the Roman Gods, are always favourably depicted in the works.
When Pound was imprisoned for treason, the cantos suddenly turn from being light to being sombre.
Allegedly his notes from Italy contain ideas that are used in Cats.
Pound, unlike Eliot, met Joyce by delivering shoes, which seems to be the base of the last Cantos.
Alleged similarity of styles between Pound’s private letters and writing attributed to Eliot.

Ergo Pound wrote The Wasteland, etc.

9

Brian 10.05.05 at 9:15 pm

Tracing back Steve’s links, I see that Prof Rubinstein harbours some familiar doubts about evolution. Given that the Prof is disposed to recycle nonsense from outside his area of expertise, one suspects his scholarly objectivity.

And before anyone gets going about bad _ad hominem_ arguments, I should note that in all of these cases there are many many things one could say on all sides of a given question, and non-experts have to defer to some extent to experts in picking out what is most salient. That means having some confidence that the person putting forward the view is acting in good faith. And I’m not particularly disposed to offer such charity to people who recycle the creationist playbook. So I now suspect there’s some fairly obvious reason why the Neville theory can’t be true, and that the authors of this book are rather declining to tell us what it might be. Given all the publicity there may well be an expert appearing in the press sooner or later to tell us what it is.

10

Matt Weiner 10.05.05 at 9:44 pm

Re: the stromata link

One of the leading anti-Stratfordians is named J. Thomas Looney? Is someone trying to send a subtly coded message?

11

Matt Weiner 10.05.05 at 9:45 pm

John Thomas Looney. The code grows more involved.

12

Bernard Yomtov 10.05.05 at 9:59 pm

Neville’s ancestors, Plantagenets, are always favourably depicted in the plays.

Not so. All the kings portrayed in the history plays are Plantagenets. This includes such lovingly depicted characters as Richard III.

The rest of the “evidence” is almost as bad.

13

Steve 10.05.05 at 10:15 pm

Professor Rubinstein has recently written three articles in History Today on subjects debated by “amateur historians” but ignored by academics, on the assassination of President Kennedy, the identity of ‘Jack the Ripper’ and the Shakespeare authorship question.

I hear suspicious things about that Rev. Dodgson, and nobody has ever been able to pin down where Thomas Pynchon was on that fateful day in 1963…

(Where’s Edmund Godfrey? I demand more crank attention to the Elizabethan period outside the Globe!)

14

Christopher M 10.05.05 at 10:20 pm

backword dave: I agree totally with your point, and I think you found a really good way to express it, so I hesitate to criticize, but: you do know that Pound really did write the Cantos, right?

15

Billy Sol Hurok 10.05.05 at 10:46 pm

If you trace which Shakespearean play came out in which year, the location of the plays tends to follow Neville’s movements around the country fairly well.

Yes, Neville was definitely visiting the sea coast of Bohemia in 1611.

16

Neil 10.05.05 at 11:23 pm

Tracing back Steve’s links, I see that Prof Rubinstein harbours some familiar doubts about evolution

Oh, that Rubinstein. PZ Myers dismantled him a while back.

http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/a_historian_disgraces_himself/

There’s a very good article in a recent TLS dissecting and undermining the motivation for the Shakespeare-wasn’t-Shakespeare-but-someone-else-with-the-same name meme:

http://www.the-tls.co.uk/subject_by_subject/subject.aspx?path=/subject%20by%20subject/literature/

(Scroll down to article).

17

Thompsaj 10.06.05 at 1:25 am

isn’t it obvious that shakespeare’s plays were a product of an oral tradition going back generations, that who we call “shakespeare” is actually an amalgam of many folktellers who didn’t have writing…

18

ogged 10.06.05 at 1:39 am

Almost right, thompsaj: “Shakespeare’s” plays were first set down by an ancient Greek named Homer. The Greek texts (now lost), were translated by an Anne Hathaway, who couldn’t claim credit for her work, and so wrote in her husband’s name.

Shocking, but true.

19

dave heasman 10.06.05 at 2:42 am

“I see that Prof Rubinstein harbours some familiar doubts about evolution.”

The reference to the Social Affairs Unit is enough to make serious consideration of the theory unneccessary. TBH I thought the organisation was defunct, as I haven’t heard anything from the ludicrous Digby Anderson for ages.
But no, a trip to their weblog finds opining in the one area I do have some real knowledge in …”During the 1930s, the Deep South was simply awash with females strumming ebulliently on banjos and twelve string guitars, moaning the blues…” and opining ignorantly and totally inaccurately at that.

20

Daniel 10.06.05 at 5:12 am

Dave has the point exactly right; the evidence is very weak that anyone other than Shakspear of Stratford wrote those plays, but the way the Strafordians go on about it, you would think that he sat down in a hidden cell and wrote every single word of them without talking to anyone else. The connection between Ezra Pound and the Waste Land is weaker than the simple relation “he sat down and wrote the words”, but obviously much stronger than “if Ezra Pound had never been born, the Waste Land would still have been recognisably the same”.

It strikes me as probably not a coincidence that a lot of the people who have very strong views on “The Authorship Question” have quite naive views on what “authorship” really is.

21

Peter 10.06.05 at 5:47 am

Part of the objection to William Shakespeare (WS) as the author of the plays under that name is the fact that WS was not a University graduate, yet the plays and poetry are replete with classical allusions and references, and indeed are mostly reworkings of past stories. One explanation for this is that someone with a better formal education wrote the plays (eg, Kit Marlowe). Another explanation is that WS was an autodidact and was very well read.

Indeed, a decade of his life is unaccounted for, and it is quite possible that WS did attend University classes. But not as an enrolled student, prohibited as a member of a Catholic family from attending University officially. And/or, it may be that WS spent some years as the private tutor to a rich Catholic family (perhaps in the North of England), which would also have given him time to read the classics.

22

Ginger Yellow 10.06.05 at 5:57 am

“Neville was familiar with details of court life in a way Shakespeare was not.”

Um, Shakespeare was an actor in and writer for The King’s Men (formerly The Lord Chamberlain’s Men) and regularly performed for James I.

23

Steve 10.06.05 at 6:55 am

Daniel, I’m fully aware of some of the peculiarities of early modern authorship, and I’m certainly willing to accept the ideas that Shakespeare stole rather quite a lot of his drama and that many of his plays were more collaborative than most people make them out to be. Indeed, given the way that seventeenth century drama worked and given the publication history of the First Folio, it seems quite possible that that’s the case. What I’m not willing to do is accept on faith that, say, Cyrus Vance wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark and didn’t fess up to it because it was seen as unbecoming for a Secretary of State to write about a two-fisted archaeologist. George Lucas spends all of his time in Northern California and attested work of the Skywalkerian is really bad, whereas Vance is a globetrotter who fought in World War II. And so on. Extraordinary claims, as opposed to mere ordinary claims such as yours and Dave’s, require extraordinary evidence.

As someone with strongish feelings on the authorship question, I just want more amusing conspiracy theories.

24

Jeremy Osner 10.06.05 at 7:10 am

That sentence about the south being “awash” with women “strumming ebulliently” at their instruments as they “moan” is just absolutely classic. It should be the first sentence of a much longer work of satire. Brings to mind some really old racist cartoons.

25

Jeremy Osner 10.06.05 at 7:13 am

Even better! “simply awash”!

26

rea 10.06.05 at 7:13 am

Occam’s razor suffices to solve this one, I submit.

27

V. 10.06.05 at 7:18 am

Dave has the point exactly right; the evidence is very weak that anyone other than Shakspear of Stratford wrote those plays, but the way the Strafordians go on about it, you would think that he sat down in a hidden cell and wrote every single word of them without talking to anyone else. The connection between Ezra Pound and the Waste Land is weaker than the simple relation “he sat down and wrote the words”, but obviously much stronger than “if Ezra Pound had never been born, the Waste Land would still have been recognisably the same”.

It strikes me as probably not a coincidence that a lot of the people who have very strong views on “The Authorship Question” have quite naive views on what “authorship” really is.

Of course, the category of “Stratfordians” includes an enormous quantity of ordinary scholars of the period. In my experience, most of them have both a strong view on “The Authorship Question” (namely: give it a fucking rest, you damn Oxfordian loons) and a fully sophisticated view on the nature of authorship/authority. In fact, the Elizabethan concept of literary authority — who “owned” a text; how writers, publishers, and readers thought about their relationship to one another and to a text; how norms from manuscript culture did and didn’t transfer in to print culture — is a major active area of research, and has been for quite some time.

That said, I think it’s entirely likely that amateur historians will run into the same kind of confusions with respect to the question of who “authored”, say, Jaws. We are all auteur theorists now.

28

robert the red 10.06.05 at 7:49 am

I thought Jasper Fforde had settled this in one of the Thursday Next books — a time traveler took a copy of the Complete Works back and gave them to Will S.

29

Daniel 10.06.05 at 8:10 am

re: 27. I don’t think Stratfordians are as innocent as all that. The most obvious answer to such questions as the classical illusions, specifics of court life, etc etc is the same explanation as to why some of the odder bits of the Waste Land are there; there’s a Pound figure who does know about these things in detail who put them there.

But in general, people who take strong pro-Shakspear views tend to respond to odd and convoluted theories about how Shakspear of Stratford “couldn’t have possibly known” about this that or the other, by coming up with their own equally convoluted theories about how he actually spent ages in university libraries without ever owning any books or some such. When the obvious answer would be “well, he wouldn’t know about that, but I would suppose that one of his mates told him, probably Marlowe or De Vere”. Stratfordian scholarship isn’t just commonsensical “oh come off it” stuff; there are a lot of people involved who really have a lot of emotional investment in proving that not one single word was even remotely attributable to anyone else.

30

Dix Hill 10.06.05 at 9:21 am

By the same token, though, many Oxfordians and other Shakespeare debunkers are heavily invested in the attitude that the little-educated son of a Stratford glovemaker could not possibly have written the plays. I’m no expert, but you can read just a little bit of Charlton Ogburn et. al. and see how the snobbery drips off the page.

31

Jackmormon 10.06.05 at 10:45 am

Arguments from verbal parallels are exactly how it was discovered who wrote Primary Colors, for example.

Don Foster’s work, you mean? The same Don Foster who finally had to admit after ten years that Shakespeare did not, in fact, write an undistinguished elegy?

32

drunken porter 10.06.05 at 1:32 pm

Peter said: “Part of the objection to William Shakespeare (WS) as the author of the plays under that name is the fact that WS was not a University graduate, yet the plays and poetry are replete with classical allusions”

The language of Shakespeare’s classical allusions frequently shows a clear reliance on classics in translation, and can be sourced to specific translations of classics that were available at the time and would have been part of a Grammar school education, i.e. North’s Plutarch, and Golding’s Ovid, to name two, and this fits with Ben Jonson’s description that Shakespeare had little Latin and less Greek.

Jonson, of course, had an extensive command of the Classics, despite not having gone to University.

33

Bernard Yomtov 10.06.05 at 8:01 pm

Neville, unlike Shakespeare, had access to a detailed story of the Bermuda shipwreck of 1609, which seems to be the base of The Tempest.

The authors are confusing The Tempest with The Perfect Storm. The play does not present a detailed account of the shipwreck.

34

nick s 10.06.05 at 8:12 pm

The most obvious answer to such questions as the classical illusions, specifics of court life, etc etc is the same explanation as to why some of the odder bits of the Waste Land are there; there’s a Pound figure who does know about these things in detail who put them there.

The basic point is completely valid, although Pound was a taker-out-of-things (the ‘B-ll—s’), rather than a putter-in. Um, that makes it sound as if £ castrated TWL, doesn’t it?

This is rather like evolution/ID arguments, though: that’s to say, if you can’t account for Billy Wagglestaff having a Real-Life Experience that would provide the basis for the plays’ material, then it must be An Intelligent Posh Bloke instead. There are gaps in the Shakespeare Record. Ooh, nurse!

35

jrochest 10.06.05 at 8:13 pm

Um, Shakespeare was an actor in and writer for The King’s Men (formerly The Lord Chamberlain’s Men) and regularly performed for James I.

Yes, but that doesn’t really imply intimate knowledge of court life and politics. But then again, neither do the plays: Shakespeare knew about as much about the inner workings of James and Elizabeth’s courts as Coppola knew about the Mafia or Marlowe knew about the career of Tamburlaine or Webster knew about Italian duchesses.

What you really need to know to write terrific drama is how to write good plays. And to know that, it helps to be involved with the theater in some way, which the historical Shakespeare was.

36

James Kabala 10.06.05 at 8:44 pm

Check out http://www.shakespeareauthorship.com for the mountain of evidence that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

37

Emma 10.06.05 at 11:18 pm

I have always detected a whiff of the old english class demon in the not-Bill arguments. It all seems to come down to you can’t expect us to believe that a yokel from the sticks could write so well, do you?
And as far as classical education goes, my great-grandfather, at the turn of the twentieth century, studied classics, religion, accounting, and spanish literature in a one-room schoolhouse in the Canary Islands. It was the expected curriculum.

38

nick s 10.07.05 at 12:38 am

What you really need to know to write terrific drama is how to write good plays. And to know that, it helps to be involved with the theater in some way, which the historical Shakespeare was.

Quite: I can’t think of too many working playwrights and directors who jump on the antiBillum bandwagon.

And, of course, Shakey was working with a knowledge of how certain things were shown on stage. He wasn’t making a version of ‘The Office’. If you watch/read ‘The Knight of the Burning Pestle’, my favourite play of the period, you’ll see those expectations sent up something rotten.

39

Passing_Fancy 10.07.05 at 6:01 am

“Neville’s ancestors, Plantagenets, are always favourably depicted in the plays.”

Well, no. The only history plays that deal with Plantagenet kings are King John and Richard II. Both are portrayed as incompetent and are ambivalent characters at best.

The remaining history plays deal with the Lancastrians, the Yorkists and the Tudors. If you wanted to stretch a point, you could say that the usurping Henry IV was a Plantagenet on his father’s side.

That doesn’t help the book’s argument, though. HENRY IV depicts its title character as a cold, paranoid man and a controlling father. Henry V is a paragon king, admittedly, but icily ambitious. Henry VI is incompetent.

The dynasty Shakespeare was most concerned to glorify was, of course, the Tudor.

“When Neville was imprisoned in the Tower for his part in Essex’s rebellion, the plays suddenly turn from being light to being sombre.”

That would be 1601, right? Well, Hamlet, certainly one of the gloomier plays, was probably performed first in 1600. Julius Caesar also likely predates the rebellion. Yes, the other great tragedies were written after, but so was Alls Well That Ends Well. So I don’t think this point really holds much water either.

And as for the alleged improbability of Shakespeare’s classical knowledge, it is actually entirely probable that someone of his status, at that time, would get at least a minimal grounding in the classics at school – and what’s to stop him from buying and reading books on his own account? Holinshed, Ovid (in translation) and Plutarch were not at all hard to get hold of…

40

fred lapides 10.07.05 at 6:09 am

When much of our evidence points to Shakespeare as a person in and around London, who wrote plays that were performed, and was noticed by his fellow actors and writers, the question becomes: Why the need and the attempt to unseat Sheakespeare as the author of the plays attributed to him in the First Folio by his two friends?

41

Daniel 10.07.05 at 7:49 am

I can’t think of too many working playwrights and directors who jump on the antiBillum bandwagon

Mark Rylance certainly takes the debate seriously, and he has been rumoured to put on the odd play or two.

what’s to stop him from buying and reading books on his own account?

aye, and having bought them, what’s to stop him leaving them in his will? The answer to the question in 40 is that there is a genuine puzzle as to why no manuscript copies of any of Shakespeare’s works exist. Although as I say, I think that the “Authorship Debate” is orthogonal to a much more interesting debate about authorship in general. Whatever the specific cuts and pastes £ made to the drafts of The Waste Land, there is a larger point that TS Eliot would never have written anything which remotely resembled TWL at all if he hadn’t been in the £ sphere of influence.

42

chris y 10.07.05 at 9:12 am

“If you wanted to stretch a point, you could say that the usurping Henry IV was a Plantagenet on his father’s side.” No it doesn’t stretch a point. The Lancastrians and Yorkists were all descended directly through the male line from Edward III. Their surname was Plantagenet, same as Richard II.

Baconians and Oxfordians are fruitcakes, I don’t know about the rest. William F Friedman, the greatest American cryptographer of WWII, was asked to assess the “Baconian cypher”, and contrived to extract the following message from Shakespeare’s texts:

“Theodore Roosevelt wrote these plays, but I, Shakespeare, stole them. Friedman can prove it by means of this cock-eyed cypher.”

43

Steve 10.07.05 at 10:11 am

aye, and having bought them, what’s to stop him leaving them in his will?

Perhaps, like Thomas Campion and Francis Bacon, Shakespeare was illiterate.

The answer to the question in 40 is that there is a genuine puzzle as to why no manuscript copies of any of Shakespeare’s works exist.

(What about Hand D? Has consensus credited that to Shakespeare yet?)

Similarly, of course, I believe there is a single extant example of Christopher Marlowe’s handwriting. (I’ll happily be corrected if I’m wrong.) It’s not much of a puzzle, Daniel. Intact copies of Elizabethan theatrical manuscripts are very rare.

This really does bear a passing resemblance to the intelligent design debate; you can cherrypick evidence that sounds quite convincing if you want, but academics interested in serious scholarship — operating in their period, unlike Prof. Rubinstein — have studied and generally answered these questions. (I am not one of them, and I don’t claim to have read Honigmann and Brock’s Playhouse Wills, 1558-1642, but shakespeareauthorship.com is a useful resource for this sort of thing; 11 of the 14 playwrights, including Thomas Campion, whose wills Honigmann and Brock studied made no mention of books, which were generally lumped in with general household bequests of the period.)

As I said, I’m neither a historian nor a student of theatrical culture of the period; as an interested reader without a terrible amount of grounding in the period, I’m quite willing to accept the weak form of Daniel’s argument: the Shakespeare plays were more collaborative than simply slapping “by W.S.” on the front might indicate. (Two Noble Kinsmen and, if Hand D was Shakespeare, Sir Thomas More certainly suggest that script doctoring is not a twentieth century phenomenon, and the First Folio was printed from working copies that may well have been much revised.) But I don’t think my stance is particularly novel, either; certainly the current academic ideas about authorship (and ownership) in early modern manuscripts, if not theatrical culture, are as gloriously muddled as Daniel seems to want.

44

ian 10.07.05 at 10:12 am

I’m sorry – you are all wrong – it wasn’t Willaim Shakespeare but another person with the same name.

45

mroberts 10.07.05 at 11:38 am

Harper’s did a big thing on the authorship of Shakespeare a few years back. On one side you had the Shakespear-ites and on the other you had the De Vere-ians. The DVs had all sorts of decent points (some reasonable, some more obviously stretches), though, of course, they couldn’t in the end prove anything.

But what struck me was the lame arguments of the Shakespear-ites. It was mostly “pshaw, aw c’mon, I mean really.” When countering the DVs claims about all the connections in the plays to De Vere’s real-life experience that S. didn’t have, well, they sounded like Creationists today. The Creationists, when confronted with anything tricky in the geologic record pull out the same explanation everytime – The Flood. There was The Flood, you see, and that would’ve done such and such… Well, when confronted with the familiarity, knowledge and experience the author of the plays “must have” had (so say the DVs), the Shakespear-ites said, “Genius.” No impressive school record – geniuses often don’t show themselves in school. Experience in court affairs – well, his Genius was such that… Knowledge of shipwrecks – Genius. Foreign language and affairs – Genius, etc, etc.

That and the elitist claim. Since then I have read more people who characterize the entire realm of Shakespeare doubters as “ELITISTS!!!” According to them Shakespear must’ve written Shakespeare because it is the anti-elitist choice, therefore, automatically right.

I don’t really care who or how the plays were written, but I have also read some much better arguments online for Shakespear writing Shakespeare and think that Harper’s definitely did a poor job of picking people to support that side of the story.

46

Ian Munro 10.07.05 at 1:51 pm

“The answer to the question in 40 is that there is a genuine puzzle as to why no manuscript copies of any of Shakespeare’s works exist.”

No, there isn’t, since there are very few ms copies of any Renaissance plays, and almost no autograph copies.

I guess what irritated me most in the summary of Rubenstein’s argument was the claim that Shakespeare didn’t speak French. In the first place, it’s impossible for anyone to know this; in the second, the scenes in H5 hardly require an extensive knowledge of French, not least because they’re supposed to be intelligible to an English audience. In 1H4 a character speaks and sings in Welsh; could Neville do that?

I think the parallels between intelligent design and anti-Stratfordianism are very close, down to the remarkably respectful treatment both groups get in the popular press. For scholars working in the field, it seems a solution in search of a problem, which is one reason why a more precise defence of Shakespearean authorship isn’t always made.

47

John Quiggin 10.07.05 at 2:28 pm

Prospect has an interesting review of a recent book on Shakespeare by Peter Ackroyd (subscription only, unfortunately). It addresses this issue in passing and makes the point that Shakespeare’s plays include rural dialect and a detailed knowledge of farming, consistent with his actual background and a problem for, say, the Duke of Oxford. Of course, given that Oxford was, by hypothesis a polymathic genius, he would have had no trouble picking these things up.

48

nick s 10.07.05 at 7:19 pm

Intact copies of Elizabethan theatrical manuscripts are very rare.

Heck, intact copies of printed theatrical texts from that time are rare. It took Jonson (and his ego) to produce a big fat Folio, before plays were really considered Works to be shelved in a library; and it took post-Restoration actor-managers to start collecting playtexts.

49

Slippy 10.08.05 at 5:03 am

There’s no doubt in my mind it was all attributable to Fred Nerk. Therefore every erudite bookshelf should carry the Complete Works of Nerk.

50

Peter 10.09.05 at 3:55 am

Re Daniel’s question (post 40) as to why Shakespeare mentioned no books in his Will: There are cases from the period of literate people with large personal libraries leaving wills which mention no books; the libraries are simply assumed to be part of the building and estates of the deceased; likewise for paintings and objets d’art. Few modern wills, I would suggest, mention the carpets of a house, but we would hardly claim that modern houses are therefore uncarpeted.

51

Thlayli 10.09.05 at 10:25 pm

I wonder if future generations will argue over who wrote Spielberg’s films, ….

I always picture some future scholar declaring that the song “Yesterday” couldn’t have been written by this McCartney fellow, this 22-year-old from a backwater like Liverpool who couldn’t even read music.

52

I go to kill swine 10.10.05 at 8:23 am

¨If you trace which Shakespearean play came out in which year, the location of the plays tends to follow Neville’s movements around the country fairly well.¨
Since The Winter´s Tale includes the sea-coast of Bohemia, don´t we have definite proof that Shakespeare hardly knew his way around Europe at all? Unless its the case that sea levels were far higher in the Renaissance – a stupid idea that I´m waiting for the Greenhouse Theory sceptics to seize on.
After all, why shouldn´t every damn conspiracy theory come to the party? It´s a lot of fun, as any reader of Foucault´s Pendulum will attest (author: Umberto Eco, I believe – but I may have been had).

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