For any fan of the plays of Shakespeare, or a research historian like myself, the question remains --who really wrote the poems and plays attributed to this barely known author who seemed to come from nowhere to enlighten the world with his wisdom? Please join me in a discussion of this fascinating question Thursday April 27 at 6:30 pm at the Northside Library.
Many well educated people—even devotees of the plays of William Shakespeare are unaware of the long-standing controversy over the writings known as the “authorship question.” In fact the real author of the 37 plays and 154 sonnets that set the standard for perfection in the English language was questioned as early as the 18th century and still represents the greatest literary mystery of all time. Although he writes as a believer in the genius from Stratford as the author Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt’s, Will in the World, acknowledges that there are not enough facts to justify a definitive biography of the man William Shakespeare, or to explain the source of his unparalleled erudition. Alias Shakespeare, by Joseph Sobran gives us the history of the authorship question itself and presents his version of a solution—that “Shakespeare” was a convenient nom de plume for nobleman Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Mark Anderson begins with the premise that Oxford wrote the plays in his, “Shakespeare” By Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare.
Hundreds of biographies depict the life of the famed Bard of Avon, repeating the same facts and speculations about the grain merchant, real estate speculator, theater owner, and possible actor and playwright with little variation or substantiation. Stephen Greenblatt’s, Will in the World, employs a useful approach to Shakespeare biography—that of placing the man in his time. We know, for instance that a William Shakesper (note the spelling, different in each known record of the name—but never spelled Shakespeare) was born in the Warwickshire hamlet of Stratford in April of 1564 and died there in April of 1616. He lived in London for a time, but so little is known of his actions that even the earnest chronicler must admit that there can be no definitive link between his written work and “the known circumstances of his own life.” Thus Greenblatt produces a readable and well-researched history of an Elizabethan man.
Sobran’s Alias Shakespeare, begins with the question of how a possibly illiterate provincial actor and merchant could have such intimate knowledge of court life, classical and contemporary languages, and the professional and esoteric knowledge of medicine, law, philosophy, music, even falconry, as evidenced in the plays. Even a genius, he argues, must have some sort of education in order to articulate his profound abilities. Sobran presents the case for a succession of candidates for authorship, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Walter Raleigh. The only person, he contends, who had the background, life history, knowledge and known writerly ability was courtier and intimate of the Queen herself, Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. The book will get you thinking seriously about the authorship question.
If you want to travel further into the uncanny coincidences between the works of Shakespeare and the life of Edward de Vere (referred to as Oxford), Mark Anderson’s biography, “Shakespeare” by Another Name is the place to begin your research. Oxford grew up at court, studied law and medicine, travelled extensively and had access to rare translations of classical literature alluded to in “Shakespeare’s” work. Furthermore, he had a close relationship to the Earl of Southampton, for whom the famous sonnets were written, a connection which has always confounded even the most ardent of supporters of Shakespeare from Stratford.