Shakespeare Grove – Who wrote Shakespeare?

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By Matthew Harris

Like most people, I know of the writings and works of William Shakespeare, ‘the greatest writer in the history of the English language’, who lived from 1564-1616. A few years ago, I heard about a controversy questioning the authorship of the great works. And, like most people, I dismissed this as just silly conjecture. But then, after watching the very intriguing 2011 movie, Anonymous, it brought the questions very much to the fore.

Who did write the plays and works of Shakespeare?

In an American PBS Frontline 2003 special called, “Much Ado About Something”, the filmmaker and researcher, Michael Rubbo, argued that what you would expect to be in the life of William Shakespeare, the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, is not actually there: that is, he had little known education, there are no known writing of his in his own handwriting, there are no books, no letters, poor handwriting, no records of access to nobility, no records of him travelling overseas, and his family were illiterate. So how could these great works have been created from this man? Was it really just genius and imagination? Or was it someone else?

Born in 1564, he was christened William Shakespeare (pronounced ‘Shacks – per’). The Frontline documentary contends he had little education. It is presumed he was educated at his local grammar school, although there are no records of his entry, and left at age 14 to work with his father as a glove maker.

The documentary put forth that there is no record of him attending university, where other contemporary writers such as Christopher Marlowe did. Marlowe, for example, studied Greek, French, Latin and Italian. So how did Shakespeare get access to a massive vocabulary and diverse literary works and opinions which is so clearly demonstrated in Shakespeare’s writings, if he did not have access to University resources?

Rubbo also contends that there are no existent letters between Shakespeare and any other person. There is no correspondence at all! None!

There is also nothing written in his own hand writing, no plays or manuscripts, nothing except six signatures which are more scrawl than the flowing writing of someone who has written hundreds of thousands of words. He also signs his name “Shakspere”, so when and why was the spelling changed?

There are records of him performing in plays to the court of Queen Elizabeth in 1594, but nothing suggesting that he was a regular at court. It is argued that there is no gossip by courtiers or noblemen mentioning his name in any correspondence. So how did he learn about the intimate intrigues of courtly and noble life? How did he learn about noble speech and customs, opinions and beliefs? And in Sir George Greenwood’s (a noted barrister and Member of Parliament) 1908 book, The Shakespeare Problem Restated, he claimed that Shakespeare’s plays and poems “supply ample evidence that their author . . . had a very extensive and accurate knowledge of law”. How did Shakespeare achieve this, if he had limited or no access to university libraries?

Rubbo claims there is no record of him ever leaving England. So how did he know of the specific details of the geography and layout of towns in Italy, such as Verona and Venice? “Stratfordians” claim that because he was an actor, he had access to the many views and information from those who did travel to these locations.

“Stratfordians” also acknowledge that in his will, he left no books, no writings or manuscripts of any kind. His daughters were illiterate. In the death notice in Stratford-Upon-Avon he is referred to as William Shakespeare – “Gent”. There are records showing that Shakespeare was a wealthy man, lent money, had shares in the Globe Theatre in London and traded in grain, as researchers from Aberystwyth University in Wales claim.

And, surprisingly there are no records of any significant tributes to Shakespeare by his fellow actors and writers at the time of his death in 1616. The eulogies praising him appeared much later, in the First Folio of 1623. The situation was quite different for Shakespeare’s friend and legendary actor, Richard Burbage. When Burbage died in 1619 the nation mourned and eulogies poured forth from distraught writers who claimed his characters would surely die with him.

“Stratfordians”, or those who support ‘the man from Stratford’ as being the one who wrote the great works of Shakespeare, put forth his genius and imagination as the keys to his writings and the answers to the questions surrounding authorship.

But there are other writers at the time who did have education, nobility, access to court life, travelled or lived overseas and who wrote prolifically who could have used the name “Shakespeare” as a pseudonym, allowing them to write and express themselves more freely at the time.

Alternative Shakespeareans are, Sir Francis Bacon. He was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, essayist and author who was very prominent and influential at the time.

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford was also a prolific writer, scholar and prominent member of the Elizabethan court (his case is strongly put forward by the 2011 film Anonymous).

And Christopher Marlowe, the playwright and member of the Queen’s secret service, under the direction of Sir Francis Walsingham, is strongly promoted by the PBS Frontline special. The problem for ‘Marlovians’ is that he ‘died’, under very suspicious circumstances, in 1593, years before many of the great Shakespearean works were released.

So who did write the great works of Shakespeare? Something to ponder the next time you wander down Shakespeare Grove on your way to Luna Park.

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