What if William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon didn't actually write the plays and poems of "Shakespeare?" What if someone else secretly wrote them and Shakespeare was merely a front?
This is the plot of the new movie Anonymous, but the Shakespeare authorship question has been around for more than 200 years. The historical Shakespeare didn't leave much of a paper trail - and some people believe he lacked the education and experience to write such masterpieces of English literature as Hamlet and Macbeth.
Many different people have been proposed as the true author of his works - Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, and even Queen Elizabeth herself!
Anonymous is about Edward de Vere - the 17th Earl of Oxford and most popular candidate for a secret Shakespeare. "Oxfordians" think him a more likely author and see parallels between his life and Shakespeare's plays.
Most Shakespeare scholars are "Stratfordians" - believe that Shakespeare
wrote Shakespeare - but who doesn't love a good conspiracy theory? The alternative is a compelling idea that continues to capture the imagination of scholars, readers, and now - Hollywood.
If you'd like to learn more:
- Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James S. Shapiro
- "Shakespeare" by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere by Mark Anderson
- Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt
- "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward de Vere by J. Thomas Looney
- Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? by Robin Williams
Illustrations: possible portrait of William Shakespeare & portrait of Edward de Vere
Two other GREAT books on the controversy, arguing the case for Lord Oxford's being the playwright, are:
The Mysterious William Shakespeare : The Myth and the Reality, by Charlton Ogburn
Alias Shakespeare : Solving the Greatest Literary Mystery of All Time, by Joseph Sobran
Thanks for your suggestions - DPL has The Mysterious William Shakespeare and Alias Shakespeare is available through Interlibrary Loan.
I can recommend Robin Williams' (NOT the comedian) "Sweet Swan of Avon." The book offers a cogent case that Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, was actually the author of most of the works ascribed to William Shakespeare. Robin Williams is a database expert who used database software to organize her research into the "authorship" question. Her book includes tables of data and well-written text to detail her thesis. Very interesting.
"Sweet Swan of Avon" is excellent and very well researched. I've read it a couple of times and find the ideas endlessly thought-provoking.
Even if you don't end up feeling convinced about Mary Sidney Herbert, the Duchess of Pembroke, you'll notice the huge gaping holes in what we actually know about Shakespeare, plus "his" apparent lack of access to acknowledged source materials for the play. All of which materials were in the Sidney family library, and many of which historic instances involved Mary Sidney's ancestors. Cool!
And as for the treatment of women in the plays, this theory explains a lot.
(PS: If you own a Mac, you may have a Robin Williams guide in your computer book collection. She's the best writer on all things Apple.)
I really liked the movie Anonymous. Did Elizabeth really have that many affairs/children?
As far as I know, there isn't any historical evidence that she had any affairs or children at all, though that certainly makes a good story! Alison Weir wrote a wonderful biography of Elizabeth in which she made a convincing case that Elizabeth really was the Virgin Queen she claimed to be - but then included a plot point about Elizabeth's pregnancy and miscarriage in a novel. I guess she couldn't resist. See The Life of Elizabeth I and The Lady Elizabeth, both by Alison Weir.
I am currently reading Colin Wilson's The Philosopher's Stone, and in that novel of fiction, two scientists achieve a higher state of mind through chemical experimentation (don't try this at home), and one of them "learns" that Shakespeare was written by Sir Francis Bacon.
When I heard about the film Anonymous, I thought to myself, what a coincidence, I was just reading about this....in a novel written in the 70s about hidden powers of the mind.
Coincidence or not coincidence? That is the question.