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Did William Shakepeare write those plays?

PUBLISHED: 11:00 17 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:25 17 April 2019

A Midsummer Night's Dream is set in Athens but it could just as well have been Thetford Forest... Picture: The Pantaloons

A Midsummer Night's Dream is set in Athens but it could just as well have been Thetford Forest... Picture: The Pantaloons

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Not everyone believes that William Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him and here are some of the reasons why.

Sir Derek Jacobi - here filming in Kersey, Suffolk - thinks Shakespeare was not the playwright. Picture: JAMES FLETCHERSir Derek Jacobi - here filming in Kersey, Suffolk - thinks Shakespeare was not the playwright. Picture: JAMES FLETCHER

There is a view - which I do not share - that William Shakespeare did not write the plays for which he is famous.

Yes, there were well-known contributors, but substantially, I am convinced the works are his whatever the deniers, some of them distinguished scholars, writers and acclaimed theatrical artists, may say.

Deniers (listed by shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org) include Charlie Chaplin, Mark Twain, Daphne du Maurier, Sigmund Freud, Sir Derek Jacobi, Henry James, Orson Welles, Charles de Gaulle, Benjamin Disraeli, and Mark Rylance.

Surely they cannot all be wrong or, at least cannot be all wrong?

Stephen Fry as Malvolio with Mark Rylance as Olivia in Shakespeare's (or was it Shakespeare's?) Twelfth Night at The Globe. Picture: The GlobeStephen Fry as Malvolio with Mark Rylance as Olivia in Shakespeare's (or was it Shakespeare's?) Twelfth Night at The Globe. Picture: The Globe

Why do they say it?

One problem seems to be that William Shakespeare was deemed just not posh enough to be the greatest playwright who ever lived. In the 16th century, the only way you could get an education of any worth, say the doubters, was to be born into wealth.

Shakespeare was the son of (shock, horror) a glove-maker, not landed gentry. William was not destined to take a place at Oxford and hob-nob with the rich and powerful influencers of the day. Much has been made of this and yet, there is a quiet but firm voice in the background that reminds us Will's mother Mary, nee Arden, was educated.

Among her ancestors were men who, although they bore no title were close to kings.

Mark Twain was not a Shakespeare believer. Picture: Library of CongressMark Twain was not a Shakespeare believer. Picture: Library of Congress

One might imagine young Will showed an early talent and that his mother recognised and nurtured this, perhaps supervising his studies. (Shock horror part II) It may have been a woman rather than a man who helped shape the genius of Shakespeare.

His plays are often set in other countries and there is no record that Will travelled outside England. Deniers proclaim it proves someone else - a person who must have been much-travelled − was the true writer. The plays visit Rome, Verona, Padua, Venice, Florence, Sicily; in the eastern Mediterranean they are in Athens and Ephesus; Helsingor in Denmark; Vienna; Illyria (in the Balkans) and locations in France. But many of the plays are based on classical stories and tragic tales that Shakespeare would have known. His geographical detail is often sparse. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for example, the action takes place in Athens but it could have been anywhere... only the names are Greek... except for his fairies, such as Cobweb and Peaseblossom and his rude mechanicals, artisans whose names are solidly Carry-On British - Bottom, Flute, Snug, Snout etc.

It would be unduly harsh to suggest that the views of the deniers could be fuelled by snobbery but there is an element of pretentiousness in the claims.

Perhaps the most popular Shakespeare substitute currently is Essex-born Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) who would seem to have all the right qualities... except he wasn't alive when the last period of Shakespeare's plays were composed - up to 1613.

Charlie Chaplin is listed as a Shakespeare denier. Picture: PA archive. , 1934.Charlie Chaplin is listed as a Shakespeare denier. Picture: PA archive. , 1934.

There have been times when a level of desperation has seemed to accompany the denials and famously, one of those involves Ipswich. This time the writer of the plays was said to be Sir Francis Bacon.

The story, related by leading Shakespeare academic and author James Shapiro in his book Contested Will begins in the late 18th century when James Wilmot, a scholar, searched for evidence in Stratford Upon Avon of Shakespeare having been an author there. He failed to find it and eventually decided Bacon had written the plays. He shared his research with a quaker from Ipswich, James Corton Cowell, who subsequently lectured on the subject to the town's philosophic society in 1805.

In 1932 the lectures were discovered but Shapiro found them to be full of anachronistic observations - things were mentioned that could not possibly have been known in 1805 and thus, concluded Prof. Shapiro, he was looking at a clever forgery. An observation reinforced by the fact that the Ipswich Philosophic Society was founded in 1808. The identity of the forger remains unknown. Meanwhile, I have from time to time, attempted to find a record of James Cowell - to no avail.

Shapiro speculates that the lectures came to light in order to advance the cause of Bacon's authorship of Shakepeare's works rather than de Vere's.

Other contenders have been put forward as the likely writers of Shakespeare's plays but while there may be no incontrovertible evidence that he did write them, there is no hard evidence that he did not. It seems to me most likely, therefore, that it was William Shakespeare who wrote the plays.

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