A debate that has been going on over the last 200 years has been, “Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets?” The idea, as they see it, is that the man from Stratford-on-Avon wasn’t sufficiently educated or worldly to have written the plays, he was too unfamiliar with law or English court protocols.
These theories say that “William Shakespeare” (a well-known director, actor, and theatre operator in London) was used as a front for someone famous who didn’t want his or her authorship known. Dozens of books and journal articles have argued what has come to be known as “the anti-Stratfordian view.” Supporters of the “Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare” argument have included such luminaries as Henry James, Mark Twain, and Sigmund Freud.
Many people have been suggested as the actual author:
- Sir Francis Bacon (1st Viscount St Alban, a statesman, scientist, and philosopher)
- Christopher Marlowe (a significant English playwright of the day, but laughably improbable as Shakespeare: Kit Marlowe barely managed to write his own plays, what with all the time he spent in jail or laid up with a hangover)
- Ben Jonson (another major English poet and playwright of the time, and a friend and admirer of Shakespeare)
- Edward de Vere (the Earl of Oxford, and one of the favorites in the “Who Wrote Shakespeare?” sweepstakes; he is the reason that the anti-Shakespeare side of the argument is called the Oxfordian wing.)
- Wiliam Stanley (Earl of Derby [see footnote 1] )
- and even such improbable figures as Anne Hathaway
So: arguments that Shakespeare was Shakespeare, countered by arguments that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare. The controversy has bubbled since the mid-19th Century. Where in this Jacobean morass squats the toad of truth?
Well, let’s be done with the arguing. I wrote Shakespeare’s plays and I’m tired of hiding it.
It all started with a TV show I was trying to write. I had an idea for a television show about people who go on a sightseeing boat, for a three-hour tour, with a fat captain (“the Skipper”) and a goofy first mate (“Gilligan”), and five more: a movie star, a brainy college professor, a millionaire and his wife, and a ‘girl next door’ type from America’s heartland.
A storm comes up, and the boat is tossed onto an uncharted island. These seven stranded castaways have to live with each other despite their differences, on a tropic island home. No phones, no lights, no motorcars, it’s as primitive as can be.
I wasn’t satisfied with my castaways, and rewrote it several times. In the final version, the shipwreck stayed in, but there were a lot of other changes. “The Skipper” became the stranded Duke of Milan, who passes the time on the island by learning some magic. The farm girl became Miranda, his daughter. “Gilligan,” the goofy first mate, morphed into a weird character named Caliban. And I changed the name; “Caliban’s Island” didn’t sound good but I thought “The Tempest” was catchy.
This new play turned into a hit, and I pulled out some of my older scripts to rewrite them as I did “The Tempest.” A script for a middle-school romantic comedy turned into “Romeo & Juliet.” A family comedy I was calling “Father Knows Best” turned into “King Lear”–and lost a lot of the laugh lines in the process. And so on. Short version: I’m Shakespeare. Thank you.
1.) Wiliam Stanley NEVER met a new person without mentioning that he was the Earl of Derby. “Yaaas,” he’d drawl, “Earl of Derby, don’t y’know. Have we met?” Every time I ran into him, I’d ask, “Hey, Bill, how’s the hat business going?” Man, that used to tick him off!
Next month’s exciting theatre essay will be: “Gained in Translation: the difficulties and rewards of adapting ‘The Bacchae’ for a new Charlie Brown Family Special”
… and if you’re clueless enough to believe that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare, then read James Shapiro’s _Contested Will_.