Monday, July 14, 2008


To believe, or not to believe?

Do you believe in Shakespeare? (Does it matter?)

I refuse to take a side. I was, for a period, convinced De Vere was the real Shakespeare. Then I went to Stratford and was whacked over the head by the Believers there. I don't know. I don't like to think about it to much. But I like to talk about it. (I am what's wrong with America--too much talking and not enough thinking.)

Well, as they say, that which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.

Or would it?


graywave said...

I used to have doubts too but I found Peter Ackroyd's biography of Shakespeare wholly convincing - and, as with everything Ackroyd writes, a delight to read.

H. L. Dyer said...

Hmm... I was just blogging about the words of Willy Wonka and the publishing industry. I think his words apply here, too.

You should never ever doubt what nobody is sure of.

Charles Gramlich said...

If Shakespeare had not existed, we would have been forced to invent him.

Kim Kasch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim Kasch said...

I want to believe.

I thought this was, like they used to say on Laugh-In, "Very interesting. . . " In fact, I've posted about this on my blog. Stop by and see pictures of Shakespeare's grave and Hamlet's Castle:

I loved the Cotswold and Stratsford on the Avon. Plus, the people of England were soooo friendly.

Tod said...

Oh please.... The whole thing is just a conspiracy theory for intellectuals.

Sean McLachlan said...

From what I've read, the main reasoning behind the various "Shakespeare's plays weren't really written by Shakespeare" theories is that because the Bard was a relative unknown, an undereducated provincial, that he couldn't possibly have written some of the best plays in the English language. Apparently these folks have never heard of talent.

moonrat said...

Hmm. Well, I think my trouble is I found the Skeptics' arguments more persuasive. (There's a lot of reading to be done on this, actually... It's amazing how little we know about Shakespeare and how much we have interpreted.) I bought their whole shebang. But then I realized the Believers had bought me back again with their passion. That's still where I stand, I think.

Charles, you hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous said...

De who? Man, I musta missed something. I've heard all the other claims: Marlowe, Bacon, etc. But who the heck is this De Vere?
Oh, yeah. The REAL Shakespeare. I get it. Frankly, I don't think anyone could have written those plays and poems. No one could have been that brilliant. My take is it's all just a dream. A Midsummer Night kinda thing.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Moonie,

I actually did a post on this back in September, okay, maybe a bit of a rant, but still

The thing that annoys me most about this Declaration of Proofs... is that their 'proof' is a lack of proof, or a lack of evidence... but logically speaking, how much of a paper trail is there to prove one's illiteracy? (One of their premises is that the Shakespeare from Stratford's parents couldn't read or write... how can you prove a negative? Hundreds of years later, no less)

The rest of my rambling rant is there if you follow the link, but no, I don't think it's important who wrote them... if they ever proved Shakespeare to be a pen name (quite possible as plays were not well thought of at the time) - if they ever proved it to be someone else, the works would still be as brilliant.

I don't think attributing it to a different author should change one whit of the meaning or worth.

ilyakogan said...

I think our editor deleted my comment earlier. Dunno why, honestly. But here is my second attempt.

The gist of my lengthy post was that we don't know what the first draft looked like.

We all know that the most important part is the story, you can flesh out the details later.

Will had a thousand eager experts giving him free advice on matters of politics, court life, and such.

We do know that they adjusted the plays all the time. Shakespeare didn't think of himself as a "writer", he was more of a producer. Commercial side of the things mattered the most. Patrons and actors were welcome to make suggestions as long as they made the plays better.

It was more like a Wikipedia article. He was the original author but then the community improved upon his work.

That's my two cents about the matter.

storyknife said...

Bill Bryson has a terrific chapter on who is and who ain't Shake in his bio Shakespeare: The World as Stage (Chapter 9, Claimants). He traces the not-Shake movement from an American woman named Delia Bacon, and later anti-Stratfordians include three named (really) Battey, Looney and Silliman.

The Trouble With Roy said...

It doesn't matter who wrote them at all; what matters is whether they are good or bad. Knowing who wrote them won't help determine what they meant, as is proven by the My Aunt's Dog Theorem.

But for what it's worth, I think there was one Shakespeare and he wrote it all. The spelling of his name and mention of him in plays by contemporaries is pretty thin broth to make into a meal of "No Shakespeare." People weren't all that hung up on spelling then, and I've seen (for example) a lot of musicals that don't mention Andrew Lloyd Webber -- but that doesn't mean he didn't write musicals.

JES said...

Oh man, I can't believe this keeps churning and churning and churning. Like Kim K said/implied, it's like a four-hundred-year-old X-Files episode.

Back in the '80s, in a fit of youthful dementia I decided that if I wanted to be a capital-W Writer, I needed to subscribe to the NY Review of Books. I could not believe the vitriol (high-toned, but vitriol) going back and forth in the Letters section about WS and deVere et al.

But I did need something to blog about today. So, well, thanks Moonie!

Minx said...

There is always conjecture about a person who is well ahead of their own time.
The numerous Japanese and American tourists (hello to Babs and Barb) who I met the last time I was in Stratford were wholly convinced that the man is the real deal.
If the stories are true then some mastermind is making an awful lot of money from Old Beardy's face!

writtenwyrdd said...

This is cocktail party chat as far as I'm concerned and not worth the effort of worrying about it several hundred years later. There's no way to know, and we do know that it was more or less collaborative before the plays were collected and printed in folios.

The important thing is that these works are so powerful they still resonate and still influence the English language use today due to their sheer brilliance. IMO, anyhow.

moonrat said...

wow. i think my major amazement here is how TIRED of this conversation everyone seems to be!! i find it endlessly fascinating. in fact, i can't get enough. sigh. i better post on something else, quick, to distract everyone.

Anonymous said...

I understand the attraction of unanswerable imponderables, Moonrat, but I prefer to indulge in things like the UFO debate or religion. ;)


ilyakogan said...

I think the matter is important and relevant.

I am a "lowly Russian immigrant" who spoke basic English when I stepped off the plane twelve years ago.

Don't start throwing rotten tomatoes at me thinking that I'm comparing myself to the Bard.

Well... I'm...

If he could do it, why not me?

I don't have any fancy degrees - just lots of passion for reading and writing. When I hear some snob who wasted three decades of his life getting a PhD in creative writing tell me that it is impossible for me to become a published writer because... it's impossible, I can recite a long list of writers who overcame even longer odds, starting with Will, whichever way he spelled his last name.

So, excuse me if I'm passionate about it.

The only thing that matters is having the stories.

Everything else you can learn.

Christine Carey said...

I'm not sure why, but the whole authorship question has always boiled my blood. I've heard the arguments for Marlow, how "Shakespeare" is actually "shake speare" - reference to the goddess, etc, but really, I don't think that it matters. He wrote on one of the folios that the name didn't matter, just the work that followed, and while that can be argued that this was just a cover for his pseudonym, I like to take it at face value. The plays and sonnets are what's important. If the man behind them wanted to keep his "real" name hidden (and I'm not conceding that this is true), then maybe we should respect that.

Sorry. Rant over. My apologies if I've offended.

jellybean said...

In Jasper Fforde's "The Eyre Affair", the various Shakespeare sects are presented as semi-religious entities - knocking on doors, looking for converts and believers. I loved how informed the characters (any random man-on-the-street) were about literature.

~~Olivia said...

I am firmly in the deVere camp. I do not believe that a tanner's son with no provable education could have written some of the greatest works of the English language.

It would be the equivalent of having Beethoven's works being written by a tone deaf carpenter who never played piano.

pacatrue said...

I'll go with Shakes for Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and King Lear. Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus, though? Yeah those sound collaborative.

ilyakogan said...

Olivia, You had to bring Ludwig, didn't you? That grandson of a Chef, son of a drunk, who started seriously studying music in his twenties (middle aged by the old standards) who lost all of his hearing shortly after? You had to bring someone who said that his best teacher was the piano? Someone who turned music theory upside down partially because he didn't know any better?

Anonymous said...

Olivia...that was a joke, right?
Hope so. My father earned his GED in his forties. He had an eighth grade education. His parents, my parents, were Italian immigrants with grade school educations. But I rite purty gud. Or mebe knot. Just call me Shukspere. Or maybe De Vere...or Marlowe...or...anyone with a gud eddykashin.