Friday, July 27, 2012

Shakespeare's pen

Cobbe Portrait of William Shakespeare

This one I don’t even. It’s come up a couple times and I’m still baffled every time it comes up. Most mythbeliefs I can kind of see the quasi-logic behind, but with this one I really can’t.

So what is this mythtory? That William Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare’s plays. Edward de Vere is the usual “true” author given when pressed for an alternate author, but I’ve seen other names tossed out as well, like Christopher Marlowe.

So did Shakespeare write Shakespeare? 

Yes. Yes he did.

So why do some people think he didn't?

The biggest reason given by the Shakespeare-didn’t-write-Shakespeare group is that someone who was merely the son of a glove maker couldn’t possibly smart enough or educated enough to write plays (by that logic Charles Dickens never wrote his stories either – he left school when he was 12 to support his family by working in a factory).

Either way, they’re wrong. John Shakespeare, William’s father, was indeed a glover (he also dealt in hides and wool), who served as an alderman and as the chief magistrate of the town council, and was granted a coat of arms, William was entitled to the honorific “gentleman.” He wasn't some nobody, he was a respected and affluent member of his community of Stratford-upon-Avon.  A community, in fact, that had a very good grammar school – the King Edward VI School, which William Shakespeare attended free of charge for 7 years, and was instructed in Latin and the Classics.

It's so nice when they label the portrait for you.

So why Edward de Vere, and who was he? He was the 17th Earl of Oxford, and according to the theory he needed a pen name because it would be unseemly for a noble to publish plays for the commoners. The main problem with de Vere-as-Shakespeare is that de Vere died in 1604, long before "Macbeth" and "The Tempest" were written. He was also very busy with various scandals, debt, and legal difficulties. So why does his name come up? Because we know that he wrote plays, but they're all lost. Clearly this means he had to have written the most famous English plays of all time. IN SECRET.

This guy is probably Marlowe. He also has fantastic hair. 

The other common name, Christopher Marlowe, was another playwrite. This one kind of cracks me up, because Christopher Marlowe was the son of a shoemaker, which is so much more believable in becoming a famous author than the son of a glove maker. Marlowe also died in 1593, before even de Vere. The theory is that Marlowe faked his death and assumed the name William Shakespeare. The problem with this is that Marlowe was really famous as a playwright, and there's no way people wouldn't recognize him. It'd be like if Joss Whedon faked his death, and then went on to direct Avengers 2 without anyone recognizing him. His death was kind of a big deal as a murder that is suspected then and now of being an assassination hit. 

So why do some protest that Shakespeare couldn't have written his plays? I think a lot of it is that people like a good conspiracy theory. Some of it is pure and simple elitism -- if it's good, someone RICH and IMPORTANT must have done it. 

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