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Who Wrote Shakespeare?
ABC (Australia) ^ | Monday, June 7, 2010 | Mark Colvin

Posted on 06/07/2010 4:46:40 PM PDT by nickcarraway

MARK COLVIN: William Shakespeare is one of the most significant figures in history about whose actual life we know the least. Very little survives in his handwriting and the records of him are scanty but mostly concerned with money and lawsuits.

This absence has proved the breeding ground for all sorts of conspiracy theories, mostly suggesting that someone much more aristocratic wrote the works of the man we call Shakespeare. Some have said it was Francis Bacon, others the Earl of Oxford.

There's even a school that believes Christopher Marlowe wrote Shakespeare even though he was stabbed to death years before the greatest of the plays were even written.

James Shapiro is a Shakespeare scholar whose latest book Contested Will looks at many of the Shakespeare conspiracies and the people who espoused them, from Mark Twain to Sigmund Freud.

On the line from New York, I asked him why such a genius had left so few biographical traces.

JAMES SHAPIRO: Almost nothing of that kind of adoration or even the concept of genius that you and I are familiar with and using right now didn't really take hold in those days.

It's kind of shocking but one of the things that I realised in writing the book Contested Will is that a lot of the ways we think about the past and about creativity and about the relationship between a writer's work and his, and his life are really 21st century conceptions - or 2Oth century conceptions - imposed upon a culture that didn't think the way we do.

MARK COLVIN: But nobody's ever doubted that Michelangelo existed or Leonardo, for example.

JAMES SHAPIRO: No and you know luckily we had Vasari writing the lives of the great Italian Renaissance painters. And you know there was one of those books by one of Shakespeare's contemporaries - a man named Haywood who planned and perhaps even wrote the lives of modern poets and including Shakespeare who he would have known quite well.

But either the book doesn't survive or it wasn't finished and it's lost and we would not be having this conversation now about who Shakespeare really was had Haywood gotten around to finishing that book.

MARK COLVIN: But it's not, for instance, that individual authorship wasn't prized then in the way it is today.

JAMES SHAPIRO: Individual authorship was absolutely not prized in the way it is today. One of the things that I have the hardest time explaining to my students is that Shakespeare may have written plays but he did not own those plays.

He turned them over to his company. They published them at their whim or will and he didn't make any money from the sale of his plays. So even modern notions of copyright or authorial control are radically, radically different than what we might expect.

MARK COLVIN: Just run us quickly through the things that we do know; the references to him in his lifetime.


MARK COLVIN: The upstart crow and things like that.

JAMES SHAPIRO: Yeah, you know, I'm often asked, ‘How do you know it’s Shakespeare?’. And your lovely phrase that kind of silhouette that I provide in 1599 with trying to fill enough of the background so that Shakespeare emerges from the shadows.

And I thought when I wrote that book that I'd done two things really well. One, silence those who thought somebody else wrote Shakespeare; and two, stop people who are writing cradle-to-grave biographies of Shakespeare from making stuff up and filling in the blanks in ways that I found wrong or anachronistic.

And of course I had accomplished neither of those. That's one of the reasons why I went back and wrote Contested Will and the last 50, 60 pages or so of Contested Will set out why I'm convinced or I've never had my conviction shaken that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

First of all there were 50,000 books with his name circulating in his lifetime in Elizabethan London and Jacobean London - a population of 200,000 or so.

MARK COLVIN: 50,000 copies of his plays essentially and poems?

JAMES SHAPIRO: Plays and poems, absolutely. With his name on them. There were others that were published with his company's name on them and didn't have his name. So, for one thing, his name is everywhere and people also saw him acting on a daily basis at the theatre.

So he was one of the most visible individuals in the period and if there had been some doubt about who he was or somebody else assuming his role.

What else do we know? There were a score of fellow writers who acknowledge him, pay tribute to him, young poets especially in the 1590s who really admire his literary style, fellow dramatists who grudgingly acknowledge how good he is. Ben Johnson writes that he loved this side idolatry.

So example after example of individuals who knew him and worked with him and paid tribute to him are there.

And then there are the official records - payment at court for performances in the 1590s, payment for or acknowledgement that he was part of the group building the Globe in 1599 when King James came to the throne appointing him and a half dozen other men as the King's men, the official company of King James himself. So there's plenty of documentary evidence.

MARK COLVIN: The book is called Contested Will and the will is- Shakespeare's will is one of the most controversial things, one of the things that starts the conspiracy theories. For instance, the fact that he left no books. How do you explain that?

JAMES SHAPIRO: We don't know that he left no- any books. What we do know is he left the will and there were two parts to that will. The three pages that survive that make no mention other than the "second best bed" which we don't really understand well enough what that means that he left his wife Anne Hathaway, a sword and a few other items.

But the other more detailed effects that Shakespeare left behind - and I write about this a bit - were in an inventory that his son-in-law took to the Archbishop of Canterbury's offices in London to have approved after Shakespeare's death in 1616.

That document is lost and with that document the evidence that we might have had about papers, letters or whatever else was in that inventory.

So one of the myths - and there are many myths that stick like barnacles to this question of who wrote Shakespeare - is the myth that he left no books behind.

The Earl of Oxford left no books behind, Christopher Marlow left no books behind. What does it mean to leave books behind? Shakespeare's family succeeded him. When I die my family's going to get my library. I'm sure I'm not going to mention my books in any kind of legal document. So that's a fantasy.

MARK COLVIN: James Shapiro, author of Contested Will. Just scratching the surface there. There's a much longer version of that interview which you can hear on our website from this evening.

TOPICS: Arts/Photography; Books/Literature; History
KEYWORDS: conspiracynuts; conspiracytheory; godsgravesglyphs; history; literature; pisotheory; shakespeare; stratfordian
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1 posted on 06/07/2010 4:46:40 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: GretchenM; TBP; clockwise; highball; KC_Conspirator; lizma; Stoat; rdb3; onedoug; SunkenCiv


2 posted on 06/07/2010 4:47:29 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway

“Who wrote Shakespeare?”

Does it really matter? Would it lessen the literary value of Hamlet if it were written by the Earl of Oxford?

This stuff comes from “deconstructionist” academics who are on a never-ending mission to unmask big daddy.

3 posted on 06/07/2010 4:51:00 PM PDT by friendly_doc
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To: friendly_doc

It’s all George Bush’s fault.

4 posted on 06/07/2010 4:53:12 PM PDT by donhunt (I used to have a US senator who lived in a compound. He's dead now.)
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To: nickcarraway

“OK, Bob, here’s your last question: What is your first name?”

“Oh man, I used to know that one.”

“Three seconds, Bob.”

5 posted on 06/07/2010 4:53:17 PM PDT by twister881
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To: nickcarraway
Those who thought that “blood” was everything could never stand that the most famous and some of the most well written things ever set to pen in the English language were written by a ‘bloody commoner’.

There is no other real reason to doubt that Shakespear wrote the plays that he said he wrote, for the troop that performed them.

Moreover, as the “popular entertainment” of the day; it was seen as no more classy or high falutin’ than a TV sitcom.

6 posted on 06/07/2010 4:53:40 PM PDT by allmendream (Income is EARNED not distributed. So how could it be re-distributed?)
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To: nickcarraway

T’Pols Grandfather

7 posted on 06/07/2010 4:54:21 PM PDT by org.whodat
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To: nickcarraway

We know even less about our current de facto president. Amazing, isn’t it?

8 posted on 06/07/2010 4:54:40 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet (Don't care if he was born in a manger on July 4th! A "Natural Born" citizen requires two US parents!)
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To: nickcarraway
"Shakespeare" was actually written by . . .

. . . The Most Interesting Man in the World.

9 posted on 06/07/2010 4:54:55 PM PDT by Zionist Conspirator (Vatiftach ha'aretz 'et-piyha vativla` 'otam ve'et-bateyhem; ve'et kol-ha'adam 'asher leQorach . . .)
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To: Zionist Conspirator

Why does the most interesting man in the world look and sound like a Mexican illegal alien?”

10 posted on 06/07/2010 4:56:25 PM PDT by twister881
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To: nickcarraway

My two favorite suggestions for alternative authorship of Shakespeare’s plays are (in no particular order):

1. A committee composed mostly of, noblemen headed by none other than the Sovereign, Elizabeth I (who actually had a major hand in the writing, which is why the quality of “Shakespeare’s” later plays, written after her death suffered), which included Shakespeare himself, who served as a front-man for the enterprise.


2. They were not written by William Shakespeare, but by another man of the same name.

11 posted on 06/07/2010 4:56:50 PM PDT by The_Reader_David (And when they behead your own people in the wars which are to come, then you will know. . .)
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To: nickcarraway

A question that’s been asked for many, many decades. I used to think Sir Francis Bacon was the likely culprit, but now believe the author of Shakespeare to be...


12 posted on 06/07/2010 4:57:36 PM PDT by Mr. Mojo
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To: nickcarraway

“I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, but if he did not seems to me that he missed the opportunity of his life.” — James Barrie (1860 - 1937)

13 posted on 06/07/2010 4:59:15 PM PDT by Marauder ("I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." - Jefferson)
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To: friendly_doc

Joe Sobran is a big time De Vere backer. He even wrote a book on the subject. Whatever he might be, Sobran is neither a deconstructionist nor an academic.

14 posted on 06/07/2010 5:00:09 PM PDT by Dr. Sivana (There is no salvation in politics)
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To: twister881

I always saw him as a Spaniard.

15 posted on 06/07/2010 5:03:41 PM PDT by VanDeKoik (Iran doesnt have a 2nd admendment. Ya see how that turned out?)
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To: donhunt

Isn’t it always?

16 posted on 06/07/2010 5:09:51 PM PDT by friendly_doc
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To: allmendream
The best indication that "Shakespeare" didn't write those plays is the name itself. As far back as Elizabethan times, a "spear shaker" was a third-echelon player, below even Supporting Cast: a human presence on the stage who had to be there just because someone had to be there.

Freedom, Wealth, and Peace,
Francis W. Porretto

17 posted on 06/07/2010 5:09:59 PM PDT by fporretto (This tagline is programming you in ways that will not be apparent for years. Forget! Forget!)
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To: friendly_doc

It mattered to those who attacked and critiqued him. Thus the surest way to to have secured the knowledge for posterity that Shakespeare is who he’s claimed to be.

And Ben Jonson knew who he was too.

18 posted on 06/07/2010 5:13:30 PM PDT by onedoug
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To: twister881
Why does the most interesting man in the world look and sound like a Mexican illegal alien?”

How many other stereotypes have you developed during your life?
19 posted on 06/07/2010 5:17:20 PM PDT by adorno
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To: fporretto

I think that’s probably an urban legend, but anyway, he didn’t even use that form of his name himself necessarily.

20 posted on 06/07/2010 5:22:24 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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