Shake Your Spear
September 10, 2007

Once upon a time, there lived a young boy named William who daydreamed though his school hours about what it would be like to be a nobleman. Surely their tutors were not nearly so boring as his own school was. And they didn't live in such back-water boring places as Stratford-on-the-Avon.

Most early histories of William Shakespeare - WAIT - this isn't really gonna be a boring English-teacher post, I swear it!
Anyhow, a lot of histories claiming to tell the tale of Shakespeare start out somewhat like the first paragraph. But the truth of the matter is that despite the fact that nearly everyone in an English-speaking country is required to read at least of couple of "The Bard's" works, despite the fact that everyone knows of the Shakespearean works, very, very little is truly known about the man called William Shakespeare.

From almost the beginning of his popularity, rumours have flown about Shakespeare. Some claim that Sir Francis Bacon actually wrote the Shakespearean canon. Some claim Queen Elizabeth, others Christopher Marlowe. The two most compelling arguments, in my opinion, are that either Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the works (check out the books of Charlton Ogburn), or ... and I am tickled to hear that this theory is gaining ground since I proposed it myself in the early 90s ... that the Shakespearean canon was written by a group. (I like to think of it as a publishing house, myself.)

Okay, why do I say this is not a boring English-teacher post? Well, it's got all the charm of an old conspiracy theory, for one. Two, who doesn't wanna poke fun at the really, really stodgy professors who splutter when you suggest a "new" theory or that they don't know everything?

You see, when I was in college, I had an English history professor who turned me on to this "great debate." She presented it as the kind of interesting mystery that can be found in history and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. The more I researched the history of Shakespeare, the more the so-called Shakespearean scholars ticked me off. I have the reference somewhere, but my favourite point to make is the "scholar" who wrote that Shakespeare had obviously attended some gathering because the hostess found a handkerchief embroidered with the letter S the next morning.

(Aside: okay, where does this quote come from (and it's not Shakespeare!): We should figure out what kind of deal this is. I mean, is it a gathering, a shindig or a hootenanny? Well, a gathering is brie, mellow song stylings. Shindig: dip, less mellow song stylings, perhaps a large amount of malt beverage. And a hootenanny, well it's chock full of hoot and just a little bit of nanny. .......... And bonus points if you can name the character, actor as well as season and episode name.)

Umm ... excuse me? You and I both know that if an undergraduate student said something that patently speculative, the professor would jump all over the poor undergrad. But this, in my short foray into Shakespearean scholarship, was not unusual.

Now, the Shakespearean Authorship Coalition have gathered its forces and Dr. William Leahy, head of English at London's Brunel University, will convene the first MA in Shakespeare authorship studies.

Why all the fuss? Honestly, even with as much interest as I have in it, I think it's really just the draw of the mystery. How can we have soooooo many of the works of this author, and yet know so very little about his life? And, of course, for me, there's also the lure of simply being oppositional. We're some 300 years and more past Shakespeare's time and anyone who says that they have the history of Shakespeare is simply a braggart and a liar. No one has that. And for some Shakespearean scholars to claim that they know the answers drives me crazy. And, of course, a mystery is always fun, particularly when you start ferreting out all sorts of coincidences between Edward de Vere and the Shakespearean canon.

Will we ever come to a definite yea/nay? Probably not.

Oh, this is what makes people think academics live in an ivory tower, isn't it? ;)

Posted by Red Monkey at September 10, 2007 10:36 AM | | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

I'm positive I could write a bio on this dude and solve this problem forever...or something.

September 11, 2007 6:34 AM
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