michelle and howard

Where Art Thou Shakespeare?

More by Johnathan Stimpson - 4/17

W

illiam Shakespeare, acclaimed playwright and poet of England, has a birthday coming up!  Shakespeare will be turning 453 on April 23rd. Whether you love or hate reading his work, the fact that to this day we read his plays and poetry in English classes demonstrates the influence he has over the literary world.  

But what if he didn’t write them?  For some time William Shakespeare has been the subject of a historical conspiracy theory that asserts that he  is not the writer of the 38 plays and 159 poems that his name is attached to (google).  So who did? And what’s the proof behind this claim?

One of the reasons that Shakespeare is able to be subjected to authorship disputees is that there is very limited traces of his existence (save for, of course, the plays and poems he allegedly wrote).  The few documents that have Shakespeare’s signature have implied that the man signing the documents was essentially illiterate.  Secondly, Shakespeare had no formal education so the question arises: how does a person with no formal education in a time of extreme classism and disparity in education, write 38 critically acclaimed plays and 159 poems that transcend centuries?   This is an especially important question when considering the high level of knowledge on lots of academic subjects present in Shakespeare’s work.

In addition, Shakespeare was a name that could be spelled in various ways, so there is no real way to prove that the Shakespeare of Stratford-upon -Avon was the legitimate author or if it was a different man with a variation of the spelling “Shakespeare”.

To add more mystery to Shakespeare’s story is the so called “lost years”; a name for the gap in records between his time in Stratford-upon-Avon and London.  He is neither mentioned by Queen Elizabeth nor members of the public in documented history either.    

There is no shortage of websites out on the internet exploring the Shakespeare conspiracy, and with all the information and lack of thereof, on Shakespeare it is pretty easy to construct one’s own conspiracy.  The sites I explored are BBC America and also The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition.  A lot of people are very passionate about this debate and seeing as Shakespeare’s birthday is coming up, now is a good time to ponder whether Shakespeare is who we think he is.    

I asked some Darien High School English teachers about what their opinions are on Shakespeare seeing as we read a lot of Shakespeare’s work throughout high school English classes.  

Mrs. Von Wahlde took a neutral stance saying, “that there is evidence that some of his work may have been borrowed” while acknowledging that in the literary world  “ideas are things that writers share”.  

Mr. Rejan on the other hand, took a very decisive stance as he asserted that “the claim that Shakespeare didn’t exist and didn’t write his works have been thoroughly disputed by scholars” and that the conspiracy theories surrounding Shakespeare are simply “pop culture myths”.  However Mr. Rejan did say, like Mrs. Von Wahlde, that “some parts of his plays” show “collaboration”.  

Meanwhile Mrs. Bennett of the library is interested in exploring the conspiracy saying, "it's hard to know if he really wrote the works" and that "the research being done intrigues me".

Whatever stance you end up taking, the debate is an interesting one.  Remember to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday this April 23rd!