Was it Shakespeare?

13 June

Is William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon the real author of the Shakespearean plays?

The very idea of a global, watertight conspiracy over mere plays, right across Elizabethan and Jacobean England, verges on the almost self-evidently absurd. Yet that is what some would have us believe regarding the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Not only are we expected to believe that all those in the know about the real author of the plays kept their secret, but we would also inevitably be impugning the integrity of those who eloquently bore witness to Shakespeare’s authorship. Not to mention the fact that by doing so we would be robbing Shakespeare of his extraordinary achievement, posthumously strip the greatest writer of all time of his fame in the name of what is ultimately ignorant snobbery: a glover’s son with a mere grammar school education up to the age of 15 could surely not, the argument goes, have written these masterpieces, steeped as they are in some 24,000 words of English, a peerless command of rhetoric, extensive knowledge of classical authors, and the confidence to write about Kings and Queens and English history.

Why do many otherwise perfectly rational people want to doubt that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, preferring instead to believe that they were written by someone who died in May 1593 (Christopher Marlowe), or in 1604 (Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford)? Marlowe was killed before any of the major Shakespeare plays had appeared and the Earl of Oxford died before King LearMacbethAntony and CleopatraCoriolanus, and all of the romances, including The Tempest. But, we are told, perhaps Marlowe did not die at all in 1593 but instead went underground to continue writing under the name of Shakespeare. Quite apart from the fact that Marlowe and Shakespeare deployed radically different styles (compare, for example, Tamburlaine and The Jew of Malta to their Shakespearian equivalents, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice), in the early 1920s Leslie Hotson discovered the coroner’s inquest concerning Marlowe’s death during a tavern brawl in Deptford.

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