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A great reckoning in a small room
May 30, 2012 2:24 AM   Subscribe

On the 30th May, 1593, playwright Christopher Marlowe was stabbed in a Deptford tavern. Except, it wasn't a tavern, and all present were known liars. His writing style was very similar to that of early William Shakespeare, whose name first appeared in print very shortly afterwards.

This year, Ros Barber has published a novel in blank verse (the form made popular by Marlowe, and continued by Shakespeare) - The Marlowe Papers - to critical acclaim. It is based around imagining Marlowe's life after Deptford - forced to write under another man's name.

The Marlovian theory of Shakespearean authorship is not new. Wilbur Zeigler first proposed it in 1895, and it was made famous by Calvin Hoffman after the discovery of the inquest documents of Marlowe's apparent death in Deptford. Proponents argue that the similarities in writing style, many whole or partial lines of verse, as well as hints in the plays, sonnets, and even on Shakespeare's funerary monument, back up the idea that Marlowe may be the real pen behind the greatest works of English Drama. Others disagree. (previously)
posted by iotic (214 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's a competing theory that Shakespeare wrote all of Marlowe's works.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:34 AM on May 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


I've always wondered: why are so many people obsessed with proving that William Shakespeare didn't exist, or at the very least didn't write the plays attributed to him. I can sort of understand those who, because of snobbery, perhaps, would rather it were someone posh like the Earl of Southampton, but otherwise... what difference does it make? Has there ever been a deviation from accepted history so great that's ever turned out to be not-bollocks?
posted by Grangousier at 2:41 AM on May 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


I can only think that it was because was some Elizabethan counterpart to Roger Ailes, publishing Foxxe Broadside, who had a serious hate-on for this Shakespeare guy for some reason.
posted by ardgedee at 2:51 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Grangousier - I've never come across the theory that the man from Stratford called William Shakespeare (or Shaksper) didn't exist. There's quite a lot of evidence he did. The problem is, all we know about him shows him to be a petty businessman and awkward social climber. Nothing of what we would like to know about the author of these great plays is apparent from the biographical facts we can surmise about him - including education, travel, letters, and literary acquaintances (Ben Jonson excepted).

The Marlovian theory seems ridiculous at first, but on further study is quite tenable. Also, Marlowe was born in the same year and from a similar social status as Shakespeare - so it is not based on snobbery like the Oxfordian argument.
posted by iotic at 2:57 AM on May 30, 2012


Has there ever been a deviation from accepted history so great that's ever turned out to be not-bollocks?

Well, Ossian, despite its enormous literary and cultural influence, was found after all to have its authorship overturned. If it hadn't, we'd probably still be studying Ossian in Classics.
posted by vacapinta at 2:57 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, one of my personal favorite tidbits on the authorship question is from Astronomy. You can find references in Shakespeare to significant astronomical events before 1600, but to none after 1600. Why? Perhaps the plays were all written by 1600. It's a piece of negative evidence, of course, but still...
posted by vacapinta at 3:04 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Nobody has ever doubted that the Ossian poems were written by James Macpherson -- the dispute was whether he had (as claimed) translated them from Scots Gaelic sources, or simply made them up himself. Unlike Shakespeare's works, Macpherson's claims were almost immediately disputed. So it's not a good example in this case.
posted by mattn at 3:28 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


There's a competing theory that Shakespeare wrote all of Marlowe's works.

That's my pet theory. Kit Marlowe never existed and was just one of many false identities adopted by Will Shaxberd, poet, playwright and master of espionage.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:41 AM on May 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


That's my personal litmus test for determining whether or not somebody is an idiot I shouldn't pay attention to: whether or not they believe in a Shakespeare conspiracy theory. Doesn't matter whether it's Bacon, Marlowe or de Vere they believe if, if they take it seriously they're idiots.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:41 AM on May 30, 2012 [20 favorites]


Nobody has ever doubted that the Ossian poems were written by James Macpherson -- the dispute was whether he had (as claimed) translated them from Scots Gaelic sources, or simply made them up himself. Unlike Shakespeare's works, Macpherson's claims were almost immediately disputed. So it's not a good example in this case.

Yeah: Ossian was rumbled pretty fast and although it was massively popular (there were, for example, Ossian designed rooms in stately houses) it was popular because people really wanted a Celtic classic to match Homer. They went looking for Ossian, in other words.

As far I can tell nearly all the debates about Shakespeare's authorship (and I call them debates in the same that I call debates over climate change debates) can be boiled down to snobbery either over class or education (Marlowe went to Cambridge). hakespeare lived in an age in which you could buy broadside ballads retelling the stories of Hero and Leander and Pyramus and Thisbe among others;* although classics was not popular culture, it sure wasn't something that you needed a university education to know about.

*Personal favorite: A wandering Trojan Prince, a thrilling retelling of the Aeneid, at the end of which Dido's ghost drags Aeneas to hell for being a wanker. I like to feel it's the ending for the Aeneid Virgil was planning on writing before he died.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:51 AM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Will Shaxberd, poet, playwright and master of espionage.

Sean Connery in Macbeth
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:53 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


MartineWisse - Henry & William James, Charlie Chaplin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Ted Hughes, Orson Welles, Walt Whitman, Sir John Gielgud, Mark Rylance, etc. All idiots?
posted by iotic at 3:55 AM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


early William Shakespeare, whose name first appeared in print very shortly afterwards

You know, this whole controversy could go away in a second if the Stratfordians would just release the long form baptismal certificate
posted by PlusDistance at 3:56 AM on May 30, 2012 [35 favorites]


That's my personal litmus test for determining whether somebody is closeminded and I shouldn't bother talking to: whether they can logically discuss the merits of a wild theory without either believing it or assuming the other person does.
posted by DU at 4:01 AM on May 30, 2012 [19 favorites]


Henry & William James, Charlie Chaplin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Ted Hughes, Orson Welles, Walt Whitman, Sir John Gielgud, Mark Rylance, etc. All idiots?

Well, if Charlie Chaplin believed it, it must be true. And I thought Gielgud was a Baconian? I know he was at one point.* I mean I could come up with a list of actors and authors who don't believe in vaccination, but I'm pretty sure that wouldn't make it true.

*Along with Derek Jacobi, which makes me sad. Very sad.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:01 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, if doctors said it, that might be worth paying attention to.

My comment was in reply to MartinWisse, who said anyone who doubted Shakespeare was an idiot.

Rather than such ad hominem assaults, it would be nice to have a discussion of the authorship question based on evidence. Perhaps that is too much to hope for.
posted by iotic at 4:07 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Marlovian theory seems ridiculous at first, but on further study is quite tenable.

Actually, it's still ridiculous. Which is why there's not a single, respected, scholar of Shakespeare or historian of the era arguing it. Just dilettantes and cranks.
posted by smoke at 4:14 AM on May 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


Rather than such ad hominem assaults, it would be nice to have a discussion of the authorship question based on evidence.

I think that's because the evidence is overwhelming that Shakespeare wrote the plays: being influenced by an author's style is not the same as having that author write your plays. Outside of style and all of the other evidence of Shakespeare's writing we either have to assume a massive conspiracy that lasted over the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages and was never rumbled in his lifetime or shortly thereafter or that, you know, he actually wrote the plays. As as I know, every serious Shakespeare scholar believes that this isn't even a debate worth having. I'm not a Shakespeare scholar, btw, so I'm not part of some massive cover up and I don't have much of a stake here.

Marlowe is a great author. He wrote some amazing plays. So did Shakespeare. Marlowe doesn't need to be Shakespeare to be considered amazing.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:18 AM on May 30, 2012 [24 favorites]


The evidence that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare is overwhelming. Anything else can make for a thrilling story, but nothing more.

How We Know That Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare
posted by lewedswiver at 4:23 AM on May 30, 2012 [23 favorites]


Also, how would the conspirators behind a secret-Shakespeare-authorship plot have known that this particular playwright would become an emblem of Britishness/shorthand for literary greatness in the 18th and 19th centuries? And how would they have been so plugged in to the Romantic cult of genius? And how can anyone think that Marlowe's 'mighty line' sounds much like Shakespeare beyond being in pentameter and in early modern English?

A better discussion of all this than I could manage here.
posted by Mocata at 4:27 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


how would the conspirators behind a secret-Shakespeare-authorship plot have known that this particular playwright would become an emblem of Britishness/shorthand for literary greatness in the 18th and 19th centuries?

Why would it be necessary for them to know that?
posted by DU at 4:36 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


You just have to read both Marlowe and Shakespeare to know this isn't true. A writing style is like a fingerprint - and these two are very different.
posted by Summer at 4:40 AM on May 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


Bill Bryson does a pretty thorough job of shooting down the Marlow as Shakespeare theory in The World As A Stage. I don't remember the specifics because it's been a few years, but if you're in a mood for a debunking of anybody-as-Shakespeare theories in general, that book pretty well covers them all.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:46 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why would it be necessary for them to know that?

Cuz otherwise what would be the point of setting up this Shakespeare fellow?
posted by Mocata at 4:51 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the motivation even IF they had known he'd be famous. "Boy we sure pulled a fast one on the future"? "Once they invent time machines, we'll really be rolling in dough"?

Why isn't enough simply that a person or persons wanted to produce works under a false name, not even knowing if they'd be good at the time, let alone lauded in the future?
posted by DU at 4:54 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hear Trump is a "Stabber" too.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:55 AM on May 30, 2012


why are so many people obsessed with proving that William Shakespeare didn't exist, or at the very least didn't write the plays attributed to him.

Haters gonna hate. Or as they used to say: Envy.
posted by tommasz at 4:55 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


You just have to read both Marlowe and Shakespeare to know this isn't true.

That's a common argument - often expressed by people who are comparing one of Marlowe's plays to one of the later, greater Shakespeare dramas. But compare, say, Marlowe's Edward II to the early history play Richard II and you will find near-identical styles (as well as near-identical plots, in this case). Apart from the authorship issue, this demonstrates how hugely the Bard developed in style. No other author but Marlowe and Shakespeare has or has had anything like the same style and fluidity of dramatic verse.

Cuz otherwise what would be the point of setting up this Shakespeare fellow?

According to Marlovians, in order to provide cover for the real author, as well as for those involved in his disappearance.
posted by iotic at 4:55 AM on May 30, 2012


I personally believe that the plays were written by William Shakespeare, but a different one.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:58 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I personally believe that the plays were written by William Shakespeare, but a different one.

Nah. Everyone knows they were written by Anne Hathaway. That's why Shakespeare left her the second best bed:: it was code. For what I do not know, but I plan on finding out by reading only the second best bits of Hamlet.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:01 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Playing Catwoman and writing Billy's plays? Damn, she's talented.

(But everybody knows Morpheus, of the Endless, King of Dreams actually wrote the plays.)
posted by kmz at 5:03 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Playing Catwoman and writing Billy's plays? Damn, she's talented.

You have no idea: she also invented time travel and has an uncanny ability to slip from Elizabethan diction to modern English. But I hear if you surprise her on set she cries out 'zounds!' PROOF.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:08 AM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


compare, say, Marlowe's Edward II to the early history play Richard II and you will find near-identical styles

Well, I have read those, and the others too (well, not Henry VIII or Timon of Athens) and I still say nonsense.
posted by Summer at 5:09 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


The "Marlowe as Shakespeare" conspiracy theory seems much less plausible than the "Marlowe and his spy buds faked his death to avoid his certain execution for heresy" conspiracy theory. They don't have to be related, and I'd be more inclined to believe the second if its proponents didn't all seem to believe the first.
posted by mediareport at 5:10 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


(But everybody knows Morpheus, of the Endless, King of Dreams actually wrote the plays.)

This is the sort of arrogant revisionism up with which I shall not put. Morpheus commissioned exactly two of Shakespeare's plays, and the man from Stratford wrote those two as well.

And the Wandering Jew was a gentile. Honestly, people.
posted by Etrigan at 5:13 AM on May 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


I don't understand the motivation even IF they had known he'd be famous. "Boy we sure pulled a fast one on the future"? "Once they invent time machines, we'll really be rolling in dough"?

Why isn't enough simply that a person or persons wanted to produce works under a false name, not even knowing if they'd be good at the time, let alone lauded in the future?


Well, the point is that using a pseudonym wasn't uncommon, but that setting up a crazily elaborate fall guy/fake author - and doing it so thoroughly that you managed to get rid of all the evidence - was. None of the Marlowe/Bacon/Oxford-wrote-Shakespeare notions took hold before the rise of Bardolatry in the 18th and 19th centuries. So you've either got to suppose that the conspirators anticipated this and went to superhuman lengths to make sure that their conspiracy would withstand the kind of scrutiny that hadn't been invented yet of the historical record (pause for breath), or that the Marlowe/Bacon/Oxford stuff grows out of Bardolatry, is Bardolatry's deformed twin. (Another pause for breath.) In brief, 'Boy we sure pulled a fast one on the future' pretty much is the motivation assumed by most proponents of 'the authorship question'.
posted by Mocata at 5:15 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I do think it's funny, though, that the "faked death" folks can seem so convincing on specifics of the documents but then go on to use logic like this:

Once again the secret service were accustomed to operations of this nature; substitute heads such as Ragozine's for Claudio's in Measure for Measure speedily come to mind.

Um, yeah, that would have been a good time to include evidence of an "operation of this nature" from real life, not fiction.
posted by mediareport at 5:16 AM on May 30, 2012


After extensively studying English drama, I think there's a rather obvious explanation that's every bit as plausible as any other hypothesis. Having been mortally stabbed, the Christopher Marlowe incarnation of the Bard simply regenerated into William Shakespeare and Shakespeare, being the more prodigious version of the mysterious playwright, became synonymous with him.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:29 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


went to superhuman lengths to make sure that their conspiracy would withstand the kind of scrutiny that hadn't been invented yet of the historical record

Given that the importance of the historical record "hadn't been invented yet" it seems much simpler to suppose that no erasing was necessary. These guys didn't even spell their own names the same way from day to day, let alone keep records.

But even supposing you are right that the discovery of the crime (if true) grow out of Bardolatry, that doesn't mean that Bardolatry was the motivation for the original crime.

Imagine this hypothetical. A guy cuts me off in traffic and we crash. In our ensuing argument, I kill him and hide the body in the woods. Later, it is found out that he was a long-lost rich relative of mine and I'm the sole inheritor. The police come to my door, because obviously the next-of-kind of a rich relative's murder is prime suspect. But, I say, I couldn't have known I was his inheritor! I've never heard of this guy. Therefore I must be innocent!

The question is not how could hypothetical old-timey conspirators have set up the effect the achieved. The question is why would they have done it by their own lights and motivations regardless of the effect in the here and now?
posted by DU at 5:29 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


@Devils Rancher

+1 for mentioning Bill Bryson's book - a very thorough repudiation of all the ridiculous theories around it.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:45 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This book has been on my to-read list for a little while. If the review quoted below is an accurate representation of its contents, it is a strong argument against any Shakespeare Wasn't the Actual Author theories.

"As a Shakespeare scholar, I have read countless books on my favorite writer. Two books stand out as the best: John Dover Wilson's "What Happens in Hamlet?" and Caroline Spurgeon's "Shakespeare's Imagery." If I could only keep two Shakespeare books in my library, I would choose these. Dr. Spurgeon spent ten years sifting through the entire Shakespeare canon and pulling out every metaphor and simile she could find. Then, she organized them into like groups. This offered her, and us through her writing, an insight into Shakespeare's creative genius. With evidence in hand, Dr. Spurgeon explored how Shakepeare's mind actually worked; she uncovered his patterns of creative thinking. His abundant use of garden and household images and his relatively few uses of classical or scholarly images show us a writer more in touch with the real everyday world. His childhood homelife, the images one tends to carry throughout one's life, become crystal clear when set side by side in this fashion. In Spurgeon's book, we clearly see that the works of Shakespeare had to have been written by Shakespeare, who was born in small town Stratford, and not the works of a university trained dramatist or a member of Queen Elizabeth's court. It is fascinating to see Shakespeare's images compared and contrasted to those of Marlowe, Dekker, and Johnson. Each writer thought and created images in a unique manner. Seeing and understanding the differences, as expertly explained by Dr. Spurgeon, gives one a deeper insight into and appreciation of one of the greatest minds of all time. If you love Shakespeare then do not miss reading this book."
posted by BigSky at 5:47 AM on May 30, 2012 [32 favorites]


This story makes much more sense in the original Klingon.
posted by odinsdream at 5:56 AM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Given that the importance of the historical record "hadn't been invented yet" it seems much simpler to suppose that no erasing was necessary.

Well, yeah, that's the point I'm trying to make.

These guys didn't even spell their own names the same way from day to day, let alone keep records.

Except that they kept lots of records - see lewedswiver's link.

Imagine this hypothetical...

As I understand it, you're saying that: Shakespeare authorship conspiracies were thought of only after Shakespeare-the-man had become the object of a cult. But any hypothesised conspirators couldn't have known about the future cult. So it might just be a coincidence that Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theories began to appear after Shakespeare-the-man had become culturally venerated.

But doesn't it make more sense just not to hypothesise any conspirators? Then you don't have to invent and defend unlikely coincidences.

The question is why would they have done it by their own lights and motivations regardless of the effect in the here and now?

The answer is, they probably wouldn't have.
posted by Mocata at 5:59 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Henry & William James, Charlie Chaplin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Ted Hughes, Orson Welles, Walt Whitman, Sir John Gielgud, Mark Rylance, etc. All idiots?

Well, yes.

Tediously overwriting authors, overrated clows, nature fetishists, aw shucks folksy story tellers, pervs, voice actors for poorly written cartoons, bad poets, drunks or taxpayer supported "artists" do not good cultural historians make.

(No serious answer is given because this does not deserve it.)
posted by MartinWisse at 6:01 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


James Shapiro lists numerous other people who have been or are considered possible candidates for the authorship of the works ascribed to Shakespeare:

Sir Walter Raleigh
John Donne
Anne Whateley
Robert Cecil
John Florio
Sir Philip Sidney
Henry Wriothsley, 3rd Earl of Southampton
Fulke Greville
William Nugent
Henry Neville
Aemilia Lanier
King James
Queen Elizabeth
posted by blucevalo at 6:04 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can find references in Shakespeare to significant astronomical events before 1600, but to none after 1600. Why? Perhaps the plays were all written by 1600. It's a piece of negative evidence, of course, but still...

..but even if "the plays were all written by 1600," isn't it more likely that Shakespeare wrote all the plays by 1600 but waited to publish them for one reason or another, vs. there existed a vast conspiracy amongst the artistic caste of London to pretend that the William Shakespeare who was an actor in the King's Men and a part-owner of the Globe Theater was the author of the plays repeatedly ascribed to him during his lifetime?
posted by muddgirl at 6:05 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Out of morbid curiosity ... what explanation do the "antistratfordians" offer for the fact that a few years after Shakespeare's death, when if Christopher Marlowe were still alive he would have been around sixty, all of Shakespeare's friends got together and published an edition of nearly all of Shakespeare's plays called "Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies" with a picture of Shakespeare on it and poems they wrote dedicated to Shakespeare about what a great writer Shakespeare was and how much they missed Shakespeare?

I mean ... that's carrying a joke a little FAR, isn't it?
posted by kyrademon at 6:05 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


The idea that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare isn't new and there are tons of theories.

Most of the theories focus on the central idea that "Shakespeare couldn't have been that smart, therefore a vast conspiracy existed to hide the true author.", which I find a poor basis for any argument.

If you don't start your research from this point, there is a tremendous lack of evidence that points to authorship other than "this guy was better educated..."

Also, Marlowe's writing was terrible in comparison to Shakespeare.
posted by Argyle at 6:10 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


My favorite theory about who wrote Shakespeare, was that the works were all written by an Italian Jewish Woman named Amelia Brassao Lanier. John Hudson explains.
posted by snaparapans at 6:11 AM on May 30, 2012


Rather than such ad hominem assaults, it would be nice to have a discussion of the authorship question based on evidence.

The evidence that William Shakespeare wrote the works is on the order of the evidence that the world is round.

Therefore, anyone believing otherwise is on the order of flat-earthers and holocaust deniers in their believability and credibility. And, to be frank, it's just about as disgusting. "No (shudder) commoner could have ever written such beauty. Only a gentleman could do that."

So, no, I will not have a reasoned discourse with those who deny Shakespeare's authorship, because they are *not able to be reasoned with*.
posted by eriko at 6:12 AM on May 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


..but even if "the plays were all written by 1600," isn't it more likely that Shakespeare..

Yes, of course. I called it a tidbit not a smoking gun.

And even if there were references to later events, you can always say that someone else (not Shakespeare) inserted them later. It is hard to prove a negative (Shakespeare didn't write the plays) so everyone tries instead to prove a positive (Bacon, Marlow, Devere, etc)
posted by vacapinta at 6:13 AM on May 30, 2012


Actually, I take that back, this does deserve a more serious answer, which is this and ignoring the implicit argument from authority that iotic engages in, is simply that those who believe this sort of conspiracy theory are usually tedious monomanical bores who wouldn't recognise a Dunning-Kruger effect if it was spelled out to them.

It's the sort of thing that usually takes roots in the brains of those who are quite good in one particular field or undertaking and who mistake competence there for general wisdom and think their unique insights enable them to grok a field which mere mortals take years if not decades to master.

No reputable cultural historian (specialising in this particular era and country) believe in Shakespeare conspiracy theories, just like no reputable physicists disbelieve Einstein, but that doesn't stop all kinds of blowhards from trying.

And while quite smart people might actually believe or profess to believe some quite dumb shit, the likelyhood that devereisthetrueshakespeare567 is somebody I actually could respect (rather than John Byrne) is very slim indeed, while the likelyhood that they're an idiot on other matters (climate change, Einstein, the Holocaust, undsoweiter) is much greater.

Hence the litmus test. If you believe any of these conspiracy theories, that's one strike against the idea that I have to take you seriously. No, this is neither fair nor comprehensive, but it does save me an awful lot of arguing with idiots.

And who thinks Twain is an expert on anything? The man tought Austen was worthless, fer chrissakes!
posted by MartinWisse at 6:15 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can find references in Shakespeare to significant astronomical events before 1600, but to none after 1600. Why? Perhaps the plays were all written by 1600. It's a piece of negative evidence, of course, but still...

Don't know about 'references to significant astronomical events', but you can certainly find references to events post-1600 in the plays written after 1600, eg Macbeth's flattery of James VI and I, King of England from 1603.
posted by Mocata at 6:15 AM on May 30, 2012


So, no, I will not have a reasoned discourse with those who deny Shakespeare's authorship, because they are *not able to be reasoned with*.

I enjoy these discussions for the same reason I enjoy speculating about what if Alexandria hadn't been burned down, what if the Vikings had settled in New England, etc. It forces you to look deeper at the actual facts you do have. I've even seen it suggested that the Shakespeare authorship debate makes a good learning tool to learn about what we do now about Shakespeare.

Every fact receives closer examination. It is a good thing when you realize how much of the history we do think we know is either incomplete or hangs on flimsy evidence or on the writings of an unreliable narrator. There's healthy debate among scholars on whether Marco Polo existed or he was just an invented character. We may never know. But exploring the question leads you deeper into the study of the connectedness of the world during the time of the great eastern trading routes.
posted by vacapinta at 6:19 AM on May 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


It's possible to be wrong about something without being an idiot. Also, not everyone in the past had access to the knowledge of today! Funny, I know.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:26 AM on May 30, 2012


compare, say, Marlowe's Edward II to the early history play Richard II and you will find near-identical styles (as well as near-identical plots, in this case).

Each has II in the title; aside from that, no, not so much.

That's my personal litmus test for determining whether somebody is closeminded and I shouldn't bother talking to: whether they can logically discuss the merits of a wild theory without either believing it or assuming the other person does.

How wild is "wild"? Because if I encounter an argument over UFOs, a flat Earth, the President's birth certificate, or the secret conspiracies of Icke-ian lizardoids, I tend to walk away from, not toward that person. Genuine belief in these propositions correlates highly with teh crazy and I don't need more crazy in my life, while any argument over these propositions in the absence of genuine belief is (much more often than not) just pointless and annoying bullshitting.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:27 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Having spent some months one year (a failing startup) looking into this out of curiosity, I came to the conclusion that the real issue was that someone from a non-privileged background could demonstrate the brilliance of Shakespeare. And by extension, that any of us were capable of such brilliance. I can understand how that could be a very disturbing notion... it says a lot about what it means to be human: both the potential and the realization of - and failure to realize - that potential (topics Shakespeare wrote about quite well, of course).
posted by emmet at 6:30 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


vacapinta, amen. I have learnt loads about Elizabethan / Jacobian history and literature that might well have passed me by without interest in this topic. Park Honan, in his scholarly biography of Marlowe, states that much useful research has been done by Marlovians.

The evidence that William Shakespeare wrote the works is on the order of the evidence that the world is round.

Wow um, no, it isn't. But I'd love to hear your reasoning on that one.
posted by iotic at 6:34 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I enjoy these discussions for the same reason I enjoy speculating about what if Alexandria hadn't been burned down, what if the Vikings had settled in New England, etc. It forces you to look deeper at the actual facts you do have.

But those are 'what if' questions; the reason why I feel that the whole Shakespeare debate is a problem is because there is
a) an earnest movement to push the Shakespeare question into schools, despite there being no evidence at all that there is a question.
b) And in the UK, at least, the entire debate is fraught with a type of snobbery that has a very bad record in keeping people from valuing poets and authors who aren't of the right class or don't hold the right education. The basic argument is, as pointed out above, that no one of the right education or class could surely produce these plays. And that is harmful, massively harmful.

Even in this thread we've had this comment: The problem is, all we know about him shows him to be a petty businessman and awkward social climber.

To which my answer is: so what? I honestly don't give a toss whether Shakespeare was a social climbing git of the first water or if he danced around the Globe shouting 'I know nothing of Greece and Rome! I'm just making this shit up based on things I've heard and a few ballads!' I don't care if he was a petty businessman who cared about money. Those facts are neither here nor there and should be tossed out the window with force when talking about the subject.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:34 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Meh. He was no Ern Malley.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 6:35 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've even seen it suggested that the Shakespeare authorship debate makes a good learning tool to learn about what we do now about Shakespeare.

That was one of the arguments circulating on Usenet for why you should totes engage with Holocaust denialists, but that didn't quite work out that way. At best you get tedious rehashes of the same old "debates".

The problem with debating such theories and why you should be careful to do so, is that any such debate might lend it unwanted credence, as it can be seen as being just another thing reasonable people can disagree on. Not that shakespeare denial is anywhere as vile or dangerous as Holocaust denial of course, but you see the same sort of processes at work.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:45 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Recently I watched Kenneth Branagh's film of Hamlet again and was, as always, amazed by it. However, I am pretty sure that such a marvelous film could not have been made by a plumber's son from Belfast, so I would like to roll out my theory that Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick and/or Akira Kurosawa made it. Or possibly David Lean, despite being supposedly dead by then.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:46 AM on May 30, 2012 [49 favorites]


And everyone always forgets poor Ben Jonson
posted by Fizz at 6:49 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


lesbiassparrow, you might not care how the author related to the works, but it's not an invalid question. Shakespeare wrote repeatedly about exile, banishment, loss of identity, foreign travel. With Marlowe, we would have a psychological connection to those issues, and that would inform our understanding of the author.

Again, Marlowe was from the same social class as Shakespeare, so the arguments from snobbery - relevant, I would agree, to the Earl of Oxford or any other noble as a candidate, are not pertinant here. Regarding education, it seems to me ridiculous to suggest, as so many do, that Shakespeare was uneducated - he clearly was extraordinarily educated, whether by himself through books and study through private means, or from a university. In fact, the prevailing image of Shakespeare as a natural, unschooled genius who "warbled his wood-notes wild", a blank slate upon which the ivory-towered defenders of the Stratfordian faith can build their own snobberies, is every bit as preposterous as the worst of the conspiracy theories.

MartinWisse, do you have any justification for your claims that Stratford-doubting is on a par with holocaust-denial, flat-earthers, etc - or are you just going to repeat them throughout the thread?
posted by iotic at 6:49 AM on May 30, 2012


The font on that monument looks like something someone would use today to make something have an archaic feel.
posted by delmoi at 6:51 AM on May 30, 2012


MartinWisse, do you have any justification for your claims that Stratford-doubting is on a par with holocaust-denial, flat-earthers, etc - or are you just going to repeat them throughout the thread?

If he doesn't, I will. Disagree? Well, then prove me wrong.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:53 AM on May 30, 2012


It reminds me of something that happened to my nephew Archibald, on falling in love with the niece of a lady much addicted to the Baconian theory of authorship. Another hot scotch and lemon if you will, Miss Postlethwaite...
    Scooping him up and bearing him off into the recesses of the west wing, she wedged him into a corner of a settee and began to tell him all about the remarkable discovery which had been made by applying the Plain Cipher to Milton’s well-known Epitaph on Shakespeare.
    ‘The one beginning ‘‘What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones?’’’ said the aunt.
    ‘Oh, that one?’ said Archibald.
    ‘‘‘What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones? The labour of an Age in piled stones? Or that his hallowed Reliques should be hid under a starry-pointing Pyramid?’’’ said the aunt.
    Archibald, who was not good at riddles, said he didn’t know.
    ‘As in the Plays and Sonnets,’ said the aunt, ‘we substitute the name equivalents of the figure totals.’
    ‘We do what?’
    ‘Substitute the name equivalents of the figure totals.’
    ‘The which?’
    ‘The figure totals.’
    ‘All right,’ said Archibald. ‘Let it go. I daresay you know best.’
    The aunt inflated her lungs. ‘These figure totals,’ she said, ‘are always taken out in the Plain Cipher, A equalling one to Z equals twenty-four. The names are counted in the same way. A capital letter with the figures indicates an occasional variation in the Name Count. For instance, A equals twenty-seven, B twenty-eight, until K equals ten is reached, when K, instead of ten, becomes one, and T instead of nineteen, is one, and R or Reverse, and so on, until A equals twenty-four is reached. The short or single Digit is not used here. Reading the Epitaph in the light of this Cipher, it becomes: ‘‘What need Verulam for Shakespeare? Francis Bacon England’s King be hid under a W. Shakespeare? William Shakespeare. Fame, what needst Francis Tudor, King of England? Francis. Francis W. Shakespeare. For Francis thy William Shakespeare hath England’s King took W. Shakespeare. Then thou our W. Shakespeare Francis Tudor bereaving Francis Bacon Francis Tudor such a tomb William Shakespeare.’’’
    The speech to which he had been listening was unusually lucid and simple for a Baconian, yet Archibald, his eye catching a battle-axe that hung on the wall, could not but stifle a wistful sigh. How simple it would have been, had he not been a Mulliner and a gentleman, to remove the weapon from its hook, spit on his hands, and haul off and dot this doddering old ruin one just above the imitation pearl necklace.
Which about sums it up, I think.
posted by howfar at 6:54 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


The evidence that William Shakespeare wrote the works is on the order of the evidence that the world is round.

By this, do you mean that we had circumnavigated him by 1522, or do you mean that we got far enough away to get a photo of the entire him floating in space?
posted by hippybear at 6:55 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


WALSINGHAM: Dammit, Marlowe, this time you’ve gone too far! Heresy charges?

MARLOWE: Sorry, Chief.

WALSINGHAM: I can’t keep the Privy Council preoccupied much longer. But dammit, I still owe you for saving the Queen from those ninja assassins.

MARLOWE: It is a puzzler.

WALSINGHAM: The only way you can escape prosecution is if you died.

MARLOWE: Wait ... what did you say?

WALSINGHAM: I said I still owe you for the ninja assassin thing.

MARLOWE: No, about my death. What if, what if I died?

WALSINGHAM: What?

MARLOWE: We fake my death. No Marlowe, no heresy charge. I can even keep spying for you under a new name.

WALSINGHAM: It’s brilliant! Marlowe, you’ve done it again.

MARLOWE: Hm, I can only see one problem.

WALSINGHAM: What’s that?

MARLOWE: How do I keep writing plays if I’m dead? Richard III “by Kit Marlowe” would kind of be a giveaway when it goes up, wouldn’t it?

WALSINGHAM: Good point, good point ... We need a patsy.

MARLOWE: A patsy?

WALSINGHAM: Yeah, someone who you can say wrote the plays. You do the work, they get the credit.

MARLOWE: Well, it is true that the pure pleasure of creating art completely eclipses any desire I might have to get any accolades for it. Sure.

WALSINGHAM: Done, then.

MARLOWE: It’ll have to be someone knowledgeable about theater. I mean, they’ll need to answer any questions someone asks them about the plays or whatever.

WALSINGHAM: What about that actor down at the Globe? Shaxper or whatever.

MARLOWE: What, Bill?

WALSINGHAM: Yeah.

MARLOWE: Works for me.

WALSINGHAM: Done, then.

MARLOWE: Wait, wait. Theater’s pretty collaborative ... I mean, I need to work with actors in rehearsal, amend the drafts, which are going to be in my handwriting, not Bill’s, answer questions about intent, all kinds of things. Even if I let Bill handle the public stuff, which would instantly make him my permanent collaborator for the rest of my life, the whole company’s going to cop to what’s going on pretty quick.

WALSINGHAM: All right, so we let them in on it. Done, then.

MARLOWE: Wait, wait. Speaking of collaborating ... I’m going to want to do some of that. I like writing plays with other people. I’m thinking other playwrights like Nashe, Peele, Munday, Wilkins, Middleton, that Fletcher kid, maybe a bunch of others. Gonna be hard not to let them know what's up if I’m writing with them.

WALSINGHAM: All right, so we let them in on it. Done, then.

MARLOWE: Wait, wait. What about my, you know, love poetry?

WALSINGHAM: What about it?

MARLOWE: Well, you know, I like writing poems to my special guys and gals, but ... I’m gonna want to publish them someday, too. Gonna be pretty obvious if one of my lovers sees a poem I wrote to them under a different name, you know?

WALSINGHAM: All right, so we let them in on it. Done, then.

MARLOWE: It’s perfect! Hey, should we tell anyone the truth when I’m an old man? If Bill is dead or whatever?

WALSINGHAM: Too dangerous.

MARLOWE: You’re right. Let’s just conceal the truth in a cryptic poem and make sure all the plays are published under Bill’s name, just to be extra super sure.

WALSINGHAM: I love it.

MARLOWE: So to save my life and/or allow me to continue as a secret agent, all we have to do is conceal my identity completely from everyone but Bill, my lovers, an entire shifting company of actors, technicians, producers, and other theatrical personnel, and most of the prominent playwrights of England.

WALSINGHAM: What could go wrong?

MARLOWE: My friend, we’re brilliant. I bet it’s going to be more than 200 years before anyone realizes anything’s amiss!

[and scene]
posted by kyrademon at 6:55 AM on May 30, 2012 [59 favorites]


Kyrademon is my hero.
posted by Argyle at 6:58 AM on May 30, 2012


do you have any justification for your claims that Stratford-doubting is on a par with holocaust-denial, flat-earthers, etc - or are you just going to repeat them throughout the thread?

Well, my kook-alarm goes off when I hear someone asserting that "no justification has been given" or that "no one has refuted the evidence presented."

Because in fact the flat Earth, Holocaust revisionism, creationism, the 9/11 Inside Job, and the Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theory have all been discussed, analyzed, and found wanting countless times. The only people who still push these hoaxes are people who love to have everyone sift through their pile of factoids and chase every rumor down the rabbit hole and back for no good reason whatsoever except the warped amusement of the conspiracy theorist.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 6:58 AM on May 30, 2012


MartinWisse, do you have any justification for your claims that Stratford-doubting is on a par with holocaust-denial, flat-earthers, etc - or are you just going to repeat them throughout the thread?

I'll leave that as a test of your google and library using skills.

After all, the whole point of the litmus test is to save me time by not engaging in pointless discussion to which your response is to draw me into a pointless attempt to prove the twice proven again, while you yourself get to dictate terms?

No sale.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:04 AM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


BigSky: thanks for the recommendation! I'm getting my mitts on Caroline Spurgeon's Shakespeare's Imagery as soon as I can spare the dough. THAT SOUNDS SO AWESOME.

GIGGETY!
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 7:09 AM on May 30, 2012


MartinWisse, do you have any justification for your claims that Stratford-doubting is on a par with holocaust-denial, flat-earthers, etc - or are you just going to repeat them throughout the thread?

If he doesn't, I will. Disagree? Well, then prove me wrong.


The evidence that the world is round consists of (off the top of my head) a ton of astronomical, photographic and other data - much too much to be sensibly argued with. The evidence for the holocaust having happened is loads of eyewitness accounts and physical evidence - much too much to be sensibly dismissed. The evidence for Shaksper of Stratford writing the plays of Shakespeare can be fitted on one page (the excellent How we Know that Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare article, linked in the OP and by another commenter, does this) and basically boils down to, his name is on the works. Next question please.

Those who are calling Stratford-doubters idiots and conspiracy nuts in this thread seem remarkably averse to discussing actual evidence. MartinWisse - if this is because you don't want to engage the discussion, why do you continue to do exactly that?
posted by iotic at 7:11 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Marlovian theory is NOT tenable at all. In fact, none of the anti-Stratfordian theories are tenable, because they all go like this:

1) "I don't think Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare. I think they were written by Marlowe/'Bacon/Oxford/Roger Rabbit."
2) [doctor up a piecemeal theory that supports the conclusion you've already come to out of bits of text here and there, maybe a conspiracy theory or two with absolutely no evidence]
3) "Oh my god, look at the major discovery I've made!"

Shakespeare wrote repeatedly about exile, banishment, loss of identity, foreign travel. With Marlowe, we would have a psychological connection to those issues, and that would inform our understanding of the author.

And of course we all know that everything an author writes is just autobiography. Come on, really?

snaparapans:
Regarding the Lanyer theory: Lanyer was rediscovered because A.L. Rowse thought she was the 'Dark Lady' of the Sonnets, an argument that is essentially based on "well, she fucked Henry Hudson, patron of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, so we know she was a slut, and so she probably fucked Shakespeare too."

And the evidence that she is the author of the plays is really, really, REALLY thin, given that it boils down to, "Both Shakespeare and Lanyer used images that were common to just about every author of the period. QED!" I've read (and taught and published on) Lanyer's work, and as important and as wonderful as I think she is, she's no where in the league of Shakespeare (or Marlowe, for that matter) as a poet. But she's WAY better than the Earl of Oxford, who basically sucks.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:11 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Part of what makes me suspicious is that the reputed Shakespeare is always somebody big and famous for doing other things and has an enormous amount of attention already paid to everything they do. Like they needed to create a fake pseudonym to do something else totally amazing and famous.

I prefer to think that the actual person who wrote Shakespeare's plays was a relatively unknown writer, from a small town, with some personal troubles but nothing earth-shaking, who just liked to write and had a unique way with words which attracted the attention of fellow writers and royalty. He was actually named Bill Shakers, but thought William Shakespeare sounded more official. Compared to our traditional image of Shakespeare he was about six inches shorter, a hundred pounds heavier, walked laboriously with the help of a cane, had one green eye and one hazel eye, and no facial hair. Yes, Shakespeare was a pseudonym and didn't actually exist, but discovering the actual author bears no consequence whatsoever on history nor literature.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:12 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


And of course we all know that everything an author writes is just autobiography. Come on, really?

Not at all. But there is usually some relationship between an author and their subjects, and it is often interesting to understand these. Most Shakespeare commentators have tried to link the plays, sonnets, and biography together in some meaningful way. Not least Stratfordians.
posted by iotic at 7:16 AM on May 30, 2012


I came to the conclusion that the real issue was that someone from a non-privileged background could demonstrate the brilliance of Shakespeare.

1) Shakespeare wasn't really THAT singularly brilliant.

2) This happens pretty much constantly, doesn't it? Poor people 'making it' through the art world?
posted by empath at 7:22 AM on May 30, 2012


iotic: "The problem is, all we know about him shows him to be a petty businessman and awkward social climber."

And that he was acclaimed as a brilliant playwright immediately following his death by his peers, and successful leader of a popular theater troupe, and a brilliant poet. All of which points towards a requisite, voracious reading appetite, which would provide the background information he needed to write his histories.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:22 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Shakespeare wrote repeatedly about exile, banishment, loss of identity, foreign travel.

Shakespeare wrote repeatedly too about kings, cross dressing, Romans and doctors, but so what? JK Rowling writes about wizards and boarding schools but didn't go to boarding school and isn't a wizard.

With Marlowe, we would have a psychological connection to those issues, and that would inform our understanding of the author.

Well, we'd only have a really good connection if we'd already bought into the 'faked his own death and moved to Italy under a false identity' notion. And isn't this a bit circular? You're effectively saying 'we'd have an authorial connection and that would inform our understanding of the author'.

Again, Marlowe was from the same social class as Shakespeare, so the arguments from snobbery ... are not pertinant here.

Marlowe went to Cambridge and was among the writers known as the University Wits - a group that didn't include Shakespeare, whose classical learning was a lot less systematic than Marlowe's (and Jonson's). I don't know how you're defining snobbery and I'm sure you're not personally snobbish, but quite a few people are definitely snobbish about going to Cambridge etc, and about classical learning.
posted by Mocata at 7:25 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


The age of conjecture about other known writers having "ghosted" Shakespeare's works is sinking into the west, except for the birther-level conspiracy nuts.

Modern linguistic computer analysis can't prove William put forth the lines himself, but they can prove that whoever did do so was not also the author of Marlowe's (attributed) works, Bacon's (attributed) works, etc. IOW, we can prove they didn't write his works. (In fact, such analyses are pointing out huge sections of the works that were authored by others - the witch scene in Macbeth IIRC is one such example - but these are pieces within his opera.)

So, like "Nessie", there's no hard proof, and plenty of evidence to suggest to a reasonable mind that the theories are hogwash.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:29 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


> This story makes much more sense in the original Klingon.

So does Hamlet.
posted by jfuller at 7:30 AM on May 30, 2012


Those who are calling Stratford-doubters idiots and conspiracy nuts in this thread seem remarkably averse to discussing actual evidence.

The thing is, you had your shot at presenting the evidence in the FPP, and there's no actually evidence there. A collection of selective comparisons of snippets of text and a bit of doubt about what exactly happened at an inquest carried out more than 400 years ago is just not enough to convince anyone of anything much.

I once spent a day trying to turn up a good argument for the Marlovian theory, and I drew a blank. I don't really get grouchy about anti-Stratfordians, but until the day one of them gives me a convincingly evidenced account of how and why Shakespeare might be the wrong man, I'm going to reserve the right to think of them as a little bit funny and rather misguided.
posted by howfar at 7:30 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


By this, do you mean that we had circumnavigated him by 1522, or do you mean that we got far enough away to get a photo of the entire him floating in space?

Nah, he means that Eratosthenes calculated Marlowe's circumference in the 3rd century BC.

JK Rowling writes about wizards and boarding schools but didn't go to boarding school and isn't a wizard.

That's just what she wants you to think.
posted by kmz at 7:36 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


1) Shakespeare wasn't really THAT singularly brilliant.

I would be interested to know who is, by the measuring stick you're using. I'm really enjoying this thread, but I'm confused by the underpinnings of the snobbery argument: were Oxford, et al, regularly turning out a number of talents close to Shakespeare?
posted by yerfatma at 7:37 AM on May 30, 2012


Thanks Mocata. Yes, I can see your point about the elitism of education, and Shakespeare's plays are markedly less full of classical references than Marlowe's or Bacon's.

On the other hand, the first two works published under Shakespeare's name (and the only two before the First Folio) were the narrative poems Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece - both entirely based in the classics so beloved of the University Wits. Shakespeare's plays also derive from many classical sources (especially Ovid, favorite of Marlowe), and many texts that were available only in the original Latin, Spanish, French or Italian at the time.

If Shakespeare wasn't a University wit, he nevertheless put a huge amount of effort into producing work that was every bit as classically informed and wide-ranging in influence - as well as very successfully satisfying the appetites of a less highfalutin crowd.
posted by iotic at 7:38 AM on May 30, 2012


And everyone always forgets poor Ben Jonson

You don't get to be rare, if everyone knows about you!

Kyrademon is my hero.

Needs an "Exeunt, pursued by a Bard" to really bring the House down.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:40 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


lesbiassparrow, you might not care how the author related to the works, but it's not an invalid question.

I don't know how you get that from my comment. I do care: I think cultural history is a fascinating subject and I think it's incredible reading good work on an author in any period that discusses how his work is socially and historically embedded as well as how their literature works as literature. But that has nothing to do with this question.

I actually love mad theories, when they're labelled as mad. I have an entire argument built up around how Julius Caesar had no subconscious which elaborately proven by the Gallic Wars. It's an excellent argument, even if I say so myself. I even convinced my advisor that I was seriously intended on writing a thesis on this subject, much to his horror. It's still a mad theory, though. One day I hope to connect this all to the argument that Terence didn't write his own comedies with science.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:41 AM on May 30, 2012


especially Ovid, favorite of Marlowe

Good thing Marlowe was so unique in his appreciation of poor neglected Ovid.
posted by kmz at 7:44 AM on May 30, 2012


If Shakespeare wasn't a University wit, he nevertheless put a huge amount of effort into producing work that was every bit as classically informed and wide-ranging in influence - as well as very successfully satisfying the appetites of a less highfalutin crowd.

For sure. Probably a bit less classically informed and more wide ranging in influence - but then poor old Marlowe didn't live to write as many plays.

For myself, I like these crazy theories as crazy theories too, and don't think they're equivalent to Holocaust denial. But they're definitely on the same spectrum as flat/hollow earth etc.
posted by Mocata at 7:47 AM on May 30, 2012


A writing style is like a fingerprint - and these two are very different.

Well, only sort of like a fingerprint, really, in that (for instance) Shakespeare's style can be shown to have changed quite a bit over his career. Russ McDonald goes into it at length in Shakespeare's Late Style, but the gist is that he starts playing around with meter a lot more, and the language becomes especially intricate and dense in the later plays. I don't know offhand if anyone's done any computational stylistics studies of Shakespeare's early style versus his late style, but it wouldn't surprise me.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:48 AM on May 30, 2012


Saxon Kane: My knowledge of the Lanyer theory was limited to reading a few articles and, given that, I did not really think that it was realistic. But still, I get a lot of enjoyment imagining that the person who penned work under the name Shakespeare was an Italian Jewish Woman.

More so, now, thanks to you, knowing that she had a very active sex life..
posted by snaparapans at 7:49 AM on May 30, 2012


The evidence for Shaksper of Stratford writing the plays of Shakespeare can be fitted on one page

I recall that this isn't your first time around this carousel, iotic. Shaksper's a real bee in your bonnett, isn't he?
posted by octobersurprise at 7:50 AM on May 30, 2012


It's an interest of mine, yes, octobersurprise. Is that a bad thing?
posted by iotic at 7:52 AM on May 30, 2012


Is that a bad thing?

No, no! I approve of hobbies.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:57 AM on May 30, 2012


I'd just like to pop in and recommend Charles Niccholl's excellent The Recokining: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe which examines the poet's death with a combination of deep archival research and murder-mystery-style plotting and exposition. It's a brilliant, incredibly fun read.

Now please go back to arguing.

posted by Bromius at 8:01 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


At the end of the day, if you're someone for whom your experience of reading Shakespeare would change materially in the event that Shakespeare was conclusively proven not to have been "Shakespeare", one has to wonder to what extent you ever were actually reading Shakespeare's works.
posted by hoople at 8:02 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


To take a different tack, Charles Nicholls The Reckoning offers a really interesting insight into the background of Marlowe and how he ended up being killed.
posted by crocomancer at 8:03 AM on May 30, 2012


If doubters do some tiny bit of research on the use of literary forensics--studies of style, images, etc--you would know that Shakespeare is indeed Shakespeare and that no other writer then or since writes in exactly the same manner. Go to the apocrypha to see how forensics tools are used to show where or when and how Shakesepeare worked with other writers.
posted by Postroad at 8:05 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I propose the Tyrion Lannister actually wrote Shakespeare's plays.

Tyrion is very well read.
Tyrion was raised at court and knows the intrigues of the nobility.
Tyrion lost his great love due to spite.
Tyrion had magisters at his use to translate languages and discuss international issues.
Tyrion knows fencing.
Tyrion is the wittiest person in Westeros, excepting Hodor, of course.

Therefore Tyrion is actually the Bard!

(please no spoilers, I've only watched the second season of GoT!)
posted by Argyle at 8:07 AM on May 30, 2012


Modern linguistic computer analysis can't prove William put forth the lines himself, but they can prove that whoever did do so was not also the author of Marlowe's (attributed) works, Bacon's (attributed) works, etc.

Not quite. Barring the discovery of a cache of notarized manuscripts all signed "IT WAS ME WILL SHAKESPEARE WHAT DONE IT AND OXFORD CAN GO SUCK A BADGER", all we can really do is say that a given Elizabethan text was probably not written by, say, Marlowe, with X% of certainty.

Part of the problem is that after over a hundred years of this sort of thing, we're still not entirely sure what constitutes an authorial "fingerprint" for texts from this era, much less texts in general. All sorts of measures have been tried--proportions of feminine endings, word length, rhetorical figure use, word frequency, etc.--but so far there's no one definitive linguistic feature that will work universally to say "Yes, author A wrote text B". John Burrows and Hugh Craig have done some interesting work with most-frequent function words that seems to be promising, but they're still refining it as we speak.

(Sorry. This sort of computational stylistic work is the focus of my PhD thesis--I'm trying to pick out what parts, if any, of Titus Andronicus may have been a collaborative work with Shakespeare's contemporary George Peele, or a reworking of an earlier Peele piece. I can go on about this stuff for hours.)

P.S. The line is actually "great reckoning in a little room".
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh God, not this nonsense again.
posted by Decani at 8:28 AM on May 30, 2012


Isn't it enough that Christopher Marlowe was probably already a playwright/spy? I mean, that's a lot for any man to handle without having to fake his death/be William Shakespeare/go on about business as globe trotting super-spy.

The truth is: Shakespeare's plays were written by two unknown members of the Lost Colony which was not actually lost, just temporarily mislaid somewhat inland. Originally hired as ghostwriter's for Sir Walter Raleigh's never-completed collection of erotica, Bawdy Tales of Pirate Lore To Titillate Her Royal Highness, these intrepid colonists were forced off Roanoke Island by a hurricane and settled into a friendly indigenous community of amateur theatre-buffs. To fill the time, the colonists started writing plays on the back of tree bark (after the international success of their cryptic one word masterpiece "Croatan") and soon were entertaining whatever Spanish mercenaries and indigenous audiences happened upon their village playhouse. Their reputation grew (it is said Powhatan himself was a particular fan of their work) and eventually they were able to send the scripts wrapped in a batch of tobacco back to England via a couple of unscrupulous French priests/fur speculators. The Frenchman stopped at a pub and learned that Raleigh was in the Tower, from their waiter, an out-of-work actor named William Shakespeare. Unable to get change for their beaver skins and Spanish gold, the Frenchman left the scripts as gratuity. And the rest, as they say, is history.
posted by thivaia at 8:29 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


P.S. The line is actually "great reckoning in a little room".

Quite right - I realised this after posting. I'm glad someone picked up on it.

And +1 for the computational stylometry stuff - very interesting stuff. Best of luck with the PhD and picking apart Peele's input. I guess you're probably aware of Vickers and the ngram approach - it seems to me a much sharper tool for looking at attribution questions within a single text than the broader approach typified by analyzing function/common words.
posted by iotic at 8:49 AM on May 30, 2012


I have my own hobby conspiracy theories (LBJ engineered the assasination of JFK, for example). My problem comes when they are presented in schools as issues with legitimate scholarly controversy. I also take serious issue, in this specific case, with the tone of some of the "evidence" that Shakespeare couldn't have written his plays, which implies that Shakespeare was too provincial to absorb the pop culture obsession with the classics.

For example:
If Shakespeare wasn't a University wit, he nevertheless put a huge amount of effort into producing work that was every bit as classically informed and wide-ranging in influence - as well as very successfully satisfying the appetites of a less highfalutin crowd.
My understanding is that much of the 'less highfalutin crowd' were pretty steeped in other representations of the classics, and would also manage to understand the wide-ranging influence, without even the benefit of Shakespeare's likely grammar-school education in Latin and Latin classics.
posted by muddgirl at 8:55 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not a rhetorical question: What do you call the opposite of Occam's razor? Conspiracy theory seems to specific. Occam's blender?
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:20 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine uses the term "Aykroyd's Razor."
posted by griphus at 9:22 AM on May 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


Those who are calling Stratford-doubters idiots and conspiracy nuts in this thread seem remarkably averse to discussing actual evidence.

Iotic, this is because those of us with any scholarly interest in the issue at all have been over the evidence a thousand times already. We've all had this argument over and over and over again. We know that no matter how many times we point out to you that your arguments consist of nothing but special pleading, you'll simply roll back around and make the same bankrupt arguments again, and again, and again. Because you have, in fact, no interest at all in weighing the evidence. You are interested solely in the excitement of believing something you think to be a Hidden Truth the knowledge of which makes you Special.

Look, here's a Metafilter thread where you laid out all your evidence for the Marlovian theory and where I systematically dismantled it for you. Did that change your thinking one iota? No. Is there any point doing it again? No.

I imagine you still consider it terribly, terribly significant that "there are no accounts of Shakspere of Stratford as an author by anyone who knew him, in his lifetime"--despite the fact that this is untrue. I imagine you still handwave away the fact (which, in this case, is a fact) that we have not a single reference to Marlowe as an author of his plays that was made during his lifetime. Lots of references, of course, to Marlowe as a dead playwright--although, of course, nowhere near as many as there are to Shakespeare as a dead playwright, by people who knew him.

I imagine you still consider it terribly, terribly significant that we know relatively little about Shakespeare's schooling. I imagine you continue to not give a damn that we know nothing, at all, about the education of Ben Jonson, of Chapman, of Dekker, of Webster, of Drayton etc. etc. etc.

I imagine you continue to think it terribly, terribly significant that Shakespeare's will doesn't mention any books. I imagine you have still not bothered to educate yourself in even the rudiments of Elizabethan testamentary practice so that you still haven't a clue why this is an utterly unremarkable fact. I imagine you continue to not care a whit that, for example, Frances Bacon's and Richard Hooker's wills also make no mention of any books. Or, who knows, maybe you've decided that Marlowe wrote all of Bacon and Hooker's works too?

There is not a single serious Renaissance scholar in the entire world who thinks that any of these theories has even the tiniest shred of plausibility. Does that really not give you conspiracy nuts even a momentary pause?
posted by yoink at 9:24 AM on May 30, 2012 [31 favorites]


As we examine the crime we find that Marlowe was stabbed in the eye, a heretic eye.

The neato part of OR is that the answer is always close to the truth. So the Polar OR would fit the same criteria.

It gives pause sure, but it's fun.
posted by clavdivs at 9:27 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


1) Shakespeare wasn't really THAT singularly brilliant.

Quite. To quote Shakespeare scholar Holger Syme:
The tendency to discuss Shakespeare in isolation from other dramatists (if not in isolation from his cultural surrounds) is one feature of mainstream scholarship that mirrors a similarly exclusive focus on the part of the self-proclaimed skeptics. This parallel is partly what I had in mind when I called Bardolatry anti-Stratfordianism’s twin in my last post. It’s no coincidence that historically, the authorship controversy only came into being once Shakespeare had been elevated to the status of unparalleled genius, and it certainly seems to me that people writing in praise of Shakespeare have done almost as much damage as those out to undermine his authorial identity.
And that's what annoys me about the perpetual who was Shakespeare really debate; it's such a childish, second grade view of the world, in which Shakespeare is such a suuupergenius that he has to be somebody else than who he really was. It ignores all the real complexity and interest from his life in favour of conspiracy theories.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:30 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


it's such a childish, second grade view of the world, in which Shakespeare is such a suuupergenius that he has to be somebody else than who he really was.

The silliest form of that argument is the "the author of Shakespeare's plays had such a profound insight into [insert some field of human activity] he MUST have been an actual practitioner" (so he must have been a diplomat, or a soldier, or a spy, or a courtier etc. etc. etc.). And yet in fact none of the instances cited are ever inside knowledge of that kind. It would make no sense for a playwright to include genuine arcana of that kind because the audience would have no way of understanding their significance. All that people mean when they talk about Shakespeare's profound understanding of, say, politics, is that he understood how human beings think and act extraordinarily well, so that when he imagines people in politically complex circumstances (the particular details of which simply come from his sources--which were widely and publicly available in the period) he is extremely astute in imagining how a person might react to that set of circumstances.

But we have seen that ability in author after author after author over the centuries and we know that people who have never once been to court can write convincingly of the nature of court life, or that people who have never experienced exile can write convincingly of the emotional life of the exile, and that people who have never been lawyers can write convincingly of the inner life of a lawyer etc. etc. etc. And despite knowing this, we see the same silly argument advanced again and again and again about Shakespeare.
posted by yoink at 9:40 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


William Shakespeare was from a small town.

Bill der Berg.

C'MON WAKE UP SHEEPLE.
posted by chavenet at 9:41 AM on May 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


There is not a single serious Renaissance scholar in the entire world who thinks that any of these theories has even the tiniest shred of plausibility. Does that really not give you conspiracy nuts even a momentary pause?

I've yet to see a conspiracy theory that wasn't predicated upon making amateurs feel like experts. JFK assassination nuts are experts on ballistics and black ops. Creationists are experts on protein cascades and fossil formation. 9/11 truthers know exactly how a burning skyscraper should and shouldn't collapse. Far from being about a coherent body of persuasive evidence, it's as if the most alluring thing about any conspiracy theory is that it panders to the presumption and arrogance of people who resent having to admit that they don't know everything.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 9:43 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


yoink, of course I recall the thread you mention - though I seem to remember it ended because I chose to respect the OP's wishes to not detract from the main topic of the thread - rather than through you "systematically dismantling" my argument through your remarkable faculties of genius. Perhaps I missed the part where that happened.

I think it's a shame you feel you need to take such a condescending tone over this issue, as you seem a moderately knowledgable person, in some respects.
posted by iotic at 9:46 AM on May 30, 2012


I think it's a shame you feel you need to take such a condescending tone over this issue, as you seem a moderately knowledgable person, in some respects.

The thread is there for all to read--including you if you'd like to revisit the scene of your triumph. Interested Mefites can judge for themselves as to who makes the more convincing case. So far as I can judge, you put forward your best case for the Marlovian hypothesis, and I demonstrated that it was entirely without merit. I do not say this to brag--it is well within the abilities of a very "moderately knowledgeable" person to do so.
posted by yoink at 9:52 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mr. Bad Example: "(Sorry. This sort of computational stylistic work is the focus of my PhD thesis--I'm trying to pick out what parts, if any, of Titus Andronicus may have been a collaborative work with Shakespeare's contemporary George Peele, or a reworking of an earlier Peele piece. I can go on about this stuff for hours.) "

Please do!!
posted by barnacles at 9:53 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have an entire argument built up around how Julius Caesar had no subconscious which elaborately proven by the Gallic Wars. It's an excellent argument, even if I say so myself. I even convinced my advisor that I was seriously intended on writing a thesis on this subject, much to his horror.

Can you, um, explain this a little further cause it fits into my explanation that Caesar conquered Gaul in the help of the Faeries (which, if he had no subconscious, fits. The Faeries wouldn't be able to toy with his perceptions then)
posted by The Whelk at 9:57 AM on May 30, 2012


The bottom line is that, if evidence such as "published poetry and plays were attributed to Shakespeare during his life and shortly after his dealth" is considered:
shaky (forgive the pun) at best.
What is the sense of continuing the conversation? Clearly we are talking about two different standards of evidence.
posted by muddgirl at 9:58 AM on May 30, 2012


I found this page searching for William James & Shakespeare. If THE William James had good reasons for doubt I was very interested in seeing them; that page does not present good reasons. It's more akin to a wistful speculation.

Calling those people idiots is obviously ridiculous.

Today I learned about James McPherson and Ossian. Another +1 to add to my list of N (N -> infinity) of books I want to read!
posted by bukvich at 9:59 AM on May 30, 2012


Tediously overwriting authors, overrated clows, nature fetishists, aw shucks folksy story tellers, pervs, voice actors for poorly written cartoons, bad poets, drunks or taxpayer supported "artists" do not good cultural historians make.

And that's why the name MartinWisse will echo throughout the ages, while all these frauds and idiots will be forgotten like so much dust.
posted by chronkite at 10:01 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Taking the first entry. Adler, if not an idiot, is grossly incurious:
Just a mere glance at [his] pathetic efforts to sign his name (illiterate scrawls) should forever eliminate Shakspere from further consideration in this question — he could not write.”
Someday, someone will question my engineering degree because my signature is such a scrawl! There's no way I could write my thesis in such a chicken-scratch!
posted by muddgirl at 10:03 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know who wrote the MartinWisse posts, though. There are serious questions.
posted by Trochanter at 10:03 AM on May 30, 2012


Today I learned about James McPherson and Ossian.

Among other things, anyone named Oscar owes their name to McPherson.
posted by vacapinta at 10:03 AM on May 30, 2012


And that's why the name MartinWisse will echo throughout the ages, while all these frauds and idiots will be forgotten like so much dust.

When someone is ridiculing argument from authority, argument from authority is probably not your best comeback. I hope you're not a fireman, is all I can say.
posted by howfar at 10:04 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


[iotic, yoink, cut it out. Thank you.]
posted by cortex at 10:07 AM on May 30, 2012


Can you, um, explain this a little further cause it fits into my explanation that Caesar conquered Gaul in the help of the Faeries (which, if he had no subconscious, fits. The Faeries wouldn't be able to toy with his perceptions then)

I would, but I've just realised that I can make a real splash by setting up the 'No Subconscious for JC!" society, with related web pages discussing his use of the ablative absolute and why he talks about himself in the third person and just why Cicero said his prose was like naked statues. (Naked BECAUSE ALL THAT WAS CAESAR WAS ON VIEW FOR THE WORLD. NOTHING HIDDEN. NADA.)

People will whisper my name at conferences and avoid me in the bar.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:14 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Well, my personal litmus test for determining whether or not somebody is an idiot I shouldn't pay attention to is whether or not they believe in questioning and debating the "truthiness" of things... like the viewpoint that Shakespeare was the sole author responsible for the cannon attributed to the historical Shakespeare If they believe in sole authorship and if they take it seriously they're idiots." Anti-MartinWisse, 5/30/2012.
posted by mfoight at 10:17 AM on May 30, 2012


howfar, I've read that comment five times and I have no idea what your point is.

*My* point is that some random internet guy calling people like Chaplin and Whitman idiots because they dared question the authorship of Shakespeare's works is funny in a hundred ways, and I just picked one. They could easily be wrong, but idiots? Please.
posted by chronkite at 10:17 AM on May 30, 2012


The point is that reaching for the old argument from authority (where it's not warranted) by invoking, amongst others Mark bloody Twain, is, well, not worthy of answering other than in jest.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:22 AM on May 30, 2012


But that wasn't what he was doing. As he's made quite clear, MartinWisse's proposed "litmus test" is not supposed to be an infallible means of determining the full worth of an individual, and he was, at least partially, taking the piss when he gave the answer you quote (as the context within the comment indicates).

On preview, what he said.

I hope this thread isn't getting grumpy. It's a very unimportant subject, no matter what you believe about it. Everyone should enjoy themselves as best they can.
posted by howfar at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2012


So Christopher Marlowe is arrested 20 May, with a warrant issued two days before. Fearing execution he decides to fake his own death, which he manages to not only plan and stage, but also convince some pretty important people to take part, by 30 May.

But by 12 June he has not only created a whole new identity, but managed to get the name of that identity attached to a work originally registered a whole month earlier than the warrant for his arrest and the earliest time he could have seriously contemplated his need for such an identity or anonymous work to attach it to.

Moreover, despite carrying out a pretty audacious deception and managing to avoid execution, Marlowe feels so secure that he is willing to try out his new identity so soon, yet never so secure as to leave any documentation to reveal his identity after his death.
posted by Jehan at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


> Oh God, not this nonsense again.

The classics never die.
posted by jfuller at 10:31 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


BTW, how much lying to I have to do to be labeled a "known liar" by historians? Can it just be, "Oh, all her friends knew she was a kidder!" or does it need to be more epic?
posted by muddgirl at 10:34 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I assumed that was a polite way to say "writers."
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:47 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Oh God, not this nonsense again.
posted by Grangousier at 10:47 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


BTW, how much lying to I have to do to be labeled a "known liar" by historians?

Whenever that happens it goes something like this.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:50 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or like this.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:52 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've always wondered: why are so many people obsessed with proving that William Shakespeare didn't exist, or at the very least didn't write the plays attributed to him.
There's a pretty good book on the subject- Contested Will. I've always been fascinated by the Shakespeare-was-someone-else thing, which more even than most conspiracy theories seems glaringly a solution in search of a problem, no offence I hope to the believers. Shapiro attributes it to the Romantics and their need for a personality behind the author.

It really does seem to come down to this:
all we know about him shows him to be a petty businessman and awkward social climber.
For my own part (my degree, for what it's worth, which is not much, is in theater history) it's precisely the ordinariness of Shakespeare that makes it hard for me to see the need for a conspiracy. A provincial autodictat who gets most of his life experience through reading, and is primarily fascinated with observing others and with the technical aspects of the craft, sounds like a lot of screenwriters I know. Heck some of them even have buy-to-let property, a good sideline for artists with a windfall. Most writers aren't Hemmingway or Byron leading lives of stunning adventure. And like the modern media business Elizabethan theater was so intensely improvised, re-worked, and collaborative it's very difficult to see how it would work to be getting anonymous stuff in envelopes.
posted by Erasmouse at 10:53 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Shakespeare's plays also derive from many classical sources (especially Ovid, favorite of Marlowe), and many texts that were available only in the original Latin, Spanish, French or Italian at the time.

1) This claim both underestimates how many translations were available, and fails to take into account the nature of a grammar school education (while badly overestimating the quality of a university education). Robert Miola, for example, has an overview of what Shakespeare would have read where--as he points out, we've known since at least the 40s that virtually all the high-falutin' allusions in S "derive from the standard books and curriculum of a grammar school" (3-4).

2) There are some strange assumptions about authorial knowledge at work here, too. Nobody ever suggests that S might just have asked a drinking buddy down at the pub what he knew about hawking. Everything we know about other authors involves them reading the bare minimum to get their narratives & details straight, asking experts for assistance (e.g., doctors, lawyers), etc. (I write about historical fiction for a living, and it's amazing how little a historical novelist needs to know for complex world-building--and how often what they know is better from a "good story" perspective than a "good history" perspective.) One wonders how many legal plots in contemporary fiction derive from somebody's viewing of Law & Order.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:55 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


[iotic, it's fine if you wanted to make this post because it's a topic you're interested in but a Mefi post needs to be more of a thing you post because you want to share those links and less of a thing where you use the ensuing thread as a place to make an argument. Please give this thread a rest.]
posted by cortex at 11:03 AM on May 30, 2012


Why would anyone say that Shakespeare's works had to have been produced by one of the University Wits? Robert Greene, one of the Wits, didn't seem to care much for Shakespeare, mocks him for his lack of a college education, and basically accuses him of biting their style:

"...for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey".
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:07 AM on May 30, 2012


Charles Nicoll's The Reckoning was an excellent investigation into Marlowe's murder, FWIW.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:13 AM on May 30, 2012


Ok cortex fair enough - sorry. I can see I might have got a bit over-involved in my own thread and not let others just get on with enjoying the links and discussing the subject. I'll give it a rest now.

I was (as I mentioned on the contact form) a bit sorry to see my reply to Jedus, regarding Lord Burghley and his connection to Marlowe, Venus and Adonis, and the printer Richard Field get deleted, but I'll let others google that if they're interested.

Anyway I'm glad to have provided a thread that apparently interests some folks, for my first post on the blue. Parting is such sweet sorrow - or - out, brief candle. :)
posted by iotic at 11:22 AM on May 30, 2012


"Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is...maybe he didn't. "
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:24 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I will from here on out refer to all this nonsense as Shakespeare On The Grassy Knoll.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:31 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Jehan, Marlowe had some form for being helped out by "pretty important people" - of whom probably the most relevant is Lord Burghley, the Lord High Treasurer.
But then you need to explain why they issued the arrest warrant in the first place, if his friends at that high up in the state. I looked up this question on the website you linked to, which suggest that the whole Privy Council was in on the conspiracy. They resorted to the fake death plot as a compromise between execution and exile. That is, the most powerful people in England fudged the issue, and none of them or their associates ever spoke out about it, even when the Marlowe began to audaciously exercise his continued existence through "William Shakespeare", becoming one of the best known playwrights of the day. It's a bit like J Edgar Hoover helping Robert Johnson to fake his own death, only to see him secretly record all of Muddy Waters' best work. They were both born in Mississippi, only two counties apart, Muddy Waters' birth date is disputed, and he didn't begin performing widely until after Johnson died. Back and to the left!
posted by Jehan at 11:35 AM on May 30, 2012



WALSINGHAM: Good point, good point ... We need a patsy.

MARLOWE: A patsy?

WALSINGHAM: Yeah, someone who you can say wrote the plays. You do the work, they get the credit.


That's not a patsy. That's a front.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:41 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not only that, Sys Rq, but I will freely admit that the only contemporary report we have of that conversation is from muddgirl, a known liar.
posted by kyrademon at 11:55 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Known liar" would look pretty sharp on some business cards, I reckon.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:04 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised that more people aren't skeptical that a mere patent clerk could have overturned Newtonian physics.
posted by empath at 12:06 PM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


No matter if we ever prove that Kitt Marlowe was the same Skrull as William Shakespeare, we do have dramatic evidence that most Shakespearean actors were, in fact Skrulls (or Super-Skrulls). I think that counts for something.
posted by Mad_Carew at 12:08 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Marlowe looked like a weasel. Shakespeare was more like a whale.
posted by tigrefacile at 12:13 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised that more people aren't skeptical that a mere patent clerk could have overturned Newtonian physics.

Still too soon. Give it another 120 years. It'll come. TEACH THE DEBATE.
posted by davidjmcgee at 12:19 PM on May 30, 2012


TEACH THE CONTROVERSY
posted by shakespeherian at 12:33 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sys_Rq: That's not a patsy. That's a front.

Yeah, Patsy is the guy with the coconut halves and all the luggage.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:37 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, those are fantastic. Thanks.
posted by davidjmcgee at 12:38 PM on May 30, 2012


shakespeherian, I think you just helped me finish off my birthday list!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:40 PM on May 30, 2012


Make sure you see all of them.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:55 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please do!

Heh. You know not what you ask--I can bore people with my thesis at fifty paces.

If anyone's interested, though, I can talk about it later when I'm on a real keyboard. (Coincidentally, I'm typing this on my phone while backstage at a rehearsal for Henry V.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:16 PM on May 30, 2012


while backstage at a rehearsal for Henry V

...by A. A. Milne.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:18 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Anyway, Marlowe. What about that guy?
Jehan: So Christopher Marlowe is arrested 20 May, with a warrant issued two days before. Fearing execution he decides to fake his own death, which he manages to not only plan and stage, but also convince some pretty important people to take part, by 30 May.

But by 12 June he has not only created a whole new identity, but managed to get the name of that identity attached to a work originally registered a whole month earlier than the warrant for his arrest and the earliest time he could have seriously contemplated his need for such an identity or anonymous work to attach it to.
Well, Shakespeare is obviously a cover identity established by the Secret Service in advance. There was no Shakespeare! He was invented by Marlowe through the simple expedient of falsifying a few documents in Stratford, and, uh, pretending to be the man for a week or so every month. Making friends with actors and other lowlifes, renting rooms he never actually lived in... It may have seemed like a lot of work at the time, but boy, did that effort pay off in the end!

No, Christopher Marlowe wasn't Shakespeare. But the circumstances of his death do seem a bit shady.

Maybe the truth is somewhere in between the shoddy coroner's report and the conspiracy theories. It's easy to imagine a desperate Marlowe going to his patron Walsingham for help with the atheism charge. But instead of aid, Walsingham assigns three men to keep watch on Marlowe and make sure he doesn't skip town. (This is why he wasn't thrown in jail immediately.) They spend all day together, and as dawn approaches Marlowe grows increasingly frightened and angry. He quarrels with them over the bill, then goes to lie down and sulk. Something snaps inside him and he jumps up, grabs Frizer's weapon and strikes out. Maybe it's just the desperation of last ten days boiling over, or maybe he's trying to escape. We'll never know. But unfortunately for Marlowe, Frizer is a better fighter and the scuffle ends in his death.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:53 PM on May 30, 2012


Shakespeare is like the Dread Pirate Roberts, it's just a mantle that different author/spies-in-hiding assume for a while and then pass on to the next fellow who needs it. Why else would there be two different shipwrecked-on-a-desert-island plays? It's the only thing that makes sense.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:04 PM on May 30, 2012


...by A. A. Milne.

"Would I were with him, wheresome'er he is, in the hundred-acre wood."
posted by griphus at 2:09 PM on May 30, 2012


...by A. A. Milne.

Trespassers W. which is short for Trespassers Will, which is short for Trespassers William, which is short for Trespassers William Shakespeare??? Now it all makes sense!!!
posted by Floydd at 2:23 PM on May 30, 2012


Something something Tennessee Williams something something Stella Artois something something Michael Ian Black something something Jacob Marlowe from WildC.A.T.s
posted by griphus at 2:29 PM on May 30, 2012


...by A. A. Milne.

Well, that explains "[Exit, pursued by a bear] "
posted by chavenet at 2:31 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not to be confused with William Sharkspear.
posted by homunculus at 2:33 PM on May 30, 2012


William Shakesbear, king of the Forrest
posted by The Whelk at 3:07 PM on May 30, 2012


So Christopher Marlowe is arrested 20 May, with a warrant issued two days before. Fearing execution he decides to fake his own death, which he manages to not only plan and stage, but also convince some pretty important people to take part, by 30 May.

But by 12 June he has not only created a whole new identity, but managed to get the name of that identity attached to a work originally registered a whole month earlier than the warrant for his arrest and the earliest time he could have seriously contemplated his need for such an identity or anonymous work to attach it to.

Moreover, despite carrying out a pretty audacious deception and managing to avoid execution, Marlowe feels so secure that he is willing to try out his new identity so soon, yet never so secure as to leave any documentation to reveal his identity after his death


Yes. That's exactly what happened.
posted by Summer at 3:40 PM on May 30, 2012


Leaving aside the "authorship debate" as a non-starter, I'd like to propose a somewhat different fight.

Shakespeare and Marlowe were born in the same year. By the time of Marlowe's death, Marlowe had written:

Dido, Queen of Carthage
Tamburlaine the Great, Parts I & II
The Massacre At Paris
Doctor Faustus
Edward II
The Jew Of Malta

...and some poetry
To Shakespeare's

The Comedy of Errors
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Henry VI, Parts I, II, III
Richard III
The Taming of the Shrew
Titus Andronicus (probably)
King John (possibly)

...and some poetry
The Shakespeare list is more difficult because of the many estimated dates, but even erring on the side of generosity... as my much-revered undergraduate tutor liked to say, "It's not open and shut in favour of Shakespeare." In other words, in 1593, Who Would Win?

(Or would they both just get horrifyingly drunk and make out?)
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:00 PM on May 30, 2012


MAKE OUT
posted by shakespeherian at 5:57 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Welp, you'd know if anyone would, shakespeherian.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:41 PM on May 30, 2012


RUFF ON ROUGH ACTION
posted by The Whelk at 8:06 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My kitten's name is Marlowe, get it, Kit Marlowe, haha.
posted by sweetkid at 8:51 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


RUFF ON ROUGH ACTION

Is this the ruff that launched a thousand 'ships?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:42 AM on May 31, 2012


sweetkid I wonder who on Mefi might have given you that idea...
posted by howfar at 5:06 AM on May 31, 2012


nope, did it on my own though kittenmarlowe and I did discuss it!
posted by sweetkid at 5:21 AM on May 31, 2012


I am posting this for my boyfriend, who knows a great deal about the authorship question. Here is his response to many of the comments posted earlier. If you want to strike up an honest discussion with him, you can mefi mail me, and I'll put you in touch with him.
At the risk of further stoking the irrational ire of some of you orthodox/academic wonks, it isn't those of us who question an implausible proposition - that Shaksper of Stratford was the Author of the works of Shake-speare - who're the "flat earthers", it's you. If you can prove as inarguably that the Warwickshire hick wrote the poems and plays, put up the proof or get down off your soapbox and give other theories as much respect as you demand for the theory, unprovable though it is, that you support.

There is NO definitive proof that Shaksper/Stratford wrote ANYTHING, EVER...not even his own name. (but we'll cut him at least that much since it does appear, shakily, on his will...albeit never spelled the same way twice in the same document!) The greatest author in English history and he doesn't leave a single word behind? No mention of his writing in letters or reviews or diaries? Nothing about manuscripts or royalties or the disposition of his literary legacy in his own will?!? His parents, his wife and his children are all illiterate. Show me the precedent for that in ANY author of substance at ANY point in history. A great writer and thinker doesn't bother to teach his kids to read his own work. Right.

I've done ALL the reading, pored over the essays, articles, books, journals...I have my own thoughts, based on persuasive evidence in favor of a particular candidate. But there is no smoking gun. Not for Derby, not for De Vere, not for Marlowe or Jonson or Bacon or Elizabeth or Shrek. But of all the candidates who "might" have been using the pen name Shake-speare, as someone almost certainly was (even Stratford's name barely resembles the name on the Quartos) the ONLY candidate for whom there is virtually NO persuasive evidence is Shaksper! And we, who look at more logical candidates, WE'RE the "flat earthers"?

Here's the trick, and it should be an easy one since you have such vast quantities of "evidence" in favor of Stratford: pony it up. Present your case without using the terms "would have been likely to", "must have", "in all probability did"...skip the unfounded conjecture and stick to the facts. You won't, because you can't, because there are none. A cryptic reference in the intro to the First Folio gushing praise for the author (never specifically cited as being Shaksper) from a guy who openly ridiculed and resented him throughout his life. Jonson had no use for Shake-speare, then, twenty years later he's completely changed his tune. That and the embarrassing tomb in Stratford - originally erected to a grain merchant, NOT an author as later redesigned, and you're spent. That's your entire case. Did Shaksper ever attend a day of school? Um...we don't know, but he must've. Did he know how to read and/or write? Well, he scribbled different spellings of his name six times. Did anyone anywhere in England, including the chroniclers of notable residents of Stratford among whom were at least one of Shaksper's relatives!, even think to mention his name or accomplishments among those of the leading citizens of the place at that time? Did ANYONE mark the event of his death, at all? Is there one single bill or invoice or check to show that this grasping, greedy, petty, litigious businessman from the boondocks ever sold or had produced a single word of poetry or a single play? What, was he suing over menial matters like a few pence here and a few pounds there but he couldn't be bothered to charge for the most valuable product he could ever have produced? Ludicrous.

Marlowe was a great writer, yes. Bacon was the leading genius of his time. De Vere had unique access to the Queen, her court and many of the people represented in the plays. But Stratford...no...he was imbued with genius from above. The likelihood that he wrote anything is about as provable as making a case that Jesus came back and fed everyone in Yankee Stadium with two hotdogs and four pretzels. The argument that anyone supporting Bacon/Oxford/Derby is somehow elitist is absurd. Who gives two percent of a rat's ass what class he belonged to? But...he was clearly someone with intimate knowledge of the upper class and the court, well traveled in the places featured in the plays, highly educated in disciplines a commoner would be highly unlikely to know...and if you remain in denial about that and about Shaksper's complete lack of such a frame of reference you're liable to fall off of your own cozy orthodox earth into the void of narrowmindedness that has kept the Stratford theme park mentality dominant against all logic and odds for hundreds of years. Free your mind. If the rest doesn't follow, shut up and let someone who cares more about the truth than about the status quo do some talking.

Btw, I was taught in school that if I kept quiet and behaved Santa Claus might bring me a book of Shakespeare's plays. It took a few years of that to realize that the guy the teacher was referring to was someone who'd actually lived but had, for the most part, passed into the realm of myth without having done most of what he was claimed to have done. And the same went for Santa.

Roswell NM is a conspiracy theory. JFK is a conspiracy theory. Bigfoot is...stupid. The Shake-speare Authorship Question is a growing body of scholars and lovers of literature curious to know who the greatest author in history was, why he wrote what he wrote, what subtext and historical references we've been missing for four hundred years. It hardly seems a frivolous or ridiculous pursuit. Those of you saying, "Who cares who the author was?"...now that, it strikes me, is ridiculous. That's what they said about the Earth, too. "Who cares if it could be round? Just don't get too close to the edge. You might fall out of your comfort zone."
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:11 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe it was a bit aggrandizing to compare anti-Stratfordians to 'flat-earthers' or climate denialists. It's much closer to Birthers, and in fact there is probably more credible (although circumstantial) evidence that Obama was born in Kenya than there is that someone other than Shakespeare wrote his plays.

Present your case without using the terms "would have been likely to", "must have", "in all probability did"...skip the unfounded conjecture and stick to the facts.

It was linked to before. How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare. The null hypothesis has to be that William Shakespeare (or however it was inconsistently spelled, since literally no-one spelled their name consistently) wrote the plays and poems published under his name, and the experiment is to find evidence that someone else did so. Elsewhere lies madness.
posted by muddgirl at 12:28 PM on May 31, 2012


I think it might be wise before basing any argument based on the multiple ways that Shakespeare spelt his name to look at the multiple ways other names, like Marlowe's, were also spelt during this period. Plus, I don't know a single person who has argued in this thread that Shakespeare was some sort of heaven sent genius who leapt from Stratford like Athena from Zeus' head. But arguing that because he's a hick and had a head for business that he, therefore, can't have written the plays seems bizarre reasoning. The only Latin author born in Rome was Julius Caesar;many of the rest of the most famous came from comparatively small towns. Should I then reason that they too did not write their works, especially if they died in prosperous circumstances?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:39 PM on May 31, 2012


But here's the problem computech_apolloniajames. In all those words not a single shred of evidence is presented for any competing theory. Just the same old "his children were illiterate" claim, unsupported claims that Shakespeare never wrote and hackneyed assumptions about the life experience that Shakespeare must have had. It's an argument that, like any conspiracy theory, functions by picking holes in the mainstream account without bothering to present any plausible alternative.

That's what they said about the Earth, too. "Who cares if it could be round? Just don't get too close to the edge. You might fall out of your comfort zone."

One thing you should tell your boyfriend is that, since the ancient Greeks, no person educated on the subject has believed that the Earth was flat. The myth of the flat Earth is, like the myth of the anti-Stratfordians, a product of 19th and 20th century romancing, rather than a reasoned historical approach.

However, thank him for his interest and his time and tell him $5 is a snip for all the opportunities to have an argument that Metafilter presents. Join us!
posted by howfar at 12:48 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, I'd be far more convinced by the various conspiracy theories if they weren't dependant upon an entire theatrical troup keeping mum about the entire thing for decades along with an enormous number of authors, politicians, publishers, etc. Has anyone ever calculated the number of people who would have had to keep their mouths shut for this to have worked? I have this vision of half of London being involved by the end of it, but realistically it must have been close to a few thousand individuals.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:53 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love this 'he never wrote' thing. It's true of a great many authors. Can you demonstrate that, outside of novels and personal correspondance, the person laughingly referred to as 'Jane Austen' ever wrote anything? Some writer! Clearly Mark Twain wrote Persuasion.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:58 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I'd be far more convinced by the various conspiracy theories if they weren't dependant upon an entire theatrical troup keeping mum about the entire thing for decades along with an enormous number of authors, politicians, publishers, etc. Has anyone ever calculated the number of people who would have had to keep their mouths shut for this to have worked? I have this vision of half of London being involved by the end of it, but realistically it must have been close to a few thousand individuals.

Yeah, my college Shakespeare professor included this in his first day of class rant on this topic and told us we shouldn't take his class if we wanted to discuss the conspiracy theories as fact ever. It's been burned into my brain since.
posted by sweetkid at 1:44 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


" ... the void of narrowmindedness that has kept the Stratford theme park mentality dominant against all logic and odds for hundreds of years. Free your mind."
"This is fairy gold, boy, and 'twill prove so: up
with't, keep it close: home, home, the next way.
We are lucky, boy; and to be so still requires
nothing but secrecy. Let my sheeple go: come, good
boy, the next way home."
The Winter's Tale, Act III, Scene 3.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:55 PM on May 31, 2012


So ... the argument now is that someone was using the "pen name" William Shakespeare, and that the LEAST LIKELY CANDIDATE for this is the guy named William Shakespeare who was an actor in and part owner of the theater company that exlusively performed the works of William Shakespeare?

Or, alternately, that the aforementioned actor William Shakespeare who died in April 1616 is SOMEONE OTHER than the guy from Stratford who was named William Shakespeare who left money to a number of actors from that same acting company in his will when he died in April 1616?

And that a crucial piece of evidence for this is the fact that he spelled his name in various ways, totally unlike super-literate folks like Christofer Marley. Sorry, Christopher Marloe. I mean, of course, Kit Marle. Er, Marlowe. Wait, Marlo. Or rather, Marlen. Marlin. Marlyn. Marlyne. Marlinge. Merlin. Marlye. Morley. Morle ... (Not making any of those up, by the way.)

But I will admit. I did not actually SEE HIM WRITING THE PLAYS. The only evidence I have is that the plays were credited to a man named "William Shakespeare" in 1593 and 1598 and 1599 and 1600 and 1602 and 1603 and 1604 and 1605 and 1608 and 1609 and 1611 and 1613 and 1615 and 1619 and 1622 and 1623 ...

... and that "William Shakespeare" is on record in 1595 and 1602 and 1603 and 1605 as being a member of the acting company that exclusively performed the works of "William Shakespeare" ...

... and that "William Shakespeare" of Stratford-on-Avon is on record in 1602 and 1613 as having been the same man as the "William Shakespeare" who was the member of that acting company that exclusively performed the works of "William Shakespeare", and also left monies to other members of that acting company in his will ...

... so I can see how it could be considered far more plausible that the plays were actually secretly written by, for example, a spy who faked his own death, the evidence for which is mostly that the people he was hanging around with when he supposedly died were shady characters, and no one ever heard from him ever again so it must have been a pretty good fakin' job there.
posted by kyrademon at 2:24 PM on May 31, 2012 [12 favorites]


'He faked his own death!'

'How do you know?'

'He's completely disappeared! It's like he's dead!'
posted by shakespeherian at 2:26 PM on May 31, 2012


Well, at least we can all agree that God wrote the Bible.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:27 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have to say, I like the idea that everyone would believe that Marlowe died in 1593 if only he'd been surrounded by honest murderers.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:29 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Marlowe. Shakespeare.

MORLEY SAFER.
posted by Edison Carter at 2:38 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


A thousand favorites are not enough for kyrademon's comment.

Also, someone should tell computech_apolloniajames's boyfriend that an "honest discussion" doesn't generally start with things like "stoking the irrational ire of some of you orthodox/academic wonks". Most of the rest of the tedious bullshit (like "He spelled his name differently!") has already been addressed, except for this:

well traveled in the places featured in the plays

Like the alternate-universe Bohemia that had a coastline? Or the Italy of Earth-2 where you can sail to the Adriatic Sea from Milan?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:00 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or the Italy of Earth-2 where you can sail to the Adriatic Sea from Milan?

I know I said I wouldn't thread-sit, but I couldn't resist this one. :)
posted by iotic at 3:44 PM on May 31, 2012


You aren't going to sail on a canal.
posted by empath at 3:56 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is on my reading list and is apparently excellent, on many details from Shakespeare's plays that would have been hard for him to know without having been to Italy. I'm not sure it has anything to do with the authorship debate, as the Stratford Shakespeare might just as well have gone to Italy as any other contender, but it's an interesting question nonetheless.
posted by iotic at 5:13 PM on May 31, 2012


This is on my reading list and is apparently excellent, on many details from Shakespeare's plays that would have been hard for him to know without having been to Italy. I'm not sure it has anything to do with the authorship debate, as the Stratford Shakespeare might just as well have gone to Italy as any other contender, but it's an interesting question nonetheless.

Well, that is explained easily enough by pointing out the obvious: Much of Shakespeare's output (damn near all of it, frankly) was, shall we say, less than 100% original. "Adapted for the stage," if you're generous; "blatantly plagiarized," if not.

There's no reason to go to Italy when you can just copy stuff written by Italians. The Merchant of Venice is from a work by Giovanni Fiorentino, Romeo and Juliet from Matteo Bandello, Othello from Cinthio, and so on.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:39 PM on May 31, 2012


I'm not sure it has anything to do with the authorship debate
"Also in the de Vere camp were Jane Roe, a multi-linguist, and her husband, attorney Richard Paul Roe, a medieval expert who authored a unique book about Shakespeare in Italy where specific references in the Shakespearean plays have been discovered to be real places in Italy."
Wow. Shakespeare named real places in Italy. Why he must have been there!
posted by octobersurprise at 5:45 PM on May 31, 2012


Romeo and Juliet from Matteo Bandello,

Or in English, here.
posted by empath at 5:55 PM on May 31, 2012


One thing I’m finding fascinating about all this is the process by which conjecture becomes “fact”.

For example, here's something which has been cited as a "fact": His parents, his wife and his children were all illiterate.

Actual Evidence: One of his daughters seemed to have poor handwriting. His other daughter and his parents used a mark instead of signing their names on a few documents.

Note: It is entirely possible that literate people of that era may sometimes have signed their names with a mark. A little googling finds that examples in Elizabethan Stratford of people who were definitely or likely literate but signed some documents with a mark included Adrian Quiney, John Taylor, and Joyce Cowden, as far as a little googling tells me.

And the evidence that his wife was illiterate appears to be ... um, appears to be ... that it makes for a good story if his whole family was illiterate.

Or for another example of a "fact": Ben Jonson openly ridiculed and resented Shakespeare throughout his life.

Actual evidence: There are a couple of entirely hearsay incidents of Ben Jonson poking fun at one or two of Shakespeare’s plays, including making fun of the famous “coast of Bohemia” mentioned several times in this thread. (Presumably by people who do not resent Shakespeare for it.)

Note: In his actual writing, Ben Jonson said that of Shakespeare’s writing such things as, “He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature, had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions ... there was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned."

Oh, and incidentally, the “A cryptic reference in the intro to the First Folio gushing praise for the author (never specifically cited as being Shaksper)” is an ENTIRE POEM TITLED “To The Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us, by Ben Jonson”.

(The intro to the First Folio also included a note by fellow actors from his company writing: “We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead, to procure his Orphanes, Guardians; without ambition either of selfe-profit, or fame: onely to keepe the memory of so worthy a Friend, & Fellow alive, as was our SHAKESPEARE”. Also several other poems about Shakespeare by his other friends ... including one by Leonard Digges which actually mentions that he’s the one from Stratford, by the way, if that’s what’s being argued here: “Shake-speare, at length thy pious fellowes give / The world thy Workes : thy Workes, by which, out-live / Thy Tombe, thy name must when that stone is rent ,/ And Time dissolves thy Stratford Moniment”.)

Yeah. Really ... not very cryptic.

For yet another example of a "fact": Shakespeare himself was a barely-literate hick/frontman/actor/grain merchant.

Actual Evidence: He appeared to have poor handwriting, and he spelled his name multiple different ways in the same document.

Note: So did many other people of the era, including some who have been proposed as the “real” Shakespeare.

And so on.

Incidentally, Shakespeare’s brother Gilbert had nice handwriting. (Gasp! Maybe he wrote the plays!)
posted by kyrademon at 6:43 PM on May 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


Much of Shakespeare's output (damn near all of it, frankly) was, shall we say, less than 100% original. 'Adapted for the stage,' if you're generous; 'blatantly plagiarized,' if not.

Talent imitates, genius steals.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:10 PM on May 31, 2012


Agh, I feel I'm being pulled back into my own thread. Mods, please warn if me responding is inappropriate.

kyrademon, you raise some good points. Yes, the dedications in the First Folios are the most substantial evidence that the man from Stratford wrote the works attributed to him. They seem pretty clear on that point. Any anti-Stratfordian has to believe they are part of a willful cover-up, and has to explain why that is plausible.

Regarding Susanna Shakespeare, there is anecdotal evidence she couldn't recognise her husband's handwriting.

The thing about Jonson ridiculing Shakespeare is likely a reference to the character Sogliardo in Every Man Out of His Humour.

I'm curious about your claim that many people signed their name using varying spellings - do you have an example? I don't mean people whose name was spelt in varying ways by others, e.g. Marlowe/Marley, Dekker/Dickers - but actually signing their own name differently. Jane Cox of the Public Records Office has said she doesn't think Shakespeare can have written all the signature ascribed to him:
It is obvious at a glance that these signatures, with the exception of the last two [on the will], are not the signatures of the same man. Almost every letter is formed in a different way in each. Literate men in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries developed personalized signatures much as people do today and it is unthinkable that Shakespeare did not. Which of the signatures reproduced here is the genuine article is anybody’s guess.
posted by iotic at 2:24 AM on June 1, 2012


Again, with a bit of minor googling:

"... Lord Robert Dudley's signature was Dudley or Duddeley, and his wife's, Duddley. Allen, the actor, signed his name at various times, Alleyn, Aleyn, Allin, and Allen, while his wife's signature appears as Alleyne. Henslowe's autographs are in the forms of Hensley, Henslow, and Henslowe. Samuel Rowley signed himself Rouley, Rowley, and Rowleye. Burbage sometimes wrote Burbadg while his brother signed himself Burbadge. One of the poet's sons-in-law wrote himself Quyney, Quyneye, and Conoy, while his brother, the curate, signed, Quiney. His other son-in-law, Dr. Hall, signed himself Hawle and Hall. Alderman Sturley, of Stratford-on-Avon, signed his name sometimes in that form and sometimes, Strelly, both forms being used in letters written to the same person in the same year, 1598. Sir Walter Raleigh signed both Rauley and Ralegh, and Sir Philip Sidney both Sydney and Sidney. An actor contemporary with Shakespeare wrote himself Downton, Dowten, and Dowton ... Richard Hathaway sometimes so wrote his name and sometimes Hathway. Thomas Nash, who married the poet's grand-daughter, signed himself both Nash and Nashe. Simon Trap, curate of Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote his name Trapp and Trappe."
posted by kyrademon at 3:28 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well that is interesting, thanks. What's the link?

The Marlovian case is built less on trying to demonstrate that Shaksper was incapable of writing the works, generally, but rather on showing that Marlowe was a better candidate than any others including the Stratford man, that his death was suspicious, and he would have needed a front. And had powerful friends that could have provided all these things. It's not immune to scepticism, but then, neither is the Stratfordian narrative.
posted by iotic at 4:09 AM on June 1, 2012


I'm writing from a phone right now so it's hard to put in links, but I found that with literally just a couple of minutes of searching. If you like can post or send you the link when I get home Monday, though.

Very little is "immune to skepticism". In this case, it may be more to the point to look at what you have to swallow to buy that it's the truth.

In the one case, you need to think that the guy who wrote the plays is the guy who's name was on the plays and that a bunch of people said wrote the plays and who had a monument put up in his hometown for writing the plays and who no one doubted wrote the plays until 200 years later when a crazy lady decided she didn't like his handwriting.

To accept, say, Marlowe, you have to believe, based on no evidence whatsoever, that the shady circumstances surrounding his death meant that he faked it. Then you have to ALSO believe, again with no evidence, that he felt the need to set up an elaborate front to continue writing even though it was a period when anonymous authorship was common and would have attracted no comment. Then you have to ALSO believe that the huge number of people who had to be in on such a thing were still putting a huge effort into keeping up appearances thirty years later.

The others require leaps of faith just as silly. (Devere was so prolific that they were still premiering new plays by him a decade after his death and he gave all his plays to a theater company that was a direct financial rival to his own and two decades after the man died his fellow conspirators were still hoaxing away ...)

Because, iotic ... what you said isn't true. The basis for thinking Marlowe wrote those plays is not that he was "better placed". Believing he wrote them requires huge leaps of tortured logic and naked faith based on no evidence for no reason. The only way to arrive there is to start by believing - with no evidence - that Shakespeare was not the author, and then looking fir someone, anyone, who can fill the gap that's left.

The parallel I see as being closest is "Creation Science". It starts with the basis of what someone WANTS to be true, rather than what the evidence indicates, and then collects whatever bits and pieces it can find to support the cloud castle.
posted by kyrademon at 5:36 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


(And I know you don't believe that. I know you think you have weighed all the available evidence and come to sound conclusions, keeping an open mind. All I can say is ... To many of the rest of us, the "Marlovian" theory sounds exactly like Creation Science - just that weakly supported, just that opposed to the facts on the ground, just that nutty. I don't know if that matters to you, but it's why you elicit the reactions you get.)
posted by kyrademon at 5:49 AM on June 1, 2012


Well that is interesting, thanks. What's the link?

Simply searching on part of the quote kyrademon provides yields multiple links.
posted by Edison Carter at 6:31 AM on June 1, 2012


kyrademon, I'm not sure why you're getting so worked up about this. I just popped back into the thread to post a link to something I thought was interesting and relevant. Thanks for the text you found regarding signatures in that historical period, I learnt something.

Again, the comparison to creationism etc is meaningless and irrelevant. It seems to me that the triumphalism, derision, defensiveness, name-calling etc evidenced by you and others in this thread is a shame as really there's no reason we can't all learn something from the debate. DU had it right way upthread. Sayonara!
posted by iotic at 7:20 AM on June 1, 2012


Why is a comparison to creationism "name-calling?" Shouldn't people open their minds and look at all the evidence out there? Many smart people (a professor of biochemistry, for one) believe in creationism.
posted by muddgirl at 7:24 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


kyrademon, I'm not sure why you're getting so worked up about this.

Oh, bravo! A troll of most excellent wit and fancy!
posted by octobersurprise at 7:31 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


kyrademon, I'm not sure why you're getting so worked up about this.

I don't read any of kyrademon's comments here as sounding 'worked up.' I think the thing that's silly is your treatment of a conspiracy theory and established fact as both being equally worth 'skepticism,' as though any right-minded person would look at this and go 'Golly, I don't know!'
posted by shakespeherian at 7:33 AM on June 1, 2012


I know that I have learned one valuable lesson in this thread: that no matter what evidence is produced that shows that they are wrong conspiracy theorists will never be convinced by any of it. Hey, hang on...I already knew that one. Well, at least I know that known liars are very worst sort of spys and drinkers to hang around with; from now on I'm only going to taverns with unknown ones. And I'm going to draw my sword first and ask questions later when they get shifty about the bill.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:46 AM on June 1, 2012


Agh, I feel I'm being pulled back into my own thread. Mods, please warn if me responding is inappropriate.

After we've left two notes telling you to give the thread and rest and talked about it with you over email, yes, coming back to the thread (key phrase, "the thread", not "your thread") to argue with folks about it more is inappropriate, yes. I appreciate that you're interested in the topic but you need to not do this, period, which I thought you'd grokked and agreed with when we talked about it.
posted by cortex at 7:47 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


SILENCED ALL MY LIFE.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:55 AM on June 1, 2012


I wasn't trying to namecall. I'm sorry if it came off that way.

I'd written a longer post explaining what I was getting at with that, but Shakespeherian just summed it up pretty well, and seeing cortex's post on preview, I'll let things lie.
posted by kyrademon at 7:59 AM on June 1, 2012


If this be error, and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:18 PM on June 1, 2012


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