A Shakespeare Authorship Webinar

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It’s been a busy and exciting few days. The launch of www.60minuteswithShakespeare.com http://shksp.re/60conf has attracted world-wide attention and is already appearing on school and college syllabuses (so far) across the U.K., the States, and Australia. Stephen Fry, one of our sixty contributors, Tweeted a recommendation of the site to his 3 million followers.

In the various radio interviews I’ve been involved with I’ve kept hearing anti-Shakespearians speak the same old rhetoric: ‘Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays; he wasn’t educated enough; he wasn’t aristocratic; he wasn’t knowledgeable enough; he didn’t have the right kind of experience.’ ‘Couldn’t have?’ That isn’t evidence of anything. It’s just an unattractive mix of ignorance, jealousy, snobbery, and intellectual theft. And it denies the power of the human imagination.

‘Does it all really matter?’ has also been asked quite a bit in the last few days. The fact is it matters utterly, otherwise there would be no conspiracy theories in first place. And there would be no new film trying to insinuate itself into the popular imagination. As people we want to know as much as possible about the artist who produced the work. William Shakespeare was Stratford and London through and through. He didn’t go to university. He wasn’t an aristocrat. He was from fairly humble origins and worked hard at what he was good at. I think it matters who wrote the work, and that it’s time to jump off the fence.

The conspiracy theories started in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was the era of an inherited Gothic and Romantic imagination, reacting to Darwin, and alive to the beginnings of detective fiction. Gaps in the record began to make people uneasy. But there’s nothing unusual in those gaps. We don’t know very much about most people during Shakespeare’s time.

On Thursday last week, Stanley Wells and I hosted our first ever webinar, ‘Not at all anonymous: Shakespeare Bites Back.’ We had lots of registrations and the event was international in its scope. We look at the origins of the Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory, its development over time, and remind ourselves of the evidence for William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon as author of the plays and poems attributed to him.
And if you’d like to know why I am using the phrase ‘anti-Shakespearian’ rather than ‘anti-Stratfordian’, we discuss that, too. Log on to http://shksp.re/bitesback to find out more.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • http://www.facebook.com/timothy.beck.779 Timothy Beck

    A writer either contributed to a work or he didn’t. Whether or not one would like to give him credit is irrelevant. I think that the contributors to the Shakespeare work should be investigated and this process should not be stifled by academics who line their pockets by writing fabricated biographies of the Stratford man, who are too lazy to research the whole matter themselves, yet who sit in judgment as referees of journals, mindlessly rejecting papers that have actually troubled to put in the work researching the issue. This MUST and WILL change.

  • Email123

    According to Oxfordian
    claims, William Shakespeare is undoubtedly the true author of the plays and
    poems written by “William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was one of the five
    Chamberlain members who were responsible for the lease of the Globe Theater.
    Here, plays such as “Every man in His Humor” and “Sejamjus” were performed. The
    cast for “Every man in His Humor” lists Shakespeare first in the record of
    actors. Also, in a document of “The Kings men,” Shakespeare is listed second,
    behind the King’s favorite actor, Lawrence Fletcher. As an owner of the Globe
    theater and intricate actor in the productions held there, it only seems
    logical that William Shakespeare has claim to the poems/plays performed there.
    Questioning the authorship of a passionate and imaginative man who was present
    for all events surrounding the plays is foolish and disrespectful.

              Edward De Vere is a strong candidate
    for the authorship of William Shakespeare’s work. It does not seem likely that
    De Vere was the true author just because of one simple piece of evidence, the
    date of his death. Edward De Vere passed away in the year 1604, while plays and
    poetry were still being written there after by William Shakespeare. How can De
    Vere be the true author if he was not alive for the creation of Macbeth and
    other plays that were written in 1605-1613? If it is true that he contributed
    ideas to the works of Shakespeare before his death, then he should have fought
    for his claim. De Vere’s name was not listed, for this reason he should not be
    given authorship.

    speaking, if Shakespeare is not the true author of the works of “William
    Shakespeare,” then who is? Many believe men such as Francis Bacon, Edward De
    Vere or Christopher Marlowe could have been the true authors of the famous
    playwrights concocted in the 16th century. If other individuals did
    have input in the creation of the tales in question, then they do not deserve the
    credit of the work today. If they did not care enough to fight for the
    authorship of their work, and write their names beside William Shakespeare’s,
    then they should not be given the credit. It was their choice to be anonymous. In
    addition, they’re all dead. There’s no need to start controversy over trying to
    acknowledge the talent of someone who may or may not deserve it, especially since
    they’re no longer alive. Today, students, professors and historians should not
    be wasting their time questioning the authorship of such ancient pieces of
    literature. Their time should instead be designated to further studying the
    expertise and unique style of the popular plays of a Midsummer’s Night Dream,
    Hamlet, and others to contribute to society’s knowledge of the history of such
    brilliant poetry.

  • Puzzledbarry

    As an addendum to my earlier comment, I also want to add that I agree that arguments
    against Shakspere’s candidacy such as: lack of literacy, no books in his
    will, unfamiliarity with court life, and so on, are simply not strong
    enough. Diana Price (Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography) has the best
    book available on these doubts but that’s all they are … doubts. In
    my research, I am looking for documents that counter the view that
    Shakpere originated this or that play. Without it then I think that
    Stratfordians are quite entitled to maintain the default position that
    Shakspere originated the work. However, if a reasonable case can be
    constructed for a particular play then I think it should be allowed
    academic publication. My research shows that some evidence is available
    for a small number of plays. Watch this space!

    Barry R. Clarke
    PhD student
    Brunel University

  • Puzzledbarry

    I welcome the debate on the Shakespeare authorship question. I have several points to make about some of the arguments voiced in the 60-minute Shakespeare blog.

    There might well be other hands in plays such as Henry VI Pt1 and Timon of Athens but that does not necessarily mean there was an agreed collaboration. An unfinished play acquired by a company could easily have been farmed out to jobbing dramatists to make it suitable for stage performance.

    I also think that the motives of doubters is irrelevant. Professor Shapiro focuses a whole book on this, as if a demonstration of Delia Bacon’s missing marbles should counter all objections. However, the real issue is as follows. How much evidence is there against William Shakespeare of Stratford writing a particular play? I think that only when this has been thoroughly researched can a reasonable judgment be made on the whole authorship question and even then it can only be based on probability, on what one might reasonable expect to occur in given circumstances. Personal authority is insufficient to secure an argument and I apply this view both to the 60-minute Shakespeare blog and the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt. A hundred thousand people can share the same view and still be wrong.

    In questioning the programmes at Brunel and Concordia, I wonder if Victoria Buckley is advocating a totalitarian monopoly on research agendas. The idea that knowledge is set in stone seems rather backward to me. In any age, the only subject that has any permanence is mathematics. So long as academics in comfortable research positions can refrain from obstruction, everything else is open to a process of evolution.

    In the September 2011 issue of the Journal of Drama Studies I show that the Strachey letter that sourced The Tempest was a SECRET Virginia Company document and that it is highly unlikely that Shakespeare could have had access to its content. So there ARE facts available that contribute substantially to the case against.

    Barry R. Clarke
    PhD student
    Brunel University

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