November 1, 2011

If Shakespeare didn't, who did?

1. Not a single manuscript has been found in William Shakespeare's handwriting. Not even notes or correspondence.

2. Shakespeare was born to illiterate parents, and both of his children were also illiterate.

3. Shakespeare was not a member of the upper class, but wrote extensively about them with great insight.

4. The only examples of Shakespeare's handwriting are six very shaky signatures.

5. Not one of Shakespeare's poems or plays reflects an actual event in his life, including the death of his son.

6. There is no record of Shakespeare receiving any schooling, yet his level of knowledge of science and humanities is extensive.

7. Once he retired to Stratford-upon-Avon in his late forties, Shakespeare never wrote again.

8. Despite no indication that Shakespeare left England, his work exhibits an intimate knowledge of Italy.

9. The Stratford monument used to celebrate Shakespeare with a sack of grain rather than a quill.

10. Will's will makes no mention of his literary works, but does leave his second best bed as a legacy.

Was Shakespeare a fraud? 


  1. Anonymous10:14 PM

    Who did he leave his first best bed to? That's what I want to know.


  2. geoffff7:38 AM

    Every great writer is also a great reader. Very often they are great listeners as well. Shakespeare was the greatest of them all.

    Full fathom five thy father lies;
    Of his bones are coral made;
    Those are pearls that were his eyes:
    Nothing of him that doth fade,
    But doth suffer a sea-change
    Into something rich and strange.
    Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
    Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.

  3. I love Emmerich's films, I really do, but science and history has never been their strong point. The problem anti-Shakespearean conspiracy theorists generally have though is that everyone around when Shakespeare was actually alive considered him to be the author, and Shakespeare's contemporary Ben Jonson had actually seen Shakespeare write some of his works, and vouched for it in his poetic dedication to Shakespeare.

  4. 1. Not surprising, archival standards were not then what they are now.

    3. This is simply indicative of a good writer and dramatist - the ability to to imagine how people from different backgrounds will act.

    5. Autobiographical writing was much less common then than now. It was really only after Wordsworth that poetry (Shakespeare's plays are best thought of as dramatic poetry) became widely seen as an expression of the writer's life. Prior to that time the principal poetic models tended to be poems where the poetic speaker and the actual poet had obvious differences - no-one expect's Ovid's Metamorphoses to be a personal history about Ovid.

    7. Perhaps unsurprising given my previous observation about the different archival standards at the time.

    8. That's been disputed. Shakespeare uses some obvious place names; I'm not sure if that amounts to a comprehensive knowledge of the Italian countryside. I remember reading an article by John Bell pointing out that Shakespeare's apparent knowledge of Italian geography contains some obvious errors.

  5. Apologies for the disputatiousness so early in the morning, Caz.

  6. Justin - he didn't. Which forever begs the question of what happened to the first best bed. Did it break, did he give it away before he died? His wife must have been mighty pissed off.

  7. Timmy - point 10 is also easily addressed: there was no copyright at that time, and plays were sold to the performing company. The printer, later (after plays were performed) owned them (assuming they were printed). Shakespeare didn't given permission for his works to be printed during his life, hence they weren't, until seven years after his death.

    In other words, any plays performed were no longer owned by Bill, so were not his to bequeath.

    I think the film makers are being arrogant gits, and, alas, will forever contaminate younger minds, who will believe this fantasy version. It's fine to imagine and have fun with alternative historic paths, but lets try to stick to calling such things "fiction" (ditto written works).

    From The Age today; more elegantly put:

    "Indeed, it must be rather galling for Shakespeare scholars, such as James Shapiro and Jonathan Bate, who understand the evidence and have exposed the authorship controversy for the fanciful nonsense it is, to be called liars by someone who has spent his life making bombastic disaster movies such as Independence Day and 2012.

    Doubtless the provocation is an attempt to generate a little controversy and sell a few extra tickets. And the strategy might work. Shapiro has attacked Anonymous's bogus claim to historical veracity; while Holger Syme from the University of Toronto has published a list of the film's elementary howlers and errors of chronology.

    Perhaps this response is an overreaction, but there is something pernicious about the way Anonymous is being promoted. The ''teach the controversy'' strategy, beloved of those whose arguments are on the wrong side of the evidence, is now apparently so normalised that an implausible work of speculative fiction can be brazenly offered as an exercise in historical revisionism and an educational tool."

    Yeah: what I thought, only better and with more words.

    This comment, anti-the-film, almost caused me physical pain:

    "THANK YOU! Some people find it hard to believe that Shakespeare was a true genius and try to discredit him to feel better about not matching up to his intellect themselves. Anti-Stratfordians have come up with the most ridiculous postulations, it's hard to comprehend how many people believe them.

    Nina - November 02, 2011, 7:45AM"

    I know Nina meant well, but seriously: how many people sit around comparing their talents and achievements with Shakespeare's, feel a bit inadequate, so set out to dump on him?

    Besides, there are people who genuinely don't think he's especially good, just as there are those who think Dickens wrote cheap crap (and in the day, he would have been like a Dan Brown or a Byrce Courtney, surely?). At least they don't deny him his work.