A Question of Authorship
A Question of Authorship
For the past five decades, the world of literature has come to venerate the great works of one man. The tremendous contribution of Shakespeare in Literature remains unparalleled. The sheer volume of the plays and sonnets he had written remain unmet, and the quality of its art remains unmatched. So much so, that there is probably no one inhabiting this earth who hasn’t the knowledge of the great writer. No one graduates from school without having the experience of Shakespeare in their education: his plays are celebrated through staging and his works are the subject of study in, and even outside of, Literature classes.
Also, the celebration of Shakespeare and his works are not limited to the confines of education. Theatrical companies earn a sizeable proportion of their profits in staging Shakespeare’s five-century old works. Publishing companies benefit largely in the millions of hardbound copies they have printed of Shakespeare’s works, and the literature he and his works have inspired. With the picture that has been painted, we can see how influential and how big a pillar Shakespeare is in Literature.
However, with the exception of literary scholars, not many people are aware of the issue that has surrounded Shakespeare’s authorship of the works that have been claimed to be his since the time man can remember. William Shakespeare of Stratford has always been regarded as the man who wrote the immortal plays and sonnets. But ever since speculations have started to arise, various names have also mushroomed through the investigations of scholars who claim that these names are the ones which we should be celebrating, and not that of the businessman William Shakespeare of Stratford.
The speculations started when Alexander Pope brought to the attention of readers the authenticity of the attribution to Shakespeare in a number of his works. Pope attacked Shakespeare’s on the genuineness of works that had been excluded from the 1623 Folio, a collection of Shakespeare’s most compelling works. His criticisms made in the 17th century continued to influence the generations that followed with respect to their opinion on the matter.
Primarily though, what has unsettled critics are the dissonance in his the experiences and education received by a theater man in Stratford and the quality and content of the works he allegedly produced, as stated by one source, “The work attributed to Shakespeare shows a knowledge of geography, foreign language, politics, and an immense vocabulary that many find inconsistent with what’s known about Shakespeare’s education,” (Lanciai). Authorship Majority of the investigations were done through a historical point of view.
If we take a look back in history during the time Shakespeare wrote his plays, we would find out how authorship was perceived as insignificant, even illegitimate, in the writing of the book. According to another source, traditional narratives that present the Middle Ages as a ‘golden age’ of forgery for which questions of authorship and authenticity were unimportant (King). What triggered this was the inability of novice writers (especially people of rank) to publish their own name in their works under the regime of Queen Elizabeth. “A gentleman of rank could not publish under his own name lest he be suspected of having a profession”.
This policy was followed, and writers of rank either circulated their work privately or they made use of pen-names (Lanciai Christian). Also, the theater industry during Shakespeare’s time was an unsurveyable community (Lanciai). It therefore follows that while theater was an important industry of the era, it is very challenging to examine the works of the industry. These reasons ultimately lead to the graying of the trace to the real authorship of the works attributed to Shakespeare. Why not Shakespeare? It has been mentioned in this essay that the theater industry was an unsurveyable community during Shakespeare’s time.
A piece of information that is known though is that the owners of the theaters were communally owned by the actors, according to Lanciai’s article. Only the exceptional rise in the business, and William Shakespeare was one of them, as he was an accomplished capitalist of those times. Therefore, we can surmise that Shakespeare the businessman was a person considered of rank in his age. If we remember the rule that was imposed on writers of rank, another source argued thus: “If Shakespeare was a gentleman of rank, then William Shakespeare could not he his real name.
By contrast, the William Shakespeare who was a play-broker, part owner of an acting company, and resident of Stratford as well as London would have been in a good position to use and appropriate work written by an anonymous high-born author,” (Price, Diana). How Shakespeare was perceived The man’s (Shakespeare of Stratford) social and professional position in question was described by Pope as this: “He writ to the People; and writ at first without patronage from the better sort, and therefore without aims of pleasing them: without assistance or advice from the
Learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them: [and] without the knowledge of the best models, the Ancients, to inspire him…” From this description, King surmised that Pope regarded the dialogue of the actors in his works as “bad conversations”, and that he was only able to get away with this because of the Court patronage. Also, he had drawn from the quote that the quality of Shakespeare’s dramatic writing improved in direct proportion to his level of social and linguistic contact with ‘the better sort’.
With this we can already see how Pope has de-merited Shakespeare from the level of literary genius which has always been associated to his name. It also evident that Pope deemed Shakespeare of this position because of the social position he was in, as according to the same article, Shakespeare’s social contamination by his inferior associates and conversation partners contributed to the de-meriting. An argument from another author supported Pope’s claims when another author said, “It appears that Shakespeare of Stratford was not much respected (or liked) while Shakespeare the author was” (Price).
The other side of Shakespeare of Stratford that Pope pointed out in concurs with the knowledge of the author. According to Price’s book, Shakespeare of Stratford was identified by contemporary documents as a money-lender, play-broker, wheeler-dealer, social climber, and sometime actor. No contemporaries of Shakespeare called him as an author, not even people from his community. What also strengthens this argument is the lack of surviving documents written by him which have any literary significance (Price).
Aside from these, what’s also disturbing for scholars is the fact that the will left by Shakespeare did not mention of any books that he owned. In Elizabethan period, books were considered important items and therefore were to be bequeathed to relatives or fellow writers. His passing also spoke of his merit as a celebrated modern playwright in his time. Unlike other playwrights, his death did not stir any public notice. Add to that the issue brought about the will he left behind, these things make a lot of people wonder about his merit as a writer. It seems that his will was the only trace of Shakespeare’s literary works.
A man named Reverend James Wilmot was said to have searched all of Warwickshire to look for any piece of evidence that would present Shakespeare’s literary activity. Reverend Wilmot did not find any anecdote, letter, document or any memento (Lanciai). Surely, anyone who is claimed to be a writer will have volumes of writings in his home, or any piece of writing at all. The article also explained that Reverend Wilmot’s discovery led him to conclude that Shakespeare really must have another writer. His education also proved nothing but extraordinary.
According to Price’s book also, the businessman from Stratford only acquired a grammar-school education at most. While possible, it is difficult to believe that a person of such educational attainment could produce the level of intellect and cultivation found in his works. It is almost unquestionable when one makes the claim that Shakespeare’s works have shaped the way English dramas are to be written, as put by another source, “He creates and establishes the English verse drama, he gradually develops the English drama into the form which subsequently and invariably becomes the Shakespeare standard (Leahy, William).
” This particular writer is one with the critics who says it is impossible that these works of great quality could have been produced by a man with little educational background. Leahy added in his article, “It’s not likely that Shakespeare could master this form directly without preparatory work in such an accomplished professionalism which is already evident in the first Shakespeare dramas. ” What made him say this is due to his non-existent education and lack of experience of Cambridge, France, and Italy. Aside from this, Price adds how scholars point out that his knowledge of several foreign languages is deemed dubious.
The article explained that there is no indication that Shakespeare knew any languages other than English, or that he ever left England. The discrepancy between the images of the two persons has fuelled the debates for the authenticity of the businessman from Stratford’s authorship in the Shakespearian works. The Real Shakespeare Among the numerous strings of allegations and speculations regarding Shakespeare of Stratford’s merit to claiming authorship to a number of literary works, a lot of names have also surfaced.
Among these people was Francis Beaumont, a young dramatist who passed away in the same year William Shakespeare died. As death could sometimes speak of the greatness of a person, we could surely say that Beaumont was considered as one of the significant people in English drama. The whole of England mourned for his death and paid tribute to the dramatist. Aside from this young dramatist, another man is claimed to be the real Shakespeare.
Ben Jonson, who also completely dominates the preface to the first edition of the complete works of Shakespeare, which appeared in 1623, is also suspected to be the real author of the plays (Lanciai). Lanciai adds that Ben Jonson himself has published his complete works first, which could have led him to think that the Shakespeare dramas should also be published. In addition, Christopher Marlowe has been alleged to be the original Shakespeare. Born in Canterbury, he was a learned man who received his education in the King’s School Canterbury, as well as Corpus Christi College, Cambridge through scholarships.
The resonance with the quality of education has convinced many scholars, but what was more convincing was the practice he was able to gain in translations, poetry, and playwrighting (Oleg, et al). Lanciai also mentions another probable author to the works in question. After the discovery of Reverend Wilmot regarding the absence of Shakespeare’s literary work, the Reverend believed that a man named Francis Bacon should be recognized as the authentic author. The Reverend concluded that Shakespeare must have been the protective name for Bacon.
According still to Lanciai’s article, Bacon’s education, experience and knowledgeableness could be better reconciled with the intellectual level exhibited by the works. Also, as the authorship clearly indicates that the experience were collected from at least the Cambridge university, Italy, and France, Bacon proved to be a probable candidate to the authorship as he had extensively went to these places. To add, Bacon’s education allowed him a position as an ambassador and to also serve as a member of the House of Commons.
He was knighted and moved to higher political positions after the ascension of James VI (Oleg, et. al) In conclusion, the works of Shakespeare are not to be questioned with respect to the contribution in Literature and the quality of art that it contains. While the question of the Shakespeare authorship has been around for hundreds of years and is therefore a very important matter to be settled, it would be more important and more contributory if aspiring writers who are inspired by these works to focus their attention to “what” and not as to the” who.
” Works Cited: King, Edmund G. C.. In the Character of Shakespeare: Canon, Authorship, and Attribution in Eighteenth-Century England Lanciai, Christian. A Summary of the Shakespeare Problems. Research Journal – Volume 06 – 2009 Online Research Journal Article. The Marlowe Society. 2009 Price, Diana. Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem Seletsky, Oleg, Huang, Tiger, Henderson-Frost William. The Shakespeare Authorship Question.