The Authorship Question

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for your comments on the novel. They are more helpful than you know. Some comments on your comments: At one point, the dog was important, but as the novel progresses, it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. Except Lisa calls Jeff “Jumper” throughout the book based on that incident, and I’m reluctant to give that up, as “Jumper” was the name of this story back when I wrote the whole thing in first person and it was a self-indulgent mess. I’d like to keep that connection, but I probably shouldn’t worry about it, especially if it’s not germane to the plot. And, yes, the ripping off of the shirt has to go.

The Nathan Petrelli connection is a little more disturbing. I watched the first season of Heroes and gasped in a few places as I realized that my book would likely have to change to avoid charges of plagiarism – even though I finished the first draft of my old novel ten years ago. (I started writing this story in 1994. I could win a court case, but I doubt anyone would publish this thing if it was too Heroesesque.) I haven’t seen any episodes of Heroes since the first season, but I’m confident that this story is different enough at this point that I’m not as worried as I was.

When writing, it helps to read to provide some perspective. I just finished the book Interred With Their Bones, a murder mystery that focuses on the Shakespeare Authorship Question. It’s a serviceable thriller, made even better by a fictional visit to the Utah Shakespearean Festival, an event the author describes in detail – and gets the details wonderfully right. It’s something of a Da Vinci Code knock-off, only instead of Jesus, the subject is Shakespeare and one of his lost plays, Cardenio. Along the way, the question of “who was William Shakespeare” comes up more than once, and this book’s greatest flaw is its timidity in providing a definitive answer. 

As commenter thursowick can tell you, prior to beginning work on my silly novel, I wrote a silly play, which has gone through several titles and iterations. I think it was originally called The Butcher’s Apprentice. The latest version, which I haven’t touched for a couple of years, is called Fortune and Men’s Eyes. The plot, the characters, and just about everything in this play changes with each successive draft, but one thread remains constant – the idea that William Shakespeare was actually a pseudonym, belonging to one Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. 
If you’re not familiar with what Shakespeare folks have come to call “The Authorship Question,” then you’re probably already bored reading this. I keep trying to find people who want to talk about it, and nobody really cares. I have an entire forum at Stallion Cornell’s Moist Board devoted to this very issue, and I think nobody has posted there since the beginning of time. 
A quick summary for anyone who IS interested: the problem arises from the fact that the man credited with writing Shakespeare’s plays is entirely disconnected from the plays themselves. We know very little about him biographically, and what we do know bears no resemblance to the man who would and could have written the works attributed to him. 
Just one example: None of his original manuscripts exist, so the only things we have that were written in his own hand are six signatures from legal documents, all of which are spelled differently and are hideously messy. They look more like the handiwork of an illiterate, not the greatest writer in the history of the English language: 



There’s more. In fact, the evidence that the man from Stratford-on-Avon did not write these plays is considerable. The question of who DID write them, however, is more difficult to answer. Mark Twain, himself a pseudonymous author, helped make the case that Shakespeare was actually Sir Francis Bacon in his pamphlet Is Shakespeare Dead?  Others believe that playwright Christopher Marlowe, who died in a bar brawl in 1593, faked his own death to return to writing under an assumed name – William Shakespeare. Many candidates have been proposed throughout the years, including Queen Elizabeth I herself, but the most persuasive of them all is Edward de Vere, who had the unfortunate distinction of having the case first made for him in a book by Thomas J. Looney. (His name is pronounced “Loney,” but that doesn’t soften the blow.)

The Looney theory, such as it is, is that de Vere, as a nobleman, would not have been permitted to write for the lowly public theatre under his own name. And since de Vere was such a controversial character in his own right, the Royal Family took great pains to ensure that he remained anonymous even in death. Suddenly, much about Shakespeare’s writing makes all kinds of sense. Hamlet becomes almost autobiographical, and the Sonnets, which are largely love poems from an older man to the Earl of Southhampton, make sense for the first time. (Southhampton ended up as de Vere’s son-in-law, so when he tells him, in Sonnet 10, “make thee another self for love of me,” you can see where he’s coming from.) 
I can rehash all of this all day long if you’d like, but there are others who do it far better than I do. Shakespeare by Another Name is by far the best of the Oxfordian biographies; Alias Shakespeare by Joseph Sobran is short enough to read quickly and makes the case based on the Sonnets alone, and The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality by Charlton Ogburn is the gold standard of Oxfordianism. It’s also well over a thousand pages long in hardcover with a tiny font. It’s as dry as dust. If you want just a simple introduction to the idea, I recommend the Shakespeare-Oxford website’s FAQ. 

Usually, when I start to discuss this with anyone, people don’t tell me I’m wrong. Instead, they ask me why I care. After all, we have the plays and the poems, so why does it matter who really wrote them? The problem is that such a question could be asked of just about any work of literature. If it doesn’t matter who wrote the greatest plays ever written, then it doesn’t matter who wrote anything. Knowing something about de Vere makes the play far more fascinating as you see his life, his ideas, his point of view shining through. If you’re a Shakespeare aficianado at all, knowing who really wrote the plays will enhance your appreciation for them tenfold. 
Still, despite a significant body of evidence pointing to de Vere as the true author, orthodoxy will not go quietly into that good night. I remember one particularly unpleasant experience when I was seated next to Fred Adams, the illustrious founder of the Utah Shakespearean Festival, at a charity banquet. Mr. Adams is a distinguished and a delightful man, and the conversation was entirely pleasant until, just for kicks, I told him I was an Oxfordian. 
His face darkened. “You’re not really, are you?”
I assured him I was. 
He scowled. “Well, I guess that sells a lot of books, now, doesn’t it?” He didn’t say another word to me for the course of the evening. 
Chapter Two
Debate Issues

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *