The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

QOTD – Was There Really a Shakespeare?

This is sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure question. It’s an age-old question with so many different theories and conspiracies, and no real answer in sight. Sure, there was most likely a man named William Shakespeare, and he was probably a fantastic playwright, but did he really write all those plays?

Here’s my major issue with the idea of Shakespeare: there’s no handwritten proof that any of the plays were ever actually written by the William Shakespeare. I’m a fellow who enjoys hard evidence, so for me, it’s very difficult to believe that he’s responsible for such a massive collection of great works.

My theory:

Yes, William Shakespeare wrote a lot of plays, but as the plays were acted out, the handwritten scripts – because, remember kids, there were no computers or cell phones or even typewriters back then- were crumpled up and thrown on the floor prior to each player walking on stage. Once William Shakespeare dies, his acting realizes that none of the works will survive unless they get together and write them all down. The actors gather round in a big circle, and beginning with the first play, they recall, re-write, and revise, until each play has been written down in their first folio editions, thus creating the legacy of the brilliant Willy Shakes.

So, now it’s your turn to answer The Question Of The Day:

Who was William Shakespeare, and did he really write all 38 plays? 

About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

3 comments on “QOTD – Was There Really a Shakespeare?

  1. J. Gabriel Allan
    May 24, 2013

    the issue with Shakespeare is that we assume we know so little about him BECAUSE we know so much about him.

    we know more about his personal life than most/all of his contemporaries, we also have more surviving works by him than his contemporaries– but to paraphrase Aristotle, the more we know the more we realize we know nothing at all.

    it is entirely possible he did not author all of the works alone; it is entirely possible he was an actor in, not the author of, some of his earlier work; it is entirely possible something by Kyd or Marlowe got mislabeled or misremembered as his. it is also possible there was some sort of conspiracy by several playwrights to put “William Shakespeare” (though the man himself typically spelled it ‘spere) on a script in order to gain favour. is it a play? or a PLAY by Shaxpere?

    you make a valid point in that plays were not written for publishing, but for performing, and, as such, the pages were not kept or neatly recorded. additionally, plays often changed from one performance to another (cut a scene, add a scene, alter a monologue, etc.)– this phenomenon is one argument as to why Hamlet is so redonkulously long in its written state: more of its scene were salvaged than other plays and it was never actually performed in its current entirety (until Branaugh).

    However, to answer your question – yes there WAS a shakespeare because there IS a shakespeare.

    *i will not explain my answer further until i write my own piece on willimum shakspeyr… and i intentionally did not capitalize my sentences.

  2. pauljharper
    May 24, 2013

    While I appreciate the holmesian deductions and varied accounts of the life and legacy of William Shakespeare, I am not sure that asking “was there really a Shakespeare” — sole author of a number of mostly great plays and some pretty incredible poems — is the right question. Instead, let’s ask “if it really matters?”

    This isn’t an original thought.

    Would those works be any less great, or any less influential if indeed Shakespeare was a sham? Let me first come clean and say that I lean more towards the Stratfordian side on this: I think that Will Shakespeare was a real dude, and I think that he was probably a very gifted writer who stole a bit here, and barrowed a bit there to create a collection of quite inimitable works. However, for arguments sake, let’s pretend that this isn’t the case.

    What are some other possibilities?

    Was someone else writing under a pseudonym? Often the 17th Earl of Oxford is put forth
    as a possibility. If this is the case, what changes about the works? Perhaps, single authorship becomes more plausible, as the Earl would (most likely) have had access to a much better system of education than a man of Shakespeare’s alleged class. While this may damped some of the romantic appeal of a young writer from the “other side of the tracks” (which is probably overreaching to say) raising from his social strata to create some of the greatest work of English literary history…it doesn’t make the writing, the mood, the themes, etc., any less incredible.

    Good is good.

    Was there a collection of contributors? This seems like a real possibility. Perhaps a school of folks, published simultaneously under Shakespeare’s name. While this would make the revered genius of Shakespeare less rare, it also elicits the possibility that 14th and 15th century English writing includes a richer basket of skilled authors who potentially worked congruously to craft a cannon of artistic expression. I’ll say it again, good is good and influential is influential –descriptions Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets cannot (despite what Tolstoy says) be excluded from completely.

    This would change our view of Elizabethan literature and open the door, for continued and countless historical biographies of potential “Shakespeares.” Actually, now that I think about it, that wouldn’t be all that different from the current situation…

    Finally, was there a Shakespeare? I don’t know — I think so, but I can’t say for certain. Truthfully, I don’t really care.

    What I can say is this: Even if he didn’t exist as we have generally come to suppose, the collection of Shakespearian plays and poems remains outstanding. Rain or shine, Students will continue to read Richard II and Romeo and Juliet in high school, and Shakespeare festivals will continue to ruin (ruin) Julius Caesar, by setting it in 1940s Chicago. But, the works themselves will remain mostly great.

    Isn’t that what really matters?

  3. Doran Simmons
    May 24, 2013

    I’ve heard theories involving Roger Bacon, whose schoolmates used to mock him by calling him a pun on his name, ‘Hamlet.’

    Personally I think it was Ralph Fiennes.

    NO!

    It was his brother.

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