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For more than 150 years, academics have questioned how William Shakespeare of Stratford, a man who left school at age thirteen and apparently never traveled abroad, could have written such a broad and deep body of work, one ...
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For more than 150 years, academics have questioned how William Shakespeare of Stratford, a man who left school at age thirteen and apparently never traveled abroad, could have written such a broad and deep body of work, one that is said to draw on the largest vocabulary of any writer in the English language. Now, in The Truth Will Out James and history professor William D. Rubinstein explore the facts behind James's important findings, detailing how her work on the dedication led to the name Sir Henry Neville, a prominent Elizabethan diplomat whose life unlocked the secrets of the Shakespeare Authorship Question once and for all.
Examining the true nature of Shakespeare of Stratford's involvement with the plays, the authors reveal the London actor to be a mere pawn, while Neville, the Oxford-educated ambassador to France and a member of Parliament for twenty-eight years, was actually the Bard. Disguising his authorship to avoid bringing scandal and shame to his family name, Neville spent a great deal of time abroad in Europe, entering a realm of aristocratic intrigue and mystery that provided the foundation for some of his greatest plays. With insightful explanations of never-before-studied documents, James and Rubinstein demonstrate that not only did the refined and worldly Neville know the landscape of Shakespeare's plays firsthand but that these works represent a total convergence of the events in Neville's life.
But the evidence proving Neville's authorship is not merely circumstantial. Comparing mysterious signatures and Neville's richly woven family lineage, the authors paint a portrait of a man whose claim moves beyond the speculative. An experienced politician, who was well-versed in the intrigues of the Court, Neville was locked away in the Tower of London for his part in the unsuccessful Essex Rebellion against Queen Elizabeth. Using a collection of Neville's writings from his imprisonment, James and Rubinstein provide an exhaustive cross section of the intrigue surrounding Neville's life, exposing the events that led to his hidden writings and the cloaking of their true origin. Captivating and elucidating, The Truth Will Out is a revelatory exploration of two men and their times that will forever change the landscape of Shakespearean scholarship.
At the heart of our awareness of the writings of William Shakespeare there is a great mystery, which is often known as the Shakespeare Authorship Question. For over 150 years this question--whether the actor who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and died there in 1616 actually wrote the plays--has continued to perplex well-educated and intelligent people. Although often dismissed by orthodox Stratfordian scholars (those who believe that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the works attributed to him), it shows no signs of disappearing and, indeed, in recent years has returned with a vengeance as a subject of intense debate, especially in the United States.
While William Shakespeare may well have been the greatest author the world has ever known, as a man his life has proved to be one of the most elusive and mysterious of any human being of his achievement and stature in history. Virtually everything known of the facts of his life seem to belie the transcendent genius of his plays and poems. His parents were illiterate; he grew up in a small provincial town in which lived no more than a handful of educated men; his schooling ended at around 12; there is no evidence that he ever owned a book. No manuscript definitely known to have been written byhim survives, nor do any letters, memoranda or notes he wrote on any subject, let alone literary documents. Shakespeare's only writings which survive, in fact, consist of just six signatures scrawled on legal documents, three of which are on his will. While Shakespeare is named in 75 known contemporary documents, not a single one concerns his career as an author. Most are legal and financial documents which depict him as a rather cold, rapacious and successful local landowner, grain merchant and money-lender.
Shakespeare's life between his marriage in 1582 to Anne Hathaway and his emergence as an actor and presumed author nearly ten years later is a blank, a mystery period known as 'the lost years' in which biographers, lacking any hard evidence for their views or any way to explain Shakespeare's apparent wide erudition, have credited him with being--amongst other things--a law clerk, schoolmaster, traveller on the continent and soldier. At the age of about 47, after a quarter-century allegedly at the centre of one of the world's greatest cultural renaissances in London, the nation's capital, suddenly and for no obvious reason Shakespeare retired to his home town of Stratford, living there quietly until his death about five years later. No one, it seems, marked his passing at the age of 52 in any way, let alone by the publication of memorial verses or funereal tributes.
In 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, an enormous memorial volume containing nearly all of his plays, including many published in full for the first time, was edited and produced by a number of his former theatrical associates. The First Folio, as this volume is known, does not mention or acknowledge his family in Stratford, although it seems surprising that they did not retain some manuscripts or effects left by him which would have been useful to the Folio's compilers. There is no evidence that any member of his family--or anyone else in Stratford-upon-Avon--owned a copy of the First Folio; its literary glories would in any case have been lost on Shakespeare's two surviving daughters, who were illiterate.
Since Shakespeare's recognition in the late eighteenth century as England's preeminent national writer, hundreds of historians, researchers and archivists have pored over thousands of Elizabethan and Jacobean documents to discover anything there is to find about Shakespeare the man, and, in particular, Shakespeare the writer. Despite all their efforts, they have found little on the former and nothing on the latter.
There is thus a Shakespeare Authorship Question which has continued to perplex thousands of admirers of Shakespeare's works over the past two centuries: or rather, there are two separate but interconnected authorship questions which, for innumerable readers of Shakespeare's works and others, constitute one of history's most abiding and intriguing mysteries. The first of the two Shakespeare authorship questions is how satisfactorily to explain the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the magnitude of his achievement and the meagreness of his apparent background, while the second is why so little has been discovered about his life as a man and, particularly, as a writer, regardless of how thoroughly we research. As a result, over the past century and a half, many intelligent and perceptive persons have come to doubt whether William Shakespeare of Stratford, the man who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and died there in 1616, and who was unquestionably an actor and theatre-owner in London as well as a businessman and landowner in Stratford, could conceivably have written the plays and poems attributed to him. Over time, a variety of other authorship candidates (as they are known) have been proposed, the best-known of whom are Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Edward De Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1550-1604).
To gain a clearer understanding of why so many people have questioned whether Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays and poems attributed to him, it may be useful to examine the reasons under three headings: the meagreness of his early life and background and the difficulty of explaining the complexity and erudition of Shakespeare's works in terms of what is known of his educational achievements; the inability of scholars and historians to discover any new evidence about Shakespeare's life, including his career as a writer; and the incongruities between what is known of Shakespeare's life and the evolution of his plays.
Lack of learning
Perhaps the most striking way to approach the sheer inadequacy of William Shakespeare as the author of the plays and poems which bear his name is to consider the following: if the First Folio and the other works attributed to him had been . . .
Excerpted from The Truth Will Out by Brenda James Copyright © 2006 by Brenda James. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted August 1, 2013
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