Who really wrote the Shakespeare plays? This important literary and cultural controversy is livelier and more widely discussed than ever before. Here, nine leading experts offer their version of who wrote the plays.
Why does this issue matter? Because a full understanding of the author can make a huge difference to our wider appreciation of the life and times, the literature, and the culture of the period.
William Shakespeare is universally regarded as the greatest writer who ever lived. Every year sees vast amounts of critical, philosophical and contextual interpretations of his works. There is endless biographical analyses of his life in relation to this work. And yet, despite this vast output, Shakespeare remains an enigmatic figure.
He remains a man who seems to have understood humanity so well but whose life as a writer is absent in records of the time. This truth has led to many questions about the real author behind the title-pages, the real nature of Shakespeare the man, and how this nature relates to Shakespeare the writer.
In new essays especially written for this book nine leading ‘Shakespearean’ authors present their version of the man.
Ros Barber, Barry Clarke, John Casson with William Rubinstein & David Ewald, William Leahy, Alan H. Nelson, Diana Price, Alexander Waugh and Robin Williams each offer their ideas. Each essay is founded in scholarly research and provides a positive case for why the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy needs to be taken seriously.
These versions of Shakespeare are realistic and compelling. Each in its turn will provoke the reader to see various aspects of Shakespeare in a different light. And they will help us understand the enigmatic fascination that Shakespeare (and the authorship question) continues to generate.
|Publisher:||Edward Everett Root|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Journal of Early Modern Studies.
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William Shakespeare of Stratfordupon-Avon and London
Alan H. Nelson
On June 12, 1593, Richard Stonley, a clerk of the Exchequer of Receipt, the tax-gathering branch of the royal treasury, purchased two recently-published books for a total of twelve pence: The Survey, or Topographical Description of France (1592), and Venus and Adonis (1593), a long poem which had been entered in the London "Stationers Register" (see Arber 1875-94, ref 22354; entries referenced in Pollard and Redgrave 1976-91) on April 18, 1593. Though no author's name graces the title page of either book, the dedication of Venus and Adonis is signed "William Shakespeare". Stonley logically inferred that the poem was written by Shakespeare — or, as he wrote in his own hand, mixing Latin and English: "Per Shakspere". Did Stonley know 'Shakspere' personally? He was well-read, the owner of over 400 books by 1599, and London's population was small by modern standards, perhaps 200,000. But a poet, especially the author of a first publication, was not necessarily a public figure. In 1594 a second poem appeared, The Rape of Lucrece, again with a dedication signed "William Shakespeare". Both poems sold well, and both were quickly praised in print. But would their author have been recognized on the street?
"William Shakespeare" was also the name of a player on the public stage. On March 15, 1595, he and two other members of the Lord Chamberlain's company, William Kemp and Richard Burbage, accepted payment from the royal treasury for two court performances over the 1594-95 Christmas season. On the same day, and for the same season, three members of the Lord Admiral's company, Edward Alleyn, Richard Jones, and John Singer, received payment for three court performances. All six recipients were players. Evidence that Shakespeare was a player even earlier than Christmas 1594-95 survives in a copy of the play George a Greene, Pinner of Wakefield (1599), now in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C (see Nelson 1998). Like most plays of its day, George a Greene announced the name of its publisher on its title-page, but not the name of the playwright. The play had been entered into the Stationers Register in 1595, again without the name of the playwright. Owner of the Folger copy was Sir George Buc, slated to succeed Edmund Tilney as Master of the Revels — the royal officer with supervisory authority over all play texts and performances, whether in public or at court. Buc made a practice of identifying authors of anonymous plays. To discover the author of George a Greene he conducted personal interviews with "W. Shakespeare" and "Edward Juby". Juby's thespian career is well-documented over the years 1594 to 1618. Shakespeare's career, up to the time of the interview, which cannot have been earlier than 1599, was roughly similar. Juby told Buc that the play was by Robert Greene, while Shakespeare said that it was by "a minister, who acted the pinner's part in it himself." A contemporary document known as "Henslowe's Diary" reveals that George a Greene was performed at the Rose Playhouse on December 29, 1593, and on January 2, 8, 15, and 22, 1594 (Foakes 2002, 212). It is likely that Juby and Shakespeare both knew George a Greene because they had both acted in it, or at least visited the Rose in the post-Christmas season of 1593-94. Indeed, the play which immediately followed George a Greene at the Rose, on January 23, was Titus Andronicus. Although Titus was published in the same year, 1594, its author was, as usual, not named on the title page. In 1598, however, Francis Meres, in his Palladis Tamia, attributed the play to Shakespeare.
Ben Jonson, in his 1616 Workes, lists ten "principall Comdians" in the 1598 first performance of Every Man In His Humour, all members of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, beginning with "Will Shakespeare". Jonson similarly lists eight "principall Tragdians" in the 1603 first performance of Sejanus, all members of the King's Men (as the Lord Chamberlain's Men were called following the accession of King James), including "Will. Shake-Speare". In the years leading up to 1603 William Shakespeare became involved with the College of Arms, London, where he was characterized, perhaps derisively, as "Shakespeare ye player". Until recently this designation had been known only from a late manuscript copy (circa 1700). Now an earlier manuscript has been identified, roughly datable as "early 17th century", probably 1642 at the latest.
On March 13, 1602, John Manningham, a member of the Middle Temple, one of the four major legal societies in London, recorded an anecdote which he heard from his roommate Thomas Curle. The narrative concerns a 'citizen' — slang for the wife of a member of a London livery company — and two players:
Vpon a tyme when Burbidge played Richard 3 there was a citizen [gone] soe farr in liking with him, that before shee went from the play shee appointed him to come that night vnto hir by the name of Richard the 3 / Shakespeare ouerhearing their conclusion, went before, was intertained, and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then message being brought that Richard the 3d was at the dore, Shakespeare caused returne to be made that William the Conquerour was before Richard the 3.
Manningham added (for clarification): "Shakespeares name William". While this anecdote may well have been apocryphal (it is perhaps too clever to be true), it confirms that Burbage was a leading player whose identity required no explanation, and that Shakespeare was another player of similar renown. Since a complete appreciation of the jest assumes knowledge of Shakespeare's first name, Manningham supplies it. The jest would be even more pointed for anyone who knew that Burbage's first name was Richard, or if Burbage had been referenced as "Richard the Second", since he was second in line for the lady's attentions. Apparently, however, Burbage was more firmly identified in the public mind with the notorious Richard the Third.
William Shakespeare's name heads a list of nine "Players" among more than a thousand royal servants who received red or scarlet cloth for the royal entry of James I into London, March 15, 1604. The source document contains three lists of players, one for the King's Men, one for the Queen's Men, and one for the Prince's Men. The lists comprise a roster of twenty-eight players in three companies, all of them active in the early years of James I. Though Shakespeare was the top player of the top company, he was not necessarily the most skilled actor — Edward Alleyn and Richard Burbage would doubtless have won the Oscars of their day. But he was the acknowledged leader of his company, which could not have happened if he had not also been an accomplished actor. Shakespeare was not only a player however, but a "sharer" and a "fellow" in his company. A "sharer" held a financial stake, while a "fellow" in this context was a senior member who held, in Hamlet's words, "a fellowship in a cry of players". Shakespeare was named first among five players who, on February 21, 1599, bought a half-share of the lease of the site of the future Globe playhouse on Bankside, Southwark. Though the original lease does not survive, it is referenced in some eleven documents dated May 17, 1599, to 1635. The other owners of the same half-share were John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope, and William Kemp, all players. The other half-share was held by the brothers Richard and Cuthbert Burbage, sons of the recently deceased James Burbage. Richard was a player, as James had been also, while Cuthbert's interest was purely financial.
When Shakespeare's company received its royal license from King James in 1603, the first three "servants" (out of a total of nine) were named as Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, and Richard Burbage. Fletcher may have been listed first because of an earlier acquaintance with King James in Scotland. But Shakespeare is second, taking precedence over Richard Burbage. When the Blackfriars playhouse lease was signed in 1608, the order was different: Richard Burbage, John Heminges, William Shakespeare, Cuthbert Burbage, Henry Condell, and Thomas Evans (Evans, like Cuthbert Burbage, was not a player). In his own First Folio, published in 1623 by his fellow players John Heminges and Henry Condell, "William Shakespeare" is listed as the first of twenty-six "Names of the Principall Actors in all these Plays". When Cuthbert Burbage recalled the long history of the Globe playhouse in 1635, "Shakspere" came to his mind as the first of "those deserving men" who joined the enterprise founded by his father and continued by his brother Richard and himself.
"William Shakespeare" was also a playwright. The name first appeared on the title pages of printed plays in 1598: Love's Labour's Lost ("By W. Shakespere"), and Richard II and Richard III ("By William Shake-speare"). All three were second editions. Extant first editions of Richard II and Richard III, dated 1597, do not carry the name of the author. An early, now lost first edition of Love's Labour's Lost may be inferred from the full title of the 1598 edition: A pleasant conceited comedie, called Loues labors lost As it was presented before her highnes this last Christmas. Newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere. In 1599 1 Henry IV was "Newly corrected by W. Shakespere"; in 1600, four more plays by "William Shakespeare" appeared: 2 Henry IV; Merchant of Venice; A Midsummer Night's Dream; and Much Ado About Nothing. More plays by William Shakespeare would be published as the years wore on, culminating in the First Folio of 1623. Thus, by 1598, three "Shakespeares" were known to the London public: the poet (confirmed from 1593), the player (confirmed from 1595), and the playwright (confirmed from 1598). Did three William Shakespeares inhabit late Elizabethan London, or were all three the same individual?
Spelling and hyphenation are of no help in establishing identities from this period. Variant spelling is routine for all English surnames before 1700. To take two examples: Ben Jonson's surname was often spelled "Johnson", while Christopher Marlowe's only known signature reads "Marley". Though "Shakespeare" is taken today as the 'correct' spelling for the poet and playwright, nineteenth-century scholars often preferred "Shakspeare" as more authentic. In truth, the simple principle of variation is more authentic than any particular spelling. As for hyphenation, "Shakespeare" is but one of many compound surnames sometimes hyphenated or written as two words between 1550 and 1650, along with All-de, Bridge-good, Camp-bell, De-bre, Fair child, Full of love, Good-all, Good-inch, Hard-castle, Harm-wood, Harrow-good, Hold craft, Horn blow, Mount clear, Old-castle, Penny-ale, Red head, Waldegrave, and White head. An even closer match is "Break-speare", a name cited frequently in early English printed books because Pope Adrian IV (d. 1199), the only English pope, was born Nicholas Breakspeare. English historians and printers contemporary with Shakespeare spelled Breakspeare with or without a hyphen, showing no apparent preference for one form over the other. The point is made even clearer in an essay on English surnames by William Camden in his Remains concerning Britain (1605, 111), who cites names based on what men presumably carried: "Long-sword, Broad-speare, Fortescu, that is, Stong-shield, and in some such respect, Break-speare, Shake-Speare, Shotbolt, Wagstaffe". Camden (or his printer) hyphenates some compound names and not others, apparently at random. Plays from 1598 are attributed on their title pages to "Shakespeare" and to "Shake-speare"; one and the same player in Ben Jonson's Folio of 1616 is called "Shakespeare" and "Shake-Speare". King Lear (1608) is attributed to "Shakespeare" in the Stationers Register, but to "Shak-speare" on the printed title page, while the Sonnets (1609) are entered in the Stationers Register as "Shakespeares" but printed as "Shake-speares". Hyphenation occurs with the same irregularity, and with the same insignificance, as variation in spelling.
That Shakespeare the poet and Shakespeare the playwright were one and the same is confirmed by similarities of vocabulary, style, and metrical development. Though Shakespeare the poet may have been an unknown quantity in 1593, he had every opportunity to achieve personal fame through the publication of his works. By 1610 William Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece had appeared in a total of fifteen editions; the appearance of Shake-speares Sonnets in 1609 made for a total of sixteen. How many copies were printed of each edition? As one historian of printing cites the number 1250 (Bennett 1965, 298), let us take an excessively conservative estimate of a 500 copy print-run for each edition. This estimate makes for an eventual total of 8000 copies of Shakespeare's poems, with his name attached, circulating in and around London, beginning in 1593 and with a fresh infusion nearly every year thereafter. The number of play-texts attributed on their title pages to William Shakespeare, calculated at the same rate, and not counting editions which may have been mere printers' variants, is also sixteen, making another 8000 copies. The grand total is 16,000 copies of poems and plays openly attributed to William Shakespeare, to which more could be added by counting books such as Love's Martyr, or Rosalins Complaint (1601), which also name William Shakespeare as an author.
The same literate public which could purchase Shakespeare's poems and plays on London's book-stalls could attend plays at the Theatre through 1598, or at the Globe beginning in 1599. In the uncurtained early-modern stage, reimagined as Shakespeare's Globe in today's London, each individual actor was thoroughly exposed to the public's gaze. Which player was merely a player and which (if any) was also the playwright, or at least capable of being a playwright, could be determined with ease. Indeed, the individual identities of actors and actor-playwrights were well-known to the London public. For this we have the explicit testimony of Sir Richard Baker, author of A Chronicle of the Kings of England ... unto the raigne of our Soveraigne Lord King Charles. Baker, who was born in 1568, a mere four years after Shakespeare, was a personal witness to the major cultural events of his time. Baker died in 1645, but his Chronicle was published in 1643. In a chapter entitled "The Raigne of Queen Elizabeth" he considered "Men of Note in her time". After naming men of power and authority, he continues:
After such men, it might be thought ridiculous to speak of Stage-players; but seeing excellency in the meanest things deserve remembring, and [R]oscius the Comedian is recorded in History with such commendation, it may be allowed us to do the like with some of our Nation. Richard Bourbidge and Edward Allen, two such actors, as no age must ever look to see the like: and, to make their Comedies compleat, Richard Tarleton, who for the Part called the Clowns Part, never had his match, never will have. For Writers of Playes, and such as had been Players themselves, William Shakespeare, and Benjamin Johnson, have specially left their Names recommended to posterity (120).
Baker's assertion is as authoritative as it is explicit: William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson had been stage-players and also playwrights. The index of the volume adds yet another detail: "William Shakespeare an excellent writer of Comedies".
About 1601 students of St. John's College, Cambridge, wrote and staged The Return from Parnassus (Part II), a play which survives in both manuscript and print. The play was entered in the Stationers Register on October 16, 1605, and printed in two successive editions in 1606. The manuscript supplies both a title and a date: "The progresse to Parnassus as it was acted in St Iohn's Colledge in Cambridge Anno 1601." The scribal date matches the 1601-2 Christmas season of college plays. Act IV Scene III of The Return from Parnassus: or the Scourge of Simony, contains a scene between "Dick" Burbage and "Will" Kemp — the very men who had gone with William Shakespeare to the royal treasury in Westminster on March 15, 1595. Two Cambridge students audition to become professional players in London. While Burbage is hopeful, Kemp disparages habits the young men may have picked up at Cambridge:
Burbidg/ Now Will Kempe, if wee can entertaine these schollars at a low rate it will bee well, they oftentimes have a good conceite in a parte/
Kempe/ Its true indeed honest Dick; but ye slaves are somewhat prowde, & besides tis good spoorte in a parte to see them never speake in their walke, but at ye end of ye stage, just as though in walking with a fellowe wee should never speake but at a stile, a gate or a ditch, where a man can goe no farther; I was once at a Commedye in Cambridge & there I saw a parasite make faces & mouthes of all sortes on this fashion/
Presumably the actor playing Kemp makes a grotesque face. Burbage hopes that the former students will double as playwrights, but Kemp is again doubtful:
Burb: A little teaching will mend those faultes, & it may bee besides they will be able to penne a parte.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "My Shakespeare"
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 – William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon and London
Alan H. Nelson
Chapter 2 - My Shakspere: “A Conjectural Narrative” Continued
Chapter 3 - My Shakespeare Rise!
Chapter 4 – My Shakespeare: Christopher Marlowe
Chapter 5 - Our Shakespeare: Henry Neville 1562-1615
John Casson, William D. Rubinstein and David Ewald
Chapter 6 – My Shakespeare: Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke
Chapter 7 - My Shakespeare: Francis Bacon
Chapter 8 – My (amalgamated) Shakespeare