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Notes on the Disintegration of the Shakespearean Identity
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Shakespeare Disintegrated

I am a firm Anti-Stratfordian, which means that I do not believe that William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon was the actual author of the works of William Shakespeare. Whether you agree with this belief, the study of the facts involved in this great controversy is an intellectually stimulating pastime and a great introduction to one of the most important periods in the History of our Civilization. Below are some facts and thoughts on the subject, arranged randomly for your delectation and, probably, surprise.

1.   William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon (1564-1616) is believed by most people to be the same person as William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright in all of English literature. In Authorship studies, such people are called Stratfordians (or, the orthodox). An unorthodox minority believes that someone else (e.g., Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford or Sir Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe) was the actual Author, while an even smaller number believes that Shakespeare was really a group of people. All such people are categorized as Anti-Stratfordians, but are further identified by their candidates' names (e.g., Oxfordians, Baconians, Marlovians, etc.). I personally believe that William Shakespeare was the nom de plume of a small group of men who were represented in the London theatrical world by the shareholder and minor actor from Stratford, William Shakspere. These Anti-Stratfordians are called Groupists and, as I do, most of them believe that the Earl of Oxford was the leading member of this group.
 
      a)   I should also point out a certain way of spelling these two most commonly-used names and why it's done. In Authorship studies, Stratfordians make no distinction in the spelling of Shakespeare (the man from Stratford or the famous poet-playwright), but, since Anti-Stratfordians necessarily believe that those two identities are separate, they refer to the man from Stratford-upon-Avon as Shakspere and to the poet-playwright as Shakespeare. As a matter of historical fact, the spelling Shakespeare was rarely used in reference to the Stratford man; usually, his name is spelled in such various ways that one starts to get the idea that the name was pronounced "SHACK-spur." Only occasionally does one find the name spelled as though it were pronounced "SHAKE-speer." A lot of people have made a lot out of this over the years, but the only undoubtedly useful thing to come of it is the "unorthodox" convention of spelling the name in two different ways to denote two different identities. I wouldn't make too big a deal out of it, but it's important to remember that the pronunciation of Shakespeare's name probably has changed over the years.
 
2.   No books, manuscripts, or any kind of literary remains are mentioned in the last will and testament of William Shakspere. This is an absolutely inexplicable fact when one considers that "Shakespeare" was a very successful playwright and poet. Is it really reasonable to believe that a man of letters would not have possessed at least some books? Books were prized possessions and indicated a man of taste and education. Stratfordians argue that Shakspere must have included his books and papers in the catch-all category of "goods and chattels" ---a phrase often found in wills of the time to cover miscellaneous items too numerous to identify specifically. In claiming this, they also point out that the estate inventory documents have not survived, but that these would very probably have listed those missing books and papers. Yet, we are not obligated to believe this. Shakspere was quite specific in his will about very small things, such as the bequest of an old sword or a small amount of money for a friend. Is it reasonable to believe that he would have taken the time to enumerate such trivial gifts, but not to entrust at least a book to someone? The notion is absurd.
 
3.   When we talk about Shakespeare, it's important to remember that he wasn't nearly as famous in his own time as he is now. This unconscious bias trips people up. Today, everyone knows the name of Shakespeare. Even uneducated people can tell you that it was Shakespeare who asked, "To be or not to be?" and that it was Shakespeare who wrote Romeo and Juliet. But, in his own time, playwrights weren't really all that famous. In fact, most plays written before 1600 were published anonymously. This isn't all that different from movies today where people are much more likely to know the names of the actors than that of the screenwriter. Nevertheless, Shakspere would have enjoyed some fame. He must have known and been known to every leading actor and theatrical owner and agent of his day; after all, he was a shareholder in the Globe and Blackfriars playhouses and a shareholder in the two biggest acting companies in all of London (the Lord Chamberlain's Men and its successor company, the King's Men). And he even, according to legend, was a minor actor himself. But is all of this the reason why we know the name of Shakespeare today? No. His real fame and his life story only came to be known many, many years after he died. And that is one reason why we have to be careful when we think we know who he was.
 
4.   If literary artists often write about the things they know best (i.e., use autobiography in their works), why is there virtually nothing of the life of a middle-class businessman reflected in the works of Shakespeare? This may strike you as a weak argument. After all, science fiction writers don't live on alien worlds and Barbara Cartland didn't get laid round the clock. So, why should Shakespeare be expected to have written only about small-town life and the bourgeoisie? Maybe that's a good point, but one must still consider why most of Shakespeare's plays involve the nobility and royalty. What was it about those classes of people that Shakespeare found so interesting? Many believe it's because he, himself, was a nobleman who was writing about the class he knew best: the royalty and nobility. The famous American poet Walt Whitman suspected as much when he wrote of his own doubts about Shakespeare's identity: "wolfish earls...."
 
Too, why are a sixth of Shakespeare's plays set in Italy? We know of nothing from Shakspere's life that would indicate such a great interest in Italian culture, but Shakespeare the Author certainly had one. And so did Oxford and Derby. They traveled there and lived for months at a time in the north of Italy. We know from the documentary record that Oxford spent many months in Milan and Verona and Venice when he was in his mid-20s. When he returned to Elizabeth's court, he was referred to as the "Italianate Englishman" or the "Italianate Earl." Many of his contemporaries credit him with introducing Italian fashion at court. Clearly, this was a young man who was influenced by his time abroad, most especially in Italy.
 
5.   Orthodox believers in Shakespeare (i.e., Stratfordians) very often make the claim that no serious (or, "real") scholar pays any attention to the Authorship issue. Is this true? If so, why? In my experience, this claim is false, but let us assume that it is true. What does this ignorance say about "mainstream" Shakespearean scholarship?
 
First, it is an embarrassment to the discipline. History is not an exact science, but the applied art of evidence-gathering, interpretation, and argument. As difficult as it may be to believe, there simply isn't enough dispositive evidence in favor of the traditional claim for any of its adherents to dismiss the evidence to the contrary. If the issue were as simple and clear-cut as Stratfordians claim, there would not be such a large number of disbelievers.
 
For example, Shakespeare makes so many legal allusions and metaphors throughout his plays that it is a reasonable supposition to think he may have had some sort of legal training. This isn't some wild idea that Anti-Stratfordians have cooked up, but a long-standing belief of many orthodox Shakespearean scholars. But where is the evidence that Shakspere ever studied the law? There is none. So, you can either believe that Shakspere studied the law and left behind no external evidence of that or that he hung around the courts or some law clerk's office or borrowed law books or any number of things. Or, you can look elsewhere to find a candidate whose legal training is a matter of fact.
 
6.  The Sonnets were written by a man who expresses bisexual tendencies, but there is no evidence that Shakspere was such a man.
 
      a) Dark Ladies, Southampton, et al and the criticisms of these IDs.
 
7.   The Shakespeare Monument in Stratford has a long history of curious repairs and changes of appearance that suggest an ambiguity of belief about the subject. The famous Stratford Monument is the last word, as far as many of the orthodox are concerned, and a source of all sorts of interesting beliefs held by others. After all, the true believers say, there's a Monument ---with a half-effigy of "Shakespeare" that doesn't look too far off the mark and which is equipped with a quill pen and a writing cushion in its hands. The man being memorialized, they claim, is obviously a writer. And, indeed, there's much to be said for this view.
 
Yet, however crazy it may be to question the veracity of this famous monument, there are a few curious tems that ought to be remembered about it. First, the inscription in the lower half of the monument very explicitly states that inside itself lies the mortal remains of Shakespeare. This is almost certainly not true since the Monument is in no way designed to hold any remains; it is a sculptured, wall-mounted memorial. The Stratford Monument was very likely fashioned out-of-town and only brought in later. This isn't unusual, but it does suggest that the Monument was the work of outsiders with, possibly, their own agenda. Moreover, Shakspere left no privision in his will for any such memorial. This is a problem for those who are ----
 
8.   The record suggests that Shakspere was the kind of man to sue over small amounts owed to him. He was somewhat grasping and material-minded. Yet, there is a large body of evidence indicating that he made no real effort to stop unauthorized publication of his plays and poems when he would most be expected to.
 
      a)   Heywood/Passionate Pilgrim as counter
      b)   Pervasiveness of Shakespearean piracy
 
9.   William Shakspere and his family were almost certainly Catholics. Did this influence Shakspere's conduct while in the service of two Protestant monarchs?  
      
 

From the First Folio of 1623
shakespeare.jpg
One of the best cartoons ever...

Take a good look at that mug (above left). You've seen that face a million times. Ever wonder why it's so "catchy"? Maybe it's because it's not so much a portrait as it is a caricature. Doesn't the whole thing look cartoonish? His head hovers above that ridiculous collar and his hairline makes his face look more like it could be a mask than an actual human countenance...No, I'm not saying that the Droeshout Portrait is a reason to become an Anti-Stratfordian, but it's an odd looking rendition. See Item No. --- for more details.