I’ve been busy reading about Shakespeare at the moment, for a project at the Bodleian (discussion about which, incidentally, inspired my recent short story ‘Jane Austen wrote the works of William Shakespeare‘) and have grown irresistibly attracted to the anti-Stratfordian theories. That is, the theories that someone other than William-Shakespeare-from-Stratford wrote the plays of William Shakespeare.
Now, when I say that I have grown irresistibly attracted to them, I do not mean that I believe any of them. Far from it. I simply love reading about them – from Francis Bacon to the Earl of Oxford to (yes) Queen Elizabeth I – and the curious bendings of logic and likelihood which are necessary for their promulgation. I’ve only been reading online so far (let me say, comments on Amazon reviews on Contested Will are hilarious, albeit admirably polite for the most part). Here is a wonderful excerpt from Bill Bryson’s concise, amusing, and brilliant book Shakespeare, which I’ve just re-read (and reviewed many a year ago here):
In short it is possible, with a kind of selective squinting, to endow the alternative claimants with the necessary time, talent, and motive for anonymity to write the plays of William Shakespeare. But what no one has ever produced is the tiniest particle of evidence to suggest that they actually did so. These people must have been incredibly gifted – to create, in their spare time, the greatest literature ever produced in English, in a voice patently not their own, in a manner so cunning that they fooled virtually everyone during their own lifetimes and for four hundred years afterwards. The Earl of Oxford, better still, additionally anticipated his own death and left a stock of work sufficient to keep the supply of new plays flowing at the same rate until Shakespeare himself was ready to die a decade or so later. Now that is genius.
Enough said, one would have thought – but apparently not. My favourite thing I’ve seen online (and refuted in Bryson’s book) is the idea that none of the surviving documents link the playwright with the Stratfordian… I’m far from an expert, but I’d have thought that the compilers of the First Folio appearing in the Stratfordian’s will was something of a link.
Anyway, I intend to seek out Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro, not least because the title is so amazing. But if you know of any others which might amuse me, do let me know…