Anti-Stratfordians argue that Shakespeare was actually the 17th Earl of Oxford or the 6th Earl of Derby or the 3rd Earl of Southhampton, or Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe—even Queen Elizabeth herself! Verily, something like 80 possible candidates have been suggested and defended for the job, so no need to ramble onto thee anon. Thing is, Shakespeare is mentioned 23 times as a great living playwright by his contemporaries, but left not a scrap of correspondence behind, nor a reliable portrait.
|Possibly the only man who has NOT been identified as Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes...hubba hubba, in Shakespeare in Love)|
|First Folio flyleaf, 1623...eeech!|
Some even cavil on about the cardboard-flat portrait on the First Folio of 1623, complaining that his collar style simply doesn’t exist in 17th- century couture, or that his head is out of proportion to his body, or that he is obviously wearing a mask …but really, do we prize engravings of the early 17th century for their veracity? Screwy depictions of lions, natives with Caucasian features, and potatoes, among other New World vittles, would scarcely support this notion.
Shakespeare Encyclopedia (2009), compiled by A.D. Cousins. This compendium attempts to present Shakespeare sans the academic froth of competing scholars who have, for centuries, tried to ferret out the man’s identity. Or, you can delve into the latest plausible theory with British lit lecturer Brenda James and Welsh professor William Rubinstein’s The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare (2005)—a title that really throws down the gauntlet if ever a gauntlet was. James defends Sir Henry Neville as Shakespeare’s ghostwriter, based on her recent discoveries of a string of linked manuscripts, some comparative handwriting samples, and parallels between Neville’s life events with the issuance of certain plays. For example, Neville (1564-1615) was imprisoned in the Tower in 1601 for his part in the surly Earl of Essex’s plans for rebellion against the aging Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603), which coincides with a distinct change in Shakespearean style towards the ‘darker’ tragedies like Hamlet.
Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare. Fields, a Harvard-educated Anglophile married to a Guggenheim, underscores his contention that the tremendous output attributed to Shakespeare was not only the product of a collaboration, but probably the most successful conspiracy in human history, barring the Apollo moon landings (kidding!). Fields provides a helpful description of the era’s cultural context and collates some of the fun facts, like, the issue with the 82 variations on Shakespeare’s name: e.g., was it a corruption of the French Jacques or Jakes Pierre or a mutilation of the Jewish [I]Saac’s spere? He then launches into a lawyerly analysis that pits the shortcomings of “The Stratford Man” against various Anti-Stratfordian scholarship, making a final thrust and parry with his closing argument for the syndicate theory, as impassioned as Alan Shore in Boston Legal. Fields should not be confused with Steve Sohmer, a writer of Hollywood fodder since 1966, who earned an Oxford doctorate for his Shakespeare dissertation in 1995. You see? The world is Shakespeare’s stage and everyone’s a player full of lots of sound and fury signifying…what?
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