Did he/she really write all those?Haven't you had students ask how Shakespeare could have written all those plays and all those poems? And how come they're all so great? My standard answer is that...

Did he/she really write all those?

Haven't you had students ask how Shakespeare could have written all those plays and all those poems? And how come they're all so great? My standard answer is that he was a genius. Yes, I know all about the people who want to say that somebody else wrote some of the plays, but I don't think they're right.

But does every author write all those books they publish? I remember reading once that Barbara Cartland would meet with her 6 secretaries, give each one different character names and settings, and then dictate a story. When she was finished, she'd have 6 manuscripts!

I've also read that James Patterson has been sued by a former girlfriend because she actually wrote one of his books.

I love Victoria Holt's books, but she also wrote under the names Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr. How could one person have enough time to write so much?

Is there anybody you're suspicious of? If we found out that some of our literary greats used ghost writers, would that make their works any less great? What if Shakespeare didn't write every play?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I honestly don't think I've ever had a student doubt (aloud anyway) that Shakespeare could have written so much in such a short amount of time. I really don't think I've ever spent much time wondering about this, either.  It's not that I'm gullible or unquestioning; I just believe that those with an exceptional talent are capable of exceptional things.

Now, that being said, I'm aware that several others could have been the original authors of several Shakespeare works.  I also know it was common as far back as the Greeks to have a classic or familiar story dramatically retold by more than one author or dramatist, causing some doubt as to the authenticity of the most famous work. 

In general terms, though, I deal with this issue more pragmatically.  Shakespeare was not a wealthy man, and he had to produce (and act and procure patrons) in order to keep food on the table.  Audiences were not likely to come to the same production too many times, so it was incumbent upon theatres to offer them something new on a regular basis.  (Think about watching the same episode of Law and Order or Lost every week for a month.  You probably wouldn't watch more than once or twice.)

Shakespeare was prolific and distinctive and creative in ways most others are not--except, perhaps, for Leonardo DaVinci, Beethoven, Michelangelo....

malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have hesitated chiming in my opinion because, of course, I'm going to say that Shakespeare wrote all of those plays and poems.  But I do have to say that the argument of, "One person couldn't possibly have done all that in such a short amount of time," is one of the weaker arguments that is typically thrown about.  Even Derek Jacobi, I believe, has said something along those lines. (I know you weren't saying that as your opinion, mrerick - I'm just responding because you brought up an argument that I read a few months ago in the Shakespeare Blog.) :)

There have been, and still are, geniuses roaming the earth, and I'm not just referring to literature.  Look at classical music - Chopin, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, I could go on and on here.  According to wikipedia, Mozart wrote over 600 compositions; only 230 of Chopin's compositions are extant; Beethoven wrote a little over 200 published and unpublished works, and he was deaf for many of those...you see where I'm going here, right?

It's fine if people want to use the argument that we haven't found conclusive proof that Shakespeare wrote those plays (I guess a diary, perhaps, saying, "Hi, I'm Will Shakespeare and I think I'll write 'Hamlet' today...blah, blah, blah...").  But to say it's unlikely someone could have been that brilliant?  Sorry, I'm not buying that one.

sensei918 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have read a lot on the topic of "Who wrote Shakespeare's work?" and I believe that he did it himself.  It would have been an awful lot of work to keep a conspiracy of authorship intact for over 400 years.

Just because he was not a college man, does not mean that he could not have written all those plays. To be a working playwright in a working company, one would have to be quick on one's feet, flexible, and clever.  If an audience didn't like a play, the playwright had to be able to do on-the-spot revision or the play would fail.  He would be writing consistently and on the fly.

Moreover, he did rely on classic stories for some of his plots, and that would have made it somewhat easier for him to produce more work at a faster pace. It was common in his day for old stories to be adapted. There was no such thing as a copyright law until some time in the 18th century in England.

Shakespeare did have a collaborator on some of his plays, one John Fletcher, remember?  And I do agree with Post 6 that he also had to be prolific to put food on the table for his family back in Stratford.  Speaking of episodes of Law and Order, I've often thought that the Bard would be writing for TV if he were alive today.

mrerick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stephen King also wrote under the name Richard Bachman, who authored such novels as Running Man, Thinner, Rage, etc.  If you look at his timeline, it wouldn't be too difficult for him to write everything he's credited for.  He started writing novels in the late 70's and published his most recent just last month.  That's 30 years of writing from an author who says he routinely writes at a two novel per year clip.  Even take out the year he spent rehab-ing from his accident and he's still well within writeable range.

I think there's a better argument against Shakespeare (not that I'm making that argument!!).  He only wrote for roughly 22 years, and the stuff he wrote would have been far more difficult to crank out than regular prose fiction.

I don't think it's good for the English language to question the authenticity of Shakespeare's works.  The language (and certainly the classes!) needs someone to be the "father".  He's the only certainty from class to class and school to school.  In order for us to compare other authors, we need someone to be the best!

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stephen King?  I've heard he has several pseudonyms, but I have never eeked out the truth.

I have had interest in the Shakespeare authorship question.  It seems to me that the rhythm and beauty of the language wouldn't be consistent if the same person hadn't written all the plays.  Plus, Shakespeare was being paid by the Queen to write...it was finally becoming recognized as a profession...much like those Hollywood idiots who went on strike because millions a year just isn't enough.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a question I always talk about quite a bit with my students as they do seem to be sceptical about the authorship question. At the end of the day we side with the points raised above by looking at the consistency throughout all of the plays. At the end of the day the "genius" conclusion is the one to go for.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Remember too, that Shakespeare was writing for his own production company. If they plays weren't written, they couldn't be performed. If the plays weren't good, people wouldn't come to see them. Writing was obviously a passion for Shakespeare, but it was his livelihood as well.