What is your take on the whole "Shakespeare not writing his own stuff" thing?They say it was Marlowe after allegedly faking his death. Some say it was Francis Bacon. Some say it was a combination...

What is your take on the whole "Shakespeare not writing his own stuff" thing?

They say it was Marlowe after allegedly faking his death.

Some say it was Francis Bacon.

Some say it was a combination of people using Will's name- though nobody knows why they would do such a thing.

What say you?


Asked on by M.P. Ossa

16 Answers

auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I agree that it really doesn't matter. I think about so many of the stories Shakespeare tells already being part of the culture (i.e., the audience would have been familiar with many of the kings and legends such as Romeo and Juliet). What distinguishes him from the rest is not necessarily the what but the how. And the how is pretty fantastic.

booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I love to read about Christopher Marlowe and those who believe that he really wrote Shakespeare's plays. I find it fascinating. Even Marlowe's life is shrouded in mystery, as he was supposed to be a spy, and much speculation surrounds the details of his death, which just adds to that sense of mystery.

It's fascinating stuff, but I am a true "believer" of Shakespeare and his mastery of the language. He knew his audience: whether the common man or the monarchy, and his ability to say things so beautifully defies the idea that someone else was responsible for his work. Marlowe died well before Shakespeare stopped writing (as far as I can tell), so I cannot understand how Marlowe could be given credit for Shakespeare's later work. (It was suggested he faked his death...? Anything's possible in that regard, I guess.) In that Shakespeare was a member of The [Lord] Chamberlain's Men and The King's Men, and his friends probably knew him well (even putting together a folio after his death), I would expect such high profile exposure would have made it impossible to keep such a secret.

It is great fun to toss the idea around, but I prefer to give Shakespeare the credit.

shxpersdarklady's profile pic

shxpersdarklady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

I'd also like to add to this discussion about the authorship question.

I agree with those who find it an elitist position to argue that a man from W.S.'s background could not have produced these fine works.

Second, consider the fact that the whole authorship question did not arise until the 19th century, when amateur historians began to notice things that real historians of the time period had always known and accepted as completely normal:  the fact that he spelled his name 8 different ways, for example, on legal documents. This was a common practice of S's period (since spelling rules do not come into being until the 18th century), known well by historians, but the amateurs like Mark Twain, who believed they could and should investigate this, pronounced it a sign that this man from Stratford did not exist. Similarly, the fact that W.S.'s name does not show up on any school rolls meant to the amateurs that he didn't exist, though historians show us that the rolls of the King Edward VI school in Stratford simply do not go back that far in time.  And there are more misinterpretations that started it all. It never rested on real evidence to begin with.

In other words, the whole question itself is a hoax, really, perpetrated by people who didn't know how to evaluate the bits of evidence they gleaned not through real research in records but through word-of-mouth and bits and pieces written about W.S.

shxpersdarklady's profile pic

shxpersdarklady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

I think Shakespeare was an entertainer with a show to put on.  He both wrote his own material, and took content from others who contributed. He then joined it all together into the plays, no doubt changing things around as he saw the audience reactions.  The quality is variable in that within the plays are wonderful passages of poetry (much revised, polished and re-written) separated by rather banal "who goes there?" sorts of connectors.  After he died all the best bits and fragments were lovingly gathered together by his actor friends -- who may have polished parts -- and published as the First Folio.

There are problems connecting the plays to the sonnets and poems -- which really do seem to have a different voice and might have been written by someone other than "the Stratford Man."

However, the difference between Shakespeare's work and everything else of his time also supports the theory that he must have come here in a spaceship.  I think Professor Harry Levin said that in an interview re-published in Harpers a while back.

  I agree with you on the supposition that actors and audience contributed to scenes, plots, characters, etc. 

The fact is that we do not know what Heminges and Condell used in order to publish the First Folio, whether they gathered up manuscript versions, or actors' scripts, or "foul papers" (essentially S's trash-- discarded pages from his revision stages) when they couldn't find anything else, or what-have-you.

I disagree witih you on the proposition that the poems seem to have a different voice, though-- they are perfectly in concert with the poetic and rhetorical devices in his plays, and some of the sonnets even address the themes of the plays. 

How can one speak of the "voice" of his dramas, anyhow?  Each character speaks in a "voice," if you really get down to it.  A viable theory is that the sonnets may show the playwright "trying on" different voices in poetic form.

The only two things apparently written in his "voice" are the dedications to the two long poems, but even there, one can argue that he is writing specifically to ask for patronage ($) from Wriothesley, and thus the dedications are filled with humility topoi and other rhetorical devices common to such dedications, which would tend to keep the poet from being able to speak with his true voice.

However, the poems and sonnets are consistent with the writing style of the bulk of the plays (excepting, of course, the start of Pericles, written by someone else, clearly).

howesk's profile pic

howesk | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

I do believe that Shakespeare the man existed. I also, however, believe that his work may have been a collaboration between several people, including members of his theatre company. Check out the book Contested Will for a detailed analysis of this topic, it's an interesting read! http://www.amazon.com/Contested-Will-Who-Wrote-Shakespeare/dp/1416541624

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

At this point, I don't think it matters whether the man we think of as William Shakespeare is real or a fictional amalgamation.  This body of work has transcended one man to become not just its own genre but a cultural foundation.  Now, Shakespeare is synonymous with bawdy humor and the complex exploration of deep human emotions.  Whoever wrote these works, we are forever indebted to them.  So much of our culture is borrowed, boldly or subtly, from the plays attributed to Shakespeare.  It was a different time and place, but today we benefit from our own understanding of our society, and the fundamental observations of human nature found in the plays and poetry attributed to Shakespeare.

kapokkid's profile pic

kapokkid | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

As an English teacher, I've thought a good bit about it, read a few books on the subject and never came to any real conclusion.  I have started to feel recently that it is irrelevant.  As herappleness said, he may very well have changed his style, if you look at other authors, they've done the same.  Of course few authors are under as much scrutiny as Shakespeare...

But if it wasn't him, if it was actually several people, who cares?  For those of us who enjoy it, it is just as enjoyable, just as intriguing and challenging and fun.  So I just feel like it doesn't matter much, except as a very interesting topic of discussion.

missy575's profile pic

missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I love teaching English, but sometimes, I just want to enjoy what I read. Shakespeare's works all do that for me. I learn to laugh again, love again, and breathe again. No one captures the human experience like he has and I find this whole argument worthless. What are we going to do, go back in time and find out for sure with eye-witness truth who actually wrote them all. I like to think that history's report is accurate and if it's not in this issue, it does not change my future, so let him just be William Shakespeare.

lmetcalf's profile pic

lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

I vote for one man named William Shakespeare.  There are so many commonalities of language, structure,  and themes that it seems very logical that one person wrote all of the plays.  I especially think of all of the word-study that has been done.  There are so many words ONLY used in Shakespeare's plays and not in earlier written works by other authors.  It seems easier to believe that one man wrote them all than to think that two or more people were doing such similar things at the same time.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think the film Shakespeare in Love was interesting in the way that it suggested plot lines were a result of chatting ideas through with a pint. However I, like others, don't think that this means that Shakespeare didn't actually write his own work. I want to believe that he produced his vast range of literature, and I don't appreciate being told that it was impossible!

mshurn's profile pic

Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I vote for Shakespeare, too. I find the "Shakespeare Didn't Write It" folks to be tiresome and pedantic and arrogant. I am reminded of a criticism I read once about The Great Gatsby, one that had been written when the novel was first published. The critic praised the superb artistry of the novel, then observed that Fitzgerald was obviously writing over his head, since he wasn't good enough to have written it! Different century, same attitude!

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Why is it so difficult to believe that a man such as Shakespeare who comes from relatively humble background without much in writing to prove the nature of his education or travels (not uncommon since record-keeping wasn't foolproof and disasters such as fire, flood, theft, etc. occur) could write the amazing body of work we have come to know, study, and love or hate?  My students can't be convinced to try to get past the language, but once they do, they discover, like many of us, that there is beauty in the rhythms, the words, the topics, and the characters. Who's to say that a commoner with extraordinary observation skills couldn't have penned it? 

Of course, there is the idea that those of higher social rank may have written it and used a pseudonym to preserve reputation and status (since writing and acting were considered the equivalent of pornstar today--especially for women).  Although it makes for intriguing hypothesis, I am not moved...I vote for Shakespeare.

kiwi's profile pic

kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

I agree with #3, in that a lot of the conspiracy theories around the work not belonging to Shakespeare amount to him not being the 'sort' of person to write such well-observed and well-expressed literature. I do concur that a lot of the 'original' words and phrases attributed to Shakespeare may well just amount to the first time they were written and taken from popular culture into literary chronicle, and that obviously he utilised histories compiled by others. However, his means of expression and creating a tremendous and inspiring whole from engaging parts is unquestioned by me.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think there's a touch of elitism about the whole thing.  It seems like the skeptics think that Shakespeare couldn't possibly have written the plays because he wasn't educated enough or high class enough.  People like Bacon are more acceptable because at least they were intellectual or high born (Earls of Oxford or Derby).  Anyone but the glover's son...

So I don't buy the theories, but I have no evidence...

herappleness's profile pic

M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think it is an atrocious and a Philistine thing to assume that we are all expected to think, analyze, or write our thoughts every time in the exact, same form (even in our bad days) when, in fact, thoughts are a part of our thinking process --and that changes daily AND considerably!

So, if Shakespeare chose to change his writing style every once in a while, why assume so feverishly that he simply did NOT write at all?

What say you?



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