Pauline Presents… An Introduction to the Great Shakespearean Authorship Debate

Poster for film Anonymous

In 2012, I published Not Wisely but Too Well, an epistolary, biographical novel narrated by William Shakespeare. This was intended to be the first volume of four and covered Shakespeare’s early life until 1593, just before his name first appeared in print. Unlike the subject of my first novel, The Slave, Shakespeare was virtually unknown to me until I picked up a book in my library called Who Wrote Shakespeare? by John Michell which introduced me to the fascinating Shakespearean Authorship Debate. It was through this backdoor so to speak, that I discovered the mystery that is William Shakespeare and, through him, Christopher Marlowe.

This time I had to do lots of research, which I loved. I have very fond memories of the summer I spent in the State Library of Victoria chasing enthralling rabbits down intriguing rabbit-holes. I loved the research so much, I believe I may have spent more time writing it up than I did writing the novel. I started recording it in a blog which eventually became a book, Deconstructing Shakespeare: the Lost Years, which is about twice as long as the novel itself. I have published several articles based on that research in Medium and I have ideas for a few more. It was as I was contemplating these that I realised that I had enough material to take my Shakespeare stories out of The History Buff and into a publication of their own which I’ve dubbed Shakespeare and his World.

The categories in Shakespeare and his World are Shakespeare and Friends — biographical and historical essays about Shakespeare, his contemporaries and the Elizabethan theatre — Doubts and Questions — reflections on the Authorship Debate and other tantalising Shakespearean mysteries — Plays on Screen — reviews of filmed versions of Shakespeare’s plays with recommendations regarding their educational value — and Reflections — my own thoughts and findings about Shakespeare and his works.

As it’s where I began my journey of discovery of Shakespeare, I thought I might start with the Doubts and Questions category.

Shakespearean scholars lay great store by a diatribe by fellow playwright, Robert Greene, in his deathbed pamphlet in which he ranted against a member of the theatrical fraternity that he believed had sorely wronged him, calling him an ‘Upstart Crow’ among other things. Leaping on Greene’s use of the epithet ‘Shake-scene’ they insist he must be talking about Shakespeare, but none of what Greene says is true because he’s writing out of pure jealousy. At the same time, the anti-Stratfordians, those who believe anyone but Shakespeare wrote the canon, jump on this morsel to claim that Shakespeare was nothing but a front man who stole other people’s work. But what if they’ve all got it wrong? In The Upstart Crow in Borrowed Feathers I explore the strong possibility that Greene wasn’t referring to Shakespeare at all.

One of the most popular contenders for the title of the ‘Real’ Shakespeare is Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford and the 2011 film Anonymous purported to make de Vere’s case. In fact, the film was so egregiously wrong on so many historical points that it did his cause more harm than good. I came out of the cinema so irritated by the film that I went home and wrote a point-by-point critique of its claims which I called Anonymous: a fraud indeed.

If you’ve been to Stratford-upon-Avon, no doubt you went to Holy Trinity Church to see the Shakespeare monument and his grave. Did you come away feeling a little disappointed and uneasy? Not to worry, they’ve had the same effect on people for the last 400 years. In The Mystery of the Stratford Monument I explore why this might be the case.

You can’t be as famous as Shakespeare without attracting the wrong kind of attention. In Faking Shakespeare: Tales of Forgery, Theft and Deception I explore three cases where the temptation to take advantage of Shakespeare’s fame proved irresistible.

As I said earlier, I’ll be adding a few more articles to this category, so stay tuned to Shakespeare and his World.

Have any of your friends been bending your ear about Shakespeare not writing Shakespeare? Return the favour and pass this newsletter onto them.

If your friend is a member of Medium they can sign up to this newsletter here below or if they aren’t they can sign up to my email newsletter here and read my stories for free.