Some 30 years ago, having read Charlton Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare, I found myself embarked on a journey that has taken me through hundreds, perhaps thousands of books, dozens of libraries and archives in the US and UK, in search of the full truth about the Authorship Question. Perhaps the full truth will always escape us, perhaps the full truth about anything isn’t possible, but what I’ve learned has taken me far from the path followed by those who study his works at a university, even from the path followed by most authorship scholars.
With the advent of blogging I found a way to reach people interested in the truth about Shakespeare, people from all over the world, most of whom belong to no particular literary ideology, their enthusiasm coming from a love of his works. This has enabled me to share the bits and pieces of the Shakespeare story as revealed by those who have travelled some part of the same paths of research, from the histories of the period during which he lived and wrote, and from his plays and poems. Where areas devoid of data required conjecture, help came from the biographies of other great writers, other kinds of genius, from my own personal experiences with gifted artists, and with the world of the Stage, which, much like a foreign language, religion, or craft, requires personal involvement to be understood.
About four years ago I reached a point where I realized that these bits and pieces, however interesting, could make sense only when placed in context with each other. In other words, there had to be a book (or two). One such book is finally finished and awaiting the attention of certain trusted readers before beginning the search for a publisher. Actually, the search at this point is more truly for that individual, whether agent, editor or publisher, who “gets it,” who sees the importance of this story, not only to literature, but to English history as well, someone who can help make it available in print to those who care about such things.
Shakespeare is the most famous name from that period in English history, equal or surpassing Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, only approached in terms of cultural importance by Francis Bacon, and yet he remains as unknown as those geniuses from the depths of the past like Homer, Pythagoras, and Lao Tsu. We know more about Alexander the Great than we do about Shakespeare. Clearly he was not, he could not have been, William of Stratford, who exists in literarary history as little more than a two-dimensional icon created first by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Ben Jonson and the publishers of the First Folio, later preserved by the universities for their own purposes.
Why they did this, why so many who obviously saw at least a suggestion of the truth have been persuaded to continue to hide it, is a matter for history, but so far history has failed us. Never very interested in literature as its partner in keeping our cultural record, history provides us with dates and a few biographies, but no story. History begins the story well after the building of the first two public theaters. How and why this happened is one of the as-yet unexplained factors in the Shakespeare story that this book is meant to examine.
A monstrous irony
Perhaps the most important factor in this alternate view of The Question has to do with politics: Crown politics, power politics, university politics, family politics, sexual politics. The constant repetition by Shakespeare scholars of the mantra that the Bard was apolitical, that he had no interest in the issues of his time appears, must appear, to someone who has tracked the damage done to history by the Stratford biography, as a monstrous irony. Clearly Shakespeare was just as important a figure in the history of the Elizabethan era as Queen Elizabeth, the Earl of Essex or Sir Walter Raleigh, more actually, considering what an effect he has had ever since on the entire English-speaking world. But while we have their portraits, all we have of him is a cartoon, and while they have faded into obscurity, particularly for Americans, everyone who speaks English, and many who don’t, know the name Shakespeare, even if they know nothing else about him, so immensely influential is the paper trail he left for posterity four centuries ago, with its bounty of cultural artefacts, characters, names of things, pithy phrases, proverbs, histories, romances.
As is so often the case, what appears to be irony is the space between what appears to be the truth and the truth itself, for Shakespeare is in fact all about politics, the politics of his own time and the higher view of politics as he absorbed it from Aristotle and Plato, politics as the foundation of statesmanship and good governance, politics as “the art of the possible” as it has been described; the path of the karma yogi. Scholars ever since have assumed that Shakespeare’s higher political purpose, when in fact they have percieved that there was one, was explored in his masterworks, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and a dozen others. Shakespeare’s politics was his “caviar for the general,” his favorite audience, the lords, lawyers and parliamentarians known in the parlance of the day as “the gentlemen of the Inns of Court.” That so many of the plays were written with Parliament in mind is just one of the important factors that generations of scholars, misled by the Stratford biography, have failed to grasp.
Among the many truths that have appeared during this 30 years of intellectual adventure, perhaps the most interesting, and the most potentially exciting for future students of the Shakespeare mystery, is the fact––and fact it is, I assure you––that every play he ever wrote was written out of concern with a current political situation, if not as a major issue of the plot, then as background against which the story unfolds. If the plays as we have them from their 1623 versions in the First Folio are the result of at least one and probably a number of revisions over the years, the politics of their inception remains as a clue to the time period of their first creation. Once the inhibitions forced on scholars by the Stratford biography have been permanently expunged, once the plays are free to be seen as products of the history of their times, all difficulties in dating them will automatically vanish, along with all the other “Problems of Chronology” and “Problems of Authenticity,” as defined by E.K. Chambers in his William Shakespeare: Facts and Problems (1930).
Restoring the canon
Oxford, as we should know, had vouchsafed his claim to authorship from the very beginning. What may be less obvious is that the “Shakespeare” that the world sees as the author, has also lost his claim, ironically by the efforts of the very groups that have paid such fealty to the name and to the fiction they’ve created around it. Those that the philologists who claimed ownership of the Shakespeare story in the 19th century regarded as not sufficiently “Shakespearean” were attributed to various of the University Wits in a process E.K. Chambers angrily termed “disintegration.” Nineteenth-century scholars like Frederick Fleay, and Frederick Furnival, 20th-century “bibliographers” like W.W.Greg, R.B. McKerrow, Alfred Pollard, and John Dover Wilson, made careers out of redistributing scenes, bits of scenes, speeches, even whole plays to names like Robert Greene, George Peele, John Lyly, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Watson and Anthony Munday. And still today the process continues with Brian Vickers and others.
Thus was Shakespeare bereft of much of his canon, and his persona stripped of his genius. Seeing him as having entered the theater scene late in its developmental period, beginning as a revisor of old plays (a “play-patcher”), this more or less official version of the Bard learned his craft, it seems, by imitating Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Samuel Daniel, and George Chapman. So while Stratfordians, Oxfordians, Marlovians, Baconians, and Derbyites wrangle over his identity, Shakespeare, his persona diminished to a voiceless cartoon, continues to command the stage in every world center in plays, operas, ballets and concerts based on the works that bear the magical name. (One must wonder how the orthodox can bear the weight of so much absurdity without cracking.)
Yet all of this will change in an instant once it’s understood why Oxford’s authorship was hidden from the beginning; on whose authority it was eliminated later; what series of events caused it be hidden behind the name of an illiterate wool dealer’s son; why Jonson was required to lie about him in the introduction to the First Folio; and why the universities and the Establishment have been so adamant ever since about maintaining the falsehood that has made it impossible to make any sense of the period when the London Stage and the British Free Press first came to life.
When this happens it will finally be clear that the man who created the Shakespeare canon actually created a great deal more than just the 38 plays and 200 poems with which he’s been credited. That in 1576 the first two commercially-successful, purpose-built public theaters ever built in England both made their appearance within weeks of Oxford’s return from Italy goes far to explain what he did with that patrimony that he’s been condemned for wasting by academics like Lawrence Stone and Alan Nelson. Born 17th in a line of English peers that extended back to the tenth century, he traded his prestige, his inheritance, and his very name for the people’s right to have a good time. As creator of our modern Media he belongs in the pantheon of heroes who gave us modern science, technology and medicine. Hopefully this book will be a step towards that goal.
I have a favor to ask
Those of you who have been with me for some time and who I imagine would be interested in a book that deals with these and so many other issues, if you would email me your thoughts on what use it might be to yourselves and other readers, it might help to convince a publisher that the book is worth their time and effort. Please if you will, email these to me at email@example.com. Please include your name, where you live, and anything else you’d like to add. If you wish to remain anonymous, you certainly may, but I would like to know who you are. Thanks in advance. It’s been your interest over the years that’s kept me going.