Why has the true identity of Shakespeare remained hidden for so long?
Partly because there’s more than one answer to the question of why he hid his identity in the first place. And partly because these answers lie buried in widely distributed bits and pieces, throughout the overall political history of the period. A short answer might be that Shakespeare (the poet) was born into one hugely turbulent cultural revolution, and led another, and in the process his authorial identity got lost. But of course this isn’t enough. It’s an answer, not a story, and its the story that convinces.
We need evidence, but during periods when great revolutions are taking place, evidence is often in short supply. Coups, both those that succeed and those that don’t, are planned in secrecy and what evidence remains is often destroyed later by the persons involved, or their adherents. What evidence there is may be ignored by later historians whose allegience is more about protecting the status quo than finding the truth or keeping it alive. In the effort to create the illusion of a smoothly achieved evolution, in this case from a Catholic to a Protestant nation, historians tend to minimize revolution. Like individuals, cultures would prefer to forget, or at least to ignore, the necessary cruelties of the past. If they can’t ignore them, they’ll minimize them with euphemisms.
In addition, because Shakespeare is so important to the English-speaking world, because so much time and money have been invested for so many years by publishers and academics intent on floating the Stratford boat, any effort to look below the waterline ranks as heresy. Partly for this reason, and partly because the question of his authorship is a little too arcane to present in a sexy fashion, books on the subject are not easy to get published; and in today’s vast and volatile book market, even when they do get published they are liable to get lost in the immense and swiftly changing inventory of the mega-bookstores.
Long shots, not close-ups
Books on the Authorship Question have also suffered because they focus far too narrowly on Shakespeare alone. Ever since the late 19th century when the English universities finally began to take an interest in his works, Shakespeare’s plays have been studied as though somehow he existed apart from real events or tangible connections with the other events, writers and patrons of his time.
Also, at the universities, coverage of Early Modern Literature has been subdivided into two areas, those who study Shakespeare and those who study one or more of the other writers of the period. While those who concentrate on Shakespeare tend to accept without question everything their colleagues tell them about the other writers of the period, those who study the other writers tend to accept everything the Shakespeare experts tell them about the Bard. Good fences make good neighbors. Don’t pee in my pool and I won’t pee in yours.
Nevertheless, even to the most heavily indoctrinated, it really should be obvious that, after 400 years of digging through archives, this lack of evidence is due to more than just the ravages of Time. Too much is missing to be an accident. Where are his letters? Where are the comments about him from his fellow writers? Where is the evidence of his education? Of his life as an actor? Most of all, where is the evidence of his life in London?
Shakespeare remains the elephant in the parlor; he may be invisible, but one keeps bumping into him. If we’re to penetrate this mystery we must change tactics, step back, broaden our scope, turn on the infra-red, plug in our psychological geiger counters. With so much missing at the center, only a wider field of inquiry will give us the kind of perspective we need to fill in the blanks.
Those who have come to realize that William of Stratford could not possibly have written the canon that bears his name must also see that before we can hope to establish who did write it, we need to know why the true author, whoever he was, would need or want to hide his identity. This must come before we will be able to agree on his identity.
Nor need we bother to conjecture that he might turn out to be someone we don’t yet know. The invisible elephant may be large, but the parlor itself is very small. The fact is that the community of English writers capable of creating exciting imaginative literature was tiny, while the group involved in hiding the author was almost as small. However hard it may be for us today, when communities are so vast that individuals get lost in the crowd, to understand how small were all Renaissance communities, we must do our best to keep this part of the equation constantly in view. In such a small world, it’s simply not possible that so gifted a man could have remained totally hidden from history.
I say a man because there’s no way that a woman wrote the Shakespeare canon. Although Shakespeare created some strong female characters, his viewpoint from the start was utterly masculine and (almost) entirely in line with the male attitudes of his time. That later he developed a better sense of what it was like to be a woman is testimony to his genius, not evidence that he himself was a woman. It’s nonsense to suggest that a writer of such power could or would sublimate her female nature to the extent necessary to produce the masculine viewpoint found everywhere in Shakespeare. There is a woman writer of genius in this story, but she did not write the Shakespeare canon, although she may well have done some of the editing, since her sons were publishing it.
Shakespeare’s been there all along, hidden in plain sight, but he could only be located through a double prism, literary history joined with mainstream political history. When back in the early 20th century a British schoolteacher took on himself the task of locating the great poet and finally began asking himself the right kind of questions––he found him right away. Following in his footsteps, we need to keep asking the right kind of questions. Only then will we get true answers.
To guess or not to guess
Authorship scholars scorn the orthodox scholars because so much of what they tell us is based on conjecture. So little is known, and that little so oddly unconnected to his works, that either they completely ignore his biography or they conjure something up out of their own––all too limited––experience. Yet conjecture is a necessity. Though it can be done better and more honestly (far too often readers of orthodox biographies are not told that most of what they are reading has absolutely nothing in the way of documentation to support it) when working in areas where there is so little evidence, the historian or biographer must use educated guesswork.
Purists may prefer their ancient statues with the noses missing, but in fact it is the duty of art historians to recreate what’s missing as best they can, always making it obvious that what they’ve added is based on guesswork. Only in this way can they hope to locate its place in the history of Art, or, as with Shakespeare, in world history.
The theory that I offer here is complicated. To do justice to it, to include all the citations required to prove it, would take a book of extraordinary length, possibly several volumes. I am in no position at this time to write such a book, nor is it likely that I ever will be. In fact, I think it’s unlikely that in today’s world more than a handful would actually read such a book, not at least from cover to cover, which is certainly not the kind of deal that either a writer or most publishers would find attractive. It is for this reason that I’m putting most of what I’ve written on this blog. This way readers can focus on those areas they find of most interest at moments when they have time to read.
Nor is this theory entirely mine, for much has come from earlier thinkers, both orthodox and otherwise, whom I do my best to honor. However I do believe I am the first to see the big picture, the probable involvement of these six great writers with each other, and their relation to the handful of names who were fronts for three of them. I can’t possibly recreate their relationships in every detail. Who could? But I can make some suggestions. At the very least I can open up new lines of inquiry, ones that might actually lead to something.
My solution to the Authorship Question may not resolve every issue. It won’t please everyone. It may not please anyone. It may not even be true. But what it can do is: first, resolve problems and account for anomalies in ways that no other theory has achieved; and second, point the way for further and more complete answers.
Scholars who have focused on the works of Marlowe, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Kyd, John Lyly, John Webster, etc., will be horrified to see the works they’ve studied partially or completely reassigned to other writers. However, in History as in Medicine and Politics, when things go radically astray, seemingly radical measures are required to put them straight. Remember, the primary meaning of the word radical is “of or from the root,” so radical measures are simply an effort to eliminate confusion by returning to basics, to square one, and starting again from there.
Back to basics
Now that we have the Internet, much of the information on which this thesis depends is available through any search engine, on Wikipedia, on a number of other blogs and websites, and through books.google.com, etc. This way references can be checked immediately. No longer does a question have to depend on membership in university libraries, time-consuming trips to the Folger, the Huntington, or the British Library, on weeks of waiting for books to arrive at a local library through ILL (Interlibrary Loan). You don’t have to take what I say for granted. As quickly as thought itself, you can follow up on a question and form your own opinions. If that doesn’t get you what you’re looking for, please ask me directly though the QUESTIONS page.
This brave new world that hath such websites in it, with blogging and interactive pages that allow writers and readers to communicate almost as quickly as thought, has made communicating much more simple and direct. When a particularly important text can’t be found on the web it can often be purchased cheaply in paperback through an online bookstore. For all of these I give as much information as I can, and will do my best to keep it up to date.
Please respond. That’s what this is all about.