It’s an election year! Debates are raging and people are taking stands on various issues. They are right and the others are left! So I’m going to jump into the middle of a very important, very critical issue. And I have a point of view which I will vehemently argue. So. The issue at hand. Did Shakespeare write his plays, or was he just a rube for some educated nobleman? My stand… Here goes… Shakespeare actually wrote the plays.
One of the main arguments against him is this verse carved on his grave at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon:
“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake, forebear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man who spares these stones,
and cursed be he, who moves my bones.”
The argument goes that since this poem isn’t very good compared to the poetry in his plays, Shakespeare actually wasn’t much of a writer. Well, true, this poem isn’t very good. But I suspect the reverse is the case – that Shakespeare wasn’t the author of his epitaph, but he wrote everything else. People generally do not plan for their own funerals. More than likely one of his actor friends came up with this piece after Shakespeare’s death. The town fathers asked the actor to write something Shakespeare-like, he wrote up this piece that was carved into the stone. I’ve been to Holy Trinity Church at Stratford. He’s buried right in front of the altar, and there’s also a little bust of him mounted on the wall. It has all the trappings of a small town boy done “good.” The Stratford-Upon-Avon leaders had these modest commemoratives made and then moved on with their busy lives.
The argument that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays also doesn’t jive with how plays are created. The playwriting process is always the same. You write a script that looks really brilliant on the computer screen (during this time, parchment). You then have a table reading with a group of actors, and the blemishes and concerns emerge. Some combinations of words are hard to say. The director feels this scene would be tough to stage and suggests ideas. An actor complains he/she doesn’t have enough to do. At this point in the process, it’s about negotiation.
Now imagine the actors of the King’s Men, in rehearsal, reading the new play. The King’s Men are the most popular theatre company in London and the play opens in three weeks. Since the nobleman who was really writing the plays wasn’t in the room, somebody would have to take copious notes and run them to said nobleman. The changes would need to be written pretty quickly, and then the script runner would need to hoof it back to the theatre. What if Richard Burbage, most likely the director of these plays, didn’t like the changes? More script running. Supposedly the King’s Men created over thirty plays in this way. I think somebody would’ve gotten crabby and blabbed.
The other part of the argument is whether Shakespeare had the knowledge to write the plays. How could a small town man possibly know about all of those things written in the plays? Only an educated nobleman could have the time to understand the world and all its intricacies. (Given my background, this argument really raises my hackles.) Again I think the reverse is true. Only someone who came from a small town could understand the world in this way.
A small town like Stratford is similar to a large town like London. Stratford had its upper classes, and it would be filled with a variety of people doing a variety of interesting professions. Shakespeare would’ve learned a lot from that community. But like a lot of young rural men, he wanted more of the world and ended up in London. You can gather a lot of knowledge in a short period of time, especially if you’re ambitious and that’s what it takes to get where you wish to go. Shakespeare’s plays have characters both noble and common. If the author of the plays was a nobleman, he’d have a hard time identifying with grave diggers and drunks. But a kid from Stratford would know these people very well, and rubbing those common characters up against royal characters would make a foundation for some incredible playwriting. Evidence enough, methinks.