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William Shakespeare was William Shakespeare

Sorting through a pile of read-but-won’t read-again books to take to the charity shop – lack of available walls and shelf space means ruthless rules apply for real books, and they have to earn their places. Around 1000 is the limit to books I can home and a one-out one-in restricted policy is in operation. Not enforced as rigorously as needed, but that’s another story. What’s so wrong in sitting on a pile of books because the chairs have become bookshelves?

Anyway………….I discovered amongst a stacked pile, an as yet unread book, a novel in the form of a long narrative poem, called The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber.

I got this originally because a novel in poetic form seemed interesting. And I believe is well written. But, but……..I discovered that it is yet another book (albeit in interesting and imaginative, rather than scholarly research form) attempting to prove that Shakespeare was NOT Shakespeare, but some other. In this case (not AGAIN!) Christopher Marlowe.

And this explains why I haven’t yet embarked on the book, distracted by the sound and fume of rapidly boiling blood and spitting invective (mine)

Why? WHY? and even WHY is so much scholarly effort designed (wasted?) on attempting to disprove one William Shakespeare, from being The Onlie Begetter

To me, it smacks first of all of the steeped-in class prejudice of British society – as many of those whom researchers claim to be our Bard were Lords and Knights – Sir Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, William Stanley, Earl of Derby are three. The ‘Shakespeare is NOT Shakespeare’ arguments did not arise at the time – or anywhere near the time – not in fact till about 250 years after his death, in the mid-nineteenth century. I wonder what it was about the zeitgeist of THOSE times that began this (to me) bizarre idea that Shakespeare was a cover for a lordling. Now that might make for an interesting project – why did those denizens of THOSE times (and do those denizens of ours) doubt the man himself when no whiff of this existed previously?

The arguments are basically around ‘how can someone who is not a member of the Title_page_William_Shakespeare's_First_Folio_1623aristocracy with formal classical education have the wide knowledge shown in ‘Shakespeare’s’ plays’. They claim that WS was some sort of stooge to hide behind so that the powerful, great and good, could espouse views which maybe they would be a little fearful of owning so close to the seat of power as they were.

Sadly, it seems ’twas ever thus, the disparaging of the idea of brilliance arising outside a background of privilege. In fact, although i would never devalue education, or formal education, like everything else it can have its drawbacks as well as advantages. And one drawback can be thinking which is TOO disciplined, too rigid, too received, and curiously the inhibition of wild creativity and originality.

And this is no sour grapes – I’ve been through the whole educational process, and am a product of an Eng. Lit degree. However, I somehow seem to meet people who self-educated. are intelligent, thoughtful, and often seem to think outside the box. Obviously, at its best, education does challenge students to original thought, but there is a strong toe-the-received-thought-of-the day also at work. My modern experience with original thinkers from unusual backgrounds. absolutely squares up with Will being Will, and not Sir Earl of somewhere or other

It is Shakespeare’s origins from outside the court and the University which makes him able to write both the courtly and the common man (and woman)

And, more than all, it seems to me that an actor is well placed to be a playwright. The actor tastes the playwright’s words, gives the two dimensional words weight and viscera, embodies them. The actor has to be able to imagine and inhabit ‘other’ from within. Who better than an actor to create words that ‘speak’ differently, character upon character. 

As for Marlowe………….well,  sure, some fine and elevated language, particularly Dr Faustus, but, really!  Where is the evidence in Marlowe’s known wirting of the wonderful complexity and difference of character found in Shakespeare. Sure the ‘stories’ Shakespeare uses are from others (most stories are) There is a limit to the variations on Boy Finds Girl, Boy Loses Girl, or even King Finds Crown, King Loses Crown that narrative gives – but what really makes narrative sing is the textured complexity of character

Commons Wikimedia

Commons Wikimedia

However Beautifully Ros Barber writes, I am back to feelings of unease when literature abuses real characters. And even more so when a kind of arrogance denies genius, depth, and astonishing psychological and philosophical perception to the common man.

Okay, must go and do some work on my scholarly thesis proving that Samuel Pepys was really Sir Christopher Wren, Charles Dickens was really Edward Lear, and that the author of Wuthering Heights was really Karl Marx. My thanks for this valuable aid to research (and, who knows, gentle reader, your chance for some similarly unscholarly research of your own) goes to openplaques.org

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