Who the F*** is Shakespeare?
“To blog or not to blog, that is the question.” But what does that ridiculous word mean? How the hell can I be expected to “blog,” when I don’t understand what it is? Someone has deliberately made fun of my most often quoted line.
I suppose that man Shakspere was to blame, from the village of Stratford-upon-Avon, somewhere in the Midlands, not Stratford-atte-Bow near my own residence of later years. I recollect that he had some shares in my Blackfriars Theatre, and he would boast of once playing the Ghost in Hamlet. He got caught out on his taxes and was fond of suing people—and yet when an illicit version of my Sonnets was published after my death he never thought a moment about suing. And some people pretend he wrote them!
Of course, he has a ridiculous monument in the Stratford Church, for which drawings of the original make perfectly clear it was of a local farmer holding a sack of corn, as was appropriate for a man whose name was pronounced “Sháxper.” Later he was given a pen, supposedly to show me, “Shakespeare,” writing on a pillow! He never even taught his daughters to read, and had no books in his house: there was no money for them of course. No documents in his hand except for signatures on his will, which look as though he could barely write himself. While I had a totally legible “secretary” hand, demonstrated in surviving letters that have now been published, particularly to my guardian, William Cecil, Lord Burghley (Chancellor to Queen Elizabeth). In his house I received the best of education, going on to study law at Gray’s Inn and receiving degrees from both Cambridge and Oxford.
I was born as the 17th Earl at Castle Hedingham, where my father had a company of actors that performed before the Queen. I should also make it clear that I first used the name “Shake-Speare” with a hyphen (to indicate that it was a pseudonym) when I addressed my patron, Henry Wriotheley, Earl of Southampton. Let me draw a veil over that since he was far more than a patron, and our relationship has given rise to different interpretations, some claiming, on the “evidence” of my Sonnets, that it was a homosexual one, while others maintain that he was my son by the so-called Virgin Queen herself.
My later biographers, with no direct evidence, indeed have a great deal of fun with their speculations! They even refer to the Queen as the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, rather than Anne Vavasour (who gave birth to my one illegitimate son), or my second wife, Elizabeth Trentham. Then, of course, there was my reputation of being the “Spear-Shaker,” referred to by the poet Gabriel Harvey when he wrote “Thy countenance shakes spears.” Plus the fact that a lion shaking a broken spear was said to be part of my heraldic crest as Viscount Bolebec!
Perhaps the name “Shakespeare” was the result of the slanderous preface in the so-called First Folio of my works put together after my death by that hack playwright, Ben Johnson. Worst of all, its cover showed the best-known portrait supposedly of me by Martin Droeshout (a Dutchman who never even saw me in my lifetime) that makes it look as though I had two left eyes!
Or perhaps Christopher Marlowe was to blame, that infamous spy who died too early to have written my works, but now some critics maintain that he wasn’t killed at all. Or even Francis Bacon, supposedly putting all kinds of riddles into my plays showing that he was the author, regardless of the fact that he was so busy with affairs of state that he had no time for artistic creation.
So my question remains, “Who the f*** was Shakespeare?” Well of course I collaborated with others, particularly my secretary John Lyly, Anthony Munday, and my uncle, Arthur Golding, who couldn’t have translated Ovid’s Metamorphoses himself without my assistance. Hiding behind a pseudonym was partly at the insistence of Burghley, since playwrights and actors had a bad reputation that no aristocrat could possibly admit to. As it was, I was known as “The Madcap Earl.” Burghley had an interest of his own since I was left an orphan at an early age, which gave him the right to “manage” my inheritance—well you know what that means. He then married me to his daughter, Anne, whom I rejected after I suspected her of giving birth to another man’s child, but then she died in good time, thank God, and eventually Burghley died too. After which, his hunchback son Robert became Lord Chancellor and introduced me to James Stuart, who was always trying to feel me up.
So there are all kinds of theories about me and, in recent years, a number of serious studies of my own life, with not only books but plays as well. There is a website devoted to those who have doubts about Shakespeare, www.DoubtAboutWill.org, and a play I like very much, entitled “The Loss of My Good Name,” that can be found on line at www.acolinwright.ca.