Enough with the conspiracy theories, says one author: Shakespeare really was Shakespeare
Despite theories like those in the new movie 'Anonymous' that William Shakespeare was someone else entirely, drama professor Scott McCrea says conspiracy theories surrounding the playwright are all false.
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He's one of the few playwrights who had his name on plays during his lifetime, but he was not a household name. If you didn't go to the theater, you would never have heard of William Shakespeare.Skip to next paragraph
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It was really only after the publications of his work after his death that people started reading him, looking at how wonderful these plays were.
Q: What do you think is the best argument that Shakespeare wasn't actually Shakespeare?
A: In 1599, Shakespeare writes a poem. He's 34, but he refers to himself as old compared to his mistress. That's the only real discrepancy. But it was a poetic device, and it was different to be 34 in 1599, when life expectancy was shorter.
Q: Or he just may have had a much younger mistress and felt old for that reason. I know I would have if that happened to me at 34. But moving on! Why do you think smart people believe these outlandish conspiracy theories?
A: Part of it is an unawareness of that time. They don't read other writers of the Elizabethan period, and they don't understand that we don't know a lot about any of the writers of the time.
They don't understand that Shakespeare used sources. The plots of his plays don't come from personal experience, even though he seems to be able to get inside the heads of dukes, earls and kings.
It's a failure of imagination and a failure of knowledge.
Q: A lack of imagination about his imagination?
A: That is really at the root of the authorship question and all of the conspiracy theories.
Q: This is all very interesting, but why does this matter who Shakespeare was?
A: It's reductive when you read the plays, and you think they're merely disguised political history, works of allegory rather than works of art. It alters what the plays are actually about.
Q. What do you think is really going on in the minds of the skeptics?
A: It's a bit of envy. I think of Pericles' funeral oration: "For men can endure to hear others praised only so long as they can severally persuade themselves of their own ability to equal the actions recounted: when this point is passed, envy comes in and with it incredulity."
Men can endure others to be praised as long as they can persuade themselves of their own ability. Then envy comes in and incredulity: if this ordinary guy can do it, I should be able to do it. But if I can't do it, then he must not have been able to do it.
Randy Dotinga is a regular contributor to the Monitor’s books section.