The literary works of William Shakespeare have been touted through the ages as some of the greatest ever written. But did Shakespeare really write all of those plays, sonnets and poems?
Dr. Robert McQuitty, Northeastern State University English professor emeritus, hoped to settle the long-standing dispute during a recent discussion hosted by Tahlequah Friends of the Library.
Little is known about Shakespeare’s early life, outside of the fact that at age 18, he married Anne Hathaway, whom he divorced two years later after the couple had three children.
McQuitty said Shakespeare, after arriving in London some time later, acquired debt, defaulted on property taxes, bought a mansion and loaned money to others at high interest rates.
In 1598, the bard was named a principal actor in a play by Ben Johnson, and a year later, he purchased interest in the Globe Theater. Soon after, Shakespeare’s name appeared on a number of plays, but he also often wrote under a pen name, William Shaxberd.
McQuitty said these snippets of information create questions about the kind of man Shakespeare was, and whether he actually had the talent to create the works for which he’s credited.
“Shakespeare had the largest vocabulary of any known writer,” said McQuitty. “He introduced 3,000 new words into the English language.”
McQuitty pointed out Shakespeare’s use of language suggests an expansive background in a number of subjects – including the law, military, mythology, mysticism, painting, musical terms and travel.
“Yet there is no evidence that Shakespeare had a background in any of these areas,” he said.
While Johnson declared Shakespeare the author of the plays, the bard himself never rejected or claimed authorship.
There are no manuscripts in Shakespeare’s handwriting, and twice he was accused of plagiarism.
McQuitty offered six candidates who could be viable authors of the body of work credited to Shakespeare: philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon, viscount of St. Alban; Edward deVere, earl of Oxford; William Stanley, earl of Derby; Roger Manners, earl of Rutland; poet/playwright Christopher Marlowe; and a group of other writers.
“Was it Sir Francis Bacon?” asked McQuitty. “Bacon was an educated man, had knowledge of the law, traveled in France, and had a large vocabulary, but no military experience, and he wrote in a distinctly different style.”
Edward deVere, like Bacon, was an educated man who was also familiar with the law, a member of the aristocracy, knew army and navy terms, and had a reputation as a poet and writer of comedies. But deVere died 12 years before Shakespeare, and there is no manuscript in deVere’s handwriting.
Stanley, another educated man with a background similar to Bacon’s and deVere’s, was a patron of the theater, but according to McQuitty, was a weak writer with no poems or plays to his credit.
McQuitty said Rutland paralleled some of the characters in Shakespeare’s plays, but he was probably too young to have been the author, as 14 plays had already been written by the time Rutland turned 20.
McQuitty said there is strong evidence of a collaboration between Shakespeare and Marlowe, a known and respected playwright.
“He influenced Shakespeare’s writing, and their styles prove to be identical in statistical studies,” said McQuitty. “But the critics say Marlowe’s writing is not as good as Shakespeare’s. And we must believe Marlowe lived on after his recorded death in 1593 and kept turning out Shakespeare’s plays [if we believe Marlowe is the author].”
Program participants cast ballots, voting for the candidate they believed most likely to have written Shakespeare’s works. Of 30 respondents, 20 indicated they believe William Shakespeare wrote his own plays, sonnets and poems; two said they believe Marlowe was the author, and two said they believe Marlowe “might” be the author; three voted for a consortium of writers led by Shakespeare; and three said the works “might have been written by a group led by the bard; one believes a group headed by deVere is responsible for the writing.”
Participant Justin Carnes said he’s skeptical one man could create such a volume of work.
“I believe Shakespeare’s plays were written by a secret society of the greatest minds n Elizabethan England,” said Carnes. “It seems unlikely that any one man could have such knowledge of diverse subjects [as dealt with in the plays], particularly for a man with Shakespeare’s limited formal education.”
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