The play’s the thing and Shakespeare’s the author, says new book - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - April 23, 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


All the world may be a stage, and all the men and women players, but there is only one playwright.

To mark the 449th birthday of William Shakespeare, a new book, Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, aims to eliminate any questions surrounding the authorship of the Bard’s plays.

Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, have edited the volume, which includes contributions from eminent Shakespeare scholars. The book addresses claims that other 16th-century English writers – most notably Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford – were responsible for penning the plays.

Shakespeare’s reputation has been subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for some time. But what prompted Professor Wells to take action was the fact that questions over the authorship of the plays are now entering the academic and cultural mainstream in Britain and the US.

Brunel University in London, UK, offers an MA degree in Shakespeare authorship studies. And Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, houses a Shakespeare Authorship Research Center. An online document, declaring “reasonable doubt” about the authorship of the plays, has garnered more than 2,500 signatures, including those of English actors Derek Jacobi and Jeremy Irons.

Hollywood director Roland Emmerich, who also signed the declaration, was responsible for the 2011 film Anonymous, which presented Shakespeare as an illiterate buffoon and the Earl of Oxford as the true author of the plays.

Many of these claims have their root in the suspicion that only those to the manor born are capable of producing great literature. “Who thinks Shakespeare couldn’t have been a good writer because his father was a tradesman? Snobs, that’s who,” said historian Alex von Tunzelmann.

And, in a letter to The New York Times, Harvard English professor Stephen Greenblatt said that teaching about the authorship controversy was “the exact equivalent of current arguments that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution… Should claims that the Holocaust did not occur also be made part of the standard curriculum?”

But William Leahy, head of Brunel University’s school of arts, insists that Shakespeare could both a borrower and a lender be. He claims that the plays and poems were written by a number of people, including the man himself. “I receive hate mail on a regular basis,” he added.

This is not the only Bardic debate currently raging. Organizers of the Titchfield Festival Theatre in Hampshire, UK, this week claimed to have evidence that Shakespeare worked for three years as a schoolmaster at their local school


1.) How much do you already know about Shakespeare? How many of his plays can you name?

2.) How far is your appreciation of a work of art affected by what you know about its creator? Does it matter who the writer of a text is?

3.) What do you think of the suggestion that only well-educated people from good families can be great writers or artists?

4.) What is 'great literature'? How do we decide and who makes the decision?