Friday, November 4, 2011

On Alternative Theories About. . .

One of the things that pisses me off consistently in history is the conjecture that so-and-so couldn't have done this, or couldn't have written that.  So the pyramids had to have been built by the Egyptians (total bullshit), or that the Nazca lines couldn't have been made by the peoples there - again, total bullshit.  To a large extent, a lot of this conjecture is based on racist or classist beliefs.  The fact is, if you give a person enough time, regardless of what time period we're talking about, they can figure out all kinds of shit.  The best example is Leonardo da Vinci, who's sketches we have.  If da Vinci can figure out flying machines and helicopters in the 1400's, then the Egyptians sure as hell could've figured out how to build ramps.

I bring this up because of the recent movie "Anonymous" which puts forth the idea that another man, not William Shakespeare, wrote all of his plays.  The guiding principle of this theory is pure class-ism: no one from Shakespeare's social standing (middle class) could've written such magnificent plays and poetry, and so the writer has to be from the upper classes.  Now, there are a couple of problems with this.  First, if you look at the history of English literature, virtually every single poet of note is decidedly middle class in origin.  Which makes sense, of course, because a writer from the middle/merchant classes of England would: a) have access to education; and, b) actually depend on his writing to eat on a somewhat regular basis.  Desperation is often the best tutor.

Second, if the people they put up as the true writers of Shakespeare - Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, Christopher Marlowe (actually the coolest theory) - don't really hold up to timelines.  Francis Bacon, for instance, dies in 1626, three years after Shakespeare's first folio was published supposedly posthumously.  Edward de Vere dies in 1604 - years before Shakespeare stops writing (1611-ish), and years before Shakespeare's buddies publish the first folio (1623). And Marlowe is dead by 1593 - although, I have to admit the idea that Marlowe faked his death pretty cool.

The other thing about these theories is that they often lack common sense.  If, for instance, Edward de Vere was the true author of Shakespeare's plays but was hiding his authorship for some reason, he would've made sure the "author" wrote for HIS theatre company, and not the competition (who Shakespeare wrote for).  After all, its not as if actors are known for their honesty (and they were worse in Shakespeare's day), and their willingness to not engage in blackmail.  So, if I'm going to be convinced that Shakespeare is not the writer of his plays, I'm going to need a better theory, based on the following principles:

1) The writer has to have been alive from 1593 (when Shakespeare first works appear) and dies prior to 1623.  None of this crap about publishing plays slowly after the writer dies (as in de Vere).  Actors then and now live hand to mouth - if there's money to be made by producing a kickass play, they're going to do it.  Also, the first folio was published in 1623 - which makes some sense for Shakespeare, who dies in 1616, and bequeaths money to for the purchase of mourning rings to the two eventual publishers of the folio (as it would take some time to gather up the plays, find a publisher, etc.,) - but doesn't for de Vere, who kicks it in 21 years prior - why would anyone wait that long.  Also, Bacon doesn't work because he dies three years after the first folio.  Why publish a posthumous folio three years before his death.

2) The writer had to be directly connected to Shakespeare's company.  To think that someone from nobility would risk going to a strange company of actors, have them produce his plays, and not have some degree of control over said actors is crazy.  People in power only deal with people close to them as a rule.  Here, if the writer wanted to hide his identity, he'd want the control or support over the whole company of actors in case something slipped out.

3) The writer would have to be well-regarded in the London literary community - in the years after Shakespeare died, there were close to 18 poems written in his eulogy.  Now sure, some of these eulogies were written in the way that I would write a eulogy for a celebrity I didn't know, but more than a few were written by Shakespeare's friends.  In fact, with the exception of Ben Jonson, no other playwright from the era was better eulogized.  Oh, and all these eulogies start in 1616.

4) The reason to not publish the works under his/her own name better be good. Yeah, playwrights weren't considered respectable writers in their day, but that was because most playwrights sucked.  But, if you were a noble and wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare, wouldn't you at least consider revealing yourself?  The plays sucked up to Queen Elizabeth, sucked up to King James, and were wildly popular. Now, unless the writer of the works had a damn good reason to keep quiet - and I mean a better reason than "it would look bad" - I'm not buying the theory.  The Marlowe theory works because he was about to be arrested for heresy when he died.

So, that said, outside of the Marlowe theory (which works because Marlowe was a spook, and Shakespeare copied the shit out of him early on), I'm not buying it.  To pull it off, a lot of people would have to be involved in a needlessly complicated plot for not a lot of money and then kept their mouths shut - which simply never happens.  In history, whenever such a conspiracy takes place, someone, after everything is said and done, talks, because its human nature to blab about the cool shit you pulled off.  That's why we know every dirty trick the British pulled on the Germans during World War II.  No one even mentioned the potential for other writers until the 1800's.

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