Just finish it. That's what I keep telling myself every time I pick up another book this summer. I've read a few these past two months, but nowhere near as many as I would have liked. But I've started more books than normal. Jude the Obscure, The Line of Beauty, Where Angels Fear to Tread and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I've started and read at least 25 pages in each over the past three days and that doesn't count the incredible biography of Edward de Vere,Shakespeare: By Another Name by journalist Mark Anderson.
Time for some self-prescribed discipline. I intend to finish Forster's Where Angels Fear to Trend this week and then get into Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty. That's that.
Now that my schedule's in place I've been wanting to write about Anderson's stunning work that claims Edward de Vere is in fact the author of Shakespeare's work. I don't necessarily care who wrote the plays, whether it be William Shakespeare the actor, Edward de Vere, or anyone else, but I do want to know is who wrote them. I think it's integral to our history, to the understanding of ourselves, to know the truth and it won't change the significance of the plays...at least not to me.
After about five pages, I was mesmerized by the parallels Anderson was making between de Vere (the Earl of Oxford) and the Shakespeare plays. After 100 pages I've nearly been convinced that William Shakespeare the actor was not the author.
There are some passages that hit upon the improbability of the actor Shakespeare even being able to write some of the plays. Anderson explains that Laurence Nowell was de Vere's tutor at Lord Burghley's estate in 1563 when he translated the only known copy of Beowulf in the English language and inscribed it to de Vere.
Beowulf and the original Hamlet myth ("Amleth") are cousins from the same family of Scandanavian folklore. Shake-speare uses both as sources for Hamlet. Once Hamlet kills his uncle Claudius, Shake-speare stops following "Amleth" and starts following Beowulf. It is Beowulf who fights the mortal duel with poison and sword; it is Beowulf who turns to his loyal comrade (Wiglaf in Beowulf; Horatio in Hamlet) to recite a dying appeal to carry his name forward; and it is Beowulf that carries on after its hero's death to dramatize a succession struggle for the throne brought on by an invading foreign nation.
By the time Hamlet was written and performed, I'm sure William Shakespeare may have had opportunity to read the myth and make it his own, but in de Vere, it was ingrained in him.
And, though not definitive in any sense of the word, de Vere's life is too similar to the plays to be mere coincidence.
Perhaps the most autobiographical play in Shakespeare is Hamlet, with multifarious connections to de Vere's life that are discussed in nearly every chapter of this book. For example, when de Vere was traveling through France at age twenty-six, he encountered a Teutonic prince who paraded his troops before de Vere's eyes. Soon thereafter, de Vere boarded a ship that was overtaken by pirates, and de Vere was stipped naked and left on the English shore. In Act 4 of Hamlet, in a sequence that is in no known source text for the play, Hamlet first witnesses the invading Prince Fortinbras's troops and then boards a ship that is overtaken by pirates, in an ordeal that leaves a humiliated Hamlet stripped naked on the Danish shore.
Though the books is saturated with such assurances, there are sure to be many people who either won't read the book or who would read the book, but still defend Shakespeare the actor. To each their own. I've had a few discussions with friends about de Vere and the authorship of Shakespeare's plays and I've been met with much resistance. I don't know if it's too much of a change to the fundamentals of our lives if Shakespeare the actor was nothing more than a performer and not the author of our memories. But if de Vere is the true man behind the greatest literature, why not give credit to the man who has lived in the shadows for too long? It is plausible and so far, probable.
Mark Anders "Shakespeare" By Another Name
E.M. Forster Where Angels Fear to Tread
Alan Hollinghurst The Line of Beauty
Charles Nicholl The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe
Thomas Hardy Jude the Obscure
Susanna Clarke Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell