Tom Dodge: By Shakespeare? | KERA News

Tom Dodge: By Shakespeare?

Dallas, TX –

He's the one writer Hollywood can't seem to get enough of. There've been several adaptations of Shakespeare's works over the last decade or so. A new film taking aim at the writer himself - sort of - prompted a commentary from Tom Dodge.

In another of those big myth-deflating movies, it's Shakespeare this time being demythologized and it's about the so-called Shakespeare Question, who was William Shakespeare?"

Here's what little we do know about the traditional Shakespeare, pertinent to his being the great and famous author. He was born to an illiterate glove-maker, John Shaksper, in Stratford, England, in 1564. He went to the sixth grade in school. He went to London as a young man, where he worked as a minor actor. His entire literary output, or all that exists, consists of five signatures, written in the crabbed hand of an illiterate person. Each is spelled differently from the other. Three were affixed to his will, the other two on property deeds. Only two or three of his contemporaries ever implied that he could write.

In a day when the only method of distant communication was letter writing, when every educated person wrote them on a regular basis, and authors wrote them by the thousands, he apparently wrote not one. Also, in a day when all literate people, certainly authors, owned books, he mentioned no library in his will, not even one book, but he listed some kitchen items, and his famous "second-best bed."

As a result, doubts began arising in the 1700s. Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud were Shakespeare agnostics and, in our own day, William F. Buckley, Jr. His magazine, The National Review, published a series of articles on the subject. Some believed there was not one but multiple authors, that "Shakespeare" simply became the unwitting heir to the pseudonym on the First Folio. It is a fact that a contemporaneous theatre owner and impresario named Philip Henslowe kept a diary in which he listed his accounts paid for plays later attributed to Shakespeare like Troilus and Cressida and Julius Caesar, but which were written by others.

As the skeptics grew slowly, the Shakespeare myth grew exponentially until today when it encapsulates a multi-billion dollar industry. The myth-busting movie will be as a flea nibbling on a buffalo.

Though no one knows the true author, scholars of the past have favored Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon. Since the 1920s, their favorite has been Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. He is the subject of Anonymous, opening October 28. Oxford was born in 1550 and died in 1604. He wrote lyric poetry, which scholars say bears a Shakespeare-like quality, and he fits the age and has other fitting attributes. The first two of his poems I read, "Loss of Good Name" and "I am not who I seem to be," do recall the famous "who steals my purse steals trash" speech from Othello, and "I am not what I am," from the same play.

This similarity proves nothing, of course, and I'm not qualified to be a skeptic, but I did write a piece for the college newspaper where I taught in 1988 in which I made these and other points. One bright student took the matter seriously and did some heavy research, then wrote in to try to disabuse me of what she considered my apostasy. She even made plans to go to the Bodleian Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library to find the research necessary to prove William's unimpeachable right to his authorship.

I was happy to get her so interested in Shakespeare. It was one of my best moves as a teacher. Now, let's see what the movies can do.

Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.

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