Students crowded into New Cabell 345 last night to listen to beloved Medieval Literature professor, John Parker, address a topic that has been receiving a lot of light as of late due to the recent movie Anonymous: whether Shakespeare wrote all thirty-seven plays and various conspiracy theorists that answer “no” to this very intriguing question.
Professor Parker does believe that William Shakespeare did write the plays, but he also agrees that in some of that bard’s works, including Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, and Henry VIII, he did have some assistance. On the title page of Henry VIII, Shakespeare does acknowledge that a man by the name of John Fletcher did assist him in writing this play and there is a possibility that Shakespeare was a sort of mentor to John Fletcher.
Professor Parker spent the first few minutes of the talk addressing Shakespeare’s life and the chronology of the writing of his plays. There is not a date that Shakespeare was born, but there is written proof that he was baptized on April 26, 1564. He was most likely born a few days before that. Some theorists like to toy with the idea that he was born on April 23rd, which is St. George’s Day, the day of Saint George, the patron saints, death. This also happened to be the day, in 1616, Shakespeare’s death is recorded.
There is no record of Shakespeare’s schooling, but he most likely went to the Stratford grammar school, where all young men received their education. There is no record of a college education to speak of. This is one of the main reasons that Shakespeare is so discredited by scholars. They do not believe that an uneducated man was capable of writing all of those famous plays.
One of the first theories was created by Delia Bacon, who claimed that Sir Francis Bacon was the true author of the plays. She was very dedicated to her cause and it eventually was the reason for her institutionalization. She claimed that there were ciphers in the plays she claimed were written by Sir Bacon that gave proof that he was the true author, one specifically in Love’s Labors Lost. This theory was quickly disproven.
She also became obsessed with finding Bacon’s body since she claimed that it was not where he was said to be buried, so she thought that he was buried in Shakespeare’s grave. She attempted to dig up his grave, but did not succeed. She also claimed that she could communicate with the spirit of Sir Francis Bacon. She was soon institutionalized and died there.
Another common theory was that a man named Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, also wrote the plays accredited to Shakespeare. This theory was created by a man named Loony. However, there is one major problem with this theory. De Vere died in 1604. Very few of Shakespeare’s plays are dated, but one that is dated is The Tempest, which was written in 1609.
In a joking manner, Professor Parker said, “I’m sure it’s possible that de Vere could have faked his death.” Along with this, Loony also claimed that Queen Elizabeth was no more a virgin than Shakespeare actually was Shakespeare and that Queen Elizabeth and de Vere had a child together and that is the man that we know as William Shakespeare.
A comment was also made by one of the theorists that there is no way that a woman could have written any of these works. They said that the only woman that could have possibly written these works was Queen Elizabeth which, also, is false. The author had to be a man, and an educated one at that. No one ever mused that is was “Joe the Butler” down the street that wrote these plays. Professor Parker said that one of his favorite authors is William Faulkner and, for some reason, there are never any conspiracy theories about his novels. No one ever says, “You don’t think that drunk hick wrote those novels. I’ve got my money on a Princeton man.”
As a final note, Professor Parker said, “There is a madness to what we do, as lovers of literature, and there is a certain paranoia to it. The conspiracy theorists are the product of what we do and the paranoia that we don’t let in.”