(Although William Shakespeare does not feature as an individual in Tony Thistlewood’s contemporary mystery Stealing Tomorrow’s Thunder, the fascinating question of the true authorship of the works usually attributed to him is raised in the book, and an answer is suggested. And why not, after all, the central character, Rosalind Parsons, is an expert on the subject, while Professor Howard Colebrook thinks he is an expert.)
An open letter to William Shakespeare
Mr William Shakespeare
Dear Mr Shakespeare,
Look, I know you were a genius and added more words to the English language than any other person in history, living or dead. And I am sure that I speak for everyone, when I say that we are enormously grateful to you for all your delightful and extraordinary plays and poems, as well as your immense contribution to the English language. (Well, when I say everyone, perhaps I should exclude a few schoolchildren that are still made to learn off by heart some of your lengthy, yet quite wonderful, soliloquies)
But how many plays did you actually write, Mr Shakespeare? Let me see, there were thirty-six plays in the First Folio published in 1623. However, two others, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and The Two Noble Kinsmen were not included in the First Folio. Why was that Mr Shakespeare? Why did your friends, John Heminges and Henry Condell who published the First Folio, omit those two plays? Did they know, perhaps, that John Fletcher was the author and not you? And whatever happened to those two lost plays, Love’s Labour’s Won and The History of Cardenio? Didn’t you write them either, or weren’t they worth keeping?
While I am on the subject of the First Folio, what about that dreadful engraving on the cover? I have included a copy of it here to jog your memory...
...er... Oh, dear! You never saw it, did you - probably just as well. I mean, really, what was Martin Droeshout thinking about? The man was a competent engraver by all accounts, so why did he produce such a travesty of a portrait?
You don't have to be an artist to see the mistakes: your head is far too large for your body; you look as if you have two right arms; and nobody, but nobody, could get into that collar.
I am aware that Droeshout was only twenty-two when he engraved it – perhaps he improved with age.
Little wonder that Ben
Jonson was so disparaging about the portrait in his commendation inside
the First Folio:
Wherein the Graver had a strife
with Nature, to out-do the life:
Your friend, Ben, was spot
on there, wasn’t he, Mr Shakespeare? And what about his last two lines:
Not on his Picture, but his Book
Now what was that all about? Was he saying that the engraving was nothing like you? But why? Why would Heminges, Condell and Jonson produce your collected plays and put a picture on the front of the volume that was nothing like you? Come to think of it, if Droeshout was twenty-two when he made the engraving, he would only have been fifteen when you died. Perhaps he never met you, so who, or what, did he use as a model? Again, the facts are missing, Mr Shakespeare.
Earlier I mentioned your lost plays, which brings me to your so-called “lost years”. You see, the problem I have here is that, absent any facts, I cannot really be satisfied that you were the genius behind all the works usually attributed to “William Shakespeare”. Until I can understand where you were and what you were doing between roughly 1585 and 1592 – the “lost years” – the authorship question will remain an open book for me and many others. You do see that, don’t you? It is simply a question of not enough facts.
And then there is the question of your education, Mr Shakespeare. It has always been assumed that you were educated up to about the age of fourteen at the King Edward VI School in Stratford-upon-Avon, but where is the evidence? No records exist to support that claim. You could just as well have been making gloves with your old man… or in prison…
So what do I know about you, Mr Shakespeare?
Oh, yes, Anne Hathaway.
Well, I certainly know about her. At the age of eighteen, you impregnated Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years your senior. At least you did the right thing and married her in November 1582, six months before the child was born. That is all documented. The Church does that sort of thing awfully well, don’t you think?
And isn’t it also a matter of record that you were in trouble for poaching at about that time?
Well, so far it is not a great CV for the greatest writer in history, is it, Mr Shakespeare?
Thinking about Anne Hathaway, I recall that she died in August 1623, seven years after you. Ah, 1623! Now where have I seen that date before? Of course, it was in 1623 that the First Folio of your plays was published! And they were published very late in 1623, in fact, so late that the Bodleian Library in Oxford only received its copy in early 1624. Now, Mr Shakespeare, why did Heminges and Condell delay publication of your plays until after your wife had died? You hadn’t written anything for ten years, and then you wife dies and the plays are published – how strange. Coincidence? Possible but unlikely – so what didn’t they want her to find out, Mr Shakespeare?
It is little wonder that many now think that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the works attributed to you, Mr Shakespeare. What do you think of that? Yes, I know Lord Oxford died in 1604, and that is certainly a problem because “Shakespeare’s” plays were still being written up to about 1613 – and that is a fact. Yes, I concede that it is a big problem… unless… unless Lord Oxford didn’t write the plays all on his own. His second wife, Elizabeth Trentham, wrote exceptionally well, according to Lord Burghley. If she had collaborated on plays with her husband prior to his death, she may have continued authoring plays after it. It is possible, and Elizabeth died in 1613! Now that is a thought…
I know there are other contenders in addition to Lord Oxford: Christopher Marlowe was one, but he was killed in 1593, of that there is now little doubt; Francis Bacon died in 1626 so why would he stop writing in 1613? Sir Walter Raleigh was execute in 1616, and anyway he spent far too much time writing a history of the world to bother with writing plays; William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, was another. He married Elizabeth de Vere, daughter of Lord Oxford and his first wife, Anne Cecil, daughter of Lord Burghley. But William lived until 1642 so, as with Bacon, why would he stop writing in 1613?
One other highly probable contender died in 1613; he is mentioned in the novel Stealing Tomorrow’s Thunder … so why don’t you read that book and find out who it is!
Your grateful yet suspicious
Author of Stealing Tomorrow’s Thunder.
(Scroll down to see a list of the works of William Shakespeare.)
Snapshot Bio of William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon.
Date of Birth:
Date of Death:
William Shakespeare was born in this house and spent his early married life here with Anne Hathaway. The house is open to the public.
The Works of William Shakespeare:
Plays - Histories (10)
Plays - Comedies (16)
** These two plays were not included in the First Folio. They may have been written by, or in collusion with, John Fletcher.
Plays - Tragedies (12)
The Rape of Lucrece
Click on this link to read the plot outline of
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