April 23rd, 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death!
It would be interesting to know how much those who claim Shakespeare didn't write his own plays are motivated by jealousy. Many writers are jealous of ol' Billy—he's the one author universally recognized as the best ever. Most, however, rejoice that such literary magic was distilled for subsequent generations by an alchemist of less-than-noble origins and obscure life.
The idea that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare was around before the movie Anonymous. Critics point out that Willy Shakes knew a lot about the world for one who'd never left England (did he, though? he didn't know his geography very well), that he was well-versed in the ways of the English Court for a common man, or that an uneducated bumpkin from Stratford-upon-Avon couldn't produce a body of work that transcends the volumes of "superior" writers.
Shakespeare ended his days as a businessman in his hometown, away from the chaos, mud and spectacle of London. Is that how a great writer would end his days? What about the mystery of his handwriting? was he illiterate? if he could read and write, wouldn't there be more than a few signatures and some misspelled words? At first glance, the evidence seems compelling to attribute "Shakespeare's" work elsewhere, to the Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon, or some cadre of playwrights.
The reasons for finding another author for Shakespeare are more related to worldview than personal motives. Postmodernists like to obscure authorship in an effort to show that standards and absolutes are human constructs; modernists (and postmodernists) like to impose contemporary values on the past. The latter is a big motivating factor in the Shakespeare debate: Elizabethans had no concept of ownership when it came to texts, but most higher critics suppose they did.
There's no substantial reason to believe William Shakespeare was not the source of the plays attributed to him. What is absolutely certain is that no one before or since has so thoroughly captured the scope of the human predicament, or done so half as well as the Bard of Avon. His poetry lies between biblical oracle and Miltonian pedantry; his prose the most poetic lines penned by a seller of wheat (or a nobleman, for that matter).
Good literary education often begins with Shakespeare. A lot of it ends there, too. So much modern fiction is unreadable because writers don't look far enough back for inspiration; a few generations ago, writers read Homer, Milton, Shakespeare and Dickens. A noble company, ironically helmed by a commoner with less education than those who call themselves scholars in his name. We carry most of his plays, and a variety of resources to help you understand them. Remember that Shakespeare's plots are borrowed and recycled; it's the genius of expression that sets his work apart.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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