10 Clues that Shakespeare Was Shakespeare
In recent years, many conspiracy theories have arisen about who actually wrote the plays and sonnets that have historically been attributed to William Shakespeare. Some have suggested that the plays of Shakespeare weren’t written by him but by a slew of apprentice writers, or by Christopher Marlowe, or a powerful Earl, or a woman. Nearly 70 alternatives have been suggested (LINK 6). Most scholars agree that some of the first and last of his plays were openly collaborative efforts (LINK 7), but let’s not confuse the issue; the bulk of them are thought to be solitary efforts. No one can yet claim to know the answer for sure, but listed below are ten clues we have that the person who wrote those famous plays and sonnets of the Elizabethan era was none other than a man who hailed from Stratford-Upon-Avon, who’s name was William Shakespeare.
- First of all, we do know that a man named William Shakespeare did exist at the correct time to have written those works of literature, in the mid to late Elizabethan era of the Renaissance. The first record we have of him is in a Holy Trinity Church of Stratford parish registry of baptisms that cites the baptism of a William Shakespeare on April 26th, 1564 (LINKS 2, 5). Again, this isn’t the date of his birth but of his baptism, which were often but not always, performed three days after the birth of the child. So we do have a baseline proof that there was a historical person named “William Shakespeare.”
- Stratford is a town located in the county of Warwickshire, England, and like most places, especially in that time, it had its own dialect. Some experts have pointed out that the author of the works in question is often caught using dialectical expressions that were particular to Warwickshire (LINKS 2, 7). For example, he referred to a bundle as a “fardel,” called a sneer a “fleer” and talked about a female servant as a “malkin.” He also called a thin person an “anatomy”, and referred to a flatterer as a “pick-thank” (LINK 7). These are all dialectical words that point toward Warwickshire, or at the very least, toward the northern counties – not London.
- It’s clear that whoever wrote those masterworks must have had at least some education. Many children of that era didn’t have any schooling. The literacy rate was around 30% for men and 10% for women (LINK 8). But this Stratford Shakespeare’s father was for a time an officer of the town, and so they were of the social class that was privileged with education. It’s known that William attended school until age 14, where he learned Latin, history, and classical literature (LINKS 1,2). Whoever wrote the plays and sonnets attributed to Shakespeare most certainly had a foundation of knowledge in these topics.
- We know that a man named William Shakespeare entered his first poem, “Venus and Adonis”, one of his first works to reference the writer who is considered to be one his greatest influences, Ovid, into the Stationers’ Registrar on April 18, 1593 (LINKS 3, 4). He also registered his second poem, “The Rape of Lucrece,” on May 9, 1594 (LINKS 3, 4). Both poems contained dedications to the Earl of Southhampton and were signed by Shakespeare (LINK 3). With this little clue, we’re now able to determine that this William Shakespeare from Stratford who was afforded a modest education was also a writer who’s writings were officially recorded by the author himself.
- If you’re looking for a verified connection between the two known settings of Shakespeare’s life – the city of London where he spent most of his life working and the town Stratford, where his wife and children resided – you’re in luck, because in 1601 there were official records demonstrating both that the same William Shakespeare was living in a flat in London and also that he bought 107 acres of land in Stratford (LINKS 4, 9). The primary source of proof that William Shakespeare was living in London were a few paper documents that cite Shakespeare’s involvement in a dispute between his landlord and the landlord’s son (LINK 9).
- In 1596, Shakespeare’s only son died. His son was just 11 years old, and such a loss was surely devastating. A few months later, a new play, Hamlet, was released – a play about the engrossing grief of a son for his father who had just died. Today, Hamlet is well-known as one of Shakespeare’s most emotionally trenchant plays. As we know now, Shakespeare’s son had been named “Hamnet,” after one of his closest friends in Statford (LINKS 10,11) – a name, which creates an uncanny connection to that powerful play, which is so obviously drenched in sorrow and grieving.
- In 1592, Robert Greene gives us what is thought to be the first historical, rather than clerical, mention of Shakespeare when he writes a scathing description of this country bumpkin upstart in the theater scene: “There is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tyger’s heart wrapt in a player’s hide supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country” (LINKS 6, 11). We know that by this time, the plays Henry VI, Comedy of Errors, and Titus Andronicus had already gained some popularity.
- To add clarity to the Robert Greene reference, in case his mention of “Shake-scene” isn’t convincing enough, we can note that, because the above language was considered so strident, after Robert Greene’s death, his editor took it upon himself to publish an apology to the offended party: “…I am sorry as if the original fault was my fault because myself have seen his demeanor no less civil…than he professes” (LINKS 11, 12). The apology was addressed to “W.S.” (LINK 11). The wording of the apology letter is humble and makes clear that this “W.S.” is a person of rank in the literary/ theatrical community.
- One easy way to track the existence of an artist is via records of their reviews. In Shakespeare’s case, we have records of reviews of his writing from as early as 1593 on The Rape of Lucrece (LINK 11). Then, in 1605, William Camden, a notable historian of the time period cited William Shakespeare as one of Britain’s best contemporary writers (LINKS 11,6). Camden was, among other things, affiliated with Lord Burleigh, one of Queen Elizabeth’s most trusted counselors, who commissioned Camden to write the official history of the era. Not only did William Shakespeare officially exist as a London writer, he officially existed as a highly lauded London writer, touted by people in high places (LINK 15).
- In spring of 1616, William Shakespeare prepared his last will and testament and then passed away shortly thereafter. His will is our final clue. In the will, we see evidence of both the Stratford and the London Shakespeare together on one piece of paper. On one hand, the document stipulated that Shakespeare’s estate managers leave his second best bed (the marriage bed) to his wife, Anne in Stratford. And then it goes on to bequeath small amounts of money to his “fellows” John Hemings, Richard Burbage, and Henry Condell, with which to buy rings (LINKS 13, 14). These three men had worked as actors in many London troupes including The Queen’s Men, which Shakespeare is rumored to have belonged to. Additionally, they had all acted in the plays attributed to Shakespeare, Richard Burbage famously having played many of their most legendary leading men.
LINK 6: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2011/10/19/yes-shakespeare-really-did-write-shakespeare/
LINK 8: http://bit.ly/1fcHD0o
LINK 14: http://www.bardweb.net/will.html
LINK 15: http://shakespeareauthorship.com/pen.html
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