So rich and so enduring are the works of William Shakespeare that, in time, doubts arose as to whether they could have come from the pen of a single person – especially one as relatively uneducated as the minor actor from Stratford.
With their intricate plots and unforgettable characters, the celebrated plays plumb the breadth and depth of human emotions and reveal the author’s knowledge of history, literature, philosophy, law, and even court etiquette.
Where did this country man pursuing a profession on the fringes of society learn how aristocrats behave and lawyers talk?
Was it possible that the actor allowed his name to be used by a well-educated man in high office who wished to keep his authorship of the plays a secret?
In 1781 an English churchman named J. Wilmot, after searching the records at Stratford, reached the startling conclusion that a man of Shakespeare’s background lacked the education and experience to write the immortal plays.
Unwilling to publish his thesis, Wilmot burned his notes although he confided his suspicions to a friend. The friend’s record of their conversations did not come to light until 1932.
Meanwhile, in the mid- 19th century, both British and American scholars had begun advancing similar theories.
In 1856 one of them, William Henry Smith, proposed Sir Francis Bacon as author of the plays.
The philosopher, essayist, and statesman held high office under Queen Elizabeth’s successor, James I, and was later raised to the nobility by his royal patron. Scholars on both sides of the Atlantic pounced on Smith’s hypothesis to produce an avalanche of documentation for the claim.
The Baconians, as they came to be known, pointed out that Sir Francis had all the qualities the actor lacked: a classical education, a position at court, a sound knowledge of the law.
Unfortunately for their theory, Bacon apparently did not care for the theater and is not known to have written any blank verse.
In 1955 an American scholar named Calvin Hoffman named the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe as the author of the Shakespeare plays.
Marlowe was facing imprisonment, perhaps even death, for his heretical views in 1593. According to Hoff-man’s theory, he staged his own murder in a pub south of London – a foreign seaman being the real victim.
Fleeing t the Continent, Marlowe continued writing the type of plays that had already gained him acclaim in London and sent them back to England for production under Shakespeare’s name.
Mouna Bou Antoun