To be, or not to be? For the longest time, that was the burning question that plagued diehard Shakespeare fans. These days, however, there’s a new concern that is lingering in the back of many literature buffs’ minds: did William Shakespeare come up with all of the ideas of his famous plays, or did someone else write them on his behalf? In fact, the question of the legitimacy of Shakespeare’s works dates back almost as far as his passing. For nearly 400 years, people have questioned and challenged whether or not the historic wordsmith plagiarized the scores of plays that we have grown to know and love. Is Hamlet actually the work of William Shakespeare…or did some other author actually write it?
James Wilmot: The Original Doubter
Way back in 1785, there was a reverend and a literary scholar by the name of James Wilmot. While Wilmot could have chosen to live a mild and quiet life, he instead dedicated himself to proving that William Shakespeare was a shameful thief of words. Wilmot proposed his argument – which became known as the “anti-Stratfordian” theory, based on the homeland of the author – which staunchly stated that Shakespeare didn’t write his legendary plays. The problem with his argument, though? Wilmot was so determined to run Shakespeare’s name through the mud, he cut corners in his research and his position was later found to be easily debunked.
If Not Shakespeare, Then Who?
While Wilmot’s theory has all but been disproven, it opened the door for other disbelievers to come forward. Many other researchers have proposed their own hypotheses about who was the real writer of these prolific works. Wilmot wasn’t about to be so bold as to state who he thought was the real muse for these works, but his friends didn’t have these same inhibitions. His professional colleague, James Corton Cowell, spilled all of Wilmot’s secrets in a series of lectures in the early 1800s. Who was the real writer, according to these two gentlemen? Another talented writer of the time, Francis Bacon. Case closed. Right?
Juicy Gossip from Another Era
It’s quite exciting to present the idea that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays. After all, who doesn’t like a little extra drama within the drama community? Several authors came forward with their own ideas as to who scribed these plays. Even Mark Twain, of Tom Sawyer fame, threw in his two cents on the subject and lent his support to the Bacon theory of authorship. Debate raged on hotly, with intellectuals across the globe all arguing about who could have written these plays.
Of course, the biggest problem here isn’t whether or not William Shakespeare wrote the plays. Sure, it could have been the Earl of Oxford. Or even Christopher Marlowe, a man accused of being a spy and trying to steal Shakespeare’s ideas himself. None of that is actually relevant. What matters is that it seems cool to say Shakespeare was a phony. Maybe he was a charismatic actor at the Globe Theater, but when it came to writing, he outsourced his works to ghostwriters.
But the problem with these positions? They’re seated in a type of ugly prejudice that was common at the time, and still prevails today. Just like certain regions sadly have a reputation of being lowbrow or ignorant, so did Stratford-upon-Avon. To put it bluntly, these anti-Stratfordians are coming from a place of elitism, noting that someone as uneducated as Shakespeare could not have possibly written his plays. A more wealthy, worthy person must’ve done it for him. And how dare anyone try to imply otherwise!
Does it Really Matter Who Wrote Them?
Whether you’re Team Shakespeare or Team Bacon, we can all agree that these plays are absolutely incredible. Not only have they regaled people for over four centuries, but the common themes and ideas are also still relevant today. Heck, they’ve even lent new words to our vocabulary, giving us flavorful terminology such as “zany” and “cheap.” Fortunately, new evidence has pointed toward Shakespeare being the genuine writer of these works. These findings have restored the bard’s reputation, proving once and for all that he did write the stories, poems, and plays that have been attributed to him. That said, would you still love Macbeth if it were written by someone else? And would Romeo and Juliet really be just as sweet if it were the works of another playwright? That, at least, is a resounding yes!