This seems to be one of those topics that cycles into the public consciousness every so often.
Do you think Shakespeare existed? Or are there just to many plays and sonnets credited to him to be the work of one person?
The new film Anonymous questions his prolificity and his existence.
If you think these claims against history are a waste of time, why do you think they are periodically raised by so many people?
I remember this subject being discussed quite a bit fifteen or twenty years ago. I haven’t seen Anonymous but unless it presents something not known during the ’90s, some genuinely new discovery, it’s just another conspiracy theory.
As I recall back then, the argument consisted mainly of claims that we didn’t know as much about his personal life as we should (How much should we know?) and an alleged message coded into the inscription on his grave. A quick look at Wikipedia informs me that the first such claims were made in the 19th century based on the idea that only a nobleman could have written so much about court politics. Not very compelling stuff.
So why do stories like this continue to circulate?
I think mostly because it’s fun. Seriously, hidden messages on the grave, mysterious people writing enduring plays for the masses under a pen name, a centuries-old conspiracy revolving around one of the most influential writers in the history of the English language. It’s good stuff, really talks to the imagination. If you’re a writer of fiction you could use this as a base for great plots of intrigue and mystery. If you’re an imaginative person you could easily convince yourself that there’s something deeper to this sort of idle speculation.
A more cynical reason is that people can make a living promoting conspiracy theories. Take a look at the number of books published that are about some wild, unsupported claim. Aliens taught the ancient Egyptians to build pyramids, the World Trade Center was destroyed in a controlled demolition, NASA faked the Moon landings and/or is covering up evidence of alien life on Mars, just to name a few. Shakespeare is a tempting target because he’s long dead with no known descendents to defend him, and he’s a name that everyone knows.
It’s important for us to keep re-examining and re-evaluating history. (Also, it’s a very useful way of keeping historians busy, you really don’t want to let people with minds like that go around with time on their hands.) I don’t want anyone to read this and think that I’m opposed to the idea that we may be wrong about things we think we know about the past. New ideas about history should be carefully examined with a clear and open mind. But the burden of proof is on the new idea, and unless there’s something new that I don’t know about yet, the Shakespeare authorship question fails to carry that burden.
I really wish I’d had more time, I’d have tried to write this in iambic pentameter. Maybe next time. Have a great day everyone.