William Shakespeare unequivocally wrote the famous plays to which his name is attached, despite a growing attack on this “settled issue” demonstrated in a film just released in New Zealand, according to a University of Otago Shakespearean expert of international standing.
Professor Evelyn Tribble says the film “Anonymous”, and its advertisements and trailers, have been a catalyst for her decision to engage with this debate. Posters advertising the film are asking,“ Was Shakespeare a fraud?”
“This is a posthumous libel. It is also just the latest example of the Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theory – 77 possible candidates have been proposed since the mid 19th century,” she says.
“There is no reasonable doubt that the actor-playwright William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays ascribed to him.”
She is concerned that such uncontextualised facts, twisted half-truths and outright misrepresentations could leach into the classroom to “create the appearance of a Shakespeare mystery.”
She likens the “debate” to the implausible theory that the moon-landing was a fake.
“But behind the smoke and mirrors there is only one central assumption: that a man of Shakespeare’s background could not possibly have written the plays.”
Professor Tribble, who is a published expert on Shakespeare, and Head of the English Department at the University, says this assumption is patently false.
“Shakespeare’s background is very similar to that of other gifted young playwrights of the period, including Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson.”
He benefited from the excellent Tudor grammar school system, which gave sons of the middle classes a thorough classical education emphasizing Latin poetry and drama.
“The Tudor elites intended that such young men might enter the church; instead many of them sought to earn their bread with their pens and their wits,” she says.
“It takes only a little reflection to recognise that many of our finest writers have come from ordinary backgrounds.”
Critics have also claimed that because of his lowly background, Shakespeare could not have known about the court, noble households or foreign lands. But this exaggerates the extent of Shakespeare’s knowledge; the Italian settings of many of his plays, for example, were only superficially realised. Moreover, proponents of his lack of knowledge overlook the fact that he was an avid reader.
“Like all conspiracy theories, the anti-Shakespearean one is a closed system. Inconsistencies and implausibilities, such as the fact that the current pretender, the Earl of Oxford, died in 1604, prior to the composition of many of the plays, are explained away or become further grist for the conspiratorial mill,” she says.
“The simple fact is that in the tight-knit gossipy community of theatrical professionals, Shakespeare\’s authorship was absolutely undisputed. I guess the truth is much more mundane than some people would like it to be. “