The Genius Of William Shakespeare: Fact or Fraud?

by William Skink

There has been an interesting cluster of William Shakespeare stories in the news recently worth noting, especially considering April is National poetry month.

Usually for poetry month I compile the poetry posts I’ve written (last year the list was over 160 links long), but since getting kicked off 4&20 Blackbirds, I haven’t been all that interested in keeping up with the poetry posts because there’s just too much delightful political bullshit to tackle 😉

But the Shakespeare stories definitely merit some attention, considering Shakespeare is one of the most important writers in terms of bestowing our western literary tradition’s boasting rights over those non-western wannabe literary snobs.

The first story comes from the Isle of Bute, where a very rare First Folio was found and recently authenticated. This rare folio, published in 1623 (seven years after the alleged death of Shakespeare) is the only reason we have Macbeth, The Tempest and a few other plays that would otherwise have been lost if not for this collection.

The second story I came across oddly came from Consortium News, an alternative news site that sticks mostly to geopolitics. This article takes a look at The Mystery of Shakespeare’s Tomb:

The 400th-anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare — to be observed in late April — was supposed to be a moment for global celebration of the literary genius long believed to have been from Stratford-on-Avon. But, in a classic case of “unintended consequences,” a reluctant decision by Anglican Church officials to permit scientists to use modern technology to study his presumed grave inside the local church has backfired because the inconclusive results of this investigation — the apparent failure to confirm conclusively the presence of any human remains in the tomb — is casting a shadow over the celebration.

Indeed, the fiasco may cause more people to doubt – or even reject – the longstanding claim that the man with this famous name from a market town in the British Midlands was the true author of the Shakespearean works.

The reason this may fuel speculation is because there has been a debate going on for just a couple of centuries now about whether or not Shakespeare wrote his famous plays. The idea is the real Shakespeare was too low on the social totem pole to be able to write about court and things like hunting, a theory taken up four years ago with a movie, titled Anonymous. According to that article, this speculation has been taken up by other literary figures:

The great minds who have asked these questions are legion.

Mark Twain, one of the most famous doubters, author of the essay “Is Shakespeare Dead?” wrote: “So far as anybody actually knows and can prove, Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life.”

“I am ‘sort of’ haunted by the conviction,” wrote novelist Henry James, “that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world.”

Sigmund Freud, whose own work is often equated with Shakespeare’s in its cultural impact and who drew heavily on Hamlet for some of his own theories, also believed that someone other than the actor from Stratford wrote the plays. “It is undeniably painful to all of us,” he said, “that even now we do not know who was the author of the Comedies, Tragedies and Sonnets of Shakespeare.”

“I can hardly think it was the Stratford boy,” wrote Charlie Chaplin of the plays. “Whoever wrote them had an aristocratic attitude.”

Such famous doubters have been joined by everyone from Orson Welles to Helen Keller.

Even Malcolm X became “intrigued over the Shakespearean dilemma,” as he referred to it in his Autobiography. “If Shakespeare existed, he was then the top poet around,” the modern revolutionary leader wondered, asking why he didn’t work on the King James Bible. “If he existed, why didn’t King James use him?”

Now that you are thoroughly intrigued about the questionable provenance of Shakespeare’s literary output, you will be happy to know that next month the rare First Folio will be on display at the University of Montana:

The University of Montana has been named as Montana’s host for the “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare.” The Folio is on national tour from the Folger Shakespeare Library. The display in Missoula is sponsored by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library and the Montana Museum of Art & Culture (MMAC).

The Folger Shakespeare Library, in association with the Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association, is touring the exhibition to all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico in 2016. The MMAC will be the only location in Montana to display the Folio during its tour around the country.

The First Folio exhibition will be on display in MMAC and open to the public May 9-31, 2016.

Full schedule of events.

More information: 406-243-2019

So, while the University leadership is busy slashing the humanities at UM, consider visiting UM’s campus next month to check out a document that could represent one of the biggest literary frauds in human history.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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5 Responses to The Genius Of William Shakespeare: Fact or Fraud?

  1. Big Swede says:

    “First thing we do, is kill all the lawyers”.

    • a line misinterpreted:

      In reference to the review of ”Guilty Conscience,” (May 20) Leah D. Frank is inaccurate when she states that when Shakespeare had one of his characters state ”Let’s kill all the lawyers,” it was the corrupt, unethical lawyers he was referring to. Shakespeare’s exact line ”The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” was stated by Dick the Butcher in ”Henry VI,” Part II, act IV, Scene II, Line 73. Dick the Butcher was a follower of the rebel Jack Cade, who thought that if he disturbed law and order, he could become king. Shakespeare meant it as a compliment to attorneys and judges who instill justice in society.

  2. Why would “Shakespeare” not want his real identity known?

    In our world we have movie scripts written by committees pretending to be individuals (Matt, Ben, Good Will Hunting, ARGO). We have ghost written songs (Dylan, the Beatles) and books (most) … But it is a mystery why superior talent allows itself to be fronted by inferior. In our day it is spooks … I read a book (The Cultural Cold War) about how CIA financed the perversion of art, literature and music from the late forties onward using Marshall Plan money. The idea was to gut it so that expression of dissent through art was impossible. It appears to have worked. Music and art today are vapid, scholars are cardboard cutouts.

    But that doesn’t begin to explain why someone would ghost Shakespeare.

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