The questions arise
So we find that The Shakespeare Wonder is shadowed by The
Shakespeare Mystery: accompanied by “Cheering doubters and outraged
Shakspere was Shakespeare the natural genius, “an untutored
genius emerging from the people” to become one of history’s most
brilliant figures? or was Shakspere a mere front for aristocratic
talents whose identities in their time could not be openly
Natural genius, or shadowy nobleman, ‘Shakespeare’ appeared in a
period of tumultuous change – in England and its performing
environment. He may have begun his playmaking in the 1580’s.
1560 onwards, the ‘new’ theatre arose in England. James Burbage and
family constructed the first permanent theatre, The Theatre, in 1576
in Shoreditch, north of the city walls in London.
The artistic phenomenon that was Shakespeare broke upon the
theatrical shore like a repeating wave, play after play emerging
from the froth after 1592’s landmark performance of Henry 6 Part 1
(or Part 2 – the performance documentation regarding ‘Hari’ or
‘Harey’ or ‘Henery’ the ‘vi’ is ambiguous).
That shoreline had already been cleaned up ready for him by the
pioneering and secularising successes of
- Ralph Roister Doister, believed the first ‘new-era’ original
English comedy, written in 1552 by Nicholas Udall, scholar tutor
and headmaster; it was “a play with a properly constructed plot”
and probably acted by the Boy-actors of Westminster
- the variety and sublety offered by blank verse, developed from
Italian verse form and first used in England (around 1554) by
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in his translation of Aeneid
- Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton in 1561-2 were the first to
use blank verse so dramatically in Gorboduc, mythical King of
England, five acts in the style of Seneca (“violent dramas of
power, passion, murder and madness”). The play was written for and
performed before Elizabeth; it was then PRINTED in 1570 under his
name, Sir Thomas Sackville
While this may appear to weaken the conventional wisdom that
aristocrats DID NOT publish openly for the ‘new’ stage, it was
however acceptably ‘classical’ in tenor – and before Francis
Walsingham and the secret service became strong
Shakspere, born 1564, surely saw the earlier, mediaeval-style
performances as a boy; Gorboduc, perhaps seen in his youth, would
have been one major influence on his “lifelong style and idiom”
- Nathaniel Woodes’ The Conflict of Conscience, 1568, a wordy,
emotional morality play
- John Lyly’s novels Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit (moral prose
romance, 1578), and Euphies, and his England (about flawed
Englishness, 1580). Lyly was the first among the Six of the
University ‘Wits’ (those marked by a penetrating intelligence and
cynical humour) whose classical education and writing skills
raised standards in prose and plays enormously
In his playwriting, from the 1580’s to 1601 (he died in 1606), he
is described as ‘more of an original’ in many attributes of the
playmaker’s art than Shakespeare. His Alexander and Campaspe in
1584 was notable among the first full-length plays on secular
Lyly was the true lead in “the first stage of popular Elizabethan
drama” marked by “superb literary quality” and his fine balance
between “classic precedent and romantic freedom”. As with Gorboduc,
Lyly’s works would have influenced Shakspere enormously. Lyly
paved the way for the University ‘wits’
- Thomas Kyd, in his The Spanish Tragedy (1587). This was the
first in the new and powerful Revenge Tragedies
- Kit Marlowe, with his all-conquering Tamburlaine the Great
(1587), and the ambitious Doctor Faustus (1589, possibly written,
manuscripted and among the ‘cognescenti’ before Tamburlaine) which
included Marlowe’s celebrated “The face that launched a thousand
ships”; and the The Jew of Malta (1590)
- by about the 1550’s to 1590, some 30 ‘comedies’ appeared, but
the audiences welcomed the real driving force – the ‘big
- Marlowe specialists have said that he was successful in
writing blank verse but that “even he could not keep a kind of
shuttle rhythm out of his lines”, a feature mastered by
- Marlowe used blank verse, not as normal speech, but “to be
gorgeous and magnificent, in high sounding terms, achieving sound
and fury!” If Shakespeare proved more subtle, give credit to
Marlowe as front-runner ie Shakespeare saw, heard Marlowe and it
influenced him considerably. We might say ‘well done,
University-wit Marlowe, even more well done, non-University
For his part, Shakespeare in his nine History Plays certainly
drew much from the outlines of English Kings within Jean Froissart’s
Histories 15th c, Robert Fabyan’s New Chronicles 1516, Hall’s Union
third edition 1550, John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs fourth edition 1583,
and Raphael Holinshed’s 1577 and 1587 Chronicles. Scholars say
Shakespeare drew on the 1591 publication of “The Troublesome Raigne
of King John of England” (anonymous) and others say Shakespeare’s
play was the source for the book
Many basic and unresolved
questions remain of the period before Shakespeare’s success began,
and continue into his life:
- What might he have been taught at grammar school?
- Was he an apprentice actor locally from mid-teens?
- When did his first playmaking start?
- Was there poetry-writing from his youth?
- What influences helped in his further education?
- Where was he in the Lost Years, say 1580 to 1592?
- What influences helped expansion towards his massive
vocabulary, creation of new words and extraordinary,
free-flowing imagination and flexible writing skills?
- Did a great man come to his aid during his youth?
- When did he meet with aristocracy ?
- When did he first experience Court circles?
- When did he arrive in London?
- When and how was he influenced by University wits?
- Are his Works really devoid of his identity, personality,
- What powered his seemingly limitless energy (36 or more
plays and poetry, and the Sonnets, and acting and business
- How did he become so wealthy? It intrigues... was he a well
rewarded genius, and only later, a major sharer, in an
‘exploding’ theatrical marketplace? Performances in the new,
large theatres in London attracted audiences of 2-3,000 people,
up to five times a week? OR was he a non-entity, a moderately
talented ‘servant’ and ‘actor’ sharp and well-bribed; who then
invested his own money continually and wisely?
If he left Stratford at 16 to 20 (1584), he would have had no
funds. By 1597 he is able to buy the large New Place house in
Stratford for £60 (at the values of his time); in 1602 he bought 100
acres of arable land locally for £320, and bought a cottage; in 1605
he invested £440 in another land deal; and in 1613 spent £140 on a
house in London. In 16 years, there were investment deals, safe and
bringing in financial returns, worth in his values nearly £1,000.
Today’s comparable value, our pound/Elizabethan ‘pound’, ranges from
£156/hundreds of pounds per Elizabethan ‘pound’.
A figure is
bandied about, that in one of his best years, “Shakespeare”
earned £163 (in the value of his time). That equates to £163
in1590 having today’s purchasing power of £25,000; in 1613 his
£163 would be worth £18,300 today.
All is speculation, we
know no more than this ‘guestimation’.
But Shakspere, who
might have been Shakespeare, was indeed a businessman as well as
the theatrical genius. As he matured, from youth, he surely
“missed nothing of value and took in much” in his theatrical and
living environment; just as he missed few opportunities as a
keen, careful businessman, making few errors. Steadily, he
became more wealthy.
Author comment: All these
questions and speculations are raised, but most have no really
satisfactory answer . The superabundance of opinions, theories
and beliefs mushrooming today is an academics’ paradise! And a
jungle of often fallacious arguments and circular reasoning,
accidental and deliberate, is now in thick, tangled bloom.
Inevitably, queries and comments will flourish about this
An American lawyer and Shakespeare
‘specialist’ said 40 years ago that scholars help us understand the
language of Shakespeare and can answer literary questions – but
identity is both literary AND a question of evidence. The competence
and validity of evidence of authorship is, perhaps, therefore,
maybe, please excuse my insistence! the province of lawyers?
Shakespeare’s own precise legal words would question much of today’s
‘evidence’ about his Mystery and Identity.
PLEASE explore the Internet for
others’ answers. And continue to develop your appreciation on:
WHY do the Works – attributed to the Bard or unknown others -
have so much magic and impact on readers, listeners and viewers?
Why the Works are so acceptable even today, even with some of
the vocabulary antique and only uncovered with a Glossary?