So we find that The Shakespeare Wonder is shadowed by The Shakespeare Mystery: accompanied by “Cheering doubters and outraged traditionalists”
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 publicised?
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.
From 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 subjects
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 tragedies’
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 Shakespeare
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 Shakespeare’
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, ego?
What powered his seemingly limitless energy (36 or more plays and poetry, and the Sonnets, and acting and business matters)?
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.