The search for identity

We may not ‘know’ Shakspere, or Shakespeare as he became, but we can explore ‘facts’ and evidenced ‘assumptions’ and ‘presumptions’ as fairly in this age as fifty years after his death, when the ‘identity’ questions slowly started to arise.

There are so many ‘hard facts’ missing, about the man Shaxpere, Shakespere, Shakspere – even original name (the church record says Shakspere); about that early education; about the ‘further education’ within the Lost Years, say at 16, 1580 to 1592; about his start in the theatre; and the general sketchiness thereafter of his years in London…

The dismissal of ‘Shakspere’ as author, or confirmation that he IS Shakespeare, may be argued but it does not devalue or minimize the fact that we have the marvellous 1623 First Folio and early source material still extant though, with one arguable exception, not in Shakespeare’s own penmanship.

An expert scribe Ralph Crane was hired by publishers, after that First Folio, to prepare fresh transcripts of some of the plays whose penned versions had always been a headache to transcribe for usage (they were described impossible to work with, in any confidence).

Crane’s labours may have compounded validity or questions regarding what we have today, but …how close we came, in those early days, to losing this heritage completely.

The “Stratfordian” will return to “Do not get involved in the Authorship Question – it is a red herring, a waste of time.” Stratfordian orthodoxy continues, “Whether you read or attend a performance, you need to hear the subtle sounds of Shakespeare’s keen perceptions, insights and … a still acuity in observations….. and believe he was the master craftsman, the supreme-ever in his field!”

Positively, the Stratfordian mind is “straightforward, sensible and rather literal.” There is no reason to seek answers to a problem which does not exist? Yet the Stratfordian case-by-inertia, many say, presents a hollow picture of Shakespeare, the man and genius as they claim.

The Sonnets, for example, can be seen as a reflection of his life experiences and perceptions, and in particular his pain over the Youth and the Dark Lady… OR they can be a magnificent use and display of dispassionate, unattached literary imaginative powers, in all their brilliance and sophistication.

We just do not know the truth, so carefully hidden is the identity of the human author. Even a Stratfordian has said, “He had a career which leaves him not only without a private life but almost without a private personality.” Many ‘rational’ people, practical mostly and others very spiritual, have commented further…

An author with ‘Stratfordian’ views (he believes Shakspere wrote Shakespeare) was puzzled: “There is a most extraordinary gulf between the Shakespeare of literature and the Shakespeare of history.”

An Oxford University scholar has written, “The relationship between an artist’s biography and his writings is always a difficult subject, but with Shakespeare there can be no other writer since the invention of printing for whom we are unable to demonstrate any relationship at all.”

A historian has said, “Since Shakespeare’s death, in 1616, he has been subjected to the greatest battery of organised research that has ever been directed upon a single person. Armies of scholars have examined all the documents that could possibly have contained a mention of his name… with no incontrovertible proof of anything.”

A slight exaggeration: towards the END of the 1700’s – not from Shakespeare’s death – a scholarly clergyman based near Stratford searched but could find neither books nor evidence of ‘Shakespeare’ in the county. That was the start of the “Shakespeare problem”.

In succinct metaphysical manner, another writer said recently that “The sheer sweep and majesty of his writings reflect such extraordinary depth, scope, perception, humanity and wisdom. They give us entry into an oceanic mind and heart that seem too universal to be attributed to any one individual.”

Such talent or talents give us ‘access to the universal’, and does this platform not leave behind the claim of ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘heretical’? We, and those of Court and ‘refinement’ in the more expensive gallery seats of Shakespeare’s time, CAN appreciate the universal dimensions of the writings.

Conversely, a humorous anti-Stratfordian author wrote an article about “Thirty Six Plays in Search of an Author” !

So today, the Authorship Mystery is declared real by the anti-Stratfordians (those who believe that one starting point: A. N. Other or maybe a small collaboration of writers, wrote Shakespeare).

They claim that the Stratfordians (believing vehemently in one author, or maybe, just maybe, one with a bit of collaboration) have denied, ignored, ridiculed or trivialised the subject.

Yet Stratfordian laughter is not unexpected when 40 or more Elizabethans are now included in the ‘heretic’ list of possible authors of/contributors to “the real Shakespeare”.

The Stratfordian case, for one Shakespeare only, rests considerably on statements made in and inferences from the First Folio printing of 1623. (It is said that their ‘orthodoxy’ in Shakespeare, as in a conventional religious or spiritual system envisioning man’s dependence, or indeed Being, on a higher world, cannot permit of any revision under any circumstances).

The ‘Heretics’ might remind us that TRUTH contains and is beyond such man-made limitations – and that a considerable international Shakespeare Industry has grown up, retaining the illusion (by inertia?) of Shakespeare the genius as sole author of the canon and the poetry.

Rather dismissively, the Stratfordians describe their opponents as misguided, skeptics even impractical mystics; their viewpoint is firm: “The burden of proof lies with those who wish to discredit the Bard.”

That oft dismissive tone used by the Stratfordians is summed up in Sir Sidney Lee’s 1898 put-down that Mark Twain was the idiosyncratic American humourist unfit to comment on literary history. Twain had published a four page “anti-biography” of all the KNOWN facts about Shakespeare.

And had added that biographies of Shakespeare were constructed layer on layer of conjecture, supposition, inference, theory, maybe, perhaps, doubtless, and guesses… Lee’s biographical opus “Life of Shakespeare”, second edition, ran to 720 pages, and used ‘doubtless’ some 61 times, “raising conjecture to the level of probability”.

Literary psychologists, baffled, today declare it all an ideological stalemate.