To Be Or Not to Be — Aha! Shakespeare Was a Beekeeper!

The gang at the Globe has issued a new disclaimer in their programs, suggesting that Shakespeare’s work was attributed to somebody else. If it’s Mary Sidney Herbert, the case that Newsweek put forth on June 28 (through Sidney expert Robin Williams) is weak:

“It would explain why Shakespeare wrote love sonnets to a younger man.” Shakespeare didn’t swing both ways? Shakespeare didn’t get inside the head of another character to get at deeper feelings? I think, with the exception of some of his early work and the hideous Coriolanus, you’d be hard-pressed to nail ol’ Bill as a literal-minded writer.

“It would could clarify why the first compilation of Shakespeare’s plays, the First Folio of 1623, was dedicated to the earls of Pembroke and Montgomery (her sons).” Okay, let’s say that you’re a cash-strapped theatre and one of the best-educated women in England happens to float your operation with her husband. Are you going to be grateful? Are you going to, say, acknowledge that person’s family or friends? Are you going to hope that this spirit of generosity will trickle down to the next generation?

“And it would explain Ben Jonson’s First Folio eulogy to the ‘sweet swan of Avon.'” No, sorry. It’s called waxing poetic about a guy’s hometown.

I’m all for these interesting arguments and speculations, but none of this stuff would hold up in a court of law.

Williams, it should be be noted, was the only Sidney advocate at the July authorship conference.

One Comment

  1. I’ve been following the case of Shakespeare-as-Sidney with interest, and I have to say the theory’s grown on me. At the very least, it’s interesting to re-read some of the plays with the idea that a feminine mind has created those characters and speeches. (I’m thinking of “King Lear” part., but also of Lady Macbeth and others). Whether it’s true or not, isn’t the point — it just gave me a new way of looking and interpreting the plays. It’s like a thought exercise.

    Also: It’s great in terms of Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own, which posits the question of “what if Shakespeare had a sister? Well, what if he didn’t have one — but was one? Really, if you’re an artist and female you have to struggle with the idea that you, as a woman, have just as much right to be a heavyweight contendah as the boys. Which is ridiculous, on the one one hand (there’s plenty of proof of remarkable female writers in the books) — but a true struggle on the other. Even today — even for people like myself who, as a philosophical stance, try to play like they don’t notice. Look at the New Yorker or the NYTBR; it’s not that they’re overtly sexist, by any means, but if you follow them closely you can get the sense that to be a female artist/ writer/ critic is somehow not as serious and interesting as to be a male one. So how wonderful would it be, I ask, to have the writer many think is the greatest in the Western canon turn out to be a woman? I love it for that — and I love it b/c it’d be a good joke on everyone.

    But I agree with you as far as to the weakness of some of the evidence being marshalled. Esp. the whole thing about “that would explain the love sonnets to the younger man”, which made me laugh and laugh.

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