211a The Shakespeare Controversy

ShakespeareReleased as a bonus Shedcast a few weeks ago, here’s Eddy McLain’s take on the Shakespeare controversy.

For a number of centuries, people celebrated William Shakespeare and his works and talents. As they do now, or at least once you’ve stopped being forced to study the lad. But since 1857, and the work of someone called Delia Salter Bacon, there have been rumours  and theories stubbornly circulating about it was really him doing this. Maybe it was the polymath Francis Bacon? Or various Earls…or, what about Elizabeth I? She didn’t have a lot to do of an evening.

So in this special bequest by David McLain, we can find out more – what are theories, where do they come from, and do they hold water?

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7 thoughts on “211a The Shakespeare Controversy

  1. I’ve just listened to this episode and found it very interesting, but I’m puzzled by one of the points that gets discussed. Why is it a crucial point that Shakespeare did not mention his plays in his will? A will disposes of property. What property rights existed in a play at that time? Nowadays an author has legal rights in a play under copyright laws, but copyright didn’t exist in England until the 1700s (the Statute of Anne in 1709, according to Wikipedia). Is there some other property right at play (no pun intended)? Did other authors’ wills of the same era dispose of books, plays, etc.? If so, then I suppose the point is relevant. If not, then no mention of the plays in Shakespeare’s will may be a red herring.

  2. Hi Alex,

    People who doubted Shakespeare’s authorship pointed to the fact that he didn’t mention the plays in his will as proof that they were written by someone else, and although I don’t agree with that conclusion, I can see there point. From the distance of a century or two, it does seem strange that there’s no money set aside for the publication of unpublished works, or anything like that, let alone a mention of his personal papers. (Which, ironically would now be more valuable than Stratford upon Avon if they were still out there.) Julie’s Caesar was basically sitting in a desk drawer somewhere, it seems like that would have been worth bringing up. This was the kind of anecdotal evidence that someone who believed that there was another author who wrote the plays would point to. However, you are basically right, no one would have thought it strange at the time.

    1. No-one thinks it strange now, except for anti-Stratfordians and others who know nothing about Early Modern publishing. Shakespeare didn’t own Julius Caesar, and certainly wouldn’t have set aside money to publish it.

  3. David,
    I am finally closing on the current episodes. As well as learning a whole lot about English and clearly up some of my confusion, I am also learning all this colloquialisms and trite phrases. For example, does every use the word “wholly” a lot? Great podcast, I think you trade-off between details and broad are right for me.
    Thank you, Frank Gulla, Richmond, VA, USA (Sorry no cute user name)

    1. Thanks Frank. I have missed the ”wholly’ thing..I will look out for it – a national verbal tick maybe!

  4. I discovered The History of England a few months ago and am enjoying working my way through it, David. Thank you for making English history such a treat!

    A word about Shakespeare not spelling his name consistently. It doesn’t seem to me at all odd, as spelling was not standardized – in America, at least – until well into the 19th century. There are sons of the same parents who spelled their surnames differently – for example, Tredwell and Treadwell – and if you look at period documents, words are often spelled two or three different ways on the same page.

    It’s unproductive to judge history based on what we know now. I think the whole Shakespeare controversy – at the very least, the spelling bit – is a perfect example. Looking forward to catching up and thank you again.

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