Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare?

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9780321426406: Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare?

It is long overdue that someone took a closer look at the brilliant Mary Sidney. I have a suspicion that Mary Sidney’s life, and especially her dedication to the English language after her brother’s death, may throw important light on the mysterious authorship of the Shakespeare plays and poems.
Mark Rylance
Actor; Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 1996–2006; Chairman of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust
For more than two hundred years, a growing number of researchers have questioned whether the man named William Shakespeare actually wrote the works attributed to him. There is no paper trail for William Shakespeare—no record that he was ever paid for writing, nothing in his handwriting but a few signatures on legal documents, no evidence of his presence in the royal court except as an actor in his later years, no confirmation of his involvement in the literary circles of the time. With so little information about this man—and even less evidence connecting him to the plays and sonnets—what can and what can’t we assume about the author of the greatest works of the English language?

For the first time, Robin P. Williams presents an in-depth inquiry into the possibility that Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, wrote the works attributed to the man named William Shakespeare. As well educated as Queen Elizabeth I, this woman was at the forefront of the literary movement in England, yet not allowed to write for the public stage. But that’s just the beginning . . .



The first question I am asked by curious freshmen in my Shakespeare course is always, “Who wrote these plays anyway?” Now, because of Robin Williams’ rigorous scholarship and artful sleuthing, Mary Sidney Herbert will forever have to be mentioned as a possible author of the Shakespeare canon. Sweet Swan of Avon doesn’t pretend to put the matter to rest, but simply shows how completely reasonable the authorship controversy is, and how the idea of a female playwright surprisingly answers more Shakespearean conundrums than it creates...

Cynthia Lee Katona
Professor of Shakespeare and Women’s Studies, Ohlone College; Author of Book Savvy

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About the Author:

Robin Williams is the successful author of dozens of titles and has books in twenty-three languages. In this book, she has turned her attention to a topic she has been researching for seven years. An Independent Scholar, Robin has studied Shakespeare at St. John's College in Santa Fe and Oxford University in England. She teaches Shakespeare for adults at the local college, and guides two play readings a month. She runs ten-week guided discussions of selected plays for advanced readers, called The Understanders. For three years she has been a featured speaker at the Authorship Conference at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, and will be consulting on the upcoming authorship exhibit at the Globe. Robin is an Associate Member, by invitation of Mark Rylance, of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust in London, founded in 1922.

From The Washington Post:

In a throwback to the glory days of bookbinding, Robin P. Williams's Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? (Wilton Circle, $27.95) contains a page that folds out to four times normal size. The publisher has taken this trouble to display a timeline juxtaposing Shakespeare's documented life, the dates of his works and the documented life of (alarums offstage) Mary Sidney, countess of Pembroke.

Williams, an independent scholar, is among the latest in a long line of doubters who make much of the dearth of hard facts about Shakespeare, not to mention the disparity between his humble background (the son of a man who wrote his name by making an "X") and his immense vocabulary and range of knowledge. To these skeptics, "William Shakespeare" was a cover for someone of higher education who rubbed shoulders with princes and nobles from an early age but who, for some reason or other, could not bring himself to sign his name to "Measure for Measure," "Hamlet" and the rest.

Sir Francis Bacon has long been a favorite for this role, as has Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford. Williams, however, suggests that the real playwright might have been a woman. Mary Sidney came from a noble family with close ties to Queen Elizabeth, and Mary's brother Philip became a famous poet in his own right. Even if you're inclined to say "Fie" to this theory, Williams should be thanked for bringing attention to a skilled and powerful writer. In the King James version, part of Psalm 58 reads, "Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth; break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord." Mary's socko take on the same passage goes: "Lord crack their teeth/ Lord crush these lions' jaws."

The Case for Mary Sidney


Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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