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Was the most famous poet and writer of all time a fraud and a plagiarist? Was Shakespeare the 'upstart crow' described by Greene as strutting in borrowed feathers, or Jonson's 'Poet-Ape' who patched plays together from others' work? Was his name merely a pseudonym for a well-known contemporary figure?
These questions have been furiously debated ever since the eighteenth century, when the writing styles of Marlowe and other playwrights were discerned in plays such as Titus Andronicus. The orthodox view is that the author of the works of Shakespeare was, of course, the actor and businessman of Stratford-upon-Avon. But the known facts about this man are surprisingly meagre, and contrast puzzlingly with the learned, courtly philosopher revealed in the Sonnets and plays - the universal genius and supreme stylist.
Respected scholars and obsessive eccentrics have devoted years to the search for evidence, and many different theories have been put forward. Some believe that the great lawyer Francis Bacon may have used the name of an obscure actor to disseminate his philosophy. Many others, including Freud, see the Earl of Oxford mirrored in Hamlet. Yet others suggest that Marlowe was not killed, as thought, in a drunken brawl, nor even in a secret service execution, but lived on to write secretly as Shakespeare.
John Michell's enthralling investigation of the many claims and counter-claims reads like a series of detective stories. He lays out the evidence and the arguments for the various candidates, not forgetting Shakespeare himself, and provides a drily humorous commentary on the research and prejudices of their champions while adding new insights of his own. By the end of the book, even the most faithful disciples of the Bard will find themselves questioning 'Who Wrote Shakespeare?'
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Michell, whose books include The New View over Atlantis and a study of Celtic and Norse symbolic landscapes, concedes that no conclusive case has ever been made for Ben Jonson, Francis Bacon or any of the other candidates alleged to have written the plays and poems commonly attributed to William Shakespeare. Yet in this unconvincing piece of shaky scholarship, he finds Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, "a highly credible candidate," while the case for politician/theatrical patron William Stanley, Earl of Derby, is deemed "plausible on all levels." Worse, Michell endorses the theory that Christopher Marlowe was the principal author of 10 of Shakespeare's plays written before 1593, and he further hypothesizes that Marlowe, having survived his reported murder in 1593, went on to write more of the Bard's plays. Michell also speculates that Bacon secretly supported the production of Shakespeare's dramas. The best aspect of this lame study are the 116 fetching period illustrations.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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