Natalie Haynes: Why couldn't an ordinary Midlander write Hamlet?

The thing is...

Share

The thing is that the idea that Shakespeare didn't write the plays attributed to him is one of history's stupider conspiracy theories. You can tell, because the new film espousing this theory, Anonymous, is directed by Roland Emmerich, who wrote and directed the abysmal 1998 movie, Godzilla, and also The Day After Tomorrow, a film whose tension peaks when Jake Gyllenhall is pursued by the weather getting a bit parky.

And you could tell, even before the movie, because it's a classic argument from no evidence, which invariably makes for bad history. The Shakespeare-doubters love evidence-that-isn't-evidence. So Shakespeare can't have written the plays, goes their argument, because he doesn't mention them in his will, and if he'd written them, he would obviously have said something.

But this disregards everything else Shakespeare didn't mention in his will. His most famous bequest is his second-best bed, which he left to his wife, Anne Hathaway. Nowhere in his will does he mention his first-best bed: so, following the logic of the doubters, presumably he didn't have one of those either. I guess if he didn't write Hamlet, he didn't need a nice sleep after finishing it.

He also can't have written the plays because many of them are set in foreign countries, and Shakespeare wasn't widely travelled. So thank goodness no one tried to reconstruct the authorship of The Tenderness of Wolves, the 2006 Costa-Award winning novel set in the snowy wastes of Canada in 1867. Its author, Stef Penney, had never been to Canada. She'd never been to 1867, either. Perhaps Shakespeare, like Penney, used imagination instead.

The third reason why Shakespeare can't be the author of his plays is because he died several years after the last one was written, and it's inconceivable that he might have had a couple of years off. Imagine the conspiracy theories which will one day surround Harper Lee, who wrote her first and last book 51 years ago, and is still alive today.

The anti-Shakespeare sentiment which permeates Anonymous is nothing more than class and regional prejudice. The arguments for Shakespeare not writing his plays eventually boil down to the idea that an ordinary bloke from the Midlands couldn't have written anything beautiful. It's more plausible, in the film, that Edward De Vere wrote them, even though he died nine years before the last Shakespeare play was written. Being the Earl of Oxford is apparently more important than being alive, in terms of creative genius.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is taping over Shakespeare's name on roadsigns this week to draw attention to the fact that people keep trying to erase him from history. They shouldn't worry: Shakespeare will assuredly survive Roland Emmerich. Even if Godzilla didn't.

n.haynes@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Reconciliation Analyst

£200 - £250 per day: Orgtel: Reconciliation Analyst Gloucestershire

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
David Cameron and Theresa Mayspeak to Immigration Enforcement officers at a property where six immigrants were arrested on July 29, 2014 in Slough, England.  

Does David Cameron actually believe his tough new immigration stance?

Matthew Norman
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on