I have been a “Stratfordian” all my life…so far, anyway.
A Stratfordian—for those of you not “up” on the nerdier side of All Things Literary—is someone who believes that the plays and poems of William Shakespeare were written by, well, by William Shakespeare. Of Stratford, that is. As in “Stratford-on-Avon”. Hence: Stratfordian.
I have been a Stratfordian all my life.
So far, anyway.
Now I’m actually questioning this stance.
I have had to admit that my pro-Stratford position has always been based on a solid rejection of the elitist, patronizing, bourgeois attitudes of the non-Stratfordian groups. “How could the son of an illiterate glove-maker in the Midlands possibly have written the greatest works in the English language?” they ask us. Like there’s no frakking way a middle-class family could produce genius offspring. I’ve always found this reasoning to be offensive. Genius springs up from nothing. Da Vinci was the bastard son of a notary and a peasant woman. Isaac Newton was the son of an illiterate farmer. You don’t have to be high-born to be smart. Considering the intermingled family trees among the nobility, one might actually argue the opposite.
Nor has the “lack of evidence” argument swayed me. Shakespeare didn’t leave a fantastic paper-trail—didn’t leave much of one at all, in fact—but who in that day and age did? Not many. In fact, there are plenty of notable personages in Elizabethan history about whom we can only guess. Most importantly, however, I hold strongly to the argument that “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” (This mantra is what kept me believing in God for so many years.)
And lastly, I am not a fan of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories are the bailiwick of nut-jobs and wing-nuts. It doesn’t matter if the evidence is pro or con. A good conspiracy theorist look at supporting evidence and say “Aha! See? I told you!” That same theorist will take evidence against their theory and say “Aha! See? They got to him!”
But the book I’m reading now puts a few more irons on the “Shakespearean Authorship” fire. I’ll give a fuller account of the book itself later, but for now, let’s just discuss the Case Against.
The book argues the three above points as persuasively as anyone can. To the first point, it’s not Shakespeare’s genetic background it questions, but his educational background. To the second, it compares Shakespeare’s admittedly paltry paper-trail to the paper-trails of persons of similar repute and stature in Elizabethan England, and finds a marked dissimilarity. To the third point, well, the book admits that a conspiracy did take place—it has to. As to why, I have yet to learn.
More importantly, however, it adds another argument to the mix: evolution. This probably wouldn’t have meant as much to me before, but now, as a writer with a decade of growth and evolution under my own belt, I find it to be the most compelling of the arguments.
Over time, we all change. Events change us, and the oeuvre of any creative artist will reflect those changes. Songwriters don’t write the same songs when they’re happily married parents than when they are gadabout singletons. Painters go through “periods” wherein their art changes content and style. And writers will often write—albeit peripherally or tangentially—about events in their lives; death, love, loss, happiness.
When you map out the life of William Shakespeare of Stratford and overlay that with the (assumed) chronology of his works, what you get is a great dissonance. There’s no pattern, no match. The great events of Shakespeare’s life simply do not line up with the great changes in his work. I find this to be a persuasive argument, all on its own, and when you add it to the others…
A Biblical archaeologist once said that, if you find evidence of a household in which a man named Jesus lived, it’s nothing. But if you also find evidence in that same household of family members named Joseph, Mary, and James, the odds you’ve found something pertinent rise dramatically. In other words, each of the anti-Stratfordian arguments, taken on their own, are interesting but unconvincing; add them all together, and you create an argument that is stronger than the sum of its parts.
I have been a Stratfordian all my life. So far.