There appears to be no historical record that William Shakespeare, widely recognized as the greatest writer ever in English history, had an education of any type. His home town of Stratford-upon-Avon did indeed have a grammar school, but since the school’s attendance records have vanished, there can be no confirmation that Shakespeare actually attended. Shakespeare’s children are said to have been illiterate and some have suspected the same for Shakespeare himself.
The characters in Shakespeare’s plays blurt out sentences in many foreign languages but that grammar school, if Shakespeare attended, appears to have taught only Latin and perhaps Greek. His plays display considerable insider knowledge of royal courts and royal families but Shakespeare is not known for contacts with royalty. His plays also express familiarity with Italy but Shakespeare apparently never traveled outside of England. His Will makes no mention of his owning books or having unpublished plays, nothing at all in connection with writing. No manuscript or letter of his has survived, nor recorded as seen by anyone, reaffirming suspicions that he was illiterate.
For the above reasons and more, several people in the past, including distinguished writers like Mark Twain, have questioned the authenticity of Shakespeare’s authorship of the famous plays. For these few individuals, a thousand testimonials swearing that Shakespeare was Shakespeare cannot change the fact that a man with Shakespeare background could not have possibly written those plays. But those rare outcries of doubt were crushed by the establishment and it is now almost universally accepted by scholars that Shakespeare was Shakespeare. The published plays clearly state “by William Shakespeare.” End of story.
Shakespeare died in 1616 and a collection of his plays (First Folio) was published in 1623. The First Folio included quite a few plays that were never published previously, from where the skeptical among us might surmise that they were written between 1616 and 1623, that is, after Shakespeare’s death. Unfortunately, it has never occurred to the anti-Stratfordians that they should be looking for a candidate who was still alive in 1623. Instead, they insist that someone called the Earl of Oxford (who died in 1604) was the real Shakespeare. This makes the anti-Stratfordians just as ridiculous as the pro-Stratfordians: illiterate men cannot write plays, but neither can dead men.
A much stronger case can be made for Christopher Marlowe. His plays have a lot in common with Shakespeare’s plays, for example, there are significant parallelisms between his “The Jew of Malta” and Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” In brief, Marlowe’s plays look like something that a young Shakespeare could have written in the early stages of his development as a playwright.
Marlowe, however, is reported to have died in 1593, much too soon to have written the Shakespearean canon. Supporters of the Marlovian theory, however, claim that he merely faked his death in 1593, and then went on to write the Shakespearean plays. Indeed, there is evidence to support the notion of a staged death, but it may be a leap to say he then went on to write the plays. To say that, his supporters would first have to prove that Marlowe really wrote what is already attributed to him. After all, if Shakespeare was an imposter, maybe Marlowe too.
It seems nothing in Marlowe’s name was ever registered with the Stationers’ Office until after his presumed death, and nearly all of his plays were first published posthumously. Overall, the argument that Marlowe was Marlowe may be weaker than the argument that Shakespeare was Shakespeare. In other words, Marlowe’s supporters probably have it backwards. “Christopher Marlowe” would have been the first pen name of the real Shakespeare, who slowly transitioned to “William Shakespeare” as and when William of Stratford proved himself trustworthy. For sure, it was nice of Marlowe to free up his name by volunteering for a one-way voyage out to sea, but this name could not go on supporting plays indefinitely.
In 1587, Marlowe was awarded a Master of Arts degree from Cambridge by commendation of the queen’s Privy Council, for unidentified secret services provided to the crown. For such a gift from the highest places, Marlowe must have surely been involved in the big issue of the day, which was preparations to combat the anticipated Spanish invasion of England. As it turns out, the Spanish Armada was battered before it could shelter the foot-soldier barges into England, but this was not known at that time. Unfortunately, however, there appears to be no documentation regarding Marlowe’s vast experience in naval combat. Perhaps Marlowe merely offered services to the real Shakespeare, who in turn offered services to the crown.
One can only wonder if «Armado, a soldier, a man of travel, that hath seen the world», the Spanish protagonist of Love’s Labour’s Lost, alludes to that widely-traveled and strategically-brilliant Spanish fleet commander who just happened to be living in England during the early years of the undeclared war with Spain. This Spaniard is known to have had a long conversation with Elizabeth, queen of England, is known to have become a friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, and, moreover, there are indications that he also became the friend of an aspiring playwright, who certainly was not Marlowe, then only a college schoolboy far from the scene of action.
The Spaniard returned to Spain in 1589 with tall tales to explain away his five-year disappearance. A couple of years later he was forced out to sea again, put in a charge of new fleet of Spanish warships, but then managed to die shortly thereafter, in 1592. In that respect the Spaniard, now officially an admiral, had a lot in common with Marlowe: there is evidence to suggest that his death was also staged. To add to the intrigue, the mysterious and unexplained death of a knighted English explorer with a link to the Spaniard may have been fake, in the same year, 1592, but the heroic mission of the three dead men is beyond the scope of this article.
Love’s Labour’s Lost was also a play that emphasized Shakespeare’s recurring “bachelor” theme, once again resurrected in his all-time greatest masterpiece: the anonymous «Fama Fraternitatis des löblichen Ordens des Rosencreutzes». What’s this? You didn’t know that Shakespeare grew up in Germany and wrote fluent German? No wonder the Shakespeare Authorship Question has never been resolved. And no excuses, really. One of his earliest plays, perhaps his first, based on his own «Faustbuch», should have been taken as a clue as to where to look for the real Shakespeare.
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