Yesterday, April 23, was Shakespeare’s birthday. Well, maybe, no one is really sure. It’s also supposed to be his death day. In fact, despite endless movies and books devoted to researching or even fictionalizing his life, what is actually known to be true about Shakespeare is very little.
Shaking Out the Truth About Shakespeare
One of my favorite books about Shakespeare is by Bill Bryson called Shakespeare: The World Stage. In it he distills down the story of Shakespeare the man into what is actually known to be true. That might be why it’s an efficient 199 pages, including bibliography. It’s also all the more fascinating when juxtaposed against the breadth of Shakespeare’s work. Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. He was prolific. The information about his past is not.
I loved Shakespeare since I was a teen. I was probably the only one in my school (maybe the world?) who felt reading Romeo and Juliet in freshman English was life-changing. I’ve written about Shakespeare and my love of him before on my blog. (In fact I wrote a blog titled – Me + Shakespeare = A Love Story). So, yes, I’m a fan.
My favorite Shakespeare-obsessed anecdote?
When my house caught fire in college one of the only things I worried about was my giant anthology of Shakespeare’s work. I can still smell the soot on it. You might even be able to see it on the edges in this picture. Obviously I was able to save it. Phew!
Craziest (Shakespearean?) Theories About Shakespeare
Given we know so little about The Bard, I thought it might be fun to create a quick list of some of the most outlandish theories proposed about Shakespeare the man. (Note: These are widely believed to be un-true.)
Shakespeare wasn’t a person.
Even some legitimate historians and academics have entertained the possibility of this conspiracy theory that Shakespeare’s works were written by a group of authors under the pen name William Shakespeare. These authors were supposedly lead by Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh.
Shakespeare was actually another famous playwright, Christopher Marlowe.
Along the same lines of the above, it’s also been conspiracy theorized that Marlowe, who was murdered in a bar fight before many of Shakespeare’s plays were written, actually survived. He was either a spy for the Crown or his death was falsified because he was about to be jailed for being an atheist. There are a few different theories on just that part alone. Either way, it’s been proposed that Marlowe lived in hiding and spent the rest of his life writing Shakespeare’s canon.
Apparently, people have a really hard time believing Shakespeare was Shakespeare.
Shakespeare was Queen Elizabeth I (What? Crazy!)
Of all the Shakespeare isn’t Shakespeare conspiracy theories, this one is my favorite. Much of the reason people question Shakespeare is because of his lack of education. They just don’t believe he could have written these words. Someone of Queen Elizabeth I’s stature certainly would have had the education and potentially imagination to come up with these wild stories of outrageous comedy or tragic betrayal.
Still, one of the major reasons this theory has been proposed is because of the portrait in the first publication of Shakespeare’s called the First Folio. It’s said to be a “dead ringer” for the Queen. Although no one knows if that’s even his portrait. Regardless, you can judge for yourself in terms of the likeness.
Shakespeare was Godfather to his own illegitimate son.
It is not even agreed on that William Davenant, a poet laureate who was 12-years-old when Shakespeare died, is even Shakespeare’s godson. That hasn’t stopped people from taking this unverified claim a step further and theorizing that Davenant was actually The Bard’s biological son. He is also named William….
Shakespeare was a thief.
This one has ended up in several biographies, although it’s now generally believed to not be true. However, it’s said that after just being married and in Stratford, Shakespeare stole a deer from Sir Thomas Lucy. He was caught, questioned and even whipped, according to the story. This event supposedly made him so ashamed that he left Stratford to go to London and become an actor.