Questionable Background Raises Doubts about the Bard

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 25, 1996 | Go to article overview

Questionable Background Raises Doubts about the Bard


Byline: Tom Valeo

Last week the folks at A&E sent me the biography of William Shakespeare that they will broadcast at 7 p.m. Monday. I dutifully put the tape into my VCR, and sure enough, the same old story appeared on my television screen - born in 1564 to a glover and his wife, Shakespeare probably attended local schools, where he probably read Ovid, a source for several of his plays. He got married at 18, had three children, and at some point in the next decade went to London, where he became "the greatest playwright the English language has ever known."

As I watched, I thought of that spot in Texas where fossilized footprints of a human cross the fossilized footprints of a dinosaur. The scientific creationists, who believe the biblical account of creation is literally true, point to those footprints as evidence that humans and dinosaurs once co-existed on Earth. Everything in the fossil record, of course, separates humans and dinosaurs by several million years, but the creationists want to believe that humans were created the day after the dinosaurs, and they claim those footprints prove it.

The belief that William Shakespeare wrote the plays that bear his name is becoming just as doubtful. Virtually everything that psychologists have learned about creativity casts doubt on his authorship. Yet, believers continue to believe. "Shakespeare was a genius," they say, as though that provides all the proof they need.

But this romantic notion of genius bears little connection to reality, according to researchers. It "assumes that great creative achievements must be the result of extraordinary individuals employing extraordinary thought processes," says psychologist Robert W. Weisberg.

But in his book, "Creativity: Beyond the Myth of Genius," he argues that nothing extraordinary is at work.

"Creativity is firmly rooted in past experience and has its source in the same thought processes that we all use every day," he says.

The genius, according to Weisberg, is not supernaturally smart or endowed with some magical method of thinking. In fact, psychologists cannot find evidence that the creative think differently at all. Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a University of Chicago psychologist who has been studying creativity for more than 30 years, has found only two traits that seems to set the creative apart - motivation and intense focus on their work.

"They have a magnificent obsession," he said, "and they have an unusual ability to concentrate on what they are doing."

So if Shakespeare did not possess superhuman gifts, how could he write such impressive plays?

The conclusion is simple - he couldn't.

The Shakespeare plays were written by someone with a world-class education - no one doubts that.

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