Magazine article History Today

Lifting the Veil

Magazine article History Today

Lifting the Veil

Article excerpt

THERE SEEM TO BE SOME HISTORICAL QUESTIONS that, the more researchers dig into them, become murkier their waters become. This is partly due to the lack of the essential documentary evidence that would enable historians to nail down facts, and the possibility of multiple readings of the evidence that does exist. But more important is the fact that these are frequently questions that attract endless--sometimes even obsessive--interest from the public at large, perhaps for sensational or prurient reasons.

This month, we look at several of these topics. Did Shakespeare write 'Shakespeare'? is a controversy that has fascinated some people for centuries, and is one we ourselves touched on a few years ago. This month we revisit it, in the light of the publication of an entirely new candidate for the mantle of 'world's greatest writer'.

Equally old is the question of the identity of a mysterious prisoner held in the Bastille until his death in 1703, surrounding whom lurid rumours spread in the early eighteenth century. Seized upon by conspiracy theorists, political adventurers and fiction-writers alike, the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask (thankfully never, to the best of my knowledge, ever suggested as the author of Hamlet) has remained unsolved, though Roger Macdonald puts up a new candidate for this, too. …

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