The Good, the Bard & the Ugly. 400 Years after His Death, What Do We Really Know about Shakespeare?

The Mirror (London, England), April 23, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Good, the Bard & the Ugly. 400 Years after His Death, What Do We Really Know about Shakespeare?


Byline: ROD McPHEE

He is the greatest writer of all time yet 400 years after his death aged 52 on April 23, 1616, we still know very little about William Shakespeare.

We like to think of our national treasure as a clean-living family man and all-round genius but some reckon he was nothing of the sort.

If we believe the theories, the Bard had either two wives or was actually in the closet. Some say he didn't write his own work, and that his masterpieces may have been penned by a woman.

What's more, we are still not sure what he even looked like.

In a bid to solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare, we investigate his darkest secrets...

Did he even write his plays?

Shakespeare was too stupid and low-class to write Hamlet or King Lear, or so one theory goes. The prime suspect here is Christopher Marlowe, a rival playwright who was also born in 1564.

Some go so far as to suggest that Marlowe actually faked his death in 1593 and continued writing as Shakespeare. Coincidentally, the Bard's first plays appeared on stage around the same time.

But there are some 80 others in the frame too, including aristocrat Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and Sir Francis Bacon.

Another theory is that the plays were by a team of writers - an idea backed by British Oscar winner Mark Rylance. "There is a genius at work," he says, "but it's not Shakespeare. A lot of other people were gathered around those plays."

Was he a love rat?

He may have created some of the great romantic verses but it seems the Bard wasn't necessarily a man of his words. There's evidence he two-timed wife Anne Hathaway.

The other woman was Anne Whately, whose name appeared in a register in Worcester, where a marriage licence had been issued for her and Shakespeare.

Though they never wed, some academics believe she was the love he wanted to marry.

Instead, he felt compelled to do right by Hathaway, who was pregnant with the first of his three children when he wed her in 1582. It's also claimed Hathaway was another of the true authors of his works.

Was he a woman?

The revelation that a woman had written Shakespeare's plays would have rocked his society to its foundations.

Amelia Bas-sano Lanier, a poet in Queen Elizabeth's court who featured in some of Shakespeare's sonnets as The Dark Lady, is the name in the frame.

She was around at the same time as the Bard, was a gifted writer and had the upper-class knowledge to be able to tackle the subjects he wrote about. In particular, the plays show an understanding of Hebrew and many are based in Italy, tying in with her coming from a Londonbased family of Jewish Venetians.

Was he gay?

Shakespeare's plays and sonnets seem to hint strongly that he liked men as much, if not more than, women. He dedicated many sonnets to a "fair youth".

Professor Michael Dobson, of Birmingham University's Shakespeare Institute, says: "The categories ego of 'straight' and 'gay' didn't exist in the same way then. He couldn't have been gay or straight in our terms. So I don't think it's a crazy theory.

"The sonnets give plenty of evidence of finding young men sexy. And the 'Shall I compare thee to a Summer's Day' sonnet was written to a man. …

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