My Hero Will Shaksper
by Martin Peake
Napoleon said that history is a set of lies that the majority of people are in agreement with. When in the course of time certain facts are unearthed or mysteries explained we're often pleased to get closer to the truth, but not always: For instance, Charles Darwin's “Origin of the Species” wasn't greeted with open arms by everybody, neither were the dead sea scrolls nor the gospels according to Timothy, Mary or Judas. Sometimes new information changes our picture of the world a bit too much. I think the boarder is that once we've forced our children to read something, we don't want it tampered with.
Sometimes the truth about our childhood heroes is a little hard to digest. For instance, when we hear that Sir Walter Raleigh was involved in the slave trade or that King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate because of alleged Nazi sympathies and not because his love for Wallace Simpson.
It would now appear that for the last 100 years scholars have been uncovering facts that make it look as if Shakespeare was an imposter. This is more than any red blooded Englishman is prepared to take.
When we read the works of Richard Roe, or Kurt Kreiler we are confronted with overwealming evidence that Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford was the author of the Shakespearian works. However, at the same time they clear Will Shaksper of all the accusations of dishonesty that have been bought against him over the centuries.
Let it not be said that an admirer of William Shakespeare is afraid of the truth. For a start I admire him as Will Shaksper (There's no no offence meant by this spelling of his name and I'm sure that none would be taken-that's how he wrote it.) As an actor, theatre owner, and theatrical company director he bought high quality English entertainment to the masses against daunting odds. When he and his friends were forced to leave the theatre in Blackfriars they took it to pieces plank by plank, carried it across London and rebuilt it as the “Globe” theatre. Apart from performances in London, Shaksper's troupe toured the provinces. Going on tour is hard enough nowadays with lorries for the scenery and props. Take away the lorries, trains and the hotels and you're looking at hard grind. In recognition of his achievements he was invited to take part in the coronation parade of King James.
Apart from the theatre, Shaksper made a good living as a commercial banker. (We call them that when we want to borrow money, when we have to pay them back we call them money lenders). Towards the end of his life Will Shaksper settled in his native Stratford-on-Avon speaking as a lay preacher in the church and (as we beleave) often acting as a benefactor to his neighbours. He bought for £ 60 “New Place” in Stratford-upon-Avon, a residence that would cost about £ 8,000,000 on today's market. All in all-Well done that man! He is a hero of the nation along with the best of them and anyone who wants to set a finger on his statue will have to reckon with the wrath of a proud nation.
This is where the story takes on a new character: Will Shaksper never claimed to have written the Shakespearian works. As a theatre director and an actor (hardly the professions where we expect to find coy modesty) he took to the stage night after night. After the death of Will Shaksper Ben Jonson declared him to be the author William SHAKE-SPEARE.
Now the question is: who is doing a dirty trick on whom? By way of comparison: I'm proud of my Grandfather, he was highly decorated for fighting bravely in world war one, he built up a flourishing business and he devoted a lot of time to community service. If, after his death, someone had claimed that he had painted the pictures that we attribute to Claude Monet or that he wrote the body of work that we attribute to Mervyn Peake then I would say “Hey back off will you. I won't have you making a fraud of my grandfather.” if someone would later prove that my grandfather had never made any such claims then I would be grateful.
It's a bit difficult, at first, to accept that Will Shaksper wasn't the author, but according to the law of the time: If an author wrote a play for you then it was your play. So there's no need to change the name of the royal Shakespeare Company.
In order to re-evaluate Shaksper we have to ask ourselves five questions:
(1) Did he make false claims to have written the Shakespearian works?
(2) Why didn't Edward de Vere write under his own name?
(3) Why did'nt Edward de Vere's surviving relatives reveal that he had written under the pseudonym SHAKESPEARE after his death?
(4) How did the name get changed from Shaksper to SHAKE-SPEARE?
(5) Does it matter?
(1) The answer is :”No”. Will Shaksper never claimed to have written the Shakespearian works. As a theatre director and an actor (hardly the professions where we expect to find modesty) he took to the stage night after night and never mentioned any literary activities.
(2) Edward de Vere was the Lord Great Chamberlain of England and as such the first aristocrat of the nation. It was unthinkable in the Elizabethan social and political climate for such a person to write plays for the entertainment of the masses. It would have been as if our current monarch would open a chip shop, or have a yard sale at Buckingham palace.
(3) The sonnets were originally intended to be a strictly private matter. Unbeknown to the surviving relatives of Edward de Vere, they were published under the name SHAKE-SPEARE. Without forming any opinions of our own, it is easy to see that these sonnets could have been used to question the biological parenthood and thereby the legitimacy of Henry de Vere 18th Earl of Oxford ,causing the family considerable embarrassment and difficulties.
(4) This was the work of Ben Jonson. In the employ of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, he bought out a second edition of his play Every Man in His Humour in which Will Shaksper had acted (B. J., Workes, 1616). Although it was hitherto unheard of and, as time has proven, an unnecessary practice, he entered a list of the the names of the actors who performed the play on its opening night. In this list he changed the actor's name from Shaksper to Shakespeare. Later saying: "It's not a posthumous name change, that was his acting name!"
(5) Well yes, sorry it does matter. We owe it to the acting profession. We expect them to work their magic for us, so we have to give them all the information we can, even if we don't understand why they need it. Actors often work magic that we don't understand with skills that simply leave us spell-bound. For instance, Sir Alec Guinness used to say that in order to play a character he had to know how he walked (even if he was sitting down) Sir Ben Kingsly “puts a character on” like layers of an onion- I've no idea what that means but I felt as if I was watching the actual events when I saw the film “Ghandi”. In a similar way I couldn't help thinking “It's nice of H.R.H. to help out with this little film.”, when I saw Dame Helen Mirren's performance in “The Queen”.
Surely future actors will find useful information when they study the life and times of Edward de Vere, when they walk through his old residences. Surely that's what Shaksper would have wanted.
Whatever posterity decides on the authorship question, in my eyes, the actor Will Shaksper will remain the father of the English theatre.