Much Ado About Something
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join the discussion: Where do you stand on the Shakespeare authorship question? What did you think of Much Ado About Something? What's at stake in the debate?


Dear FRONTLINE,

Prof. Nelson's latest response to Mike Rubbo (below) continues to ignore the gaps and ambiguities in the Shakespearean evidence, and he distorts some points that Mr. Rubbo was making in his own vigorous reply. From what I have read by Mr. Rubbo on this website, and from what I have seen in his film, he is approaching the evidence for Shakespeare with skepticism instead of uncritical acceptance. Much of what Prof. Nelson has to say is, in my view, unsupported assertion, and since many of those assertions can also be found on his website and challenged on my own, I will be brief here.

Every biographer has to make decisions about the reliability of evidence and witnesses. Skeptics question whether Shakespeare of Stratford is the playwright named on the title pages. Despite the false attributions on "London Prodigal" and other Shakespearean apocrypha, Prof. Nelson vouches for the reliability of title page information. Yet a title page, by itself, cannot prove either side right or wrong. But there's a more fundamental issue here. The question of who wrote "London Prodigal" is an attribution question. A more fundamental question for Shakespeare's biographers is -- or should be -- where is the evidence that proves Shakespeare wrote for a living?

If Shakespeare was the writer of title page fame, then he was, by definition, a professional writer. Shakespeare left behind a lot of documentation that prove what he did for a living. i.e., that he was a theatrical shareholder, a member of the acting company, a real estate investor, and so on. But none of the his documentation tells us that he was a writer. The first piece of evidence in the historical record that names the man from Stratford as a professional playwright -- and it's posthumous by seven years -- is the First Folio of 1623, to which Prof. Nelson refers, although he ignores the ambiguities and circumstances that undermine the reliability of the witnesses and their testimony.

But my main objection here is this: For the orthodox biographers, the First Folio is all they've got. And that makes Shakespeare the odd man out. He is the only writer of consequence from the time period for whom one MUST rely on such belated evidence to make the case. Unlike his contemporaries (such as Spenser, Jonson, Nashe, Webster, Beaumont, etc.), Shakespeare is the only one who left behind no ìpersonal literary paper trails,î as I call them, during his lifetime. The literary allusions that Prof. Nelson mentions (e.g., commentary by critics such as Francis Meres) demonstrate a criticís familiarity only with a poem or play, not with the man. Nobody back then wrote about the author Shakespeare as though they actually knew him. Itís a unique phenomenon.

Yet Nelson concludes that ìShakespeare's authorship is established by documentation as reasonably as any fact is established from the period.î On the contrary, Shakespeare's biography lacks the one thing that is essential for a literary biography: hard evidence that he was a writer.

Mike Rubboís film has brought some of these issues to the forefront again, and I hope that more viewers will be prompted to question the reliability of Shakespeare's orthodox biography.

Diana Price
cleveland, oh


Dear FRONTLINE,

Mr. Rubbo argues in effect that because some documents are unreliable, therefore all documents are unreliable. In fact, only one quarto published during Shakespeare's lifetime, _The London Prodigal_ (1605), carries an attribution to Shakespeare that is regarded today as absolutely false. The jury on _A Yorkshire Tragedy_ (1608) is out. Conceding the latter to Mr. Rubbo as a false attribution, that makes two against some thirty or forty correct attributions. (Plays attributed to a "W. S." cannot count in the argument, since these initials were extremely common for the age.) But both _London Prodigal_ and _Yorkshire Tragedy_ were performed by the King's Men, so we remain well within the Shakespeare circle.

To argue from two false attributions of play quartos to a false attritution of the First Folio takes one's breath away, since the First Folio carries all the apparatus of a full identification of the author: an engraved portrait; personal tributes by the editors (Heminges and Condell, but NOT Jonson, who is not known to have had any role at all in the editing); dedicatory poems by known friends and\or acquaintances (e.g., Jonson and Digges); and a list of fellow-actors.

The First Folio survives moreover in a rich historical context: it carries references to Stratford, to the river Avon, to the monument, and to William Basse's memorial poem on the monument. The First Folio complements other evidence, including Digges's note of 1613, Digges's poem published in 1640, Shakespeare's will (in which he identifies Heminges, Condell, and Burbage as his _fellows_), and a visit to Stratford in 1634 by Lieutenant Hamond of Norwich, who noted, in his travel diary, the "neat Monument of that famous English Poet, Mr W{illia}m Shakespeere; who was borne heere"; to say nothing of evidence from earlier years, including Meres (1598) and _Return to Parnassus_ (1605), in the latter of which Shakespeare is correctly identified (along with Jonson) as someone who DID NOT have a university education.

By the way, Mr. Rubbo is simply incorrect to state that Shakespeare's death was not recognized, or to attribute such a belief to Professor Bate. It was recognized by the installation of the Stratford monument, by memorial poems by William Basse, Ben Jonson, Leonard Digges, James Mabbe, and Hugh Holland, by Pavier's partly successful attempt to publish his plays in 1619, and of course by the First Folio itself. These must all be attributed not to 1623, but to the years between 1616 and 1623: the monument and the poem by William Basse are as likely to belong to 1617 as to 1622.

So Shakespeare's authorship is established by documentation as reasonably as any fact is established from the period. The dismissal of facts one-by-one without a recognition of the way they support and confirm one another is the method of the conspiracy theorist. Using Mr. Rubbo's method, it is possible to prove that American astronauts never landed on the moon.

And what is Mr. Rubbo's evidence that Christopher Marlowe was a playwright in the first place? Documentary proof that William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon wrote the plays and poems attributed to him is far stronger than documentary proof that Christopher Marlowe (or was it Marley?) of Canterbury wrote _Dr. Faustus_, _Tamburlaine_ I and II, or _Hero and Leander_. Conversely, documentary evidence for the death of Marlowe in 1593 is far stronger than evidence for the death of Shakespeare in 1616.

Alan H. Nelson
berkeley, ca

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
We appreciate Prof. Nelson's response and direct readers to the exchange of letters with Michael Rubbo, producer/director of "Much Ado About Something," below.


Dear FRONTLINE,

Thanks to Prof. Nelson for the civility of his reply to my letter (see below). It is nice not to have one's work described as "nauseating" anymore, and to be merely asked to stick to the documentary record. The Professor sets up a polarity. On one side, the professionals like himself who base their arguments in defence of Shakespeare on the documentary evidence, and on the other, the amateurs like me who supposedly ignore the evidence and indulge in all sorts of wild speculation. Sounds plausible, doesn't it? But is it how things really are?

Prof. Nelson says, for example, that I discount the evidence of the First Folio with Shakespeare's name thereon. Not true. I readily admit in the film that the First Folio is the best evidence for Shakespeare being the author, with his name on that title page and the glowing introduction from Ben Jonson. But that's not the end of the story when it comes to related documentary evidence.

In Shakespeare's lifetime there were at least 8 plays published in quarto with either his name or initials on them which the experts now say he did not write. So, if his name on these plays is not reliable, how can we be so sure about his name on the First Folio? See how the documentary evidence often adds to the mystery.

Jonathan Bate has an interesting explanation for these false attributions. He says that by the beginning of the 17th century, Shakespeare was becoming so famous that booksellers found that putting his name on plays he did not write would sell those plays. Two things to note here. It's a weird explanation since Bate also admits that Shakespeare died unnoticed. Famous but unnoticed. Secondly, it is speculation. There's no documentary evidence to support this thesis. Bate is in fact doing what we all do, since the documentary evidence, so beloved of Prof. Nelson, is so thin and often so contradictory -- he's speculating.

Mark Twain had great fun pointing out that those who write those 400 page biographies of Shakespeare must continually resort to word like "doubtless" and "we can assume that" because what we factually know about Shakespeare fits onto one page.

Everyone speculates, scholar and amateur alike. Stanley Wells speculates on camera that Shakespeare actually did a lot of his writing in Stratford. Stanley is provoked to this line of thought by the fact that Shakespeare owned no house in London, had no quiet place to write. And yet if this is true, it makes it even stranger that no documents have been found in Stratford linking Shakespeare to writing, something Wells deeply regrets and puzzles over.

As for the Stratford Monument to which Prof. Nelson comes back again and again, the bust may be no mystery, but the text beneath it is a doozer of a puzzle. Three heavy names are there engraved, supporting Shakespeare's claim to immortality. Yet for anyone who knows the man and his work, they are the wrong names. Nestor is a law giver, hardly relevant. Socrates is a philosopher, a playwright would have been better, and Virgil is the wrong poet. Ovid was Shakepeare's poet of influence. Documentary evidence = puzzle.

At the end of his letter, Prof. Nelson turns to Marlowe and my speculation that Kit may not have died at Deptford. He says; "Those who claim that Marlowe was Shakespeare, amateurs all, discount the coroner's report as unreliable." Indeed we do and so, by the way, does Charles Nicholl, who has written the definitive book on the subject, The Reckoning, and of whom Prof. Nelson probably approves. (Furthermore, Prof. David Riggs of Stanford Univ. calls the coroner's report into question in his article "The Killing of Christopher Marlowe," which FRONTLINE has posted here on this website.)

Charles subtitles The Reckoning, "The Murder of Christopher Marlowe." It's on the cover! Now, the coroner's report clearly states the killing was in self defence, not a murder at all. So, here too Nicholl, the revered Charles Nicholl, shamelessly joins the band of speculators. One could make a list of the thousands of speculations that Shakespeare, the cipher, has provoked, some funny, some telling, and some absurd.

At the end of the day, faced with the Shakespeare mystery, and it is a mystery, one tries to speculate plausibly and responsibly in such a way that it points the way ahead, in my case to where new documentary evidence may be found. I am happy that, due to the Frontline screening, scholars are coming forward to help me search the Italian archives, the place where the false death theory for Marlowe must now be tested.

Perhaps Prof. Nelson might like to throw in a thousand or two, since factual evidence is the goal.

Mike Rubbo
sydney, aust.

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Michael Rubbo wrote, produced, and directed "Much Ado About Something." The first part of his exchange with Prof. Alan Nelson is below.


Dear FRONTLINE,

If Shakespeare's luminous sonnets are truly autobiographical, as many scholars concede, then William of Stratford does not qualify as the genuine Shakespeare, for as Emerson cogently noted, one cannot marry the man to the verse. The sonnets tell us that Shakespeare was lame, significantly older than William of Stratford, bore a canopy (what other than the canopy of State?), a master of legal terminology, and indeed a nobleman. Inasmuch as Marlowe was also born in 1564, and like the Avon man a commoner untrained in law, he too fails to qualify, quite apart from the lack of evidence that he was not assassinated.

By contrast, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford satisfies all the empirically motivated criteria. These points and many more are summarized in Chapter 1 of SHAKESPEARE'S FINGERPRINTS, which I have written in conjunction with Prof. Galina Popova, whose contents I have taught over a period of years at the University of Washington (as a professional contra Prof. Nelson).

Marlowe's literary fingerprints are indeed congruent with those left behind by the man behind the 'Shakespeare' pseudonym and as such it seems that Marlovians are on the right track when they infer that all the works were written by one and the same author. Unfortunately, like orthodox critics they fail to note that their Marlovian candidate was a name-lender towards Oxford's hidden agenda--that of elevating English to a status equaling or surpassing that of Italian, French, and Spanish. These points are also summarized in our book in which the fundamental result is this: that Oxford wrote under a variety of pseudonyms appropriated from living individuals during his lifetime devoted to literature. His approach, moreover, was designed to lend credence to the Oxford-Tudor program, proceeding hand in hand with their concerted effort to bring England into the European community of nations.

Prof. Michael Brame, University of Washington

Michael Brame
seattle, wa


Dear FRONTLINE,

All anti-stratfordian theories rest on four foundations.

1) Fallacious "arguments from silence," for example "we have no records of his attending school, so he didn't"

2) Sweeping arrogant conjectures on what a glovier's son from Stratford could or could not be capable of

3) Sweeping ignorant conjectures of what a leading playwright should or should not have done or been accorded.

4) a pig headed refusal to acknowledge that the burden of proof lay with them

As an amateur i'm amazed how easy it is to refute virtual all the points of the anti-strafordians on the program.

"there is no documentary evidence that shakespeare attended the grammar school in stratford"

Well, yes but there's no documentary evidence for anyone. Academic record keeping for primary schools then are not the same as ours.

There *is* documentary evidence that Will's father was burgess in the town and as such was entitled to send his sons to the grammar school for free.

"Shakespeare would've wanted to have his daughters perform his plays."

Women didn't perform plays! Did John Baker miss that day in High School English lit. !?!

"Why didn't he educate his daughters?"

Why didn't Milton? They were literate, but barely. And Milton was the greatest scholar of his day!

"You would expect the author of Henry V to be the same as Two Gentlemen of Verona."

Indeed, and it's commonly accepted that John Fletcher had a hand its composition.

"The early works of many great artists differ from their later works."

True, but in the Marlovian scenario we're talking wildly differing works close one upon another. "Titus Andronicus" and "Henry the VI" written quite soon after "Doctor Faustus" With this in mind I would submit that it would've been a step down for Marlowe to write "Titus" and "King John" after his masterpieces. Whatever their merits they are forgivable as "early Shakespeare" they are very puzzling as "later Marlow"

Indeed I have many questions regarding the Marlovian scenario.

Are we really to believe that, given what we know of him, Marlow could've lived to a ripe old age AS A RECLUSE!?!

Can the author of "Jew of Malta" have really written "Merchant of Venice"?

Why go to Italy? Poland or Bohemia were better places of refuge for free thinkers at this time.

Why carry the secret to his grave? And his friends and associates to theirs?

It just makes no sense. (At least we're dealing with a man of the theater, not another Elizabethan courtier.)

But the biggest puzzle is what is the anti-stratfordian bias afflicting FRONTLINE? First the Earl of Oxford? Now this! When will FRONTLINE or PBS allow the stratfordian case to be made, say something based on Ian Wilson's SHAKESPEARE: THE EVIDENCE?

Eric Martin
lowell, ma


Dear FRONTLINE,

Prof. Alan Nelson is correct, as he sometimes is, that the First Folio represents some evidence for Shakespeare. Actuarily, most such dedications accurately identify authors. But Diana Price has shown Jonson's wording to be enigmatic, so that reduces the probability that the identification was accurate.

Price has also shown that actuarily, contemporaneous documents identify authors as authors. No such evidence exists for Shakespeare.

With those and other competing actuarials, we end up with uncertainties which are far too subtle to those with ideological biases. For the open-minded, the mystery continues.

Wayne Shore
san antonio, texas


Dear FRONTLINE,

To all those who are annoyed by my film may I say that I am not proposing firm conclusions. I am talking about Shakespearean strangeness, a strangeness which goes far beyond what I had time to show in the film.

Is it not strange that Shakespeare never claimed authorship of his works, that he never talked about them to anyone? The claims to authorship are made on his behalf are made by others, and in some cases these others put the Shakeseare name on plays acknowledged not to be his, plays like Yorkshire Tragedy and Locrine. So, can we trust these others to be telling us the truth about anything?

Is it not strange that those who should have known him well, people like Beaumont and Jonson, speak about him as a child of nature, ill-educated, when we know he had a prodigious knowledge of history, literature and languages? Why did they get him so wrong? Is it not strange that his early plays are full of demonstative learning, plays like Titus Andronicus and Loves labor Lost, seeming to be the plays of a University wit, and yet we are told they are by a young man fresh from the small town of Stratford? He's a young man who, if he did go to the local school, failed to impress his teachers (teachers invariably talk about special students) and did not win one of the scholarships available for bright boys.

Is it not strange that this newcomer to the London scene who makes no splash at all until Robert Greene notices him, would have been commissioned to write 17 sonnets for a young earl, probably Southampton, to persuade that dashing lad to settle down and have kids? We think they were commissioned by William Cecil, Lord Burgley, who while he has had quite a lot to do with Marlowe, has no reason to single out the lowly actor to be from Stratford for this delicate task. What a status gulf is here bridged if William wrote those poems!

One can make a list of a hundred strange things linked to Shakespeare, that he comes across from the records as mainly an avaricious businesman, and yet has no interest in the publication of his own works, that his son-in-law, John Hall the doctor and a learned man, shows no interest in this extraordinary father-in-law. That we have no record that the family even bothered to get a copy of the First Folio. James Wilmot went loking for such books and found none.

Marlowe is far from a perfect replacement. We only turn to him or others because of the nagging puzzles around William.

Marlowe, of all the aternatives, is in my mind the best, not perfect, but the best. I hope the Frontline screening will lead to research in Italy where the Marlowe case must be more fully tested.

Mike Rubbo
sydney, aust.


Dear FRONTLINE,

Michael Rubbo's program on the claim that Christopher Marlowe wrote Shakespeare merely plumbs the depths of the ignorance of historical amateurs: it is a scandal that such a biased and poorly-documented report should gain the sponsorship of PBS. Most nauseating was the hounding and mis-quoting of such scholars as Jonathan Bate and Charles Nicholl, and the presentation of individuals with no intellectual credentials whatsoever as experts on documentary biography.

Take as a single example the claim that Shakespeare's death was not recognized: it was indeed recognized by the Stratford bust, a monument to a literary star, explicitly identified as a contemporary Virgil; by William Basse's poem, "Renowned Spenser," which puts the man buried in Stratford in the company of Chaucer, Spenser, and Beaumont; and by the First Folio, the greatest tribute to a recently-deceased author in the history of literature.

Alan H. Nelson, Professor of English, University of California, Berkeley

berkeley, ca

FRONTLINE's editors respond:


Michael Rubbo replies to Prof. Nelson:

Professor Nelson calls me a historical amateur. He is right. I have an MA from Stanford, but in Communications, not history or literature. Delving the truth about Shakespeare has fallen on the shoulders of the amateurs because the professionals like himself who have a vested interest in the status quo, either steer clear or get so angry that its hard to carry on a debate with them.

Prof. Nelson says it was "nauseating" the way I "hounded and misquoted" the scholars on the screen, notably Prof. Jonathan Bate and Charles Nicholl. In fact, I think I treated my informants very well. I sent them a rough cut of the film before locking off. I wanted them to be able to come back at me if they indeed felt they'd been unfairly treated. Jonathan Bate described the film as "brilliantly crafted," asking for no changes except a shortening of Dolly Walker-Wraight who he thought went on a bit. And in fact I did shorten my feisty old Marlovian, who was one of my main informants. Charles Nicholl felt that I had shown him as too flustered when I debated the Marlowe-lived-on theory with him, so I trimmed him too as requested.

I think what probably upsets Prof. Nelson is that I have somehow caught his colleagues off guard. They don't seem too sure of their man, Shakespeare, and sometimes even seem bored with defending him. The game has changed. Doubts about Shakespeare are more legitimate than they ever were, and insulting those of us who report this (in a very even-handed and friendly manner, I might add) won't make the mystery go away. It is there for everyone to enjoy and put in their two cents worth, and fuming academics won't make us stop. Sure, we are amateurs. But wasn't the man they defend so vehemently also a self-taught amateur with no university degree? With him, it's admirable. With us, it's a scandal.

I hope Prof. Nelson allows his students to see this film and debate with him the points I make. And if they disagree, I hope they are spared words like "nauseating."

--Mike Rubbo


Prof. Nelson responds to Rubbo's reply:

Mr. Rubbo is simply incorrect when he states that academic Shakespeareans "don't seem too sure of their man." As a rule they are very sure that William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon wrote the plays and poems ascribed to him. They base their convictions, moreover, on documentary evidence, and it is on this score that academic professionals gladly part company with their amateur antagonists.

Professional academics seek out documents and learn from them. Anti-Stratfordian amateurs examine the same documents and discount them.

The First Folio of 1623 clearly identifies the author of the Comedies, Histories and Tragedies as Master William Shakespeare, fellow of Heminges and Condell, actor in the same company, the "Sweet Swan of Avon," whose funeral monument had been erected at Stratford.

Professionals look on such documentation as clear, contemporary evidence of authorship. Their amateur antagonists characterize this same information as a tissue of lies perpetrated by Ben Jonson -- not only denying the true author his credit, but defaming Jonson (who must be defamed because he is elsewhere a witness to the historical William Shakespeare).

Professionals look on the Stratford funeral monument as testimony in stone to the true identity of William Shakespeare of that town: a man who is commended in so many words as a writer who is a Nestor in judgment, a Socrates in wisdom, a Virgil in poetry. Their amateur antagonists think that the current monument was sculpted in the 18th century, replacing, while nobody noticed, a crude sculpture captured in a pen-and-ink in the middle of the 17th century by William Dugdale -- a man who has been shown on independent grounds to be a thoroughly incompetent draughtsman.

It is here that the professionals distinguish themselves from the amateurs, for they happily accept the judgment of the modern authority on English funeral sculpture, who, without reference to the "authorship debate," absolutely accepts the authenticity of the Stratford monument: see Nigel Llewellyn, Funeral Monuments in Post-Reformation England (Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Those who claim Marlowe was Shakespeare, amateurs all, discount the 1593 coroner's report as unreliable. In other words, their very first act is to dismiss a document rather than learn from it. Theirs is not the way of the legitimate scholar: theirs is the way of the conspiracy theorist.

--Alan H. Nelson


Dear FRONTLINE,

As an anti-Stratfordian who remains uncommitted to any authorship candidate, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary about Marlowe. In particular, it captured the spirit of inquiry from the anti-Stratfordians, as well as the passion that the authorship question seems to inspire -- from people on both sides. It was especially encouraging to see such prominent scholars as Jonathan Bate, Stanley Wells, and Andrew Gurr engaged in the discussion of a topic with which they vigorously disagree.

I should like to point out an error concerning the image of Shakespeare's monument in Holy Trinity Church. This image was described as "Dugdale's drawing," and it depicts Shakespeare as a sackholder, presumably commemorating his career as a grain merchant. The image shown on camera was actually Hollar's engraving, which was based on (or more precisely, was improvised from) Sir William Dugdale's original sketch. Dugdale's sketch confirms that the monument we see today is the original, not a substitute. In other words, the integrity of the monument's pedigree is intact. But that presents a problem for the traditional biographer, who is confronted with the aesthetic and literary inadequacies of a bust and epitaph that are supposed to commemorate a great writer.

In short, the monument is too little, too late. The deaths of the most celebrated writers, such as Jonson and Spenser, were noted by contemporaries almost immediately. Yet the monument to Shakespeare is not good evidence that his death was recognized at the time as a loss to the literary community. All we know is that the funereal monument was installed by 1623, seven years after he died. Nor does that monument compensate for the absence of any solid contemporaneous evidence that might prove that Shakespeare of Stratford was a professional playwright.

It's a point that might have been emphasized and expanded upon by those who were arguing the case against Shakespeare, especially when the testimony from the 1623 First Folio was introduced. The film touched briefly on Jonson's famous eulogy, in which he praised the "Sweet Swan of Avon" -- using ambiguous language. Even if one accepts Ben Jonson's 1623 tribute as unequivocal testimony, the case for Shakespeare as a playwright simply does not stack up --because for no other writer are we asked to trust such belated testimony, uncorroborated by any solid evidence left during the author's lifetime that would prove the man wrote for a living.

Many questions remain, so thanks for introducing more viewers to this unsolved mystery.

Diana Price
cleveland, oh

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Diana Price is the author of Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem (Greenwood Press, 2001).


Dear FRONTLINE,

Although my father's ancestors made their way over from England, in the 1640's, I still must say that only the 'English' would waste so much time and energy arguing over something which is pointless and never will be settled. It's not the playwright or author, but the works themselves, which will matter in all of history. So much of what was said on this program by both sides is both conjecture and hypothetical. Come on lads and lassies, relax and enjoy the genius of these plays and sonnets!

Don Greenwood
vancouver, washington


Dear FRONTLINE,

My husband and I were fascinated by your program on Shakespeare and Marlowe. We watched the entire program and found it hard to believe that this was on Frontline--a program that usually presents well-researched and thoughtful pieces.

The evidence presented to support the idea that Marlowe was actually Shakespeare included such hard-hitting "evidence" as the fact that many of Shakespeare's plays are set in Italy, Shakespeare's first published work as an author appeared immediately after Marlowe's death, the place of Marlowe's burial not being suitable to a man of his station, no books bequeathed in Shakespeare's will, and our favorite--a university education is a requirement for the research behind Shakespeare's characters and the beauty of his writing. The latter was particularly persuasive given the obvious importance of our current president's Yale education on his grasp of issues and his command of the English language. Please.

As a follow-up to this hard-hitting program, may we suggest an expose on the Beatles' Abbey Road album to delve into the question of whether or not Paul is really dead.

poulsbo , washington


Dear FRONTLINE,

Another fascinating load of old codswallop, dreamed up by those with more time on their hands than sense in their heads. Me, I'll stick to the text. As someone once said (now was it Shakespeare? Marlowe? Bacon? Jonson? De Vere? Elizabeth? or an alien visitor to the 16th century?), the play's the thing!

N.B. The Sanders portrait, exhibited to the public at the Art Gallery of Ontario in the summer of 2001, made its penultimate home in an upstairs cupboard in a family house in Nepean (an Ottawa suburb). I recommend Stephanie Nolen's fine book, "Shakespeare's Face" for a thorough good read of the mystery.

S.J. Harley
mississauga, ontario


Dear FRONTLINE,

Regardless of its actual significance to our modern lives, this is the most compelling story you have broadcast in several years.

Even though I had other plans, I could not help but watch it all the way through two times, and check out some other websites besides.

I think it's pretty likely that the works attributed to Shakespeare only were actually written "collaboratively," or possibly only embellished by Shakespeare himself, as suggested by the producer. Also, much was clearly simply lifted from many sources. Today we have a similar pheonomenon in the production of "free" open source computer programs, such as GNU/linux and BSD, which represent some of the best programming done today. Since any person can freely add to them, the list of contributors is endless. Ironically, the era when all our best classic literature and music was produced was an era in which "copyright" was lax, and worship (and even payment) to content creators was limited. But I belive this is no accident. Turning intellectually creative work into nearly permanent "property" (to be owned 70 years or more after the creators life by some boring corporation) as we are doing today largely does much more to stifle creativity than enhance it.

Marlowe is a compelling figure, and I would like to believe that he was the principal genius behind the Shakespeare work. I identify much more with him, the incautious freethinker, than Shakespeare, the wealthy and conservative businessman who wouldn't even have his daughters educated or leave a bequest to institutions of education or culture. On the other hand, I can see why so many conservatives prefer that Shakespeare get all the glory.

You haven't yet proven the Marlovian idea, but it's now got to be at least seen to raise many honest and legitimate questions, and not simply be another crackpot conspiracy theory. I believe it's more likely to be true than not, and hope it will be proven in my lifetime.

Once again, after a considerable lapse, you have shown courage in broadcasting a controversial production, and I commend you for it, right or wrong. If nothing else it brings to light a picture of the time when our greatest plays were written, and many facts (or lack thereof) which many people would otherwise be unaware. I was stunned to see that the only actual handwriting we have from Shakespeare himself is a few signatures!

Charles Peterson
san antonio, tx


Dear FRONTLINE,

I found the evidence presented in ,"Much Ado about Something", regarding the Kit Marlowe authorship of Shakespeare's plays, compelling. The pieces fit together in a manner that is coherent and logical, unlike the Stratfordian view which seems based solely on tradition and/or faith ( I have seen evidence of shameless deification of "Him" both from Stratfordians in the documentary, and in responses left here). Today, Marlowe battles against dogmatism, tradition and blind faith, much like he did in 1593. I find the irony bittersweet.

One thing that did bother me was the assumption that Marlowe could not have understoood the common man, the humanity that appear in the works of Shakespeare, and therefore he could not have been the sole author of the plays. I find this assumption baseless; Marlowe was not high born, he had the same socio-economic background as Shakespeare. In fact, Marlowe only becomes one of the elite when his brilliance is recognized and rewarded with a scholarship, in stark contrast to Shakespeare's academic career. Would this erase the life experience of his youth? No, in fact, all it did was expose Marlowe to the world of the cultured elite. Also, he was a secret agent. These individuals need to blend easily, and read people effortlessly - they are students of human nature. Marlowe did not need a Falstaff to intercede between his genius and the rabble, he appears at least as street smart as Shakespeare. Between the two men, who do you most readily imagine at a tavern, gaming, fighting, intriguing? For me, it's Marlowe hands down. He is the only man of the two with the qualifications to produce these works - alone.

Daryl Pinksen
st. john's, nf


Dear FRONTLINE,

What a charming load of tosh! Delightful. But the questions raised against WS as the author of his own works are a) trivial and b) easily answered; there's no "Daughter of Time" to be written here, except as an entertainment -- about Marlowe. WS is safe.

But thanks for some fun! Viva PBS!

Suzy Charnas
albuquerque , nm


Dear FRONTLINE,

I read "The Man Who Was Shakespeare" many years ago and found it thought-provoking. As I recall, the book suggested that Shakespeare received payment for the use of his name and that the payment probably came from Thomas Walsingham.

I once heard a lecture by the eminent Shakespearean scholar, Dr. Hardin Craig. Dr. Craig was in his eighties at the time, and he had forgotten more about Shakespeare than most of us ever learn. The opening words of his lecture stick with me until this day: "There once was an itinerant actor (and not a very good one) who spoke his lines (and not very well) who supposedly wrote the most beautiful poetry in the English language." While he would not be drawn into discussion on the question of authorship, that sentence made it clear that he saw room for doubt.

Thank you for an excellent production.

little rock, ar


Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline,

Thank-you so much for this show. I recently returned from London where I stayed for two years to study classical acting at Lamda. Seeing Mark Rylance's cheerful face again brought back great memories and thrilled me. I am in the process of building a world class Shakespeare Festival in Prescott Ontario. We are committed to performing Shakespeare's plays in the great outdoors beside the stunning St.Lawrence River. My feelings on this issue is that I agree with Mark. Theatre is a collaborative effort, a great team sport, and while Shakespeare just may be the sole author of his work, I cannot fathom that he did not have influence, guidance, and suggestion from other great writers, particularily Marlowe. Theatre is a small community where people rely on each other tremendously. Everyone talks,and everyone runs ideas past each other in order to create the best possible production. I honestly don't believe that Shakespeare was not a team player, but a man interested in the best possible literary piece of his day. I hope that one day someone does find the missing piece of the puzzle so that we can give this person, or group of people the credit they too deserve. I think that any artist worth his weight would also want that for his fellow creators.

Deborah Smith
mountain, ontario


Dear FRONTLINE,

SCENE: A small Stratford tavern, shortly after William Shakespeare's funeral.

Marcus: It's the play!

Fendor: Look, ye, it's the author!

Dram: Choose ye one, silent friend, Garret.

Garret: How so? Are they not one and the same, play and man? Is it truly a game of 'This-r-That,' then?

Marcus: Both would seem 'ticularly important, I'll give ye that.

Garret: But one could live with the plays only, eh? Isn't it a healthy wager that someone mused over Marlowe's head: 'What's an author to the world without the work?'

Dram: Perhaps, only a Stratford 'gent.'

Laughter...

Garret: Perhaps we'd get neither author nor play if someone didn't think of something, quick.

Fendor: Coming round to it, the work is the thing but ye'll need a hand to shake in public, eh?

Marcus: True enough. The linen don't get cleaned without the laundress, dearie.

Innkeeper (overhearing): An author gets scrubbed down to play a corpse and a merchant gets a clean set of playwright's linen.

Marcus: Having one on, they are! We get the plays, and a part, it seems.

Fendor: Indeed! Played us along in "As You Like It," I recall.

Dram: So it stands, thus; him that pens 'em gets his demons exorcised, him that plays 'em gets the applause.

Fendor: And the coin.

Garret: Would be a worthy trail to follow, that.

Marcus: Another laundering and ye'll be clean through to the truth. Look to it!

Laughter...

harrisburg, pa


Dear FRONTLINE,

Excellent program! Shakespeare seems to be the undoing of so many. I am amused at the acedemic angst over poor Hamlet's plight - is he "off his rocker" or is he calculating...hmmm? Worthy of spending one's life investigating? I think not. That is best left to the director!

But this Marlow thing ... If Marlowe wrote the plays - then it is absolutely necessary that the truth be told. I can't get my mind around the idea that the quality of the plays somehow holds the question of authorship moot. Regardless of the name under the title - the play is still the same collection of words! All that changes is the name of the author. Strange, that there is this wanting to hold on to ... a name. Maybe it's the associated costs of changing the letterhead stationary of all the Shakespeare Theatres in the world or maybe it's simply about our difficulty accepting change in our lives.

A person's need to hold on to previous beliefs in the face of new information is curious indeed.

If Shakespeare is false- let loose the voice of truth! Go Marlowe!

And one more thought...When compared to Shakespeare, don't you agree that Marlowe is the more interesting fellow?

Michael Johnson
jerome, idaho


Dear FRONTLINE,

When Frontline's first program (that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare) was aired in the late '80s, the academic critics were silenced with the comment that Frontline's goal was to entertain viewers, not to present a boring but factual presentation of the state of Shakespearian scholarship. This 'Marlow wrote Shakespeare' program is no different.

Your poll, 'Does the author matter?' does not ask the right question, which is, 'Do authors deserve credit for their work?'

No serious Shakespearian scholar maintains that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, any more than pop scholars claim Sidney Howard wrote "Gone With the Wind." Shakespeare, like Howard, was a screenwriter who wrote screenplays.

Shakespeare wrote screenplays for works of prose fiction and history chapters. He also re-wrote plays (including "Hamlet") that had been popular a few years earlier (similar to the person who wrote "The Preacher's Wife"). His screenplays are unequaled, but they did not require any specialized knowledge beyond the ability to read the English works on which they were based. The only thing Shakespeare's plays required of Shakespeare was his genius with the English language.

The 18th century saw the rise of modern playwrights who actually developed all the characters and plots in their plays. Judging Shakespeare by 18th century standards, the second edition Encylopaedia Brittanica made his authorship nothing less than miraculous, elevating Shakespeare's contribution above the reality that he was screenwriter (not original author), and denigrating the man himself to a state of complete illiteracy (made for a better story that way).

The 19th century rejected all miracles, including (beginning with Ms. Bacon) the 18th century miracle that an uneducated illiterate had risen to write the Shakespearian opera.

Modern scholars recognize that Shakespeare had an adequate education to have written his plays, that there is no evidence that he didn't write them, that the entire burden of proof is on those who maintain he did not write the plays, and that no such proof has been presented.

Shakespeare deserves the credit for what he did, just as everyone else deserves credit for his or her work. Or blame.

Baoping Song
dubai, dubai


Dear FRONTLINE,

As I watched the show and read the discussions, I'm amazed how most die hard "Stratfordians" won't consider the preponderance of doubt against Shakespeare. Nagging questions remain regarding authorship. I don't believe it is fruitful to ask questions about personal motives (why wouldn't he teach his daughters to read/write), but it appears the "anti-Stratfordians" have compelling questions which, taken together, raise some level of doubt. I am quite disturbed at the "Stratfordians" close-mindedness. Is this an attribute Shakespeare would have admired?

I suggest Shakespeare's supporters investigate one of his undisputed contemporaries on par with their search of this original question. Will the evidence for his contemporary hold up with his deeds or will they produce a flimsy argument for him as well? If strong evidence prevails for the contemporary, they might need to reconsider their position.

John Sargis
essex, vt

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