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,

This program was a fascinating but one-sided discussion. I believe that Prof. Bate needs an entire hour to himself, to present his powerful arguments on the side of the Man from Stratford. In your program, he always seems to be forced into taking a defensive stance, rather than presenting his own case. I wondered why Hemmings & Condell's First Folio wasn't referred to (or did I miss that?) as a very convincing proof that Shakespeare-the-actor is, indeed, the author of the plays. And, finally, having read some of Marlowe's plays in college, my honest assessment of them is that they are boring, stilted and (while clever) lifeless! Shakespeare, however, is endlessly fascinating, with the greatest female characters ever written, the most compelling insights into the human psyche, and the most hilarious comic characters imaginable. I firmly believe in the claims of the Stratfordians, and doubt that anything will ever change my mind.

Helen Jones
salt lake city, ut


Dear FRONTLINE,

I just watched the Frontline Special on Shakespeare. I thought Frontline "was the last best hope for broadcast documentaries." Next time, how about using a qualified and professional cameraman, historian, researcher, writer, producer and editor? Was there a script? Was there an editor?

My family and I, along with millions of other Americans, are very intrigued with the Authorship Issue. It deserves fair and intellectual inquiry. The film you produced had the appearance of a poor "home movie" and hardly scratched the surface of the "Authorship issue." It was not an investigation whatsoever. Many of the people interviewed were driving around in a car or in the rain. Can you please explain why you are interviewing a "Management Consultant" about authorship? Was the film of the empty train car and the vegetation important "fillers?"

The editing was horrible. My children and I, who saw the original Shakespeare Authorship video, can't believe that Frontline would have aired this nebulous aimless drift. This was amateur, shaky video, with lousy audio, and appeared to try to make fun of some of the ongoing research efforts. This film was a huge disappointment, what was the point? Where was the educated contribution to knowledge?

Hugely disappointed,

P. Matthias
wakefield, rhode island


Dear FRONTLINE,

The most potent image I take away from 'Much Ado About Something' is that of the Stratfordians getting visibly shaken by the questions, as though the basis of their beliefs were being severely tested. I was riveted to the set as these candid images filled my own mind with some doubt, especially to the idea of Shakespeare having written all that he allegedly did without any other writer's aid. We are shaking the pillars of the Shakespearean temple, and there are strange portents in the air.

I've read the works of Marlowe and most of Shakespeare, and find that in terms of imagery they are worlds apart, as Marlowe seems bent on using metaphors and imagery dealing with the heavens, while Shakespeare uses decidedly Earth-bound metaphors and imagery.

What's at stake in the debate? Why, this is a remarkable question! I don't think we can even begin to realize the extent to which the Shakespearean cannon has become a part of our view of what it is to be human, of our very essence. Likewise, we desire to know who this fellow human being was whom we have elevated to the state of a demi-god in the field of literature and theatre. I am reminded of the young English poet, John Keats (1795-1821), who wrote to a friend how incredible it would be if, for example, we were to find out exactly how Shakespeare was positioned when he wrote "To be or not to be," or any other of his great soliloquies. Were his feet firmly on the floor or was he more relaxed, perhaps with one foot atop the other stretched out from his chair? It meant a lot to Keats, and I think he speaks for all of us who are interested in poetry and literature.

Whatever the outcome of our delvings into the past may be, I think it is imperative that further work be done, for I think we owe it to the author(s) of the plays to give credit where it is due.

Thank you for providing us with such a tantalizing look into a growing interest/dilemma/mystery.

Rich Roach
niagara falls, ontario


Dear FRONTLINE,

I was enthralled. And I am captivated by the idea of Marlowe writing the Plays( maybe with some input from Shakespeare, too). I want to go to Italy and check out those documents. As a professor of Literature I have always had some doubt that Will wrote it all. And education can't be faked or learned all at the tavern; although a person can be gifted as a writer, real craft needs work and constant practice along with some book learning. Did Will have the time and paper to practice? I will recommned this program to my students to contemplate. Whoever wrote the plays I am glad they, he did.

san antonio, tx


Dear FRONTLINE,

Shakespeare was one of the supreme artistic geniuses in the history of world civilization and he is rightly ranked in the calibre of Michelangelo, Beethoven, Rembrandt, and Mozart.

One characteristic these giants had in common in addition to genius, without exception, was an equally monumental egoism. Anonymity was anathema, and they craved - indeed, demanded - recognition and adulation.

The most strongest case for Marlowe 'being' Shakespeare is at one once the strongest case against the same: anonymity. Marlowe's arrogance was well established, and it seems beyond all likelyhood that he would have suffered willingly to hand credit for such towering masterpieces as Hamlet, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, etc,. to a lesser talent even under threat of death.

If Tyndale wanted to persecute Marlowe his reach certainly did not extend to Italy (remember, the Pope had a death warrant out on Elizabeth I, and would have prefered the heretical Tydale dead sooner than some English playwright). Marlowe would have written his plays in Italian, a language easily mastered, and been the darling of the Italian theater-going public more readily than he would have suffered forever the fate of a living ghost.

Having said that, I offer good-humored kudos to the proponents of this theory; it has all the intrigue, complexity, and enigma of a first-rate mystery novel, another medium at which the English excel.

Jonathan Baker
new york , new york


Dear FRONTLINE,

Marlowe was a genius in his own right. He wrote the first play in English blank verse and the first geniune tragedy in English.

However, Kit being Kit would have got himself in trouble with somebody else even in Italy.

menasha, wi


Dear FRONTLINE,

Having just watched the program, I must say the majority of the arguments carry as much conviction as those provided for the 'Armstrong never actually landed on the moon' theory. The Marlowe fake murder was the most outlandish theory, give me a break....

From what I can tell, we are trying to put 20/21st century values, concepts onto 16th century persons. Of course, Shakespeare would have copied from others and others would have copied from him. Each to improve or reduce the others work depending on their talents. There was no copyright, no great royalties to pay. You put on the play of the day. And as Shakespeare's name was put on these plays when they were finally printed, would suggest that at the time he was considered the author of the versions printed. Nobody came forward at the time to dispute it from what I have read. And unlike politics and government, Plays were not held in such regard, that they would generate such conspiracies. There was no great financial reward to be gained, no great fame to be won by their publication. In that society, those who would know about where the fame was to be apportioned wouldn't need a best seller list to tell them.

The argument that he couldn't have done it because he wasn't educated enough, is a pompous bit of rubbish. The fact that he could read and write, as they say educated in a good grammar school, would have made him the equal of 90 percent of royalty at the time as well. Let's face it, it was the 16th century. In the cosmopolitan world of London at the time, he would have had lots of contact with that society.

The statement made by one of the experts you list, that there is not documented proof that he improved himself therefore it can't be said that he did, is frankly a cop out. According to these theorists, the only satisfactory proof would be for Shakespeare to come back from the dead and only then if he came with all his receipts as well.

If you use that argument then the whole conspiracy theory falls apart as well. Because there is a lot less proof for this stuff than for Shakespeare.

It really gets on my wick, putting out these convoluted theories, of... I think therefore it must be, and it must be this because it is not that. What especially erked me, was the supposition that Marlowe was in Italy at the end of the show. 'Maybe there is proof', we have a letter that states that somebody saw a document that showed that somebody supported someone who said they were named Marlowe. Of course the actual document wasn't presented, and they visited the library and asked the lady about these documents and she says in 22 years nobody has asked me about this. How does this imply anything other than someone has dreams of what may be. Pseudoscience at it's worst.

Not a scholar but at least a student of history, I would suggest that the Richard III society has a much better argument for their theory than the anti-Stratfordists. If not the saint that the society would have us believe, it's very conceivable that he wasn't the monster that the Tudors and Shakespeare made him out to be.

peter cook
montreal, qc


Dear FRONTLINE,

Whatever one personally believes - that Marlowe wrote the works we know as Shakespeare's or that the historical personage William Shakespeare wrote them - programs like this Frontline presentation are wonderful tools for ruminating and historical and literary research. My initial feeling was to say that 'the play's the thing' - no matter who wrote the plays and sonnets and poems, they exist, for all of us, and those who have come before us and those who will come after us, to revel in and enjoy. But authorship - if it is in dispute - is important. It is important to give credit where credit is due, no matter if the person is long dead or not. Perhaps this puzzling out of literary mysteries is just a diversion from the work itself, but it can work to open up avenues of thought and enrich our understanding of the work. There has been much debate in the last 100 years over the historical Richard III vs. the 'Shakespeare' Richard III. Groups like the Richard the III Society have drawn both praise and criticism from scholars and lay people alike, for trying to uncover the inconsistencies found in historical records, and in offering up alternatives to accepting what we are supposed to believe because it is written or passed down for 100's of years. Unless some major piece of evidence is found to weight the question one way or another - and God only knows what that might be - people will never unequivocally agree on Shakespeare or Richard III or Jack the Ripper or any other historical or literary mystery. What is wonderful is that it gets people reading, asking questions, researching and talking. I thought the Frontline program had some interesting points in favor of Marlowe as the writer of the plays, and it has peaked my interest - if nothing else, I will broaden my reading scope to include Marlowe, whose work I do not know well - unless of course, he wrote 'Shakespeare's' plays!

Kim Balen
detroit, mi


Dear FRONTLINE,

After sitting through the new Frontline Shakespeare episode, I heard no compelling evidence that would change my views that 1) the Stratford fellow wrote the plays (although he did--as most scholars allow--collaborate)and 2) that Marlowe died the evening he was killed. People seriously presume that because Shakespeare did not leave books in his will that he never read? As the gentleman from Canterbury mentioned early on in the show, this authorship diversion is a silly turning away from the plays. I have taught Shakespeare's plays and one finds quite clearly an arrow of development marked by experimentation and maturation. The early plays of Shakespeare allow for the masterpieces. Marlowe's plays (which I have also taught and love) are wholly different in worldview, structure, language, tone and wit. Finally, the assertion that Shakespeare scholars have some material investment in the Stratford myth is delusional. The scholars I know revere the plays, not the man. If you want to see vested interests--look to the folks pushing the authorship issue.

Joseph Sullivan
marietta, ohio


Dear FRONTLINE,

It seems that there are now scholars caught up in getting a definite answer to the question of whether or not Marlowe wrote works attributed to Shakespeare. We are missing the entire gray area in the argument, such that the works of Shakespeare were a collaboration. The strongest argument is that the parallels between Marlowe and Shakespeare point to clear and obvious collaboration rather than a single author. However, if one man must be credited with the entirety of the work, then the author it must be Marlowe. A cover-up is simply more believable than a genius with illiterate girls who could not read the fatherís work. Yet those affliated with English forget to find the science of hard facts...there must be more evidence in Italy...and where is Marlowe's body? A stab to the head should clearly be evidenced in the skull even today.

Melissa Beery
omaha, nebraska


Dear FRONTLINE,

The portrait of Shakespeare was owned by an Ontario family which emigrated from Worcestershire in the 19th century and is now the property of the Shakespear Festival Theatre at Stratford Ontario. It has passed every scientific test possible. I saw it last year at the Art Gallery of Ontario and it's wonderful, quirky face with deep blue highly amused eyes, thinning red-brown hair and so much humour - and young. I agree about the snobbery. Because we don't know every detail of WS's life doesn't mean anything but that we don't know. Now that I am older, I can see very clearly that the text of King Lear and The Tempest way well reflect WS's experiences as he came closer to the end of his life.

toronto, ontario


Dear FRONTLINE,

Ultimately, it boils down to this: no one can believe that someone can write tragedies, histories, and comedies so beautifully and be one person. And yet we have no problems believing Mozart can hear whole symphanies in his head and write them with no mistakes, or that Beethoven could still compose beautifully after going deaf...but because we have no record of a man's formal education, his plays must have been written by someone else? I have two degrees in Theatre, I am one of the faithful Stratfordians who have left pressed flowers from the Globe on the Bard's grave in Stratford, and was lucky enough to take summer classes at the Globe and perform on its stage...I know what goes on backstage with actors, playwrights, and directors... Yes, Will may have had others putting their two cents in about plots, story, and so on...but ultimately it boils down to His Genius. Give Will his due credit. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet...but you could not call it a rose.

Ruthel English
arlington, texas


Dear FRONTLINE,

Although the theories of Marlowe's possible escape to the continent are interesting, they are the most implausible of the arguments proposed on tonight's Frontline.

The reason the Stratfordians don't give much credence to the Marlovians, Baconians, or Oxfordians is that there is no reason to. Reading the bulk of the Shakespeare canon proves through verbal echoes, recurrent characterization (though much improved and polished over the years), motifs, themes, and imagery that the plays (though obviously collaborative in many ways) are shaped by one mind, a mind which was not limited to the academic world or the aristocratic world (though obviously privy to them through the world of the theatre with its connections, its patrons), a mind which was not elitist but "comprehensive" and inclusive (not something most academics or aristocrats would have been in that day).

That Shakespeare could read (literally and figuratively, books and people) accounts for his knowledge of literature, the classics, and of people. No other education was necessary to ignite his genius. That his life is not well documented says nothing to the level of his ability. What prophet is honored in his own city or in his own time?

The question of his books is a bit trickier but not unanswerable as the "sources" of his plays (many of which are set in Italy or Vienna or France or England itself--your interviews stressed Italy so much that it seemed the ONLY setting used by Shakespeare) may have been provided by his theatrical company. Or, on leaving London, perhaps he gave them away??? (This is no more speculative than many of the ideas presented in the program.)

lake charles, la


Dear FRONTLINE,

As a director and producer of plays, Will's education would have been well-informed by the daily grind of presenting a new play EVERY DAY for YEARS and YEARS. He would have had to have memorized each and every one of them! Add the cosmopolitan environment of the great city, London, and you have a formidable intellect.

So, nearing the end of his theatrical life, he just walks away from the London grind, walks away from the books, papers, etc., and then employs his genius in making money -- to plush up his retirement. Sounds smart to me!

Finally, what if his parents really were Roman Catholic sympathizers, and he loved them, his work would be informed by this need for encoded 'secrecy', a teeter-totter, and of the need to fluff up anti-Catholic spy Marlowe's ego in order to stay alive in Elizabethan England.

What if he cherished Italy -- the hot bed of popery? What if he presented Italy in encoded warmth to dispell Elizabethan 'ignorance' and Catholic bashing?

Lillian Henry
croton, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

This show was very well done and extremely interesting! I teach the plays of both playwrights, and I really don't take much time to delve into the biographies of either man. I don't have time--I have to cover BEOWULF to Pope in 16 weeks! For me, "the play's the thing"--no matter WHO wrote them. It's highly doubtful that someone named Homer wrote THE ODYSSEY, yet we continue to refer to HOMER'S works. I suppose I'll always lean toward the Stratfordain theory, though; it seems a bit elitist to state that only a formal education could contribute to the creation of such beauty. A bit of educational snobbery, don't you think?

Carolyn Gordon
farmington, missouri


Dear FRONTLINE,

The major problem is, why go through all the trouble of staging a death, (complete with a dead body) when simply shipping Marlow out of the country would have done as well, (no extradition in those days). And given Marlow's powerful backers surely a pardon could have been secured in due time. As the documentary points out they'd saved him before.

As an American I am well acquainted with the phenomena of self education. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln had little or no formal education but became quite literate and well informed by their own efforts in adult life. Shakespeare may well have done the same, certainly life in Elizabethan London would have given him every opportunity.

As for his daughters' apparent lack of education we must remember Shakespeare was not living with his family during his professional career as a playwrite. He was up in London and they were in Stratford. Thus he obviously had little direct influence over his daughters upbringing. It is quite possible Anne Shakespeare considered learning unecessary and unladylike.

And the title 'gentleman' would most certainly have been preferred to that of playwrite in the seventeenth century!

orlando, florid


Dear FRONTLINE,

I'll admit that the theory is intriguing. And that's all it is -- a theory. This whole argument hinges on Christopher Marlowe faking his death and living in exile in Italy. But, where's the evidence? Where's the proof? Until there's evidence for C. Marlowe's further existence past 1593, I'm afraid I can't believe this bedtime story. I don't think it's a matter of "orthodoxy" and "ingrained teaching"; it's simple common sense. It sounds like many, many coincidences and secrets would have to be woven and kept in place for this idea to work. I find it hard to believe that such a grand conspiracy could go undocumented and unnoticed.

Sarah Pemelton
bellingham, wa


Dear FRONTLINE,

Read the plays of Marlowe. Then read the plays of Shakespeare. They're not by the same person.

It's amazing that Frontline would revive the old complaint that Shakespeare was a "country bumpkin" who couldn't have known about the world. He lived in London, a cosmopolitan capital where people from all classes and nationalities mixed in very closed quarters.

Shakespeare was well-known to everybody in town as the writer of the plays. It requires more than a "gut feeling" to overturn all those witnesses.

Marlowe's the man of mystery in this story. How and why he died, whether he fled to the continent and what he might have done there -- these are interesting questions in themselves, without the red herring about changing his style and outlook and smuggling plays back into England.

Colin Morton
ottawa, ontario


Dear FRONTLINE,

I very much enjoyed your program this evening. The evidence presented, in my opinion, shows Shakespeare could not have written these masterpieces due to his lack of extensive schooling & of Italy. Marlow had the scholarly background & more importantly the wide knowledge of Italy where most of the plays take place. Marlow's the man!

Lucy Iusso
toronto, ontario, canada


Dear FRONTLINE,

It is quite obvious that the Shakespeare authorship question is highly disturbing to many people who have been raised trusting the "orthodox" answer.

In many ways, Shakespeare has become a mythical figure and a symbol of western civilization. Attempts at reconciling the historical man with the near magical playwright creates as much unease as discussions about the historical Jesus. In the same manner that the Catholic Church has for centuries tried to sidestep controversial issues such as the fact that Jesus had a number of brothers and sisters (recently brought back to the surface by the supposed finding of Jesus brother James' coffin in Israel) , it is apparent that Britain has nothing to gain and everything to loose from the possible discovery of a coverup and possibly a massive fraud.

Reputations of generations of authors and academics who toiled in the study of the master would be affected, the government's role would be questioned, tourism to the mini-Disneyland of Stratford could be destroyed...

Only rogue australians, descendants of incorrigible convicts shipped off to other side of the earth could have the arrogance to fund research on such a heresy.

Johan Brag
westport, ct

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