Much Ado About Something
a fine mystery
a bard in the hand?
what's at stake?
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?


"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet. So Romeo would were he not Romeo called retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title."

Still, I would like to know. I think there is a great overlap between lovers of Shakespeare and lovers of mystery.

Tom Brennan
evanston, il


A simple, and perhaps simple-minded, point to remember is that, as Shakespeare himself wrote, "The play's the thing." Art and artist don't necessarily equate; the lowest guttersnipe may produce the most sublime poetry even as a Marquis might produce the dullest of pornography. I'd also advise a reading of Anthony Burgess's excellent novel about Marlowe, Dead Man in Deptford, for a fascinating glimpse into some of the possibilities of his life and death.

As for FRONTLINE -- as always, bravo.

Gene Stewart
bellevue, ne


I find the idea that Shakespeare's works were actually written by Marlowe intriguing, like Schliemann searching for Troy, Shakespeare is another great literary enigma. However if the identity of the "real" Shakespeares remains a mistery, it will detract no merit from the works. The aura of mystique surrounding the identity of Shakespeare has become a part of the brilliance of Shakespeare's works, like many of his characters Shakespeare carries a cloak of mystery that will not be undone. In the end the works "were" written by a man, a human being, not by an entity. Yet, how many times have the works of brilliant people been made to seem less deserved by their conceivers, that their own personal characters fall short of their ideals. Does Michaelangelo deserve less credit for the Sistine Chapel or the Pieta because he held no degree in Theology, and his metaphysical insight might be lacking? Brilliant and inspired people with a love for learning and knowledge can achieve "incredible" results by applying themselves. If Marlowe turns out to be the writer behind Shakespeare's works so be it, but is the messenger more important than the message at any cost?

Martin Ghecea
la jolla, california


Ten years ago you had me believing Shakespeare was Edward de Vere, now I'm seriously contemplating he could be Marlowe. I think I'll focus on their works instead.

Congratulations on another great program.

millburn, new jersey


I thought the piece was entertaining but far below Frontline's usual standards. This wasn't scholarship or even genuine journalism. It was "Hard Copy Does Stratford On Avon". Bias and speculation masquerading as scandalising "fact". Rubbo came off like an affable bully with an unsubstantiated axe to grind; less interested in discovering truth than in finding any excuse to spout his own pet theory. He makes Oliver Stone seem scrupulously objective by comparison. While I admit that there is much grey surrounding the authorship of these great plays, I'd expect a show like Frontline to address the question with a straight face, and not waste my time with idle paranoid fantasy. We can't even prove the day Shakespeare was born. Nor can we prove he wasn't a genius. Having spent twenty years performing his plays, I can say definitively that there was a single mind, a single voice at work -- and until I'm confronted with actual PROOF of that single author's identity, I will continue to call him Shakespeare.

"What's in a name?"

don reilly
la, ca


Maybe if Marlowe wasnt killed and did in fact go to Northern Italy to live out his days, maybe its possible he took some drugs newly imported from the Far East and it dramaticaly changed his writing style, similiar to when the Beatles took drugs and their songs changed ,ie I Want to Hold your Hand to Strawberry Fields Forever?

Rufus Ledbetter
scottsbluff, nebraska


Marlowe's death has always seemed mysterious to me. He may well have fled England after his friends at court could no longer protect him, but he did not write the works of Shakespeare.

The glover's son from wild western Warwickshire certainly attended Stratford's good grammar school. The records are lost, but absence of evidence isn't evidence of his absence. His life makes perfect sociological and psychological sense. After his father's difficulties, it was more important for Shakespeare to return home to die a successful gentleman than beloved poet.

Of course he plagiarized from and paid homage to Marlowe, just as he borrowed plots from Italian and other foreign Rennaisance poems and plays. But despite Marlowe's innovations, academe weighs heavily on his work. It lacks Shakespeare's vitality and reality. No University Wit would have dared set a play on the nonexistent seacoast of Bohemia.

I could go on, citing proofs of Shakespeare's composition not covered in the documentary. Yet I feel that the authorship debate isn't useless and may help more people understand what a transcendant achievement the plays and poems truly are.

John Tillman
athena, oregon


I devoured your Shakespeare/Marlowe mystery with relish, thank you. While genius is not the exclusive province of the rich it is implausible to suggest that a boy with Shakespeare's mind could grow up without the reputation to go with it. It matters less that he was an illiterate mans son, than he was an illiterate mans son with two illiterate daughters,and no library to speak of. That Shakespeare was a front man is credible.

That brings me to the delicious mystery of Christopher Marlowe who was a brilliant young man and the keeper of brilliant friends. I believe his death was faked. Kit could not have faked his death if it were to occur in the streets because the investigation would be under the local coroner and not the queens own. This man had done the queen a great service, she took a personal interest in him not once but at least twice (maybe three times). The letter defending his honor so that he could recieve his M.A. degree, the quick pardon of the murderer, and the investigation led by the queens coroner on property with royal connections. As to the questions of writing Marlowe was 29 the year of his supposed death and probable exile. Writer's are often known to break through a ceiling in their writing based on personal trauma and intellectual growth. The exiled writer must lay low and read, grow in language skills, learn subtleties of culture. A brilliant man (take a look at his scholarships, and friends if you doubt that fact) learns from those around him. Without his radical club he was exposed to whom? Perhaps his Italian host had a scandalous wit which influenced the writer. Perhaps the host even had daughters, perhaps Christopher long accustomed to the company of men fell in love with a woman for the first time in Italy? Anyway, I find the thought pure candy thank you again FRONTLINE.

Aria Dammons
hamtramck,, mi


Great documentary!!! No only is it possible that Marlowe wrote the plays associated with Shakespeare, but there appears to be mounting evidence that it is also probable. Some may eschew this information as irrelevant because the material transcends any author. Fair enough, but it is still an intriguing bit of western civilization's history that should be pursued. We must continue to distinguish ourselves from primitive civilizations with the pursuit of truth over the perpetuation of myth.

T. Grimes
ventura, california


I was most gratified to see that Frontline has given equal time to the theories that either Marlowe or de Vere wrote the works formerly attributed to an actor from Stratford. I do hope that in future entire programs will also be devoted to the possiblities that Bacon or --my own personal favorite, Queen Elizabeth herself-- wrote the plays.

Whatever else you may do, please do not devote an entire show to presenting the actual historical documents that appear to support the case that the man to whom the works were solely attributed --from his own time until sometime around the middle of the 19th century-- the man who was confirmed to have written them by Ben Jonson may have actually written the plays. I would be most disappointed if you were to so violently change your methods as to ask actual, reputable historians (historians mind you, not literary historians or other literary folk) of the Elizabethan and Jacobite periods what they think of these matters and the evidence presented for the various candidates. It is far more convincing to listen to the various laity conjecture about what does or does not sound most reasonable to them as they weigh theories sans actual historical evidence.

While you're at it, how about uncovering the government coverup of what really happened at Roswell, New Mexico? I believe there may be just as much valid evidence that "we are not alone" as there is to suggest that de Vere or Marlowe wrote plays formerly attributed to another.

John Carr
charlottesville, virginia


Regarding your delvings into the personal history of Shakespeare, the word that describes all these theories is "speculation." And what a delightful game it is. However your "documentary" cannot be called scholarship because nowhere do you concede that there is no hard evidence that anyone except William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays and poems attributed to him.

Ask yourself these questions: What did the people of Shakespeare's own time think of him? Didn't Ben Jonson sum it up with his "little Latin and less Greek?" He was seen as something of a raw genius, but lacking polish. Certainly he was not viewed as the god we see him as today.

Why are people puzzled by no mention of books in Shakespeare's will since there is no evidence he ever published his own works?

Why are people puzzled that a glover's son would prefer the title of gentry to that of playwright when the soul of Elizabethan Protestant society was not about aristocracy, but the rising middle class?

The fact is that all of your speculation is from a modern perspective. Nowhere is there evidence of literary or historical scholarship. This is People Magazine scholarship: lots of titillation, little substance.

Michael Waterson
napa, ca


It's clear there's much at stake in the debate of authorship. Anyone who ever read a play by Shakespeare has a mental image of a struggle for learning through worldly encounters and humble formal education, by the standard view. Certainly, those educated beyond a bachelor's degree in humanities would be glad to hear it was actually the Cambridge educated Marlowe who turned so many wonderful phrases. Watching the program, I wanted, too, to believe Marlowe had guardians whisking him off secretly, and combined with a different, more pragmatic genius for the stage, the myth became complete. Sadly, I admit the only play of Marlowe's attributed to him I have read is Dr. Faustus. I have read several more of Shakespeare's. Without disregarding the possibility of artistic, personal change, Marlowe after Shakespeare is like a tranquilizer after espresso. I'm enriched by programs like these and look forward to more research.

vacaville, ca


This very evening (1/2/03)my 9 year old daughter and I braved the rain of the Pacific Coast. We headed to one of our favorite haunts--a wonderful, ecelctic bookstore in the coastal village of Astoria, OR. There, we spent a wonderful hour perusing the books. It is interesting that we both ended up in the Shakespeare section.

I chose several intersting, antiquated commentaries. One book was by A. L. Rowse, and was drawn into his absorbing and anlytical argument for traditional authorship--that Shakespeare IS Shakespeare. I confess to being fascinated with the many controversies, those puporting Bacon, Edward de Vere, et al. They are interesting, but entirely absurd.

I recall a creative writing class I taught. I distributed selections from and asked the class to provide argument as to authorship. The general opinion was in favor of Ernest Hemingway, without a doubt.Imagine the shock when I relayed the excerpts were, in fact, those of former President Ronald Reagan.

Which goes to say: Hemingway is Hemingway, and Reagan, alas, was Reagan. We all read what we want into the evidence, but often read too much of our own prejudices into the effort.

Shakespeare is from Avon, was an acure observer of people, a lover, actor, busninessman, glover, voracious reader. How much of what we read is his? After 400 years, perhaps not every word, but on the whole, his voice rings consistent and true. This wasn't the work of a creative team, it was that of a solitary, bawdy, crafty literary genius with an eye for marketing entertainment to the masses.

As my daughter said, looking up from "Midsummer's...". Smiling, she remarked, "I just love the language, Daddy. He speaks to me."

Nick Reed
hammond, or


What utter nonsense. I'm disappointed that Frontline has once again used up one of its too few spots on the silly theories of Anti-Strafordians. I hope everyone will re-read Professor Murphy's excellent letter and his accompanying lecture, submitted in response to the 1989 Frontline on the Oxfordians. As he notes, there is no question about the authorship and just saying there is doesn't make it so.

Samantha Klein
new york, ny


I very much enjoyed the program. The argument in favor of Christopher Marlowe authoring the works of Shakespeare was very compelling. As to why he did not leave some evidence of his authorship, one should remember that he would have been a party to the whole fraud from the beginning. These weren't works plagiarized by W.S without consent; thus, why would he ever seek to ruin the reputation of his longtime partner?

I was disappointed by the brief mention of the investigation of the records in Italy, but then no mention of the results of that investigation!

Regardless of authorship, the plays will not lose any of their significance, meaning, or admiration. And I do not see a day, regardless of future findings, when the plays and sonnets will be republished with C. Marlowe as the author.

Once again, great program.

J Armfield
sunnyvale, california


"The Sweet Swan" could not have written the plays because he was not a "University Wit"?! Well, then, I guess we'll have to go about finding the REAL Mark Twain, he certainly couldn't have been that ill-educated red-neck from Hannibal, Mo! And, of course, that "ape" from Illinois couldn't possibly have written the Second Inaugural Address and how could ANYONE with a scant 4 years of schooling have come up with the words at Gettysburg? This is elitist B.S! It is called GENIUS, you idiots!

Bill Moen
kelseyville, ca


Thank you, Frontline, for such an enjoyable program. I haven't laughed so hard since I first heard the Oxfordian argument.

I must wonder, who has the greater burden of proof: the Stratfordians who are asked to prove that William Shakespeare had the education to write the plays or the Marlovians who must prove Kit had the breath to do it?

los angeles, ca


Mysteries are irresistible! As a long-time lover of Shakespeare's works, I used to be one of those who gasped in horror and disgust at any suggestion that Shakespeare was anyone but Shakespeare...until the PBS program on Edward de Vere and subsequent reading made me a convert! Now I find myself tempted to sway mightily toward Marlowe, and probably, should you air a Bacon installment, I shall be equally susceptible. I still think the Earl of Oxford case is most persuasive, but what seems clear to me is that Shakespeare was a pseudonym and/or a successful businessman but clearly a shadow and cipher at best. The works are still genius...but the suspicion is more fun than the traditional cover story. Keep telling us MORE!

Marilyn Jones-Wilson
detroit, michigan


Thank you for a very thought-provoking program. As an old lit. major, I'll need lots of convincing to let go of William Shakespeare as the author of his own works, although I have always been fond of the mysterious Marlowe. I believe that the narrator made several erroneous judgements based on contemporary rather than Elizabethan reality; ie, he questions why Shakespeare would write a 4-hour Hamlet, knowing that it would be cut. Elizabethan audiences were accustomed to much longer plays than the modern audience, so this is a non-issue. The entire discussion about the unlikelihood of Shakespeare writing for long hours because of poor lighting or the need to write in a tavern is looking at the question from our world, not that of the 16th century. I'll keep an open mind though. Sort of.

tacoma, wa


What a wonderful novel this would be--Marlowe the brilliant academic, Marlowe the spy, Marlowe the flawed but gifted man of the world, Marlowe the betrayed and exiled hero. It spurs the imagination. Like the Earl of Oxford, he's a much more romantic figure than the son of a glover who worked hard, invested well, and retired to obscurity in Stratford. He seems to have more of the flare that one associates with genius. And such a pity that he (supposedly) died so young, so full of promise.

Shakespeare of Stratford is just not sexy enough. Alas.

But wisdom, perception, and imagination are the products of keen observation. They are not the natural offspring of status, worldly experience, or even education. Stevenson didn't have to travel in the company of pirates to imagine and give life to Long John Silver.

The texts are the key to the arguments. To those who continue to seek a more fitting author, the texts are too rich for dull William Shakespeare to have written. Let's abandon arguments based on romantic notions of who SHOULD have written them and resolve this scientifically. Run the writings of Shakespeare and every other candidate for authorship through a computer program that analyzes style and rhetoric.

If there's a match, you have the makings of another program.

Terri McClain
saint charles, mo


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