Friday, April 2, 2010

Shakespeare: Authorship Debate & Resoures

I've read and watched some interesting debate/ proposals about the "real" man who penned the plays and sonnets attributed to William Shakespeare. I find this subject quite interesting, but not because I really care too much whether or not Shakespeare was a pen name or the real deal.

Recently, released an article that points to a man named Edward De Vere as the true author behind the Bard's genius. In this article, the former president of the Shakespeare Oxford Society, Matthew Cossolotto, was interviewed and asked why Edward De Vere is the most likely candidate. Here are some of the reasons that he pointed to as proof:

-William Shakespeare of Stratford's death was not mourned by the literati of London
-There is no proof that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote as much as a letter
-The political climate of the time period made it dangerous for a playwright to speak openly

There are more reasons why there exists this notion of a cover-up conspiracy involving Shakespeare's true identity. But, as I said before, I am not going to wait around for scholars to prove that Shakespeare was a nom de plume for another genius writer. I am going to continue teaching Shakespeare's plays and poems because they are some of the most enduring, brilliant pieces of writing that I've ever read.

When I first started teaching, I exposed my senior students to the issue of the authorship debate. I found that their anger and concern over this issue was counterproductive. Students felt like they had been "duped" by teachers over the years. Why were they reading the work of an imposter? After trying to quell their upset feelings, I can to my own conclusion. I love Shakespeare because I love the words, the characters, the rhythm, the themes, and the problems of his plays. I love getting lost in a script or a performance of a Shakespeare play. Whether or not I actually know the name or the identity of the person who created these amazing works does not matter to me. I think that the authorship debate takes away from the beauty of the work. And, didn't Juliet address this very topic when she said:

Some resources I've used in the classroom when teaching Shakespeare plays/ sonnets:

The Shakespeare Standard

The Folger Shakespeare Library

Hip-Hop Shakespeare

BardCast: The Shakespeare Podcast

Shakespeare in the City

60 Second Shakespeare

Shakespearean Insult Generator


  1. Mrs. Deraps,

    Those of us who wish to know as much as possible about the men and women who write the works we love, works that tell us as much or more about life than we can ever learn on our own through just our experience, are almost as interested in how these things came into being as we are about the things they wrote. True, the passerby who smells and admires the rose may not care at all about what botany might have to say about its origin or behavior, but there are plenty of gardeners who do.

    The story of the man who actually wrote the plays is every bit as interesting and exciting as the stories he told in his plays, and all but one or two are based on himself and on his own life. So if your students ask questions about the authorship, you might explain to them that, although you don't want arguments in class, you don't mind if they research the subject on their own:

    Stephanie Hopkins Hughes

  2. SO knowing who wrote the plays makes the plays and poems better?

    Not a jot.

    Thanks for the post, i couldn't agree with you more.

    William S.

  3. Interesting conversation! I have to agree with Ms. Hopkins Hughes if I am thinking about my role as a reader of Shakespeare. I as alluded to in my post, this is a topic of interest for me personally. I love to read about Shakespeare and the issue of a potential cover-up. What I have decided NOT to do is make this issue a focal point of my teaching.

    In my experience, I have found that high school students are easily distracted by these issues of authorship and that exposing the issue is counterproductive if I want students to focus on the brilliant language and themes and characters developed by "Shakespeare" in his plays. As soon as I introduce controversy, students dismiss and/or discredit the love that they had developed for this man.

    Though I am not by any means a Shakespearean scholar, I am more learned in this area than my students. I have a short, short period of time with them and hope to give them a glimpse of a linguist genius in that time. I'd rather that we spend our time enamored with words and ideas than a centuries-old identity theft or cover-up. This is my choice in the classroom, but I have chosen to read about Shakespeare in my personal time.

    And, thanks for the support William S.


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