Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare

(Courtesy of Amazon)
(Courtesy of Amazon)

How many geologists must keep arguing that Earth is more than 6,000 years old? How many doctors at the National Institutes of Health are still trying to prove that there are tiny organisms we can’t see with the naked eye?

Pity the Shakespeare scholars. For more than a century now, they’ve been distracted from actual scholarship by zany arguments that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon did not write the plays we attribute to him.

All of this flared up (again) a few years ago when Roland Emmerich released a silly costume drama called “Anonymous,” which posited that Edward de Vere was the true (secret) author of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” et al.

When the movie came out, I spoke to Michael Witmore, director of the Folger Library, and he assured me, “I do not lie awake at night worried about who really wrote these plays.” But, nonetheless, this phony controversy has provoked some wonderful books, particularly James ShapiroContested Will, which tears the anti-Shakespeare argument limb from limb. 

Readers interested in a brief summary of the claims and a strong defense of the Bard might consider Stanley Wells’s new Kindle single, “Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare” ($1.99). In about 60 pages, the esteemed scholar and editor considers the various anti-Shakespeare arguments (and some of their loonier proponents) and provides a quick, well-grounded rebuttal. Along the way, he also gives an overview of what is known about Shakespeare’s life.

Admittedly, there’s nothing original here for people familiar with the scholarship. Describing it, as Amazon.com does, as a “Hot” new release suggests considerably more pulse-pounding excitement than goes on in these paragraphs. But then again, how many fresh arguments could one devise to prove that Earth does not rest on the back of a giant turtle?

Online, Wells’s essay has already attracted the opprobrium of skeptics. “It appears that Mr. Wells has simply copied old arguments from previous books on the subject,” writes a customer named Mark Twain. (Rumors of his death are, apparently, greatly exaggerated, but that’s a whole nuther conspiracy). “Worst, he keeps repeating various ‘facts’ that are simply long-held assumptions. When will modern scholars start thinking for themselves, or doing their own research?” Sigh. 

To “read” this essay, I used the text-to-speech feature on my Kindle while walking back and forth to the subway. One gets used to the slightly robotic voice, and I loved the way it pronounced the title of Shakespeare’s play “Richard eye-eye-eye.” It gives the tragedy a Ricky Ricardo feel that conveys Wells’s exasperation.

Disclosure: Jeffrey P. Bezos, co-founder and chief executive of Amazon.com, owns The Washington Post.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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