Last week would have been Shakespeare’s 451st birthday, had he been as immortal as his work. Some might say that you’d need to have lived that long to have garnered the experience, the wisdom, and even to have had the time (or sufficient typing monkeys) to have been both so prolific and profound as Shakespeare.
In the latest podcast from The Eternities, Nick Buchanan, author of What Happens in Shakespeare’s King Lear, explains why he believes it entirely possible that this one remarkable man could indeed have been the sole author.
“The folks who argue that [it couldn’t possibly have been] Shakespeare really dislike the idea that he didn’t go to university and he was a country boy. How dare he become this great playwright!”
Those who question Shakespeare’s authorship offer several alternatives – typically aristocrats – the most popular current candidate being Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, while others have argued for highly educated urban intellectuals such as Francis Bacon.
But Buchanan likens Shakespeare to other artistic giants like Jimi Hendrix. “If you go into Jimi Hendrix’s background, you don’t find anything that will tell you he will become possibly the world’s greatest electric guitarist. Born into abject poverty, difficult childhood, mother died when he was about four or five, father not really there … stealing cars …”
“These arguments about [Shakespeare’s] ‘too humble beginnings’ don’t make sense. Other arguments I use are The Beatles. You just wouldn’t know these four lads are going to become [The Beatles] and write all of this music. None of them could read a note of music. Same [humble beginnings for] Einstein who was known as ‘the dopey one.’
“In Shakespeare’s lifetime, there were fourteen other writers and critics who wrote of him as the writer of the plays. Some of them quite angry that this young upstart was writing so well.”
But Buchanan also explains on the podcast how the authorship debate for him – despite a chapter on the subject in his book – is merely a sideshow to the continuing appeal of the works themselves.
He also talks about why he wrote What Happens in Shakespeare’s King Lear, a guidebook that includes the full play – which Buchanan argues is Shakespeare’s finest – interspersed with a commentary on every scene and a glossary – a labour of love, laid out for ease of use by the author himself, a skilled designer and illustrator.
“I want to shine a light on the wonder that’s there and make it available to more people because Shakespeare wrote for everyone,” he says. “[Shakespeare’s work has] been appropriated by a certain strata of people who like to go to the theatre with much bling – and they don’t necessarily get what the play’s about. But it’s become this ticket of status and elitism. … I’m not interested in playing the game. I’m interested in opening the door.”
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