Next up in this review of the evidence to support the argument that William Shakspere of Stratford wrote the Shake-Speare plays and poetry will be a look at Ben Jonson. But there will be a few preliminaries before getting to him. One is a reminder that I’m intentionally spelling this name as “Shakspere” instead of Shakespeare because this is a discussion of the authorship question and traditionally this is the spelling that I’ve seen most used to distinguish the man from Stratford from the poet-playwright Shake-Speare, even acknowledging that they may be the same person.
Also, the idea of writing under a pseudonym in the time of Shake-Speare, or in any other time, is not controversial. Authors in Shake-Speare’s time have explicitly said this was done and others have implied such. The author given for any piece of work is generally assumed to be as given, unless good reason is offered to suggest otherwise. Those believing that William of Stratford was the author believe they have sufficient evidence and reason to support their view and don’t need to examine evidence or arguments otherwise, or believe that it has already been examined and found insufficient. Those believing in an alternate author earnestly believe they have evidence to support their view and that it hasn’t been fairly examined.
With the theory that William of Stratford did not actually write the plays and poetry attributed to him there’s been the argument about whether or not this pretense could have been successfully carried out at all. For example, wouldn’t the secret eventually ‘get out’ and then published by his enemies, his fellow actors or by those in the well-connected literary world? So here are a few answers for this question.
We know from the documentary evidence that William Shakspere of Stratford was an experienced actor. He had acted in at least two of Ben Jonson’s plays, and had apparently played the ghost in Hamlet, Caesar in Shake-Speare’s Julius Caesar, and maybe other “kingly parts”. So we know he could comfortably pretend to be other than he was if he wanted to. We also know that he was a successful and, many would say, shrewd businessman. And he was both the instigator and defendant in several lawsuits. So it appears that he was far more likely to be bold and assertive than to be shy, and not afraid of controversy or risk taking. Also, he was known to have a civil demeanor and to have friends among the gentry. If then he were to pretend to be a playwright, as cover to another individual, he should be fully capable of doing so. And to know if someone was actually capable of being a great writer can be nearly impossible without seeing them write this great literature and then reading it oneself. Just as we cannot point out a great musician among a crowd of citizens walking down the street.
Under the alternative authorship theory, if William had also been familiar with the plays, which he may himself have brought from the true author, then he would even have the advantage of being able to make minor changes to the script and add comments during rehearsals. Over time, if his fellow actors and fellow theater managers suspected he wasn’t the true author they just may not have wanted to risk killing the golden goose of their acting income of these popular plays. And none of them may have kept journals where they would even record such suspicions, if this even mattered to them at all. And as to knowledgeable persons in the literature world some of them did seem to doubt William as the author and did write about it, as I’ll cover later.
When it comes to Bacon, if anyone could pull off such a deception of this it is likely him. He was used to writing under different names and a pen name of “Shake-Speare” fits him perfectly, as posted here in the other subject forum. And he was an authority on deception, as partly shown by his essay Of Simulation And Dissimulation.
Interestingly, though many claim that such a secret couldn't be maintained, consider that Bacon was oblivious to the secret plot of his close friend the Earl of Essex who had nearly carried out a plan to depose Queen Elizabeth. Also, the Gunpowder plot had also escaped the knowledge of most until just before it was to be completed.
In comparison, a semi-secret literary life of little consequence does not seem so daunting.