An American magazine has published an article titled ‘Was Shakespeare a Woman?’ In response, we have written an article titled ‘SHAKESPEARE DERANGEMENT SYNDROME’

The Atlantic, a US magazine founded in 1857, has published an article by Elizabeth Winkler titled ‘Was Shakespeare a Woman?’. The answer of course is no, but while it’s deplorable that The Atlantic would do this, it’s not actually surprising. Elements of the US cultural elite, just like their counterparts here in the UK, have a long and inglorious history of Shakespeare denialism.

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To cite just one example, no less an institution than the Smithsonian has had a particularly egregious advocacy of ‘Oxfordian theory’ on its website for as long as I can remember. So I’ve come to realise that rich, clever and sophisticated people are often complete and utter fruitcakes, and our American cousins are not exempt from this.

The Atlantic itself has published this type of thing before during its lengthy lifespan, and Winkler merely takes all the arguments routinely deployed by anti-Stratfordians over the past century and adds a feminist twist. Who knows, maybe she got the idea from the cinematic font of wisdom that was St Trinians 2.

However, I do think the Winkler article is also symptomatic of what’s happening in the culture at large. Because we should have evolved to the point where an article like this could no longer be published, except in the crankier recesses of internet obscurity. But we are living at a time when the media, the political class and the universities have veered so far off course that they are in danger of losing all credibility with much of the public. I think of it as The Great Derangement, and Shakespeare Derangement Sydrome is just one facet of the overall malaise.

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Apart from its modish feminist gloss, the Winkler article reads like every other anti-Stratfordian screed I’ve ever trawled through. It’s quite old-fashioned. I say this without malice, as I’m quite old-fashioned too, but apart from a sprinkling of contemporary references, it feels like it’s coming from the 1960s or ’70s. It’s ironic indeed that for a woman who claims Shakespeare was a woman, Winkler herself writes like an old bloke.

Anyway, Winkler’s candidate for the authorship is Emilia Bassano. She’s been known by a number of names and a variety of spellings, so for clarity I will stick to this version of her married name: Emilia Lanier.

Reading the Winkler article, which is pretty long, I groan inwardly when she goes to meet Emilia’s “most ardent champion”, a geezer named John Hudson, who published a headache-inducing book on the subject in 2014. Winkler says “His zeal can sometimes get the better of him”, and she is not wrong.

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In fact, Hudson is a textbook Shakespeare Conspiracy Theorist. The formula is always the same:

1. “There is a secret message in the works of Shakespeare revealing the true author!”

2. “I alone have cracked the code!” (“Because I am so much cleverer than everyone else…”)

3. “Here it is! Is it not amazing?”

4. “What? You don’t believe me? What manner of imbecile are you!”

The article continues with Hudson and Winkler parsing Shakespeare’s works for evidence of Emilia’s hand. The thing is, if you pick any person who was writing during Shakespeare’s lifetime (and quite a few who weren’t) you could similarly identify any number of references that made them the author. It’s an easy game to play once you get in the swing of it. Indeed, I’m surprised no one has thus far identified Pocahontas as the author of Shakespeare’s works. Watch this space.

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Emilia’s advocates also believe she was Jewish and dark-skinned, so Winkler invokes Maya Angelou, deliberately misunderstanding the late author’s famous line to the effect that “Shakespeare must be a black girl”. [Read an excellent article on Maya Angelou’s love of Shakespeare here]

Finally, Winkler gets round to discussing Emilia’s own poetry. “Her writing style bears no obvious resemblance to Shakespeare’s” she concludes. Well, no.

With grinding inevitability, Winkler proceeds to her final destination, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. I know it seems a bit like saying Buckingham Palace is a hotbed of anti-monarchism, but Shakespeare’s Globe has long been strangely ambivalent (at best) about the man from Stratford-upon-Avon whose name it trades under. In his 2007 book on Shakespeare, Bill Bryson describes the Globe under former Artistic Director Mark Rylance as “a kind of clearinghouse for anti-Stratford sentiment”.

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At the Globe, Winkler attends the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Authorship Trust, which I imagine as being like a scene from Eyes Wide Shut. With Rylance as its figurehead, the Trust has considered the merits of dozens of authorship candidates over the years, before settling on… all of them! No, wait. The last time I checked, they were fighting an “Anyone But Shakespeare” campaign. In recent months they seem to have opted for an “Authorship By Secret Committee” theory, and have even given our mate William a seat at the table. How kind.

The Globe’s latest Artistic Director is Michelle Terry, and one of the first things she did was to commission a new play, Emilia, which features Shakespeare plagiarising from the titular heroine. There is no historical evidence for this, naturally, but it also occurs in Sally O’Reilly’s 2014 novel Dark Aemilia. Contemporary writers seem to love the idea of Shakespeare being a fraud. Presumably it eases the pain of knowing that the only reason anyone will remember them is as a footnote to Shakespeare.

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Incidentally, I get the impression that these are troubled times for The Globe. It’s just announced a two-year delay to its ambitious ‘Project Prospero’ expansion scheme, and its current production of Henry IV Part 2 has reportedly been playing to half-empty houses.

Michelle Terry has previously stated that her tenure at the Globe has “a socialist agenda”. Hopefully she’s not using Venezuela as her model.

But back to Elizabeth Winkler and her article in The Atlantic. ‘Was Shakespeare a Woman?’ has already found an audience. The publication has quite a big following and dodgy Shakespeare clickbait has long been a reliable attention-grabber for a media that is running dangerously low on both ideas and integrity.

But at least some of The Atlantic’s readers will be thinking: “If they can be this wrong about Shakespeare, what else are they wrong about?” before arriving at the sobering conclusion: possibly everything.

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In the article itself, Winkler dreams of her revelations dealing “a blow to the cultural patriarchy” so that women could “at last claim their rightful authority as historical and intellectual forces…”

It’s heady stuff, and any push-back by rational people will no doubt be decried as abuse, harassment, bullying and, wait for it, hate speech.

Because, while the leading fruitcakes of the Great Derangement are constantly telling us we’re living in the 1930s, we’re really not. We’re actually living in 4BC, with dozens of fervid religious cults all vying for supremacy. What this is really about is not that Shakespeare was a woman – he wasn’t. But it is necessary for the purposes of the cult that its adherents accept and proclaim that Shakespeare was a woman. Cults always demand that their followers believe the unbelievable, it is a means of uniting them against the world they wish to ultimately conquer.

We live in an age of identity politics, and almost every identity group I can think of comes with its own pet Shakespeare authorship theory and preferred candidate. So it is highly likely that the hacks at The Atlantic will be walking this path again.

To quote from the man himself, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Shakespeare Magazine is an independent online publication for everyone who loves Shakespeare. Read our latest issue completely FREE here.

Buy Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro.

The Oxfraud website for in-depth debunking of anti-Stratfordian thought.

Book tickets for Henry IV Part 2 at Shakespeare’s Globe.

In a Shakespeare Magazine Exclusive, actress Alison Campbell gives a beautiful performance of the legendary ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech from Shakespeare’s As You Like It

Shakespeare Magazine visited the cast and crew of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare at the 2018 Bristol Shakespeare Festival. Alison Campbell, who’s playing Shakespeare himself, gave us this beautiful performance of one of his greatest speeches, as spoken by Jacques in As You Like It (Act II, Scene 7).

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.

Text via Open Source Shakespeare

Inspired by James Shapiro’s classic book, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare is running at Bedminster’s Stackpool Playhouse (situated in a well-known local church) until Saturday 14 July. Produced by Jacqui Ham, the play has been written and directed by Ed Viney. Apart from Alison as Shakespeare, the cast is completed by Kirsty Cox as Philip Henslowe and Chris Yapp as Will Kemp.

1599 cast
Running at a short and sharp 70-minutes, it’s a fun and family-friendly introduction to some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, characters and speeches. It also features the actors building an impressive wooden replica of Shakespeare’s Globe as they act out the playwright’s story.

Go here for more information about 1599 and to book tickets.

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus is cover star of Shakespeare Magazine 09!

British actor Tom Hiddleston is cover star of Shakespeare Magazine 09!

The theme is “Shakespeare at the Cinema”, and the issue sees us review the screenings of both Hiddleston’s Coriolanus and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet.

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We also look at Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard’s epic new film of Macbeth, while the Horrible Histories crew chat about their brilliant Shakespeare comedy film Bill.

Also this issue, we interview James Shapiro, author of 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear; and Paul Edmondson, author of Shakespeare: Ideas in Profile.

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There’s also a colourful taste of the glorious poster art from new book Presenting Shakespeare.

Not forgetting a profile of Tom Hiddleston’s Shakespearean career so far…

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As always, you can read Shakespeare Magazine completely free!

Go here to enjoy Shakespeare Magazine 09.

Andrea Chapin introduces us to a young, charismatic and nakedly ambitious William Shakespeare in her elegantly-written historical novel The Tutor


Andrea Chapin (c) Ric Kallaher
The Tutor
is your debut novel. What were you doing before this?

“When I started The Tutor I had been, for almost 15 years, a book doctor. That is someone who works on other people’s books before they are published, often with an agent or sometimes with an editor. It’s now over 250 novels and memoirs that I have worked on. It’s fairly anonymous, maybe an acknowledgement or line saying thank you, but usually not even that. Because no one wants to publicise that they had someone work on their book before the actual editor worked on it.

“I had been doing that non-stop for quite a while, but I had always wanted to write my own novel and it hadn’t worked out yet. I think I had, in my own journey, reached a point where I was really wondering, ‘Am I going to write my novel or not?’”

Was there a catalyst that brought the novel about?

“My brother-in-law said at Thanksgiving, ‘Everyone in the theatre world is reading this amazing book, James Shapiro’s A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare:1599!’ I thought it sounded like something I would really like to read. Looking at one year of Shakespeare’s life from many different angles – from the political, from the religious, from the economical. But that was all.

“Then, a couple days before Christmas, I was buying presents, last-minute books to put under the tree. And there, sitting in paperback, was this book my brother-in-law had mentioned to me. So, I bought it, wrapped it up, and put it under the tree for myself.

“It was a larger gift than I had anticipated. When I started reading it, I was completely fascinated, and I was especially fascinated by the prospect of the lost years. What was Shakespeare doing during chunks of his life? I thought to myself, ‘This is the job of a fiction writer – to imagine what Shakespeare was doing!’

“Part of that curiosity goes back to that I have worked with a lot of authors and I have seen their names before then they showed up on the New York Times Bestseller List. I also taught fiction workshops at NYU, and worked with a lot of authors who were just beginning, who were just launching.

“I began mulling over this idea of the lost years and what Shakespeare was doing before his name ever appeared in print. I kept thinking, ‘Even though Shakespeare feels like like a god, a huge force in our world, he was a person’.”

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Why did you decide to tell the story from Katharine’s point of view?

“I decided I couldn’t write it from a male point of view, and thought, ‘What if I created someone like me? Someone who has worked very collaboratively with authors, helping them create plot lines, really helped them develop their books. What if a character like that worked with Shakespeare? And that is how the whole thing launched. I started fooling around with it, toying with it. And interestingly, I have to say that when I started writing Katharine there was something very magical, almost chemical, about it. The Tutor came from a more honest place in my own voice than anything else I had previously written.”

In your story Shakespeare is complex and oftentimes a bit unlikeable. Where did that version of the Bard come from?

“I wanted to veer away from the warm and fuzzy Shakespeare. Not that there has been one, but in Shakespeare in Love – which I love – he is just so adorable. I had my own ideas about developing a character that ended up being fairly ruthless and narcissistic, but still very compelling. Sometimes those people can be not the nicest, but still be extremely intriguing and dazzling because of their brilliance.

“While I was doing research, I read a lot about Picasso and Françoise Gilot, one of his partners. She wrote an amazing autobiography about what it was like to be Picasso’s muse. She really is the only one of his muses who escaped with her life, in a way. She had to leave him – he was sleeping with someone else but he also couldn’t let go of her.”

“I was taken by that aspect of the muse and the artist. And also, when you do read what there is about Shakespeare, it assumed that he didn’t really go home much. Early on he had three children, and by 24 or 25 was probably in an acting company. By 27 or 28 his name appears in London and then he is really in London. He does not return to Stratford as his home until a couple years before he dies.

“What also struck me was the type of ambition that he needed was so huge. I am not saying that every ambitious person is a narcissist, but I played around with the idea that this person had to want it so badly that he would use people, and not be the greatest dad or husband, because he wanted to get where he wanted to go. And he did!

“Not only to write the sort of poem that he wrote with Venus and Adonis, and get a patron like the Earl of Southampton – that is amazing. But also to decide not to be just a poet, not to be just a player, not to be just a playwright, but actually to be a businessman too and be a part of the company. That shows incredible ambition.”

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Where do you think that ambition could have come from?

“Well, his father. We don’t know if John Shakespeare could read or write, but he held about 15 positions in Stratford, ending up being the equivalent of the mayor of Stratford. That is an ambitious man. Shakespeare saw that. John Shakespeare also applied for a coat of arms, and married up – Mary Arden owned the property his parents worked on. To send your child to grammar school you had to have a certain political standing, and John Shakespeare made sure he had that. Shakespeare had, as a role model, an extremely ambitious man.

“So Shakespeare is someone who saw this ambition and then something happened. Was the father a catholic? Was he a drunk? Was he ill? We don’t know. But something happened and his father stumbled, right at the time when Shakespeare would have gone on to Oxford. Someone with Shakespeare’s skills would have the opportunity, but right at that time his father’s fortunes failed and Shakespeare had to go off to make money, changing everything.”

Can you give us a glimpse of your process and research?

“In the beginning of all of this, an agent that I doctor for asked if I had read any good books, and, since I had just written the first couple chapters of my book, I mentioned that James Shapiro’s book had kind of changed my life. And she laughed, and said that he was one of her clients. Things progressed, she put us together, and Professor Shapiro was extremely generous in information. I could email him and he opened doors in terms of where I needed to go for research. That was terrific.

“Before I opened Shapiro’s book, I had always enjoyed Shakespeare but I hadn’t been obsessed with Shakespeare. It was when I started digging into the research, and all of his plays, and each sonnet, and then the poems, that I became truly obsessed.

“I felt like I had to familiarise myself with what was going on in literature during that time. I delved into Philip Sidney, and other contemporaries. I went back to Ovid, and often had three different books in front of me with different annotations – the translation that Shakespeare would have used and two more recent translations. Then, once I went to Ovid, I could see where so much of the poets of the time, certainly Shakespeare, got the seeds that became their works.

“In my journey, I joke that I have given myself at least a master’s, maybe a PhD, in Elizabethan literature and history on my own. I really thought it was important to see what his influences were as much as I could. That’s why I brought them in and had so much fun doing it.”

The Tutor

What do you hope readers will take away from your novel?

“I would love for my readers to learn about Shakespeare and his life as they, hopefully, enjoy the story. I had a lot of fun playing around with Venus and Adonis because it is such a wonderful and really sexy poem. I would love for readers to become curious about those other works of his.

“Reviews have said that the situation of Kate and the other characters is one we’ve all found ourselves in, like when our friends say, ‘What are you doing with him?’ and someone says, ‘You just don’t understand!’ And that makes me so happy because, overall, I wanted to achieve a story that people could relate to now. I wanted to make these characters not feel ancient or archaic – not just Will and Kate, but the larger context of family and her relations.
I wanted them to feel like contemporary folks.”

The Tutor is published in the UK by Penguin on 26 March, priced £7.99