Bryson’s Folly – 2

Bill Bryson writes in his book about “Shakespeare” that we know very little about him but the same goes for other writers of the period.   He cites two examples, Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson.  He writes of Dekker that “we know little of his life other than that he was born in London, wrote prolifically, and was often in debt.”

But the real point at issue is that none of the records in the life of William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon have anything to do with writing or literature or acting or the theatre.  For Dekker, however, we do have entries in Henslowe’s diary about payments as a writer for the theatre; and we even have a letter from Dekker to the actor Edward Alleyn.  Here’s a photo of that letter as reprinted in Diana Price’s book Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, p, 122:


(Dekker wrote the letter in 1616 from King’s Bench prison; Ms. Price reprinted the letter courtesy of The Cleveland Public Library.)

If scholars had anything like this single document for William Shakspere of Stratford, showing him in personal correspondence with someone in the theatrical life of London, the skepticism about his authorship of the Bard’s works would certainly be reduced; moreover, such a letter would be touted to the heavens in each and every “biography” of the Bard.  But no such letter exists for him.

“Huge gaps exist for nearly all figures from the period,” Bryson writes, but some gaps are more gaping than others.  For Shakspere of Stratford we have six shaky signatures, as though he had never created one that was distinctly his own (as most others did at the time), and no correspondence of any kind with anyone, much less someone involved in literature and drama.

It takes some doing, some real effort, to ignore and try to get around the fatal gaps in the Stratford man’s documentary record, but the affable Bryson decided to “go with the pack,” as they say; so he trots out that tired old song that we know more about Shakespeare than about nearly every other writer of the period.  That, plainly enough, is bunk.

And Ben Jonson is the other writer cited?  Bill, are you kidding?  Do you really want to put Shakspere’s factual biography side by side with Jonson’s?  Do you really want to compare the hard evidence in their lives that they were writers?  Out of a hundred points for the latter, Jonson gets 100 and Shakspere gets zero.

More later!

Published in: Uncategorized on February 1, 2009 at 9:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

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