An Oxfordian Journal: Chapter 9: “What If You Found Out That Shakespeare Was Somebody Else?”

Up in that office in the Congress Building in Portland, Maine, in the spring of 1987, the Shakespeare biographies were set aside and I continued to work on my one-act play.  If you just keep on writing, putting one word after the other, eventually the words will take on a separate life and go their own way.  One morning I found myself writing the imaginary dialogue of an elderly man I had known in New York City, a guy who had been a casting agent and a small-time producer.  He was saying things that sounded just like that old man I’d known in my acting days.

That agent-producer was a weaver of illusions.  When the actors came into his office, young and old, he would tell them he was working on a new movie – which, in fact, never existed.  He had a partner, Monroe, with an office in Hollywood, and they were making a new movie to be shot in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  He was expecting a call from Monroe very soon, after which Monroe would fly east for a personal visit — a visit right here, in this very office, where they would hold auditions; so leave your photos and resumes and we’ll make sure to call you.  And so on – until, as I kept pace with the old guy’s dialogue that seemed to keep flowing on its own, my play left the White House entirely and began to gain life in that casting office with its walls covered with old photos of Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis and Judy Garland.

Two other characters emerged – David, based on myself, and Eileen, based on a few women who had been in my life.  I felt comfortable with them and the environment.  And as I kept on inventing dialogue and action, aspects of their characters automatically changed and grew until I began to believe in them as real-life individuals on the page.  I kept writing and re-writing, trying to find the most “dynamic” structure, as I called it, and soon, to get help, I enrolled in a workshop called Playwrights Platform with actors and writers meeting in Boston every Sunday evening.

In the workshop I met up with Charles Boyle, a fellow actor and writer who would play the role of David during a Boston theater festival that summer.  At one point he turned to me said, “What have you been reading, up there in Maine?”

“Well, actually I’ve read some biographies of Shakespeare.”

“What for?”

“I wanted to learn about his creative process.  How did he have such confidence in himself?  How did he put himself into all those incredible characters in the royal courts and palaces – Prince Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Henry the Fifth?  He must have been a complete genius, but, still, he had to have some way of working…”

“So what did you learn?”

“Well, nothing … absolutely nothing.”

Charles was smiling.  “Nothing?”

“The biographers all say we know so much about Shakespeare, but they must mean his life in Stratford.  In London, when he was acting and writing, we have his name on poems and plays, and we have other people referring to his name, but behind the name there’s no life, no living person.”

“What if you found out he was someone else?”

“Who?  Shakespeare?”

“Yeah.”

I stared at him.  “What do you mean?”

“What if the real writer had to be hidden?  What if he was in the government, high up in rank, writing behind a pen name?  What if he was a man who wrote for the Queen and her Court, like Hamlet does?  And what if he wrote for the Crown during wartime?   What if he was secretly helping England in the war with Spain?”

One of the Elizabethan age’s University Wits who received financial aid, guidance and inspiration from the Earl of Oxford

I could follow what Charles was saying, but it made little sense.  I found myself squirming and wanting to cut off the conversation.  When he uttered the word “propaganda” I interrupted to say no, no, please, Shakespeare did not write propaganda – he was a dramatist, a creative artist.  Charles agreed, but he pointed out that the U.S. government during World War II had its own propaganda department, turning out patriotic newspapers and magazines, not to mention inspirational newsreels.  He reminded me that many folks who worked in that wartime public relations office went on, in peacetime, to become great writers and directors.

Well, yeah, but it didn’t sit right with me.

Soon Charles sent me copies of four or five pages from The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality, by Charlton Ogburn, Jr., published just three years earlier, in 1984.  The material had to do with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who had gathered around him a large circle of writers (known in history as the “university wits”) during wartime…

Published in: Uncategorized on August 22, 2012 at 11:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Funny how it comes out of left field. …

    • Like many momentous things in life …


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