Plagiarized Shakespeare

New Theory: Who Was the Real William Shakespeare?

A new book gives impetus to a controversial thesis: William Shakespeare did not write the most beautiful dramas in England. But the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, with Shakespeare as a pseudonym.

The Oxfordians have struck again, this time with German thoroughness: Kurt Kreiler, who holds a doctorate in German studies, has written a declaration of love that assumes that more than four hundred years ago a man of the English nobility wrote the works of William Shakespeare, and not an aspiring citizen Stratford-upon-Avon, who ended up in the theater in London at a young age: “The man who invented Shakespeare. Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford “is the title of the new volume. De Vere used the name Shakespeare as a pseudonym. Allegedly, as a courtier, he couldn't afford to publish literature, it would have been too less, claims Kreiler.

The idea is not new. The romantically influenced American Delia Bacon claimed in 1857 that Shakespeare was someone else. In "The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded" she makes her namesake, the philosopher Francis Bacon, a playwright, while Will was a "stupid, ignorant, third-rate actor." Delia Bacon ended up in a madhouse. Other candidates for the author of "Hamlet" and Co .: Will's colleague Christopher Marlowe (just pretended to be dead and then cheerfully continued to write Shakespeare's plays), and even Elizabeth I.

Looney's idea. The suspicion that Count de Vere (1550–1604) was the real poet was propagated as early as 1920 by a hobby historian with the significant name Looney (English colloquially "crazy") and has been taken up again and again since then. There are several starting points. As a young man, Oxford wrote artful, allusive, mediocre poems. According to Kreiler, in 1573 he published a novella with the main character "Fortunatus Infoelix" under a pseudonym, he had an acting company and organized festivities. As early as 1997 Walter Klier campaigned for de Vere in “The Shakespeare Plot”, Mark Rylance, currently head of the London “Globe Theater”, also showed sympathy for these theories, and the Globe actor Jonathan Bond assisted with the unveiling last year "The De Vere Code: Proof of the True Author of Shakespeare's Sonnets". But the evidence is missing. Kreiler does not deliver that either.

Still, the book, cramped with details, makes sense. The Stratfordians, those legions of researchers who do not doubt the authorship of the citizen from Warwickshire (1564-1616), have the opportunity to practice their historical-philological-sociological-tragicomic defensive battle against their Oxford competitors. In addition, there is now a dedicated biography of de Veres, which not only portrays the count in the context of the court of Elizabeth I, but also establishes numerous connections to the poetry of the Tudor and Stuart periods.

A linguistic cosmos. What are Kreiler's motives and methods? Like all Oxfordians, he apparently cannot imagine that a person from a modest bourgeoisie could have been educated enough to create the cosmos of a Shakespeare. His work (approx. 36 dramas, 154 sonnets and two verses) had a huge vocabulary full of neologisms. He was knowledgeable in a wide variety of jargons. He used 20,000 to 30,000 words, the linguists rave, however they counted them.

For this work one needs a comprehensive education, believes Kreiler and brings up the intellectual level of Oxford's family, his guardian, the powerful Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Burghley, and those around him. It was teeming with scholars and poets, hundreds of sources are cited.

A libertine and spendthrift. Kreiler, on the other hand, does not trust the man from the country, as did Mark Twain, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henry James or Sigmund Freud before. Kreiler's closing argument is revealing: “The argument for Shakespeare? (This spelling refers to the man from Stratford, note.) That it is "anti-democratic" to rebel against the petty-bourgeois dignity of one's authorship. Shaksperes heirs: self-sufficient as in a dream they chew on the bone of their obsession. Their staid prejudice clings to the denial of aristocratic culture. That is why science has made its findings appropriate to a false statement - defamed the earl and set a memorial to the peasant with the chatter of the bard. "

That sounds a little angry and trying for a historian. This attitude runs through the entire book. The faults and weaknesses of the count, who not only flatter his contemporaries, but whom they also describe as a libertine, spendthrift, slander and molester, are negated, while William from Stratford is portrayed as a moneylender, litigator and stupid bastard.

But Shakespeare was not an uneducated farmer, but an aspiring citizen, the “upstart crow” among poets, about whose career an author in London complained bitterly as early as 1592. Around 50 contemporary references to the playwright, actor and theater co-owner Shakespeare have been preserved; there are so many documents about no other English citizen of the Renaissance period. The modern file state begins with the Tudor state.

The ancient classics and the Bible were probably read by the real William, not just the Count's pseudo-Shakespeare. His parents were respected citizens, Stratford was a thriving commercial center in Warwickshire that afforded a Latin school. The teachers were all from Oxford. It can be assumed that the young William intensively studied the Latin books and the Holy Scriptures, which he extensively plundered for his dramas.

In addition, a lot of local color flowed into his work, it is full of descriptions of nature, folk myths, the language of the craftsmen and the songs of wet nurses, not only the scholars, the rulers, the clergy. Generations of researchers have also tried to pinpoint whether Shakespeare's vocabulary could provide clues as to the topography of his life. He seemed to know his way around Wales particularly well, describing the flora and fauna of the Midlands precisely.

What does that tell us? All in vain: this man transcends everything. So one could turn the argument around and claim that no nobleman could have appropriated the language of the people so intimately. But why polemicize? How a person receives this wealth of expression, how he comes up with hundreds of word creations, remains a mystery.

As for the hard facts that weaken Kreiler's position, however, in order to make de Vere a reasonably credible candidate, he had to revolutionize the chronology of the works, an appealing puzzle of Shakespeare research. The dramas were roughly dated between 1589/90 and 1614, the London years of Shakespeare. De Vere, however, died ten years too early, and according to current research, some important dramas were written later.

Concrete data ignored. That is why Kreiler shifts the creative period a good ten years into the past - he mainly makes linguistic comparisons with earlier works - and ignores the few concrete data on London's dramatic business. It was booming back then. Shakespeare was also a partner in theaters such as the Globe and the Blackfriars. That made him wealthy. The theater managers weren't very interested in the prints, they offered the competition the opportunity to re-enact the drama in question. There was no legal protection against it.

The entries in the Stationer's Register are a clue for the performance of dramas, there are also some rough versions and better versions of the so-called quartos. It was plagiarized, copied, and pirated; and also worked together. Why not also between the poet Shakespeare and the patron de Vere? For example in the drama "The Book of Sir Thomas Moore" (1603). It could be that some scenes of this collective work have been preserved in Shakespeare's handwriting, but this is controversial. Only a few signatures are authentic.

The complete works were not printed until 1623, the folio edition compiled by two friends of actors and the playwright Ben Jonson in honorable memories of the "Swan of Avon" seven years after his death. For Kreiler, however, that is not an argument for Stratford either. Jonson had kept the pseudonym on behalf of de Vere. It's a little awkward, 19 years after de Veres death and seven years after Shakespeare's death. For decades it should have remained undiscovered in gossipy London what de Vere was up to at night? All theater bills were rewritten, all poets bribed, all compromising writings, such as the erotically revealing sonnets, suppressed? Even the real William Shakespeare couldn't think of such a plot. And in his texts, full of errors and confusions, he was a master of lies and pretenses. By the way, he also loved doppelgangers. As fictional characters.

("Die Presse", print edition, January 10, 2010)