October 5, 2006
Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays? Was the greatest playwright in the English language the actor Will Shakspere from Stratford-upon-Avon, the glove-maker’s son? Or, as some have opined, was it Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon?
And what about Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford?
De Vere was an Elizabethan courtier poet, who, according to William Farina of Evanston, may have been the one who penned all those masterpieces.
Farina will make his case at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Evanston Public Library. He is an unusual candidate for such a conjecture. Originally from Indiana, he has been a national real estate consultant and appraiser for 27 years.
“But my background is in the humanities and English,” he said, during an interview at Pioneer Press. “I studied Shakespeare and actually heard about the authorship question when I was in high school.”
His interest in the controversy grew over time. “A friend gave me the book The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn,” he explained. “It got me thinking. I saw something about the authorship on PBS Frontline. There seemed to be some substance here.”
He read books, he collected clippings, and “I ranted about it to my wife,” he said, smiling. To which she replied, “Write a book!”
The result is De Vere as Shakespeare: An Oxfordian Reading of the Canon, published by McFarland & Company, Inc. Oxfordian refers to those who believe that William Shakespeare was the pen name for de Vere. “They also believe that the actor Will Shakespere of Stratford was hired as a front man for him,” he added.
But why? Why would such a brilliant playwright not claim authorship of his work?
“Now we get into speculation,” Farina continued. “I think it had to do with politics. The Puritans were very much against plays and theater. They eventually destroyed the original Globe theatre.”
De Vere’s name first surfaced as a possible author in the 1920’s, he continued. “In the 19th century there was talk that Francis Bacon wrote the plays,” he said. There is also the theory that English playwright Christopher Marlowe faked his own death, went to Italy and sent back plays to England to be published under Shakespeare’s name.
Traditionalists of Stratfordians dispute all of this. And Farina is quick to add, “It is not impossible that the actor Will Shakspere from Stratford is the author of the plays.”
However, his handsome high-quality paperback makes a different case. The book, well-designed and reader friendly, presents one play after another, providing parallel information from de Vere’s life and background. “Hamlet,” for example, was set in Denmark and de Vere’s brother-in-law had been the English ambassador to Elsinore during the 1580s.
More to the point is the revelation that de Vere’s father died when the lad was 12 and his mother remarried hastily. Then she and her husband died a few years later and the child became a royal ward. “Thus,” Farina writes, “every time we see a performance of ‘Hamlet’ we may be witnessing the reenactment of a domestic tragedy played out…over 400 years ago.”
Of great interest are the many plays set in Italy, including Romeo and Juliet,The Taming of the Shrew, and The Merchant of Venice, which display great familiarity with Italian life and customs.
“Aside from showing a prodigious and astonishing knowledge of Venetian society,” Farina wrote, “Shakespeare takes us right into the heartland of legal philosophy with The Merchant of Venice”.
Edward de Vere had studied law and was in legal trouble all his life, Farina explained. The well-traveled nobleman spoke Italian and had visited the great cities of the Renaissance. “For de Vere,” he writes, “one can only marvel at the close parallels between his personal Italian experiences and the Italian influence on Shakespeare’s work. If this be mere coincidence, then it is certainly one of the great series of coincidences in the history of world literature.”
The talk at the Evanston library should be lively.