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Original Essays | June 20, 2014

Lauren Owen: IMG The Other Vampire



It's a wild and thundery night. Inside a ramshackle old manor house, a beautiful young girl lies asleep in bed. At the window, a figure watches... Continue »

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Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? (One-Off) by Robin P Williams
Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? (One-Off)

BardBuster, December 28, 2006

While I neither profess to be a scholar on the subject of the Shakespeare authorship question, nor am I particularly well versed on the goings-on of the Elizabethan era, I have been fascinated for decades with the ongoing debate of who wrote Shakespeare.

When I earned my degree in English literature, university professors young and old tenaciously voiced their opinions concerning the credibility someone other than the man William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays and sonnets that we so carelessly attribute to WS today. (I say carelessly because of the widespread disagreement that exists regarding his life and what we've been taught). In short, it was a fascinating classroom debate. Students and instructors alike would argue for and against the possibility that WS was anything more than what we can prove today: an actor and litigious property owner with illiterate daughters who divorced his wife and left her his second-best bed in his will.

Robin P. Williams avoids pontificating that William Shakespeare is not the author of the works (despite the fact that no one can prove WS had a higher education, including an ability to read or write in French, Latin, and Italian?quite necessary because all but three plays are based on original literary works written in these three languages; nor does the name William Shakespeare appear in any of the extensive royal court registries, including the omission of even a single piece of handwritten manuscript!). On the contrary, in Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare?, Williams provides one of the most exciting and socially volatile books ever on this subject by NOT debunking William Shakespeare, per se, but rather by EDUCATING readers about a woman who I suspect most have never heard of before, and who deserves recognition of her spectacular literary accomplishments.

It is the unfolding of such historical information Williams provides regarding Mary Herbert Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke, that one must recognize that for all the missing pieces of information, including the outrageously generous speculation that WS somehow learned his wealth of knowledge embedded in the works by "meeting people who shared their stories" (which of course cannot be proven), isn't it worth merely ASKING the question: Couldn't someone else have written these works?

Of course someone else could have written the works. Anyone documented in history as having spent a single day among the aristocracy... or who spoke more than one language... or who had an education that extended beyond public grade school is, in fact, more capable of having contributed the greatest works in the English language than our beloved William Shakespeare. The point is that once we examine the life of Mary Sidney Herbert, not only is her well-documented life vastly more in tune to the subject matter of the plays and sonnets than is William Shakespeare's, but also hers is a life that once copious significant facts are unveiled, one discovers enough historical overlap between Mary and William that behooves a closer investigation.

Sweet Swan of Avon is this investigation; it is not a trial, nor is it meant to be. For all the hundreds of years we've been told stories about the man William Shakespeare?from downright lies to conjecture to poorly stated facts?there is a woman named Mary Sidney who has been grossly overlooked by historians as a profound contributor to the literary annals, and now thanks to Robin P. Williams, her story is finally being told. Whether Mary's story is the story behind the Shakespearean cannon remains to be seen, but her story inarguably deserves to be told and celebrated because of her undeniable accomplishments?known, unknown, and just unfolding.
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