Today is St George’s Day. It’s also Shakespeare’s birthday.
Except it’s not…not really, it was picked out as a nice easy date and because England’s greatest writer being born on the its Patron Saint’s day is just…perfect. Of course since neither actually did the things they’re most famous for it all comes together quite nicely.
They have a parade in Stratford-Upon-Avon today. They sell Shakespeare masks and Shakespeare cookies and other…depressing shit. And it’s wrong. In all sorts of ways, but mainly factually.
A history lesson: Brief, broad, and possibly inaccurate.
The man we acknowledge as being William Shakespeare, the man who supposedly wrote the most famous plays in the whole world, the man whose birthday we celebrate – he wasn’t William Shakespeare. Or rather, he wasn’t THE William Shakespeare. He was simply a William Shakespeare. The real William Shakespeare probably wasn’t even called William Shakespeare.
Simple isn’t it?
But he had the right name. So we give him credit, and use his picture, and link these plays to Stratford-upon-Avon. We shouldn’t, but we do.
It vexes me.
There a lot of theories out there about who really wrote the plays. Francis Bacon, Marlowe, the Earl of Oxford, Nashe, Greene, Sidney…and any mixed and matched combination you can think of. I don’t hold one really. There are strong points for several, but no rock solid case. Personally, I’m fine with not knowing for sure. It’s interesting to talk about and theorize about. Unfortunately it’s been slowly derided. Stephen Fry called it a “conspiracy theory”…as if that somehow makes it absurd. It’s become one of those things only crazy people believe in. It’s very a distinguished list of crazy people in this case. See here.
We’ll never know for sure who wrote Hamlet or Othello or King Lear. It almost certainly wasn’t the man from Stratford though. And even if it was…today isn’t his birthday.