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Raleigh and Shakespeare

Our doubts are traitors

And make us lose the good we

oft might win

By fearing to attempt

This quote from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure is a favourite of mine. It has often spurred me on when I'm having doubts about a book or article on which I'm working.

But should we be having doubts about Shakespeare himself? Should we be asking if William Shakespeare from Stratford-Upon-Avon really did write the plays and sonnets attributed to him?

'Of course we shouldn't,' many people would say. 'Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare and that's that.'

Yet arguments on this subject have been going on for four hundred years. So can it be just a storm in a teacup or is there any truth in it?

Anti-Stratfordians question whether Shakespeare had sufficient education and life experience to cover the wide knowledge of courtly behaviour and pursuits evident in the plays. They believe he was used as a 'front man' for a more important personage who wished to remain anonymous. Therefore, over the years, several famous names have been suggested, either as lone authors or as group contributors.

In 1980, the late Henry Pemberton put forward Raleigh in his non-fiction book Sir Walter Ralegh published by Haskell House. I don't agree with all his arguments but he expressed enough logical ones to drive me to my own research. Some of which follows:

The Case:

Raleigh was much more than a mere courtier who received monopolies and titles from his Queen. He was also a soldier, sailor, explorer, scholar, politician, philosopher, scientist, chemist, historian and student of astronomy. (Knowledge of all these pursuits is to be found in the Shakespeare plays). He read voraciously, even making room for a trunk-full of books on his sea voyages, and wrote at every stage of his eventful life pamphlets, essays, poetry, a best-selling travel book, verse petitions, commendatory verses, epitaphs, a vast history book (also a best-seller) and innumerable letters.

• Raleigh had a connection to Shakespeare of Stratford - his wife's cousin Mary married Edward Arden of Park Hall and Shakespeare's mother, of course, was an Arden.

• He was close to Christopher Marlowe, replying jokingly in verse to Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd to his Love.

• He was close to Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. She begged her younger son to plead with King James for Raleigh's life, while her older son introduced Carew Raleigh (Sir Walter's heir) at court after his father's death. Both Herbert brothers were dedicatees of the First Folio.

• Many of the sonnets mirror Raleigh's life experiences, his philosophy and his (often despondent) moods.

• Events in his life tarry surprisingly well with the accepted dates and spirit of the plays.

• Several unusual phrases in the plays are used by him in his letters.

• References to his voyages are to be found in: The Merry Wives of Windsor, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Love's Labour's Lost, All's Well That Ends Well and The Tempest.

Adaptations of his poems occur in Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice.

Ben Jonson, who must have known the author, tutored Raleigh's son Wat for a while and wrote a poem to accompany the front-piece of Raleigh's History of the World.

Reason for hiding identity: Throughout his adult life, Raleigh sought to become a Privy Councillor. Even while in the Tower, he hoped and worked for release and eventual advancement. Writing for the public stage would hardly have improved his career while Elizabeth was on the throne. When James came to power he hated Raleigh 'above all others' - had he discovered him as author he would certainly have banned performance of the plays, as he attempted to ban Raleigh's History of the World.

Conclusion: If you don't believe that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare there is, then, a case for Raleigh's authorship.

Do I believe it? As Bess says about the Earl of Leicester in The Traitor's Wife - I keep an open mind.



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