I have read any number of books on the life of William Shakespeare. I suppose one should really refer to them as biographies but, as so much is invention, maybe fiction would be a better description. The problem is we really don’t know very much at all about the man so these books are littered with phrases like ‘we think,’ or ‘we believe,’ ‘it’s possible that,’ ‘it could very well have been’ ‘perhaps,’ etcetera. It takes quite a lot of these and some imagination and ingenuity to write a book of a few hundred pages on not just scanty but almost non-existent material. Taking a quick glance over my shoulder at the books on my shelves I see I have ‘A Life of William Shakespeare’ by Sir Sydney Lee 1898, ‘Shakespeare’s Lives’ by S. Schoenbaum, ‘Shakespeare of London’ by M.Shute, ‘’Who Was Shakespeare?’ by H.Amphlett, ‘Elizabethan Drama’ in two volumes by Felix Schelling, naturally choc-a-bloc full of Shakespeare, ‘ The Lodger’ by Charles Nicholl, described by James Shapiro in The Guardian as ‘Part biography, part detective story, Nicholl’s latest work ranks among the finest books ever written about Shakespeare’s life.’ Then there is ‘Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton’ by C.P.V. Akrigg and ‘The Shakespearian Ciphers Examined’ by William and Elizabeth Friedman. ‘The Elizabethan Theatre’ papers given at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, 1972 with a number of contributors. I am sure the are more books on Shakespeare in my room, downstairs, and upstairs but you get the picture and, if I were to look up Amazon now, I think there have been half a dozen more published in this celebratory year as though not enough had already been written about the man and what can possibly be said that hasn’t already been said? Now, in all the books I have read with all their nebulous maybes and perhapses, of one fact they are in unanimous agreement and of which they believe there is absolutely no conceivable doubt, and that is, being a Stratford lad, Shakespeare obviously attended the Stratford school to learn a modicum of Latin and even less Greek, but whoa there! Now hang on a cotton-picking minute! There is another book I haven’t mentioned – ‘The Backgrounds of Shakespeare’s Plays’ by Karl Holzknecht and what do I read in this volume? Wait for it… ‘There is no evidence that Shakespeare attended Stratford Grammar School,’ and on page 22 ‘There are no records of the Stratford Grammar School for this period.’ So from where did all these authors get the fact that Shakespeare was schooled in Stratford?
To quote Mr. Holzknecht ‘Every outline of Shakespeare’s life should distinguish sharply between two kinds of material; (a) what is known to be true and can be verified by the records (very little) and (b) what may, could, or should be true – the incrustations of tradition., conjecture, and inference which surround the facts … universal gossip and surmise, repeated often enough and sufficiently embroidered with plausibility, soon acquire both the charm and the certainty of truth. (an awful lot). The big mystery is how, in the time he was in London, Shakespeare could have written 37 major plays, 160 sonnets plus epic poetry, not even burning the candle at both ends. It defies all sense of logic. And for those who won’t hear a word said against the man they come up with one argument they feel cannot be gainsaid - “Genius!” and that solves the mystery – or does it?