The 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death on April 23rd has brought to the fore once again the question of whether the man identified as the author actually wrote the plays. Over 3,000 people, some of them quite eminent, have signed on to a document titled Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare that examines the case for and against him. Two eminent Shakespearean actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance have added their voices to the list of skeptics.
There seems to be a curious divergence emerging whereby scholars and academics in the field of English literature tend to dismiss any speculations that Will was not the author while academics in other disciplines, especially history, tend to be more skeptical. Rylance says that outside English literature departments and especially among historians and lawyers “you’ll find more people open-minded about this question because they’re looking at the facts without a presupposition”.
I have no idea and suspect that barring some dramatic discovery of old records or some new forensic tools, this question will be debated indefinitely. But irrespective of who wrote them, when one reads any of the plays ascribed to Shakespeare, one is struck by the number of phrases one encounters that are part of everyday conversation. Rob Brydon reminds us of some.