When Macbeth fell prey to the prophecies of the “instruments of darkness”, we pitied him because greed is a natural human fallibility. King Lear’s inability to fathom the authenticity of Cordelia’s love for him due to his stubbornness and old age scared us so much as it echoed the reality of familial relations. Anger was aroused when we witnessed Iago’s propensity for evil against the plight of Othello. And of course we laughed hither at the comedic antics of Benedick and Beatrice during their dramatic dismissal for love and each other. How then, is it possible that the same one man, creator of legendary literary works, found a way to compel the hearts of millions, not to mention trigger emotional catharses, during a single lifetime? Did William Shakespeare really exist? There are a few theories behind Shakespeare’s actual identity.
Christopher Marlowe was one of them. Marlowe was Shakespeare’s supposed arch-nemesis who died in a bar brawl. After getting himself into trouble due to his provocative writing and allegations of heresy, Marlowe was arrested The arrest was immediately prior to his death. In a time where religion and tradition reigned, atheism and homosexuality were often associated with unconventionality, something Marlowe stood for. The Marlovian Theory was elicited partly due to this idea. Proponents of this idea believe that Marlowe simply faked his death to escape from the authorities and wrote under the pen name of William Shakespeare. Well, this does sound plausible given the height of fame Marlowe was credited to due to his literary works before his death. Furthermore, Shakespeare’s popularity only soared to unprecedented heights post Marlowe’s death even though both writers lived around the same time era.
The nineteenth century was also a time reigned by the monarchy. During this era, it was difficult for anyone to voice out anti-monarchical sentiments without being arrested for treason. Hence, the Baconian Theory suggests that Shakespeare was in fact a mask of Sir Francis Bacon, a famous lawyer, scientist, essayist, philosopher and scientist. Comparisons have been made between Shakespeare’s work and Bacon’s writing, resulting in a number of startling discoveries. Hidden political meanings were found in Shakespeare’s plays and they echoed Bacon’s personal works. Interestingly, a Dr Isaac Hull Platt recognized that the Latin word “Honorificabilitudinitatibus” found in Love Labour’s Lost was deciphered as an anagram which also read “Hi ludi F. Baconis nati tuiti orbi” meaning ‘These plays, the offspring of F. Bacon, are preserved for the world.’
To top it all off, speculations regarding the fame directed to Shakespeare’s plays triggered the Oxfordian Theory. Oxfordians argue that Shakespeare was actually someone famous and rich who had strong connections with the theater and whom had traveled widely to witness different things-someone like Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. This claim was supported by similarities between the biographies of the Earl as well as the events which were told in the Shakespearean plays. There was however, one strong fault with this argument. The Earl died in 1604 but Shakespeare’s critical acclamations lasted a few years longer.
Sure enough, the annoying thing about history is that you can never know what exactly happened without actually being there at that time. Who Shakespeare was and whether or not he ever existed will always remain a mystery. Whether he was one person, or the mask of one person, or maybe even a group of people, who knows?