The Authorship question, thanks to Twitter

There was a fun thing going on yesterday on Twitter, the hashtag #askshakespeare being sponsored by Blogging Shakespeare.  Some prominent Shakespeare scholars were answering questions about Shakespeare.  This is fun, and I got involved as well, asking a few questions that I have been thinking about, and I got some great responses.

One of the biggest things that I have always had a problem with when people discuss Shakespeare is the Authorship question.  For me, it doesn’t really matter.  I am very much of the school of thought that “the author is dead.”  Once an author has written the text, and released it to the public, his involvement with it is over.  At that point, all meaning that can be found in the text must be found in the text.  If an author makes a statement about anything, I usually ignore it, unless it can be found in the text.  For example, J.K. Rowling has said that Dumbledore was gay.  I’m sorry, but I find no textual evidence for that, so I do not believe it.  If Ms. Rowling wanted Dumbledore to be gay, then she should have put something in the text that would lead to that.

So, with all of this in mind, and seeing that several people had asked about who really wrote Shakespeare, I asked, “#askshakespeare Does it really matter who wrote the text, if we can find deep themes and enjoyment in the plays t hemselves ?”

I got some great responses from #shakesstandard, The Shakespeare Standard, that I found wonderful.

@dteeps We like where your question is headed w/ re: authorship but having the context of a person’s life informs understanding of the plays

@dteeps #askshakespeare all context is important for a complete understanding of the plays.

@dteeps #askshakespeare If u know WS was an actor, it might help u understand why many of his plays use acting as the central metaphor.

@dteeps #askshakespeare We also think determining meaning always requires comparing the object (text) to other objects (yourself).. (cont’d)

@dteeps #askshakespeare So why can’t the author or the context of the way the play was made be one of the things that reveals meaning, too?

This gave me quite a bit to think about, especially that comment about Shakespeare being an actor — I guess I had never really thought about that fact being relevant.  It does help explain why so many plays talk about plays, why there are so many examples of the play-within-the-play (Hamlet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Taming of the Shrew, etc.)

I guess I need to revise my previous literary criticism theories, and maybe not write off author background quite so completely.  And even if we never find out conclusively who put quill to parchment to pen these famous lines, we can at least catch a glimpse into the character of the man by reading, studying, and analyzing these plays.

Of course, when all is said and done, we all know that Christopher Marlowe is the real Shakespeare!


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