Who really wrote the plays and poems that were performed and published under the name “William Shake-Speare?” This is the question that won’t go away, even after 400 years. Could it have been a pen name, and if so, why? It begs the question, who was the real William Shake-Speare?
Shakespeare: The Authorship Question, a day-long conference exploring those questions, will take place Saturday, April 7, starting at 11am, at the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre, 139 Centre for Film & Theatre, Keele campus. The conference is open to the public. Tickets cost $30, which will include a light lunch. Reservations must be made, but one can pay at the door.
Over the last century-and-a-half numerous scholars, artists and those who are simply curious have looked at the issue and have suggested quite publicly that the Bard of Avon may not be who we have long thought he was. Those doubters have included Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Henry James, Orson Welles, Helen Keller and, more recently, major artists such as Mark Rylance, first artistic director of the rebuilt Globe Theatre, actor Jeremy Irons and Sir Derek Jacobi. Even a judge from the United States Supreme Court – after hearing the arguments in a legal framework – said there were certainly grounds for reasonable doubt.
In recent years, dozens of books have been published interrogating these and related questions arguing for and against everyone from the standard candidate – the actor-manager from Stratford-upon-Avon William Shaksper (that is indeed how he generally spelled his name) – to Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (the current most favoured candidate) to Italian-born and English-raised lexicographer John Florio. Sony Pictures’ recent film, Anonymous, has now drawn the wider public into the discussion.
The conference’s keynote speaker, Mark Anderson (left), author of the critically-acclaimed volume Shakespeare By Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man who was Shakespeare, has his own opinion on Shakespeare’s identity. Anderson will delve into the subject with his talk, “The Bard’s New Clothes: Shakespeare’s Autobiography and Why the Authorship Controversy Matters”.
Professor Don Rubin (right), founding director of the MA and PhD programs in Theatre Studies and series editor of Routledge’s six-volume World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, will deliver opening remarks. Rubin, president of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, is currently directing a fourth-year seminar at York on the authorship question.
Montreal actor Keir Cutler will then give a one-hour performance based on Mark Twain’s comic examination of the question, is Shakespeare dead? Cutler has performed the show all across North America.
In the afternoon, there will be a 90-minute panel debate on who wrote Shakespeare’s work, chaired by Rubin with panellists Anderson, Cutler, Italian-born scholar and editor Lamberto Tassinari of Montreal (a major proponent of John Florio), York’s own Canada Research Chair in Theatre – Professor Christopher Innes of the Department of English (arguing for William of Stratford), David Prosser, communications director and former literary manager of the Stratford Festival, and Michel Vais, editor of the Quebec theatre journal Jeu. There will also be a Q&A session with the audience.
The event is sponsored by the York University Department of Theatre in association with York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Winters College, Stong College, the Division of Humanities and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Research Fund.