What Difference Authorship Makes: Thoughts on the Shakespeare Debacle

Ok, so I am currently taking a Shakespeare class, and one of our assignments was to consider the many possible authors of Shakespeare’s works other than the man himself. So there was a lot of reading of articles and watching of films, etc. And apparently there are a lot of other dudes in the running for authorship of the plays and poems we know and love. I have thoughts on this (as I generally do on issues of who wrote what and why it matters), which I wanted to share with all of you. And this is one of those posts which will profoundly suck without your feedback because it will just be me on my weird literary theories soapbox if you let it. So please, tell me what you think guys!

And with that:

What difference does it make?

Let us suppose Shakespeare did not actually write the plays we attribute to him.  The way that this information affects us has to do with the way that we view literature in general.  For instance, if we view a literary work as significant on its own, without anything having to do with its author playing a role in its significance, we will say that these plays are still great plays.  If we view the authorship of a work as just as important as the work itself, we will say otherwise.  In my opinion, Shakespeare’s plays are still relevant to students in today’s classrooms whether or not they were actually written by Shakespeare himself.  I say this because I think when we read Shakespeare’s works we should be learning from them and allowing them to impact our lives because they are great works, not because Bill himself wrote them.  That is because the timelessness of the great books lives without and separate from the timelessness of their authors.

The contributions of Shakespeare’s plays to language and literature thus should still live without proof that he is their author.  For instance, we can still declare that “fair is foul, and foul is fair” without having heard that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth; we can still recite Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy and feel the passion of those words without having to associate them with a man behind the pen.  Especially in terms of Shakespeare’s poetry, we can still value his sonnets as some of the greatest ever written and find meaning in their messages without saying that they are his.  I think that is what makes this whole issue of who wrote these works such a non-issue at that.  Would the author of these works want to puff himself up and demand that his name be placed on these works?  No indeed.  The author of these works would say “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I will say that it does make a difference to me in some ways, however, whether or not Shakespeare wrote these plays.  I believe he did, because it is important to me that the historical and artistic contexts of these plays are as they are because Shakespeare wrote them.  This seems to contradict my above statement, but I do still hold that literature is significant as literature without an author.  I just mean to say that I find a personal significance in the fact that these plays were written during Shakespeare’s time and by a bard who wasn’t noble or elite.  So should it matter that he wrote them? Not at all.  The work does not change when written by someone else.  But the context and social significance of the work do change when they are put to a different name.  So the contributions of this work remain no matter who wrote them, but the way we interpret them as actually existing in time and with cultural context do not.


Prufrock and Other Pregnant Observations


I haven’t really had the chance the flesh out any of my retrospective pregnant thoughts yet, so I figured I’d do it with one of my favorite poems of all time.  “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” has followed me throughout much of my life without explanation, and I recently found myself adding it as the very first poem in the poetry anthology I am making for Roland.  Again, perhaps with little explanation, but I do feel like poems come like waves into our lives that way and we shouldn’t just let them sit there.  Of course, Prufrock is by no means a pregnant poem.  In no way does the character of Prufrock manifest itself in expectation or hope for anything at all.  In fact, in many ways Eliot paints a melancholy and cynical state of being which is fine to stagnate there forever.

I thought at first that maybe I had it on my mind now again because it is a sort of masculine poem which captures several different male types within its lines.  But then I remembered a line from the poem which went through my head almost daily while I was pregnant: “Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains.”

The subject of this line is this yellow smoke which we see sort of floating around a city for much of the first part of the poem.  The line can live without the context of the remaining lines of the poem, I think, and that’s how it played to me during those months.  I never remembered what it was that was lingering, only that one long, dragging, enunciated line.  I hung my head into my first trimester bucket and walked very slowly through the halls at the learning center months later to the rhythm of it.  But what did it mean?

I think now that this line forced something upon me in my pregnancy which I would not have otherwise considered.  It pushed me to do what I did not want to do at any point during those months: to linger in them.  Not only to stay put and to really live during the pregnant months, but to do it as smoke would upon pools of liquid (which are also stationary in their drains).  Or, in other words, to really live those months as if I was made to be in them.  I had to not only linger like something that moved freely and chose to stop some place for a time (the smoke), but I also had to just simply stay put in my natural place (a pool of water in a drain).

I fought Eliot’s line almost always.  I grew sick; I grew tired; and more than anything else, I grew impatient.  I did love being pregnant, don’t get me wrong.  But I think I loved it because I knew I was being useful for a greater purpose always.  I was the tool and the service toward my son’s birth and life beyond birth.  Pregnancy was and is the most hopeful state of existence, I think.  This line wanted me to live inside that hope and be that hope without expectation.

It took me many months, but I can pinpoint the exact moment when I was able to live inside that hope; when I finally became the pool in the drain.  It happened when December 11th came and God said “Not yet.”  And after saying, “Why not? Why not? Why not?” for a few days I realized that I was still pregnant and being pregnant was still the best.  I still had my son running around inside me, going everywhere with me, and falling asleep with me at the end of a long day.  He could hear me working and talking to new people.  He could hear his Dad coming home from work and telling me how his day went.  He could hear the CHVRCHES album I played in my car nonstop during those months.

I was able to really listen to that line eventually, not just on the surface, but actually in my mind and for myself.  And now that line is still there, looking at the three of us and our family.  So sometimes I look back and I say, “but I can’t wait to hear him laugh,” or, “but I can’t wait to take him outside in weather that isn’t terribly painful.”  But most of the time I say, “Yeah, you’re right” and I stay put where nature led me: lingering smoke and a pool in my beautiful little drain.