The Seven Shakespeares Theory


I love Shakespeare.  He's probably my favorite playwright of all time.  I avoid him like the plague I assume he had to live through, but that's only because I had to work on some kind of Shakespeare whatever the hell every day for two years in college.  I can basically do the guy in my sleep (let it go, we're adults), but I don't.  Because I'm over it.  Nevertheless he's my all time favorite writer.

In 1931 Gilbert Slater proposed a theory in his book The Seven Shakespeares that The Bard himself wasn't just one man, but rather a group of 7 people contributing to poetry and the stage as a collective.  These 7 people include, but are not limited to: Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, Mary Sidney, and Christopher Marlowe.  

The idea was that they could write more political or raunchier material than their cultural status would allow, without losing their standing in the eyes of the public. The stage was a mask of sorts.

When you consider the timeline of Shakespeare's body of work, and how quickly he released some of his most quality work, it's not entirely implausible.  Sure there were no iPhones or video games to distract someone from nonstop writing, but it all had to be done by hand and candle light, because there were obviously no word processors, and I firmly believe Shakespeare would view using one as a form of cheating, and if the quill is working for you, then get at it.

Richard II, Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream were all written in 1595.  Granted, some of these weren't performed until years later.  Midsummer was first performed in 1604, and the first recorded performance of R&J was March 1st 1662.  Regardless, they were all written in the same year.  Two of these shows (you know the ones) have gone on to be some of the most performed shows ever.  I once saw Romeo & Juliet set in a post-apocalyptic waste land, and honest to God I think it's my favorite of all time.  Aside from Leonardo DiCaprio's extravaganzic turn as Romeo.  That was pretty badass.

Cut to a few years in the future.  Much Ado About Nothing was written between 1598-99, Henry V and Julius Caesar were written in 1599, As You Like It between 1599-1600, Hamlet between 1599-1601, and Twelfth Night was composed in 1601.  Four of these are also among his top performed plays, and Hamlet is arguably his most popular, if not his most revered plays of all.

We're going to use Hamlet as an example of how next to impossible it is to churn out this kind of quality work on a regular basis (read: borderline perfect work).  Hamlet is five acts long.  Five. Acts. LOOOOOONG.  We performed this back in college, and it ran a solid two and a half hours. Keeping in mind that that script was cut down "for time", the show runs a little longer than that.  And the guy playing Hamlet knew exactly what he was doing and put a little speed into it.  So with anyone else it probably would have been even longer.

Now, consider the time it takes to write a play of that length.  By hand.  With a feather and ink.  More than likely by candlelight.  Probably quite a while.  If he started Hamlet in 1959, while he was finishing Much Ado, and juggling it while writing Henry V simultaneously, finishing Henry, starting and finishing As You Like It, and then finishing Twelfth while finishing the Ham, he more than likely had to work non stop.  And not a single person can do that.  I would assume that stress, anxiety and exhaustion were all around back in the day too, but people couldn't air it all out on Facebook or anything.  How can one individual pop out five plays, three of which would eventually become classics performed constantly, and the other one that would be the yardstick against which all future classics would be measured?  The answer might shock you.

HE COULDN'T!!  He just couldn't.  There's not a popsicle's chance in hell that one human being can write so well so consistently.  I'm 100% certain that my opinion is my opinion.

Shakespeare, if that is in fact his real name, wrote 42 plays in the span of 25 years.  Supposedly by himself (yeah, right).  By comparison, the Beatles, who multiple scholars and burnouts describe as the greatest and most influential band of all time, released 22 studio albums (23 if you count "My Bonnie" with Tony Sheridan, Stuart Ratcliffe, and Pete Best) in the span of 9 years.  And they were a four piece. Does this comparison hold any weight to my argument? Absolutely not.  Do I stubbornly stand by it?  Of course.

It just stands to reason, from a logical stand point, that a group of intelligent and educated people could collaborate with each other, work on multiple plays at once, check each other's work, and pitch ideas much easier than one person could in solitary confinement.  Okay, he probably talked to a few people here and there, but this isn't an essay or research paper, so I can say whatever I want without citing Wikipedia.  

I believe that while it's kinda sorta plausible one person could be so intelligent and hyper powered that he could potentially pound out play after play after play while working on other plays here and there while percolating with ides for five more plays all by his lonesome.  It just seems much more possible that a group could write it all together as a way to make sure that the quality of content never suffered.

And that's it.  I'm done.  I've made my case, and I'm right.  Or I'm wrong.  Or who cares.  This was me rambling. I even warned you about this at the link.  Joke's on you. Or not.  Or...