Book Review: Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare

Players:  The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare, by Bertram Fields

There is a deep hypocrisy at the heart of this book, one that is shared by many of its type among those who posit alternative theories for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays [1].  Throughout this book, the author heaps scorn and contempt upon the supposed ‘man from Stratford,’ perhaps because calling him by his given name, by any of their spellings, would be to appear to legitimize him as one of the greatest writers in the English language, something the author is unwilling to accept.  In addition, the author shows contempt for those of the ‘Stratfordian’ school by saying that their books are full of may have and must have, for adopting the language of supposition and assumption.  Unfortunately, he shows himself to be adopt the same language himself, along with plenty of “couldn’t have” for all of the things he supposes that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon couldn’t have written because of his humble background and his litigious and somewhat ungenerous nature as it is revealed in surviving documentary evidence.  Pots should not be insulting the swarthy color of kettles, nor should those in glass houses gleefully start stone-throwing contests.  Those engaged in speculative efforts, as this book is, should be charitable towards others engaged in the same task, out of professional courtesy if nothing else.

Despite the intense scorn the author feels both for William Shakespeare, about whom he has very little good to say, as well as those who believe that such a commoner and grasping social climber as he could write such elevated writings that show such a depth of understanding of human nature and a wide variety of fields, the author at least attempts to portray himself as evenhanded and fair-minded over the course of this book’s almost 300 pages.  Part One of this book consists of a chapter that gives the historical context of Tudors and Stuarts.  The second part of the book consists of a lot of mostly short chapters that attempt to cast doubt that William Shakespeare was who he claimed to be.  The third part of the book looks at a host of other candidates, such as the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, William Stanley, Roger Manners, Queen Elizabeth, and the author’s own preferred group/collaboration theories.  The last chapter sums up the author’s case that he believes William Shakespeare served as a front man for one or more aristocrats with whom there was a collaboration between the high art of Shakespeare that has made it a classic and the sort of low arts of the stage that made it immediately popular with groundlings.

Ultimately, this book exists, and other books like it exist, because the author is a snob.  Every alternative theory for Shakespeare requires the existence of some sort of conspiracy.  Not wanting to think that a prickly and lowborn commoner was able to write in such an elevated fashion, the author and others of his ilk posit any kind of likely aristocratic candidate they can in order to believe that high art must be created by those who are highborn.  They believe that someone as common as the actor from the provincial market town of Stratford-upon-Avon could provide some savvy and profane lines to appeal to the prejudices of the ignorant masses, the sort that has long made people uncomfortable with unexpurgated Shakespeare plays, but that the nobility and excellence of Shakespeare’s plays could not come from a relatively uneducated person from the sticks whose surviving handwriting is cramped.  As someone not very far unlike Shakespeare in terms of his background and cramped handwriting who tends to write very elevated writings, I find this sort of snobbery a mortal offense.  This book can be enjoyed as the wishful thinking of snobs, but it makes for very poor literary criticism.

[1] It should be fairly obvious that I am a bardophile.  See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/26/audiobook-review-shakespeare-the-world-as-stage/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/06/21/book-review-how-to-teach-your-children-shakespeare/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/08/01/book-review-the-jedi-doth-return/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/06/20/book-review-inventing-english/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/04/29/johannes-factotum/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Did you see the 2011 movie Anonymous, which depicts the Earl of Oxford school of thought? I don’t know enough about Shakespeare to know which school of thought I accept, but the movie was pretty entertaining.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Making Make-Believe Real | Edge Induced Cohesion

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