Whether it’s an 8th dwarf or a unknown chapter in the life of a fairy tale witch, I’ve loosely defined “TaleSpins” as an alternative take on what you thought you knew. An unconventional “what if?” woven into conventional wisdom. In fiction, these approaches are often called “retellings”. In real life, however, they can be “conspiracies”. Let’s face it: the truth about how many dwarves there were in Snow White and whether or not a commercial airliner ever hit the Pentagon are two very different things.

So what’s the TaleSpin today? Shakespeare.

I’ve been rereading Hamlet and my geeky attendant literary analysis because I’ve returned to writing my full-length (non-rhyming!) YA novel titled SimonSimon is a contemporary retelling of the theatrical masterpiece about the troubled Prince of Denmark. While in this mode, I was naturally drawn to an Apple TV purchase of a movie I had wanted to see in theaters: Anonymous. Written by John Orloff and directed by Roland Emmerich, Anonymous tells the story that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote all that we attribute to Shakespeare. A superbly educated aristocrat who was “close” (ahem) with the Queen herself, de Vere arranged for Shakespeare to “stand in” as playwright to protect himself and maintain an environment in which he could write unimpeded.

The film was hardly my introduction to the centuries-old authorship debate, but it did spark an interest I hadn’t felt before. I can’t stress enough that this movie is neither a documentary nor an Oliver Stone-esque/dare-you-to-disagree production. It’s just a very well executed, visually appealing “what if?” drama. After seeing it, I started reading up on the question.

(Anything to keep from actually writing my novel, right?)

The debate is, to say the least, thought provoking. “Stratfordians” (those who think Shakespeare – born in Stratford at Avon – wrote The Works) believe that “Oxfordian” arguments are only circumstantial. Now I’ve only scratched the surface of the reading, but let me just say: the sheer amount of circumstantial evidence makes O.J. Simpson look like he was out of the country that whole week.

My writing here is not meant to be a scholarly undertaking; it’s a blog post. More specifically, it’s a blog post that runs the risk of getting really boring (a term I only sometimes associate with “scholarly”.) My plan is to post a short, 3-part series laying out some broad-stroke ideas. First (in my next post) the ones that question whether Shakespeare could have written the works, and then (in Part III) some evidence that ties Oxford to The Works in some pretty compelling ways.

The main topics in the debate are education, aristocracy and travel. Chronology is often discussed, but the focus seems to be on publishing dates as historical record. To me, this argument is more easily dismissed. Ask any writer: writing dates and publishing dates are often far apart and seemingly out of order (even if you’re famous). One other admin note: instead of citing individual statements over this series of posts, I’ll just include some links to full texts at the end.

So I’ll begin (and end Part I) with what is considered the main question against conventional wisdom: How could a man who left school as a child (if he attended at all. There is no record.), the son of an illiterate glove-maker, grow up to secure his place as one of the most eloquent writers in the English speaking world? I’m not implying an answer of: “He couldn’t. It’s impossible.” I’m just asking the question, as many have.

This image shows the 6 known and authenticated signatures of William Shakespeare, collected over his lifetime (the last being on his will). Not exactly the poetic, quill-on-parchment, calligraphic genius we have glorified in our mind’s eye, is it? Oxfordians say these signatures show a certain level of illiteracy in Shakespeare himself.

Or at least a fair amount of drinking?

In Part 2: Shakespeare’s keen knowledge of aristocracy and the Queen’s court.