(Jeremy McCarter’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/26.)
Shakespeare is not only peculiar in himself, but the cause of peculiarity in others. The surviving traces of his life, which the Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt describes as “abundant but thin,” depict a man whose parts aren’t entirely in sync: a provincial who grew wealthy but sued for paltry sums, a literary genius who seems never to have written a letter — or owned a book. But the alternate histories offered by people who reject Shakespeare’s authorship are far stranger, abounding in secret ciphers, baroque conspiracies and readings of the plays as fantastical as what’s in them. Barring the discovery of a doorstop-size autobiography or the invention of a time machine, we’ll never get a really satisfying explanation of how “Hamlet” and “Henry V” and all the rest were written, only varying degrees of improbability.
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