Despite all my experiences with Shakespeare in high school, few memories stand out strongly. I can’t remember any of the characters from the Tempest, I can only recall “Et tu Brute” from Julius Caesar, and I still get slight hung up on the age difference between Romeo and Juliet (which is never really addressed in any film adaptations I’ve seen).
So, it’s because I have so few memories of Shakespeare’s works, that I find it slightly humorous that I can still remember with great clarity a conversation with Elena. Elena and I had been friends since second grade and at that time, she was the director of a One Act that I was playing in, meaning we had plenty of time to talk. One such conversation led to the topic of Shakespeare in which I made some reference to “His works” to which she promptly responded, “You mean, her works.”
Now unless I’m mistaken, Shakespeare was a man, I mean, we have paintings of the guy and he has facial hair. Now I do understand that some woman have facial hair, but a full goatee? With this fool proof argument in hand, I told Elena that he was definitely a man.
“Well, yes, Shakespeare was a man,” Elena explained in tones suitable for addressing a third-grader. “But the actual author of all of ‘Shakespeare’s works’ [complete with air quotes on her part] was a woman.”
I then learned that Shakespeare corresponded with some Duchess who was more educated and capable of him, but that she needed to have him produce the works to get real credibility. Hence, some of the sonnets were written to men, Shakespeare’s lack of education, and her general incredulity that a man could produce something as timeless as what Shakespeare did (She did have a tendency to lean feminist).
Now, this is by no means my earliest memory of Shakespeare, but it is one that has been on my mind since seeing the trailer for the new movie Anonymous. From what I can see, this film takes a similar stance by saying Shakespeare did not write his most famous works either, although in this instance it was a man who did write it. Seeing this and thinking back to my conversation with Elena has prompted me to wonder, “Does it matter who wrote all these works.”
No, not really
Whether a man or a woman held the pen doesn’t matter, what does matter are the words. Yes, we can derive context and meaning by understanding the author, but ultimately, the works speak for themselves. We don’t need to know exactly who Shakespeare was to appreciate the depth of her characters and the flow of his prose. Yes, I am going to go see Anonymous, and I’m sure it will be tense and action packed, but will it change my perspective on Hamlet – maybe, but that’s a conversation for another time. In the end, the words are the same regardless of who penned them. We can still have a great time reading them.