Thursday, 1 November 2007

What If? Art 5: Books That Never Existed

These four counter-factual book covers are pretty straight forward. I took an original cover of the particular play and simply changed the name of the author on the front cover. There is a lot of speculation that some of William Shakespeare's plays and sonnets were actually written by other people, even that the name 'William Shakespeare' was a title for a series of different authors. There are four main suggested playwrights and I have produced a book cover showing one of Shakespeare's plays written by them. Shakespeare's plays were written between 1590-1612 and they received premieres between 1598-1634 there was often four or five years between him writing a play and it being performed; some plays have been lost but we have the bulk of his output. He lived 1564-1616 so through the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and well into that of King James I. Some now believe he came from Stratford in East London rather than Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. Information about people in the 16th century is difficult to pin down so it has led to a range of interesting speculations.


'The Tragedy of Richard III' by Christopher Marlowe (written 1592)


Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was a poet and playwright in his own right as well as probably being a spy; he was probably also bisexual. He was killed in a fight in an inn in 1593. There has long been speculation that he wrote at least some of Shakespeare's plays and there is at least one reference to Marlowe's work in Shakespeare's. Some believe he faked his own death and continued writing under Shakespeare's name. Compared to Shakespeare, Marlowe appears a more glamorous figure. Here I have featured 'Richard III' which was written a year before Marlowe's assumed death.



'Love's Labour's Lost' by Francis Bacon (written 1594)
 

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), 1st Viscount of St. Alban, led a less glamorous life than Marlowe, but was a leading essayist, philosopher, statesman and scientist. Since the late 19th century there are people who believe he actually wrote Shakespeare's plays. Here I show him having turned his hand to that quite early, producing 'Love's Labour's Lost' in 1594, preceding his first collection of essays in 1597.
  
'A Midsummer Night's Dream' by William Stanley (written 1595)


William Stanley (1561-1642), 6th Earl of Derby is a possible candidate for writing 'Love's Labour's Lost' as it featured an incident similar to what he had experienced in 1578 in Navarre. However, he has a connection with 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' which is supposed to have been first performed at his wedding banquet. His older brother ran a troop of actors who later became the King's Men. There are letters reporting Stanley as acting as a playwright though there are no scripts currently known. Here I suggest that he wrote the play initially as a kind of gift for his bride, especially as it is a romantic, dreamy play in the Shakespeare collection.
 

'Hamlet' by Edward De Vere (written 1600)

 
 
Edward De Vere (1550-1604), 17th Earl of Oxford, was another Renaissance man seen as in line to have written at least some of Shakespeare's work. He was a playwright and poet and patron of two theatre companies. Despite being noted as a writer only a few of his poems survive and none of his plays. Fascinatingly many incidents in numerous Shakespeare plays reflect things that he had witnessed or had happened to the De Vere family. Those who support De Vere as the candidate point to the fact that the regular publication of Shakespeare plays ended in 1604, the year De Vere died and only resumed with the so-called first folio in 1623 which was after even William Shakespeare's death. Here I show him writing 'Hamlet' which even if he did not, had many parallels to his own life.  Amongst a whole list of parallels there are things such as his mother's early remarriage; he accidentally murdered someone with a sword as Hamlet does Polonius; De Vere had a friend called Horace like the Horatio who is friend of Hamlet; Polus was De Vere's guardian's nickname and he was given a list of principles by his father as Polonius does for Laertes and they are very similar. So, his 'Hamlet' written four years before his death might have been his most autobiographical play.
 
 
Apologies to the authors and publishers shown here with work they may have produced in one of a number alternate realities.

3 comments:

CP said...

Very interesting site. I happen to believe that Edward de Vere used the pseudonym William Shake-speare and the rise of his dramatic brilliance was a direct result of his contradictory -- stiffling and exciting -- relationship with Queen Elizabeth I. Early plays are romantic commedies and histories, while de Vere was still filled with hope. Later plays are tragedies as he contemplates the missed opportunities, brought about by both his own selfishness and that of his Queen's. His last play, The Tempest, has the author forgiving himself and all others who have wronged him. So, if Edward VI had survived longer, there might not have been that tension between de Vere and the Queen, which ultimately produced some of the finest works in the English language. De Vere might still have produced literary works, but their tone and tenor are up for speculation.

CP said...

Very interesting site. I happen to believe that Edward de Vere used the pseudonym William Shake-speare and the rise of his dramatic brilliance was a direct result of his contradictory -- stifling and exciting -- relationship with Queen Elizabeth I. Early plays are romantic comedies and histories, while de Vere was still filled with hope. Later plays are tragedies as he contemplates the missed opportunities, brought about by both his own selfishness and that of his Queen's. His last play, The Tempest, has the author forgiving himself and all others who have wronged him. So, if Edward VI had survived longer, there might not have been that tension between de Vere and the Queen, which ultimately produced some of the finest works in the English language. De Vere might still have produced literary works, but their tone and tenor are up for speculation. He was a brilliant artist, so no doubt whatever he did would have shined. But the works that really challenge actors, readers, and audiences alike are his tragedies: Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, etc. These are the actual blood and tears of a man who suffered indignities -- whether real or imagined, and I think a bit of both -- and these might not have come about had Edward VI lived longer. De Vere was an accomplished musician. Perhaps he would have concentrated more of his time in this pursuit. Perhaps he would have seen more military action, which could have led to either military dramas or military essays. It's quite intriguing to think about.

Rooksmoor said...

Thanks for an excellent contribution to the debate. It has sparked some other thoughts on literary 'what ifs?': rather than the author/playwright dying at a different time or being someone else, what about if their life experiences had been very different, as you suggest with Edward De Vere and a military career. Arthur Conan Doyle lost his wife in 1906, his son (in 1917) and two nephews in the First World War and went on then to produce novels heavily influenced by spiritualism. If his son or daughter had died in childhood or his wife sooner, maybe he would not have revived Sherlock Holmes or done the Professor Challenger novels and instead gone into spiritualist stories sooner, probably with far less appeal. That is just one example, but I am sure there are thousands of others and I will give this some thought. Regards, Rooksmoor.