The Birth of Shakespeare
“All the world’s a stage …”
We have a tendency, as a human race, to seek out the individual hero of an epic tale. We want to believe in the singular genius who will save the world, design the iconic product or lead us all to a utopian dream. Yet, much of what we see when we explore the great icons of history is a collaborative team behind their use of the “me” or “I” pronouns. These characters in history are either given or take the credit for a smart gaggle of individuals working together in perfect harmony. From architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright) to politics (Barack Obama) to business (Steve Jobs), we want to believe in the theatrical hero, so it’s hard for us to even see the team whose shoulders the icon stands upon.
If this isn’t common knowledge to you...sorry to bust your bubble and rain on your imaginary world. But, as long as we’re busting bubbles, do you know whether William Shakespeare was actually a real person? Or was Shakespeare a character imagined by a cohort of playwrights to take the credit and heat for the works they found too controversial to put forward?
If you haven’t studied Shakespeare since college, here’s a reminder of the epic nature of “his” collective works. Most of what you see in movies, television and streaming content was inspired by or heavily influenced by the works of William Shakespeare. Yes, the stories of this “one man” are given credit for much of the western civilization’s content, stories and theatrical performances. Profound impact of one iconic man, right?
Okay, let’s put on our modern spectacles and look at this again. The conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare was the pen name of many other writers is not new. Only a few have proposed the theory that “he” was the invention of a collaborative team of playwrights. Let’s imagine what this could be like.
1. Playwrights of this time were often taking on controversial subjects for the 1500 - 1600 time period. Creating a “Shakespeare” would insulate the playwrights from persecution: social or legal.
2. The effort to craft a script is rather collaborative in its nature. The actors would make edits along with other involved parties right up to the final eve of the show. Multiple writers crafting to one voice would be common, so inventing a playwright when no single person can take all the credit isn’t a big leap.
3. This was a creative time, with creative people doing creative things together. The boundaries were scrim thin between real life and theatre life. Fiction was reality in their world and creating a fictional character would have been an easy live performance.
4. Doesn’t this line from "As You Like It" offer a hint to the idea of a fictional character designed to step far into the future as a character on our stage? “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” How brilliant would it be for a group of crazy playwrights to conjure up a hero for all to worship long into the future. If they did such a thing, how would they feel about the profound impact this character made on society, culture and the theatre? How would you feel?
Now, as we’ve conversed about this idea around an office of creative, theatre and design people, the reactions have been varied and highly emotional. Some are taken aback to the degree they can’t even imagine it possible. Then there are others who see the brilliance of the possibilities and enjoy stirring the waters of speculation.
Either path you enjoy goes back to this original idea of the hero or the team. What do you believe? Do you believe in heros? Do you believe there are no individual events and every human achievement has a team whose shoulders are stood upon? If you are willing to suspend disbelief for a moment, what type of performance is William Shakespeare acting in, comedy, drama, tragedy?
For more on what the commonly-held belief is, check out the cleaned up Wikipedia on William Shakespeare.
If you’d like to spend some time in a creative office, just to see what kind of impact we can have on the future, please reach out to Kitty Hart.