The Shakespeare Authorship Conference, Manchester 2016

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Every now and then I like to indulge my inner nerd and go to some sort of literary panel discussion or conference. So at the weekend I went to the Shakespeare Authorship Conference, held at the Manchester Central Library.

I should say upfront that I don’t really believe that there is some dark conspiracy to cover up the identity of ‘the real Shakespeare’; in fact, quite frankly I don’t care that much. What draws me time and time again are the plays themselves. Their language. Their wordplay. Their characters. That said, I do like a robust discussion about books and/or authors.

By virtue of it being a ‘Shakespeare Authorship Conference’, there was of course the upfront agreement that there IS a question about whether or not ‘William Shakspeare of Avon’ wrote the plays (obviously some in the academic world deny this question’s very existence).So the orthodox view wasn’t represented. But there were more than enough other theories expounded to keep the conversation flowing all day.

What I found most fascinating is the apparent lack of documentary evidence proving beyond doubt the authorship of the plays. I can see why so many alternative author and conspiracy theories abound; considering the author of the plays was a person of considerable literary ability, there are very few contemporaneous documentary references to Shakspeare. No letters survive, no diary entries, no annotated manuscripts (well not ones where the hand can be confidently attributed). Even his will does not mention his library (that you would assume he would own) or the manuscripts of his plays.

At the end of the conference I left knowing a lot more about the proposed alternative authorship contenders than I did before; I vaguely knew that some believe that the Earl of Oxford was the real author, or Christopher Marlowe, but I didn’t know about all the others. There really are a lot?! For those who are interested in learning more about the candidates,I suggest you check out the Shakespeare Authorship Trust site.

And I now know that I am not an ‘Oxfordian’ or someone who believes in a co-authorship or group theory. I think I may be a ‘sceptical Stratfordian’. But really, does it really matter? After all, what’s in a name?…

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