Today, UH theatre director Sidney Berger asks what's really in a name. The
University of Houston presents this series about the
machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
What do the names, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Oxford,
Christopher Marlowe and Queen Elizabeth have in common? Each has been cited as
the possible author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. It's an
Today's most popular candidate is Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford.
But most scholars agree that at least ten of the plays attributed to Shakespeare
were written after Oxford died in 1604. King Lear, The Tempest, Macbeth, Anthony
and Cleopatra, and Henry VIII all date from 1606 TO 1613. Oxford
supporters suggest those dates are wrong, or that the plays were furtively slipped to
Shakespeare. They claim there's no evidence of his having any schooling, although
Stratford's children generally attended the local school.
Shakespeare scholars argue that Oxford's writing couln't touch Shakespeare, and his
poetry is simply not in the same universe. And if Oxford masked his identity, then
why, after his death was he not given the recognition his supporters say he so richly
deserved, particularly with the publication of Shakespeare's collected works in 1623?
There was certainly nothing to lose at that point.
De Vere had an education where classic Latin and Greek were staples. Shakespeare had,
according to Ben Jonson, "little Latin, less Greek." If that's the case, how do we
account for the many errors made in the plays relative to those languages which would
clearly have been an embarrassment to the Earl.
Then there's Sonnet 136 in which Shakespeare continuously plays on his own name: The
final couplet ends with:
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lovest me for my name is Will
And would a highly educated and well-traveled noble make the following errors, all
of which are in the plays attributed to Shakespeare?: Bohemia is given a sea-coast in
A Winter's Tale, Cleopatra wears a corset and plays billiards, Hector quotes
Aristotle, Hamlet attends a yet-to-be-founded university. There are clocks in ancient
Rome and gun powder in the time of King John. Edgar, although a contemporary of
pre-Roman King Lear, is familiar with Bedlam, the hospital for the insane in Shakespeare's
And what of the many changes made to the plays in rehearsal, as clearly there were
since numerous discrepant texts exist. Rehearsals of a new play in Shakespeare's
time were surely no different from those in ours; plays were not written but rewritten.
And Shakespeare was there with the actors to make clearly needed cuts and changes.
Oxford certainly was not.
But then the Oxfordians, the Baconites, as well as others, raise arguments that make
for stimulating conversations. So the controversy moves on. And I concur with Charles
Dickens who wrote:
It is a great comfort ... that so little is known concerning the poet.
The life of William Shakespeare is a fine mystery and I tremble every
day lest something should turn up.
I'm Sidney Berger, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way
inventive minds work.
J. F. Mitchell, Who Wrote Shakespeare? (Thames and Hudson, 1999).
P. Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography. (Nan A. Talese, 2005).
S. Greenblatt, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare.
(W. W. Norton, 2005).
I. Wilson, Shakespeare: The Evidence: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Man
and His Work. (St. Martin's Griffin, 1999).
S. Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A compact Documentary Life.
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
Sidney Berger is the Director of Theatre at the University of Houston, founder and
Producing Director of the Houston Shakespeare Festival, co-founder and producer of the
Children's Theatre Festival, Dr. Berger also co-founded the Shakespeare Theatre
Association of America and served as its first president. He has directed over ninety
productions on the UH campus, as well as over twenty-seven productions for the Shakespeare
Festival. He has also been represented by plays he has directed throughout the city,
notably at the Alley Theatre, where he served as associate artist, with many productions.
As Artistic Consultant at Stages Repertory Theatre, he has directed many plays including
Edward Albee's All Over with Mr. Albee in attendance. At Theatre Under the Stars,
he directed the fortieth anniversary production of My Fair Lady with Noel Harrison.
He serves on the board of London's Shakespeare's Globe and has received the university's
highest honor, the Esther Farfel Award. In 1997 Dr. Berger was elected to the College of
Fellows of the American Theatre.