The Unknown William Shakespeare

Despite its Clear Fame in Literature

Virginia Woolf, who remains a symbol of feminism, published “A Room of One’s Own,” in which she narrates the history of a fictional character named Judith Shakespeare. Initially, one might assume she is Shakespeare’s daughter due to the name, but within the narrative, she is depicted as William Shakespeare’s sister. In her story, Woolf explores the notion that Shakespeare’s sister received a distinct form of education compared to him, one of the most brilliant minds in the literary world. This likely contributed to the scarcity of female artists during the Elizabethan era. Was it due to the neglect of her upbringing or the necessity for many female artists to conceal their identities behind male pseudonyms?After delving into Virginia’s insights about Shakespeare, I embarked on a different perspective in my research of Shakespeare’s works. I pondered the identities of his wife and daughters, considering his remarkable proficiency in crafting love sonnets and his deep understanding of the female psyche in his plays. To my astonishment, I discovered scant information about them. How could a man renowned for one of the most famous love plays in history remain unexamined in terms of his love life? Why had no one ever wondered about the muse behind such profound expressions of love?

In this essay, I will delve into the volume of work Shakespeare produced, despite less than two decades passing between his first publication and his demise. I will explore the empathy and profound comprehension he displayed for women’s minds in his plays, even in the absence of concrete evidence regarding his appreciation for the women in his personal life. Additionally, I will examine the diverse writing styles found in his plays, which hint at the possibility that multiple individuals contributed to their creation. Join me on this captivating journey as we unravel the enigmatic aspects of Shakespeare’s life.

Shakespeare wrote almost 40 plays and 154 sonnets. The first work he published was “Venus and Adonis,” published in 1593, and his last work published was “Sonnets,” published in 1609. That means that in 17 years, he wrote 38 plays (not to mention his sonnets). Such a large volume of writing would imply that he wrote at least 4 plays a year. Considering that playwriting wasn’t Shakespeare’s only work – he was also a famous actor and a writer of sonnets – it is quite exceptional to produce so many famous plays in such a short span of time, especially when you consider all the creativity and brilliance exhibited in his works. How did Shakespeare, at the young age of 28 years, have so many stories to write about?

In the essay “William Shakespeare” by Stanley Wells, he states: “the three parts of Henry VI, The Taming of the Shrew, and (perhaps) the sonnets, and it is a remarkable output for a man of thirty-four, especially one who is usually regarded as a late starter” (4). In this quote, the author references some of Shakespeare’s work while highlighting its remarkable nature, despite his late start. How could Shakespeare, considered a late starter, produce so many works in such a short time? How was he capable of such creativity and inspiration, not only for love but also for tragedies and comedy? From where did all the inspiration and research to write these plays come? Did he possibly have help?

The questions about Shakespeare’s writing don’t stop here. In “Othello,” one of Shakespeare’s most famous works, he represents women’s thoughts with such accuracy that it made me question: How could he have so much empathy and understanding for the women’s minds during that period – the struggles they endured in the 16th century? His character in “Othello,” Emilia, who is mistreated throughout the play by her terrible husband, offers an insightful criticism of how women were treated during that time. He crafts beautiful scenes that illustrate Emilia’s struggles to find her voice, culminating at the end with her desire to speak and be heard. The development of her character is remarkable and reflects the lives of most women in England during that era. Even though Shakespeare, as an actor and playwright at that time, might have understood many of the struggles that women went through. For example: In the essay “William Shakespeare” by Stanley Wells, he cites the first published work of Shakespeare, “Venus and Adonis,” by saying: “His innocence and idealism contrast with Venus’ experience and paradoxically physical, materialist outlook. It is the goddess who represents lust, the human boy who stands up for love. The tension between his youthful withdrawal from sexual experience and her overmature anxiety to rush into it provides the poem’s dramatic impetus. Adonis’ immaturity, amusing and touching, is appropriate to the essentially nontragic nature of a story with a quasi-tragic ending” (20). In this quote, it is more than clear how well he travels through a woman’s mind with thoughts that, considering that Shakespeare isn’t a woman himself, would mean that he has an extremely intimate understanding of the women’s mind.

Another curious fact is that I myself was surprised to find out that his youngest daughter, Judith Shakespeare, signed papers with a period instead of her name, which is an indication that she was illiterate. Could Shakespeare’s daughter be illiterate when her father was one of the most renowned writers of that time (and all time)? Considering that he understood the challenges of a woman’s life at that time, would he deny an education to his daughter? Or, for that matter, to his wife, who in most of what he wrote about her, is described as a very domestic woman. Or, to the fact that after dying, his only mention of his wife was the very controversial sentence: “My second-best bed,” which many people consider to be an insult. How could one of the most romantic writers of all time, with his expansive empathy for the struggles that women endured during that period, be so neglectful of his wife and daughter? Or could this all be a diversion to hide a mysterious secret, that there were other writers behind Shakespeare’s works?

In actuality, if you want to be an expert in something, you have to specialize; and writing has some of the most diverse types of specializations: creative writing, scriptwriting, playwriting, and writing research papers are not even in the same department. Hardly will you find a great writer in the world who writes in all genres. They are normally specialized in a specific type of genre. For example, Jane Austen writes romances, Agatha Christie is known for her suspense books, Virginia Woolf writes novels that criticize gender, Emily Brontë writes tragedies. Unless we are talking about William Shakespeare, you will hardly find an author who is known for their greatness in comedy, romance, and tragedy. Maybe that is why he is considered to be the greatest. However, it is curious how brilliantly he can hide each style and develop new ones according to the genre or the type of paper he is writing. His comedies have a smoothness that his tragedies contrast drastically with, which are so heavy. His poems, as a poem should be, are written to be read and felt, not to be seen on stage, as his plays are, which is something that most writers struggle with, to be able to write separate styles so flawlessly, almost as though he is creating a new character to write each type of genre.

What is curious about all of this is how a man who came from such a poor background, as Shakespeare did, could develop such excellence at writing when he was only 28 years old? And further, to add to this mystery, there is Shakespeare’s testament that was found, where in addition to having extremely poor language when compared to the level of language he was used to write, doesn’t even make mention of anything about any of his plays. In the essay “William Shakespeare” by Stanley Wells, we find an interesting quote where he says: “Even his earliest plays demonstrate a verbal power that suggests a practiced writer” (7). Here, the author is explaining that although it was one of his first published works, he shows tremendous experience, which is curious. How could he be this practiced writer at the beginning of his career at the same time he wrote in his old career a testament written in poor vocabulary?

Now, you are probably wondering what my point with all this is. Well, there are two important figures in Shakespeare’s life that were barely ever mentioned, and the parts that were, were almost as if they were planted to influence our thoughts about them; it is that they are illiterate and would never be capable of writing as he did. However, I don’t believe for one second that if Shakespeare was really the greater writer that he was, that he would be able to be married and have a daughter that was as unintelligent as they are claimed to be.

Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, was 8 years older than him when they met, which gives a hint about the fact that she was more mature and richer than him, which also plays with the possibility of having a better education level than him. They also had a scandalous situation in the beginning of their affair because she got pregnant with their first child before they got married, which perfectly suggests the passion she must have felt for him to risk her own reputation for his. This perfectly fits with the passion that exists in Shakespeare’s stories. Shakespeare’s stories talk about sacrifices for love all the time, and what sacrifice would be bigger than to give up on your pride and to let your husband take all the credit for the incredible work you’ve made over your entire life? Shakespeare’s stories also talk about the tragedies of a love that didn’t work; as in Othello, where Desdêmona is a perfect wife and ends up with such a tragic end, where her husband did not recognize all that she did for him. Or going further, as proved in this paragraph, the plays were probably written by more than one person. Who else could Hathaway share such a big secret with than her daughter? Who may not just have been her confidant but her partner in writing. Considering that Judith Shakespeare lived until her 70s, she would definitely have been able to write the amount of content that Shakespeare did, and, as well, would have been able to relate to the tragedies of love, when you consider the bad marriage that she had and the tragedies that she knew, which left her alone. She lost her twin brother at the young age of 12, followed by the three kids that she had, and then her entire family. She lived alone for so long that I can’t stop believing that her only comfort was her writing.

To conclude, Shakespeare’s writing was brilliant, but this we already know; however, the questions about who this strange man was, based on the little we know about his identity, is a problem that will persist as long as his writing lives. We can only speculate. All that we have explored in this paper, from how strange the amount of work he published in such a short amount of time (according to his death timing), matched with his perfect dialogues on the women’s gender, together with how much his style changes over the years, is enough evidence to show us that there is something very strange or discreet about this man; who, based on what we do know, has the personality of a famous actor who wanted to be known and recognized for his works. This, with the description from the scant biography we have of him, doesn’t fit well. After all, Shakespeare was no more than perfect in his writing. He was a perfectionist, and I don’t think he would commit the mistake of being anonymous unless it was extremely purposeful. What reasons could he have had to hide behind his name and writing? Unless he had something to hide; unless his writing wouldn’t be accepted due to some prejudice “he” was scared to face. And I’m marveling at how many clues “he” left for us, to the point that even being a superficial reader of Shakespeare, I can feel that there is something between the lines of his writing that wants to be expressed, desperately and which, I believe, Shakespeare desired would be talked and speculated about in today’s day.

Works Cited:

Wells, Stanley. “William Shakespeare.” British Writers, edited by Ian Scott-Kilvert, vol. 1, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.galecom/apps/doc/H1479001386/GLS?u=cuny_mancc&sid=bookmark-GLS&xid=39e5d369. Accessed 24 Jan. 2023.

2 thoughts on “The Unknown William Shakespeare

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  2. Kelsey Milian (she/her/hers)

    This is fascinating! I agree, I don’t think Shakespeare would be Shakespeare without the influences of the women in his life. I even read once that Anne Hathaway was actually a great playwright herself. This is a great paper Isabela! Consider publishing your work on an academic journal

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