I must confess that I waited for this book to arrive with great anticipation. As an keen follower of the Shakespeare authorship controversy, I was eager to see what this book had to say that was new, particularly with regard to the theory that Marlowe was the author of the the Shakespeare canon. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed. This sort of book is precisely the reason why anti-Stratfordians (those who argue that Shakespeare did not write the plays and poems attributed to him) are mocked by most scholars.
Let me make my position in this debate perfectly clear. I believe that there are serious problems with the idea that Shakespeare is the author of the plays and poems attributed to him. I am not alone in this view, as thousands of people have signed the Shakespeare Authorhip Coalition's Declaration of Reasonable Doubt. The argument against William Shakespeare of Stratford is not based upon the evidence that someone else wrote the plays, but rather on the lack of autobiographical evidence that he did. Some (a small fraction) of these arguments can be summarised as follows: 1. Although Shakespeare's name appears on many of the plays and poems attributed to him, his name also appears on plays and poems that conventional scholarship has demonstrated cannot have been written by him. 2. If we accept (as most Shakespeare scholars do) that Robert Greene was referring to Shake-speare as Shake-scene in his Groatsworth of Wit, then it is clear that he is accused of buying up plays from impoverished playwrights of the time, namely Peele, Nashe and Marlowe. 3. Shakespeare seems to have been far more wealthy than would be expected from someone who mainly wrote plays for a living. Procurement of plays from playwrights such as the University Wits (Marlowe and others) would have been lucrative. While convential scholarship argues that Shakespeare made his money from his business dealings (part ownership of the theatre) and from usury (lending money), it is hard to see how he could have had the prodigious output that he had, given that he was also an actor and needed to travel backwards and forwards between London and Stratford. 4. The two major links to Shakespeare as author seem very strange indeed. In the First Folio of his plays, Ben Jonson wrote a famous preface. Most convential scholars take this dedication as a simple tribute to Shakespeare. But the form of the preface is very odd. Jonson was a master of his craft and yet he seems to have allowed two different interpretations of his words. If he wanted to praise Shakespeare in a simple manner, why would he use words (for example "While I confesse thy writings to be such,/ As neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much.", "though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke", "if I thought my judgement were of yeeres,/I should commit thee surely with thy peeres,/And tell, how farre thou dist our Lily out-shine, /Or sporting Kid or Marlowes mighty line [note the use of the conditional in this last example])- which can be interpreted in two ways - one of which seems to suggest that Shakespeare is not in the same class as other writers of the time? The Shakespeare memorial in Stratford is also very odd in its writing. Peter Farey has written an interesting article on this that deserves to be better known. I find it to be a very neat, convincing interpretation that is unlikely to have been produced by chance alone. 5. There seems to be nothing in Shakespeare's biography that relates to the poems or plays. In particular the Sonnets seem to match poorly. Most conventional scholars have given up trying to match the Sonnets with the Shakespeare biography. The Sonnets speak of exile, disgrace, loss, a dark lady and the author seems to be openly gay. The plays seem to condemn usury, for example, and to scoff at natural wit as a source of inspiration, and yet Shakespeare was a usurer who sued people for money and he was known in his time as a natural wit because he had little formal education beyond Stratford Grammar School (which he is presumed to have gone to).
In reading the literature against the anti-Stratfordian case, the main argument that is most commonly used is that there are flaws in the conspiracy theories. Marlowe died in 1593 and therefore couldn't have written the works. Bacon wrote with a very different style to Shakespeare. The truth is that there are flaws in most of these theories. For this reason, it is very important for anti-Stratfordians to develop their cases carefully and to avoid weak arguments, particularly circular arguments. In the book by Roberta Ballantine, it is argued that Marlowe left clues in his writings. By re-arranging the letters of these writings, it is possible to read out a new biography of Marlowe which traces his life after his faked death in 1593. Unfortunately, Ballantine does not adequately explain her methods. Nor does she apply any statistical analysis to determine the probably that any particular transcription of the text could not have been produced by chance alone. Frankly, I find some of the transcriptions difficult to understand and some of them downright silly.
The anti-Stratfordian arguments need to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, this requires excellent scholarship from those who advance the case that William Shakespeare did not write the plays and poems attributed to him. This book "Marlowe Up Close: does not contribute to the debate. However, I look forward to the day when an Elizabethan historian can take up the case against William Shakespeare and develop the arguments in a substantive and logical fashion.