Most claims to Shakespeare have failed

April 08, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN STAFF

To be Shakespeare, or not to be, is not a new question. The practice of claiming Shakespeare to be the author of anonymous poems and plays began in his lifetime.

London printers and booksellers soon recognized that his name on a title page was good for sales, and, in the course of the 17th century, some dozen or so plays (mostly potboilers) appeared claiming him as author.

Later scholars have termed these the Shakespeare "Apocrypha," and they have been much studied to see if the claims for his authorship can be substantiated in any part of them.

There is some evidence that Shakespeare may have had a hand in the anonymous play "Edward III," and there is some evidence (based on handwriting among other criteria) that he was one of several authors who had a hand in a play that was never printed but survives in a manuscript titled "Sir Thomas Moore."

In the 1980s a claim that Shakespeare shared the authorship of a potboiler called "The Birth of Merlin," originally published in 1662 with a title page declaring it to have been "written by William Shakespeare and William Rowley," received some attention but found no support among Shakespeare scholars.

Around the same time, a jingle, which opened with the lines "Shall I die? Shall I fly," was first heralded as a legitimate discovery (by the New York Times, among others) and then mercifully forgotten.

W.S. and his "A Funeral Elegy" are likely to find the same kind of resting place.

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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