Monday, May 24, 2010

Ghostwriting Rumors

I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, but if he did not it seems to me that he missed the opportunity of his life. – James Barrie

A recent article, “Denying Shakespeare” by Terry Teachout in the online Wall Street Journal once again brings up the rumor that Shakespeare didn’t write his own material. Mr. Teachout doesn’t believe it’s true. He says:

“…I am, as should be apparent, poking fun at those benighted souls who believe that someone other than William Shakespeare—the most prominent candidates being Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford—wrote "Hamlet," "Macbeth" and "Romeo and Juliet."

“If anything, Shakespeare's story reminds us of the existence of a different kind of democracy, the democracy of genius. Time and again, the world of art has been staggered by yet another "Mr. Nobody from Nowhere" (to borrow a phrase from "The Great Gatsby") who, like Michelangelo or Turner or Verdi, strides onto the stage of history, devoid of pedigree and seemingly lacking in culture, and proceeds to start churning out masterpieces. For mere mortals, especially those hard-working artistic craftsmen who long in vain to be touched by fire, few things are so depressing as to be reminded by such creatures of the limits of mere diligence.”

I’m not a Shakespearean scholar and I don’t have a clue if the rumors are true or not, but I hope they’re not. I can’t put my finger on why, if proven, this rumor would disappoint me. Maybe it’s because while living in London, I enjoyed watching many of his plays performed. "Merchant of Venice," with Dustin Hoffman playing Shylock is one of the more memorable ones. "Much Ado About Nothing," was also unforgettable due to our standing-room only tickets for a performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

I’ve even read that Shakespeare may not have existed at all—that his name is a collective pseudonym for a group of ghost writers. Tell me it isn't so! There’s an interesting article “Ghostwriting – A History" by Julie-Ann Amos if you want to read more on this topic.

Of course Shakespeare isn’t the only famous writer “accused” of using ghostwriters. According to an article on Opening Page “Who wrote the novels of Alexandre Dumas?” by Chauncey Mabe:

“That Dumas used collaborators or ghostwriters to churn out his romantic swashbucklers is not news. Dumas scholar Claude Schoop, however, says the plot for the Musketeers trilogy — and most of the writing — are actually the work of a forgotten writer named Auguste Maquet, reports the London Telegraph.”

“…When Maquet left Dumas, neither did anything else that was really excellent. But Dumas did nothing more of any note, while Maquet went on to write a lot.”

Another article in the, “Now we can all believe in ghosterwriters” says:

“In the 1830s Maquet, himself a novelist and playwright, was told by a publisher: ‘You have written a masterpiece, but you're not a name and we only want names’ – nothing new there either.”

I can feel Maquet’s pain at hearing such a statement and I imagine I’m not alone.

Would the enjoyment you receive from reading a book (from classic to mass-market paperback) be less if you discovered the writing was actually done by someone else?

I’m posting an extra blog on Thursday this week in order to introduce Liana Metal. Liana lives in Corfu, Greece. She’s a teacher, book reviewer, freelance writer and artist. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to visit. Thanks for stopping by today.

Tags: Shakespeare , Dumas, Barrie, ghostwriting, Dustin Hoffman, Shylock,


Journaling Woman said...

These ARE troubling rumors. But rumors are just that until they show me conclusive evidence.

Great post and that's not a rumor. :)

Joanne said...

I've heard the rumor that Shakespeare did not actually exitst, too. Hm, don't they say there's some truth to all rumors ;)

I don't think I'd like a book any less if I discovered someone else wrote it. I might be glad to have another name to add to my list of favorite authors!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've seen Shakespeare's house and grave - that's a lot of trouble to go to just to perpetuate a myth!

I know that half of Lovecraft's works were the work of pupils under his guidance.

Jenny S. said...

When my son began reading Hardy Boys Mysteries, I was surprised to learn that Franklin W. Dixon is a pseudonym for a team of ghostwriters. Though I hope I'm not the kind of person who 'only wants names,' I won't believe the same is true for Shakespeare. There are names and then there are names.

Mason Canyon said...

It's always interesting to hear the various rumors about Shakespeare. Just makes people check out his works more. :)

Thoughts in Progress

Darcia Helle said...

My older son has been a huge Shakespeare fan since junior high school. He can probably recite most of Shakespeare's work by memory. We've discussed these rumors and agree they are most likely nonsense. However, as with many rumors, you can't help but wonder how and why they began.

I also have to say that I feel bad for ghostwriters. They do all the work and get none of the credit!

Karen Walker said...

Interesting discussion, Jane. I think I would be very disturbed. And sad to find out the rumor about Shakespeare turned out to be true.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Journaling Woman – I won’t believe it until they can prove it either – oh, and thanks.

Joanne, hopefully the rumor is way too crazy to be real. I like your positive approach to discovering a book you liked might have been written by someone else. I think I would be disappointed.

Good point, Diane. I’ve seen them also. The fact they exist does sound like pretty good proof that Shakespeare wasn’t a pseudonym. That’s the way artists used to learn their craft so it makes sense that writers would learn by working with an expert as well.

Jenny S, I believe the Nancy Drew series was also written by a team of ghostwriters. I used to love those as a kid.

Mason, that could be what the rumors are meant to do, though I find I hard to believe that there is anyone alive who doesn’t know the name or his work.

Darcia, it’s great to hear that kids are also fans. It would be nice to know how the rumors began. Sounds like an idea for another blog. I agree with your assessment of ghostwriters.

Me, too, Karen.

Helen Ginger said...

I think I would feel a little cheated if I read a book, loved it, then found out someone else wrote it. And yet...I do ghostwrite. Go figure.

Straight From Hel

Carol Kilgore said...

I've heard these rumors, too. Who knows ... maybe Francis Bacon used the name William Shakespeare as a nom de plume. Some questions are best left unanswered.

Jan Morrison said...

we are pretty sure that one person wrote all of the plays and sonnets attributed to Shakespeare. I don't care what the name is or even if it a different writer or one with a different story - I've even heard that the oevre was written by a woman. I don't care - to me there was an entity and that entity created these most marvelous creations and we know that entity as Shakespeare. Good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

I've heard Shakespeare was not a real person. Who knows. I exist. That much is true. After that, the lines of reality become blurred. Could be the Merlot I'm drinking too.

Stephen Tremp

Anonymous said...

To me it doesn't matter and the rumours just make it more intriguing. I read things for the writing, if I'm later told someone else produced that writing, it doesn't really change my enjoyment of it.
Thanks for an interesting post.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Rumors about Shakespeare will always be around. I think it's because there was such an outpouring of work in such a short period and people question how one person could have accomplished it. However, no one questions whether Mozart existed and wrote as much as he did in a short period. Interesting post, Jane.

The Old Silly said...

I've heard that before, that Shakespear had a ghostwriter ... interesting. Have fun with Lianna ... I hosted her last year and she's very interesting and fun to host.

Watery Tart said...

I would indeed be troubled... not so much because it takes away from the book(s), but it would be such a disappointment in the FRAUD.

I believe in Shakespeare (heck, I've been to his house *cough*)--I think he had talent--I think he also won the heart of Queen Elizabeth and so had extraordinary resources at his disposal to DEVELOP his craft--someone with talent and a benefactor has serious advantages (like say... Michelangelo). (I'm seeking a benefactor myself)

Dumas, I've heard rumors on before... I don't know that I am more inclined to believe them or not, as he had certain characteristics which ALSO make him ripe for the tabloid equivalents of his day (being a half-black ladies man in 19th century France), but he was working more commercially, and so I'd be more inclined to believe he might get away with something than someone like Shakespeare.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Helen – your comment made me smile. Interesting to hear from a ghostwriter on ghostwriting.

Carol – that’s an angle I haven’t thought of. Interesting idea.

Jan – The fact Shakespeare’s work has lasted through the ages says a lot about whoever wrote them.

Stephen, maybe hundreds of years from now they’ll be questioning whether you really existed. I hope if they do, they run across this blog to confirm it.

Cassandra, I think you have the right attitude – if it’s good and you enjoyed it, why should the author matter.

Good point, Elspeth.

Marvin, I guess we’ll never know for sure if he did or he didn’t. I am looking forward to introducing Liana.

Watery Tart, looks like views are split on whether or not the author matters. Finding a benefactor sounds like an excellent idea – I think authors need them more today than even back in Shakespeare’s time.

Nancy J. Parra said...

I love this post. It is very thought provoking and that statement, "You have written a masterpiece but you are not a name. We only want names." Made me laugh and yet hurt my heart at how true that is even today.
Thanks for sharing. Cheers~

Lisa said...

I would refuse to believe it anyway. I grew up with Shakespeare. As a little girl I used to live around the corner from Anne Hathaway's cottage in England. No, I just couldn't believe that rumour, even if it was true.
Ah, the comfort of denial.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world