Wednesday, May 14, 2014

An Open Letter to Linda Lacour Hobar on the Authorship of Shakespeare's Works

Dear Linda Lacour Hobar,

I've committed to your history series, The Mystery of History for a number of years now. I've considered it to be strong and well-researched until this week. We have eagerly awaited each new volume and are in the last half of the third book now.

Imagine my distress when I was blithely reading Lesson 49 aloud to my kids when - lo and behold - I realize that you promote the delusional theory that William Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him. I was annoyed and shocked and inserted my own disclaimers to my children about your unproven views.

Instead of titling the lesson "William Shakespeare" or "William Shakespeare: The World's Greatest Playwright," you chose to give it the ambiguous title, "The Works of William Shakespeare." Other lessons are titled "Michelangelo," "Erasmus Writes In Praise of Folly," or "William Tyndale: Father of the English Bible." But your skepticism regarding poor maligned Shakespeare is already reflected in the title of the lesson.

You nominally give him credit at the beginning of the lesson by stating that he "is considered England's greatest poet and playwright [emphasis mine]," but then you go on to describe several theories as "worthy of our consideration." Just because there are people who believe that Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, or Edward de Vere was the actual author of Shakespeare's plays, this should not be the focus of your only lesson on Shakespeare. You call the evidence for de Vere "convincing" and blame "fans" of Shakespeare for not agreeing with the "ghostwriter" theory. And Marlowe? For heaven's sake, Marlowe was DEAD and could not have written the bulk of the Shakespearean canon. But you give credence to the fantastical theory that perhaps he was secretly kept alive in a "witness-protection plan" and therefore was able to publish his works and attribute them to Shakespeare. This is fiction, pure and simple, and does not belong in a history book.

In the five pages devoted to Shakespeare, just five short paragraphs describe his life, but a page and a half are given to detailing the various conspiracy theories about the authorship of his writings. The remainder of the lesson focuses, as it should, on the genius of the writing. However, you ruin it over and over with phrases such as:

  • "I will use the name of William Shakespeare to refer to whoever it was that wrote his works."
  • "the vast works attributed to William Shakespeare"
  • "whoever it was was that wrote the works of William Shakespeare"

Linda, you must give up the delusion that anyone besides William Shakespeare authored his own plays. If you feel that you must address the controversy, I think a simple sentence stating that "some believe that Shakespeare was not educated enough, but..." would be adequate for the needs of elementary and middle school students. It is irresponsible to plant these seeds of doubt in such young children. I hope that truth will be reflected in future editions of The Mystery of History Volume 3.

The Guardian provides a helpful article about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays.

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