Discover more from Dirtbags Through the Ages
shamlet, prince of denmark
Or, some classic Grade-A shouting about Delia Bacon and the anti-Stratfordians.
We’re exactly four weeks to the day before Let the Dead Bury the Dead is available for purchase everywhere you buy books in North America! I’m very excited about this!
I’m also very, very tired.
Promoting a book includes a lot of bonus work like writing essays, recording podcasts, creating social media graphics, having an anxiety attack into a cereal bowl filled with candy corn, contacting local bookstores, finding event moderators, standing in line at the post office, coming up with elaborate scenarios in which you and your book are cancelled and you have to give your advance back, and so on. Plus I have a full-time job that takes up 7:30 AM to 6:30 PM every weekday. And I agreed to turn in revisions on Book Three by the end of September, because I apparently don’t know how time works.
Never fear, though! You’re still getting your promised fortnightly installment of dirtbaggery.
In fact, you’re also getting a little something extra:
A Dirtbag Nation Exclusive Giveaway!
I’ve said many times that the citizens of Dirtbag Nation are some of my favorite people in the world, and I appreciate you every day. So here’s a little thank you! For subscribers only, I’m giving away a prize pack including:
A signed Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Let the Dead Bury the Dead
Original LTDBTD character art
A signed paperback of A Tip for the Hangman
All you need to do to enter is leave a comment on this post by Friday, September 22, at midnight Central Standard Time. The comment can say anything you want, but if it includes a suggested dirtbag I should feature in the future, I’ll give you a bonus entry. I’ll pick a winner on Saturday September 23 at some point after I wake up.
This giveaway is open internationally, but please allow extra time for shipping outside the continental US, as regrettably I cannot control the mail.
(If you’re discovering this post after 9/22, you can still preorder Let the Dead Bury the Dead at any book retailer including your preferred local indie. And if you preorder, you can fill out this quick form to receive the character art and a signed bookplate for free. So it’s sorta like putting together your own prize pack.)
Okay! Now onto your second reward for subscribing: the actual thing you subscribed for.
I’m opting for a dirtbag that requires little to no additional research on my part this week, because sometimes you just need a gimmie:
Why the Anti-Stratfordian Movement Is A Load of Bullshit and the Ghost of Delia Bacon Can Go Kick Rocks
Those of you who know me in real life are sighing into your morning coffee right now. “Oh God, Allison,” you’re asking, “are you really gonna get into this again?”
Yes, friends. Yes, I am.
Sorry. The Anti-Whatfordians?
Glad you asked, the rest of you. “Anti-Stratfordian” is the fancy academic name for a conspiracy theory that you’ve probably heard of: that William Shakespeare isn’t actually the author of the plays we attribute to him.
Even though this sounds like a reddit thread you’d stumble on at three in the morning after taking an edible, the anti-Stratfordian conspiracy has been around as long as—Google tells me—the rotary egg mixer. The first person to publish an article claiming Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare was an Ohio-based playwright named Delia Bacon back in 1856. This upholds my theory that very few good things come from Ohio. (The Ohio members of Dirtbag Nation are, of course, the exception.)
OK, But Somebody Had to Write the Plays.
Agreed. No one’s suggesting Macbeth sprang fully-formed out of the side of Zeus’s head like Athena. (Although that’s a conspiracy theory that might actually interest me.) Thing is, the anti-Stratfordians are wildly incapable of agreeing on who they think actually wrote the plays.
There are lots of theories. Some of them zero in on famous noblemen of the era, such as Sir Walter Raleigh or Edward de Vere, the Earl of Southampton. Others pick different famous writers, like Sir Francis Bacon, Edmund Spenser, or Christopher Marlowe. (We will return to this one. It’s arguably the most fucking insane.) No one’s actually suggested that the ghost of the lady Robert Dudley threw down the stairs wrote the plays, but it seems as likely as anything else IMO.
Why in the Hell Would They Think That?
Short answer: because they are silly. Longer answer: reasons.
Reason 1: Shakespeare Didn’t Go to College
Beginning with Delia Bacon and carrying into the present day, one of the most common arguments against Shakespeare writing Shakespeare is that he had basically a high-school education. Bacon and Marlowe attended university, which the anti-Stratfordians argue would be necessary to write the dick jokes that make up 80% of Romeo and Juliet.
This is silly for two reasons. One, they obviously have never met a middle schooler. And two, it’s wildly untrue.
Grammar-school education in the Elizabethan era covered most of the mythology and British history that Shakespeare writes about. The rest of his historical knowledge comes almost entirely from one book: Holinshead’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
Is it conceivable that a man named William Shakespeare read one book in his life without going to college? I argue yes.
Fuck off with the idea that people who don’t go to ivy league schools don’t know shit. Also, Shakespeare was garbage at geography, his French is trash, and like half of his plays are fart jokes and fan fiction of Italian porn. I’m just saying.
Reason 2: His Plays Sound Like Other People’s Plays
Lots of Shakespeare’s plays include references or allusions to other popular works of the day, like Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene or Christopher Marlowe’s poem The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. Anti-Stratfordians have actually used these references as “evidence” that Spenser or Marlowe were the ones to write the plays.
I hope I don’t need to tell you why this is stupid. Writers reference other writers all the time, knowingly or otherwise. I made it all the way to copy edits with Let the Dead Bury the Dead before the following exchange occurred:
Copy Editor: This wording seems unusual. Is this a common phrase?
Me: No. That is a direct quote from the 2001 Heath Ledger film A Knight’s Tale that I didn’t realize I put in the draft until right now.
Copy Editor: So…
Me: I will reword.
And even beyond that! Playwrights in Shakespeare’s day almost never worked alone! They were always collaborating on projects and swapping scenes like an old-timey writers’ room. There was even a study a few years ago that used algorithmic analysis to show Marlowe and Shakespeare probably worked together on 1 Henry VI! Which I personally think is awesome and way more interesting!
(Also it is wildly obvious to me that Marlowe wrote the part where Joan of Arc has sex with the devil. You didn’t need an algorithm to convince me of that.)
Reason 3: He Was Okay at Writing Women Sometimes
There are actual academic scholars who argue that because characters like Rosalind from As You Like It are written like actual people, Shakespeare must have been a woman writing under a pen name.
This is patently insane. I understand the bar for writing women was on the ground at the time, but let’s not get carried away. We still have to deal with Ophelia, the worst character in all of Shakespeare.
Reason 4: He Didn’t Leave Many Documents Behind
Anti-Stratfordians get all up in arms over the fact that there aren’t many written records about what William Shakespeare got up to while he was alive. I don’t know what they’re expecting, exactly. Fuck Yeah I’m William Shakespeare For Real And Here’s Proof dot tumblr dot com? Whatever they’re looking for, I guess marriage records and baptisms and business receipts weren’t it. He’s a historical vacuum, these people argue: a convenient front for someone else to anonymously write plays behind!
Except there are dozens of examples of Shakespeare’s friends writing about working with him, and like all of London turned out for his funeral. In a famous pamphlet published in 1592, playwright Robert Greene even wastes several lines bitching about some uppity poet from the countryside named Shakespeare who thinks he’s hot shit.
So, like. Someone named Shakespeare was out there writing stuff. Seems easier to assume that’s our boy.
Reason 5: It’s Fun to Imagine
I told you I’d get back to the Christopher Marlowe of it all. How could I not; I wrote a nearly-400-page book about how much I love Kit Marlowe, the Quentin Tarantino of the 1580s if Tarantino was also a gay spy who got arrested for stabbing a man.
One of the most popular anti-Stratfordian conspiracies is that Marlowe wrote the plays of Shakespeare, and I have to tell you, as Marlowe’s number-one fan, I actually understand this impulse. Marlowe was famously assassinated in 1593 at the age of only 29, probably by agents of Queen Elizabeth, and I’m as grumpy about that as anyone.
It’s deeply tempting to imagine that Marlowe did not actually die, but faked his own death, snuck out of town to lie low for a while, set up a second life in Elizabethan Witness Protection, and then immediately started writing new plays under the pen name of William Shakespeare.
Which, can I just say? Is the stupidest idea in the world?
If Marlowe really did fake his own death to avoid being killed by the queen, what he probably wasn’t going to do was take a job that required him to repeatedly stage plays that made references to his own works at court in front of the queen. Like, my boy was a dumbass, but he was not that much of a dumbass.
Also if Marlowe wrote Macbeth it would have been 8,000% gayer because he would have been trying to seduce King James. I know this in my bones. Read Edward II, you cowards.
OK, But Are You Really Mad at Delia Bacon?
Not really, no. I think the theory she popularized is a trash one and has needlessly distracted scholars for more than a century. And I need someone to blame for the damage that’s been done to my blood pressure every time someone asks me “so do you think Marlowe actually died in 1593?”
Yes I do and I’m mad about it every day of my life. Next question.
But mostly I think she was a weird old lady who died in an asylum and probably got screwed over by being a female artist in the mid-19th-century.
Also, how can I be mad at her. Look at that bonnet one more time.
Y’all know I can’t be mad at a good hat.
Anyway, that’s all for this week. Thanks for humoring the somewhat unstructured format, and don’t forget to drop a comment if you’d like to win some free books. And as always, feel free to forward this newsletter to any of your friends, family, coworkers, or academic rivals who you think might enjoy it.
Until next time, be well, and if you have to do any writing this week try to do it inside a giant Robert Greene-style tamale husk for bonus style points,