Bringing Shakespeare back from the dead

In my previous posts on the development of my novel, I described how I arrived at the idea, and also why I was so excited – both in terms of the fictional possibilities, and the light it would shed on the Shakespeare authorship debate.

But now I was facing the very problem that ostensibly plagues the debate in real life – how to prove the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and poems, once and for all?

One thing was immediately clear. Whatever I came up with, it needed to be indisputable. Authorship enthusiasts are supremely adept at bending facts to their will, and I needed something which would instantly and convincingly silence protests on all sides of the debate. Something extraordinary, in other words, well beyond the historical discourse and textual study which, with eternal ambiguity, currently dominate the debate. Newly-discovered evidence or cryptographic proof – however seemingly incontrovertible – simply wouldn’t do. I needed something properly scientific.

But what ? How would this proof of proofs reveal itself?

Mathematics offered one potential avenue, and there is indeed a rich seam of real life work being done on mathematical intertextual analysis – both in relation to the authorship question and associated debates. Though still short of being universally accepted, it’s just about possible to imagine such methods one day becoming wholly conclusive. So perhaps that was the key: working up a world in which a new kind of linguistics analysis definitively matched Shakespeare’s plays with the writing of another author?

It was certainly a possibility. But not only was I keen for mathematics to take centre stage in another emerging strand of my plot, there was something about it which sidestepped an important part of the argument. Comparing texts, after all, is only useful when one has, well, a comparator: de Vere’s poems, say, to contrast with the plays we know as Shakespeare’s. In other words, the method can only be used for one of two things: either showing that someone else’s writing doesn’t match the Shakespearean canon; or, as would be the case in my novel, to show it does. The point being that, without a benchmark for the ‘Stratford man’, it’s impossible to determine his role in anything other than an inferential way.

This felt unsatisfactory because it was at odds with the logic flow of sceptics’ arguments. Asserting that Shakespeare himself wasn’t the author is invariably the opening gambit of anti-Stratfordian polemic, so I thought it would be apt to make it the first step in proving the sceptics to be right. And what better way to eke out the hidden tensions on all sides than by making the discovery as gradual as possible?

One way or another, this had to be my modus operandi. First find some way of showing Shakespeare didn’t do it – then use that same mechanism to find out who did.

The challenge was how to prove a negative. Again, any kind of evidential debunking of the ‘Stratford man’ – even, say, the discovery of contemporary testimony declaring that he didn’t do it – would still ultimately be contentious, open to the perennial claims about hoaxes and, even if not, still endlessly contestable.

No. The only option was to somehow bring Shakespeare into my story. Alas, time travel – while the ultimate fantasy for conspiracy theorists – wasn’t quite right, since I wanted my novel to be all about the future, and how the world would change if proof were ever established. By hook or by crook, I needed Shakespeare in the here and now.

I toyed very briefly with summoning a ghost – a Shakespearean conceit, indeed – before realising that nothing could be more untrustworthy and less likely to be universally accepted than a spirit come to admit that his extraordinary legacy had been built on an outrageous falsehood. It would be better to have him resurrected wholesale – perhaps through some feat of DNA cloning – though that, in its way, was every bit as far-fetched as the supernatural option.

Or was it? I thought again, slowly realising that there was something about the idea which chimed with what I was trying to do. Not cloning outright; but rather, harnessing an aspect of his DNA – the creativity, the muse, as it were – and finding some way of transferring it into a living being. Yes, the implications were numerous – I’d basically be suggesting that creativity is a genetic absolute – but this only enthused me further. I’d long-sensed some quality in the authorship debate relating to the self-appropriation of genius – whether belonging to Shakespeare, Bacon, Marlowe or whomever – and was determined to explore this in my novel. What could be better than introducing a plot device whereby creativity became, in its way, an absolute commodity?

This, then, was my solution. Somebody, somewhere, was going to discover the genetic key to artistic greatness and – in so doing – establish beyond doubt the almighty lie of Shakespeare’s authorship.

The question was: where was I going to make this happen – and, more importantly, why?


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