I am an actor of Shakespeare. I also like to create new drama in the theater and on film and television. I fell in love with Shakespeare in an American high school when I was 16, and since that day have considered the Shakespeare plays to be the greatest drama humanity has ever created, the masterpieces in my field. I have been extremely fortunate. At 22, I was acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon; at 28, I was playing Hamlet and Romeo there. At 35, I was the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, in London. I have appeared in more than 50 different productions of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. These works, more than any other art that exists, have transformed my life and introduced me to a myriad of people all over the world who love Shakespeare as I do, many of whom ask the same question I do: How were the works of Shakespeare created? Naturally.
That is the natural response when something remarkable happens. It has been vital to my survival as an artist to understand how they were created.
Now, the work of Shakespeare is all the more remarkable than, say, the work of van Gogh or Mozart or Williams, because though you can be born with genius, you cannot be born with book learning or life experience. As Samuel Johnson says, “Nature gives no man knowledge, and when images are collected by study and experience, can only assist in combining or applying them. Shakespeare, however favoured by nature, could only impart what he had learnt.” In Shakespeare’s case, we have no evidence of any education, or of the extensive reading in many languages and the wide experience of life apparent in the works. When I seek answers for this unorthodox situation outside Shakespearean orthodoxy, I am not, as I have been accused, “biting the hand that feeds me.” I am trying to grasp it.
Recently, The Atlantic published an article by Elizabeth Winkler, who has carefully researched another remarkable aspect of the authorship apparent in the works of Shakespeare. The women characters, of all ages and classes, comedic and tragic, are fantastically well written, far surpassing the writing of women by any contemporaries. In fact, I have come to believe Shakespeare’s women far surpass in their variety and humanity the writing of women characters by any other dramatist, including Ibsen, Chekhov, and, indeed, Euripides. What do you think?
So now, for me, however the works of Shakespeare were created, the creator had not only extensive book learning, languages, vocabulary, and life experience, but also the greatest understanding of women any playwright has ever displayed. What would be the next question you might ask? Naturally.
Winkler and The Atlantic have been attacked so virulently for daring to ask whether a woman might have been involved in the creation of the works of Shakespeare that I feel I must enter once again this fray, where I know I too will now be attacked and insulted for asking such a question.