Who Wrote Shakespeare? – IELTS Reading Passage 3

Who Wrote Shakespeare?

William Shakespeare is the Western world’s most famous playwright – but did he really write the plays and poems that are attributed to him?

Who Wrote Shakespeare
Who Wrote Shakespeare?

There has been controversy over the authorship of the works of Shakespeare since the nineteenth  century. The initial impetus for this debate came from the fact that nineteenth century critics, poets  and readers were puzzled and displeased when they were presented with the few remaining scraps  of evidence about the life of “Shakspere”, as his name was most commonly spelled. The author they  admired and loved must have been scholarly and intellectual, linguistically gifted, knowledgeable  about the lifestyle of those who lived in royal courts, and he appeared to have travelled in Europe.

These critics felt that the son of a Stratford glove-maker, whose only definite recorded dealings  concerned buying property, some minor legal action over a debt, tax records, and the usual entries for birth, marriage and death, could not possibly have written poetry based on Classical models. Nor  could he have been responsible for the wide-ranging intellectually and emotionally challenging plays  for which he is so famous, because, in the nineteenth century world-view, writers inevitably called  upon their own experiences for the content of their work

By compiling the various bits and pieces of surviving evidence, most Shakespearian scholars have  satisfied themselves that the man from Stratford is indeed the legitimate author of all the works  published under his name. A man called William Shakespeare did become a member of the Lord  Chamberlain’s Men, the dramatic company that owned the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres, and he  enjoyed exclusive rights to the publication and performance of the dramatic works. There are 23  extant contemporary documents that indicate that he was a well-known poet or playwright.  Publication and even production of plays had to be approved by government officials, who are  recorded as having met with Shakespeare to discuss authorship and licensing of some of the plays,  for example, ‘King Lear’.

However, two Elizabethans who are still strongly defended as the true Shakespeare are Christopher Marlowe and Edward de Vere, both of whom would have benefited from writing under the secrecy  of an assumed name.

Marlowe’s writing is acknowledged by all as the precursor of Shakespeare’s dramatic verse style: declamatory blank verse that lifted and ennobled the content of the plays. The records indicate that he was accused of being an atheist: denying the existence of God would have been punishable by the death penalty. He is recorded as having ‘died’ in a street fight before Shakespeare’s  greatest works were written, and therefore it is suggested that he may have continued producing literary  works while in hiding from the authorities.

De Vere was Earl of Oxford and an outstanding Classical scholar as a child. He was a strong supporter of the arts, including literature, music and acting. He is also recorded as being a playwright, although no works bearing his name still exist. However, in 16th century England it was not acceptable for an aristocrat to publish verse for ordinary people, nor to have any personal dealings with the low-class denizens of popular theatre.

To strengthen the case for their respective alternatives, literary detectives have looked for  relationships between the biographies of their chosen authors and the published works of  Shakespeare. However, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there was no tradition of  basing plays on the author’s own life experiences, and therefore, the focus of this part of the debate has shifted to the sonnets. These individual poems of sixteen lines are sincerely felt reactions to emotionally charged situations such as love and death, a goldmine for the biographically inclined researcher.

The largest group of these poems express love and admiration and, interestingly, they are written to  a “Mr W.H.” This person is clearly a nobleman, yet he is sometimes given forthright advice by the  poet, suggesting that the writing comes from a mature father figure. How can de Vere or Marlowe  be established as the author of the sonnets?

As the son of a tradesman, Marlowe had no aristocratic status; unlike Shakespeare, however, he did attend and excel at Cambridge University where he mingled with the wealthy. Any low-born artist needed a rich patron, and such is the argument for his authorship of the sonnets. The possible  recipient of these sonnets is Will Hatfield, a minor noble who was wealthy and could afford to  contribute to the arts; this young man’s friendship would have assisted a budding poet and  playwright. Marlowe’s defenders contend that expressions of love between men were common at  this time and had none of the homosexual connotations that Westerners of the twenty-first century
may ascribe to them.

The Earl of Oxford had no need of a wealthy patron. The object of De Vere’s sonnets, it is suggested,  is Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, whose name only fits the situation if one accepts that it is not uncommon to reverse the first and surnames on formal occasions. De Vere was a rash and careless man and, because of his foolish behaviour, he fell out of favour with Queen Elizabeth herself. He needed, not an artistic patron, but someone like Henry to put in a good word for him in the complex world of the royal court. This, coupled with a genuine affection for the young man, may have inspired the continuing creation of poems addressed to him. Some even postulate that the mix of love and stern advice may stem from the fact that Henry was de Vere’s illegitimate son, though there is no convincing evidence of this fact.

Questions

Questions 27–29

Choose THREE letters A – G
Write the correct letters A – G, in boxes 27–29 on your answer sheet.
Which THREE of the following are given as reasons for the arguments that someone else wrote Shakespeare’s works?

A.    Shakespeare did not come from Stratford.
B.    We have little information about Shakespeare’s life.
C.    We know that Shakespeare did not go overseas.
D.    Shakespeare went to prison for owing money.
E.    Shakespeare spoke only the English language.
F.    Shakespeare’s life appears to have been limited.
G.   The plays suggest that the writer was familiar with a high-class lifestyle.

Questions 30–35

Complete the table below.
Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.
Write your answers in boxes 30–35 on your answer sheet

Evidence for Different Authors

Who Wrote Shakespeare
Who Wrote Shakespeare

Question 36

Choose the correct letter, A, B, C or D.
Write the correct letter in box 36 on your answer sheet.

The sonnets are useful for researchers because they are

A    shorter and easier than the plays.
B    all written to the same person.
C    more personal than the plays.
D    addressed to a lower-class person.

Questions 37–40

Complete each sentence with the correct ending, A–G, below.
Write the correct letter, A–G, in boxes 37–40 on your answer sheet.

37.    W.H. was probably a young man because
38.    W.H. could have been Marlowe’s friend because
39.    W.H.’s name could have been Henry Wriothesley because
40.    W.H. could have been De Vere’s friend because

A.     W.H. had some influence with important people.
B.     the poems are addressed to the writer’s child.
C.     the content of the poems strongly suggests this.
D.    W.H. was able to provide financial support.
E.    W.H. had been to Cambridge University.
F.    W.H. had a lot of high-class enemies.
G.   the poet may have changed the order of his initials

ANSWERS

Questions 27–29

27.    B in any order

28.    F in any order

29.   G in any order

  • Firstly, it is mentioned in paragraph 1 that: “The initial impetus for this debate came from the fact that nineteenth century critics, poets and readerswere puzzled and displeased when they were presented with the few remaining scraps of evidence about the life of “Shakespere”.”
    • little information = few remaining scraps of evidence
    • This suggests that there is almost no information that remains about Shakespeare’s life.
  • B is an answer.
  • Secondly, it is also mentioned in paragraph 1 that:  “The author they admired and loved must have been scholarly and intellectual, linguistically gifted, knowledgeable about the lifestyle of those who lived in royal courts, and he appeared to have travelled in Europe.”
  • A man who knew personally about life in royal courts would clearly have been wealthy and lived a life of luxury.
  • This means that Shakespeare’s works suggest that he knew all about a high-class lifestyle at that time.
  • G is an answer.
  • Finally, it is mentioned in paragraph 2: “These critics felt that the son of a Stratford glove-­maker…. could not possibly have written poetry based on Classical models. Nor could he have been responsible for the wide-­‐ranging intellectually and emotionally challenging plays for which he is so famous…”
  • This paragraph tells us that the only information we have about Shakespeare’s life suggests that it was quite simple. He had no extraordinary personal experiences or classical education on which to base his great plays.  His life was limited.
  • F is an answer.

Questions 30–35

30.  exclusive rights

  • Key words: printing, putting on
  • It is mentioned in paragraph 3 that: “A man called William Shakespeare did become a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the dramatic company that owned the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres, and he enjoyed exclusive rights to the publication and performance of the dramatic works.”
    • printing = publication
    • putting on the plays ~ performance of the dramatic works
  • This means that Shakespeare had the exclusive rights for printing and putting on the plays.
  • The answer is “exclusive rights

31.  government officials

  • Key words: consulted, approving performance
  • It is stated in paragraph 3 that: “Publication and even production of plays had to be approved by government officials, who are recorded as having met with Shakespeare to discuss authorship and licensing of some of the plays, for example, ‘King Lear’.”
    • consulted ~ met to discuss
    • production = performance
  • This means that government officials, who were responsible for approving plays, consulted Shakespeare before doing so.
  • The answer is “government officials

32.  an atheist

  • Key words: Marlowe, trouble
  • It is stated in paragraph 5 that: “The records indicate that he was accused of being an atheist: denying the existence of God would have been punishable by the death penalty.”
  • This means that some people said he was an atheist, which is a person who denies the existence of God. As a result, Marlowe could have been punished by the death penalty. 
  • The answer is “atheist

33.  street fight

  • Key words: faked, own death
  • It is stated in paragraph 5 that: “He is recorded as having ‘died’ in a street fight before Shakespeare’s greatest works were written, and therefore it is suggested that he may have continued producing literary works while in hiding from the authorities.”
  • This means that Marlowe hid from the authorities by faking his death (= he made people think that he had died) in a street fight.
  • The answer is “street fight

34.  playwright

  • Key words: De Vere
  • It is stated in paragraph 6 that: “He is also recorded as being a playwright, although no works bearing his name still exist.”
  • This means that although he was said to be a playwright, he has no works under his name. Thus, De Vere may have written plays, but we are not certain.
  • The answer is “playwright

35.  ordinary people

  • Key words:  upper class, could not write
  • It is stated in paragraph 6 that: “However, in 16th century England it was not acceptable for an aristocrat topublish verse for ordinary people, nor to have any personal dealings with the low-­class denizens of popular theatre.”
  • This means that as an aristocrat (= a member of the upper class), De Vere could not write (= publish verse) for the ordinary people.
  • The answer is “ordinary people

Question 36

36.   C

  • Key words: sonnets, useful, researchers
  • The sonnets are referred to in paragraphs 7 and 8. It is mentioned in paragraph 8 that: “The largest group of these poems express love and admiration and, interestingly, they are written to a ‘Mr. W.H.’  This person is clearly a nobleman….”
  • So, although the largest group of poems was written to the same person, it is not true that they were all written to the same person. Thus, B is wrong.
  • Most of the poems were written to a nobleman, not a lower-class person, so D is wrong.
  • Although the sonnets are shorter than the plays – see paragraph 7 – this is not the reason why they are more useful for researchers.
  • The answer is in paragraph 7: “These individual poems of sixteen lines (sonnets) are sincerely felt reactions to emotionally charged situations such as love and death, a goldmine for the biographically inclined researcher.”
  • In this sentence, the personal feelings expressed in the sonnets about love and death, for example, are valuable for researchers.
    • useful = a goldmine
  • The answer is C.

Questions 37–40

37.   C

  • Key words: W.H., young man
  • W.H. is mentioned in paragraph 8: “This person is clearly a nobleman, yet he is sometimes given forthright advice by the poet, suggesting that the writing comes from a mature father figure”.
  • Thus, if the poet is a ‘mature father figure’, the advice in the poems is intended for a young man.
  • The answer is C.

38.  D

  • Key words: W.H., Marlowe, friend
  • It is stated in paragraph 9 that: “Any low-born artist needed a rich patron, and such is the argument for his [Marlowe’s] authorship of the sonnets.  The possible recipient of these sonnets is Will Hatfield, a minor noble who was wealthy andcould afford to contribute to the arts; this young man’s friendship would have assisted a budding poet and playwright.”
  • This means that being friends with Will Hatfield [W.H.] could have assisted Marlowe in his career, as Will was rich.
  • The answer is D.

39.  G

  • Key words:  Henry Wriothesley
  • It is stated in the last paragraph that: “The Earl of Oxford had no need of a wealthy patron. The object of De Vere’s sonnets, it is suggested, is Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, whose name only fits the situation if one accepts that it is not uncommon to reverse the first and surnames on formal occasions.”
    • change the order = reverse
  • This means what W.H. could have been Henry Wriothesley, because the author and W.H. knew each other, and it was not unusual to reverse the first and surnames on formal occasions.
  • The answer is G.

40.  A

  • Key words: W.H., De Vere, friend
  • It is stated in the last paragraph that: “De Vere was a rash and careless man and, because of his foolish behaviour, he fell out of favour with Queen Elizabeth herself. He needed, not an artistic patron, but someone like Henry to put in a good word for him in the complex world of the royal court.”
  • This means that De Vere became unpopular with Queen Elizabeth; therefore, being friends with W.H. (an important aristocrat, the Earl of Southampton) could help De Vere in the royal court, where W.H. had many friends.
  • The answer is A.

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