But Soft…Real Soft
by Woody Allen
Ask the average man who wrote the plays entitled Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and Othello, and in most cases he’ll snap confidently back with, “The Immortal Bard of Stratford on Avon.” Ask him about the authorship of the Shakespearean sonnets and see if you don’t get the same illogical reply. Now put these questions to certain literary detectives who seem to crop up every now and again over the years, and don’t be surprised if you get answers like Sir Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Queen Elizabeth and possibly even the Homestead Act.
The most recent of these theories is to be found in a book I have just read that attempts to prove conclusively that the real author of Shakespeare’s works was Christopher Marlowe. The book makes a very convincing case, and when I got through reading it I was not sure if Shakespeare was Marlowe or Marlowe was Shakespeare or what. I know this, I would not have cashed checks for either one of them-and I like their work.
Now, in trying to keep the above mentioned theory in perspective, my first question is: if Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s works, who wrote Marlowe’s? The answer to this lies in the fact that Shakespeare was married to a woman named Anne Hathaway. This we know to be factual. However, under the new theory, it is actually Marlowe who was married to Anne Hathaway, a match which caused Shakespeare no end of grief, as they would not let him in the house.
One fateful day, in a jealous rage over who held the lower number in a bakery, Marlowe was slain-slain or whisked away in disguise to avoid charges of heresy, a most serious crime punishable by slaying or whisking away or both.
It was at this point that Marlowe’s young wife took up the pen and continued to write the plays and sonnets we all know and avoid today. But allow me to clarify.
We all realize Shakespeare (Marlowe) borrowed his plots from the ancients (moderns); however, when the time came to return the plots to the ancients he had used them up and was forced to flee the country under the assumed name of William Bard (hence the term “immortal bard”) in an effort to avoid debtor’s prison (hence the term “debtor’s prison”). Here Sir Francis Bacon enters into the picture. Bacon was an innovator of the times who was working on advanced concepts of refrigeration. Legend has it he died attempting to refrigerate a chicken. Apparently the chicken pushed first. In an effort to conceal Marlowe from Shakespeare, should they prove to be the same person, Bacon had adopted the fictitious name Alexander Pope, who in reality was Pope Alexander, head of the Roman Catholic Church and currently in exile owing to the invasion of Italy by the Bards, last of the nomadic hordes (the Bards give us the term “immortal bard”), and years before had galloped off to London, where Raleigh awaited death in the tower.
The mystery deepens for, as this goes on, Ben Jonson stages a mock funeral for Marlowe, convincing a minor poet to take his place for the burial. Ben Jonson is not to be confused with Samuel Johnson. He was Samuel Johnson. Samuel Johnson was not. Samuel Johnson was Samuel Pepys. Pepys was actually Raleigh, who had escaped from the tower to write Paradise Lost under the name of John Milton, a poet who because of blindness accidentally escaped to the tower and was hanged under the name of Jonathan Swift. This all becomes clearer when we realize that George Eliot was a woman.
Proceeding from this then, King Lear is not a play by Shakespeare but a satirical revue by Chaucer, originally titled “Nobody’s Parfit,” which contains in it a clue to the man who killed Marlowe, a man known around Elizabethan times (Elizabeth Barret Browning) as Old Vic. Old Vic became more familiar to us later as Victor Hugo, who wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which most students of literature feel is merely Coriolanus with a few obvious changes. (Say them both fast.)
We wonder then, was not Lewis Carroll caricaturing the whole situation when he wrote Alice in Wonderland? The March Hare was Shakespeare, the Mad Hatter, Marlowe, and the Dormouse, Bacon-or the Mad Hatter, Bacon, and the March Hare, Marlowe-or Carroll, Bacon, and the Dormouse, Marlowe-or Alice was Shakespeare-or Bacon-or Carroll was the Mad Hatter. A pity Carroll is not alive today to settle it. Or Bacon. Or Marlowe. Or Shakespeare. The point is, if you’re going to move, notify your post office. Unless you don’t give a hoot about posterity.