IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE…

Thursday 25th April 2013 - by Kyl Chhatwal

Ever notice how many so many of Shakespeare’s plays are set in Italy? Romeo and Juliet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew. And then there are the Roman plays: Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus…

Is this merely a case of the greatest writer of the past 500 years being a severe Italophile? Or is there another, deeper reason?

Anyone who follows Shakespeare scholarship, or at least saw the 2011 film Anonymous, knows that there is a long-standing history of people believing that somebody other than William Shakespeare wrote his plays and poems. The literary conspiracy theories concerning the Shakespeare authorship question began in 1834, when Delia Bacon proposed that Sir Francis Bacon was the real William Shakespeare. Another perennial contender for the role of immortal bard has been Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The film Anonymous is based on the premise that de Vere penned the plays then used a half-illiterate actor, who happened to be named William Shakespeare, as cover.

Although the authenticity of William Shakespeare’s authorship was not doubted for centuries after his death, admirers have long wondered how so little information could have survived about the great writer’s life. Critics have also puzzled over how Shakespeare, who only had a Grammar school education, could possibly have produced some of the finest works of literature ever written.

Hence the alternative author theories, which usually posit a nobleman, or at least someone university-educated, as the real author of the Shakespeare canon.

One of the most recent and radical alternative author theories suggests that Shakespeare might have been a woman. Emilia Bassano, a half-Italian half-English aristocrat, had spent time in Italy as a child, spoke Italian, and knew enough about Italy to have written plays about it—in contrast to William Shakespeare, who never left England.

Additionally, Bassano came from a family of musicians, which would explain why the author of the Shakespeare plays seems to have had such a fine appreciation for, and understanding of, music.

Alternative author theories remain on the fringe of mainstream Shakespeare scholarship, but scholars do agree that if Bassano was not the author of the plays she might have been the mysterious “Dark Lady” that Shakespeare referred to in his famous sonnet cycle (the “dark” being a reference to Bassano’s black hair, and her Mediterranean colouring).

If this half-Italian musician wasn’t Shakespeare, therefore, perhaps she was his lover. “If music be the food of love,” says the Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night, “play on.” 

Below are two clips: the first showing scholar John Hudson making the case for Emilia Bassano as immortal bard; and the second showing the trailer for Anonymous, based on the theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the real writer of the works attributed to William Shakespeare.


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