To Be or Not to Be Shakespeare

While skeptics continue to question the authorship of his plays, a new exhibition raises doubts about the authenticity of his portraits.

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Harvard's Marjorie Garber takes an unusually tolerant view of the long-running dispute. "A lot of people, especially writers, prefer the mystery to an answer," she says. Any answer is going to be simply a human of a particular time and place. We regard Shakespeare today, she believes, the way his friend Ben Jonson did in his First Folio tribute—"He was not of an age, but for all time!"—and asks whether we really want to see him reduced to an ordinary mortal. "Many people prefer to keep the idea of a transcendent, universal Shakespeare," she says. Garber likes to cite a remark Charles Dickens made to a friend in 1847: "The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery, and I tremble every day lest something should turn up."

Massachusetts freelancer Doug Stewart wrote about the destruction of Pompeii in the February 2006 issue of SMITHSONIAN.


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