The debate over who wrote the plays of William Shakespeare has raged since the 19th century, with scholars, actors and armchair history detectives suggesting as many as 80 possible authors, including Sir Francis Bacon; Mary Sidney; Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford; Christopher Marlowe; and even Queen Elizabeth I herself.
Of course, there are also significant numbers of scholars and readers who believe that the simplest answer is correct; namely, that William Shakespeare wrote the plays of William Shakespeare.
The authorship question is raised again with fascinating results in “Shakespeare’s Conspirator” (CreateSpace, $19 paperback), a recent historical novel written by local author Steve Weitzenkorn. In it, Weitzenkorn builds the case for a surprising and relatively new candidate in the authorship debate: Amelia Bassano Lanier, an educated, well-traveled, published poet – who was also Jewish. He will discuss his novel on Dec. 10 at the CutlerΨPlotkin Jewish Heritage Center (see Details box).
Weitzenkorn was introduced to the authorship debate during a family trip to England 10 years ago, and then became aware of Amelia after reading about her in a 2010 article in Reform Judaism magazine.
“I’ve been fascinated by this topic,” he says, “and decided it would make a great novel. At the time, I didn’t anticipate that I would be writing the novel.”
Weitzenkorn, a business consultant by profession, was already the co-author with Rabbi Robin Damsky of “Find Fulfill Flourish: Discover Your Purpose With LifePath GPS,” but he had never written fiction before. With the help of a mentor and writing coach from the University of Wisconsin, though, he began to pen Amelia’s story.
The novel, which took more than three years to write, is a compelling, well-researched look at the dramatic world of Elizabethan London. Amelia is a beautiful, headstrong young woman who knows that her work is good enough to publish but chafes at the social and cultural restrictions that prevent a play written by a woman from being seen onstage.
In the novel, William Shakespeare is an actor and playwright struggling to make a living. His historical plays were moderate successes, but he hasn’t come up with anything brilliant. Though he and Amelia begin as fellow writers encouraging and critiquing each other’s work, they soon begin a partnership beneficial to both, one in which Amelia writes the plays under Shakespeare’s name in order to get them performed.
It is true that Amelia is not considered one of the more popular choices for the true author of Shakespeare’s plays, but “I went into this really being skeptical, and the more I researched it, the more convinced I became,” Weitzenkorn says.
Weitzenkorn did his own original research in addition to assimilating what scholars had already uncovered to build a solid case for Amelia’s authorship through the events of the novel, aspects of which include music and falconry imagery that Shakespeare would have been unfamiliar with, detailed descriptions of places he never visited and Hebrew and Ladino references. Clues to the authorship issue, as well as discussion questions for the Dec. 10 event, can be found on the book’s website, shakespearesconspirator.com.
Weitzenkorn’s next project returns him to the business world; he’ll be collaborating on a leadership book. But he has plenty of material that he had to cut out of “Shakespeare’s Conspirator” for a sequel, so readers may in the future be treated to the continuation of Amelia’s fascinating story.