A few months ago, I picked up off a clearance table at a bookstore Manga Shakespeare: The Tempest. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a manga-styled adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s plays, the comedy “The Tempest.” It’s a late play, written somewhere around 1608 or 1610 if memory serves, based in part on a real-life incident involving a shipwreck by an English ship in the Bahamas.
(The interest for me in Manga Shakespeare: The Tempest was this — the artwork is by Paul Duffield, the artist of Warren Ellis’ FreakAngels.)
Not everyone believes that William Shakespeare wrote his own plays. There’s the belief that “Shakespeare” is a pseudonym. Theories abound — Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Edward de Vere, even Queen Elizabeth herself. Whether or not the author was even alive at the time Shakespeare’s plays were written and performed doesn’t matter; Marlowe died before Shakespeare’s career began, de Vere died when Shakespeare was still establishing himself, and Queen Bess? Well, she died, too, before Macbeth and later plays like The Tempest, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen.
But a basic problem like mortality stands not in the way of Marlovians (fans of the Marlowe theory), Oxfordians (that would be Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford), Bessiates (not a real word; it just sounded neat), Baconians (fans of ham), or supporters of other authors, and elaborate theories are spun to make sense of how the impossible — like an author writing a play after he’s dead — can become, if not entirely possible, at the very least plausible.
To be honest, I’ve never made a great survey of the literature on Shakespearean authorship, though I do believe that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Unless Richard III actually wrote Shakespeare, which is entirely possible.
It’s Occam’s Razor, you see.
The simplest explanation is that the actor William Shakespeare, active in London, wrote the plays ascribed by contemporaries to William Shakespeare.
Which brings me to Doctor Who.
Is William Hartnell the first Doctor — or the ninth? Is David Tennant the tenth Doctor — or the eighteenth?
The orthodox belief — the Stratfordian belief, so to speak — is the first statement: Hartnell is first, Tennant is tenth. Many things tell us this. “Mawdryn Undead” tells us this. “The Five Doctors” tells us this. “The Next Doctor” mostly tells us this.
The other belief — the Oxfordian belief — is the second statement: Hartnell is not the first Doctor, probably the ninth, and Tennant thus is the eighteenth at the very least. “The Brain of Morbius” tells us this; there’s a sequence where the Doctor’s past incarnations are shown on screen, and familiar faces like Hartnell and Troughton are shown, followed by unfamiliar faces including Douglas Camfield, Robert Holmes, and Philip Hinchcliffe.
Of course, none of these unfamiliar faces were seen last week in “The Next Doctor.” But there’s an easy explanation for that; clearly the Doctor didn’t meet the Daleks until his Hartnell incarnation, and thus the Cult of Skaro would not have known about the Camfield Doctor or the Holmes Doctor. Thus, “The Next Doctor” doesn’t make the Oxfordian theory impossible. But you see — I’ve just had to theorize to explain away a possibly inconvenient data point.
Yet, the Stratfordian theory also has to explain away inconvenient data points. Are the faces seen in “Morbius” truly those of the Doctor? Well, that’s the intention of the producer, the writer, the director, and the make-up artist at the time. But since “The Five Doctors” and other episodes tell us that cannot possibly be true, then the faces must surely be either Morbius’ faces, another Time Lord’s faces, or something the Doctor made up entirely.
Oxfordians have to explain away several episodes. Stratfordians have to explain only one. Err, I mean, Morbiusites have to explain multiple episodes, while Orthodoxians have to explain only one away.
I think I prefer the Shakespearean terminology. Mostly because I’m crap at coming up with names.
I’m in the “Morbius” camp, as people who have known me for a long time know. I like the idea that the Doctor is much older — and much more mysterious — than we (or even he) suspect. I have no trouble with the idea that David Tennant is the tenth Doctor (as “The Next Doctor” heavily implies), while he’s also somewhere around the eighteenth.
Also, I like how bringing up “Morbius” gets some fans knickers in a twist.
I guess that makes me an Oxfordian, at least where Doctor Who is concerned. Now, maybe I need to read up on the Shakespeare Authorship Question. Of course, being the daft person I am, I’d probably come up with a completely new candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Like Edmund Blackadder.