I was born at the end of the European War in 1945, into an English literary family with connections to the Bloomsbury Set. I studied English at school, early aware of Shakespeare; I reached him by way of Middleton Murry’s Keats and Shakespeare (1925). Murry took for granted that, except by inference, we had no access to Shakespeare the man, using Keats, for whom we have a great deal, as a proxy:
“I saw that my one chance of making intelligible these slowly formed convictions of mine concerning Shakespeare was to use the greatest of his successors, John Keats, as though he were a mediator between the normal consciousness of men and the pure poetic consciousness in which form alone Shakespeare remains to us.” [my italics] (Murry, 1925, p. 4)
This also leads him, via the works, to say:
“He lost grip of his own art under the stress of suffering that appears to have come to him through such a passion as Keats’. . . . This baptism into the giant agony of the world caused Shakespeare also to utter himself in a handful of scarcely endurable sonnets.” (Murry, 1925, p. 214)
Murry, then, did not go down the Art for Art’s Sake route, but he recognised there was a hiatus; to fill it, he used Keats as proxy.
From early youth I took that hiatus for granted. I had read Hugh Trevor-Roper’s paper expressing guarded scepticism about our knowledge of the author, at the 400th centenary of the Stratford man’s birth in 1964. I formed a myth, on the basis of the elusiveness of our relevant knowledge of him, in which he, like Jesus Christ, was one of the great mystery figures, and an exception to the rule, which otherwise I accepted, that there should be an intelligible, though complex, relation, between works, and the authorial biography.
I dismissed the idea that either Bacon or Marlowe could have been the author of these works; neither of them had remotely the kind of mind which was manifest in them. As I moved towards becoming a psychotherapist, I knew Freud thought some aristocrat was the author, but that was in a footnote, and it did not activate the impulse to pursue. This state of affairs continued until 1989, when, in a bookshop in Wakefield (England), I stumbled on Ogburn’s book The Mystery of William Shakespeare! And now I read, in the blurb: “Sigmund Freud wrote, ‘The man of Stratford seems to have nothing at all to justify his claims, whereas Oxford has almost everything.’” I dipped into the book, bought it at once, and the crystallisation occurred almost instantaneously. My ‘mystery figure’ went — with a certain nostalgia — out of the window, replaced by someone whose life fitted the works, as Lord Byron’s fits his. The old mystery was replaced by a new one, that of the pseudonym. And I have been wrestling with that, and with the subtle relationship between this life and the works, ever since.
— Heward Wilkinson
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