Sounds like something out of Dan Brown. In fact, it’s an
idea that has been around a long time. Recent news tells us that, apparently, the Duke of Edinburgh
believes Shakespeare didn’t write everything attributed to him – in opposition
to Prince Charles, who is a staunch supporter of the Bard. Prince Philip
reckons it’s more likely that some plays were written by diplomat Sir Henry
Neville, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1601 over a rebellion.
Other theories have suggested Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe.
For years I was fascinated by this and eventually wrote a
science fiction tale set in 2093 about a Time-door Committee who sends back in
time an investigator to resolve the puzzle once and for all…
This is an excerpt of a much longer piece.
Zeigler folded the expensive vellum paper, his heart still
throbbing excitedly. After years of procrastination, they had finally got round
to his request and approved it! For no apparent reason, a line surfaced from Henry VI Part 1
: ‘Delays have dangerous
at his great ancestor’s photograph. In 1895 WG Zeigler, a Californian lawyer,
had been the first to suggest that Christopher Marlowe's death on 30 May 1593
was staged and that the poet actually went underground to write the plays using
last, he would be able to prove once and for all whether or not Shakespeare had
written everything attributed to him.
… Finding himself in another room devoid of furniture or
machinery, he was startled to hear a metallic female voice issuing from a
you dispatched separately in accordance with instructions has been examined and
you may now put on the clothes. You have chosen a particularly smart set of
clicked off and a tray levered out from the wall with his pile of Elizabethan
clothes lying on its shiny surface.
he felt self-conscious as he undressed; simply because the metallic voice
He took a
while to slip into the clothes, all the while conscious of the presence of the
back into the shaft,’ the voice returned. ‘Don’t look down, don’t worry -- the
ag’s still on!’
not amused. But he didn’t look down; his ruff made that action awkward anyway.
To the 140ft mark.
please.’ A flesh-and-blood woman’s voice.
was roofless and possessed a central dais on which rested a conical transparent
pod. The pod was aimed upwards, pointing at the black hole. Even from this
close, the true edges of the Time Hole were not readily discernible. The
shimmering effect made him dizzy.
way, please, Mr Zeigler,’ said an attractive brunette attendant also dressed in
white. She possessed angelic features, which he thought somehow appropriate up
his prominent codpiece, arched her eyebrows suggestively and smiled.
another first-impression destroyed: I thought her as chaste as unsunn'd snow --
. He sighed.
woman placed Zeigler inside the pod. Although the pod was designed for bigger
men than him, it was still a tight squeeze, mainly due to his doublet bulging
with the bombast stuffing of the period.
all right? You require any paper of the period for notes, or a recorder can be
fitted to the “eye” if you like?’
shook his head. ‘No, thanks. I’m only after one fact. Have you been able to
pinpoint -- select the right -- ?’
30th, 1593. Almost 500 years ago to the day, Mr Zeigler. We’ll put you down
just outside the town. There’s ample room to conceal the pod in a neglected
his neck. ‘Are those the screens that you view me on -- through the eye, I
then said in a serious tone, ‘Take care, Mr Zeigler -- we can’t help you once
you leave the pod.’
he said solemnly, his stomach performing somersaults. ‘I know all the risks.
But our faculty must find out if -- well, you know my theories, anyway...’
I’m going to lower the cowling and secure you inside. You’re liable to feel
excessively giddy and you may even lose consciousness for a short while. Our
scanners show you obeyed instructions and didn’t eat today -- so your ride
should be an untroubled one. I trust it will also be successful, sir.’
It was most
peculiar, how he suddenly felt trapped, though he could see all round. He
closed his eyes, calmed himself. Mustn’t get excited. Be rational, logical.
voice came out as a strangled croak.
He felt as
though his whole face was suddenly being squeezed off his skull as the pod
fired up, the G-forces ramming him hard into the ergonomically-shaped cushioned
his original conception, he was not immersed in absolute blackness on entering
the Time Hole.
It was like
a velvety blue-black, with pinpoints all around, like stars that had forgotten
how to twinkle. The sensation of movement had stopped -- how long ago? He had
no way of knowing, there were no instruments or clocks in here; and his
wristwatch had been removed, together with every other personal possession.
quotation, from As you like it
reared its head for him to muse upon: ‘Time travels in divers paces with divers
gnawed at the edges of his consciousness but never posed a serious threat.
Elation kept him awake. He would succeed where so many before him had failed!
years, anti-Stratfordiana had grown to a flood.
Thomas C Mendenhall counted the letters in 400,000 Shakespearean words,
discovering that for both Shakespeare and Marlowe the ‘word of greatest
frequency was the four-letter word’, a fact that left the world of letters
1955 Calvin Hoffman sought documentary proof for his case in the tomb of Sir
Francis Walsingham, Marlowe’s reputed homosexual lover. But nothing was found
in the tomb. Not even Sir Francis.
shouldn’t have come as a surprise, Zeigler reasoned.
had contrived a most corrupt system of espionage at home and abroad, enabling
him to reveal the Babington plot which implicated Mary Queen of Scots in
treason, and to obtain in 1587 details of some plans for the Spanish armada.
Queen Elizabeth I acknowledged his genius and important services, yet she kept
him poor and without honours, and he died in poverty and debt.
twenty-nine-year-old son of a shoemaker, Marlowe had died with a dagger in his
brain, the precise circumstances quite obscure.
from time to time been engaged in government employ, a euphemism for secret
service work, and had become embroiled in the theatre of conspiracy and
intrigue, the tumultuous, often dangerous life of London’s underworld.
At the age
of twenty-one, Marlowe was employed as an agent provocateur, posing as a
Catholic to spy on other Catholics, and acted as a renegade to trap other such
He did it
for the money, insinuating himself into the households of Earl of
Northumberland and Lord Strange. As a projector he actively fostered treason in
the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham and later of Sir William Cecil Burghley.
Marlowe’s apparent atheism was just a ruse for trapping free thinkers into
indiscretion. Finally, he was set up as a conspirator by the Earl of Essex as a
way of striking at Sir Walter Raleigh.
fateful night, Marlowe was knifed over his right eye in a drunken brawl at a
tavern in Deptford, but the swift pardon of his murderer, Friser, twenty-seven
days after the poet’s burial, suggested to Zeigler that the death had other,
possibly political, undertones.
believed the whole affair was staged by Sir Francis Walsingham to remove his
lover from the threat of imminent arrest for alleged blasphemy and atheism.
Hoffman argued that the coroner was bribed to accept a plea of self-defence on
behalf of Marlowe’s alleged killer and docilely accepted the stated identity of
believed Marlowe settled on the Continent and continued to write and sent his
manuscripts to Walsingham, who had found a reliable if dull-witted actor
fellow, William Shakespeare, ready -- for a stipend -- to lend his name as the
author of Marlowe’s works.
had apparently died two years earlier than the Deptford incident, Hoffman’s
theory was far from acceptable, but it suggested other similar possibilities to
of Shakespeare’s plays were written after the recorded death of Marlowe,
Marlovian theorists must prove Marlowe lived after the Deptford incident in
order to write the plays.
been deeply influenced by the writings of Machiavelli, so any intrigue along
these lines would most certainly appeal to him.
over the years for the mantle of “greatest writer in the English language”
included Sir Francis Bacon (died 1626), Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
(died 1604), Sir Walter Raleigh (died 1618), Michel Angelo Florio (died 1605),
Anne Whateley (died 1600) and even Queen Elizabeth herself (died 1603). As
Shakespeare’s last known work The Tempest
was attributed to 1611, the literary prowess of some of these contenders can be
marvelled at, Zeigler thought, capable of even writing beyond the grave.
latter part of last century, computers had been used to join in the academic
databases were built as early as 1969 on an ICL machine, the KDF-9. Since then,
ICL’s Content Addressable File Store -- Information Search Processing and Oxford’s
Concordance Program, written in Ansi Fortran had been used to word-count and
create concordances, ostensibly to facilitate research. The DEC VAX 11/70
computer research gave credit to Shakespeare for Acts Four and Five of Pericles
but not Acts One and Two; the
researcher or computer never mentioned Act Three...
in the world of letters it was a controversial theory and Zeigler had some
sympathy with Shakespeare. Lines from his Venus
poor Wat, far off upon a hill,
Stands on his hinder legs with listening ear,
To hearken if his foes pursue him still.’
wondered if Shakespeare waited still, far off on some heavenly hill, wondering
if his detractors would ever cease pursuing him. Even claims of homosexuality
had been levied against him, citing various tenuous reasons, not least his Sonnets
To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand;
Pity me, then, and wish I were renew’d.’
thought Zeigler. Well, the Time-door Committee evidently felt the Zeigler
theory had sufficient merit for them to accept his research request. And now he
was almost there!
The full story (5,000 words) is as yet unpublished. I’ve
used a 1,000-word portion for a competition [none of the above text is included]. If that doesn’t succeed, maybe it will find another home eventually.
Anyway, if you’re
interested in short stories, you could download for very little outlay two Crooked
by Nik Morton
22 stories in the
words of Leon Cazador, private eye
Crooked Cats’ Tales
by 20 Crooked Cat authors –
also featuring a new
Leon Cazador private eye story
Or this Solstice Publishing collection,
which goes out of print on 4 May, 2014
When the Flowers are in Bloom
by Nik Morton