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Sir Fulke Greville

Tomb May Hold Answer to How Much Shakespeare Actually Wrote

February 15, 2010 11:00 AM
by Liz Colville
A sarcophagus in an English parish church built by the writer Fulke Greville, a Shakespeare contemporary, could contain clues about several works traditionally attributed to Shakespeare.

Tomb May Contain Key Manuscripts

St. Mary’s Church in Warwick, England, contains a tomb that parishioners believe may contain clues about Shakespeare’s work. The church was built by Fulke Greville, a “prominent 17th-century nobleman, … scholar, soldier, statesman,” spy, writer and Shakespeare contemporary who “some believe is the true author of several of the Bard's works,” according to the Daily Telegraph.

Some of the writings of Greville, a “distant ancestor” of the historian A.W.L. Saunders, have suggested to Saunders that there are manuscripts contained in the tomb; a radar scan of the tomb shows “three ‘box like’ shapes,” according to the Telegraph’s David Harrison. The manuscripts would still be intact if they had been encased in lead boxes, which was a common practice at the time.

The next step is to feed an endoscope—a tube with a camera at the end often used in medicine—inside the tomb. Just last week Chancellor Stephen Eyre of the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Coventry gave an expert team of archaeologists permission to explore the monument using an endoscope. The process will be supervised by Professor Warwick Rodwell, a consultant archaeologist to Westminster Abbey in London, and is likely to commence within six weeks.

The project is being criticized on “ethical grounds” by the local diocesan advisory committee and Church Buildings Council, partly because the church is looking to improve its financial situation by opening up the tomb and inviting visitors to viewings.

Saunders insists it is worth exploring. “Fulke spent the equivalent of £300,000 [nearly $500,000] today on a marble sarcophagus at St Mary's,” he told the Telegraph. “No man would build something like that and leave it empty. There is definitely something down there and we want to find out what it is.”

Background: “Would the Real Will Please Stand Up?”

Were the numerous works, including plays and poems, attributed to William Shakespeare really written by the actor from Stratford-upon-Avon? There have been plenty of scholars convinced otherwise, and candidates other than Greville include Sir Francis Bacon, fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe and others.

Speculation about Marlowe, Bacon and Greville may convince some, but arguably the leading contender for authorship of some of Shakespeare’s work is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. The de Vere theory first emerged in the early 20th century. J. Thomas Looney conducted a methodical investigation to see who fit the criteria for authorship suggested by the material in the plays themselves: a mature man of recognized genius, unconventional, of pronounced and known literary tastes, a poet of recognized talent, superior education, knowledge of courtly sports such as falconry, a lover of Italy and so forth. He found just such a man in Edward de Vere.

Key Player: Fulke Greville (1554-1628)

Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, was born in Warwickshire, England, in 1554 and is known for his 1652 work on his friend and Elizabethan politician Sir Philip Sidney, “Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney.” Greville, a “favourite” of Queen Elizabeth I, also wrote treatises, plays and a collection of sonnets, the latter of which “differed in tone from most Elizabethan cycles, its treatment being realistic and ironic,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Greville was a well-traveled diplomat under Elizabeth I, and served as treasurer of the navy and, under James I, chancellor of the Exchequer. He lived at Warwick Castle and died in 1628 from stab wounds “inflicted by a disgruntled manservant,” according to Britannica.

Key Player: William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

William Shakespeare is widely believed to have been born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in 1564. He is also widely considered “the greatest writer in world literature,” Britannica reports. He lived a humble life, receiving only a grammar school education and working as an actor and playwright. At the age of 18, he married a local woman named Anne Hathaway. Best known for his plays, Shakespeare’s style was “marked by extraordinary poetry; vivid, subtle, and complex characterizations; and a highly inventive use of English.”

Reference: Web Guide to Shakespeare

FindingDulcinea’s Web Guide to Shakespeare links to reputable scholarly Web sources to help students, educators and literary minds find out more about the bard’s life, influence and works.

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