William Shakespeare was not William Shakespeare. An odd truth to speak, I know, but true never-the-less. I didn’t really believe it until the second time I read my favorite play, The Tempest. He says it himself in the Epilogue;
Now my charms are all overthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands (10)
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be, (20)
Let your indulgence set me free.
William Shakespeare. W. G. Clark. W. Aldis Wright. The Globe Shakespeare. New York. Nelson Doubleday, Inc.
First of all, the entire plot of the play involves Prospero trying to win back his rightful Dukedom from the usurper, his brother. His rightful Dukedom? His body of work? The usurper, his brother? The man who signed his name to the writer’s plays, and also a man of the theater. The Bard has, at the end of his career, come to terms with that usurper, “pardon’d the deceiver”, forgiven the man whose fame and fortune depended on stealing the work of the Bard himself. If his project is to succeed, it depends no longer on his magical arts and charms. It depends on “the help of your good hands”, the applause and approbation of the audience. It is up to us as readers to fill this project or make it fail, because his true identity is not to be revealed. His reward is in the mere satisfaction that his brilliant works have fulfilled his purpose, entertained us, and filled us with a sense of that tremendous and overwhelming truth that fills his every fiction. The Tempest is the last play. The man we know as Shakespeare falls silent afterward. He feels the need to be forgiven his faults and be freed by our willing suspension of disbelief, because in no other way will his pride in authorship ever be satisfied. I have to say, the clever conclusion to this play is the evidence that convinced me that Edward DeVere is the true Prospero, not the weaselly little bald man pictured only twice that we have come to know as William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon.