Mark Twain's Is Shakespeare Dead?


Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens, 1835-1910)
Is Shakespeare Dead? From my Autobiography
February 13, 1909
Folger MS S.a.107

You see, all I want is to convince sane people that
Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare. Who
is a question which does not greatly interest me.

(Mark Twain, autograph letter, signed, to M. B. Colcord, May 18, 1909, Folger MS Y.c.545 (1b))

Mark Twain's interest in the "Shakespeare question," first sparked by his reading of Delia Bacon's The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded (Boston, 1857), was reignited in 1908 when he read The Shakespeare Problem Restated (London, 1908) by the British MP Sir George Greenwood. Twain was intrigued by Greenwood's argument that, while there is no evidence that Shakespeare the actor had any familiarity with the law, the author of the plays must have been a lawyer. In fact, Twain was so taken by Greenwood's theory that he lifted, word for word, Greenwood's chapter on "Shakespeare as a lawyer" directly into his own book Is Shakespeare Dead?, without citing Greenwood's name as his source. Despite the fact that Twain included the title of Greenwood's book in a footnote on the first page of the chapter and set the chapter in smaller type, Greenwood's London publishers accused Twain of copyright violation and prevented Twain's book from being imported to England until the attribution problem was corrected. The dispute between Greenwood's and Twain's publishers was carried out in the New York Times. This manuscript copy of Is Shakespeare Dead?, written in Twain's hand, is dated less than two months before it was published by Harper and Brothers.

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This page updated June 27, 2002