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Much intriguing ado about Shakespeare

January 02, 2003|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

Now that the Big Foot mystery has finally been cleared up, we can turn our attention to that other controversial giant: William Shakespeare.

Did the Bard write "Othello," "Hamlet" and dozens of other masterworks, or was he the biggest fraud in literary history? That is the question producer-host Michael Rubbo poses in "Much Ado About Something," a 90-minute episode of the PBS show "Frontline" (9 p.m., KCET) devoted to the debate over whether Shakespeare's plays were actually written by someone else.

There have been many suspects over the years but Rubbo focuses on Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe, who was supposedly killed in 1593 during a tavern argument. "Marlovians" say the playwright faked his death and lived to write another day -- from Italy, under Shakespeare's name.

How, they ask, could a man as unschooled as Shakespeare write such classics? And why are so many of the plays set in Italy?

Counters historian Jonathan Bate: "To me, the people who think that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare are either American snobs or great British eccentrics."

Indeed, the case for Marlowe comes off as weak and borderline elitist, but it makes for a colorful look at both Elizabethan times and the modern skeptics devoting their lives to this 16th century whodunit. Even flimsy and unsolved mysteries can be fun.

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