Why Shakespeare Isn't Shakespeare: Shinies as Evidence

Last time we talked about shinies, little goodies that are not necessary to the plot.  They may add a little to the story, but not much; some other detail could do as well. The writer just likes them, and they're there in the "Spare Art Parts" closet, so in they go.

Here's an example I happened to be involved in.

In Louis Auchincloss's The Rector of Justin, the rather conservative hero owns a treasure, a portrait of the first modern novelist, Samuel Richardson.  In the book, Auchincloss describes it.  It's small, it shows Richardson writing on a lap desk, and it is painted on copper.  

When I read that, I had a Sherlockian moment and immediately wrote to Louis Auchincloss, care of his publisher.  Had he ever seen it and where was it now?

No one knew where that portrait was.   It had been lost.  But "on copper."  Where had that detail come from?

Auchincloss had described it that way because he had seen it.

It was in his living room.

(Auchincloss wrote on a lap desk.  His son had found the portrait of Richardson writing on a lap desk and given it to him, and he liked it so much he used it in the book.  I got to have tea with Louis Auchincloss, a lovely and gracious man, and see Richardson and some of his other goodies.)

The writer's magpie mind picks up these shiny things in the process of doing more substantial research.  They're fun, so you slide them in somewhere.  Details of places you've been and most people haven't.  The ads in a particular Tube car in London in the Millennium Year.  An interesting couple of names you came across.

Everybody has their shinies.  Shakespeare is full of them.  He likes to tell you things about geography, particularly in Italy and France.  He drops in references to contemporary events.     

And here’s where the whole thing gets a little suspicious. 

Because most of them are real details, most of them can be dated.  Located.  Traced to a particular source, or a particular city and time.  Given a local habitation and a name.

That's why there is an authorship question.  Not because of Shakespeare's background; remember Mark Twain and Machado de Assis.  Not because of his education; creative people make their own education, following their inspiration where they need to go.
Because what Shakespeare the playwright chooses for his shiny little details, and what appears through them, doesn't match the life of William Shakespeare of Stratford.

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