The Historical Novelist’s Choices

Writing a historical novel is both an art and a responsibility. What kind of choices does the author have to make? And how does he or she decide what to include and what to leave out?

Newton Frohlich reveals his goals and the key choices he made in writing his award-winning historical novel The Shakespeare Mask in an article published January 31 in the prestigious journal Linguistics and Literature Studies, an international peer-reviewed journal that publishes original and high-quality research papers in all areas of linguistics and literature.

His article, Writing The Shakespeare Mask—The Novelist’s Choices.” is a fascinating and revealing look at how he dealt with his compelling and controversial subject: who really wrote the works of Shakespeare? It is based on a talk he gave at the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship Authorship Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.

Frohlich spent 15 years researching and writing his book, and his article touches on some of the key historical points that convinced him that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the real author of the sophisticated works of Shakespeare. For one, he notes de Vere’s advanced education and highly praised skill as a writer (whereas the Shakespeare who was the simple glove maker from Stratford had virtually no education except a few years in a one-room schoolhouse). In addition, the plays are highly autobiographical of events and relationships in de Vere’s life. Not only that, but de Vere traveled extensively in Italy, where a third of Shakespeare’s plays are set (the man from Stratford never traveled outside of England and spoke no foreign languages).

“When constructing a historical novel, for me the greatest challenge is to find the true facts that will form the basic narrative because often, over time, facts are obscured by myths,” says Frohlich. “In the case of the Earl of Oxford, no such documentary evidence has surfaced to prove the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays by the Earl of Oxford or by the man from Stratford, and we are forced to rely on circumstantial evidence. Yet, as United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has explained, circumstantial evidence can be just as persuasive when, as in the case of the Earl of Oxford, there is so much of it. Therefore, it seemed to me the historical novel that put flesh and blood on the bare bones of what we know about Oxford’s life would go a long way toward establishing his authorship of the works of Shakespeare.”

A growing number of prominent scholars, writers, and actors do not believe that the man from Stratford wrote the works of Shakespeare—including Royal Shakespeare Company actors Sir John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Irons, and Michael York and five United States Supreme Court Justices as well as British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Charles Dickins, Mark Twain, Henry James, Herman Melville, and many others.

Read Newton’s Frohlich’s article “Writing The Shakespeare Mask—The Novelist’s Choices.”

Learn more about The Shakespeare Mask