This posting is from Jim Norrena, a guest blogger for Mary Sidney:
I do love a good mystery! Yet for all the hoopla about Robin Williams’ Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? and how she brings to light “a new conspiracy theory” upholding Mary Sidney Herbert to be the author of the Shakespearean works, I disagree that any so-called conspiracy exists in this fascinating research.
According to Williams’ research, The Countess of Pembroke didn’t gain a stitch in concealing her endeavors (intentionally or otherwise); no choice existed in the matter. Mary Sidney was not permitted to write in such a manner—to do so would contradict the social order, thus defying God’s will.
Should William, Mary Sidney’s oldest son and Lord Chamberlain, have endeavored to conceal his mother’s work (to protect not only her but also himself), it would most logically have been done to protect the family’s noble standing—not to gain additional riches or prestige.
Conspiracy? Hardly. To study Mary Sidney’s life is to further understand just how extraordinary this woman was from a literary, intellectual, and historical perspective. She could do almost anything she wanted, and she did, but her one true desire—to write the greatest works in the English language—was thwarted by the established reigning proprieties of the era.
What Williams uncovers about Mary Sidney is far better described as an unmasking of social oppression. Rather than approach this subject matter with the idea that somehow Mary plotted and schemed to conceal her authorship of the plays and sonnets, I suggest reading Sweet Swan of Avon as a history lesson about a time and place where women could not shine as bright as they were, but did so at their own expense, such as illustrated by Mary Sidney’s anonymous (and credited) contributions to a society that was denied the chance to fully embrace her greatness.
Conspiracy? Try payback.