What’s In A Name?

Kage Baker loved Shakespeare. That is made pretty obvious in her Company novels and stories; where – as she did with so much and so many that she loved – she made him immortal, and gave him a local habitation in her 23rd century.

She came by her admiration genetically – Momma’s mother, another Kate (we only have a few names in our family; we use them over and over, like the ancient Romans) was a remarkably educated woman. She wrote her degree thesis on Moby Dick – which was also one of Kage’s favourites – and earned herself a Ph.D. in late 19th century North Carolina. Or would have, except for the fact that when she was done, her advisor informed her he didn’t believe in advanced degrees for women and refused her …

Kate, among many other similarly independent adventures, eventually married and produced two daughters. She also managed to secure one of the first divorces and one of the first driver’s licenses issued to a North Carolingian woman. And for several years thereafter, daughters in tow, she was a travelling English teacher throughout the lovely hills and hollows of the Carolinas. Among the people she met were three little kids named Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed by their culture-starved mother.

Grandma Kate refrained from such grandstanding. She’d named her daughters Kate and Anne; Kate (otherwise known as Momma) named two of her own girls Kate and Anne, as well; and so did sister Anne, when it was her turn. (I fully expect to be a great-aunt to yet another Katie and Annie at some point in the future.) And I am Kathleen, called Kate by most of those who know me best.

Momma tended to point and call out “Come here, child” rather a lot at family gatherings …

My sister Kate Genevieve became Kage, in the fullness of time; when she was 14, and the last baby girl was born, and Daddy in a fit of absent-mindedness named her Genevieve, too. But despite all these similar names – and the same situation on the male side, with names like George and Henry and Thomas – there’s never been any doubt who was whom.

Shakespeare had rather a lot to say about that, which mostly boiled down to names being convenient but not vital: what something is called is not  necessarily its essence. And if you know its essense, its name may not even matter. This is a good philosophy to cling to right now, as a movie addressing the old question of who wrote Shakespeare’s plays is about to hit the theatres.

Kage would be exasperated. But she’d also laugh. Who gets the credit after all this time is irrelevant – the very name of Shakespeare has its own undying fame, quite unattached to any specific man. Whether you fancy the Earl of Oxford for the task, or Francis Bacon, or that sulky bugger Wriothsley, or a consortium of scurrilous actors – the question still comes down to “Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays?”

Shakespeare. Dear old sweet Willie. Whether he was a ghost or a ghost writer, it doesn’t matter at this remove. They are Shakespeare’s plays now. If it stirs your egalitarian juices to imagine that a jumped-up glover’s son wrote them, more power to you. If you can only imagine that burning prose as coming from a noble brain, ditto. The power of the words has surpassed the physical hand that held the pen, and joined the deathless powers of the Upper Air.

Kage felt William wrote them. But she didn’t waste her energy on the argument; she saved her passion for appreciation of the words themselves.

And on being questioned about it at a con one afternoon,  Kage Baker grinned and then replied, “Neither Bacon nor Shakespeare wrote them. Elizabeth Tudor did it. But she was, of course, actually a man.”

And there it is.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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7 Responses to What’s In A Name?

  1. Wait, Wriothesley? That’s my son! Or my one-time son who is now playing (oh dear god, they grow up so quickly) the Earl of Arundel! But in any case, he was a patron, not a supposed author.

    And thank you for putting the cap on this. Cheers to the jumped-up glovers son!


    • Kate says:

      Well, a patron could conceivably be the author, in the I’m-Too-Dangerously-Politically-Connected-To-Be-A-Playwright plot they are using in* Anonymous*. I just tossed in your boy for euphony, to be honest. And because Wriothsley is such a fun name to write.

      I do understand, somewhat, the devotees of Bacon and God He only knows who else. It’s like the people now who think Einstein must have been an alien, because a mortal man couldn’t do what he did. But I am of that school of thought that says mortal men and women *can* rise above the herd – it’s one of the marvels of the human mind, that sometimes we produce a da Vinci, an Einstein, a Shakespeare.

      Kathleen kbco.wordpress.com


  2. JoyJoy says:

    My own hair-trigger about the “Who dunnit” bunk is that nobody who dismisses Sweet Will seems to be able to think like an actor, or a producer, or a playwright, or have any awareness of the conditions of those professions (?) at the time.

    Most important, in my grumpy opinion, is the matter of Patronage, which was how a company kept going and fed the actors. If you’re a playwright, Patronage is the main reason why you put items from a Noble’s life and family history into your plays – flattery keeps the money coming. A secondary but no less important reason why you cozen your Patron is … the manor library. A hungry mind needs books, and stories. Ideas. Material. Famous or smart or spectacularly idiotic dinner guests to chat up for more ideas and character notes.

    Of course, Will Kempe always ate with the help and kept the best jokes for himself, the rotter.


  3. Kara says:

    I looove how Kage Baker showed Shakespeare. His parts were some of my favorite scenes/short stories in the series. I loved how *human* he was. And I think she summed a lot of the pro-Shakespeare’s camp feelings with just how exasperated Holo-Will was with what-his-name, the retired guy with nothing better to do than argue with a museum exhibit all day long.


  4. Kate says:

    Kara – the gentleman in the Museum is a portrait from life. There was a gentleman who would come to the Renaissance Faire in Blackpoint for the specific purpose of arguing his Somerset case with any actor he could get to stand still. Preferably the guys playing Somerset, Wriothsley, Bacon or Shakespeare, but he’d happily spend an hour attempting to convince anyone that Shakespeare did not write the plays. Debating him was a memorable experience …


  5. Widdershins says:

    I suspect Liz Tudor is somewhere up in the 23rd century, chortling gleefully!


  6. Kate says:

    As Kage once proclaimed, arms wide as she introduced a play about the spirit of beer to the Royal Court of Elizabeth 1st: “Live forever, Gracious Queen!”


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