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From key canonical works, the scholarly hypotheses relating to the works of William Shakespeare to the brain numbing babbling of celebrities like Jordan, the ghostwriter phenomenon has a rich, varied and interesting history. Often a murky part of literary production, ghostwriting has nevertheless persisted through the ages. Today we will discuss this form of creative writing and see how it came about.
People have sought the services of ghostwriters willing to remain hidden in exchange for the enjoyment of crafting a work and of course the financial rewards, which can often be significant. Many high profile celebrities simply do not possess the writing abilities to produce a full autobiography, but have a riveting tale to tell, and therefore need a gifted scribe they can dictate to.
Other works from the canon have been pieced together over a long period of time before the author phenomenon gained importance. Works from the early ages when oral traditions were deemed more important than preserving the stories as written tomes have often been attributed to one author, who may or may not be as fictional as the characters immortalised in the narratives.
For whatever reason they write the work, ghostwriters continue to thrive and there have been some extremely interesting and controversial examples of ghostwriting throughout literary history, some surprising and some obvious.
Few works match the importance and influence of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey in world literature. However, the legendary blind poet who immortalised the tale of the sack of Troy and characters like Achilles, Hector, Odysseus and Helen may have been a fictional construct himself.
No certain date has been ascertained for the creation of the two epic poems and there widespread retelling by poets in an age of oral recitation means the poems may have been reworked and altered over centuries, making attribution to a single author close to meaningless. Homer’s persona is more a form of useful categorisation for works fashioned over time by oral poets unaware of their ghostwriting activity.
Among the most important works in our history, The Bible is the classic example of a ghost written work. The Old Testament comes from an oral tradition similar to that which produced Homer’s works, but this keeps with the desired tone for the Hebrew Scriptures, attribution to human authors would fit uneasily with texts meant to collect the actions, mysteries and revelations of God.
The New Testament is equally strong as an example of ghostwriting. Scholars believe these too were dictated or reworked in the very early stages of Christianity. The Apostles were most likely entirely illiterate, while the Gospels are written in Greek showing higher learning uncommon among the working classes from which the Apostles came.
While most academics scoff at the idea, gallons of ink have been spent arguing that William Shakespeare was not the author of the masterpieces attributed him. Ironically, it was intellectual elitism that first began the theories, born out of disbelief that a man without a University education could create such apparently learned works.
Was he really rival Christopher Marlowe, who faked his death in a tavern in Deptford to continue writing through Shakespeare as a ghostwriter? Was he the genius Francis Bacon, taking a break from scientific investigation to poetically render the human condition incognito? Or was Shakespeare Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as the new film Anonymous conjectures, protecting his upper class persona by employing a lowly theatre player to pose as the author of his plays.