Marilyn L. Taylor


The Four Who Would Be Will

Ah, gentlemen, you were a stellar quartet
of writers with copious talents, and yet
if you keep on insisting, four centuries later,
that one of you had to be Falstaff’s creator
as well as Cordelia’s, and also Othello’s,
you’re quite a collection of devious fellows.

Francis Bacon, let’s open the meeting with you:
a scholar you were, and a scientist too;
you wrote of enlightenment, back in the day—
but nary a poem, and never a play.
So it’s likely that we would be sadly mistaken
to look for a Hamlet along with our Bacon.

Sir Christopher Marlowe (known also as “Kit”),
you wrote some remarkable plays, we admit.
So why would you bother to fake your own death
so believers could claim that you’d written Macbeth,
but after you died? Like a playwright from hell?
And a hundred and fifty-four sonnets as well?

As for you, William Stanley, you’re trying too hard;
you’re not the same William we know as the bard.
Though it’s true your initials are W.S.
and we hear you were competent, nevertheless
don’t be surprised when we give you the bird
instead of the credit for Richard the Third.

So Edward de Vere, you’re the final contender
and many insist you should never surrender,
since you were the one wearing velvet and laces
who romped in Verona and similar places.
You looked like a poet, you dressed fit to kill,
but no other threads ever linked you to Will.

Lord Bacon, Lord Stanley, Sir Marlowe, de Vere,
just what do you think you’re accomplishing here?
Your conspiracy theories belong on the shelf,
but not on the one meant for Shakespeare himself.
Remember, he said, “To thine own self be true,”
which goes for us all—but especially you.

Marilyn L. Taylor, former Poet Laureate of the state of Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee, is the author of six poetry collections, including Step on a Crack (Kelsay Books, 2016) and Going Wrong (Parallel Press, 2009). Her award-winning poems and essays have appeared in many anthologies and journals, including Poetry, The American Scholar, Measure, and the Random House anthology titled Villanelles. She also served for five years as a contributing editor for The Writer magazine, where her “Poet to Poet” column on craft appeared bimonthly. More recently, Taylor was awarded the 2015 Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Prize, and was named a finalist for the 2016 X.J. Kennedy Parody Contest, the 2016 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award, and the 2018 Lascaux Review Prize. She is currently a member of the editorial staffs of Verse-Virtual and Third Wednesday poetry journals. Taylor continues to facilitate independent poetry workshops and presentations throughout Wisconsin and across the country, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Continuing Education program and Lawrence University’s Björklunden Seminar Center.