How could Sackville have had enough time to write Shakespeare’s works, given his busy career in politics and responsibilities as Lord Treasurer after 1599?
MY SPECULATIVE ANSWER
Regardless of how busy they are, people generally find time to do the things that really matter to them. It is also often the case that high achievers in one area tend to be driven in other areas. My own experience is probably what convinces me most that Sackville could have been Shakespeare. If you asked just about anyone at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory if I could have found time to research and write The Apocryphal William Shakespeare and Thomas Sackville and the Shakespearean Glass Slipper over the last five years, they would probably laugh at the very idea. I have an intense, time-consuming job, which I love, and I am also a devoted mother to my two children. Yet I still found time to write these works, because I felt compelled to do so. Part of what made this possible is that I was building on a core of research conducted between 2007 and 2010, a period when I did have more free time.
Similarly, I suspect that many, if not most, of Shakespeare’s plays evolved from works that Sackville originally wrote between the early 1560s and mid-1580s, a period when he had abundant leisure time. Sackville also had numerous servants to help him with the most mundane tasks, including letter writing, preparing his clothes, serving his food, taking care of household business, and the like. Even if he was only able to set aside an hour or so a day on average for creative writing, that is likely to have been sufficient. Shakespeare’s play production rate was not high by Elizabethan and early Jacobean standards; even the standard Stratfordian play chronology has him writing one or two plays a year, compared to many commercial playwrights who were capable of writing a new play every six to eight weeks. Records in the diary of the theatrical impresario Philip Henslowe show that a team of four or five writers could produce a play in as little as two weeks, and Ben Jonson, though usually a notoriously slow writer, is reported to have completed Volpone in five weeks.
I also suspect that Sackville wasn’t capable of not writing. Many writers find writing to be as necessary to them as breathing. “Language is wine on the lips,” wrote Virginia Woolf. That wine can be heady and intoxicating, and hard to put down. In Sacvyle’s Olde Age, Sackville refers to Chaucer as his “pen’s lodestar”—his guiding light and his master. He says that whenever he thinks of the Earl of Surrey and his golden verses, he falls on his knees. Such a man may not have been able to abandon creative writing no matter how socially and politically prominent he became, and no matter how strong the ‘stigma of print’ was among his social circle. If anything, Sackville’s desire to write plays and poetry probably grew stronger the more he sought to suppress it.