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Shakespeare authorship

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I never would endure this gripe, had I not my shotgun pipe.[1]
Fiction over fact
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How it didn't happen
This rivals the new discovery about Shakespeare, — that the well-known plays and poems were not by William Shakespeare, but by another person of the same name!
The Spectator, 1860.[2]

The Shakespeare authorship question, also known as "Anti-Stratfordianism," is a fringe theory asserting that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was not the author of the plays attributed to him. First developed as an idea in the mid-19th century,[3] the theory gradually took wing in late Victorian times, establishing a prolific literary vogue for amateur historians and a whodunit-addicted readership,[4] whose mostly unreadable products now tally up to several thousand books and articles.

While all but a few members of the academic community ignore or disparage anti-Stratfordianism, it has achieved a slight degree of acceptance as a legitimate research topic among a small number of tenured professors. In late 2007, Brunel University London began offering a one-year MA program on the Shakespeare authorship question,[5] and in 2010, Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, a provincial hotbed of anti-Stratfordianism, opened a multi-million dollar Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre, under the direction of Oxfordian Daniel Wright, a Shakespeare scholar and Concordia's professor of English.[6]

By intimating and diffusing a sense that there has been a gross centuries-long cover-up by the cultural and critical establishment of a scandalously repressed "truth",[7] they appear to be trying to mobilise public opinion to pressure academia itself to take them seriously. These are the same sort of crank tactics that have allowed Moon landing conspiracy theories — and more recently, climate change denialism — to take hold.

Where's the beef?[edit]

Shakespeare, while generally respected by his peers and a 'name' performer in the early 1600s, was not considered one of the major English poets or playwrights by his contemporaries or immediate successors. Respect for his plots and texts was minimal; the poet laureate Nahum TateWikipedia, revised King Lear to have a happy ending where Edgar and Cordelia marry. The actor David GarrickWikipedia revised Hamlet to make the conclusion less violent.[8] Shakespeare did not become a major author until the publication of editions of his works by major literary figures like Alexander PopeWikipedia and Samuel JohnsonWikipedia. But by the early nineteenth century, critics like Samuel Taylor ColeridgeWikipedia acclaimed Shakespeare as a universal genius, and one of the core authors of the English literary canon. It was at this time that Shakespeare forgeriesWikipedia began to appear, as did Shakespeare authorship controversies.[9] Shakespeare had become an irresistible target at this point.

The rise of anti-Stratfordianism[edit]

Various cults have arisen to advocate the authorship of this or that candidate. These cults have all the fervor of religion, and indeed, the whole movement is permeated with emotion that sweeps aside the intellectual appraisal of facts, chronology, and the laws of evidence. The disciples of the cults, like certain other fanatic sectarians, rail on disbelievers and condemn other cultists as fools and knaves... They have discovered "truth" according to their lights, and they are angry and unhappy when the world refuses to embrace it.
—Louis B. Wright, on anti-Stratfordianism[10]

The most common crank reason given for doubting the sole author hypothesis is the allegation that Shakespeare was an illiterate rustic and rapacious hustler devoid of both the necessary knowledge and poetic sensibility shown in the works. Since, as is true also of most of Shakespeare's theatrical contemporaries, little is known concerning Shakespeare's life, especially during what scholars call Shakespeare's "lost years," anti-Stratfordians argue ex silentio that Shakespeare could not have acquired the background or education necessary to write plays that include a knowledge of foreign languages, familiarity with courtly maneuvering, military and nautical terminology, legal terms, medicine and other esoteric matters.[11] Like most conspiracy theories based on negative evidence and conjectures of the putative existence of secretive coteries of scheming insiders, Anti-Stratfordianism is very hard to disprove conclusively, because complex counterfactual histories cannot be, by their nature, easily confuted by the evidence actually surviving in our meagre documentary records.

Numerous candidates and group or writers' syndicate theories have been proposed, although only a handful have received serious attention. The 19th century's favorite candidate was Sir Francis Bacon, the jurist and philosopher of science; in the twentieth century the most prominent candidate is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, whose putative authorship of Shakespeare's work was the subject of a Hollywood clanger, the tediously convoluted 2011 movie flop, Anonymous, directed by Roland Emmerich.[12][13] There is a strong element of classism in the arguments for all of these candidates. It is argued that Shakespeare, a merchant's son from the West Midlands, couldn't possibly have understood law, philosophy, history, or politics well enough to have written the scenes involving those subjects in the plays; it must have been a nobleman with better education and connections.

Hardly any professional scholar takes these theories seriously.[14] They generally find anti-Stratfordian arguments puerile in their contempt for rational method and the careful scholarly evaluation of evidence, and usually just ignore them.[15] This bored neglect accounts for the vein of resentment which runs through anti-Stratfordian screeds.[16] However, after a century and a half marked by an egregious failure to attract serious academic notice, Anti-Stratfordians have become media-savvy and invest considerable efforts in exploiting modern mass media in order to spread their message. In bypassing academia, they hope to argue their case directly before a broad public that knows little of Shakespeare, Elizabethan history and the standard methodologies of scholarly research.

Discrediting Shakespeare[edit]

Historically, the case against Shakespeare's authorship is grounded in certain class prejudices held by his readership. Aside from self-promoting mania, snobbery and a concomitant contempt for an underclass and the provincial world play a significant, perhaps, seminal role in the rhetoric of doubting the historical record that the son of a provincial whittawer, or dresser of animal skins, raised in a minor country town was able to rise to fortune, and earn posthumous fame as the greatest writer in the English language.[17][18] In part the cult of anti-Stratfordian iconoclasm arose as an understandably sceptical over-reaction to the emerging national cults of bardolatry, as Shakespeare's reputation as an omniscient genius[19] and artist of perfection established itself in both England and the United States.[20]

The idea that Shakespeare had a profound polymathic grasp of law, science, languages and the technical jargon of many disciplines, and had travelled widely in the countries where the plots of many plays unfold originally arose among idolaters of Shakespeare. It was this absurd celebration of gifts of erudition imputed to him by adulators which began to prompt scepticism and generate iconoclasm. The assumption was adopted, then turned on its head. Since Shakespeare lovers concurred on his comprehensive erudition, the discrepancy between this contrived image and the facts of his relatively unschooled origins stood out in stark relief. It required little to take the next step and conclude that, since omniscience and an illiterate background were incompatible, only someone with an aristocratic culture and upbringing could have written the works.[21]

A second element in explaining the phenomenon is rooted in tabloid nosiness, the desire to pry into the secrets of a life we otherwise know little of from the public record. While authors like their privacy, often burning or destroying the evidence regarding their extra-literary existence (e.g. Thomas HardyWikipedia), readers tend to hunger for intimate details of the real life of an author they admire. This in turn generates a third element in the genesis of alternative authorship theories, the notion that a writer reveals himself in whatever he writes, what is called the biographical fallacy, according to which the products of the imagination must necessarily betray or disguise lineaments of the author's real experience. This overreaching of the available evidence afflicts both mainstream scholarship and authorship sceptics.

One key facet of the de Verean hypothesis, as proposed by Charles Ogburn, is that an integral part of the conspiracy to deny Edward de Vere his historical right to the authorship of the Shakespearean canon consisted in a thorough post-mortem destruction and censorship of the Elizabethan records, public and private, by heirs of Elizabeth's advisor William Cecil, that would have proven his connection to the works.[22] One variant of this has it that perhaps the real Shakespeare himself may have forestalled "the irresistible urge for the life to eclipse the works" by destroying all relevant circumstantial information.[23]

In 2007, an online petition called the Declaration of Reasonable DoubtWikipedia was initiated by acclaimed actors/directors Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Mark Rylance. It includes claimed doubters from the past (e.g., Mark Twain) and some modern doubters who actually signed the petition (e.g., Sandra Day O'Connor).[24]

Authorship candidates[edit]

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford[edit]

Circa 1575 portrait of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Oxford has remained the reigning alternative candidate for the last 90 years.[25] The "Oxfordian theory" (i.e. "Oxford wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare") was first proposed in 1920 by the wonderfully-named J. Thomas Looney.[26] Oxfordians point to the early acclaim of Oxford's contemporaries regarding his talent as a poet and a playwright, his putative reputation as a "concealed poet," and his personal connections to London theatre and playwrights active just before Shakespeare's heyday. In reality, de Vere's poems are still available to us, and reflect typical style of the period and none but historical value. They also note his long-term, if often vexatious, relationships with Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Southampton, his intimate knowledge of court life, his aristocratic education and cultural achievements. An important role in the argument is played by evidence he travelled widely through France and Italy, in localities that figure in many of Shakespeare's plays. (In fact, John Dryden, a poet born a half-generation later would disdain Shakespeare's attempts at depicting courtly and foreign life, saying that they were all wildly inaccurate.)

The case for Oxford's authorship is also based on perceived similarities between Oxford's biography and events in Shakespeare's plays, sonnets and longer poems; on vague parallels in language, idiom, and thought between Oxford's personal letters and the Shakespearean canon;[27] and underlined passages in Oxford's personal bible, which Oxfordians believe correspond to a number of quotations in Shakespeare's plays.[28] Confronting the apparently insurmountable objection of Oxford's death in 1604, Oxfordian researchers cite examples they say imply the writer known as "Shakespeare" or "Shake-speare" died before 1609, and point to 1604 as the year regular publication of "new" or "augmented" Shakespeare plays stopped.

Oxfordians require that Shakespeare's plays were written no later than 1604, but Shakespeare's plays appear to refer to events from later years. Macbeth is sometimes considered to contain references to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, such as the mentions of equivocation in 2.3 referring to Henry Garnet, one of the conspirators who was widely criticised for equivocation; the play seems to allude frequently to James I and VI, who became king of England in 1603 just before Oxford's death.[29][30] The sinking of the Sea Venture in 1609 is often considered an inspiration for The Tempest (c. 1610-11) although sometimes an allusion is detected based on the assumed date, rather than vice versa.[31] It is hard to definitively relate allusions in Shakespeare's work to actual events, and some examples — such as a possible reference to the Gunpowder Plot in A Winter's Tale — are under dispute.

Oxford was himself a published poet, publishing occasional verse under his own name, literary dedications, and contributing to anthologies of courtly poets such as The Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576. Oxford's verse suggests that he was no Shakespeare:[32]

So he that takes the pain to pen the book,
Reaps not the gifts of goodly golden muse;
But those gain that, who on the work shall look,
And from the sour the sweet by skill doth choose,

For he that beats the bush the bird not gets,
But who sits still and holdeth fast the nets.

C. S. Lewis wrote that de Vere's poetry shows "a faint talent", but is "for the most part undistinguished and verbose."[33]


AnonymousWikipedia is a 2011 political thriller whose central premise is that Edward de Vere was the anonymous author of the plays William Shakespeare claimed credit for. In addition to some factual errors,[34] the film also presents rather creative reinterpretations of the historical figures. Shakespeare is a ribald and licentious drunk who murdered Christopher Marlowe when he found out "the truth," De Vere is a revolutionary in the field of theater, and a key plot point is that, spoiler alert, Edward De Vere is one of many bastard children of Queen Elizabeth I,[35] to the point that she loses track of them all and (ugh) has sex with and is impregnated by De Vere.[note 1] Apparently it's not a bad movie per se, but the historical inaccuracies drowned out whatever artistic merits the film had.

Francis Bacon[edit]

Some think that even Shakespeare's writings go better with Bacon!
See the main article on this topic: Francis Bacon

The leading candidate of the 19th century, and the first alternative candidate to be proposed, was Sir Francis Bacon, a major scientist, philosopher, courtier, diplomat, essayist, historian and successful politician, who served as Solicitor General (1607), Attorney General (1613) and Lord Chancellor (1618). Supporters of the theory, known as Baconians, note that Bacon concluded a 1603 letter with the words "so desiring you to be good to concealed poets",[37] which supporters consider a confession. The hypothesis itself was formally presented by William Henry Smith in 1856, and was expanded the following year by both Smith and Delia Bacon (no relation, she was just fascinated by their shared surname) in the mid-19th century. The Baconian theory, in one historian's view, "accumulated the most terrifying bibliography on the subject," and boasts the longest history.[38] Notable supporters of the Baconian Theory have included Mark Twain, Ignatius L. Donnelly, Friedrich Nietzsche and Harry Stratford Caldecott.

Christopher Marlowe[edit]

An alleged portrait of the alleged Shakespeare author (and collaborator), Christopher Marlowe

This is complicated by Marlowe's death in 1593, but the theory goes that he might have faked his own death by convincing his enemies — present at the time of his death in a bar-room brawl and actually suspected of his murder — to lie for him. Then he escaped to live in Italy because... hey why the hell not?

His Hero and Leander is quoted by a character in As You Like It as having been said by a "Dead shepherd."[39]

Henry VI Trilogy[edit]

Recent computer based analysis indicates that the Henry VI trilogy is the product of a collaboration between Shakespeare and Marlowe. Experts had long suspected the two may have collaborated prior to this analysis but this merely confirmed it. In fact, Oxford University's most recent edition of Shakespeare, the New Oxford Shakespeare, officially credits Marlowe with a byline.[40] This does not, however, indicate that Marlowe was Shakespeare, just that the two wrote together. The fact that Marlowe wasn't officially credited doesn't mean much; in fact, uncredited collaborations aren't unheard of today in Hollywood.

Queen Elizabeth I[edit]

She was perhaps unable to release works under her own name because of her position and gender, except that she did write some (mediocre) poems. She was commonly acknowledged at the time as a rather popular writer, but only of learned translations from the French and Latin.[41] Also, she died six years before the sea wreck that probably inspired The Tempest. The thought of her writing the extended praise of her own birth and rule that occurs in the late-career Henry VIII does hold a certain charm.

Majority viewpoint: Shakespeare of Stratford as author[edit]

House in Stratford-upon-Avon believed to be Shakespeare's birthplace.

The mainstream view, overwhelmingly supported by academic Shakespeareans, is that the author known as "Shakespeare" was the same William Shakespeare who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, moved to London and became an actor and sharer (part-owner) of the Lord Chamberlain's Men acting company (later the King's Men) that owned the Globe Theatre and the Blackfriars Theatre in London and owned exclusive rights to produce Shakespeare's plays from 1594 on.[42] He then became entitled to use the honorific of gentleman when his father, John Shakespeare, was granted a coat of arms in 1596.

According to the traditional attribution, the writer is identified as William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon by at least four pieces of contemporary evidence that firmly link the two:

  1. His will registers bequests to fellow actors and theatrical entrepreneurs, two of whom edited his works, namely John Heminges and Henry Condell;
  2. The monument to him in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon bears an inscription linking him with Virgil and Socrates;[43]
  3. Ben Jonson linked the writer with the Stratford territory, in calling him the "Swan of Avon"; and
  4. Leonard Digges, in verses prefixed to the First Folio, speaks of the author's "Stratford Monument."[44][45][46]

At minimum, any alternative source for Shakespeare's work requires a significant conspiracy between Heminge, Condell, and Jonson. The collusion of other contemporaries, such as fellow actors and earlier publishers, would probably also have been necessary, for the author of the plays was such a close intimate of Shakespeare's troupe that at certain points in the stage directions of the plays he accidentally uses an actor's name, rather than a character's (e.g. Henry VI, Part Three's direction, "Enter Sinklo and Humfrey," referring to regular actor John Sinklo).[47]

A New York Times survey of 265 Shakespeare professors from a random sample of US colleges and universities in April 2007 found that, when asked if there were good reason to question whether Shakespeare of Stratford was the principal author of the plays:[48]

  • 11% (28) answered "possible"
  • 6% (15) answered "yes"

In the same survey, 93% of those surveyed called Anti-Stratfordianism a "theory without convincing evidence" (61%) or an "outright waste of time and classroom resources" (32%).[48]

Evidence of Shakespeare's existence[edit]

Although little biographical information exists about Shakespeare of Stratford compared to later authors, Jonathan Bate writes that more is known about him than about most other playwrights and actors of the period.[49] For example, we have even fewer external facts about the lives of Dante AlighieriWikipedia and Miguel de Cervantes,Wikipedia though the works of both were quickly accepted as the highest accomplishment in their respective languages shortly after their deaths. The lack of information about Shakespeare is unsurprising given that in Elizabethan/Jacobean England the lives of commoners were not as well documented as those of the gentry and nobility, and that many — indeed the overwhelming majority — of Renaissance documents that existed have not survived until the present day.[50]

Shakespeare's personal existence is also very well-documented. We have baptismal records, a marriage license, a last will and testament, documents concerning the buying and selling of property, actors' lists, audience reports, several years' worth of the Lord Chamberlain's records, six signatures, and an inventory of the Globe theater.[51] It might be supposed that Shakespeare the man did exist, but only as a front for one of the mystery candidates (the poor Bard was fed the plays and released them under his own name, to cover for Oxford/Marlowe/Elizabeth), but again, scholars say that this wasn't the case, for various reasons that pertain to the nature of historical evidence and each particular candidate.

Linguistic evidence[edit]

For example, Shakespeare was raised in the West Midlands, and some scholars have proposed that he wrote in that dialect. At this time, West Midlanders were the first to begin using the verb "do" as an auxiliary in their sentences ("Except, O signieur, thou do give to me egregious ransom."[52]) thanks to some confusion with their previous choice of auxiliary verb, "make."[53] So when we see plays written by a West Midlander in West Midlands dialect, it makes little sense to think that the Earl of Oxford, an East Midlander, wrote them.

Evidence of Shakespeare as playwright[edit]

The most prominent piece of evidence, of course, is that a big bunch of plays and sonnets were performed and published under his name, over the course of many years, and in collaboration with many people. He was fairly well-known as a playwright, which is why contemporary references to him exist in Robert Greene's Groats-worth and Frances Meres' Palladis Tamis. Other playwrights from his time have also left us prominent remembrances, most famously Ben Jonson's ode in the First Folio.

Shakespeare was credited as author of several of the plays attributed to him by entries in the Stationer's Register,Wikipedia an official record of the stationer's and printer's guild, used to establish ownership in books as a rudimentary form of copyright. Examples from Shakespeare's lifetime include four official stationers' entries. The first is dated 23 August 1600 and entered by Andrewe Wyse and William Aspley:[54]

1600, 23 Augusti. Andrewe Wyse, William Aspley, — entred for their copies, vnder the handes of the wardens, twoo bookes, the one called Muche adoo about Nothinge, thother the second parte of the history of Kinge Henry the; with the humors of Sir John Fallstaff. Wrytten by Mr. Shakespere.[54]:99

The second is dated 26 November 1607, and entered by Nathaniel Butter and John Busby:

1607 (5 Regis) 26 Nov. Na. Butter, Jo. Busby, — entred for theer copie, vnder thandes of Sir Geo. Buck, knight, and thwardens, a book called Mr. William Shakespeare his historye of Kinge Lear, as yt was played before the Kinges maiestie at Whitehall vppon St. Stephans night at Christmas last, by his maiesties servantes playinge vsually at the globe on the Banksyde.[54]:125

The third is dated 2 May 1608, and entered by Mr. Mr. Payver, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Warden Seton:

1608 (6 regis Jacobi), 2 die Maij. Mr. Payver, — entered for his copie, vnder the handes of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Warden Seton, A booke called a Yorkshire Tragedy, written by Wylliam Shakespere.[54]:131

The fourth is dated 20 May 1609, and entered by Thomas Thorpe:

1609, 20 May. Tho. Thorpe, — entred for his copie, vnder the handes of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Lownes, warden, a Booke called Shakespeares sonnettes.[54]:141

The critical consensus for the third entry is however that A Yorkshire TragedyWikipedia was written by Thomas Middleton.Wikipedia

Shakespeare's coat of arms. The motto means 'Not Without Right.'

In 1596, John Shakespeare, William's father, applied for and received a coat of heraldic arms from the College of Arms in London. William may have been the person who pressed the claim on behalf of his father. In 1602, a juicy row broke out in the College of Arms when Ralph Brooke, a herald, contested several grants alleged to have been made to "base persons" by another herald, Sir Richard Dethick. Brooke accused his fellow herald of accepting bribes to bestow coats of arms on non-noble people. (Gasp!) One such grant complained of was one to "Shakespeare the player". Acting and writing plays were servile trades beneath the dignity of a gentleman. The dispute, which became public, firmly identifies "Shakespeare the player" as the "gent. from Stratford"; in other words, the Shakespeare from Stratford was an actor and playwright. In Every Man out of his Humour, Shakespeare's colleague Ben Jonson mocked Shakespeare as a rustic who paid £30 for a ridiculous coat with the motto 'Not without Mustard'.[24][55]

Another overwhelming piece of evidence which only came to light in the 20th century is a play that never made it past manuscript form called Sir Thomas More.Wikipedia The play was drafted by several authors, and similar to modern script-doctoring, others were hired to add scenes throughout. A majority of scholars now believe that one of the contributors, representing 1/5 of the scenes, to be Shakespeare's, with handwriting analysis matching the extant signatures and the play manuscript.[56] The writing is very much an in-progress draft, featuring words crossed out and replaced, destroying the possibility that the man of the signature is simply a copyist for another, and features several metaphors Shakespeare would later use, as well as his signature soliloquies (nobody but Shakespeare would use these until Beaumont and Fletcher caught on midway through their career). Collaborations are known to be in the Shakespeare canon. In addition to the above mentioned Henry VI trilogy with Marlowe, John Fletcher, a fellow member of the King's Men company, is known to have collaborated on Henry VIII, the The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Cardenio (a lost play). That others weren't given full credit on some plays does not mean that Shakespeare wasn't who he said he was. Uncredited, or anonymous, collaborations frequently happen in Hollywood today so there's no reason to assume that they wouldn't have happened in the past, especially in an era before modern intellectual property law. Additionally, George Peele cowrote Titus Andronicus, Thomas Middleton helped write Timon of Athens and All's Well That Ends Well, George Wilkins wrote the first two acts of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and Thomas Kyd wrote more of Edward III than Shakespeare did.

Fringe viewpoint: Shakespeare as frontman or pseudonym[edit]

The anti-Stratfordians hold that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare’s plays — it was another fellow of the same name, or of a different name. In this they invert the megalomaniacal equation and make themselves not the elect, but the superior of the elect. Barred from composing Shakespeare’s plays by a regrettable temporal accident, they, in the fantasy of most every editor, accept the mantle of primum mobile, consign the (falsely named) creator to oblivion, and turn to the adulation of the crowd for their deed of discovery and insight — so much more thoughtful and intellectual than the necessarily sloppy work of the writer.
—David Mamet[57]

Pseudonymous or secret authorship in Renaissance England[edit]

Hyphenated "SHAKE-SPEARE" on the cover of the Sonnets (1609)

Archer Taylor and Frederic J. Mosher identified the 16th and 17th centuries as the "golden age" of pseudonymous authorship and maintain that during this period “almost every writer used a pseudonym at some time during his career.”[58] Anti-Stratfordians say that aristocratic writers used pseudonyms to write for the public because of what they assert was a prevailing "stigma of print," a social convention that ostensibly restricted their literary works to private and courtly audiences — as opposed to "commercial" endeavors — at the risk of social disgrace if violated.[59]

Anti-Stratfordian Diana Price has analyzed several examples of Elizabethan commentary on anonymous or pseudonymous publication by persons of high social status. According to Price, "there are two historical prototypes for this type of authorship fraud, that is, attributing a written work to a real person who was not the real author." Both are Roman in origin and both are mentioned by contemporary Elizabethan writers with what skeptics believe are implications that apply to the authorship of Shakespeare's plays:[60] The Roman performer Bathyllus was known to have taken credit for verses written by Virgil,[61] and several of the comedies of the classical playwright Terence were believed to have been written by his patrician patrons Scipio Africanus and Gaius Laelius.[62] In at least one instance, Elizabethan authorities raised the possibility of pseudonymous authorship: in 1599, Sir John Hayward published The First Part of the Life and Raigne of King Henrie IV dedicated to Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Queen Elizabeth and her advisers disliked the tone of the book and its dedication, and on July 11, Hayward was interrogated before the Privy Council, which was seeking "proof positive of the Earl's long-standing design against the government" in writing a preface to Hayward's work.[63] The Queen "argued that Hayward was pretending to be the author in order to shield 'some more mischievous' person, and that he should be racked so that he might disclose the truth."[64]

"Shake-speare" as pseudonym[edit]

In this regard, many anti-Stratfordians question the hyphen that sometimes appeared in the name "Shake-speare," which they believe indicated the use of such a pseudonym.[65] Examples of hyphenated names include Tom Tell-truth, Martin Mar-prelate (who pamphleteered against church "prelates") and Cuthbert Curry-nave, who "curried" his "knavish" enemies.[66] Of course, "Tom Tell-truth" never pseudonymously signed a marriage license or a will.

Shakespeare's name appears hyphenated in the original Sonnets Quarto (pictured), which the majority of textual scholars now believe were published to cash in Shakespeare's own notoriety (hence the size of his name), and without his permission (nearly all Sonnet sequences of the time were titled, and Francis Mere's recounts Shakespeare early in his career only sharing the Sonnets with his friends).[67]

Historical records[edit]

"Poor POET-APE, that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are e'en the frippery of wit,
From brokage is become so bold a thief,
As we, the robbed, leave rage, and pity it.
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown
To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
He takes up all, makes each man's wit his own.
And, told of this, he slights it.
Tut, such crimes
The sluggish gaping auditor devours;
He marks not whose 'twas first: and after-times
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
Fool, as if half eyes will not know a fleece
From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece?"

On Poet Ape, Ben Jonson, c.1612.

There are some seventy extant documents that relate to Shakespeare of Stratford — yet if you ignore all those that refer to literary endeavors none of them have any connection to a literary career.[68] Baptismal records, a marriage license, a will (that mentions no plays, or shares in the theatre he supposedly owned), buying and selling of property, a few scribbled signatures, etc., prove that a man/actor existed, but not that he ever wrote a single word.[69]

Anti-Stratfordians also believe that contemporary records imply that the "Stratford man" published the work of other writers and put his own name on it.[70] This is still a contemporary practice.

Diana Price acknowledges that Shakespeare's name appears on the title pages of numerous play texts, but questions the traditional implication, asking "But what if his name is on the title pages for another reason? What if he were a play broker who took credit for the works of others?"[71] (Anti-Stratfordians deal in a lot of "if"s.) Similarly, Mark Anderson has suggested that when poet John Davies referred to Shakespeare as "our English Terence, Mr Will. Shake-speare", he could be naming Shakespeare of Stratford as a front man, given that one tradition has it that some of Terence's plays were written by Roman nobles. Anderson also notes that "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit" could imply Shakespeare of Stratford was being given credit for the work of other writers.[72] (They also deal in a like number of "could-be"s.)

Diana Price writes that "In Shakespeare's day, those who traded in used costumes were called frippers or brokers. Those who traded in plays, as in other commodities, were also brokers," ignoring the fact that no evidence of such play brokers exists. Price also says that Ben Jonson used both terms in the epigram, "On Poet-Ape", written between 1595-1612 and which refers to the playwright John Marston, though anti-Stratfordians insist that it refers to Shakespeare (for anti-Stratfordians, almost every word from every poet or playwright refers to Shakespeare; apparently his contemporaries were as obsessed by him as they are).[73]

Price writes that "this underhand play broker was passing off other men's work as his own". Price speculates further: "If Shakespeare was, in fact, a Battillus or "under-hand" play broker who bought manuscripts from various authors, then we might reasonably expect to find plays published over the name 'William Shakespeare'," but written by various other authors... And we do." Price says that a number of plays including The London Prodigal (1605) and A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608) were "published during … Shakespeare of Stratford's lifetime and attributed to 'William Shakespeare', yet nobody thinks that they belong in the [Shakespearean] canon…"[71]


Shakespeare received little formal education, and so many consider it difficult to explain why he seemed to have an intimate knowledge of courtly life, the art of sailing, matters of history, the problems of rhetoric, or several languages. This is the dominant reason many provide against Shakespeare's authorship: how could one man, the son of a glove-maker who never went to university, manage to write a Prince Harry or an Anthony?

Interestingly, though, this argument is never deployed against Ben Jonson, the son of a brick-maker who nonetheless managed to be the most popular playwright of his time and wrote the erudite The Alchemist and Volpone and went on to gain a high reputation for his command of classical literature. Jonson is a good example of how Elizabethan education differed from modern schooling.

Similarly, the argument that one needed to be a courtier to write convincingly of court life is never used against John Webster, the son of a merchant tailor, who nonetheless managed to compose effective dialogues about Italian courtiers in his plays The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi.[74] While some playwrights, such as Marlowe (the son of a shoe-maker) obtained university degrees, by and large, higher education was seen as a form of vocational training for lawyers, clergymen or doctors. It was unusual enough that someone like Robert Greene, who had an M.A., made sure to splash "Robert Greene, Maiſter of Arts" all over his title pages for Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay and Pandosto.


It has been argued even before the authorship question[75] that virtually all of Shakespeare's plays are set among the upper classes, and are seemingly written from their point of view. Anti-Stratfordians also assert that the upper-class characters are more fully fleshed, and seem to have a greater touch of realism about them, while the lower class characters are thinly drawn caricatures, with names such as Bullcalf, Bottom, Wart, or Shadow. In this argument, the lower classes are simpletons when solo or in small groups, but in large groups are portrayed as an angry or dangerous mob — a distinctly upper class viewpoint.

This purely subjective view is opposed by Stratfordians and even those Anti-Stratfordians who argue for another lower-class author, such as Marlowe. This opposition points to deeply complex lower-life characters, such as Falstaff (Henry IV Parts One and Two, The Merry Wives of Windsor) or sympathetic lower-class characters, such as Twelfth Night's Feste. In any case, both Shakespeare and Marlowe were from propertied middle-class backgrounds. And as for the distinctly royal and rich trend of the plays' subjects, it has always been true that writers have been fascinated by the high drama of the lives of the rich and powerful from history. As said earlier, John Dryden, a poet born to Aristocracy a half-generation later would disdain Shakespeare's attempts at depicting courtly and foreign life, saying that they were all wildly inaccurate.

Mysterious stoppage[edit]

Oxfordians believe that contemporary documents imply the actual playwright was dead by 1604, the year continuous publication of new Shakespeare plays "mysteriously stopped".[76] Most scholars take the view that plays such as The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, Henry VIII, Macbeth. King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra were composed after 1604. Oxfordians argue that they could have been completed earlier, citing minority mainstream scholarship that has argued for that view about particular plays at various times.[77] Oxfordians cite SHAKE-SPEARE'S SONNETS, 1609, which appeared with "our ever-living Poet" on the title page, words typically used eulogizing someone who has died, yet become immortal,[78] and argue that the words "ever-living" rarely, if ever, refer to someone who is actually alive[79] (Shakespeare himself used the phrase in this context in Henry VI, part 1 (IV, iii, 51-2) describing the dead Henry V as "[t]hat ever-living man of memory"). They also discover all sorts of other signs that Shakespeare was dead, including mysterious references in poems and documents, though more mainstream scholars remain unimpressed.[80]

Mysterious continuation[edit]

Baconians, in contrast, argue that evidence suggests that the author was alive after 1616, like their candidate. They refer to supposed references to the circulation of the blood in Coriolanus, a theory that was not made public until after Shakespeare of Stratford's death.[81] They also argue that many editorial changes to texts could only have been made after 1616, proving that the author was still putting quill to paper in 1623 when the First Folio was being created.[82]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. We wish we were kidding.[36]


  1. Scientists Detect Traces of Cannabis on Pipes Found in William Shakespeare's Garden by Nash Jenkins (August 10, 2015 5:21 AM EDT) TIME.
  2. Quote Investigator.
  3. The Anti-Stratfordians claim that there is evidence, never understood as such for several centuries, that Shakespeare's identity as a playwright was questioned from the very outset, as far back as 1592. See William Leahy, 'Introduction,' to William Leahy (ed.) Shakespeare and His Authors: Critcal (sic) Perspectives on the Authorship Question, Continuum Publishing 2010, p.3.
  4. Louis B. Wright, 'The Anti-Shakespeare Industry and the Growth of Cults,' (1959) in Alexander Burnham (ed.) We Write for Our Own Time: Selected Essays from Seventy-Five Years of the Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Virginia Press, 2000. pp.105-118, p.105: "Today almost anybody with a typewriter and a willingness to abandon his mind to nonsense can find a publisher for a book asserting that someone else wrote Shakespeare. Some of these books are marvelous beyond belief in their imaginative concepts, in their zealous accumulation of irrelevant detail, in their plausible 'proof' of the author's particular candidate. Most of them are entertaining for people with a taste for 'whodunits' or science fiction. If one can suppress the intrusion of facts of social and literary history, many of them sound convincing."
  5. Online course catalogue: Shakespeare Authorship Studies MA, accessed 6/29/11.
  6. Who Wrote the Works Attributed to William Shakespeare?, Business Wire, April 23 2007, accessed 6/14/10. [1]
  7. Louis B. Wright pp.106-7: "The anti-Shakespeareans talk darkly about a conspiracy of orthodox college professors to maintain the authenticity of 'that yokel' or the 'butcher boy of Stratford.' The refusal of scholars to waste time over the controversy, they reason, is part of a plot to keep enthroned an imposter named William Shakespeare of Stratford."
  8. Adapting Shakespeare Through The Ages
  9. See generally Jack Lynch,, Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard, Walker, 2007.
  10. Louis B. Wright, p.160.
  11. James McManaway, 'The Authorship of Shakespeare,' (1962) reprinted in Studies in Shakespeare, Bibliography and Theatre (The Shakespeare Society in America, 1969/Associated University Presses, 1993), p.201.
  12. Russ McDonald, 'A re-fitted stage,' in Times Literary Supplement, August 20, 2012. p.11.
  13. Anonymous: A witless movie from the stupid Shakespearean birthers, Ron Rosenbaum. Slate.
  14. Jack Lynch, Becoming Shakespeare, Walker & Company, New York (2007) 2009 p.5.
  15. Shapiro, Contested Will, 2010, pp 4, 42.
  16. Louis B. Wright, p.106: "When a busy scholar will not argue with them, their pride is hurt." (Aww.)
  17. "Attempts to discredit Shakespeare's authorship seem to be based mainly on snobbery — the idea that a man of relatively humble origins without a university education could have written works of genius." Stanley Wells, A Dictionary of Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 2005. p.26.
  18. Louis B. Wright, p.111: "The 'noble lord' theory of the authorship of Shakespeare's plays is promoted nowadays chiefly by Americans. It represents a kind of snobbery and is of a piece with the effort of many plain citizens to find a lord in their genealogies."
  19. John Dryden: "[Shakespeare] was the man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes anything, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learn'd; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature, he look'd inwards, and found her there." 'Of Dramatick Poesy, An Essay' in George Watson (ed.) John Dryden: Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays, J.M. Dent, 1962, 2 vols. vol.1, pp.12-92 p.67.
  20. Louis B. Wright, 'The Anti-Shakespeare Industry and the Growth of Cults,' p.105.
  21. James McManaway, 'The Authorship of Shakespeare' (1962), reprinted in Studies in Shakespeare, Bibliography and Theatre, Associated University Presses, 1993. pp.175-210, p.201.
  22. Scott McCrea, The Case For Shakespeare: The End Of The Authorship Question, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005. p.172
  23. Sean Gaston, 'No Biography; Shakespeare, Author,' in William Leahy (ed.) Shakespeare and His Authors: Critcal (sic) Perspectives on the Authorship Question, Continuum Publishing 2010, pp.91-103, p.101.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Robert McCrumb, How ‘Sherlock of the library’ cracked the case of Shakespeare’s identity, The Guardian, Jan. 7, 2017.
  25. H.N. Gibson, The Shakespeare Claimants: A Critical Survey of the Four Principle Theories Concerning the Authorship of the Shakespearean Plays, (1962) 2005 Routledge reprint. pp.48, 72, 124.
  26. Oxfordian claims to the contrary, the name is pronounced exactly as it it spelt, to rhyme with "Moonie."
  27. Fowler, William Plumer. Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Peter E. Randall, 1986.
  28. Stritmatter, Roger A. "The Marginalia of Edward de Vere's Geneva Bible: Providential Discovery, Literary Reasoning, and Historical Consequence" (PhD diss., University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2001). Partial reprint at The Shakespeare Fellowship.
  29. The Gunpowder Plot and Shakespeare's Macbeth,
  30. Contemporary References to King James I in Shakespeare's Macbeth (1605-06), Shakespeare Online
  31. Shakespeare's Tempest and Bermuda, Shakespeare Online
  32. Labour and its Reward
  33. C.S. Lewis, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford, 1944), p. 267
  34. Wouldn’t It Be Cool if Shakespeare Wasn’t Shakespeare? by Stephen Marche (Oct. 21, 2011) The New York Times Magazine.
  35. The Virgin Queen. Granted, she probably didn't stay a virgin her whole life, but probably not to the extent depicted here
  36. Film / Anonymous TV Tropes.
  37. Lambeth MS 976, folio 4.
  38. Louis B. Wright, P.160.
  39. "Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might/Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?" (86-87)
  40. Christopher Marlowe credited as Shakespeare's co-writer (24 October 2016) BBC.
  41. Mostly devotional literature from the French Protestants, Boethius and Aristotle (which Ben Jonson's version eventually replaced)
  42. Bate, 20.
  43. Shakespeare's funerary monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, compares Shakespeare to Virgil and refers to his "living art." See McMichael, George and Edgar M. Glenn. Shakespeare and his Rivals: A Casebook on the Authorship Controversy (1962), 41.
  44. Stanley Wells, Shakespeare: The Poet & His Plays, Methuen, 1997 pp.10f, p.10.
  45. Chambers, E. K. (1930), William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, 2 vols., Oxford: Clarendon Press, Vol. 2: 207-211, 228-230; vol.1:377463; vol.2:218220221.
  46. For a full account of the documents relating to Shakespeare's life, see Samuel Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life (1987).
  47. Contested Will, pp 260.
  48. 48.0 48.1 Did He or Didn’t He? That Is the Question, The New York Times.
  49. Bate, 4.
  50. Petti, Anthony G. English Literary Hands from Chaucer to Dryden (1977), 1-4.
  51. Charlton Ogburn, The Mystery of William Shakespeare, 1983. 46-57.
  52. Shakespeare, Henry. Henry V. Act 4, Scene 4.
  53. The verb raising parameter, Beatrice Santorini. University of Pennsylvania.
  54. 54.0 54.1 54.2 54.3 54.4 The Life of Shakespeare: Copied from the Best Sources, Without Comment, edited by Daniel Webster Wilder (1893) Little, Brown, and Company.
  55. Sylvia Morris, The facts about Shakespeare’s coat of arms, Nov. 2, 2011.
  56. That said, the handwriting is rather awful, though not much more so than those of the other contributors.
  57. Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama by David Mamet (2000) Vintage. ISBN 037570423X.
  58. Taylor and Mosher, Bibliographical History of Anonyma and Pseudonyma. Chicago: The University Press, 1951, 85.
  59. Saunders 1951, pp. 139–164.
  60. Price 2001, pp. 55–76.
  61. Price 2001, 55-6.
  62. "It is well known by good record of learning, and that by Cicero's own witness, that some Comedies bearing Terence['s] name were written by worthy Scipio and wise Laelius." Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster, edited by Edward Arber, Westminster: A. Constable & Co., 1903, p.143. (For further discussion on this point, see Price, pp. 63-64.)
  63. Zaller, Robert. The discourse of legitimacy in early modern England (2007). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 41–42: "Much turned on the authorship of the critical preface… which Hayward insisted was his own although many had attributed it to Essex."
  64. Sohmer, Steve. "12 June 1599: Opening Day at Shakespeare's Globe." Early Modern Literary Studies 3.1 (1997): 1.1-46.
  65. Charlton Ogburn, The Mystery of William Shakespeare, 1983, pgs 87–88.
  66. Anderson, Shakespeare by Another Name, 2005, intro.
  67. At the time, plays that reached publication only did so because of the notoriety of the performance, rather than the script, like commemorative movie scripts these days. Most cover pages aggressively market the players, and only put Shakespeare's name at the end, sometimes so small and with so little care that the ink bleeds, making the name unreadable. For example The Merchant of VeniceWikipedia, Love's Labour's LostWikipedia, OthelloWikipedia, Troilus and CressidaWikipedia and even HamletWikipedia.
  68. Declarationof Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition
  69. Ogburn, pages 35-37
  70. Mark Anderson, 2005, Shakespeare By Another Name, introduction p. xxxvi.
  71. 71.0 71.1 Price, Diana (2001). Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-31202-1.
  72. Anderson, Mark,"Shakespeare" by Another Name, 2005, Gotham Books, pages=xxx|isbn=1592402151
  73. Scott McCrea,The case for Shakespeare: the end of the authorship question, 2005, Greenwood Publishing Group, pg 21.
  74. Manaway (1962)1993 p.206
  75. Shakespeare's Attitude Toward The Working Classes by Ernest Crosby (1903). Mason Press.
  76. Anderson, Shakespeare by Another Name, 2005, pgs 400–405
  77. Alfred Harbage, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, 1969
  78. Oxford English Dictionary 2nd edition, 1989
  79. Miller, amended Shakespeare Identified, Volume 2, pgs 211–214
  80. Ruth Lloyd Miller, Essays, Heminges vs. Ostler, 1992. See also Irvin Matus's Shakespeare, IN FACT, Reviewed by Thomas A. Pendleton, The Shakespeare Newsletter, Summer 1994
  81. James Phinney Baxter, The Greatest of Literary Problems: The Authorship of the Shakespeare Works: An Exposition of All the Points at Issue, from Their Inception to the Present Moment, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1917, p.28.
  82. Martin Pares, "Othello", Mortuary Marbles, Francis Bacon Society, 1973, p.1ff.