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Shakespeare authorship question

The Shakespeare authorship question is the debate, dating back to the early 18th century, about whether the works attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon were actually written by another writer, or a group of writers. While numerous alternative candidates have been proposed, major claimants have included Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley (6th Earl of Derby) and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who is currently the most popular alternate authorship candidate.

Authorship doubters believe there is a lack of concrete evidence proving that the actor/businessman sometimes known as Shaksper of Stratford was also responsible for the body of literary works that bear his name. Almost nothing is known about his personality, and although much can be inferred about him from his writings, the lack of solid information leaves him an enigmatic figure. Mainstream scholars, however, find this lack of information unsurprising given the passage of time and given that the lives of commoners were not as documented as those of the nobility and the upper-classes.

Another reason for doubt is the higher learning displayed in Shakespeare's works, including an enormous vocabulary of approximately 29,000 different words. Many critics have found it difficult to believe that a 16th-century commoner, with no known education, could be so well-versed in the English language, let alone in politics, the law, and foreign languages, including a fluency in French. Authorship doubters believe that the available information about Shakespeare's life offers no proof that he was able to write the works attributed to him.

Overview

Mainstream view

The mainstream view 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 acting company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men (which owned the Globe Theatre and the Blackfriars Theatre in London). He divided his time between London and Stratford, and retired there around 1613 before his death in 1616. In 1623, seven years after his death (and after the death of most of the proposed authorship candidates), his plays were collected for publication in the First Folio edition.

Shakespeare of Stratford is further identified by the following evidence: He left gifts to actors from the London company in his will; the man from Stratford and the author of the works share a common name; and commendatory poems in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare's works refer to the "Swan of Avon" and his "Stratford monument". Mainstream scholars believe that the latter phrase refers to the funerary monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, which refers to Shakespeare as a writer (comparing him to Virgil and calling his writing a "living art"), and was described as such by visitors to Stratford as far back as the 1630s.

Several pieces of circumstantial evidence support the Stratfordian view: In a 1592 pamphlet by the playwright Robert Greene called "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit", Greene chastises a playwright whom he calls "Shake-scene", calling him "an upstart crow" and a "Johannes factotum" (a "Jack-of-all-trades", a man able to feign skill), thus suggesting that people were aware of a writer named Shakespeare. Also, poet John Davies once referred to Shakespeare as "our English Terence". Additionally, Shakespeare's grave monument in Stratford, built within a decade of his death, currently features him with a pen in hand, suggesting that he was known as a writer.

Critics of the mainstream view have challenged most if not all of the above assertions, claiming that there is no direct evidence which clearly identifies Shakespeare of Stratford as a playwright. These critics note that the only theatrical reference in his will (the gifts to fellow actors) were interlined - i.e.: inserted between previously written lines - and thus subject to doubt; the term "Swan of Avon" can be interpreted in numerous ways; that "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit" could imply that Shakespeare was being given credit for the work of other writers; that Davies' mention of "our English Terence" is a mixed reference as Cicero, Quintilian, Michel de Montaigne and many contemporary Elizabethan scholars knew Terence as a front man for one or more Roman aristocratic playwrights.; and they assert that Shakespeare's grave monument was altered after its original creation, with the original monument merely showing a man holding a grain sack.

Authorship doubters

For authorship doubters, evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford was merely a front man for another undisclosed playwright arises from several circumstantial sources including perceived ambiguities and missing information in the historical evidence supporting Shakespeare's traditional candidacy for authorship. In this regard, doubters cite the fact that there are large gaps in the historical record of Shakespeare's life and no surviving letter, written to or by him, is known to exist. His three-page will lists no books, diaries, plays or unpublished manuscripts, and makes no mention of the shares in the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres that he supposedly owned.

In addition doubters assert that the plays require a level of education (including knowledge of foreign languages) greater than that which Shakespeare is known to have possessed. They also cite the following: circumstantial evidence suggesting the author was deceased while Shakespeare of Stratford was still living; doubts of his authorship expressed by his contemporaries; plays that he appeared to be unavailable or unable to write; ciphers and codes asserted to be hidden in the works that identify another author; and perceived parallels between the characters and events in Shakespeare's works and the life of the favoured candidate, with a particular emphasis on the author's familiarity with life in the Elizabethan court.

On September 8, 2007, acclaimed British actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance unveiled a "declaration of reasonable doubt" on the authorship of Shakespeare's work, after the final matinee of I Am Shakespeare, a play investigating the bard's identity, performed in Chichester, England. The "declaration" named 20 prominent doubters of the past, including Mark Twain, Orson Welles, Sir John Gielgud and Charlie Chaplin. The document was sponsored by the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition and has been signed online by over 1,000 people, including 200 academics, to encourage new research into the question. Jacobi, who endorsed a group theory led by the Earl of Oxford, and Rylance, who was featured in the authorship play, presented a copy of the document to William Leahy, head of English at Brunel University, London.

Terminology

Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians

Those who question whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was the primary author of Shakespeare's plays are usually referred to as anti-Stratfordians, while those who have no such doubts are often called Stratfordians. Those who identify Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, or the Earl of Oxford as the main author of Shakespeare's plays are commonly referred to as Baconians, Marlovians, or Oxfordians, respectively.

"Shakspere" vs. "Shakespeare"

There was no standardised spelling in Elizabethan England, and throughout his lifetime Shakespeare of Stratford's name was spelled in many different ways, including "Shakespeare". Anti-Stratfordians conventionally refer to the man from Stratford as "Shakspere" (the name recorded at his baptism) or "Shaksper" to distinguish him from the author "Shakespeare" or "Shake-speare" (the spellings that appear on the publications), who they claim has a different identity. They point out that most references to the man from Stratford in legal documents usually spell the first syllable of his name with only four letters, "Shak-" or sometimes "Shag-" or "Shax-", whereas the dramatist's name is consistently rendered with a long "a" as in "Shake". Stratfordians reject this convention, believing it implies that the Stratford man spelled his name differently from the name appearing on the publications. Because the "Shakspere" convention is controversial, this article uses the name "Shakespeare" throughout.

The idea of secret authorship in Renaissance England

In support of the possibility of Shakespeare as "frontman", anti-Stratfordians point to contemporary examples of Elizabethans discussing anonymous or pseudonymous publication by persons of high social status. Describing contemporary writers, the dramatist and pamphleteer Robert Greene wrote that "others ... which for their calling and gravity being loth to have any profane pamphlets pass under their hands, get some other Batillus to set his name to their verses. (Batillus was a minor poet in the reign of Augustus Caesar).

Roger Ascham in his book The Schoolmaster discusses his belief that two plays attributed to the Roman dramatist Terence were secretly written by "worthy Scipio, and wise Lælius", because the language is too elevated to have been written by "a seruile stranger" such as Terence.

"Shake-Speare" as a pseudonym

According to literary historians Taylor and Mosher, "In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Golden Age of pseudonyms, almost every writer used a pseudonym at some time in his career". In this regard, many anti-Stratfordians question the hyphen that often appeared in the name "Shake-speare", which they believe indicated the use of such a pseudonym. Examples of oft-hyphenated names include Tom Tell-truth, Martin Mar-prelate (who pamphleteered against church "prelates") and Cuthbert Curry-nave, who "curried" his "knavish" enemies.

According to authorship researcher Mark Anderson, the hyphenated "Shake-speare" is another example in this vein, alluding to the patron goddess of art and literature, Athena, who sprang from the forehead of Zeus, shaking a spear. Stratfordians have responded that the hyphenated version was not consistent and that the hyphen was merely misplaced, so the issue should be discounted. Oxfordian Charlton Ogburn responded by noting that of the "32 editions of Shakespeare's plays published before the First Folio of 1623 in which the author was named at all, the name was hyphenated in fifteen – almost half." Further, it was hyphenated by John Davies in the famous poem which references the poet as "Our English Terence", by fellow playwright John Webster, and by the epigrammatist of 1639 who wrote, "Shake-speare, we must be silent in thy praise…". Ogburn notes that the hyphen was only used by other writers or publishers, and not by the poet himself (he did not use it in his personal dedications of his two long narrative poems). On this evidence, Ogburn concluded that the hyphenation was not inconsistent or misplaced, and did follow a noticeable pattern.

Debate points used by anti-Stratfordians

Shakespeare's education

There is no evidence that Shakespeare possessed the higher education required to have written the plays, particularly the knowledge of contemporary science and several languages. The word count is also stupendous, using over 29,000 different words, (including different versions of words), almost five times as large as the King James Version of the Bible, which employs only 6,000 different words. "The plays of Shakespeare," said Henry Stratford Caldecott in an 1895 Johannesburg lecture, "are so stupendous a monument of learning and genius that, as time passes and they are probed and searched and analysed by successive generations of scholars and critics of all nations, they seem to loom higher and grander, and their hidden beauties and treasured wisdom to be more and more inexhaustible; and so people have come to ask themselves not only, 'Is it humanly possible for William Shakespeare, the country lad from Stratford-on-Avon, to have written them?', but whether it was possible for any one man, whoever he may have been, to have done so.

The Stratfordian position is that Shakespeare was entitled to attend the The King's School in Stratford until the age of fourteen, where he would have studied the Latin poets and playwrights such as Plautus and Ovid.However, the records of pupils at the school have not survived, so it cannot be proven whether Shakespeare attended or not.

The school or schools Shakespeare might have studied at are a matter of speculation as there are no existing admission or attendance records for Shakespeare at any grammar school, university or college. Though there is no evidence that Shakespeare attended a university, this was not unusual among Renaissance dramatists. Traditionally, scholars have assumed that Shakespeare was partly self-educated. A commonly cited parallel is his fellow dramatist Ben Jonson, a man whose origins were humbler than Shakespeare's, and who rose to become court poet. Like Shakespeare, Jonson never completed and perhaps never attended university, and yet he became a man of great learning (later being granted an honorary degree from both Oxford and Cambridge). However, there is clearer evidence for Jonson's self-education than for Shakespeare's. Several hundred books owned by Ben Jonson have been found signed and annotated by him but no book has ever been found which proved to have been owned or borrowed by Shakespeare of Stratford.

By way of comparison, Jonson had access to a substantial library with which to supplement his education. One possible source for Shakespeare's self-education has been suggested: A. L. Rowse has pointed out that some of the sources for his plays were sold at the shop of the printer Richard Field, a fellow Stratfordian of Shakespeare's age.

Some contemporary references have been interpreted to say that Shakespeare's works have not always been considered to require an unusual amount of education: Ben Jonson's tribute to Shakespeare in the 1623 First Folio states that his plays were great even though he had "small Latin and less Greek". And it has been argued, most vehemently by Dr Richard Farmer, that a great deal of the classical learning he displays is derived from one text, Ovid's Metamorphoses, which was a set text in many schools at the time. Anti-Stratfordians such as Mark Anderson, however, believe this explanation does not counter the argument that the author also required a knowledge of foreign languages, modern sciences, warfare, aristocratic sports such as tennis, statesmanship, hunting, natural philosophy, history, falconry and the law. Similarly, what Shakespeare called "the first heire [sic] of my invention", the poem "Venus and Adonis", appears to draw extensively on Giambattista Marino's "Adone", which was never translated.

Shakespeare's will

William Shakespeare's will is long and explicit, listing the possessions of a successful bourgeois in detail. However, the will makes no mention at all of personal papers, letters, or books (books were rare and expensive items at the time) of any kind. In addition, no early poems or manuscripts, plays or unfinished works are listed, nor is there any reference to the shares in the Globe Theatre that the Stratford man supposedly owned, shares that would have been exceedingly valuable.

At the time of Shakespeare's death, 18 plays remained unpublished. None of them are mentioned in his will (this contrasts with Sir Francis Bacon, whose two wills refer to work that he wished to be published posthumously). Anti-Stratfordians find it unusual that Shakespeare did not wish his family to profit from his unpublished work or was unconcerned about leaving them to posterity. They find it improbable that Shakespeare would have submitted all the manuscripts to the King's Men, the playing company of which he was a shareholder. As was the normal practice at the time, Shakespeare's submitted plays were owned jointly by the members of the King's Men.

The 1604 problem

Some researchers believe certain documents imply the actual playwright was dead by 1604, the year continuous publication of new Shakespeare plays "mysteriously stopped", and various scholars have asserted that The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, Henry VIII, Macbeth, King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra, so-called "later plays", were composed no later than 1604. Researchers 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. Researchers also cite one contemporary document that strongly implies that Shakespeare, the Globe shareholder, was dead prior to 1616, when Shakespeare of Stratford died. However, there is also evidence that the author Shakespeare was alive after 1604. For further information on the 1604 problem, see Oxfordian theory.

Shakespeare's literacy

Shakespeare's wife Anne and daughter Judith seem to have been illiterate, suggesting that Shakespeare did not teach them to write, although it was normal for middle-class women in the 17th century to be illiterate.

Not one surviving letter, to or from Shakespeare, is known to exist. The Anti-Stratfordian position maintains it would only be logical for a man of Shakespeare's writing ability to compose numerous letters, and given the man's supposed fame they find it unbelievable that not one letter, or record of a letter, exists.

Shakespeare's class

Anti-Stratfordians believe that a provincial glovemaker's son who resided in Stratford until early adulthood would be unlikely to have written plays that deal so personally with the activities, travel and lives of the nobility. The view is summarized by Charles Chaplin: "In the work of greatest geniuses, humble beginnings will reveal themselves somewhere, but one cannot trace the slightest sign of them in Shakespeare. Whoever wrote [Shakespeare] had an aristocratic attitude." Orthodox scholars respond that the glamorous world of the aristocracy was a popular setting for plays in this period. They add that numerous English Renaissance playwrights, including Christopher Marlowe, John Webster, Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker and others wrote about the nobility despite their own humble origins.

Anti-Stratfordians stress that the plays show a detailed understanding of politics, the law and foreign languages that would have been impossible to attain without an aristocratic or university upbringing. Orthodox scholars respond that Shakespeare was an upwardly mobile man: his company regularly performed at court and he thus had ample opportunity to observe courtly life. In addition, his theatrical career made him wealthy and he eventually acquired a coat of arms for his family and the title of gentleman, like many other wealthy middle class men in this period.

In The Genius of Shakespeare, Jonathan Bate points out that the class argument is reversible: the plays contain details of lower-class life in which aristocrats might have little knowledge. Many of Shakespeare's most vivid characters are lower class or associate with this milieu, such as Falstaff, Nick Bottom, Autolycus, Sir Toby Belch, etc. Anti-Stratfordians assert that while the author's depiction of nobility was highly personal and multi-faceted, his treatment of the peasant class was quite different, including comedic and insulting names (Bullcalfe, Elbow, Bottom, Belch), often portrayed as the butt of jokes or as an angry mob.

It has also been noted that in the 17th century, Shakespeare was not thought of as an expert on the court, but as a "child of nature" who "Warble[d] his native wood-notes wild" as John Milton put it in his poem L'Allegro. Indeed, John Dryden wrote in 1668 that the playwrights Beaumont and Fletcher "understood and imitated the conversation of Gentlemen much better" than Shakespeare, and in 1673 wrote of Elizabethan playwrights in general that "I cannot find that any of them had been conversant in courts, except Ben Jonson." Against this argument is the fact that it took Ben Jonson (who had a similar low class to Shakespeare) 12 years from his first play to obtain noble patronage from Prince Henry for his commentary The Masque of Queens (1609). Anti-Stratfordians thus express doubt that the true author could have obtained the Earl of Southampton's patronage for one of his first published works, the long poem Venus and Adonis (1593).

Comments by contemporaries

Comments on Shakespeare by Elizabethan literary figures can be read as expressions of doubt about his authorship.

Ben Jonson had a contradictory relationship with Shakespeare. He regarded him as a friend – saying "I loved the man" – and wrote tributes to him in the First Folio. However, Jonson also wrote that Shakespeare was too wordy: Commenting on the Players' commendation of Shakespeare for never blotting out a line, Jonson wrote "would he had blotted a thousand" and that "he flowed with that facility that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped." In the same work, he scoffs at a line Shakespeare said "in the person of Caesar" (presumably on stage): "Caesar never did wrong but with just cause", which Jonson calls "ridiculous, and indeed the text as preserved in the First Folio carries a different line: "Know, Caesar doth not wrong, nor without cause / Will he be satisfied" (3.1). Jonson ridiculed the line again in his play The Staple of News, without directly referring to Shakespeare. Some anti-Stratfordians interpret these comments as expressions of doubt about Shakespeare's ability to have written the plays.

In Robert Greene's posthumous publication Greene's Groatsworth of Wit (1592; published, and possibly written, by fellow dramatist Henry Chettle) a dramatist labeled "Shake-scene" is vilified as "an upstart Crowe beautified with our feathers", along with a quotation from Henry VI, Part 3. The orthodox view is that Greene is criticizing the relatively unsophisticated Shakespeare for invading the domain of the university-educated playwright Greene. Some anti-Stratfordians claim that Greene is in fact doubting Shakespeare's authorship. In Greene's earlier work Mirror of Modesty (1584), the dedication mentions "Ezops Crowe, which deckt hir selfe with others feathers" referring to Aesop's fable (the Crow, the Eagle, and the Feathers) against people who boast they have something they do not.

In John Marston's satirical poem The Scourge of Villainy (1598), Marston rails against the upper classes being "polluted" by sexual interactions with the lower classes. Seasoning his piece with sexual metaphors, he then asks:

Shall broking pandars sucke Nobilitie?
Soyling fayre stems with foule impuritie?
Nay, shall a trencher slaue extenuate,
Some Lucrece rape?". And straight magnificate
Lewd Jovian Lust? Whilst my satyrick vaine
Shall muzzled be, not daring out to straine
His tearing paw? No gloomy Juvenall,
Though to thy fortunes I disastrous fall.
There is a tradition that the satirist Juvenal became "gloomy" after being exiled by Domitian having lampooned an actor that the emperor was in love with. So Marston's piece could be taken as being directed at an actor, and as questioning whether such a lower class "trencher slave" is extenuating (making light of) "some Lucrece rape". One interpretation is that it refers to The Rape of Lucrece, with Shakespeare depicted as a "broking pandar" (procurer), implicitly questioning his credentials to "sucke Nobilitie", that is, attract the Earl of Southampton's patronage of him.

Evidence in the poems

Anti-Stratfordians such as Charlton Ogburn have repeatedly used Shakespeare's sonnets as evidence for their positions. They cite Sonnet 76 as clear evidence of the author's confession of the need for such a ruse:

Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?

Geographical knowledge

Most anti-Stratfordians believe that a well-travelled man wrote the plays, as many of them are set in European countries and show great attention to local details. Orthodox scholars respond that numerous plays of this period by other playwrights are set in foreign locations and Shakespeare is thus entirely conventional in this regard. In addition, in many cases Shakespeare did not invent the setting, but borrowed it from the source he was using for the plot.

Even outside of the authorship question, there has been debate about the extent of geographical knowledge displayed by Shakespeare. Some scholars argue that there is very little topographical information in the texts (nowhere in Othello or the Merchant of Venice are the many canals of Venice mentioned). Indeed, there are apparent mistakes: for example, Shakespeare refers to Bohemia as having a coastline in The Winter's Tale (the region is landlocked), refers to Verona and Milan as seaports in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (the cities are inland), in All's Well That Ends Well he suggests that a journey from Paris to Northern Spain would pass through Italy, and in Timon of Athens he believes that there are tides in the Mediterranean Sea, and that they take place once instead of twice a day..

Answers to these objections have been made by other scholars (both orthodox and anti-Stratfordian). One explanation given for Bohemia having a coastline is the author's awareness that the kingdom of Bohemia at one time stretched to the Adriatic. More likely, the same geographical mistake was already present in Shakespeare's source, Robert Greene's Pandosto, and the play merely reproduced it. It has been noted that The Merchant of Venice demonstrates detailed knowledge of the city, including the obscure facts that the Duke held two votes in the City Council, and that a dish of baked doves was a time-honored gift in northern Italy. Shakespeare also used the local word, traghetto, for the Venetian mode of transport (printed as 'traject' in the published texts). Anti-Stratfordians suggest that the above information would most likely be obtained from first-hand experience of the regions under discussion and conclude that the author of the plays could have been a diplomat, aristocrat or politician.

Mainstream scholars assert that Shakespeare's plays contain several colloquial names for flora and fauna that are unique to Warwickshire, where Stratford-upon-Avon is located, for example 'love in idleness' in A Midsummer Night's Dream. These names may suggest that a Warwickshire native might have written the plays. Researchers point out that the Earl of Oxford owned a manor house in Bilton, Warwickshire, although records show that he leased it out in 1574 and sold it in 1581.

Candidates and their champions

History of alternative attributions

According to the anti-stratfordian viewpoint, the first indirect statements regarding suspicions as to the authorship of "Shakespeare's" works come from the Elizabethans themselves: As early as 1595 the poet Thomas Edwards published his Narcissus and L'Envoy to Narcissus in which he seems to hint at "Shakespeare's" identity as an aristocrat - whilst referring to the poet of "Venus and Adonis" Edwards addresses him as one dressed "in purple robes", purple being a symbol of aristocracy; Elizabethan satirists, Joseph Hall in 1597 and John Marston in 1598 imply that Francis Bacon is the author of "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece"; around the turn of the seventeenth century, Gabriel Harvey, Cambridge don and scholar, left marginalia in his copy of Chaucer's works that implied that he believed Sir Edward Dyer was the author of at least "Venus and Adonis". According to authorship researcher Diana Price, all of these were, however, veiled references in the authorship debate that were never, although coming very close at times, explicitly stated.

The first direct statements of doubt about Shakespeare's authorship were made in the 18th century, when unorthodox views of Shakespeare were expressed in three allegorical stories. In An Essay Against Too Much Reading (1728) by a 'Captain' Golding, Shakespeare is described as merely a collaborator who "in all probability cou'd not write English". In The Life and Adventures of Common Sense (1769) by Herbert Lawrence, Shakespeare is portrayed as a "shifty theatrical character ... and incorrigible thief". In The Story of the Learned Pig (1786) by an anonymous author described as "an officer of the Royal Navy", Shakespeare is merely a front for the real author, a chap called "Pimping Billy."

Around this time, James Wilmot, a Warwickshire clergyman and scholar, was researching a biography on Shakespeare. He traveled extensively around Stratford, visiting the libraries of country houses within a radius of fifty miles looking for records or correspondence connected with Shakespeare or books that had been owned by him. By 1781, Wilmot had become so appalled at the lack of evidence for Shakespeare that he concluded he could not be the author of the works. Wilmot was familiar with the writings of Francis Bacon and formed the opinion that he was more likely the real author of the Shakespearean canon. He confided this to one James Cowell. Cowell disclosed it in a paper read to the Ipswich Philosophical Society in 1805 (Cowell's paper was only rediscovered in 1932).

These reports were soon forgotten . However, Bacon would emerge again in the 19th century as the most popular alternative candidate when, at the height of bardolatry, the "authorship question" was popularised. Many 19th century doubters, however, declared themselves agnostics and refused to endorse an alternative. The American populist poet Walt Whitman gave voice to this skepticism when he told Horace Traubel, "I go with you fellows when you say no to Shaksper: that's about as far as I have got. As to Bacon, well, we'll see, we'll see. Starting in 1908, Sir George Greenwood engaged in a series of well-publicized debates with Shakespearean biographer Sir Sidney Lee and author J.M. Robertson. Throughout his numerous books on the authorship question, Greenwood contented himself to argue against the traditional attribution of the works and never supported the case for a particular alternative candidate. In 1922, he joined John Thomas Looney, the first to argue for the authorship of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, in founding The Shakespeare Fellowship, an international organization dedicated to promoting discussion and debate on the authorship question.

The poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe has also been a popular candidate during the 20th century. Many other candidates -- among them de Vere's son in law William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby -- have been suggested, but have failed to gather large followings.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The most popular later-day candidate is Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. This theory was first proposed by J. Thomas Looney in 1920, whose work persuaded Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, Marjorie Bowen, and many other early 20th-century intellectuals. The theory was brought to greater prominence by Charlton Ogburn's The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984), after which Oxford rapidly became the favored alternative to the orthodox view of authorship. Advocates of Oxford are usually referred to as Oxfordians.

Oxfordians base their theory on what they consider to be multiple and striking similarities between Oxford's biography and numerous events in Shakespeare's plays. Oxfordians also point to the acclaim of Oxford's contemporaries regarding his talent as a poet and a playwright; his closeness to Queen Elizabeth I and Court life; underlined passages in his Bible that they assert correspond to quotations in Shakespeare's plays; parallel phraseology and similarity of thought between Shakespeare's work and Oxford's remaining letters and poetry; his extensive education and intelligence, and his record of travel throughout Italy, including the sites of many of the plays themselves.

Supporters of the orthodox view would dispute most if not all of these contentions. For them, the most compelling evidence against Oxford is that he died in 1604, whereas they contend that a number of plays by Shakespeare may have been written after that date. Oxfordians, and some conventional scholars, respond that orthodox scholars have long dated the plays to suit their own candidate, and assert that there is no conclusive evidence that the plays or poems were written past Oxford's death in 1604. For a dating of Shakespeare's plays according to the Oxfordian theory, see Chronology of Shakespeare's plays – Oxfordian.

Some mainstream scholars also consider Oxford's published poems to bear no stylistic resemblance to the works of Shakespeare. Oxfordians counter that argument by pointing out that the published Oxford poems are those of a very young man, and as such are juvenilia. They support this argument by citing parallels between Oxford's poetry and Shakespeare's early play, Romeo and Juliet.

Sir Francis Bacon

In 1856, William Henry Smith put forth the claim that the author of Shakespeare's plays 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).

Smith was supported by Delia Bacon in her book The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded(1857), in which she maintains that Shakespeare's work was in fact written by a a group of writers, including Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh and Edmund Spenser, who collaborated for the purpose of inculcating a philosophic system, for which they felt that they themselves could not afford to assume the responsibility. She professed to discover this system beneath the superficial text of the plays. Constance Mary Fearon Pott (1833–1915) adopted a modified form of this view, founding the Francis Bacon Society in 1885, and publishing her Bacon-centered theory in Francis Bacon and his secret society (1891).

Since Bacon commented that play-acting was used by the ancients "as a means of educating men's minds to virtue, a non-esoteric view is that Bacon acted alone and to serve his Great Instauration project he left his moral philosophy to posterity in the Shakespeare plays (e.g. the nature of good government exemplified by Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part 2). Having outlined both a scientific and moral philosophy in his Advancement of Learning (1605) only Bacon's scientific philosophy was known to have been published during his lifetime (Novum Organum 1620).

Supporters of Bacon draw attention to similarities between specific phrases from the plays and those written down by Bacon in his wastebook, the Promus, which was unknown to the public for a period of more than 200 years after it was written. A great number of these entries are reproduced in the Shakespeare plays often preceding publication and the performance dates of those plays. Bacon confesses in a letter to being a "concealed poet and was on the governing council of the Virginia Company when William Strachey's letter from the Virginia colony arrived in England which, according to many scholars, was used to write The Tempest. There is also evidence that it was not Shakspere's company who gave the first known performance of The Comedy of Errors on Innocent's Day 1594-5 but the Gray's Inn players, and there is further evidence that this was a company that Bacon controlled (see Baconian theory article).

Despite the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley's testimony that "Lord Bacon was a poet", the main argument usually levelled against Bacon's candidacy is that what little poetry has been attributed to Bacon is abrupt and stilted unlike Shakespeare's.

Christopher Marlowe

A case for the gifted young playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe was made as early as 1895, but the creator of the most detailed theory of Marlowe's authorship was Calvin Hoffman, an American journalist whose book on the subject, The Murder of the Man who was Shakespeare, was published in 1955.

Marlowe created a stir with his literary output while attending Cambridge as a scholarship student. The young writer, whose translations of Ovid were ordered publicly burned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, was the first to translate Ovid's "Amores" into English. His translation and adaptation into blank verse of Lucan's "Pharsalia" is one of the earliest English verses written in unrhymed iambic pentameter and has influenced poets from Milton to Wordsworth. While still a university student, Marlowe's play "Doctor Faustus" was produced in London and shortly after he earned his M.A. and left Cambridge his play "Tamburlaine the Great" appeared on the London stage for 200 performances.

Marlowe was said to have been murdered in 1593 by a group of spies, including Ingram Frizer, a servant of Thomas Walsingham, Marlowe's patron. A theory has developed that Marlowe, who may well have been facing an impending death penalty for heresy, was saved by the faking of his death (with the aid of people in high places such as Thomas Walsingham and Marlowe's possible employer, Lord Burghley) and that he subsequently wrote the works credited to William Shakespeare.

Supporters of Marlovian theory also point to stylometric tests and studies of parallel phraseology, which seem to prove how "both" authors used similar vocabulary and a similar style..

Mainstream scholars find the argument for Marlowe's faked death unconvincing. They also find the writing of Marlowe and Shakespeare very different, and attribute any similarities to the popularity and influence of Marlowe's work on subsequent dramatists such as Shakespeare.

Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke

In 2007, The Master of Shakespeare by AWL Saunders proposed a ‘new’ candidate; Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke (1554-1628). Greville was an aristocrat, courtier, statesman, sailor, soldier, spymaster, literary patron, dramatist, historian and poet. He was educated at Shrewsbury School, where he met his lifelong friend Sir Philip Sidney, and Jesus College, Cambridge. On his return to England from traveling in Europe, he worked for Sir Francis Walsingham as an ‘intelligencer’ and again traveled extensively all over Europe. He became a great favorite of Elizabeth I of England, was Clerk to the Council of Wales and the Marches, Treasurer of the Navy and from 1614-1621 Chancellor of the Exchequer. After the death of his father in 1606, Fulke became Recorder of Stratford-upon-Avon and he held that post until his own death in 1628.

Greville was famous for his friendship with, and biography of Sir Philip Sidney, and his long tempestuous love affair with Philip's sister; Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke. Greville is also regarded as a generous patron of many of the leading writers of the day including Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, Samuel Daniel and three Poets Laureate; Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson and William Davenant. Greville was a member of all the leading literary circles of the day: The Areopagus, the Wilton House Circle, The Southampton Circle, the University Wits (associated) and The School of Night; his claim to have been the ‘Master of Shakespeare’ and the author of a ‘lost’ play called Antony and Cleopatra. When compared to the ‘Stratfordian’ profiles of William Shakespeare from the First Folio (1623), it is proposed that Greville matches each ‘profile’. Greville of Stratford had a house in Henley Street, he was the friend and patron of Ben Jonson. He had 'small Latin and less Greek' and had built a ‘monument without a tomb’ (in Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick). Greville lived in Warwick Castle on the River Avon and his family's crest was a swan. Greville's profiles are also a match with the Stratfordian ‘life’ of the author of the plays and poems. He was the close friend and protégé of the Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. He was the enemy of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote (Judge Shallow). He frequented Mistress Quyney's Stratford tavern (and the Bear and the Swan). He frequented the Mermaid Tavern. He frequented Wilton House, Essex House and Titchfield. He was the literary collaborator (and lover) of Mary Herbert. He was the close friend and literary collaborator of Samuel Daniel. He was the literary ‘godfather’ of William Davenant. He was the friend and literary collaborator of John Florio. He distributed propaganda for his friend Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. He wrote poetry in completion with Sidney, Spenser and Daniel (Sonnets). He was the friend and literary collaborator of Thomas Nashe. He was the friend (and spymaster) of Marlowe. He was the close friend (and cousin) of the Earl of Rutland. He was the close friend and collaborator of Francis Bacon. He had literary works stolen from Kings Place, Hackney and piratically published in 1609.

Other candidates

In a March 2007 lecture at the Smithsonian Institution, John Hudson proposed a new authorship candidate, the Jewish poet Aemelia (Emilia) Bassano Lanier (1569-1645), the first woman in England to publish a book of poetry Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611). Born in London, into a family of Marrano Jewish musicians who came from Venice and were of Moorish ancestry, Hudson posited that Lanier fit many aspects of the biographical profile described in the plays.. Lanier was previously identified by A.L Rowse in as the 'dark lady' of the Sonnets. She was also the longterm mistress of Lord Hunsdon, the man in charge of the English theater and the patron of the Lord Chamberlain's men. Hudson proposed that, as a hidden Jew, this explained the use of Hebrew and Jewish religious allegories in the plays. Also, unlike Mr Shakespeare, she died poor, depised, lacking honor and proud titles, as described in Sonnets numbers 37,29,81, 111 and 25.

In The Truth Will Out, published in 2005, authors Brenda James, a part-time lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, and Professor William Rubinstein, professor of history at Aberystwyth University, argue that Henry Neville, a contemporary Elizabethan English diplomat who was a distant relative of Shakespeare, is the true author. Neville's career placed him in the locations of many of the plays about the time they were written and that his life contains parallels with the events in the plays.

Other candidates proposed include Mary Sidney; William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby ; Sir Edward Dyer; or Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland (sometimes with his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Philip Sidney, and her aunt Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, as co-authors). At least fifty others have also been proposed, including the Irish rebel, William Nugent, Catholic martyr St Edmund Campion; and Queen Elizabeth (based on a supposed resemblance between a portrait of the Queen and the engraving of Shakespeare that appears in the First Folio). Malcolm X argued that Shakespeare was actually King James I.

Carlos Fuentes raises an intriguing possibility in his book Myself With Others: Selected Essays (1988) noting that, "Cervantes leaves open the pages of a book where the reader knows himself to be written and it is said that he dies on the same date, though not on the same day, as William Shakespeare. It is further stated that perhaps both were the same man." Francis Carr proposed that Francis Bacon was Shakespeare and the author of Don Quixote. A 2007 film called Miguel and William, written and directed by Inés París, explores the parallels and alleged collaboration between Cervantes and Shakespeare. This romantic comedy shows Shakespeare spending the years 1586 to 1592 in Madrid where he enjoys a great friendship with Cervantes.

In the 1960s, the most popular general theory was that Shakespeare's plays and poems were the work of a group rather than one individual. A group consisting of De Vere, Bacon, William Stanley, and others, has been put forward, for example. This theory has been often noted, most recently by renowned actor Derek Jacobi, who told the British press "I subscribe to the group theory. I don't think anybody could do it on their own. I think the leading light was probably de Vere, as I agree that an author writes about his own experiences, his own life and personalities.

See also

Further reading

Mainstream/Neutral/Questioning

  • Bertram Fields, Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare (2005)
  • H. N. Gibson, The Shakespeare Claimants (London, 1962). (An overview written from an orthodox perspective).
  • Greenwood, George The Shakespeare Problem Restated. (London: John Lane, 1908).
  • Shakespeare's Law and Latin. (London: Watts & Co., 1916).
  • Is There a Shakespeare Problem? (London: John Lane, 1916).
  • Shakespeare's Law. (London: Cecil Palmer, 1920).
  • E.A.J. Honigman: The Lost Years, 1985.
  • John Michell, Who Wrote Shakespeare? (London: Thames and Hudson, 1999). ISBN 0-500-28113-0. (An overview from a neutral perspective).
  • Irvin Leigh Matus, Shakspeare, in Fact (London: Continuum, 1999). ISBN 0-8264-0928-8. (Orthodox response to the Oxford theory).
  • Ian Wilson: Shakespeare - The Evidence, 1993.
  • Scott McCrea: "The Case for Shakespeare", (Westport CT: Praeger, 2005). ISBN 0-275-98527-X.
  • Bob Grumman: "Shakespeare & the Rigidniks", (Port Charlotte FL: The Runaway Spoon Press, 2006). ISBN 1-57141-072-4.

Oxfordian

  • Mark Anderson, "Shakespeare" By Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, The Man Who Was Shakespeare (2005).
  • Al Austin and Judy Woodruff, The Shakespeare Mystery, 1989 Frontline documentary. (Documentary film about the Oxford case.)
  • Fowler, William Plumer Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters. (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: 1986).
  • Hope, Warren and Kim Holston The Shakespeare Controversy: An Analysis of the Claimants to Authorship, and their Champions and Detractors. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Co., 1992).
  • J. Thomas Looney, Shakespeare Identified in Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford. (London: Cecil Palmer, 1920). (The first book to promote the Oxford theory.)
  • Malim, Richard (Ed.) Great Oxford: Essays on the Life and Work of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, 1550-16-4. (London: Parapress, 2004).
  • Charlton Ogburn Jr., The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Mask. (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1984). (Influential book that criticises orthodox scholarship and promotes the Oxford theory).
  • Diana Price, Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem (Westport, Ct: Greenwood, 2001). (Introduction to the evidentiary problems of the orthodox tradition).
  • Sobran, Joseph, Alias Shakespeare: Solving the Greatest Literary Mystery of All Time (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997).
  • Stritmatter, Roger The Marginalia of Edward de Vere's Geneva Bible: Providential Discovery, Literary Reasoning, and Historical Consequence. 2001 University of Massachusetts PhD dissertation.
  • Ward, B.M. The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) From Contemporary Documents (London: John Murray, 1928).
  • Whalen, Richard Shakespeare: Who Was He? The Oxford Challenge to the Bard of Avon. (Westport, Ct.: Praeger, 1994).

Baconian

Marlovian

  • John Edwin Bakeless, "The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe".
  • Samuel Blumenfeld, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question (2008).
  • William Urry, "Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury".
  • Mark Eccles, "Christopher Marlowe in London".
  • Wilbur Gleason Zeigler, "It Was Marlowe".
  • A.D. Wraight and Peter Farey, "Shakespeare, New Evidence".
  • A.D. Wraight, "the Story the Sonnets Tell".
  • David Rhys William, "Shakespeare, Thy Name is Marlowe".

Rutlandian

  • Karl Bleibtreu: Der Wahre Shakespeare, Munich 1907, G. Mueller
  • Lewis Frederick Bostelmann: Rutland, New York 1911, Rutland publishing company
  • Celestin Demblon: Lord Rutland est Shakespeare, Paris 1912, Charles Carrington
  • Pierre S. Porohovshikov (Porokhovshchikov): Shakespeare Unmasked, New York 1940, Savoy book publishers
  • Ilya Gililov: The Shakespeare Game: The Mystery of the Great Phoenix, New York : Algora Pub., c2003., ISBN 0-87586-182-2, 0875861814 (pbk.)
  • Brian Dutton: Let Shakspere Die: Long Live the Merry Madcap Lord Roger Manner, 5th Earl of Rutland the Real "Shakespeare", c.2007, RoseDog Books - most recent study of the Rutland theory.

Academic authorship debates

  • Jonathan Hope, The Authorship of Shakespeare's Plays: A Socio-Linguistic Study (Cambridge University Press, 1994). (Concerned with the 'academic authorship debate' surrounding Shakespeare's collaborations and apocrypha, not with the false identity theories).

References and Notes

External links

General Non-Stratfordian

  • The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, home of the "Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identify of William Shakespeare" -- a concise, definitive explanation of the reasons to doubt the case for the Stratford man. Doubters can read, and sign, the Declaration online.
  • The Shakespeare Authorship Trust, survey of all the authorship candidates, a site patronised by the actor Mark Rylance and Dr William Leahy of Brunel University, UK
  • Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable, an examination of the authorship debate, overview of the major and minor candidates for authorship of the canon, literary collaboration and the group theory, bibliography and forum.

Mainstream

Oxfordian

Baconian

  • N. Cockburn, The Bacon–Shakespeare Question, private publication 1998 (Contents) A barrister's presentation of the evidence.
  • http://www.baconsocietyinc.org - the first official champions of the Baconian cause. Since 1886 the Francis Bacon Society has engaged with the authorship question and publishes the journal Baconiana .

Marlovian

Other candidates

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