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Who Wrote Shakespeare?

The Authorship Question

Shakespeare portrait


Some people believe that William Shakespeare of Stratford is not the man responsible for writing the works generally attributed to him. Various people have been suggested as the true creative genius hiding behind the name of ‘Shakespeare’. They say that a man from such a poor background and without a university education could never have demonstrated such wide knowledge, nor know so much about court life.

The Contenders

There are many names put forward as the 'real' author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. Leading the pack are Francis Bacon, William Stanley 6th Earl of Derby, playwright Christopher Marlowe and Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford. I will deal only with the two most popular candidates.

Earl of Oxford

The current favourite contender for the title of being the real Shakespeare is Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford. His supporters have their own web site. Supporters of the man called William Shakespeare (whom the doubters insist on calling the 'Stratfordian') have a site that painstakingly demolishes the Oxford claims one by one.

I don't find the Oxfordian arguments persuasive. They depend on so many people being perjurers and liars, and have to explain away so many awkward facts. For instance, Oxford is known to have died in 1604, but some of the greatest 'Shakespeare' work appeared after this date. It is thought that The Tempest was based in part on a the story of a ship-wreck that took place in 1609, but Oxfordians have 'explanations'.

Christopher Marlowe

Other people believe that the plays were written by Christopher Marlowe. He was a playwright the same age as Shakespeare, responsible for such plays as Dr. Faustus and The Jew of Malta. He was certainly a great influence on Shakespeare in his early career. He was also a government agent, an atheist, and a homosexual. He was killed in a barroom brawl in 1593. There are certainly suspicious circumstances surrounding his death, but I find it implausible that, as some suggest, he actually slipped abroad, and carried on writing as Shakespeare for another nearly twenty years.

The Case for the Stratfordian

It is untrue to say that almost nothing is known about the man from Stratford, and I like the man that emerges from what I have read. Not a saint, but the picture I have is of a sociable, kind man with the sharpest of wits. Also a successful business man. The man who wrote the plays knew about human beings, and managed to portray them with reality and love; even many of his villains evoke our sympathy.

The doubters say that the man who wrote those works would have made sure that his daughters were literate, and there is some evidence that they were not. The problem is that we judge the attitudes of a Tudor man by the standards of today. The daughters of gentlemen, as opposed to those of the nobility, were not generally educated then.

I find the argument amusing that only a nobleman could have depicted court life so accurately. Furthermore Shakespeare's group of players performed at court regularly, and even though they were treated as servants, they would observe and also be told about life in court by the servants with whom they ate and drank. The treatment of the players in Hamlet is probably an accurate picture of the relationship.

The Movie "Anonymous"

The argument has been raging for years but is re-emerging now that the movie Anonymous is about to appear (October 2011). Sir Derek Jacobi, a De Vere advocate appears in the movie. He is a great actor as is Mark Rylance who also supports the De Vere claim, but they are in a minority among the acting profession in their belief. A leading De Vere supporter Elizabeth Imlay on BBC's Breakfast programme said that the film's plot is so ludicrous that it will discredit the De Vere cause. It wouldn't take much as their conspiracy theory is fairly ludicrous already.  Oops I promised myself I'd try to be even handed here, but really! If their story were true some evidence of the huge conspiracy would have emerged by now. And the only reason they have concocted this story is because they cannot believe that the son of a glovemaker from the English midlands could be a genius. As an English midlander, though no genius, I resent that!



Brief Biography
  An outline of the life of Shakespeare
Shakespeare Family Tree
  Shakespeare was part of a large family in Stratford and fathered three children. Click here to see his family tree.
Who wrote Shakespeare?
  I have no problem reconciling the image of the man we know as Will Shakespeare, and the works that bear his name, but some people do, and the authorship debate continues. The movie "Anonymous" has opened up the argument to a wider audience.
Shakespeare's Plays
  A list of all the plays, including the doubtful ones, in probable order of first performance.
The Globe Playhouse
  Drawings and information about the playhouse where Shakespeare's plays were produced in his lifetime, and information and pictures of the new reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe on London's Bankside


Shakespeare Oxford Society
  Site dedicated to proving that Shakepeare's works were actually written by Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford. If you read their reasons then dip into the next site where their so called 'facts' are demolished.
The Shakespeare Authorship Page
  The voice of reason
MIT Shakespeare Site
  A collection of the play texts plus FAQ, discussion area and more
The Shakespeare Site
  Now under new management. Lots of information, but most pages incomplete, encouraging the reader to pay for a subscription to get all the facts.
Shakespeare's Birthplace Site
  Stratford-upon-Avon's own site on the Bard
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