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Shakespeare Authorship Controversy

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Shakespeare Authorship Controversy

Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Could William Shakespeare, the country bumpkin from Stratford-upon-Avon, really be the man behind the World’s greatest ever literary texts?

400 years after his death, the Shakespeare authorship controversy continues. Many scholars simply can’t believe that William Shakespeare could have had the necessary education or life experiences to have written such complex texts – he was, after all, just the son of a glove maker in a rural town!

Perhaps at the heart of the Shakespeare authorship controversy is a more philosophical debate: can you be born a genius? If you subscribe to the idea that genius is acquired, then believing that this little man from Stratford could acquire the necessary understanding of the classics, law, philosophy and dramaturgy from a brief stint at grammar school is a stretch.

Shakespeare Was Not Clever Enough!

Before we begin this attack on Shakespeare, we should clearly state at the outset that there is no evidence to support these claims – in fact, the Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theories are largely based on “lack of evidence”.

  • Shakespeare was not intelligent enough: The plays contain a deep knowledge of the classics, yet Shakespeare did not have a university education. Although he would have been introduced to the classics at grammar school, there is no official record of him attending.
  • Where are his books?: If Shakespeare did amass knowledge independently, he would have had a large collection of books. Where are they? Where did they go? They certainly were not itemized in his will.

Whilst the above may be a convincing argument, it is based on lack of evidence: records of pupils at Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School have not survived or were not kept and the inventory part of Shakespeare’s will has been lost.

Enter Edward de Vere

It was not until 1920 that it was suggested that Edward de Vere was the real genius behind Shakespeare’s plays and poems. This art-loving Earl carried favour in the Royal Court, and so may have needed to use a pseudonym when writing these politically charged plays. It was also deemed socially unacceptable for noble man to be involved with the lowly world of theater.

The case for de Vere is largely circumstantial, but there are many parallels to be drawn:

  • 14 of Shakespeare’s plays are set in Italy – the country De Vere travelled in 1575.
  • The early poems are dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, who was considering marrying De Vere’s daughter.
  • When De Vere stopped writing under his own name, Shakespeare’s texts soon appeared in print.
  • Shakespeare was heavily influenced by Arthur Golding’s translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses – and Golding lived with De Vere for a while.

In The De Vere Code, Jonathan Bond reveals ciphers at work in the mysterious dedication that prefaces Shakespeare’s sonnets.

In an interview with this website, Bond said, “I suggest that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the sonnets – and the dedication at the beginning of the sonnets was a puzzle created for the recipient of the collection of poems. The ciphers fit the pattern of wordplay that was widely in evidence amongst writers during the Elizabethan era: they are simple in construction, and all of immediate significance to the recipient … My contention is that Edward de Vere was simply entertaining the recipient, while avoiding explicitly naming himself in order to prevent possible embarrassment over the intensely personal nature of the poems.”

Marlowe and Bacon

Edward de Vere is perhaps the most well-known, but not the only candidate in the Shakespeare authorship controversy.

Two of the other leading candidates are Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon – both have strong, dedicated followers.

  • Christopher Marlowe: When Shakespeare started writing his plays, Marlowe was killed in a brawl in a tavern. Up until that point, Marlowe was regarded as England’s best playwright. The theory is that Marlowe was a spy for the government, and his death was choreographed for political reasons. Marlowe would then have required a pseudonym to continue writing and developing his craft.
  • Sir Francis Bacon: Cryptic ciphers were hugely popular at this time and supporters of Bacon have found many ciphers in Shakespeare’s texts concealing the identity of Bacon as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays and poems.
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