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William Shakespeare and the Authorship Debate

Angela is an avid reader who studied English Literature in college. She has a passion for the written word and loves literature.

This is what we often think of when we think of William Shakespeare, but is this man really the author of all those plays and sonnets?

This is what we often think of when we think of William Shakespeare, but is this man really the author of all those plays and sonnets?

The Theories

William Shakespeare is one of the most famous names of all time due to his tremendous success as a playwright and poet. His success seems so incredible that many skeptics question the authorship of his sonnets and plays. Although most believe he was a legendary playwright and actor from Stratford-upon-Avon, christened William Shakespeare, others theorize that Shakespeare is a pseudonym for a group of playwrights.

Many theories name various men, such as Edward Bacon or Christopher Marlowe, as the real William Shakespeare. One of the more common beliefs is that the real author of the Shakespearean works is Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. He is believed to have used "William Shakespeare" as a pseudonym to mask his true identity. There is a lack of evidence for Shakespeare, the playwright, the credentials of the Earl of Oxford, and the similarities between the Shakespearean characters and Edward de Vere's life.

Shakespeare Conspiracy

There is little evidence that the playwright William Shakespeare and the actor William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon are one-in-the-same. Not only are there no existing plays or poems written in his handwriting, but many of the plays also did not list William Shakespeare on the original transcript as the author. It wasn't until 1598 that his plays hinted at his participation in them. During Shakespeare's lifetime, two of his most famous plays, King Lear and Hamlet, had no written acknowledgment that the actor William Shakespeare was the author.

According to research published by Charlton Ogburn, historical knowledge of William Shakespeare suggests that he did not write plays and sonnets traditionally credited to him. Ogburn and many of his colleagues believe that due to his Stratford upbringing, William Shakespeare was not culturally diversified enough to have written on such a broad range of subjects. Shakespeare was a countryman and did not travel very much. His knowledge of other countries and their topography would have been minimal; however, the author who wrote the plays clearly knew many different places. For instance, in the Merchant of Venice, the playwright displays a detailed knowledge of Italy that would suggest the writer had traveled there.

Ogburn also believes that the person who wrote the plays and sonnets was much more educated than the historical Shakespeare. Looking at Hamlet and Richard III alone, the author had a vocabulary of at least twenty thousand words. These two plays alone included names of two hundred plants and one hundred musical items. Only an educated person would have such vast knowledge of these things. Interestingly enough, Edward de Vere was known to be well educated and traveled.

Edward de Vere: Is this the true Shakespeare?

Edward de Vere: Is this the true Shakespeare?

Edward De Vere

Edward was born in 1550, which places him at the right time to have authored the Shakespearean plays and sonnets. He was also a well-known man of noble descent and an infamous ladies' man. Some suggest he may have been a secret lover of Queen Elizabeth. Even if he was not intimate with her, he did serve the monarchy closely after the Norman Invasion. Edward's prominent standing would have given him the motive to hide his identity if he did write a public play. One reason is that a play written by someone of his status would be censored much more extensively than if a commoner wrote it.

There is also evidence that Oxford was a writer of sorts. In his youth, he was recognized for his poetry writing. He is believed to have continued to write many poems as an adult. None of them written in the Latin language survived, but there are several which were written in English that did survive. Other Oxford family members are also well known for their written contributions. His uncles, Earl of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyatt, created the English sonnet form that later became known as the Shakespearean sonnet. The Earl of Surry also introduced blank verse.

Not only was Oxford well educated, but he also had vast worldly knowledge. He was involved with the theaters of that time, which connected him to the plays and their playwrights. His first troupe was inherited from his father. Later, he had two more companies of his own and leased Blackfriar's Theatre. Oxford also traveled a lot. Many of the places Oxford traveled were used as settings in Shakespeare's plays. It is not believed that Shakespeare Stratford-upon-Avon ever traveled to any of these places.

Edward De Vere had many reasons that he would not have wanted his name mentioned on the plays.

Edward De Vere had many reasons that he would not have wanted his name mentioned on the plays.

Oxfordian Theory

De Vere's credentials seem enough to offer the possibility that he used the pseudonym William Shakespeare. The way his life parallels the plays provides further support. Some believe that Hamlet was a written autobiography of Oxford's life. In his early life, his father died, and his mother remarried soon after that, just as Hamlet's mother had. Oxford's personality, interests, and accomplishments were similar to Hamlet's. Both were university educated, enjoyed athletics, and wrote poetry. Even Oxford's close friend had a similar name to Hamlet's friend Horatio. Oxford's friend's name was Horace Vere, and some documents list his name as Horatio.

Edward de Vere's marriage may have been reflected in All's Well That Ends Well. Oxford's wife gave birth one calendar year after he last remembered lying with his wife. He was in Italy when she conceived. It is rumored that just as the play goes, Oxford was convinced that he had laid with her when he was drunk, thinking she was another woman. Unfortunately for his wife and his possible child, the reconciliation was not as quick as that of Bertram, and Helena's in All's Well That End's Well.

Speculation on who the actual author of Shakespearean works will continue to rage for centuries to come. Does it matter if the identity of the playwright is ever indeed discovered? It was best said by the mysterious playwright himself, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet."

Works Cited

  • Bethell, Tom. “The Case for Oxford.” October 1991
  • Kathman, David and Tom Reedy. "How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts." 29 June 2008.
  • "Some Ado About Who Was, or Was Not, Shakespeare." The Shakespeare Mystery. 1987. Frontline. September 1987.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz

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bastian conrad on February 28, 2017:

to those who wish to reflect in-depth on the mystery of Shakespeare’s identity

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on July 16, 2010:

That's a very interesting perspective? I had not seen that portion of the Oxfordian debate as part of the debate. I will be honest, I am one hundred percent believing in Shakespeare as the author of his own works. Still it is a very interesting debate, which is why I even wrote it up. I hope we always believe that it is Shakespeare. From my understanding if it was de Vere, he did not want people to know it was him, due to his status. Being a playwright was not noble work, and was frowned on. But he was a lover of the art, and enjoyed it to a fault. I will say its plausible he was the true author, but I still personally believe it was William Shakespeare. Maybe ignorantly out of traditions sake, kind of a romanticist, but I don't know if we will ever know, since as you pointed out, it's not a science. It's art.

Ricardo Mena on July 15, 2010:

This authorship problem needs time, as all revolutions in human culture, and patience.

Since the nineteenth century, and after a massive and global hunting at Stratford, researchers had got nothing, for in that person and place there is nothing you can get as a researcher.

Now, after 1920 another person and place have been pointed by some critics, now called Oxfordians.

If you read the evidences on the earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, his life, dramas and the Sonnets (addressed to another earl, persuading him to marry "for love of me", Shakespere from Stratford must be deleted from the authorhip question.

But there is a problem here: we are not talking physics, but art, and in art there is no "evidences" but "opinions" and feelings. Edward de Vere needs time to settle as a tradition.

Consider this nice clue in Shake-speare's drama. In "As you like it", Act V, Escene I. In here, the clown Touchstone asks a certain William if he is from the forest, if he is rich and if he is wise, and if he wants to marry a noblewoman. Then, are questions answered in the affirmative, the clown asks if he is learnt. The dialogue have all the qualities of being an interrogatory between a lawyer and a thief; in this case, a literary thief...

Touchstone. Art rich?

William. Faith, sir, so so.

Touchstone. 'So so' is good, very good, very excellent good; and yet it is not; it is but so so. Art thou wise?

William. Ay, sir, I have a pretty wit.

Touchstone. Why, thou say'st well. I do now remember a saying: 'The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.' The heathen philosopher, when he had a desire to eat a grape, would open his lips when he put it into his mouth; meaning

thereby that grapes were made to eat and lips to open. You do love this maid?

William. I do, sir.

Touchstone. Give me your hand. Art thou learned?

William. No, sir.

Touchstone. Then learn this of me: to have is to have [i.e. in italian: di avere é di avere]; for it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being pour'd out of cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other; for all your writers do consent that ipse is he [i.e. the author of the dramas]; now, you are not ipse, for I am he.

William. Which he, sir? [the rustic stratfordian is being laugh at in here]

Touchstone. He, sir, that must marry this woman. Therefore, you clown, abandon- which is in the vulgar leave- the society- which in the boorish is company- of this female- which in the common is woman- which together is: abandon the society of this female; or, clown, thou perishest; or, to thy better understanding, diest; or, to wit, I kill thee, make thee away, translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage. I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado, or in steel; I will bandy with thee in faction; will o'er-run thee with policy; I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways; therefore tremble and depart. [here, Edward de Vere is outraged at the thief's hypocresy, as you can see]

Audrey. Do, good William.

William. God rest you merry, sir. [Exit]

Now, try to understand this dialogue from another perspective outside of de Vere's life.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on June 24, 2010:

I do wonder though, if he wrote all of his stuff. Back then they would not make money for being a playwright directly, nor would they gain status, in fact, the playwright's names were not always written on the manuscript at all. I know there are several that they do question the authorship of more than others, but I do notice a similarity in wit and writing in all, so I believe they were all written at least in part by William Shakespeare himself.

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on June 24, 2010:

Oh I agree, Angela I'm sure he wrote his own stuff, I found this theory interesting as well.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on June 24, 2010:

Despite my claim, I actually believe he really wrote his own stuff. I just found this interesting and chose to investigate it further.

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on June 23, 2010:

Very interesting, really William Shakespeare was actually Edward De Vere. There are similarities in the photos you have placed here, fascinating stuff.

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