Doubt of Shakespeare’s Authorship of His PlaysOver the years, various persons have expressed doubt as to theauthorship of William Shakespeare. These doubts are as old as his plays. American author, Henry James once said, “I am haunted by the conviction that thedivine William is the biggest and the most successful fraud ever practiced on apatient world. (Hoffman 27) On the other hand, author Calvin Hoffman wasconvinced that Shakespeare was “the author of the most magnificent Englishdramatic prose and poetry ever written.
(Hoffman 27) But, he reiterated thisbelief nineteen years later, stating, “They are magnificent! Only, WilliamShakespeare of Stratford-on- Avon never wrote the plays and poems. ” (Hoffman 27)Crime, guilt, fraud, exile, hate, deceit, and murder are all woven intothis shroud of authorship that hides the identity of the world’s most renownedwriter. Cranks have proposed over fifty candidates for authorship, from QueenElizabeth to the Jesiuts. Although many doubt that William Shakespeare ever wrote the worksattributed to him, some still resort to pro-Shakespearean arguments. JohnDrinkwater, author and believer, felt that the flowers, banks, brooks, pastures,and woodlands of Shakespeare’s boyhood home, Stratford, were all transfigured inhis plays by his wonderful verse, but yet they still remained the scenes towhich he was bred.
Drinkwater believed too, that not only in Shakespeare’shumble folk, shepherds, gardeners, and serving men, but also in his princes andkings, he reflected the humanity with which he was familiar in Stratford. Theknowledge and wisdom he acquired directly from his own enviroment was quite trueto life. Drinkwater also said that mere book- knowledge in Shakespeare’s workswas usually incorrect because he used knowledge outside the range of his ownexperiences, with a “grand audacity. “It is true that William Shakespeare attended grammar school in Stratford,and tha he acquired some competence in Latin and gained a limited knowledge ofEnglish history. There was a period of time in his life referred to as his”dark years,” and this period of time may have been subjected to influencesmaking for high culture.
Records say too, that Shakespeare left Stratford in 1585 and went on thestage in 1590. During this time he could have attended Cambridge or worked in alawyer’s office, apparently remaining about one year with the court. This leftone year in which he might have traveled to France and Italy, which wouldaccount for certain knowledge revealed in his works. Perhaps Shakespeare’splays are too scholarly to have been written by a man without a degree, but that,some believe can be explained by the fact that the plays looked learned topeople of later generations who did not use classical allusion as a part oftheir common speech. Others believe that the depth of learning in the playsseems impossible for a man of Shakespeare’s position, but when the overwhelmingpower of the plays is considered, the learning in them seems trivial.
Little isknown of Shakespeare today. But, this lack of information about Shakespeare’slife can be attributed to the fact that his era was not one of biography, casualletter writing , or journalism. What was said about Shakespeare was unwritten. Stratfordians, or those who believe that Shakespeare did indeed writethe works attributed to him, began with a preconceived idea that he wrote theplays, and then they tried to make facts and circumstances fit their case, somesay . To account for innumeralbe instances where Shakespeare exhibited suchwide knowledge, Stratfordians say that Shakespeare pumped anyone he could forinformation. However, others feel that pumping friends for local color couldhelp with broad knowledge, but really could not enable him to convey theatmosphere of a country or to add small, rather insignificant details whichcould only come from the pen of a writer who had actually experienced them.
Many feel that since Shakespeare’s greatness was not widely proclaimedand because none of his original manuscripts survived, is evidence that thelatter was destroyed to conceal the author’s identity. And too, once a play wasprinted, the manuscript possessed no value, so the paper, which was costly andneeded for practical purposes was used, leaving no single manuscript inShakespeare’s handwriting. Anti-Shakespeare arguments begin with the point that no public orprivate mention of Shakespeare as a man, poet, or dramatist was made at hisdeath. In Elizabethean convention too, the elegiac poem was a true work ofrespect, yet there was none found for William Shakespeare.
How could he then bethe foremost figure in English literature? From all indications found, during1585 to 1593, Shakespeare’s most creative years, he was never referred to byanyone, personally or professionally. From birth to death, no evidence, outsideof his name appearing in the title pages of the nine First Quartos, has beenfound to attest that Shakespeare was a writer or poet. Many details in hisplays could have been acquired only by personal experiences, yet no Shakespearewas mentioned in the cast of any play during his lifetime. It is purespeculation that some say that he was an actor.
Another argument is that only nobles or those associated with nobilitycould have written such noble thoughts and described the aristocratic character. How could somone of Shakespeare’s status write Hamlet? Therefore, some say thatthe world in which Shakespeare evidently was not at home, must have been theworld to which he belonged. In addition, familiarity with languages, literature, law, politics,history, geography, and court life found in Shakespeare’s writings, are allinconceivable for a commoner. Shakespeare never attended a University and wasnot highly cultured. Yet, whoever wrote the plays must have been highlycultured. Some think he may not have been able to even write.
Also, it wasdoubtful if his wife and children could write. His own barely legible signature,attached only to his will and some business deals, with sixteen variations ofhandwriting ,was odd for a literary genius. Self-education was impossible sincehe probably owned no books. In his will, no mention of any books was made, andbooks were valuable enough to be mentioned.
Before death, Shakespeare composed his own epitaph:Good friend for Jesus sake forbeareTo digg the dust encloased heare;Blest be the man that spares these stonesAnd curste be he who moves my bones. (Sykes 60)Why would a poet and playwright who wrote so brilliantly have no highersentiments for his own epitaph?Now, just who could have written the works attributed to WilliamShakespeare? That Christopher Marlowe was really Shakespeare has been given muchcredence among many literary people. Marlowe was educated and awardedscholarships. This proves he was able to produce great works. Another theory came from Calvin Hoffman, who long ago said that on May29,1593, Marlowe, previously arrested for atheism, was charged with treason. His homosexual friend, Thomas Walsingham, foresaw doom for his lover and made aplan.
Marlowe was to be the victim of a fake murder, allowing charges againsthim to vanish with his death. The murder of a sailor, supposedly Marlowe, wasarranged and committed, forcing Marlowe to pack up and leave the country. Acoroner was contacted and Marlowe was officially pronounced dead. Possibly Marlowe went to Italy after escaping to France.
That mightaccount for knowledge of Italy in certain plays. Then too, he is thought tohave later returned to England, in disguise, to work in seclusion atWalsingham’s estate. There, he could have walked the thousand acres of woodswhere so many allusions to nature could have come to him. Thus, was it acoincidence that Marlowe in his thirteenth year, May, 1593, died, andShakespeare, also in his thirteeth year, came forth as a writer, four monthslater, in September, 1593?Marlowe left a poem, it is said, called “Venus and Adonis,” registeredanonymously. Four months after the end of Marlowe, this poem appeared with thename William Shakespeare.
To make Shakespeare inconspicuous, the poem was alogical candidate for the first publication, since Marlowe’s reputation was thatof a dramatist, not a poet. Walsingham probably received manuscripts fromMarlowe, but Marlow’s handwriting was known to his publishers who owned hisprevious material, so a trusted Marlowe’s experiences even appear in the plays. There is a duel in Romeo and Juliet and in The Jew of Malta, he even describedhis fate, where the character Machevel is Marlowe saying:Albert the world think Macheval is dead,Yet was his soul but flown beyond the AlpsAnd now the Guize is dead, us come from FranceTo view this land (Britian) and frolic with friends. To some, perhaps my name is odius,But such as love me guard me from their tongues,And let them know that I am Macheval. (Hoffman 142)Calvin Hoffman, long ago, found similarities between Marlowe and Shakespeare.
He found a picture of both, enlarged them, and saw identical details in theirfaces. Other critics feel there are similarites in style and tone. Also,Marlowe could not have influenced Shakespeare if he died before Shakespearebegan to write. There is no evidence the two ever met or spoke.
Lastly, in an attempt to prove Marlowe’s authorship, Calvin Hoffman, along-time critic, received permission to open the tomb of Marlowe’s friend,Thomas Walsingham. There he hoped to find manuscripts. However, all he foundwas sand. There was no coffin and no papers. On the other hand, Professor J. M.
Massi says that the entire Marlowetheory is ridiculous. To say that because Shakespeare came from a lowereconomic class, therefore he could not have written the works, says that onlythe wealthy and advantaged can be a success. Shakespeare took part in share-holding in theatical companies. He was a shrewd businessman, and was granted,through his father, a coat of arms and status. Also, if Shakespeare waseducated typically of his time, he was fluent in Latin and had some Greek andhad read the classical authors, which is impressive. Massi says too, that inShakespeare’s time, authors trained authors so a work had many authors, and theprinter put one name on the cover of the play.
Lastly, Massi says that peoplesay there aren’t many records about Shakespeare, but he feels that consideringthe few they kept then, we have enough. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, another candidate for authorship,was born April 23, 1550, Shakespeare’s birthday. He was attached to letters andthe theater. He also had an intimate relationship with Queen Elizabeth.
Edwardde Vere studied law, knew the people of court, war, and Italy. He hadappropriate knowledge to write the plays. He may have used the pseudonymShakespeare because in tournaments he carried a long spear, or because his coatof arms was a lion shaking a spear. He may also have been ashamed of writing,being the Earl of Oxford, and therefore assumed a pseudonym as protectionagainst losing status.
Edward de Vere was a royal ward where he had theopportunity to observe and participate in court life, while Shakespeare was inlittle Stratford, isolated from an intellectual society, at the time he wassupposed to be writing. Edward de Vere traveled widely in Europe, too. And, Shakespeare’s playsmust have been written by a much-traveled man. If Shakespeare ever traveledoutside of England, or even within England, further then London, nothing is knowof it. There is further support for Edward de Vere. Writers often put theirthoughts, friendships, love affairs and other personal experiences into theirworks.
Matching episodes from de Vere’s life with the plays, revealed hismother to be similar to Hamlet’s mother, a father-in law like Polonius, a fairlady- the Queen, a dark lady-his mistress, Ann Vavasor, and a boy, de Vere’sbastard son. Some even believe de Vere paid Shakespeare hush money to use his name. In conclusion, of the deVere theory, is the point that de Vere’s death coincidedwith Shakespeare’s retirement to Stratford. The mouthpiece was withdrawn whenthe voice was gone. Again Professor Massai believes that the evidence for deVere is highly creative, but he would be the best choice. But still, he says ,that if there was a cover-up going on, many people would know the truth, andthey certainly all would not have kept the secret going to their graves.
A third contender for the writer of Shakespeare’s works is Francis Bacon. Those who support him are Baconians. Bacon was chosen because of hisintellectual ability. Also, parallels exist in both Bacon’s and Shakespeare’sworks, suggesting their identities are one. Bacon too, invented a cipher andsome believe it was to conceal himself.
A Sir Toby Matthew once wrote to Baconand said, “The most prodigious wit that ever I knew. . . is of Your Lordship’sname, though he be known by another. ” (Encyclopedia Britannica) People who sayBacon did not write Shakespeare’s works assert that he was not a great poet, sohe could not have been a great dramatist. They say he was a cold man, stately,and grave.
Whoever wrote Shakespeare’s works was “sparkling” and “extravagant. “Bacon’s works did not sympathize with suffering, while Shakespeare’s did. Baconand Shakespeare viewed the world differently. Finally, some disbelievers support another candidate, William Stanley,the 6th Earl of Derby, who was interested in drama, and became a patron of acompany of actors. Several poems showed signs of early and immature Shakespeare,but he was a boy at that time.
One was signed in Derby’s handwriting, and threesigned “William Shakespeare. ” His motive- like de Vere’swould have been to avoidassociation of his family name with the lower social order of the stage. Was Shakespeare hinting at his name through word play? His verses, suchas “. .
. every word doth almost tell my name. . . ” seem to be an attempt to revealhis name.
Another line says, “Whats in a name?” Sonnet III says, “Hence comesit that my name receives a brand,” and ” my name be buried where my body is. . . .
“In conclusion, curiosity has indeed been aroused for many , many years. Hundreds of theories and shreds of proof have been gathered, but the world willalways wonder and waver between doubt and belief in William Shakespeare. So,the question still remains, “Was Shakespeare really Shakespeare?”