Posted by: Tony Carson | 9 September, 2007

Questioning Shakespeare’s authorship, the ultimate compliment

Did William Shakespeare write the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare? Yes, he did but perhaps with an asterisk.

But many influential people within the serious arts community don’t think so or, at least, aren’t sure. Their central argument against his authorship is that the known William Shakespeare was a commoner who never left England so how could he possibly have understood the arcane practices of the English hoi paloi, never mind the intricate folkways and mores of Italy? Impossible, they say or improbable.

There have been a spate of books in recent years delving into this mystery and offering probable alternatives, everyone from the Earl of Oxford to Christopher Marlowe to nobleman Edward de Vere and Francis Bacon.

But many suggest, as does this BBC article Actors question Bard’s authorship that no one person could possibly have written the works of Shakespeare, that would have been literally and literarily superhuman; Shakespeare must have been a composite.

Almost 300 people have signed a “declaration of reasonable doubt”, which they hope will prompt further research into the issue. The group has given a copy to Dr William Leahy, head of English at London’s Brunel University and convenor of the first MA in Shakespeare authorship studies, to be launched later this month. He will champion the cause to disclose the truth: “It’s a legitimate question, it has a mystery at its centre and intellectual discussion will bring us closer to that centre. That’s not to say we will answer anything, that’s not the point. It is, of course, to question.”

Humanism has at its core the believe that man is capable of all things. To many, Shakespeare was that core, his brilliance was a beacon to all by shining a spotlight on human potential. We are all enriched by the genius of a few.

It will be a black day if ever it is authoritatively announced that Shakespeare was a sham, a chimera, that the real author was the London Eight who convened regularly in the Ox and Bull to down ale and swap imaginings while a scribe took careful notes. We will all be diminished.

So think of this renewal of the controversy as just another example of the Tall Poppy Syndrome. The effete never liked Homer and occasionally take him on as a fraud. Really, it’s the ultimate compliment.


  1. Comments on this post:

    Dr. Dawg:

    Aw, good grief, not this again. Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays because he was just an ignorant commoner. Obviously only the refined sensibilities of members of the ruling class could be capable of such artistry and learning.


    There is simply a mountain of literature about Shakespeare’s learning, his sources, and his activities. He is mentioned by his literary contemporaries, favourably by Ben Jonson, unfavourably by envious Robert Green. I can’t imagined what these 300 doubters are on about, but as we all know, revisionist history of the shock-value variety is popular these days.

    Holly Stick:

    The CBC report mentions English professors but no historians. Are there any historians who argue Shakespeare wasn’t really Shakespeare? (Yeah, I studied history, and I’m a little leary of English professors who write history.)

    Eugene Plawiuk:

    It was Bacon who Donne It.


    He only could have done it if he was, like Leonardo da Vinci, a descendant of Jesus with a whole secret society behind him.

    Seriously though, this is why there’s something to be said for a text like Beowulf where we have no idea of the author.

    Eugene Plawiuk:

    Snorri Sigurdson wrote it.


    The question is not whether a commoner could have written the plays and sonnets attributed to William Shakespeare. Of course, either a commoner or an aristocrat COULD have written them. The question is who DID write the works? In this case the evidence points to de Vere.

    Although it is circumstantial, his biography most closely matches themes from the plays and sonnets. He was widely known as a poet and playwright and was cited as the best for comedy yet no plays exist in his name. The case for Oxford is clearly spelled out in books by Anderson, Ogburn, and Sobran and those interested in evidence should consult them.

  2. Isn’t it entirely possible that there is an explanation for all of this? I agree….it is human to wan’t and need a ‘hero’ or inspiration but there also has to be a reason for the ages of controversy surrounding our favourite bard. I for one want to believe that he was indeed a man…a very successfully talented and qenius man that fortunatly had means of maintaining some form of secrecy—but, I am fascinated by all of the other options that arise. Was it Bacon/Oxford….well that would make for a wonderfull thesis, novel, movie…and it has…..! I think that the ‘Will’ we know and love is so dear to us because he achieved greatnes or atleast appears to have. It was his book that the pioneers took with them on the oregon trail along with their bible, it was his book that was carried accrost oceans as a prized possession and it is his book/works that are still taught to AP, college, and high school students today. HE ACHIEVED WHAT WE ALL WANT:IMORTALITY! This is so true—we hold him dear to our hearts like a golden beacon…and to some he is. Shakespeare is the reachable, history (or atleast somewhat historically) -proved guy that we all long to be like….our ‘hero’. It’s human nature to want to and strive to be more. Literature, historical accounts, lyrics, poetry, story and myth are the most dear and ‘human’ things that we have on this earth….things that we share with no other species. We treasure these ideals and that bard that created bard of or fundementals or building blocks in that area is a great beacon, a Zues, Oden–something/or/ someone that reigns supreme over almost all over literary works. Myself…if I was told that I could spend the rest of my life reading, studying, and writing, I wold be the happiest person alive….my appreciation for what this ‘bard’ epitomizes is MASSIVE….but I am also, ALWAYS open to a compermise. Life is too short not explore and question. That’s why we are the way we are.

    I see this becoming a controvery very soon– bigger than it allready is. I read “The Da Vinci Code” and within weeks it was splattering grocery store covers and creating history channel specials…..with Jennifer Lee Carrell’s amazing new book, there will probobly be a lot of that same situation. “Interred With Their Bones” is one of the best contemporary books I have ever read but I began reading it with open eyes not an open heart. To me, MY ‘Will’ will always remain the same….his figure and society’s image might change but singularly, to me—he is something personal. The man that wrote words that changed the world yet captured everything uniquely human will always have a deep meaning, personally, to me.

    THIS “Will” can be studied, heck–I’d love to be involved. History and Literature–my forte~ But there will always be a strict emotion in my heart—a literary genius liek Shakespeare had to exist…for me, for the hope of my generation, for the hopes of what I might someday become—-heck, If he could do it, maybe I could too.

    High School Senior
    Washington State

  3. Kelsi-Lyn,
    Maybe you can become the new Shakespeare. I agree, there is something truly great in the potential that he presents.
    Thank you for your comments

  4. Thank you for the encouragement—
    I just find this whole situation facinating….I’d love to know anyone’s thoughts…but it is important to always stay true to ‘me’…’yourself’…..

  5. ooh…and I am sorry about the grammar mistakes~
    I guess that’s what happens when I get excited about a subject and don’t type it into ‘word’ with ‘spell-check’ first.

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