Most people know that I’m very much obsessed with Shakespeare. I studied his work quite immensely in undergraduate and graduate school, and I still conduct research for my own personal endeavors. I’m by no means an expert, while some disagree (aw, shucks). But I can work my way out of paper bag when it comes to Shakespeare.
I think one of my biggest pet peeves is the authorship debate. I’m open-minded to different theories as long as they can support their case with good research. However, speaking out to question Shakespeare’s authorship without anything to support your claims infuriates me. But at the same time, there is nothing better than debunking claims…
…especially when it comes to the Oxfordian theory.
For those of you who don’t know, the Oxfordian theory is the theory that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford actually authored Shakespeare’s works. In fact, you might be familiar with a certain movie that came out last year, “Anonymous”, which is loosely based on this theory. My problems with that movie can make up a whole other blog post (especially when they convey the “real” Shakespeare as nothing more than a bumbling idiot).
The Oxfordian theory has been rejected by most experts and scholars in the field. There are obvious flaws to it. There is no evidence, at least scientific evidence in carbon dating along with tangible proof, that there was any connection between Shakespeare and de Vere. “Oxfordians” reject the methods that historians have used to make their case, and unless you’re “in the loop”, you couldn’t possibly understand how de Vere could be the actual author of Shakespeare’s works.
The Oxfordian theory especially loses when it comes to the plays and sonnets that were written AFTER Edward de Vere passed away in 1604. Keep in mind that Shakespeare passed away in 1616. And not to mention that many of Shakespeare’s plays that were written and performed post-1604 had references to post-1604 events, after Edward de Vere died.
King Lear was written between 1603 and 1606 and first performed in front of the court of King James I on December 26th, 1606.
Timon of Athens was first performed between 1607 and 1608.
Coriolanus was believed to have been written between 1605 and 1608, and the opening scenes of the play (the grain riots) are believed to be a reference to the Midland Revolt and the Inquisition of Depopulation of 1607. An event that Edward de Vere could not have foreseen unless he could predict the future.
Antony and Cleopatra was written and performed around 1606.
Macbeth was believed to have been written around 1606 while the play’s first performance was in 1611.
The Tempest was written around 1610/1611 with its first performance in 1611 and is most famous for being Shakespeare’s last written play.
Henry VIII is probably the most questionable one when it comes to dating and whether it was actually written by Shakespeare (Oxfordian theory aside….Ben Jonson anyone?). Most date the play to have been written around 1613.
And then we have the wonderful sonnets that were being written long after 1604. Some are even dated to have been written up to 1621.
Wait…didn’t Will die in 1616?
Yes, he did. And keep in mind that I am not bashing ALL authorship theories, just the Oxfordian because it is the most ridiculous and yet seems to have the largest following. There are authorship theories that I will give credit to. While I consider myself to be a lover of Shakespeare, I would be a fool to believe that Shakespeare wrote all of his stuff. There is clear evidence of manuscripts and certain sections of the plays that are considered to be “un-Shakespearean.” Well, we have to ultimately decide, what is Shakespeare? We are dependent on centuries old documents and it’s hard to decipher what we really have that is authentic or not.
Back to topic.
Here is a list of theories that suggest Shakespeare was a fraud and my rebuttals against them.
This was inspired by Roland Emmerich’s video with his explanation as to why Shakespeare was a fraud. Watch it first, and then read below.
We have no documented evidence of anything done in Shakespeare’s handwriting.
Actually, yes we do. We have his revisions he had done to the play of Sir Thomas More by Anthony Munday. Sir Thomas More has been concluded that it was written by several authors with each author labeled with the name “Hand” and then a letter following the name. There are about three pages of Sir Thomas More that are accepted as being written by Shakespeare’s hand, known as “Hand D.” The handwriting was similar to the existing signatures of Shakespeare as well as similar verse structure as his other works. And not to mention similar spelling characteristics that were deemed “Shakespearean.”
In reference to the six shaky signatures of Shakespeare, back then, penmanship was atrocious in general. The Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley’s, love letters to the Queen makes the doctors’ handwriting look like calligraphy.
Also, keep in mind that even know Shakespeare is now a famous figure, back in his time, he was a commoner. And we rarely, if ever, have personal correspondence from commoners. All we really have are some royal love letters because the Vatican got a hold of them somehow.
Shakespeare’s daughters couldn’t read or write.
Unless you were a wealthy woman, female commoners didn’t read or write and certainly did not attend school. And let’s not forget that Shakespeare was very much absent from the lives of his wife, Anne Hathaway, and their daughters.
Shakespeare wrote about the aristocracy and showed he had extensive knowledge while Ben Jonson wrote about the people he knew; the common people.
First off, Ben Jonson was hardly the view of the people. He was not very well liked as a playwright and he is known to have been a jerk. Second, the only plays that dealt with the English royalty were the history plays which he took from Hollinshed’s Chronicles, he didn’t gain from personal knowledge. Also, it was very common back in the day to write favorably about the aristocracy, and Elizabeth was known to be a supporter and patron to Shakespeare. Write for your audience. Also, Shakespeare did appeal to the commoners, the groundlings didn’t attend his plays because they were forced to.
Shakespeare doesn’t mention the death of his 11-year old son in any of his works. How can a writer who writes from his heart and soul never mention this?
I believe sonnet #33 debunks this theory:
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.
Also, after Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, died, his work took on a more darker tone. For example, we have Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale, and King John. King John contains unexpected moments of deep emotion, and scholars believe that was Shakespeare working through his emotions. Plus, it’s obvious to note Hamnet and Hamlet are awfully similar.
Shakespeare demonstrates extensive knowledge about other countries and appears to be well-educated with an extensive vocabulary.
Just because I write a play about a mathematician doesn’t mean that I’m a math wiz. Just because I’ve written a play about Japanese internment, doesn’t mean that I was actually there. Not only that, Shakespeare had sources to draw from to explain his extensive “knowledge.” But anyone who really looks at the text will see that it was written by someone who clearly hadn’t traveled outside of his home. I can write about China all I want, but you will be able to certainly tell that I’ve never been there. Also, when it comes to his vocabulary, let’s not forget that the Oxford English Dictionary uses Shakespeare as the origin of words that may have been around for decades prior.
The original plan of Shakespeare’s burial site had him holding a sack of grain, not a quill and parchment paper.
Outside of London city lines, a job in the theatre was viewed as inferior and easilydismissed. The change in the burial site plans was only allowed by special license from the Master of the Revels. Of course he had another job to make ends meet. That is still relevant to many involved in the theatre today; you need a second job to pay the bills.
The last will of Shakespeare does not mention his works, how can someone not care about their life’s work? That must prove that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays.
That theory assumes that Jacobeans valued playbooks and intellectual property as highly as we do in our modern age, when they actually didn’t. In fact, in order to print a play and make money off of it, you didn’t need to own it. Look at the quartos of Shakespeare’s work and copies of the folio. All you had to do was register it with the stationer. Ben Jonson seemed to be the only playwright back then who cared about the printing and ownership of his plays.
In closing, there are a lot of theories out there regarding Shakespeare’s authorship. While there are theories with credibility, it is important to investigate and debunk the theories that don’t have tangible support behind it. The idea that it was all one big conspiracy, like “Anonymous” conveys, is highly unlikely. Not only would that be extremely difficult to keep hidden, but also, the fact that there is very little proof showing that this conspiracy actually happened is noteworthy. Finally, it is important to note that while there are theories out there that potentially show that Shakespeare may have been a fraud, these theories are arguable and vulnerable to contradicting views, even more so than the argument that Shakespeare actually wrote his works.