Who Actually Wrote the Works of Shakespeare?
Perhaps the oldest conspiracy theory in the world is the one about how it was not William Shakespeare who wrote all those plays and sonnets. This was first thought of several hundred years after his death – which makes the idea look less likely.
A number of famous folk doubted Shakespeare’s authorship, including Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain. Twain’s usefulness as a great example diminished somewhat when he later propounded the theory that Queen Elizabeth I was a man. More than eighty people have been suggested as the “true” author of Shakespeare, but the most common are Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Their supporters are Baconians, Marlovians, or Oxfordians.
These men were well-educated, with particular knowledge of law (Bacon, Oxford). Perhaps the strongest candidate is Bacon, a politician, writer, historian and diplomat who labeled himself a “concealed poet” and was described as “the wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind.” He held three major political posts. People who don’t doubt that Shakespeare wrote the works credited to him are called Stratfordians, after Stratford-upon-Avon, where he lived. A common Stratfordian argument is that no famous person could have time to write 37 plays and 154 sonnets, but even the things Bacon definitely did are hard to believe.
Some people say Bacon’s poetry was stiff, unlike Shakespeare’s, but others reply that Bacon was a specialist on certain mystical knowledge shared with Shakespeare, and that his vocabulary was extra-ordinary and the closest anyone of the time has come to Shakespeare’s. The play The Tempest is about a shipwreck off Bermuda, which happened to Bacon. Shakespeare used Bermoothes, the Spanish word for Bermuda, showing first-hand knowledge.
Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon. The will he left is long and detailed, but while it goes into painful detail about household furniture it doesn’t mention his shares in the two theatres he part-owned, which would have been valuable. There’s no mention of any form of writing, such as personal papers, letters or books. The lack of books is unusual because books were uncommon and expensive then, and would have been mentioned. Not only did Shakespeare leave behind no letters, but none are known to have been written by or to him, which many people find unbelievable.
In the will there were also no plays – Shakespeare didn’t have copies of that which gave him fame and provided his livelihood. This is, again, incredible, because 18 of his plays were unpublished at the time of his death. If these weren’t mentioned in his will, they would have been the property of his theatrical company and not his family. This isn’t what would have been expected.
Incidentally, Shakespeare’s will bequeathed his “second best bed” to his wife.
The only handwriting by the Stratford Shakespeare is six nearly-illegible signatures: three on his will, one on a court document and two on property documents. The signatures are all differently-shaped, but all have an initial syllable of “Shak”, while the plays called him “Shakespeare”. So anti-Stratfordians call the Stratford character “Shakspere” to distinguish him from the playwright.
The only handwriting by the Stratford Shakespeare is six near-illlegible signatures which are all shaped differently: three on his will, one on a court document and two on property documents. The name is spelt as Shackper, Shakspear, Shakspea, Shackspere and (twice) Shakspere. So anti-Stratfordians call the Stratford character “Shakspere” to distinguish him from the playwright.
After Shakespeare died, there were no eulogies at a time when they were common. A monument was erected ten years following his death showing him at a desk, writing. Anti-Stratfordians say that at first the monument showed something different, and it was later changed.
How could a common man have such a large vocabulary? His encompassed 29,000 words, compared to 5,000 in the first edition of the Bible. He introduced many common words to the English language, e.g. absolute, admit, affront, accost, capitulate, character, civil and convent. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Shakespeare was first to use the word “road”, although he didn’t invent it. On the Internet, it is said that in Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare was the first person known to have used the word “fart”, but a colleague says it was Chaucer.
Shakespeare showed knowledge of politics, science, law and foreign languages, but there’s no record of him at a college or university. It’s said he showed knowledge of how the aristocracy lived. He had a detailed knowledge of falconry. Some say a man of his position wouldn’t know these things, but others say he regularly performed for royalty and became wealthy. A coat of arms was made for him. I don’t have a coat of arms. But others say he showed no such knowledge. It was stated by John Dryden in 1668 that Shakespeare hadn’t properly “understood and imitated the conversation of Gentlemen” and that he didn’t know what went on at royal courts. Stratfordians say the knowledge Shakespeare showed of common people could only have been firsthand, to which it is answered that his attitude to common people was negative, e.g. showing them as an enraged mob and giving them rude names like Belch or Bottom.
Orthodox, i.e. ordinary scholars say the plays use names that are slang local to Warwickshire, the region that included Stratford. One example is “love in idleness”, an antiquated word for “pansy”, which was used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Could he have educated himself? A commonly used example is that of Ben Jonson, who came from an even poorer background than Shakespeare but learned on his own. He became the royal poet and was awarded honorary degrees by Cambridge and Oxford universities. But several hundred of his books have been found, many of them signed. There’s no evidence that Shakespeare ever possessed or even borrowed a book. Jonson had access to a large library, unlike Shakespeare, although it has been pointed out that some of the sources of Shakespeare’s plays were sold at the shop of a printer in Stratford.
It has been suggested that the works of Shakespeare contain codes. The attraction is that Francis Bacon did a lot of pioneering work on codes, but the idea is silly. True, an anonymous Latin book from 1616 was an acrostic: Each paragraph’s first letter spelled out “Franciscus Godwinvvs Landavensis Episcopus hos conscripsit” – “Francis Godwin, Bishop of Llandalf, wrote these lines”. More recently, a school book in Pakistan was withdrawn because it had been discovered that the first letter of each line of a poem about a great leader were spelled “President Bush”. But none of the “codes” in Shakespeare were so simple.
The first known attempt to find codes in the works of Shakespeare was in 1888, when Orville W. Owen, M.D., constructed a wooden calculating machine using two wheels and 1,000 feet of canvas. In 1910, anagrams were found. Hints have been found, e.g. Sonnet 76: “Every word doth almost tell my name”.
Codes like this or the Bible Code can prove anything. The first version of the Bible to be printed was the King James Version in 1611, when Shakespeare was 46. In Psalm 46, the 46th word is “shake” whereas the 46th from last is “spear”. Nobody has yet suggested Shakespeare was involved in first publishing the Bible.
Written by Timothy Chilman (firstname.lastname@example.org)