Questions about Shakespeare's Authorship
according to the Oxfordians
We have borrowed a file from the Oxfordians
because their suspicions about Shakespeare's literary
qualifications are equally applicable to proof of Francis
Bacon's authorship of the Works.
And we have carefully expurgated all reference to that illegitimate pretender to the Shakespeare Throne, Oxford.
1. Why are there doubts about the authorship?
Nothing about the Stratford man rings true: his character, his background, his education, his family, his friends,
his behavior towards his debtors and his neighbors, his recorded conversation and his attitude to money and
property. It would have been very surprising if someone like that had become the world's greatest author. Of
course, if it could readily be proved that he had written the plays and poems that would be an end of the matter. But
it can't; and this is what is so extraordinary; there is very little evidence - and what little there is casts even more
doubt on his authorship.
There are, in effect, two big problems that have kept this issue simmering away for nearly two centuries:
1) The mismatch between the man and the work;
2) The absence of a proper documentary record showing that the Stratford actor/merchant did write these
works; each and every fact that exists presents problems and contradictions.
There should be masses of contemporary documents about the life of the world's greatest writer. His
manuscripts, his letters, the letters sent to him, the letters about him between others, and printed stories and
pamphlets about him. But there are none of these things. There are reviews and comments on the plays and poems.
There are a few legal documents concerning the man who usually lived in the village of Stratford-upon-Avon
(population 1,400); we'll call him Shaksper, the name he commonly went under. Shaksper got involved in several
minor court cases and he was sought for non-payment of taxes. But there are no documents which show that he had
any connection with the plays or poems.
It would be acceptable to have some uncertainty; but when you have virtually a blank sheet, you have to
conclude that there is something very fishy.
2. Haven't previous generations been quite happy with the Stratford man?
No - there is a strong and continuous tradition of doubt about him, stretching back to the time when the plays
were first published.
During the past two hundred years, many people have decided that the name "Shakespeare" must have been a
pseudonym, and have tried to identify the true author. A major candidate was Francis Bacon, and there have
theories in favor of Rutland, Derby, Marlowe and a host of others. Stratfordians ridicule the sheer magnitude of
alternative authors that have been proposed; but they overlook their unifying element, namely: why have so many
found reason to question the identity of Western literature's greatest creative figure? It is an heretical idea.
There has never been an authorship controversy surrounding other great literary figures: - Swift, Pope, Milton,
Joyce, Woolf, Chaucer or Dante. If sensible people can maintain that there is one about Shakespeare, then it is folly
to ignore it - as orthodoxy unfortunately has to.
The search for a real person in Stratford has been the greatest manhunt in literary history; but all the
biographers admit that it has never come close to bridging "the vertiginous expanse between the sublimity of the
subject (i.e. the plays) and the mundane inconsequence of the documentary record" (to use the words of Samuel
Schoenbaum, the predominant post-war Shakespeare biographer).
The question of authorship seems to come up in the plays and poems in all kinds of ways. As Harvard's
Marjorie Garber writes in her 1987 study Shakespeare's Ghost Writers:
"There are in fact an uncanny number of ways in which the plays can be seen to stage the (authorship)
controversy. Such scenes of encoded authorship encompass everything from ghosts that write and writers who
function as ghosts, to handwriting analysis, signature controversies, the deciphering of codes, the digging of graves,
the silencing of madwomen, the staging of plays that get away from their authors and thematizing of myriad other
forms of doubt and discontinuity within authorial identity and control."
The 19th and 20th Centuries have been rife with doubters, among them Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Charles
Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
By the late 18th Century, traditional doubts surfaced openly in works such as The Life and Adventures of Wit
and Common Sense (published in 1769, the same year that David Garrick launched the now legendary Stratford
Jubilee). Before Wit and Common Sense, the trail leads back into the 17th and even the 16th centuries, with
numerous literary allusions, to the pseudonymous character of the name "Shakespeare." When John Davies, for
instance, refers to Shakespeare as "Our English Terence," he is making allusion to the well-known renaissance belief
that Terence was actually the amanuensis and "front man" for the aristocratic Roman comedian Scipio. Far from
being evidence to support the Shakespeare orthodoxy as it is often presented Davies' reference actually mocks the
presumption of Stratfordian authorship.
3. Does it really matter who the author is?
Firstly, it is a matter of giving honor where honor is due. Whoever Shakespeare was, he gave us the most
priceless literary treasures in our culture. We have a duty to honor him.
Secondly, if we take the attitude that it doesn't matter who Shakespeare was, then does it matter who anyone
was? We must consign all biographical writings to the dustbin. If we take this attitude, we must lose interest in our
own selves. Nothing, in fact, matters.
Thirdly, truth is important, not only within the academic world, but in all society and it cannot be impugned.
Fourthly, if you get Shakespeare wrong, then you get the whole Elizabethan Age wrong. You are lead into wild
errors about the nature of the society. For instance, if William Shaksper of Stratford is the author, then it suddenly
becomes acceptable for a man of his status to address one of the leading noblemen of the day, the 3rd Earl of
Southampton, in the following terms in sonnet 69:
"But why thy odour matcheth not thy show
The soil is this: that thou dost common grow."
This would lead one to believe that Elizabeth's England was a democracy in which freedom of speech was a
cherished right: in which a commoner (and a mere scribbler at that) could tell a nobleman in print that he was
growing common. No such thing! If Shaksper of Stratford had behaved like that, he would not have have lasted a
minute. An enlisted man would not address his officer in this manner today in 1995 over 400 years later! This is not a
snob argument: it's simply the recognition of a social reality of the times.
4. Can't everything be explained by "genius"?
Genius is a non-explanation. The Stratfordians rely on this empty word as a complete solution to the problems
created by Shaksper's lack of adequate training, education or experience. The more difficulties one points out to
them, the more they say that "proves" his genius.
Anti-Stratfordians urge that, whoever he was, he was a real human being - although one with supreme natural
talents. They insist that these had to be schooled and developed; that techniques had to be practiced, that knowledge
had to be acquired, that skills had to be learned, and that a busy life had to be richly experienced. Nothing could be
more absurd than to suggest that Love's Labor's Lost, Richard II or Romeo and Juliet were among the first work of
any playwright. No writer has ever crawled out from under a hedge, pen in hand, ready to write good literature, let
alone the greatest of all time. Once you realise that the orthodox story is hollow at the centre, you will see that it
makes far more sense to find the person who had such abilities, identify his early work, see how he developed and
try to understand how his plays and poems both reflect and illuminate his life.
5. Aren't anti-Stratfordians just "social snobs"?
The short answer is, no, thank you, we aren't.
The longer answer is that the authorship question asks not who could have written the plays. It is not about
whether someone from the middle class any other social class or background could have written King Lear. It asks
Stratfordian college professors like to pose as the champions of the oppressed Mr. Shaksper. Nothing could be
more absurd than to attribute this view to anti-Stratfordians such as the great populist poet Walt Whitman or the
comic Charles Chaplin who grew up as an impoverished street urchin and as an adult was repelled by Shakespeare's
fascination with the inner workings of the aristocracy.
Writing about the history plays, Whitman thought that "only one of the wolfish earls so plenteous in the works
themselves, or some born knower and descendent, would seem to be the true author of these amazing works."
The accusation: "You're just snobs" is, regrettably, an understandable reaction. If you don't want to think
seriously about someone's arguments, you attack the person. The "snob" argument is about the best shot in the
Stratfordian arsenal. It's what those of us in the cheap seats call an ad hominem argument and it reflects only on
those who use it. It's a substitute for reasoned responses to evidence and logic.
6. What is the role of personal experience in writing?
The answer to this question could not be more different between the Stratfordians and anti-Statfordians. The
anti-Stratfordians maintain that the author was a real human being who was born with enormous talent but had
great advantages from his earliest days; he knew he had these gifts and he did his utmost to develop and exploit
them. Like all great artists, he had a deeply felt consciousness of his art and suffered from a sense of overwhelming
duty. He expressed this in all manner of ways in his plays and his poetry.
On the other hand, the Stratfordians see almost nothing of a personal nature in his work; they regard him as a
kind of craftsman, churning out "pot boilers" on commission from theater managers every few months, one after
another, never revising and never putting real thought into them. It is a picture that is completely unlike that of any
other author. He is supposed to have made up stories which had no connection with his own life and experience;
apparently everything came from books. Then he went into some kind of trance, set to work, and and at the end of
the process there was this wonderful play - effectively produced by magic.
Those who oppose the Stratford view emphasize what we all know about the creative process - there's not
much magic in it - it is incredibly hard work; that it involves a dedication and a drive that can only come from
sources that are deeply personal. Intensely creative people frequently have large egos; they care little about anything
else except their art and they are often cruel and ruthless in their treatment of both themselves and others.
The first requirement of any creative enterprise is that you have a very clear idea of what it is you are
undertaking. Anti-Stratfordians maintain that the author knew exactly what he was doing; he had a much better idea
than we do now - and certainly far better than any professor of literature. We are positive that he knew that he was
writing for all time. Stratfordians cannot take this; they say he was just in it for the money. Of course in stating this
about the world's greatest writer, they are necessarily implying the same about all other writers. In fact they are
suggesting that Shakespeare (and by extension other writers) could not have had any purposes beyond
money-making and further: that they could not imagine having purposes beyond money-making. This is, of course,
a denial of the very point of literature itself. It is demeaning to Shakespeare, demeaning to every writer, and
demeaning to every human being.
7. Why haven't the academic authorities accepted someone else as the author?
It would be too great a revolution in everything they believe. It would be unfair and unrealistic to expect such a
change from any group of scholars no matter how honest and capable. The hard sciences like Physics, Chemistry and
Geology have each seen many great revolutions in fundamental aspects of their knowledge. Each time the change
was bitterly resisted by the established authorities of the day in spite of overwhelming evidence. The impetus for
such revolutions has usually had to come from outside the discipline.