The Shakespeare Authorship Page
Dedicated to the Proposition that Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare
On October 28, 2011, the movie Anonymous opened; it flopped at the box office, but there was considerable discussion of the film at the time.
Here is David Kathman's review. Spoiler alert: William Shakespeare is a character in the movie, but the central character is Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, who is, among other things, the son of Queen Elizabeth, the lover of the same Queen Elizabeth (some years later), and the real author of the works commonly attributed to William Shakespeare. The film is NOT meant to be a comedy. There is, of course, no reason to credit the earl with even one line of any work that has traditionally been attributed to William Shakespeare (for more information about this matter, please see the essays on this site), but many entertaining movies have been based on historically dubious material. The official blog for the movie offers links to the Shakespeare authorship page, so it's only fair that we repay the favor. Here are a few links related to the film:
A new site that may be of more lasting interest is "60 Minutes with Shakespeare," which was put up by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. "60 Minutes" comprises brief answers to 60 questions about Shakespeare and the authorship of his works; among the 60 are Roland Emmerich, James Shapiro, and our own David Kathman. You'll have to register to see the page, but registration is free and painless.
You can also find Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells's e-book Shakespeare Bites Back as well as
remarks about Anonymous by Alan Nelson.
- The New York Times covers the story --
- In addition to previews, trailers, commercials, press kits, blogs, and interviews, the film is also being promoted for its educational value. We are not making this up. An outfit called "Youth Marketing International" has prepared study guides for the movie that the producers hope will be used for high school and college courses. There is also a file explaining how seeing the movie and performing some classroom exercises can meet some educational standards. For a blogospherical discussion of the study guides, see
Attention Educators: Have We All Been Played?
- There will be more reviews when the movie goes into general release, but a showing at the Toronto Film Festicval prompted this blog post by Holger Syme to which the screenwriter John Orloff responded.
- At Salon, Laura Miller's review asks the question, Was Shakespeare really Shakespeare?
- Simon Shama discussed the film for Newsweek: The Shakespeare Shakedown
- At Slate, Ron Rosenbaum lists 10 Things I Hate About Anonymous
Many books and articles have been written arguing that someone other than
William Shakespeare, the glover's son from Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote the
plays and poems published under his name. There exist sincere and
intelligent people who believe there is strong evidence that Edward de
Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, was the author of these plays and poems.
Yet professional Shakespeare scholars -- those whose job it is to study,
write, and teach about Shakespeare -- generally find Oxfordian
claims to be groundless, often not even worth discussing.
Why is this? Oxfordians claim that these scholars are blinded to the
evidence by a vested self-interest in preserving the authorship of "the
Stratford Man," and some more extreme Oxfordians claim that there is an
active conspiracy among orthodox scholars to suppress pro-Oxford evidence
and keep it from the attention of the general public. The truth, however,
is far more prosaic. Oxfordians are not taken seriously by the
Shakespeare establishment because (with few exceptions) they do not follow
basic standards of scholarship, and the "evidence" they present for their
fantastic scenarios is either distorted, taken out of context, or flat-out
This web site is for the intelligent nonspecialist who doesn't know
what to make of these challenges to Shakespeare's authorship. Oxfordian
books can be deceptively convincing to a reader who is unaware of the
relevant historical background and unused to the rhetorical tricks used by
Oxfordians. Our aim is to provide context where needed, expose
misinformation passed off by Oxfordians as fact, and in general show the
nonspecialist reader why professional Shakespeare scholars have so little
regard for Oxfordian claims. We know from experience that we are not
likely to convince any Oxfordians to change their views, but we hope that
other readers will find something of value here. We will be updating and
adding new material as time permits, and we welcome any comments or
Antistratfordians try to seduce their readers into believing that there
is some sort of "mystery" about the authorship of Shakespeare's
works. They often assert that nothing (or at most very little)
connects William Shakespeare of Stratford to the works of
William Shakespeare the author, or that the evidence which exists is "circumstantial"
and subject to some doubt. These are astounding misrepresentations
that bear little resemblance to reality. Indeed, abundant evidence testifies to
the fact that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the works published
under his name, and this evidence is as extensive and direct as the evidence
for virtually any of Shakespeare's contemporaries. In their essay How We
Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts, Tom Reedy and David
Kathman summarize the extensive web of evidence that identifies William Shakespeare of Stratford
as the man who wrote the works of William Shakespeare.
When the Shakespeare Authorship page began in 1996, it was the only site on the Internet dedicated to countering claims that someone other than William Shakespeare wrote the lion's share of the works professional literary historians have always assigned to Shakespeare. We have more company now (as you can see from the sites linked in our Bardlinks area below), and we'd like to direct your attention in particular to Oxfraud. It's a newer site devoted to rebutting Oxfordians, though there's plenty of good material there on the Shakespeare authorship more generally. This includes
Tom Veal's "Stromata Blog"
Another excellent site for those interested in the authorship question is Tom Veal's blog, Stromata, which contains some of the best recent commentary on the authorship of Shakespeare's works.
- Tom responds to The Truth Will Out by Brenda James and William D. Rubinstein, a book claiming that Sir Henry Neville really wrote Shakespeare's works.
- Tom looks critically at Roger Stritmatter's Ph.D. dissertation in comparative literature, which took as its starting point the assumption that the Earl of Oxford really wrote Shakespeare's works.
- Tom replies to Michael Brame and Galina Popova, who in Shakespeare's Fingerprints claimed that 17th Earl of Oxford wrote not only Shakespeare's works but also just about everything else written in the last half of the 16th Century.
The Times published a strongly pro-Oxfordian piece on February 10, 2002, that fell far short of the standards we expect from the "paper of record." See our response to the Times.
In April 1999, Harper's magazine published a group of ten essays collectively
Ghost of Shakespeare." Five of the essays were by Oxfordians,
arguing that the Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare, while five were
by Shakespeare scholars arguing that William Shakespeare was the author. David
Kathman promptly wrote a letter to Harper's, pointing out some of the many
factual errors and distortions in the five Oxfordian articles and outlining the
major reasons why Shakespeare scholars do not take Oxfordians seriously.
Harper's elected not to publish the letter, instead publishing a group of short
and superficial responses which failed to address the main issues. However,
we're posting David Kathman's letter here in order to provide a concise summary of the
serious problems with Oxfordian arguments.
The following essays were posted to the newsgroup
humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare, and are presented here in edited form.
The original impetus for most of these essays was an Oxfordian article by
Mark Anderson entitled "Shake-speare's Good Book," posted to the newsgroup
by Mr. Anderson under the nom de net "E of O." (Interested readers can
see this article at http://www.everreader.com/bible.htm
--- but be sure to return here!) I posted a quick initial response to the article, to which Mr.
Anderson replied with a further posting in which he made several more
points, the substance of which should be clear from my responses. I wrote
and posted the next eight essays, each of which deals with a specific
Oxfordian claim, in response to both the initial posting and the
follow-up. They are informal in tone, but I tried to make them as accurate and
factual as possible. The next two essays were written later, as parts of
longer essays in progress on Shakespeare's death and education.
The last essay was written in response to Mark Alexander, one of the Oxfordian
regulars on the newsgroup. Mark has always been a highly articulate and intelligent
opponent, and he has often forced me to think through my own positions more thoroughly than I would
otherwise have done. In this post, I address some of the broader issues involved in the
Shakespeare authorship debate, and try to articulate the major reasons why I find the Oxfordian
approach fundamentally flawed.
The most obvious evidence that William Shakespeare wrote the works
attributed to him is that everyone at the time said he did: he was often
praised in writing as a poet and playwright, he was named as the author of
many of the works while he was alive, and seven years after his death the
First Folio explicitly attributed the rest of the works to him.
Oxfordians try to account for this evidence by claiming that the man from
Stratford was actually "William Shaksper" (or "Shakspere"), a man whose
name was spelled and pronounced differently from that of the great poet
"William Shakespeare," and that nobody at the time would have thought to
confuse the two. Needless to say, such claims bear little resemblance to
reality. To see just how badly Oxfordians have misrepresented the name
issue, read David Kathman's essay on the spelling and
pronunciation of Shakespeare's name, accompanied by the complete lists
(in original spelling) of all contemporary non-literary references and literary references to William Shakespeare.
Two assumptions are almost universally held by antistratfordians: the author
of Shakespeare's plays must have been a well-educated aristocrat, and William
Shakespeare of Stratford could not possibly have had the education or social
connections to have been that author. To those who are familiar with
Elizabethan society in general, and with William Shakespeare's life in
particular, neither of these assumptions comes close to holding water. In this
section we present two pairs of articles, the first pair dealing with the
aristocrat/class issue, the second dealing with the education issue.
Were Shakespeare's Plays Written by an Aristocrat?
In this essay based on a series of posts from the
humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare newsgroup, David Kathman addresses the common Oxfordian
assumption that the author of Shakespeare's plays must have been an aristocrat
who was intimate with the corridors of power. He points out that nobody in
Shakespeare's day or for centuries afterward thought that the plays displayed an
accurate knowledge of royal courts (in fact, the opposite was the case), and
that modern social historians familiar with 16th-century court life have come
to a similar conclusion.
Shakespeare's Stratford Friends
Oxfordians mercilessly attack the character and background of William
Shakespeare, depicting him as an "unlettered boob" and Stratford as a
densely ignorant backwater bereft of any culture. As usual, the Oxfordians
are guilty of twisting facts and ignoring any evidence that they don't
like. David Kathman's essay illustrates that Shakespeare's
closest friends in Stratford were actually a rather cultured lot, and that their hometown
bore little resemblance to the cesspool depicted by Oxfordians.
Shakespeare's Knowledge of Italy, the Classics, and the Law
Paired with Oxfordians' insistence that the author of Shakespeare's plays must
have been an aristocrat is their insistence that he must have had lots of
formal education. As usual, though, the antistratfordians are badly mistaken
in some key elements of their arguments. In Shakespeare's Knowledge of Italy,
the Classics, and the Law, David Kathman focuses on three areas where
antistratfordians have often claimed that the plays exhibit knowledge beyond
the ability of William Shakespeare of Stratford: Italy, the classics, and law.
In each case, he responds directly to claims by Oxfordians, showing that they
have greatly overestimated the extent of Shakespeare's knowledge and greatly
underestimated the resources available to any intelligent Elizabethan who
wished to learn about virtually any subject.
Shakespeare and Richard Field
Since William Shakespeare did not have much formal education, he must have been
a voracious reader on many subjects. Oxfordians like to ridicule this very
reasonable inference; where, they ask, could Shakespeare have gotten the books
he would have had to read? But in fact, Shakespeare was particularly
well-positioned in this regard. Richard Field, who grew up down the street
from Shakespeare and in very similar circumstances, became one of the leading
publishers and booksellers in London. More importantly, he published many of
the works his townsman Shakespeare relied on most heavily in composing his
plays. Find out more about the connections between these celebrated sons of
Stratford in David Kathman's Shakespeare and Richard Field.
Dating the Works
Some Oxfordians are not satisfied with claiming that Shakespeare's
works could have been written before Oxford's death in 1604;
they try to turn the tables and argue that the author of Shakespeare's
works was actually dead many years before William Shakespeare's
death in 1616. One of their favorite pieces of "evidence" for such
a scenario is William Barksted's poem Mirrha, which appears to
refer to Shakespeare in the past tense. Since Barksted's poem was
published in 1607 -- after Oxford's death but before Shakespeare's --
some Oxfordians regard it as a prime piece of evidence for their theory.
The problem with such an argument is that it completely ignores
the context of Barksted's use of the past tense, both within the poem
as a whole and in comparison with other contemporary praise of living
poets. When looked at in this context, there is nothing at all unusual
about Barksted's usage. Learn more about Barksted, Mirrha, and
the meaning of the past tense in Terry Ross and David Kathman's
essay Barksted and Shakespeare.
stumbling block for the idea that Edward de Vere could have written
Shakespeare's plays is the fact that he died in 1604, before about a third
of the plays were written, according to the standard chronology.
Oxfordians reply by claiming that this chronology is mistaken, and that
the plays were actually written much earlier than orthodox scholarship
supposes. Such a wholesale redating raises a host of questions and
ignores strong evidence that several of the later plays, at least, were
written well after 1604. Don't take our word for it, though: read David
Kathman's essay on dating The Tempest,
presents the remarkably extensive evidence that Shakespeare, in writing
this play, was heavily influenced by written accounts of events in Bermuda
that happened in 1609-10, at least five years after Oxford's death.
One of the most common features of antistratfordian arguments is a claim
that the death of William Shakespeare of Stratford went unnoticed in
England, in supposed contrast to other prominent men of letters. But this
Oxfordian claim, like so many others, is based on a distortion of the facts
combined with an ignorance of the necessary context.
Contrary to Oxfordian assertions, only socially
prominent people such as noblemen were the subject of printed eulogies soon
after they died; eulogies for poets and playwrights generally remained in
manuscript, often for decades. In Shakespeare's
Eulogies, David Kathman compares Shakespeare with the most prominent
playwrights and poets of the day, and concludes that William Shakespeare
was actually the best-memorialized English playwright until Ben Jonson more
than 20 years later.
More than half a century before Schwartz, Oxfordian Charles Wisner Barrell
wrote another article for Scientific American, in which he attempted to use
X-rays to show that the so-called "Ashbourne Portrait," often taken to be of
Shakespeare, is actually a painted-over portrait of the Earl of Oxford. Yet
even though Barrell's results were conclusively debunked more than 20 years
ago, they're still accepted uncritically by many antistratfordians. Read David
Kathman's brief article for the full story.
Images of Shakespeare
There are only two portraits of Shakespeare which we can reasonably take as
authentic: the monument in Stratford's Holy Trinity Church, and the engraving
by Martin Droeshout on the title page of the 1623 First Folio.
Antistratfordians have seen all kinds of shady doings and hidden meanings in
these portraits, as well as in other "Shakespeare" portraits with less claim to
authenticity. Yet these claims, like so much other antistratfordian rhetoric,
turn out to be founded on ignorance, misunderstanding, and pure conjecture.
Shortly after Shakespeare's death, a monument was erected to his memory
in his home town of Stratford. However, many
Oxfordians believe that the monument originally
depicted Shakespeare holding a sack, and that it was subsequently altered
to depict him as a writer. Their basis for thinking this is an engraving
of the monument which appeared in William Dugdale's Antiquities of
Warwickshire in 1656, and which depicts a monument significantly
different from what we see today; Charlton Ogburn writes in The
Mysterious William Shakespeare that "there seems scant room for doubt
that the subject of the original sculpture was not a literary figure but a
dealer in bagged commodities" (p. 213). However, the evidence is
overwhelmingly against the Oxfordian scenario. First, read M. H.
Spielmann's detailed discussion of the
monument, and his demonstrations of the many errors and
inconsistencies to be found in seventeenth-century engravings. Then read David Kathman's discussion of 17th-century references to the monument, which
shows that it was always seen as representing a famous poet and not a
grain dealer. We have also put up illustrations of both the Stratford monument and
The Droeshout Engraving: Why It's Not Queen Elizabeth
Antistratfordians since the mid-1800s have found something fishy about the
famous Droeshout engraving that graces the title page of the First Folio. In
1995, Lillian Schwartz tried to put a scientific gloss on such speculations
when she wrote an article for Scientific American which used computer modelling
to suggest that the Droeshout portrait is actually of Queen Elizabeth. But as
Terry Ross shows in this article, Schwartz's methods left a lot to be desired,
and although her very tentative conclusions have been accepted as gospel by eager antistratfordians,
a fresh look shows just how different Shakespeare and Elizabeth were.
Oxfordians claim that Edward de Vere could not have been
named as the author of Shakespeare's works because doing so would have violated
the Elizabethan social code, which prohibited aristocrats from having
works published under their own names. However, as Steven May points out
in his essay, "the alleged code, handy and
time-honored as it has become, does not square with the evidence." As May
demonstrates, "Tudor aristocrats published regularly." The "stigma of
print" is a myth. May does concede that there was for a time a "stigma of
verse" among the early Tudor aristocrats, "but even this inhibition
dissolved during the reign of Elizabeth until anyone, of whatever exalted
standing in society, might issue a sonnet or play without fear of losing
status." This essay first appeared in Renaissance Papers.
Oxfordians find it suspicious that the original manuscripts of
Shakespeare's plays have not survived. They darkly hint that this is
evidence of a coverup, and have even gone so far as to x-ray the
Shakespeare monument in Stratford because of a suspicion that the
manuscripts may have been hidden inside. (They weren't.) But there is
nothing the slightest bit suspicious about the absence of Shakespeare's
manuscripts, since virtually no playhouse manuscripts from that era have
survived at all. Read The Survival of
Manuscripts by Giles Dawson and Laetitia Kennedy-Skipton (taken from
their 1965 book Elizabethan Handwriting) for the opinion of two
scholars who spent decades examining documents from Shakespeare's era.
Even though the original manuscripts of Shakespeare's canonical plays have
not survived, there is strong evidence that three pages of the manuscript
play Sir Thomas More are in Shakespeare's hand. This evidence, which cuts
across handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, imagery, and more, has persuaded
many Shakespeare scholars, but is generally ignored or ridiculed by
antistratfordians because accepting it would be a crippling blow for their
theories. Read David Kathman's summary of the evidence for Shakespeare's
hand and judge for yourself.
The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford was a recognized poet in his own day, and
Oxfordians make the most of this fact in their attempts to prove that
he actually wrote the works of Shakespeare. However, most Oxfordian
work in this area involves highly selective use of evidence, and often
reveals a distressing lack of knowledge about Elizabethan poetry in general.
In this section we critically examine Oxford's surviving poetry and the
conclusions Oxfordians have tried to draw from it.
Oxford was praised in print as a poet and playwright when he was alive, a
fact which Oxfordians understandably try to use to their advantage. In
doing so, though, they quote this praise selectively and present it out of
context, leading unwary readers to a greatly inflated view of Oxford's
reputation as a poet. Terry Ross's essay looks at
Oxford's reputation in the actual context of the times, and shows that
while Oxford's work had its admirers, nobody seems to have considered him
a great poet or playwright.
If Oxford did indeed write the works of Shakespeare, why did he never
acknowledge them? Oxfordians claim that the works contain dangerous
political allegories, and that Oxford could not safely allow them to
appear under his own name. Hence, he used the name "Shakespeare." To
support this claim, Oxfordians cite George Puttenham's 1589 book, The
Arte of English Poesie. However, a close examination of Puttenham's work
shows that Oxfordians have relied on doctored evidence, and that
Puttenham's actual words contradict the Oxfordian claim. Find out for
yourself What Puttenham Really Said About Oxford,
and why it matters. This case study of the Oxfordian misuse of evidence
was written by Terry Ross; it appeared on the
humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare newsgroup, and has been revised for
this forum. Parts of the essay criticize the PBS Frontline program
"The Shakespeare Mystery," and Frontline has issued a response to which
Terry Ross has replied. We have made available the texts of the Response from Frontline -- and a Reply. We
have also made the relevant portions of Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie available.
Oxfordians have consistently defended the quality of Oxford's poetry,
arguing that it is not inconsistent with his later having written the
Shakespeare canon. Joseph Sobran has recently gone further, claiming that
the verbal parallels he has found constitute proof that the poetry of
Oxford and Shakespeare were written by the same person. In Shakespeare, Oxford, and Verbal Parallels, David
Kathman examines Sobran's claim and finds it seriously defective,
reflecting ignorance of both attribution studies and Elizabethan poetry.
The Shakespeare Clinic, under the direction of Ward Elliott and
Robert Valenza of Claremont-McKenna College in California, was a project
which compared Shakespeare's poetry with the work of other contemporary
poets by means of various objective tests. The goal was to see if any of
the claimants' poetry matched the Bard's, and none did; furthermore, the
Earl of Oxford was one of the poorest matches for Shakespeare out of all
the poets tested. Read Elliott and Valenza's article on Oxford's candidacy, originally published
in Notes and Queries.
Oxfordians from J. Thomas Looney onward have noted that some of the
verse forms used by Oxford were also used by Shakespeare, and they have
seized upon this coincidence as support for their theories. In The Verse Forms of Shakespeare and Oxford, Terry
Ross looks at this issue in detail and shows how badly Oxfordians have
distorted the facts in an attempt to exaggerate Oxford's similarity to
Shakespeare and his role in the history of English poetry.
Belief in the Oxfordian story that Shakespeare's works were written not by Shakespeare
but by the seventeenth Earl of Oxford requires not merely suspending the rules of evidence that
would normally be used to establish the authorship of a body of work, but also accepting
a set of Oxfordian myths -- tales that are presented as fact but that research shows are simply not true.
Some of these myths have been repeated and handed down from
Oxfordian to Oxfordian for decades, without any attempt being made to verify them.
Here are three essays, each exposing an Oxfordian myth and demonstrating that the Oxfordian
faith in them has been misplaced.
Shakespeare referred to Venus and Adonis as the "first heir of my invention."
Many antistratfordians have been puzzled by the phrase, and have suggested that by "invention," the
author must have meant "pseudonym"; and thus arose the myth that the phrase means
something like "the first product published under my assumed name." The phrase would not have puzzled Shakespeare's
contemporaries, however, as Terry Ross points out in his essay, since
they were familiar with the contemporary habit of referring to works as one's children. Moreover,
contemporary writers never used "invention" to mean "pseudonym"; the word referred to the
writer's wit or imagination. Far from suggesting the use of a pseudonym, Shakespeare's use of the phrase "first heir of my
invention" tells us that he wrote Venus and Adonis by himself and as himself.
In John Benson's 1640 edition of Shakespeare's Poems, question marks appear in places
where one would expect exclamation points. From this, Oxfordians have decided that Benson
must not have thought that Shakespeare was really Shakespeare. Terry Ross has
looked at the evidence, however, and shows that in Benson's
time question marks were often used as exclamation points. Moreover, Benson nowhere expresses
any doubt that the author of the poems was the William Shakespeare whose plays were collected
in the First Folio and who died in April of 1616.
For fifty years Oxfordians have contended that strong evidence that the character Polonius in
Hamlet was based on Lord Burghley is that Burghley's nickname was "Polus." In this essay Terry Ross traces the "Polus" myth to its sources and reveals that it
is absolutely without foundation. He also outlines a fifty year history of Oxfordians parroting and
even embellishing the myth without their ever checking to see whether it was true.
Irvin Leigh Matus's Shakespeare, In Fact (Continuum, 1994) is a
good book-length examination of the authorship question, containing
thorough demolitions of many Oxfordian claims. Even if you've read the
book, check out Thomas A. Pendleton's review, which
originally appeared in The Shakespeare Newsletter. Not only does
Pendleton cogently summarize Matus's arguments, he also adds an excellent
discussion of the vast scope of the conspiracy that would have been
necessary to conceal Oxford's authorship of the Shakespeare plays.
In 1953, Dorothy Ogburn and Charlton Ogburn Sr. published This Star of
England, a 1300-page Oxfordian tome which was a precursor to their son
Charlton Jr.'s The Mysterious William Shakespeare thirty years
later. Giles Dawson's review of this book for
Shakespeare Quarterly provides an excellent summary of the shoddy
scholarship and questionable methods which typify so much Oxfordian work.
Charlton Ogburn's book
The Mysterious William Shakespeare is generally considered the most
thorough exposition of the Oxfordian case; it is certainly one of the most
passionately argued. However, Ogburn has a distressing tendency to brush
aside facts which he finds inconvenient, and to invent or distort other
"facts" to suit his purpose; he employs a blatant double standard in
evaluating evidence which makes his thesis unfalsifiable. David Kathman's
article Why I'm Not an Oxfordian, which
originally appeared in The
Elizabethan Review, looks in detail at some of the many problems
with Ogburn's book and explains why academic Shakespeareans do not take
Ogburn and his Oxfordian brethren seriously.
In 1997, Joseph Sobran's book Alias Shakespeare introduced many newcomers
to the Shakespeare authorship question. Written in an accessible style
without the bitterness that characterizes some Oxfordian writings, Sobran's
book presented a superficially plausible case for Oxford's authorship of
Shakespeare. Unfortunately, beneath the glossy surface lies a mass of
distortions, half-truths, and contradictions which renders Sobran's book no
better as a historical account than other Oxfordian works. David Kathman has
written a number of responses to reader queries which discuss some of the major problems with Sobran's book.
John Michell's Who
Wrote Shakespeare? marks a rebirth of the "groupist" view of
Shakespearean authorship. Michell thinks that just about everybody ever
proposed as a candidate for authorship had his oar in the Avon. Bob
Grumman's review describes Michell's approach,
exposes his loose way with the evidence, and corrects several common
In this essay, excerpted from a
talk delivered at the Library of Congress, Irvin
Matus, the author of
Shakespeare IN FACT, discusses the common Oxfordian claim that
Hamlet is actually a thinly veiled autobiography of Edward de Vere.
Matus points out the weaknesses of the Oxfordian case, and also argues
that the Oxfordian approach to the play seeks to diminish its power as a
work of art, reducing a profound exploration of the deepest issues that
concern us as people to a petty expression of pique.
Until the 1920s, Francis Bacon was the favorite candidate of those who
doubted that Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems that have been
attributed to him. The Oxford faction is today the more numerous, but
there are still Baconians around. In The Code that
Failed, Terry Ross examines the methods of one Baconian, Penn Leary,
who claims that he has found cryptographical proof that Bacon wrote the
works of Shakespeare. We have also made available Penn Leary's reply to the piece, as well as Hiawatha's Cryptographing, Terry Ross's response to
him. In addition we have put up the texts of some UNIX and Perl scripts that were used to test
The 1612 Funeral Elegy by "W.S." has been in the news in recent
years, as scholars and other interested readers argued whether it had been written by
William Shakespeare; the current scholarly consensus is that the poem was
written by John Ford. The case for Shakespeare's authorship was
made in Donald Foster's 1989 book Elegy by W.S., and in subsequent
articles by Foster, Richard Abrams, and others. Time and space do not
allow us to present the arguments over the poem's authorship here but we
can provide the text of the Funeral Elegy
itself. There was spirited debate over the elegy's authorship on the
electronic Shakespeare conference SHAKSPER, and on the newsgroup humanities.lit.authors.Shakespeare.
Much of the new evidence which
convinced Foster that the Elegy was Shakespeare's comes from his lexical
database SHAXICON. He wrote an article for
the Summer 1995 Shakespeare Newsletter, which, while it did not
specifically deal with the Elegy evidence, described the workings of
SHAXICON in some detail. Also, read David Kathman's 1996 post to the humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare
newsgroup, responding to early Oxfordian criticisms and clearing up some
common misunderstandings about Foster's work on the Elegy, as well as a
2002 post on the matter.
A number of
candidates were proposed as the real author of the Funeral Elegy,
including George Chapman, an unnamed member of "a stable of elegy
writers", a country parson, Simon Wastell, Sir William Strode, William
Sclater, and the 17th Earl
of Oxford. John Ford was first suggested in 1996 by Richard J.
Kennedy on Shaksper, but it was not until 2002 that the case for Ford
was generally considered to be stronger than the case for Shakespeare.
The principal arguments in favor of John Ford's authorship may be found in
After Monsarrat's essay appeared, Foster and Abrams conceded that
the case for Ford was now stronger than the case for Shakespeare.
- Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza. "Smoking Guns, Silver Bullets:
Could John Ford Have Written the Funeral Elegy?" Literary and Linguistic
Computing 16:205-32 .
- Gilles D. Monsarrat "A Funeral Elegy: Ford, W.S., and
Shakespeare" in The Review of English Studies 53:186-203 [May
2002]. Here is an
abstract of Monsarrat's essay.
- Brian Vickers, Counterfeiting Shakespeare: Evidence, Authorship and
John Ford's "Funerall Elegye". Here is the publisher's description
of the book.
Ward E.Y. Elliott and Robert J. Valenza have put their own account of the
matter online: "So Much
Hardball, So Little of it Over the Plate: Conclusions from our 'Debate'
with Donald Foster."
Josh McEvilla's remarkable Online Reader of John Cotgrave's English Treasury of Wit and
- Shakespeare's Works
- David Kathman's Biographical Index of English Drama Before 1660 is a
draft list of all people known to have been involved with theater in England between
1558 and 1642.
- Collections of Shakespeare Links
- Find more links to material by and about Shakespeare (and a great many
other writers of the English Renaisance and 17th Century) at the Voice
of the Shuttle
- Since 1990, scholars and common readers have discussed the works and life of Shakespeare on the
SHAKSPER mailing list, which is edited by Hardy M. Cook.
- Oxford's Writings
- Alan Nelson has put up a great deal of information about
the 17th earl of Oxford
including transcriptions of his letters and memoranda, an analysis
of his spelling habits, and information about his trip to Italy. (Of
related interest is our list of the annotations
in Oxford's Bible.) In addition, Nelson has also made available new
evidence of the relationship between
Buc, the Master of Revels from 1610 to 1622.
- Versions of Poems
by Oxford (and others) were
inexpertly edited by J. Thomas Looney. Caveat lector.
- General Discussions of Authorship
- A fine survey is provided by the Wikipedia article Shakespeare authorship question.
- Links to websites of the candidates may be found on the Authorship
Debates page of J. M. Pressley's Shakespeare Resource Center
- John George Robertson's 1911 essay "The Shakespeare-Bacon Theory"
appeared in the Encyclopedia Britannica and has been put online by TheatreHistory.com
- Ward Elliott tells the history of The Shakespeare Clinic, a project that used stylometric methods to investigate the authorship of Shakespeare's works.
- Using stylometrics, Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza calculate the odds against Oxford's having written Shakespeare in Oxford by the Numbers
- In Two Tough Nuts to Crack, Elliott and Valenza test whether their methods support the view that Shakespeare contributed to Sir Thomas More and Edward III.
- Irvin Leigh Matus 's site WillyShakes.com contains several essays on the authorship of Shakespeare's works.
- Steven Dutch, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay,
believes that antistratfordianism is at best a
- Clark Holloway's Shakespeare
page includes a look at The
- James Boyle blends law and literature
Search for an Author: Shakespeare and the Framers
- Diana Price argues in her new book Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography that he was not a writer.
- The Wikipedia includes an entry on Shakespearean authorship
- Alan Haley describes a moot court Authorship Debate
between supporters of Shakespeare and of Oxford.
- Brad Strickland asks Who Wrote Shakespeare?, and answers,
- Amanda J. Crawford reviews Irvin Matus's Shakespeare,
- Authorship is also a popular topic on the newsgroup humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare.
- After the release of Shakespeare in Love, the authorship of Shakespeare's
works became a topic at Mr. Cranky
- The topic sometimes arises on a German Shakespeare
- Authorship issues are often discussed in The Elizabethan Review, a
twice-yearly journal edited by Gary Goldstein.
- The Shakespeare
Authorship Rountable does not
endorse any alternative candidate -- but they're pretty sure the
author was someone other than Shakespeare.
- Ian Chadwick goes In
Search of the Real Bard
- Meg Greene Malvasi asks, Did
He or Didn't He? at the History for Children site.
- Polly Rance reviews John Michell's Who
- . . . as does Jim Loy
on his book review page.
- Nigel Davies
- From Austria, Patricia Hoda asks Wer war Shakespeare?
- T. L. Hubeart looks briefly at The Shakespeare
- A site for schools in Urbana, Ohio, asks Who
- From Richard Stockton College, a brief listing of points for and against
Shakespeare's authorship of his works.
- Libby Maia asks, Were
There Two Shakespeares?
- Barbara Rosson Davis describes her screenplay
about the authorship of Shakespeare's works.
- The founding tract of Oxfordianism is J. Thomas Looney's 'Shakespeare'
Identified in Edward de Vere the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford.
- The Shakespeare Oxford
Society Home Page is the principal Oxfordian web site.
- The Oxfordian Shakespeare Fellowship site includes essays from the group's magazine Shakespeare Matters.
- English Oxfordians have the de Vere Society.
- Mark Alexander's Shakespeare Authorship
Sourcebook, an Oxfordian survey of materials related to Shakespeare
- Nina Green's Oxford Authorship Site credits Edward de Vere with being not merely himself and Shakespeare but also Martin Marprelate, Thomas Nashe, and Robert Greene.
- The Oxfordian musings of Randall Barron total 31 brief
chapters (so far).
- The Oxfordian case was promoted by the PBS Frontline program,
- In 1991, the Oxfordian case was debated in The
- In 1999, the Oxfordian case was debated in Harper's
- A number of pieces by the late Oxfordian Charlton Ogburn Jr. are
The Man Shakespeare Was Not
| Shakespeare's Self-Portrait
| Interview with Charlton Ogburn
| Shakespeare and the Fair Youth
- Joseph Sobran sprinkles his Oxfordian writings
with laments that he
doesn't get enough respect from Shakespearean scholars:
The Problem of the Funeral Elegy
| Bible holds proof of Shakespeare's identity
| Shakespeare's Disgrace
| The Mystery of
| David Kathman and the "Historical Record"
| The Bardï¿½s Orphans
- Sobran's Oxfordian tract
Alias Shakespeare has been reviewed by Jeffrey Gantz
- Favorable comments about Sobran's book by Kathleen van Schaijik led to a lively online discussion.
- Richard Whalen's Shakespeare:
Who Was He? The Oxford Challenge to the Bard of Avon is reviewed
by Paul Franssen.
- Peter Morton reviews two novels promoting the
Oxfordian view and also Denis Baron's De
Vere is Shakespeare
- Ruth Loyd
Miller has republished some of the basic Oxfordian tracts.
- David Roper's Shakespeare Story holds that ciphers in Shakespeare's monument point to Oxford as the "real" author of Shakespeare's works.
- Robert Brazil has put up OXPIX, a page of
"images relevant to the Shakespeare-Oxford debate" as well as chapters
from his book The
True Story of the Shakespeare Publications
- Dennis Hirsch thinks The Mystery of Shake-speare's Sonnets goes away if Oxford is assumed to be the real author.
- Barbara Van Duyn asks the unmusical question Shakespeare,
Earl of Oxford?
- Time magazine's Howard Chua-Eoan wonders whether Oxford was
The Bard's Beard.
- Paige Norris ponders The Shakespearean Controversy
- The Seattle Times covered a 1997
debate between Joseph Sobran and Alan Nelson. (You may have to register to view this article, but there is no charge to do so).
- L. James Hammond
offers a summary of the Oxfordian case quarried from Ogburn.
- Oxfordian Eric Altschuler thinks Hamlet contains a Cosmic
Clue to Bard's Identity, according to Constance Holden.
- Volker Multhopp thought Oxford collaborated on the Shakespeare plays
with John Lyly; his
Small Shakespeare Authorship Page included a response
to David Kathman's Dating the Tempest [Note: Multhopp's pages are no longer maintained, but they
are available at these links via the Wayback Archive.]
- Nina Green has also prepared a response to David Kathman
- John Rollett's notion that the dedication to
Shakespeare's Sonnets contains
Oxfordian cryptograms was discussed in Chance News.
- Old Arcadia has a pretty (and pretty unreliable) Oxfordian site.
- A. C. Challinor is also an
groupist. His publisher's website classifies his book The
Alternative Shakespeare as fiction.
- Oxford was a twig on the deVere
Family Tree, though that does not mean he was Shakespeare.
- Lazy students might want to peek at this sample Oxfordian term paper.
- A Geronimo Reviewer supports Oxford.
- Amie Ader sees a case for Oxford in The Great
- Joseph Eldredge thinks Oxford may have had Martha's Vineyard in mind as the setting fot The Tempest.
- Introduce schoolchildren to Oxfordianism by playing
Shakespeare? A Mock Trial
- Nicole Blank, a 9th grader at Willits (California) High School, asks, Is Shakespeare A Fraud?
- Oxfordianism is all the rage at California's Carmel Shake-speare Festival, but the local
paper isn't convinced.
- The Ojai Shakespeare Festival also
seems interested in Oxfordianism.
- The Edward de Vere Studies
Conference is held every April at Concordia University
in Portland OR.
- Oxfordianism in Italy: was the name "Shakespeare" actually the pseudonimo del poeta e drammaturgo Edward de Vere?
- Norma Howe's Blue Avenger Cracks the Code
presents the exploits of a teen-aged Oxfordian superhero.
- The Oxfordian Stephanie
Caruana has written a play to promote her views.
- Jerry Fey's Oxfordian fantasy Oxford's Will has been performed by the Colony Theater in Los Angeles.
- Francis Bacon
- Other Candidates
- John Raithel looks into the possibility that the works were penned by William Stanley, the sixth Earl of Derby
- Patrick Buckridge puts his money on Sir Edward Dyer.
- Would you believe the
Earl of Rutland? Ilya Gililov does, according to the Christian
- Joanne Ambrose believes Shakespeare's works were written by Edmund Campion.
- Was Shakespeare Sicilian? See
Casa's news account of Martino Iuvara's notion (would it surpise anyone to learn that Iuvara himself is
Sicilian?). Iuvara's idea was considered newsworthy by the
Times of London.
- Peter Zenner thinks somebody named William Pierce was not only Shakespeare
but also Edmund Spenser, John Donne, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, John Milton and many others.
- Henry Neville
- Who REALLY wrote the works of Molière? Hint: it wasn't Oxford or Bacon or Marlowe or even Corneille.
Thanks to Seven
Wonders for naming the SHAKESPEARE AUTHORSHIP Home Page the Site of
the Day on April 23, 1996.
This page is managed by David Kathman and Terry Ross.
We thank all our visitors,
and we invite your comments.