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Shakespeare's Authorship

There is considerable historical evidence of the existence of a William Shakespeare who lived in both Stratford-upon-Avon and London. The vast majority of academics identify this Shakespeare as the Shakespeare. Over the years however, such figures as Walt Whitman, Mark Twain ("Is Shakespeare Dead?"), Henry James, and Sigmund Freud have expressed disbelief that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, christened William Shaksper or Shakspere, actually produced the works attributed to him. This scepticism is variously grounded: such as the lack of a single book to be found in his otherwise detailed will, the circumscribed social, education and travel opportunities available to the young author that could have served to prepare him, the differences in spellings of his name, the language of the works itself. Mainstream scholars consider all these supposed mysteries to be explicable.

Many attribute this debate to the scarcity and ambiguity of many of the historical records of this period. Even the painting in the National Portrait Gallery, London (illustration above) may not depict Shakespeare after all, and the well-known "Flower Portrait" at Stratford-upon-Avon was demonstrated (by analysing pigment and discovering chrome yellow) to be an early 19th-century forgery [1]. Various fringe scholars have suggested writers such as Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and even Queen Elizabeth I as alternative authors or co-authors for some or all of "Shakespeare's" work. Some of these claims necessarily rely on conspiracy theories to explain the lack of direct historical evidence for them, although advocates of alternative authors point to evidentiary gaps in the orthodox history.

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, an English nobleman and intimate of Queen Elizabeth, became the most prominent alternative candidate for authorship of the Shakespeare canon, after having been identified in the 1920s. Oxford partisans note the similarities between the Earl's life, and events and sentiments depicted in the plays and sonnets. Oxford was also contemporaneously identified as a poet and writer of some talent, and had the documented education, travel and life experience that one would ordinarily associate with works both as broad and detailed as Shakespeare.

A related question in mainstream academia addresses whether Shakespeare himself wrote every word of his commonly-accepted plays, given that collaboration between dramatists routinely occurred in the Elizabethan theatre. Serious academic work continues to attempt to ascertain the authorship of plays and poems of the time, both those attributed to Shakespeare and others.

 

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