Conspiracy 4

Who Wrote Shakespeare? The Authorship Candidates

The conspirary that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays exists in some circles, which leads to the question who wrote Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets? We address the William Shakespeare authorship controversy here, but thought we’d take a closer look at the candidates who may have written Shakespeare’s plays according to the conspiracy theorists.


Sir Francis Bacon

Authorship Candidate 1: Sir Francis Bacon 1561-1626 

Sir Francis Bacon – the  essayist, scientist and writer of New Atlantis – was the first alternative candidate proposed as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays in 1856. There is little evidence to suggest this, though what ‘evidence’ there is takes the form of some similarities in Shakespeare’s plays to his own, and the circumstantial ‘fact’ that Bacon’s Grand Tour took him to the location of several of Shakespeare’s plays. Baconians have also argued that Shakespeare’s works show a detailed scientific knowledge that, they claim, only Sir Francis Bacon would have possessed.

The idea that the two writers have similar styles was dismissed by Scott McCrea who writes, “there is no answer for Bacon’s different renderings of the same word—’politiques’ instead of ‘politicians’, or ‘submiss’ instead of the Author’s ‘submissive’, or ‘militar’ instead of the Poet’s ‘military’. These are two different writers.”


Edward de Vere

Authorship Candidate 2: Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604
Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford was a courtier poet. There is little strong evidence that suggests he wrote Shakespeare’s plays, but some believe there are references in both the plays and sonnets to de Vere’s life, as well as a series of codes in the writing that implicate the Earl as the author to those in the know. These theories as to who wrote Shakespeare were given weight (to some) by the film Anonymous, released in 2012.

Mainstream scholars have described the methods  of Oxfordians over the years as devoid of any evidential value and subjective, suggesting double standards are used to consistently distort and misrepresent the historical record – sometimes even outright fabrication. Perhaps the ultimate evidential objection to the Oxfordian theory is de Vere’s death in 1604, after which a number of Shakespeare’s plays were written!


Christopher Marlowe

Authorship Candidate 3: Christopher Marlowe, 1564 -1593

The playwright Christopher Marlowe was writing at the same time as Shakespeare and it’s highly likely that the two had met each other. The Marlowvian theory – first presented by Wilbur Zeigler in 1895 – states that reports of Marlowe’s death in a drunken brawl on 30 May 1593 were falsified to protect him from going to prison for being an atheist. Marlovians base their theory on both some anomalies surrounding Marlowe’s reported death and on the  influence which Marlowe’s works had on those of Shakespeare.

The argument against this is that Marlowe’s death was accepted as genuine by sixteen jurors at an inquest held after his death and that there is a total lack of direct evidence supporting his survival beyond 1593, and his style, imagery and vocabulary are too different to Shakespeare’s to be compatible with Marlow writing the plays.


William Stanley

Authorship Candidate 4: William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, 1561-1642
Derby’s candidacy was first proposed in 1891 by the archivist James H. Greenstreet,who identified a pair of 1599 letters which reported that Derby was unlikely to advance the Catholic cause as he was “busy penning plays for the common players.” Greenstreet further argued that the comic scenes in Love’s Labour’s Lost were influenced by a pageant of the Nine Worthies only ever performed in Derby’s home town of Chester.

With the initials W.S. and his habit of signing himself off as “Will” it’s easy to imagine that there’s a link between William Stanley and Shakespeare. But does this evidence alone point to William Stanley being the greatest play-write in history?


Roger Manners

Authorship Candidate 5: Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland, 1576-1612

In the early 20th century, Roger Manners  the 5th Earl of Rutland was proposed as a candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays by Karl Bleibtreu, a German literary critic – later supported by a number of other authors. Manners married the daughter of the poet Philip Sydney and it is thought that the two of them together wrote the plays.

However, the biggest hole in this theory of who wrote Shakespeare’s plays is that the Earl would have been only 16 when the first of Shakespeare’s works was published in 1593 – surely too inexperienced a writer?


Mary Sydney Herbert

Authorship Candidate 6: Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, 1561-1621
On account of her literary talents and strong family connections to Shakespeare, Mary Sidney Herbert is one of the writers who have been linked to the Shakespeare authorship debate/conspiracy. The First Folio is dedicated to Mary Sidney’s two sons, the “incomparable brethren,” neither of whom had otherwise been connected to Shakespeare previously.

Mary Sidney Herbert had connections to the source materials of the plays – indeed, it is thought Shakespeare may have used one of her plays (The Tragedy of Antonie) as source material for  Antony & Cleopatra), and because she was a woman, she was not allowed to write plays for the public theater.


Authorship Candidate 7: Various authors

The most popular author conspiracy theory of earlier times held that Shakespeare’s works were written by a group of collaborators. In 1848 the American Joseph C Hart wrote a book putting forward the argument that Shakespeare’s plays were written by a number of different authors which was back up by Delia Bacon’s article of 1856 which attributed authorship to a group of writers led by Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh. As with all the above candidates, there’s no real evidence that a group of writers were responsible for Shakespeare’s works.


So, that’s an overview of the main candidates presented by the non-believers of Shakespeare. What’s your take on it – who do you think wrote Shakespeare’s plays?

5 replies
  1. JF
    JF says:

    No one in the academic extablishment makes a fortune, so the argument that they refuse to examine the authorship question because their funding is at jeopardy is ridiculous. It’s an excuse, a way to save a bruised ego because anti-Stratfordians do not use accepted scholarly methods, and therefore are not respected. And it’s hard to respect them because they show absolutely no respect for truth. They twist biographical facts to suit their theories. Just above I see several flaws: some of Shakespeare’s sources do indeed date after de Vere’s death. Mary Sydney’s sons did not need to have a connection to Shakespeare, because he had no hand in producing the First Folio! His two friends, Condell and Hemmings did! In 1616 Ben Jonson published his work and someone realize they could do the same for Shakespeare. But he died that year! The most he could have done is hand over copies of his manuscripts to these two gentlemen, which may be why he remember them in his will. And don’t forget, once the play was written and hand it over to whoever was purchasing it, it was not owned by the playwright anymore! Shakespeare did not own the rights to his own plays if they had been sold to a playhouse! As to the Apocrypha, these are plays by inferior playwrights passed off as William Shakespeare’s at a time when his name sold plays! The Folio does not include them for a very good reason, they are not his! People really need to do thorough research in printing, publishing, and playwriting before they spout off inane theories.

  2. Ben West
    Ben West says:

    Of those generally considered, Mary Herbert seems the most probable to me. The need for anonymity, her being a woman, tends to tip the scale (I also consider Priscilla as the most likely to have written The Epistle to the Hebrews, for essentially the same reason).

  3. Marina Litvinova
    Marina Litvinova says:

    my theory is William Shakespeare might be a pseudonym for two persons: Francis Bacon and Roger Manners fifth Earl of Rutland. Bacon was Rutland’s guardian. I wrote a book “The Vindication of Shakespeare” which was published in Russian in Moscow in 2008. InJune 2012 the Rutland-Bacon Society was founded in Russia.

  4. Howard Schumann
    Howard Schumann says:

    It is no surprise that the academic establishment dismisses the evidence for Edward de Vere’s authorship. There is too much at stake in terms of their reputation, livelihood, and financial investment for both the academics and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to look at the evidence objectively.

    De Vere was a recognized poet and playwright of great talent, and although no play under Oxford’s name has come down to us, his acknowledged early verse and his surviving letters contain forms, words, and phrases resembling those of Shakespeare.

    The Shakespeare plays and poems show that the author had specific knowledge of certain works of literature, certain prominent persons in Elizabeth’s court, and events connected with them. In the sonnets and the plays there are frequent references to events that are paralleled in Oxford’s life. We also know that Oxford was fluent in four foreign languages, Latin, Greek, Italian, and French.

    Of the 37 plays, 36 are laid in royal courts and the world of the nobility. The principal characters are almost all aristocrats with the exception perhaps of Shylock and Falstaff. From all we can tell, Shakespeare fully shared the outlook of his characters, identifying fully with the courtesies, chivalries, and generosity of aristocratic life. Lower class characters in Shakespeare are almost all introduced for comic effect and given little development. Their names are indicative of their worth: Snug, Stout, Starveling, Dogberry, Simple, Mouldy, Wart, Feeble, etc.

    Hundreds of plays were performed at court as early as the 1570s that sound like early versions of Shakespeare’s work and indeed have been cited as sources. Unfortunately, the authors of these plays were not recorded. Many plays also were performed in the legal Inns of Court of which Oxford was a member in 1567. Since Meres, writing in 1598 called Oxford the best for comedy and since no plays survive in his name, we can speculate that many of these plays were his.

    In the Renaissance period in England no courtiers were allowed to publish plays for the public stage — this was an unwritten code of the court. The need for a pseudonym by an author-courtier such as Oxford would have been essential. Some feel, however, that the use of the Shakespeare pen name had more to do with the political satire in the plays of prominent court personalities including the Queen.

    As far as 1604 is concerned, there is no agreed upon dating for Shakespeare’s plays. It is all conjecture since we do not have the manuscripts. Dates of publication or performance do not tell us anything about the date of composition. Actually, the year 1604 seems to have been some sort of a watershed.

    No source for any Shakespearean play is dated after 1604.

    No sonnets were written after 1604.

    Between the years 1593 to 1604, seventeen plays attributed to Shakespeare were published. From 1605 to 1623 there were only five, said to be collaborations

  5. Sabrina Feldman
    Sabrina Feldman says:

    This is a fascinating historical mystery. My own theory is that Shakespeare may have been the great English poet and statesman Thomas Sackville (1536-1608), somewhat inexplicably overlooked as an authorship candidate for the last century and a half. For an introduction to the case for Sackville, see
    As for William Shakespeare, I believe he may have been the main author of the “Shakespeare Apocrypha,” a group of plays that were attributed to William S. by his contemporaries and near-contemporaries, but now excluded from the Shakespeare canon. This would explain why two different bodies of literary work (the Canon and the Apocrypha) were attributed to a single author in his own time — a fact which poses a genuine authorship mystery. Here’s a Youtube introduction to the Shakespeare Apocrypha:


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