The conspiracy 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.
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.”
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!
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.
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?
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?
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 was 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?