Did you know that there are many scholars who believe that there’s a conspiracy surrounding the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare, and that Shakespeare didn’t actually write the works attributed to him? This Shakespeare conspiracy theory began almost two centuries ago and was recently inflamed by the production of Anonymous, which portrays Shakespeare as a semi-literate, scarcely talented minor actor paid by the genius de Vere, Earl of Oxford, to pass the plays off as his own, as it would have been impossible for a member of the aristocracy to be a playwright in Elizabethan and Jacobean England.

The main contenders for the authorship are Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere. But those who insist that Shakespeare could not have written the plays have mentioned such figures as Ben Jonson, the Earls of Derby, Rutland, Southampton and Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh and even Christopher Marlowe who died long before most of the plays were written. Have a look at our overview of the Shakespeare authorship candidates here.

The argument that drives the conspiracists’ position is that the plays contain too much knowledge of foreign and distant places and too much familiarity with court life and the affairs of court to have been written by someone so low down in the social order: the author writes with ease and familiarity about such aristocratic sports as hunting, falconry, tennis and bowling.  Other arguments are that the plays have too wide a range of style to have been written by someone without the advanced education that most of the other contenders had, and that Stratford was too parochial and backward a place to have produced one of the greatest literary geniuses of all time. Indeed, the argument maintains that the other members of the Shakespeare family, including William’s parents, wife and daughters, were illiterate and it’s impossible that someone with such a facility for language could have grown up and lived a family life in those circumstances.

When the advocates of Shakespeare as the author of the plays point out that Shakespeare had a good education in the classics, the Latin language,  rhetoric and mathematics at the local grammar school their adversaries say that there is no evidence of his attendance there. They insist on his having been illiterate. They use the fact that there is no evidence of his handwriting – no letters or documents written by him. There are only six authenticated signatures, which conspiracists refer to as an illiterate scrawl. They assert that there is no documentary evidence that Shakespeare was a dramatic writer. They maintain that the evidence supports the view of him as a businessman and property owner but nowhere as a writer. His will says nothing about his poems and plays and is phrased in flat, mundane language.

The question of who the author might have been is quite simple: almost all prominent Elizabethans have been mentioned and there are arguments made for their being the author by one conspiracist or another. Whoever is promoted by one of them is always provided with a reason why he couldn’t put himself forward as the author.

The Stratfordists fight back with their own arguments in favour of Shakespeare’s authorship. Their case is more than a series of arguments – it’s a huge body of evidence. It’s pretty weighty so I will summarise it very briefly. It’s significant that nearly all Shakespeare scholars and academics believe that the author referred to as ‘Shakespeare’ was the same William Shakespeare who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and who died there in 1616.

Elizabethan London had scores of playwrights and most of them came from humble backgrounds, sometimes even more humble, like Shakespeare’s friend, Ben Jonson, the son of a bricklayer. No-one suggests that someone else wrote Ben Jonson’s plays, and neither Ben Jonson nor any other of Shakespeare’s contemporaries suggested that their colleague, William Shakespeare, whom they knew well, did not write the plays performed in his name. Moreover, not only did Shakespeare’s name appear on the title pages of poems and plays but he was referred to at least twenty-three times in different documents. Also, there is substantial documentary evidence attesting to the author having been the same Shakespeare whose home was in Stratford. For example, in 1598 Frances Meares named Shakespeare as a playwright and poet in his Palladis Tamia, referring to him as one of the authors by whom the ‘English tongue is mightily enriched,’ and he names twelve plays written by Shakespeare, including one, Love’s Labours Won, that has been lost.

A powerful argument in favour of Shakespeare being the author of the plays is that there are records from his lifetime of books of his plays being printed, his authorship being attested to by the official stationers. There are at least three such references, referring to the printing of Much Ado about NothingHenry IV Part 2 and King Lear, and also to their performances at the Globe.

Mainstream Shakespeare scholars maintain that the convergence of documentary evidence for Shakespeare’s authorship—title pages, testimony by other contemporary poets and historians and official records—is the same as that for any other author of the time. No such supporting evidence exists for any other candidate, and Shakespeare’s authorship was not questioned during his lifetime or for centuries after his death.

Surely there can be no stronger proof of Shakespeare’s role of playwright than records of the acknowledgement of that by his friends and colleagues. Score of actors and writers referred to him, identifying him as a writer. After his death there were several eulogies that spoke of his work by poets like Hugh Holland, Leonard Digges, and most convincing, Shakespeare’s friend and  workmate, Ben Jonson:  To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr William Shakespeare and What He Hath Left Us, published in the First Folio in 1623.

  • Darty P says:

    Well i believe that all this hogwash and gibberly gabbles is false. the only way he could of been this amazing is with ALIENS. As i writes please note that the government is on to me.

    • Isaac b says:

      There on to me as well. They didn’t like it when I took a solo tour of are 51.

  • Stephen Moorer says:

    What Ben Jonson really said about Shakspere of Stratford:
    “Poor POET-APE, that would be thought our chief,
    Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,
    From brokage is become so bold a thief,
    As we, the robb’d, leave rage, and pity it.
    At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
    Buy the reversion of old plays ; now grown
    To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
    He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own :
    And, told of this, he slights it. Tut, such crimes
    The sluggish gaping auditor devours ;
    He marks not whose ’twas first : and after-times
    May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
    Fool ! as if half eyes will not know a fleece
    From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece ?”

    • JF says:

      We do not know that was referring to Shakespeare: no where does Jonson say that.

  • nicole says:

    in my personal opinion, William Shakespeare was either 1) Edward De Vere or 2) a group of people which includes Edward De Vere, Sir Francis Bacon, Christoper Marlowe and MAYBE William Stanley and Roger Manners. my reasons being that, “Shakespeare” spelled his name 80 different ways, and there is no known document with his writing. If you were an Aristocrat back then, you were not able to write plays and such, it was frowned upon. So why not get together with a group of people and call yourselves one person that you may have seen before as an actor, and go from there? W.S. had 100% understanding of law and court activities, yet was not affiliated with them in any way. What we do know about him is that he had no books or anything, and did not finish school and yet he is well talented in creating the worlds most known and wonderful sonnets and plays. but this is all just my opinion.

    • Hope says:

      i think that the idea of W.S. being a group of people is a good one because it explains so much… its either that or he may have worked with other people but had the work published under his name.

    • JF says:

      Shakespeare did not spell his name that many different ways, and what you’re referring to is how other people heard it and spelled it. Spelling was not standardized back then it wouldn’t be for several hundred years. Please do your research before you say things like this. If you want to read an excellent essay on the spelling of Shakespeare’s name Google “Shakespeare’s name kathman spelling.” That will put this foolishness to rest.

      • Piddle says:

        He did write his name in different spellings though, as he did with several other words in his works as well.
        His own signatures include: Willm Shakp | William Shaksper | Wm Shakspe | William Shakspere | Willm Shakspere | William Shakespeare; the latter being the signature on his will.
        So if you would please do /your/ research before telling other people to do so… 🙂

        • BB says:

          I firmly do believe William Shakespeare did exist for several reasons. First of all, to explain why he spelt his name in so many different ways was just to shorten it. On several of his works he has been published as Will Shakp, Willm Shakp, W Shaksper, and its true, spelling was not standardized so people would just spell his name how they thought.
          Another reason why W. Shakespeare did exist is because there were several people mentioning him after his death, meaning that he knew them personally, and they include: John Heminges, Henry Condell who state they worked with him for 20 years and knew him as a friend, and Ben Johnson who was a playwright and poet as well.
          If you mean to say the group with Sir Fances Bacon made up several different people, two of whom were actors, so were seen on stage, come up with some evidence as well please..

        • Stella says:

          Sounds like grounds for calling him illiterate, to me, if he couldn’t even spell his own name right each time 😉

  • George Jesus says:

    I strongly believe that William Shakespeare was not the writer of the plays, because according to my research, the 17th earl of oxford wrote all of the plays, and asked William Shakespeare to write his name underneath all of them, because the he wanted William to be famous.

    • Ryan says:

      Brilliant research and in-depth analysis. Bravo.

    • sayaha says:

      Well… Go for the Hoffman Prize then.

  • Makayla Johnson says:

    I believe that Shakespeare did write all the plays himself because anything is possible and we don’t even really know much about him so who are we to say that he wasn’t completely brilliant.

  • JF says:

    Try looking at the volume of Jonson’s work. Or Bacon. Or Lope de Vega. They all dwarf Shakespeare’s output. Foolish argument.

  • Joseph says:

    One might come up with a new weirdo theory that Shakespeare is actually an Arab Seaman who got stranded in England and then got around to doing odd jobs in and around Southwark, got into the theatre and then stole plays or polished them or allowed others to use his name .His real name is Sheik Zaphir or sheikh Musafir. People in England Anglicised it conveniently and made him shakespeare. these English men!

    • Lindah says:

      Shaxspeare, first appears in English records in very early times as a surname or title given to someone brave in battle along with land. It is very olde English with no links to the Middle East.

  • Sarah Elizabeth Raquel Reveles says:

    People forget who Shakespeare was related too, and how was his mother, aso well education was limited to royals and Aristocats, and what if Shakespeare was inspired of old tales of the past , is not still his story and his play and how he choose to tell and portray and display his play and stories..

  • Eureka Tells says:

    If I may add. We don’t know if William Shakespeare is his real name plus he never called himself a playwright many people called him that but he never admitted to it himself. He calls himself a gent.

    Also none of us lived in the 15th century to say much. Even if you dug up information from the man who said such back then we do not know if it’s true or false.

    That’s all I have to say.

  • Åke Brandt says:


    Let say that you grew up in a village where almost everyone are illiterate including your parents, Say further that you wanted to learn to read and write, what is your parents most likely reaction?:

    Learn to read, whatever for?
    Reading doesen’t put bread on the table. Learn a trade – and you will be able to feed your family. Beside, you are neede here at home. Give me a hand with this ….

    But still, say that he somehow went to the Grammar School, but there’s a hitch: He couldn’t begin before he had learned to read and write.

    And if he went to that Grammar School he must have gotten an education at University level – at least, and a juridicial one on top of that.

    And even if he went to Grammar School, where did he learn English – and do not mean the English spoken in Stratford , but the English spoken at Court in London? And the difference between those two lanaguages were great, so great that when people were called up for military sevice from the countryside to London,they had to use interpreters.
    And even if he wrote in Court English – his “home-English” would had trickled through by specific words or sentences. And according to those books that I have read, no such words or sentences exist in the plays.

    But still, say that he wrote Court English like a native, where did he learn Normandic French, the law language used in those days?

    There is plenty of ifs here, but the basic if is that it is more likely that he didn’t learn to read and write in a illiterate milieu. The same experience I had when I grew up on a farm: Education is fine, as long you stay at home and do the work that has to be done.


    PS Do Not Sign Me Up For NoSweatShakespeare Newsletter

    • Nicole says:

      Well actually it’s documented that Shakespeare did go to a school through what we now consider middle school ages and had a classical education which would have included French and Latin as well covering the histories of many European countries and a lot of classic literature. If he was assume he was both a genius and good at exploiting a situation he very likely could have had access (through his teacher to more.)
      Further, while his father was a farmer and likely leather worker, he actually was very successful and ended up being in local government. So perhaps his father would be encouraging of education? Food for thought.

  • Antares says:

    Much of the foregoing comments are absolutely ridiculous in my estimation. If you are going to doubt the historical existence of Shakespeare, who died merely 501 years ago, we all may as well disbelieve the historical existence of such notable figures as Jesus Christ, whose death was approximately 2,000 years ago. Furthermore, it appears that many of the comments are left by people who would not accept the actual and very real existence of anyone who does not actually live in their own life-span. How idiotic we become when we embrace yet another useless Conspiracy Theory that has absolutely no basis in factual, historical reality. Wake up people! If you persist, you surely do not accept the historical existence of Mozart, Beethoven, Napoleon, Robespierre, and an ever-continuing list of remarkable people who have shaped our very modern world. Give this enough time and perhaps there will be a nonsensical debate about the historical existence of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates! Good riddance to this foolish debate!

    • Kyle Weishan says:

      Thank you this will help a lot with my English essay.

      • dom says:

        I strongly believe that My great great grandfather, was in fact the one and the only Wllliami Shakespearari….I have lots of evidence and in conclusion he is resl xxx