Shakespeare’s Authorship Question. A Short Input to a Long Discussion

Pre-University Paper, 2015

20 Pages, Grade: 15 NP

Lore Li (Author)



1 Introduction

2 Overviews of Shakespeare and his time
2.1 Short biography of Shakespeare
2.2 Theatre and authorship in the Elizabethan and Jacobean time

3 Theories about his authorship
3.1 Christopher Marlowe
3.2 Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
3.3 Francis Bacon
3.4 William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby
3.5 Group theory
3.6 William Shak(e)spe(a)re

4 Own argumentation
4.1 Contra Shakespeare
4.2 Pro Shakespeare
4.3 Summary

5 Conclusion and prospect

6 Sources
6.1 Electronic Resources
6.2 Books

7 Enclosure App. 1:

1 Introduction

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon farther writing plays like Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and others. He was a brilliant playwright creating nearly 40 productions and 154 sonnets, while dwelling in London. This is at least the majority opinion taught in schools.

There is however reason for doubt. While dealing a bit deeper with Shakespeare you unavoidably will come to the point that opinions differ in the question if he truly was who he pretended to be. Imagine the magnificent bard was not the author of all the dramas, comedies, history plays and poems. Or could it be possible that this famous name was just a pseudonym? And if it was, then the question is why? Which clues for and against are existing?

In the English lessons we learned the prevailing aspects along with the common view about the grand composer and his plays. After a rough contribution into the authorship debate more questions emerged and the foundation of this term paper was laid.

To come to one of many answers, this work will be structured at first in a short biography of Shakespeare and an overview of his time concerning the theatre and authorship in general. Afterwards I would like to explore positions that assume Shakespeare not to be the man who is thought to be the drafter Shakespeare. On the other hand also the opposing view will be presented and explained. To forge an own profound opinion it is significant to have a review about this complex of themes.

A detailed presentation of my own view regarding arguments for and against Shakespeare from Stratford as the writer will be followed by a final synopsis and prospect of the issue. So the focus in this work is more on investigate the Stratford-man than on other theories, even though these will come up for discussion. Because of their multifacetedness it would go beyond the scopes of this term paper.

2 Overviews of Shakespeare and his time

2.1 Short biography of Shakespeare

When now writing about William Shakespeare the person from Stratford-upon-Avon (Warwickshire, England) is meant, who is the bard Shakespeare according to the most common opinion. That implies this biography is written as this man would be the author.

Shakespeare’s exact date of birth is unknown, but his baptism on the 26th of April 1564 is certified by a church record 1. He was born as the third child to John Shakespeare, a successful leather merchant and alderman, and Mary Arden, whose father was a landowning farmer. There is no evidence that he attended school, but it is assumed that he acquired education in the King’s New School in Stratford.

When he was 18 years old he married the eight years older Anne Hathaway on the 28th November 1582 and their first daughter Susanna was born after six months. 1585 Anne gave birth to the twins Hamnet and Judith, the boy died at the age of 11 2. The next seven years until 1592 are called the “lost years” because it is a period without existing records about Shakespeare or his actions. But there are certain speculations that range from starting his theatrical career in London 3, being a country schoolmaster to fleeing from the landlord Thomas Lucy because of illegal deer hunting. In the late 1580s he probably moved to London because 1592 some of Williams plays were performed in London and Robert Greene, a London playwright, attacked him in the Stationers’ Register 4 by writing: “There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapped in a Player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country 5.”

His first plays were the trilogy Henry VI probably in 1589-91, then other performances ensued like The Comedy of Errors (presumably 1592) and his poem Venus and Adonis was released in 1593.

He became a part owner of ‘The Globe’ 6, which opened in 1599 7 and ‘The Blackfriars’ theatre and actor and member of the theatrical company ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Men’ in 1594. The same year, the tragedy Romeo and Juliet was drafted 8 and by 1597 he possessed the largest house in Stratford. The comedy Much Ado About Nothing was written one year afterwards.

His spectacle troupe was famous in such a way that it was patronized by King James I. since 1603 to 1625 and hence they changed their name to ‘The King’s Men’. After 1600 Shakespeare wrote the socalled later works, almost all tragedies such as Hamlet, probably referring to his dead son. 1605 Macbeth was acted out at the Globe Theatre and the last play possibly was a collaboration with John Fletcher (Two Noble Kinsmen 1613) After 1610 he went back to Stratford-upon-Avon and died there on the 23rd April 1616.

In total he wrote 9 about 37 plays 10, other sources claim 38 11 depending on the conumeration of the collaborative work with John Fletcher or even 40 works when including the two lost plays Love’s Labour’s Won and Cardenio 12. Additionally 154 sonnets and five poems are attributed to this writer.

2.2 Theatre and authorship in the Elizabethan and Jacobean time

The Elizabethan era started with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I. in 1558 and lasted until her death in 1603. This time is also called the ‘Golden Age’ because the Queen settled the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants. During her reign the first theatres were built in London. Previously the establishing acting troupes performed in inn-yards or taverns 13. Around 1576 James Burbage constructed ‘The Theatre’, which was used by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men from 1594-96. Several open air amphitheatres like ‘The Rose’ or ‘The Curtain’ opened and were mainly used in the summer months. The playhouses had a capacity of approximately 1500-3000 people and the cheapest standing places in the groundlings were priced at one penny. With paying more, like the nobles, the seats in the galleries were more comfortable, covered and had even a better view on the event.

Throughout the time of the plagues 1593 and 1603 all theatres in London were closed and from 1596- 97 they were banned from the city because of the high risk of infection combined with the authorities’ fear of tumults and riots.

The Queen herself watched performances in her own residence, with specially engaged spectacle troupes 14 and encouraged the theatrical growth.

The mentality in England at that time was more liberal than in the other European countries. Therefore there were more and better possibilities to get creative in writing or acting. Yet it was not allowed to pen against the church or the Queen.

King James I. was crowned in 1603. He was very interested in the arts, the theatre and its plays, and especially in drama. He became the patron of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men very shortly after his inauguration.

Actors were held in low esteem, but the reputation increased towards the end of the 16th century 15. Nevertheless they needed the patronage of a noble, not to rate as vagabond and be punished as one. The social conventions determined that aristocrats were not allowed to write any plays or literature of such kind. That is why they often used pseudonyms when publishing something written.

3 Theories about his authorship

The first doubts 16 about the true identity of the man who composed all the writings, were risen roughly 150 years after William Shakespeare’s death, when Herbert Lawrence wrote a book about the possibility that Shakespeare was only a pseudonym in 1769. 1780 James Wilmot wanted to draft a biography about the man from Stratford, but could not find any book about Shakespeare or other evidence that sustained him as the author. Therefore Wilmot supposed another candidate, Sir Francis Bacon, to be the composer. Delia Bacon represented the same idea in her book The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded, 1857. Likewise Mark Twain came to the same point with his book Is Shakespeare dead? inspired by George Greenwood. Several theories were developed, essays, books and articles were written about Christopher Marlowe as the real Shakespeare (Wilbur Ziegler: It was Marlowe 1895, Calvin Hoffman: The Murder of the Man Who Was “Shakespeare” 1955) or Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (J. Thomas Looney: "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward De Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford 1920, Charlton Ogburn: The Mysterious William Shakespeare 1984) or Ben Jonson (Joseph C. Hart: The Romance of Yachting 1848) or Sir Edward Dyer (Alden Brooks: Will Shakespeare and the Dyer’s Hand 1943). Furthermore various films exist today about the authorship and there is a lot of debate about the subject.

Added together there are approximately 60 candidates that are presumed to be the true “Bard of Avon”. The following sub items will approach some selected theories as well as the conviction that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

3.1 Christopher Marlowe

First of all, this theory strictly makes a distinction between the author Shakespeare and the (business)man from Stratford-upon-Avon most time written as “Shakspere” (or Shexpere, Shackspere, Shaxper,… 17 ) with a phonetically short first syllable. Even if the orthography, spelling and grammar in general was not fixed at this time, it has to be noticed that the names were written how it was pronounced 18. So Shak- and Shakespeare are most probably different names/ names of different persons.

This confidence is based on the assumption that Christopher Marlowe used the name Shakespeare as a pseudonym because he got into dire straits when writing against the church. Marlowe feigned his death in 1593 and engaged William Shakespeare to be his “face” in public.

Also it is explained that the artistic pursuit of Shakespeare would have begun too late. The life expectancy in the 16th/17th century was short with around 40 years, but he started his literary activity at the age of 26 and moreover there was no parallel activity of Shakespeare and Marlowe even though both were born in the same year. That also would mean that Shakespeare never had a development and training in writing before his first opus Venus and Adonis. Marlowe already had worked as a dramatist and as a translator when he was 30 years old. 19


1 Laura Grimm, Leanne French, Eudie Pak (2015)

2 Ibid. Shakespeare Biography (08.04.2015)

3 (2015)

4 A guild publication (cf. (16.03.2015)

5 Bastian Conrad correlates the „Shake-scene“ not with Shakespeare but with Edward Alleyn, a famous actor. (cf. Bastian Conrad 2014, p.88 f.)

6 ‘The Globe’ was a London theatre at the south bank of the river themsis.

7 Laura Grimm, Leanne French, Eudie Pak (2015)

8 Lee Jamieson (n.d.) Shakespeare Timeline

9 List of Shakespeare’s plays see enclosure app. 1

10 Laura Grimm, Leanne French, Eudie Pak (2015)

11 Lee Jamieson (n.d.) List of Shakespeare List_of_Shakespeare_Plays.htm (04.04.2015)

12 Amanda Mabillard (2014) How Many Plays Did Shakespeare Write? http://www.shakespeare- (04.04.2015)

13 Linda Alchin (2015) Elizabethan Theater, Playhouses & Inn-Yards

14 Prof. Dr. Theo Stemmler (2012)

15 Ibid.

16 The Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable (n.d.)

17 William Henry Burr (1886)

18 Bastian Conrad (2014) p.76

19 Ibid. p.43-44

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Shakespeare’s Authorship Question. A Short Input to a Long Discussion
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Lore Li (Author), 2015, Shakespeare’s Authorship Question. A Short Input to a Long Discussion, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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