The Shakespeare Authorship Controversy

“He who desires to understand Shakespeare truly must understand the relations in which Shakespeare stood to the Renaissance and the Reformation, to the age of Elizabeth and the age of James; he must be familiar with the history of the struggle for supremacy between the old classical forms and the new spirit of romance, between the school of Sidney, and Daniel, and Jonson, and the school of Marlowe and Marlowe’s greater son; he must know the materials that were at Shakespeare’s disposal, and the method in which he used them, and the conditions of theatric presentation in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, their limitations and their opportunities for freedom, and the literary criticism of Shakespeare’s day, its aims and modes and canons; he must study the English language in its progress, and blank or rhymed verse in its various developments; he must study the Greek drama, and the connection between the art of the creator of the Agamemnon and the art of the creator of Macbeth; in a word, he must be able to bind Elizabethan London to the Athens of Pericles, and to learn Shakespeare’s true position in the history of European drama and the drama of the world.” Oscar Wilde, (“The Critic as Artist”, 1891).

Which must be the longest sentence ever in English literary history in order to sum up the vast length and breadth of Shakespeare scholarship. For those who are totally unaware of the number of contentions to Shakespeare authorship there are currently more than a dozen proposed candidates for authorship of the Shakespeare Canon including Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, the statesman and intelligencer, Sir Francis Bacon, the poet and playwright, Sir Christopher Marlowe, Sir Henry Chettle, the Earl of Rutland, Roger Manners, the French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne, the Spanish writer, Miguel Cervantes, a contender for the throne, Lady Jane Grey, and the romanticised monarch Queen Elizabeth Ist, etc. These other candidates came into being shortly after Thomas J. Looney published his book entitled “Shakespeare Identified”. Thomas J. Looney identified several aspects of Shakespeare’s dramatic and poetic style that set him apart from other possible candidates for authorship of the 1623 Folio namely:

a) Of recognised genius and secretive
b) Apparent eccentricity
c) Unconventional status
d) Apparent sense of inadequacy
e) Of pronounced literary tastes
f) Enthusiasm for drama
g) A talent for lyricism in poetry
h) Of extraordinary education

Furthermore, Thomas Looney ascertained that the author of the 1623 Folio would have been:

i. A man with strong feudal connections
ii. A member of the higher aristocracy
iii. A supporter of the Lancastrian cause
iv. A man who had visited Italy and France
v. A man of sporting ability
vi. A man who loved music
vii. Improvident in financial matters
viii. Ambivalent towards women
ix. Of Catholic belief, but touched with scepticism

The number of alternative candidates for authorship continues to grow annually and by the decade. Furthermore, I am not the only ardent fan of Shakespeare to have serious doubts on orthodox Shakespeare Authorship, ever since the 1900’s a growing number of actors, playwrights, poets, authors, politicians, and celebrities have quite rightly cast doubt on the Stratfordian view that a relatively obscure individual named William Shakspere could have written the superlative poetry and plays attributed to the pseudonymous “William Shakespeare”. Among them are:

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Otto Von Bismarck
Henry James
Benjamin Disraeli
Mark Twain
Thomas Hardy
Charlie Chaplin
John Buchan
Charles de Gaulle
Orson Welles
Muriel Spark
Sir John Gielgud
Sir Kenneth Branagh
Charles Dickens
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Lord Palmerston
Walt Whitman
John Galsworthy
Sigmund Freud
James Joyce
Helen Keller
Vladimir Nabakov
Daphne Du Maurier
Enoch Powell
Sir Derek Jacobi
Ezra Pound

To truly appreciate the work of William Shakespeare one is obliged to consult the available evidence of which there is very little to support the widespread false assumption by academics and scholars:

a) that he received an education and was capable of reading and writing.
b) that we have any proof of his original hand-written or signed manuscripts.
c) that he owned or had access to over 3,000 books, the literary sources required to write the plays.
d) that he spoke, wrote or understood Latin, French, or Italian.
e) that he had ever travelled abroad so would not have been familiar with the French or Italian court and finally:
f) that there are no actual remains of his physical body, supposedly interred at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.

William Shakspere should have owned a copy of the Geneva Bible

In the absence of these seven basic factual omissions serious doubts are inevitable over his authorship particularly if you have an objective and discerning mind. Those admirers gullible enough to accept everything without question that was deduced by Shakespearean academics in the 18th and 19th centuries about William Shakespeare will automatically go into a sense of denial when challenged or informed otherwise. The popular biographical portrait that those academics have “gleaned” of the author is more akin to the legend of “Dick Whittington” and leads the reader down numerous blind alleys, false assumptions and inevitably a number of omissions. Into this vacuous cauldron has been emptied a great deal of speculation, conjecture, supposition and numerous alternate theories. Examining the evidence more closely as a forensic or investigative journalist, rather than as an academic I have come to the conclusion that there has been a serious literary fraud imposed and perpetrated by certain members of the aristocracy and the state for a variety of reasons which my book attempts to investigate and explain. If the Director of London’s Globe Theatre, Peter Dawkins in his book “The Shakespeare Enigma” expresses serious doubts over the Stratfordian view, to name just one of millions of other scholars, actors and celebrities who have also similar views and doubts, then I am happy to join them in expressing my own concerns over what true evidence is currently available.

A still from the movie Anonymous depicting the Earl of Oxford at his desk

In 2012 a film entitled “Anonymous”, which Roland Emmerich and John Orloff directed and produced their successful, but nevertheless controversial film which suggests that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford was the anonymous Shakespearean author. I agree entirely with that conclusion but with some reservations. The film suggests Oxford had an affair with Queen Elizabeth 1st as Charlton Ogburn does in his book “The Mysterious William Shakespeare” (Cardinal Press 1984). Their secret love-child it is presumed was Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton and dedicatee of the Sonnets published in 1609. I have already examined that possibility in a previous article entitled “The Fair Youth of Shakespeare’s Sonnets”. However, I am not in effect attempting to proselytise for the De Vere case, rather I am just providing the clues and hidden facts that have for so long been overlooked or ignored. This deeper examination will undoubtedly paint an entirely different picture of “William Shakespeare” for scholars and students of Elizabethan drama. But it is very much dependent on the “Correct Dating of Shakespeare’s Plays” as it seems that the Stratfordian academics were at great pains to build a chronology of authorship around the life of William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon and not around the life of Edward de Vere who was ten years his senior.

The Earl of Oxford as Queen Elizabeth’s “Spin-Doctor” who was given an annuity of £1,000 to propagandise for the state

To my personal amazement, the actor and author on wordpress, Frank Whittemore has been able to produce “One Hundred Reasons Why De Vere Wrote Shakespeare” in a series of posts in support of the Earl of Oxford. In a similar vein, the film “Anonymous” is a shortened fictionalized version of the life of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, an Elizabethan courtier, playwright, poet and patron of the arts, and suggests he was the actual author of William Shakespeare‘s plays. The narrative also suggests that Ben Jonson was recruited by the Earl to support the pseudonymous Shakspere as a “mask” for the Earl of Oxford. A 2020 subscriber survey conducted by the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship indicated that although entertaining, the film did not persuade or convert the viewers from the traditional Stratfordian view in favour of the controversial Oxfordian case. Not to mention the large number of videos available on Utube in defence and support of the Earl of Oxford as the anonymous author of Shakespeare’s plays. Particularly when you appreciate that he had the means, the education, the motivation and the time involved in performing such a Herculean task. The Devil is, as they say, in the detail.

A short trailer for the movie “Anonymous”

Shakespearean academics and scholars were naturally and automatically lulled and drawn by the research compiled into what can only be described as the “Shakespeare Myth” whereby it was generally perceived that a man of humble origins, who, with little or no formal education, few means or resources or any guidance or mentoring became the most leading poet and playwright the world has ever known. Indeed, this notion is not so dissimilar to the popular myth borne across the Atlantic ocean to the United States as “The American Dream”. Those adherents of the myth include those unconsciously paranoid about “class privilege” in the United Kingdom and unable to accept that it was a rich and privileged aristocrat who wrote Shakespeare’s canon, not a poor working-class commoner. Adding of course that anyone who denies the working-class hero his ascent to fame and fortune are simply snobbish and bigoted towards the working class themselves. Thereafter, what evolved in the minds of researchers and academics constructing a viable biography of the Stratford Shakespeare is the idea that a young farmer’s lad, barely able to recite a nursery rhyme, who, alongside his father initially worked as a glover or butcher and possibly a schoolteacher and whatever else, was even perhaps a “poacher of deer”. Just as Robin Hood had done in Sherwood Forest, even though that myth had also been erroneously enlarged upon by numerous chroniclers. In actual fact the legend of Robin Hood appears to have its origins in Shropshire or N. Staffordshire rather than Nottinghamshire. Some would argue that the name itself originates from the Middle East (Huda). In a text of William Langland’s Piers Plowman, the character named Sloth says:

Robin Hood draws his last arrow and where it falls, there shall he be laid to rest

“I do not know my paternoster perfectly as the priest sings it.
But I know rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolph of Chester.”

This was written about 1377, which proves there were ‘rhymes’ of Robin Hood in the fourteenth century and possibly even earlier. Ranulph de Blundeville III, Earl of Chester, his father, Hugh II Cyvelloc, to whom the lands were entrusted by William the Conqueror died at his hunting lodge at Swythamley. As well as having lands in Shropshire, Ranulph also had dominion over the region of Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire. For the most part the area of Chester, N. Staffordshire (Leek) and N. Derbyshire became a remote hinterland of pagan Celts detached from the rest of “civilised Britain” due largely to the difficult terrain and extensive forests and woodlands there. Ranulph’s authority in the region was challenged by a certain renegade malcontent known as Fulke le Fitzwarren, who became a warrior bandit in the area. According to the poet/writer William Langland, Fulke Fitzwarren may have been a real life proto-Robin Hood figure who fought against the tyranny of King John when he assumed power in 1362. His first wife was Matilda Vavasour of Yorkshire. “The Histoire de Fulke Fitz-Warin”, a French romance is a rather fanciful, perhaps picaresque exposition of the family history of Fulke Fitz-Warin III, the real story however has all the landmarks of the legend of Robin Hood. A nobleman who, while his regent is away on the crusades is dispossessed of his lands and inheritance. He becomes an outlaw, robs the rich and gives to the poor. In actual fact William Shakspere was more likely a member of the middle-class of Stratford-upon-Avon, the family owned lands, farming and possessed more than one property.

Yet another version of the Robin Hood Myth on the internet

However, in the absence of the facts it was customary or necessary to fill the vacuum of factual evidence of authorship with some idle supposition, theory or conjecture. Subsequently, we find there have been thousands of books written on the subject matter of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, their literary sources, the geographical and historical references made in them and yet the personal biography of William Shakspere amounts to a few A4 sheets of paper (See “All Is True” and “The Pseudonymous William Shakspere”). And the events of his life appear somewhat mundane and inappropriate to a playwright and poet (See “The Glaring Disparities”). This disparity between the literary works and the personal life is alarmingly dissonant since we know so very little about the man himself or the events of his life but have construed a great deal more about what the plays and poetry mean. So, the question we should ask ourselves is how was it that a relatively mediocre, unassuming person could have been associated with the complex, elevated and superlative work attributed to “William Shakespeare”? So, the theorists continue to add fuel to the pyre, suggesting for example that attributing the 1623 Shakespeare Canon to a Warwickshire farmer was a “Masonic Prank”. (See “The Secret Alchemy of Shakespeare”) or

An Alchemical Reading of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

If William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon had never travelled abroad in his own life-time how could he have written about and set the majority of his plays in Italy? If William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon had never known military service how could he have described the historical battleground so accurately? If the Commedia d’el Arte had never visited England, how did the author become so personally acquainted with their dramatic tropes and used them in his plays? Of the 200 or more English placenames mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, not once is Stratford-upon-Avon mentioned or alluded to, which again diminishes the claims of Stratfordian academics. The questions and the lack of plausible answers persist ad nauseum if we simply accept the scholarly myth without question or serious doubt. It is clear from reading Shakespeare that he was a prolific polymath who had read, probably from an early age, a great number of books, some rare and probably too obscure for the average reading list. The list amounts to someone having access to a library of some 3,000 books and since there were no public libraries in Shakespeare’s time then where did the bucolic Will Shakspere obtain such a great number of books? Furthermore, with such small evidence of his education how could he have coined so many new English words (a total of 1,700) and phrases some of which are still in use today? It is also quite clear that the author of the history plays had some support or bias towards the Lancastrian cause, had personal experience of the royal courts of France, Italy and Denmark, who was fond of hunting, had some sporting ability, had a personal interest in sea-faring, mythology, heraldry, aristocratic genealogy, astronomy, cosmology, Neo-Platonic philosophy, and many other subjects too numerous to mention here. Above all his style and technique of poetry requires someone who has been acquainted and classically educated to a very high degree, both linguistically and poetically, the kind of education that could only be made available to someone who attended a university or one of the legal Inns of Court where both drama, the law and history were taught and practised. And yet we are expected to accept without question that William Shakspere, without a university or college education, no apprenticeship or financial patronage was able to write and compose such eloquent poetry and verse. The languages that appear occasionally in Shakespeare’s plays are Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Dutch so where and how did the mono-lingual Shakspere become acquainted with those languages? No other playwright or poet from the Elizabethan era, where so much emphasis was placed on a valued education, whether that was at school, college, the Inns of Court or university had such a dire level of education.

Generally speaking, the role of actors, managers and stage-hands need not have had any further education, their talents and skills were presumed to be naturally acquired or developed further through apprenticeship but the role of playwright or poet would require some extensive further education, patronage, or apprenticeship although there are a few notable exceptions.

For example, Francis Beaumont, the third son of Justice Beaumont of Grace Dieu Priory, was born in Leicestershire. He entered Broadgates Hall, Oxford in 1587 but failed to take his degree and was much later admitted to the Inner Temple in 1600 to study law although there is no evidence that he ever practised as a barrister. The poet Michael Drayton was born at Hartshill, Warwickshire in 1563 and as a youth became a page to Henry Goodeere of Polesworth and was kindly educated by him. In actual fact he married Goodeere’s daughter, Anne. He was credited with serving in the army before he settled down in London sometime around 1590. He was a student apparently of Edmund Spenser and his first published work was Harmonie of the Church (1591) which was followed by Idea, The Shepherd’s Garland (1593) in which Spenser’s influence is quite clear. According to current biographers the poet George Chapman was a self-educated man who served as a soldier in the Netherlands he was born of a yeoman’s family at Hitchin, Hertfordshire and wrote his first poem The Shadow of Night as late as 1594, which might have inspired the institution of The School of Night. In the main he was a poet, translator and dramatist. Other evidence especially from the quality and depth of his writings suggests that he may also have attended Oxford, since he was an accomplished translator of both Greek and Latin. Very little is known of Thomas Dekker’s early life and education except that he was born in London and that between 1598 and 1602 he wrote plays for the Admiral’s and Worcester’s Men. Unfortunately, of the fifty or so plays commissioned and mentioned by Phillip Henslowe only twenty of them have survived to us today. The playwright and poet Robert Greene was the son of a Norwich saddler who was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge (1575-78), but according to his diary led a dissolute life in Italy and Spain for five years before returning to Clare Hall, Cambridge as a reformed character. The poet Gabriel Harvey was a Puritan of lowly beginnings as the son of a rope-maker from Saffron Walden but nevertheless attended Christ’s College, Cambridge and then obtained a fellowship at Pembroke Hall in 1570. He appears to have quarrelled with his fellows there which hampered his career but befriended the poet Edmund Spenser. And finally, Ben Jonson was born in Westminster, the son of a clergyman, probably of Scottish origin and educated at Westminster School run by William Camden. In his early years he was apprenticed to his stepfather as a bricklayer, then afterwards served some inconsequential military service in the Netherlands until he finally chose the acting profession in London. We can clearly see from these few examples that it was uncommon or rare for a commoner to ascend to any degree of literary accomplishment without a) a patron or mentor, b) without an education at a college, Inn of Court or university, and c) without some degree of natural talent. There is no factual evidence to support the idea that William Shakspere had any of those faculties, resources or opportunities within his own life that would have propelled him with such speed and immediacy into the literary milieu or limelight of Elizabethan drama around 1587. The fact that only six shaky signatures survive of the Stratford man should immediately cause “bells to ring” alarmingly in any serious investigation of whether William Shakespeare was the author of the plays and poetry. Because the majority of people do actually want to believe the whimsical narrative that William Shakespeare, a middle-class farmer’s lad, having made his fiancé pregnant was obliged to marry her and then seek fortune and fame in the capital is understandable although it is basically untrue.

The links to my current publications, on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy; “Shakespeare’s Qaballah” and an anthology of poetry “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


“We all love Shakespeare, whoever he was…”

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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,