“If you expect me to believe a lawyer wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I must be dafter than I look.”
– Thursday Next, The Eyre Affair
The theory of another author of Shakespeare’s plays has been debated for over two centuries, inflamed by movies like Anonymous that portrayed Shakespeare in a poor light. There are two main contenders, Edward de Vere and Francis Bacon but there are many others as well.
I never really liked the authorship debate; it was so silly, not only on poor evidence but one of the reasons for it. The argument being how could a guy from Stratford upon Avon know about such high class things like court and royalty. It just seems like an argument against education and staying in one’s class. I dunno, it just seems unfair to claim he wasn’t capable of something so wonderful just because of where he came from. People believe that he was educated in a range of things after all.
Looking at the evidence it’s obvious a few of these people aren’t candidates, but it’s interesting to see the arguments. Edward de Vere was only nine when A Midsummer Night’s dream was written so that alone should bump him out of the list, and Christopher Marlowe died before a few were written as well. Other even less likely contenders include Ben Jonson, the Earls of Derby, Rutland, Southampton, and Essex, and Sir Walter Raleigh.
A wonderful argument for Shakespeare’s authorship is that many playwrights came from humble beginnings, Ben Jonson included. The son a bricklayer no one has ever suggested he wasn’t the author of his plays, and not one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries accused him of being false either.
Bacon and de Vere are the best bets if you were to even consider it. It’s believed that Bacon wrote under the nom de plume of “Shakespeare” to hide his royal background and to abide Rosicrucian order, were anonymity had to be maintained for a hundred years. There is even a manuscript which is known as the “Northumberland Manuscript” that has both Shakespeare and Bacon’s name on it including the phrase ‘by Francis William Shakespeare’, and the words, ‘essays by the same author’.
De Vere has more comprehensive argument with many Oxfordians believing the aristocrat wrote under a pseudonym to avoid breaking voluntary convention against aristocrats publishing poetry and plays and to escape any consequences as a result of the subject matter being written about. De Vere’s knowledge of the upper classes through to his education are arguments, as well as the supposed structural similarities between his poetry and Shakespeare’s. It has even been argued in a 1589 book by George Puttenham called The Arte of English Poesie.
Absolute Shakespeare is a treasure of information and has compiled a list where the best evidence can be found with arguments for every candidate. No Sweat Shakespeare also has a list of candidates with arguments for each of them. It’s interesting because even offering up the evidence for it just seems to work against them, death and birth being big barriers.
Whether you believe Shakespeare is the true author it’s hard to deny that the plays and sonnets themselves are pretty spectacular. And really, the same argument could be made now, out of print books, books attributed to people 50 years ago, 100 years ago, is there any real evidence to say they wrote anything? Are we all supposed to leave a clear cut paper trail to stop our work being criticised and doubted. I say leave Shakespeare alone and realise that genius can come from anywhere. But that’s just me.
702ABC with Richard Glover discussed this in 2011 and it’s a really interesting listen if you wanted something else. It’s about 12 minutes long and they discuss the authorship debate and where this idea came from and whether the era people lived in contributed to this. If you want something that looks at the Anonymous film argument, Quora has a brief article on this as well with connecting links. There is also an interesting Frontline TV special that looks at who the real author could be for all those plays, it’s curious and worth a watch if you’re interested.
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