The Authorship Question

Why would any rational, open-minded analyst reject Shakespeare's authorship?

  • The actor and shareholder, Shakespeare, whose company was based in London, is clearly identified with William from Stratford. His authorship is attested by a mass of cohering documentary evidence and contemporary witnesses. Conversely, there is no evidence of any contemporary suspicion that he was not a genuinely prolific and successful writer.

  • His father was a local big-shot, who aspired to, and was subsequently awarded, a prestigious family coat-of-arms. He was entitled to have young William educated free-of-charge at the King's New School in Stratford-upon-Avon. Such grammar schools left 14 year-olds with an intensive training in literacy, English, Latin and the classics, at least equivalent to that of a modern university graduate - as demonstrated by surviving curricula and by other accomplished authors of the time, who, like Shakespeare, received no university education. In fact, Shakespeare's background is one rather typical for playwrights of the period - as brought out in this blog.

  • Genius is far more likely to spring from that 99% of a population represented by its plebs than from the 1% of  its patricians.  Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Petrarch, Copernicus, Erasmus and most of the intellectual giants of the Renaissance were commoners. Leonardo never attended university; nor did Ben Jonson, Shakespeare's eminent professional contemporary.

  • The background knowledge demonstrated in Shakespeare's plays - including its flaws - can best be explained by a countryside upbringing, a metropolitan working environment, an access to relevant, available writings and imitation (or even lifting from the works of others, as was common practice).

  • The probability that works by other writers share common authorship with the plays of Shakespeare's First Folio is shown by statistical analysis to be vanishingly low. The analysis - unrefuted despite some aggressive opposition since 1994 - puts astronomical statistical distances between the works of Oxford, Marlowe, Bacon etc and the combination of objectively measurable authorship traits manifested in the Folio. 

  • The biography in Shakespeare's Sonnets allows no other author of that work, which also affirms his authorship of Venus & Adonis, his genius as a wordsmith and the breadth of his access to literature.

  • The sheer variety of alternative author theories undermines the anti-Stratfordian cause, since it points to endemic selective presentation of data. If one is allowed to emphasize the correspondences, and to play down or ignore the discrepancies, it is easy to show that Michelangelo's David must be the statue of a gorilla.

  • Each one of the many alternative author theories depends on far greater unsubstantiated assumption and is beset with serious weaknesses.  Occam would have run out of strops, so great would have been the demands on his razor.  The Stratfordian's case remains unmatched for credibility, despite determined assault for more than one hundred years.

It is unnecessary to develop most of the above arguments on this website. The non-statistical issues are well supported in many works, eg: the short e-book, Shakespeare Bites Back, Shapiro's
Contested Will, Gibson's The Shakespeare Claimants and the website,  The statistical analysis of authorship traits was carried out under the direction of Professors Elliott and Valenza. It may be assessed at a number of pages on the website of Claremont McKenna College - for example: Oxford by Numbers.

However, Authorship conspiracy theorists do have some justification for their notion that Shakespeare was involved in a form of cover-up. He is associated with several oddities of evidence (listed, amongst others not so odd, in Probate of Will). These are cited - albeit selectively - in promoting one or other of the Alternative Author theories. Some of these issues are not well explained by orthodoxy and it is only through the efforts of the Sceptics that such matters have either been identified or given a good airing. 

Ironically, as it turns out, the oddities, together with the biography in Shakespeare's Sonnets actually reinforce the case for the Stratfordian, since his is the only one which reconciles
all the evidence.  By way of illustration, and for the remaining answers to questions posed in Probate of Will , follow these links:

The Venus & Adonis Allusions

Who was Hall's Labeo & Jonson's Poet-ape?

What triggered the aspersions of Nashe, Harvey & the Parnassus playwright(s)?

Why do Shakespeare's plays mimic the life of Edward de Vere?

Marlowe's Reckoning

The connections with Francis Bacon

The Stratford Monument

Why did Shakspere call himself Shakespeare?

Commentary: Input or queries are welcome, via the email address indicated in Contact.