The Authorship Debate

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There are enough conspiracy theories out there regarding the works of Shakespeare (or attributed to Shakespeare, if you prefer) that entire careers have been built upon positing alternate candidates for the true authorship of the works. Whether or not the claim of Shakespeare is legitimate, the burden of proof would seem to lie on those who wish to discredit the Bard. On the other hand, it's only fair to give attention to this debate as it has been ongoing for quite some time and shows no signs of waning anytime soon.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: This contemporary of Shakespeare has been strongly advanced since the 1930s as the true author of Shakespeare's plays. A well-educated and well-traveled nobleman of Queen Elizabeth I's court, de Vere has been championed by the author Charlton Ogburn using parallels of the Earl's life with material from the plays—for instance, noting similarities between Polonius of Hamlet and the Earl's guardian, William Cecil. The Earl of Oxford apparently stopped his literary pursuits at an early age—unless, as Ogburn postulates, the Earl continued writing under the pen name of William Shakespeare. PBS aired a 1996 "Frontline" special on the subject.

Francis Bacon, Philosopher and Writer: Bacon has been a traditional favorite of the anti-Stratford camp, and retains a high place on the list of potential candidates. Bacon proponents point toward Bacon's learning, his correspondences and memoirs (most notably, his notebook, Promus), as well as ciphers and other coincidences. Although Bacon was an undisputed man of letters, his style and expression vary greatly from that of Shakespeare's works. Bacon also produced such a voluminous output of his own, it's hard to conceive of him finding spare time enough to produce the quality output of work attributed to the Bard.

Christopher Marlowe, Playwright: Marlowe would be the ultimate ghost writer, as he was stabbed to death in a tavern brawl in 1593. However, there are those that say Marlowe really didn't die; according to some, he was actually an occasional spy in the employ of the Crown. This eventually necessitated a fake death, after which Marlowe went on for an undetermined number of years penning poetry and plays under the nom de plume of Shakespeare. PBS also aired a January 2003 "Frontline" episode about Marlowe.

Other Candidates

Other notable candidates have included William Stanley, Earl of Derby; Ben Jonson; Thomas Middleton; Sir Walter Raleigh (with or without collaboration by Francis Bacon); Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke; and even Queen Elizabeth I herself. There have been dozens of other such nominations since the Bard's death, and none have yet presented proof enough to discredit the man from Stratford. In the interest of having the dissident voices heard, however, I've provided links to some good sites for the interested.

Authorship Links

SRC Favorite Alternate Shakespeare Candidates
Since the 1700s, people have been voicing doubts about whether or not William Shakespeare actually wrote the works attributed to him. Now it's all the rage.
SRC The Simple Case for Shakespeare
The issue is complex, fraught with logic pitfalls even for those who defend the orthodoxy, but Shakespeare remains the easiest of any authorship candidate to defend.
An Authorship Analysis: Francis Bacon as Shake-speare
Paul J. Dupuy, Jr. presents a comprehensive collection of documents and passages from Bacon, ostensibly to show how Bacon's writing betrays his identity as Shakespeare. The site, however, suffers a little from its lack of editorial context.
The Case for Shakespeare
Irving Matus examines the authorship debate in a classic article from The Atlantic.
The Debate Continues
A Web continuation of the "Frontline" episode (aired April 23, 1996). This is worth viewing for the reprints of the scholarly feud printed in Harvard Magazine between Charlton Ogburn and Harvard professors Gwynne Evans and Harry Levin. For those who think academics can't get in some good jabs, this will change your mind.
The De Vere Society
A British-based website dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by de Vere.
Is Shakespeare Dead?
This page is a reprint of text from Mark Twain's autobiography, in which one of my favorite authors entertains serious doubts about the authenticity of Mr. Shakespeare's work.
The Ghost of Shakespeare
In April 1999, Harper's magazine published a group of ten essays collectively titled "The Ghost of Shakespeare." Five of the essays were by Oxfordians, arguing that the Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare, while five were by Shakespeare scholars arguing that William Shakespeare was the author. See also David Kathman's response letter to Harper's.
The Man Who Wasn't Hamlet
The site, which boldly states its thesis in its URL (, starts with 100 reasons why Edward de Vere couldn't have written or contributed to Shakespeare's canon. It then elaborates on that theme in great detail.
The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection
A new blog dedicated to great literature, with a very special tip of the hat to passionate Marlovians everywhere. Based on the premise that Shakespeare agreed to be a "front man" for Marlowe, who was on the lam after his faked death.
The Mary Sidney Society
The Mary Sidney Society is a literary organization founded on the premise that Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, wrote the works attributed to the man named William Shakespeare.
The Mystery of Shakespeare's Identity
Time magazine takes a look at the authorship controversy in light of Jacobi and Rylance's Declaration of Reasonable Doubt.
The Oxfreudian
Dr. Richard M. Waugaman presents a series of articles examining the case for de Vere from a psychoanalytic perspective.
Peter Farey's Marlowe Page
This page from Peter Farey of the U.K. is a well-researched exploration of the Marlowe spy theory. As good a case made for Marlowe as any that I've seen on the Web—it hasn't convinced me that Marlowe was Shakespeare, but it has convinced me that it's possible to present this premise with scholarship.
Stephanie Hughes, former editor of The Oxfordian, presents a scholarly blog on the authorship question examining the case for de Vere as the writer of the works of Shakespeare.
The Real Shakespeare: A Hidden Life Sung in a Hidden Song
Ian Steere's investigation of the sonnets examines the prevailing theories of authorship and interprets the evidence in support of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare Authorship Coalition
Home of the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt. The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition strives to legitimize the Shakespeare authorship issue by increasing awareness of reasonable doubt about the identity of William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare Authorship Page
Jonathan Star's case for Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, as the primary author of the Shakespeare plays.
Shakespeare Authorship Question
An equally researched and dedicated page that refutes the Oxfordian claims to the works. Comprehensive and passionate, a must-read.
Shakespeare Authorship Question: Why Was I Never Told This?
Actor Keir Cutler tells what changed his mind about Shakespeare, and why he signed the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt. Brought to you by the folks at the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition (
Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable
The Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable is dedicated to the study of the Elizabethan theatre, the social and political life of the Elizabethan period, and open-minded exploration of the authorship of the Shakespeare canon.
Shakespeare, Oxford, and Verbal Parallels
An excellent rebuttal to a Joseph Sobran article titled "'Shakespeare' Revealed in Oxford's Poetry." David Kathman refutes Sobran's premise on a point-by-point basis.
Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship
The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to investigating the Shakespeare authorship question and disseminating the evidence that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the true author of the poems and plays published under the pseudonym "William Shakespeare."
Shakespeare's Sonnets: "The Monument"
Author Hank Whittemore offers a new interpretation of the Sonnets, written by Edward de Vere as the story of Southampton from the 1601 Essex Rebellion to Queen Elizabeth's death in 1603.
The Shakespeare-Bacon Theory
An analysis of the theory that the plays of William Shakespeare were not written by the man whose biography we are familiar with, but rather that they were written under pseudonym by Lord Chancellor Francis Bacon, Viscount St Albans. From
Sir Francis Bacon's New Advancement of Learning
A page dedicated to Sir Francis that includes a comprehensive list of Bacon links on the Web.
The URL of Derby
A site dedicated to exploring the hypothesis that the literary works attributed to William Shakespeare were written by William Stanley, the sixth earl of Derby.
Was Oxford Shakespeare? Computer Analysis
Evidently not, nor were any of the other leading candidates, according to the computer testing done on the Bard's work. This study has been disputed in an article "Apples to Oranges in Bard Stylometrics: Elliott and Valenza fail to eliminate Oxford" by John M. Shahan and Richard F. Whalen.
Was Shakespeare a Woman?
Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Winkler tries to make the case that Shakespeare was none other than a London woman named Emilia Bassano by relying on the groundwork laid by denial authors such as Diana Price.