Did someone else write Shakespeare's plays?
The "authorship debate" turns on the idea that some or perhaps even all of the plays that have been attributed to William Shakespeare were actually written by someone else. Because our knowledge of Shakespeare's life is so sketchy (no biography of the writer was composed until well after his death), there is no way to conclusively resolve the authorship issue. The argument for an alternative author (or authors) rests on three planks. First, it is argued that the sheer scope and diversity of Shakespeare's achievement is so great that no single individual could have possibly written all of the plays ascribed to Shakespeare. Second, during the Elizabethan period it was common for plays to be written by multiple authors and for stage works to be credited to persons other than the actual author. Third, we do know that Shakespeare did not attend school beyond the age of thirteen or fourteen and that he was not considered to be a truly educated man by the standards of his (and our own) era. It is this third point, that a relatively ignorant Shakespeare did not possess the degree of learning reflected in the plays that forms the core of the skeptical position. But the skeptical camp is divided as to "who" may have actually written the works with which Shakespeare has been credited. During the nineteenth century, the tendency of the doubters was to attribute Shakespeare's plays and poetry to other prominent writers of his time, notably to Sir Francis Bacon, the playwright Christopher Marlowe and/or the poet Phillip Sidney. Indeed, to this day there have been attempts to find secret messages in the text of the plays that name the "true" author. In the twentieth century, other candidates have emerged as the real author of Shakespeare's plays. They include the Earl of Essex, the Earl of Debry, the Earl of Rutland, and, most often, the Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. But like the nineteenth century's group, there are major problems in trying to credit Shakespeare's works to any of these aristocrats. For example, we know that the Earl of Oxford died in 1604, nearly a decade before the last of the plays was (probably) written. The mainstream view today is that Shakespeare is the sole author of the vast majority of the plays that have been traditionally credited to him, that he probably collaborated with another author (probably John Fletcher) on The Two Noble Kinsman, and that someone else, again probably Fletcher, completed or revised another of Shakespeare's final works, Henry VIII. These exceptions aside, we have no strong reason to believe that William Shakespeare was not the sole (or at least primary) author of most of the plays that bear his name today.