Shakespeare of London Questions and Answers
by Marchette Gaylord Chute

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Do you believe that Shakespeare was the true author of the works attributed to him? why or why not? (if you could,please be specific)

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Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The question of the authorship of the vast body of work commonly attributed to William Shakespeare has baffled English professors and literary analysts for over one hundred years.  Could this individual, about whom little is known but about whom little seemingly points towards the opportunity, education and ability to pen so many plays and sonnets, have been the actual author of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Julius Caesar, and so many other brilliant works of literature?  Many are skeptical, pointing to other prominent figures from the period during which these works were written.  In England, the “Bard’s” land of origin, some believe fervently that Shakespeare had no basis upon which to attain the levels of knowledge and understanding of foreign lands prominent in the plays that take place in current-day Italy.  Peter Sturrock, a Stanford University astrophysicist and professor in applied physics who applied a scientific and highly-statistical approach, believes the preponderance of evidence leans towards Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.  An avid reader of the works attributed to Shakespeare, Sturrock concluded that the actual author could not have been Shakespeare.  As quoted in a March 13, 2013, newsletter about Sturrock’s book on his efforts at determining the works’ true authorship, AKA Shakespeare: A Scientific Approach to the Authorship Question,

"The evidence comes in many forms," Sturrock said. "From the plays, from the sonnets, from editorial comments in the First Folio [1623 collection of the plays], from the dedication of the sonnets, and so on."

As the BBC America article the link to which is provided below attests, the number of people who believe that Shakespeare was not the real author of the plays and sonnets attributed to him is considerable. [See “Did Shakespeare Really Write His Plays: A Few Theories Examined”]  Many of those doubters support the notion that Edward de Vere was the true author based upon what is known about the earl’s life, while still others believe Sir Francis Bacon is a possible “suspect.”  There is, however, no consensus regarding this matter.  The eNotes essay on William Shakespeare, the link to which is also provided below, sides with those who believe that Shakespeare was the true author:

“. . .the notion that plays ascribed to Shakespeare were actually written by others (Sir Francis Bacon, the poet Phillip Sidney among the candidates) has become even weaker over time. The current strong consensus is that while Shakespeare may have collaborated with another Elizabethan playwright in at least one instance (probably with John Fletcher on The Two Noble Kinsman), and that one or two of his plays were completed by someone else (possibly Fletcher on an original or revised version of Henry VIII), the works ascribed to Shakespeare are his.”

The question of the true authorship of the works of literature in question will likely never be definitively resolved.  After all, the fact that tremendous amounts of information on contemporary topics exists does not preclude the possibility of differences of opinion among learned individuals.  The chances that a mystery dating to the late-16th to early 17th centuries will be conclusively resolved are pretty slim.  That said, insufficient evidence exists to refute the notion of Shakespeare as the rightful author to ascribe more validity to conspiracy theories than necessary.  The Absolute Shakespeare website, for instance, questions the chronological basis for attributing many of the plays to Edward de Vere [See:]. 

The absence of compelling evidence that Shakespeare authored these works leads this educator to side with those who lean towards him as the probable author.  Shakespeare died relatively young by today’s standards, but exceeded the average life expectancy for England of the early-17th century.  The similarities within the body of work, such as style, themes, etc., clearly (to me) suggests a single authorship, meaning whoever wrote these works was very productive.  Whether Shakespeare knew enough about the world outside of England and understood the internal machinations associated with upper-class nobility in Denmark and Venice to have written these plays is uncertain, but, again, no one can say with certainty that he didn’t have that body of knowledge.  Personally, this educator will continue to accept that William Shakespeare authored the works attributed to him.