Until fairly recently, very few people would have ever doubted that the man from Stratford upon Avon was not the writer of the 38 Plays and 154 Sonnets attributed to his name. It is recorded in the history books that William Shakespeare, born 1564 and died 1616, came to London to seek his fortune and succeeded during the monarchial reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.
Modern research has sought to prove that someone other than William Shakespeare wrote those Plays and Sonnets and the names of Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, Henry Neville and even Queen Elizabeth I herself have been put forward as the more likely persons to have written them. Certainly Oxfordians and Baconians are quick to bring to public attention that a man of William Shakespeare’s pedigree (or lack of it) could have ever written those Plays and Sonnets.
Conspiracy theories abound in all walks of life but the Shakespeare Authorship is surely one of the most sensitive and mysterious because it strikes at the very heart of English Literature. In 2011, a film was released called ‘Anonymous’, directed by German Roland Emmerich based on a screen play written by John Orloff, which suggested that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was not only the secret bastard Son of Queen Elizabeth I but incredibly her lover for a short period around 1572, thereby producing a child – and that he was the real writer of the Shakespeare Plays and Sonnets.
Francis Bacon was a brilliant man in his lifetime. Born 1561 and died 1626. He is also thought to have been a secret son of Queen Elizabeth I from her relationship with Robert Dudley, Lord Leicester. Denied the opportunity to aspire to the throne, he immersed himself in the development of knowledge, politics and science while (so it is proposed) writing the Shakespeare Plays until a point in time, around 1612 when he was promoted to higher political office which he had sought as an alternative in terms of power while never being able to be King. Were the Shakespeare Plays, if written by Francis Bacon, propaganda pieces about power, politics and succession?
There were many characteristics within the Shakespeare Plays (and perhaps the Sonnets as well) which allude to events which took place in the lives of both Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere and also people they knew. It is questionable whether anything which is alluded to in the Plays can be said of William Shakespeare, though there are many modern experts who have analysed the Plays in some detail and believe wholeheartedly, if not with any real irrefutable evidence, that the Plays reflect the style of a literary genius whose name could only be William Shakespeare.
Curiously, while Francis Bacon was promoted in political office and seemingly no longer interested in the authorship of the Shakespeare Plays, William Shakespeare retired from the London theatre scene back to provincial and quaint Stratford upon Avon in middle England.
William Shakespeare is famously mentioned by a fellow writer called Robert Greene as ‘an Upstart Crow” in 1592 and his name is recorded as the writer of two Poems, Venus and Rape of Lucrece, written specifically and dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton. He is recorded as being a founder member of the Chamberlains Men who were an acting Company under the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain. This later became the Kings Men under the patronage of King James I in 1603.
The skeptics among us will perhaps hold the view that the authorship debate is no more than a discrediting exercise against William Shakespeare in favour of an alternative candidate who is not alive to defend his reputation. William Shakespeare is on the pedestal for such close scrutiny because, at first sight, he is an unlikely person to have written the Plays and Sonnets.
None of the Plays and Sonnets bear any direct connection to his life. Though it is believed he attended a Grammar School and learnt Latin and Greek, how could such a humble commoner have been possessed of knowledge on such things as the details of royal Court, science, philosophy and medicine plus a competent knowledge of French? William Shakespeare may well have been acquainted with fellow Stratfordians Richard Field and Richard Burbage who both made their own way successfully in London in publishing and theatre acting respectively but there is no substantive evidence that he wrote the Plays and Sonnets.
It is an intriguing debate because we are daring to believe that the history books lie and that history as we understand it has not been accurately recorded. It is hard to comprehend. Is Elizabethan history about to be rewritten? The Plots in the ‘Anonymous” movie are all unbelievable and are perhaps contrived for public entertainment. The Shakespeare Plays of the Elizabethan period did exactly the same thing.
What is happening is that the facility of the Internet throws open the door to more research on the subject and in time we may well know whether William Shakespeare is indeed the true author of the Shakespeare Plays and Sonnets. Or not