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Paul Monk on the puzzle of who wrote ‘Shakespeare’

“There is nothing preserved of this great genius which is worth knowing. Nothing which might inform us what education, what company, what accident turned his mind to letters and the drama.”

-          John Adams (upon visiting Stratford, 1786)

“I am haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world.”

-          Henry James (letter to a friend, 1903)

“I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don’t, there are some awful funny coincidences to explain away.”

-          Orson Welles (to an interviewer, 1954)

Do you know who wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare? What is the basis of your knowledge: what primary evidence, chains of inference, webs of belief? Shakespeare, after all, is to literature what Mozart is to music. The exquisite documentary In Search of Mozart, currently playing in our cinemas, draws on copious letters and records in reconstructing the life of the great composer. Various myths or corruptions of the biography popularized in Amadeus, twenty years ago, are corrected. Mozart’s music, astonishing in its precocity, range and beauty, is set in the context of his life and its development from his childhood closely analyzed.

But no documentary about Shakespeare can do any such thing with his life and work, because the evidence is simply lacking. Michael Wood’s 2003 BBC documentary, In Search of Shakespeare, is only superficially the equivalent of the Mozart film. The book of the series gives this away with the admission that “Almost 400 years after his death, William Shakespeare is still acclaimed as the world’s greatest writer, but the man himself remains shrouded in mystery.” What Wood actually did was recreate the “the turbulent times through which the poet lived” (Emphasis added). He did not give us the biography of the poet, because he could not.

            The paucity of documentary detail about the life of William Shakespeare is so remarkable, that Mark Twain was prompted to comment wryly, “as far as poverty of biographical details is concerned”, the only parallel in history, romance or tradition, to William Shakespeare is Satan.[i] What do we know that is documented and not disputed? The standard account goes roughly as follows. William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford on Avon, married in 1582, had three children in five years, spent much of his time between 1587 and 1604 in London, was first mentioned as a minor actor in 1592, made money in business, retired to Stratford at a time when plays and poems were being published in his name (some of which are no longer attributed to him) and died there unremarked in 1616. Very little else exists, save scattered references to him which are either irrelevant to his presumed writing career or subject to contentious interpretation.[ii]

            There is no record whatsoever of his first eighteen years and thus of his education; nor of his first five years in London and thus of his discovery of theatre.[iii] There is no evidence that he ever went to university, studied English history or law, worked in any capacity at the royal court, learned French, Spanish or Italian, or traveled abroad, though the plays attributed to him powerfully suggest that their author had done all of these things. The Sonnets appear to be the love poems of a man who had nothing in common with what we know of the man from Stratford, whether in terms of age, physical condition, social class or sexual inclinations.[iv] His wife and children appear to have been and remained illiterate and his will, notoriously, was a rudimentary inventory of property which made no mention of any books, literary manuscripts, poems, collections of letters, musical instruments, or anything else suggestive of the life of the greatest poet and dramatist in the realm.[v]

            Not only was his will devoid of evidence that he had been a writer, but in strenuous searches for more than two hundred years, starting with those by the Reverend James Wilmot, in 1780, not a scintilla of direct evidence has ever been found that William Shakespeare ever wrote a single poem or play, owned a single book or had intellectual interests. As far as anyone knows, he only received one letter during his life and it was of a business nature.[vi] When he died, his passing stirred no word that has been recorded of eulogy or mourning, or even recognition. Yet the deaths of other notable literary contemporaries, such as Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser and Walter Raleigh drew such things.

            All this is, surely, very strange. It is the root of the ‘Shakespeare Authorship Question’:[vii] if William Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the poems and plays long since attributed to him, then who did? And how did his name become affixed to them? Why did the true author (to whom I shall refer as ‘the Author’) obscure his own identity? How could he have done so successfully? Though vaguely aware of the old canard, dating from the mid-nineteenth century, about Francis Bacon having been the Author, I took none of this seriously until a few years ago and, I confess, I still find it more a bemusing puzzle than a vital pre-occupation.[viii]

But over the past twelve months, at least four books have been published purporting to be biographies of the Author.[ix] One of them, Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography[x], maintains it was the man from Stratford; one, Rodney Bolt’s History Play[xi], that it was Christopher Marlowe; one, Mark Anderson’s ‘Shakespeare’ By Another Name[xii], that it was Edward de Vere, the seventeenth earl of Oxford; and the other, Brenda James and William Rubinstein’s The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare[xiii], that it was a hitherto entirely overlooked figure - Sir Henry Neville. All these books were greeted with acclaim by well-credentialed figures, but at least three of them must be in error as regards their central claim.

If you are disposed to presume that it must have been the man from Stratford who wrote the complete works of Shakespeare you will, perhaps, declare that it is pretty obvious which three must be in error.[xiv] The beauty of the case, though, is that, actually, it isn’t obvious at all. There is a genuine problem with the case for Stratford. That is why such luminaries as Charles Dickens, Henry James, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, Daphne Du Maurier, John Galsworthy, Orson Welles, Paul H. Nitze and the great Shakespearean actors, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh[xv], have all declared that they cannot believe the man from Stratford was the Author.[xvi]

Jacobi wrote the Foreword to Mark Anderson’s book. He is a leading advocate, in England, of the view that Edward de Vere was the author of the Shakespearean canon. He noted that “when one advocates that de Vere wrote under the pen-name ‘Shakespeare’” one courts “charges of the wildest eccentricity, outrageous snobbery, and downright heresy.” However, he declared, Anderson’s book “demonstrates the intense intellectual energy and attention to factual detail that are required to unravel what, to an honest mind, is an obvious mystery.” The book, he went on, “presents the logical, valid and excitingly precise arguments for recognizing that de Vere, like all writers, drew from his own experiences, interests, accomplishments, education, position and talents.”[xvii]

“An actor’s instincts and the evidence of a growing body of research convince me”, Jacobi wrote, “that de Vere was - along with being a scholar, patron and author par excellence - an actor. The troupe kept by Edward de Vere’s father had influenced his early childhood. De Vere’s own troupe had nurtured those interests, and acting and stagecraft became intrinsic to his talents. Hence the precise and very special observation of the mechanics and meaning of the world of theater are everywhere expressed in the plays…”[xviii] This is, of course, the kind of observation which should be true of the Author, whoever he was; but none of it can be said of the man from Stratford, because there is simply no evidence to support the claim.

Leaving aside, for a moment, the question of what evidence there is that de Vere was the Author; it is worth amplifying this point about the formation of an author. If we read the biography of Dickens, Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky; Thomas Mann, Tennessee Williams or Graham Greene, for example, to take a few well known names almost at random, we see the roots of their writings in their education and experience. The puzzle with the man from Stratford is that we cannot do this. In much orthodox Shakespeare scholarship, however, this absence of a plausible biographical seedbed for the flowering of his work tends to be waved away as a sign of his sublime ‘genius’.[xix]

Northrop Frye, for example, in 1949, remarked that Shakespeare “was an expert in keeping his personal life out of our reach”[xx] and Harold Bloom stated, in 1994 that Shakespeare’s “personality always evades us, even in the sonnets. He is everyone and no-one.”[xxi] But whoever the Author was, he most certainly was neither everyone nor no-one, but a specific individual, whose background will have surfaced in his poems and plays. As it happens, at least plausible cases can be made for any one of de Vere (Oxford), Marlowe, or Neville that his background education and experience enable us to make sense of the possibility that he was the Author, other things being equal. If the man from Stratford was the Author, surely his background would trump theirs in this regard. The puzzle is that it clearly does not.

A plausible case, however, is not necessarily a true one. To be a true account of who the Author was, a case would have to explain how the name of an obscure actor and moderately successful businessman called William Shakespeare came to be accepted as that of the Author. The career of the Author would also have to be shown to have been consistent with his having written the plays and poems, given all we know about their composition, performance and publication; and with the various references to William Shakespeare, admittedly not numerous, that were made during his lifetime.[xxii] There would have to be an explanation for why Ben Jonson, for example, a well-known contemporary and peer of the Author, would refer to him, seven years after his death, when the First Folio of his collected works was published, as ‘the sweet swan of Avon’, if in fact he was someone other than William Shakespeare.

Above all, the case for the Author should be economical. It should provide the clearest and simplest argument consistent with the known evidence, rather than requiring us to embrace elaborate or specious arguments. This is the principle known to philosophers as Ockham’s Razor. In the case of the Shakespeare Authorship Question, it provides a fairly simple rule of thumb by which to gauge the relative plausibility of one case or another as to who the Author was. Simply ask, how many things need to be explained away, if I am to accept any given argument as true? Were it not for the paucity of direct evidence that the man from Stratford was a writer at all, this would likely present an insurmountable obstacle to arguments that someone else wrote the poems and plays. That puzzling paucity of such evidence is the source of the Question.

Such direct evidence, however, is not the only kind of evidence that has a bearing on the matter. One of the simplest and most telling pieces of evidence is chronology. William Shakespeare’s life began in 1564 and ended in 1616. The standard account is that his poems and plays were written between 1593 (Venus and Adonis) and 1612 (The Tempest).[xxiii] How, then, can they have been written by Christopher Marlowe, who was murdered at Deptford in 1593, just before Venus and Adonis was published? How could the later works have been written by Edward de Vere, who died in 1604? If you are to make a case for either man having been the Author, you have a lot to explain away, especially in the case of Marlowe. Brenda James and William Rubinstein accept this. They then argue that no such problem exists in the case of Henry Neville, because his life (1562-1615) overlapped almost exactly with that of the man from Stratford.[xxiv]

Rodney Bolt, like other Marlovians, argues that the young playwright’s alleged murder at Deptford was faked, that he then fled abroad and wrote the poems and plays in exile, many of them in Italy.[xxv] He has to invent the link with William Shakespeare from whole cloth. Bolt has, therefore, to explain away almost everything. The astonishing thing is that this did not deter him. In an Afterword to his book, he wrote: “This book has not been an attempt to prove that Christopher Marlowe staged his own death, fled to the Continent and went on to write the works attributed to Shakespeare. It assumes that as its starting point…By assuming the seemingly preposterous, I have hoped to shake up our notions of the possible, or at the very least to look a little more sharply a how we construct truth.” (emphases added)[xxvi]

‘How we construct truth’ is an interesting turn of phrase. He did not write ‘how we discern truth’. His disclaimer is epistemologically provocative: “This book is, of course, an exercise of purest (or most impure) conjecture. But then so is the work of countless other writers of lives of Shakespeare and Marlowe. This story differs only in the degree to which invention has played a role in the outcome, and in the method by which it was told…The book is grounded in fact, but has the courage of its own (con-)fictions.”[xxvii] It is, in fact, a highly readable book, a beguiling book, grounded in an impressive knowledge of the Author’s times; but it does, indeed, construct its ‘truth’ and this must, at the very least, leave us a little uncomfortable. Were there no Authorship Question, of course, we would rightly dismiss it out of hand.

Mark Anderson, conversely, claims that he is discerning, not constructing the truth, in his argument that Edward de Vere was the Author. He points to William Shakespeare as a convenient cover, because obscure, and to Jonson as a de Vere confederate who kept the secret.[xxviii] He acknowledges the problem of chronology and argues that, closely considered, it actually proves de Vere’s authorship. There are several grounds on which he develops this line of argument. The first is that the Author draws on no source published or scientific discovery made after 1603. The second is that, starting in 1593, new plays or poems attributed to Shakespeare appeared on average twice a year, but “in 1604 Shakespeare fell silent.” The third is that newly corrected, augmented or emended editions of the plays stopped appearing after 1604.[xxix] His argument concerning the dating of the ‘last’ of the Author’s plays, The Tempest and Henry VIII, is especially interesting in this regard and plainly serious.[xxx]

Anderson adds to these considerations several indirect grounds for believing that the manuscripts of the Author’s works were left in the possession of the de Vere family after 1604. First, that three plays (Pericles, King Lear and Troilus and Cressida) and The Sonnets first appeared in print in 1608-09, when Elizabeth Trentham de Vere, Edward’s last wife, was preparing to move out of the home she had shared with him during his final years.[xxxi] Second, that the publication, in 1623, of the Author’s complete works, including eighteen plays never printed before then, was supervised by the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, who were very close to the de Veres - Montgomery (William Herbert) being married to de Vere’s youngest daughter, Susan, since 1604 and Pembroke having been proposed as a husband for another of de Vere’s three daughters, Bridget, in 1597.[xxxii]

“The Herberts were the premier literary aristocratic family in the early seventeenth century”, Anderson remarks, and Susan de Vere had inherited her father’s love of letters and learning. (Contrast her education and love of theatre and literature with the illiteracy of the daughters of William Shakespeare, one of whom was called Susanna). The Herberts engaged the London bookseller and printer William Jaggard to publish the complete works of the Author in 1623. Anderson argues that politics had been the reason for de Vere using the pen-name of the bit-part actor from Stratford in the 1590s and because of politics in 1623 his family “stuck to the cover story they’d inherited. Their own lives and fortunes too clearly hung in the balance for them to play games with their father’s compromised identity.”[xxxiii]

This is a much more interesting, because much less ‘constructed’ case than the one Bolt makes for Marlowe having been the Author. Consider, further, de Vere’s family background, as scion of the oldest aristocratic family in the realm; the fact that his uncles Henry Howard and Arthur Golding invented the ‘Shakespearean’ sonnet and translated ‘Shakespeare’s’ most beloved Latin poet, Ovid, into English; the fact that de Vere was raised to courtly life, surrounded by theatre from infancy, educated in law, spoke several foreign languages and traveled extensively on the Continent, especially in Italy, in his youth. Add to these considerations that, after his father’s death, he was the rebellious young ward of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, on whom Polonius is widely supposed to have been based; that he married the fifteen year old Anne Cecil, Burghley’s daughter, and had a relationship with her which bears striking parallels to the relationships between Hamlet and Ophelia, Othello and Desdemona; and that, like Hamlet, he was kidnapped by pirates in the English Channel. Consider, finally, that he plainly was bisexual and was intimate with the young Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, so that he could well have written the sonnets to him. The case for him being the Author surely begins to look quite impressive. The more so, it should be underscored, because there is no evidence of any of these things being true of the man from Stratford.

What, then, of Brenda James and William Rubinstein’s Henry Neville? James and Rubinstein begin by rehearsing the case against the man from Stratford as the Author, then explain why no other candidate proposed to date is actually convincing.[xxxiv] They allow that the two perennially most favoured such candidates have been Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere. They observe that Bacon’s candidature has been ruled out on various compelling grounds.[xxxv] They allow that de Vere looks much more plausible, but has to be excluded on chronological grounds, because he died in June 1604.  “The single greatest stumbling block…is plainly that he died in 1604 and around 11 of Shakespeare’s plays appeared after that date.” But there is also the problem that, by 1589-90, when the Author apparently first began to write, de Vere was already almost 40.

James and Rubinstein believe that it s simpler to accept an orthodox chronology for the plays than to try to demonstrate that they were all written before 1604. They argue, specifically, that The Tempest was inspired by William Strachey’s 1610 account of the wreck of the English ship Sea Venture in the Bermudas in 1609, which would automatically rule out de Vere as the Author.[xxxvi] They argue that de Vere’s extant writing, which includes early poetry, though talented, lacks the complexity of the poems attributed to the Author and that the chronology of de Vere’s life does not seem to match the demonstrable chronology of the ‘evolution’ of the Author’s theatrical interests and style, most especially the shift from comedy and history to tragedy from 1601. They argue, finally, that the case for de Vere ultimately runs into the same impasse as that for Stratford - the lack of a ‘smoking gun’ after some 80 years of searching for direct evidence.[xxxvii]

Their case for Neville pivots, then, on the argument that none of these things is true of him. Assuming that Stratford was not the Author and that no other candidate was, there must be a hitherto unsuspected candidate. He must have had the kind of background necessary to have written the poems and plays. They argue Neville did. His chronology must be unproblematic as regards the composition and evolution of the poems and plays. They argue that it is. He must have had both occasion and opportunity to write as ‘William Shakespeare’and reason to keep his identity secret. His life must be consistent with that of the Author of The Sonnets and with the circumstances in which they and the First Folio were published. They argue that all these things were the case. Finally, they believe they have their ‘smoking gun’ - direct evidence that Neville was the Author. Apparently as swayed by their reasoning as Derek Jacobi was by Mark Anderson’s, Mark Rylance, Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre since 1996, acclaimed their book as “pioneering” and “historic”.[xxxviii]

Their ‘smoking gun’ is a recently discovered manuscript, 196 pages in length, known as the Tower Notebook, compiled in the Tower of London by Henry Neville in 1601-02, when he was a prisoner of the Crown there, because of his involvement in the Essex Rebellion. In it, they tell us, there are notes for what appear to be draft scenes for the play Henry VIII. The prisoner, they argue, was preparing a play to flatter the Queen about the origins of her family dynasty. To be sure, they concede, “so far as anyone knew or knows, Sir Henry Neville was not a playwright. Yet here he was, in 1602, writing sketches which found their way into a [‘Shakespeare’] play [in 1613], in a notebook which also proclaimed itself to be principally concerned with ‘Pastime’.”[xxxix] “Almost all authorities regard Henry VIII as having been co-authored with John Fletcher. In 1613, (when the play was finally produced) Fletcher - and his collaborator, Francis Beaumont - were certainly close friends and political supporters of Sir Henry Neville…”[xl]

They argue that both the writing of The Sonnets, between 1589 and 1608, and their publication in 1609, are best explained in terms of Neville’s long relationship with Southampton. Even more intriguingly, they argue that the Strachey Letter, reputed source for The Tempest, was a confidential manuscript, unpublished until 1625, to which Neville had access as a member of the council of the London Virginia Company, but which would not have been available to William Shakespeare, who had no association of any kind with the Company.  These are genuinely interesting arguments and do much to buttress Mark Rylance’s acclaim for the book as pioneering. Its authors, of course, have to contend with two sets of enthusiasts: those who are convinced that the man from Stratford must have been the Author and those who are wedded to the idea that de Vere was the Author. Neither set is likely to yield ground easily or gracefully.

Having read the three iconoclastic books, I turned to Peter Ackroyd’s book to find, I hoped, a triumphant demonstration that the Question was a delusion and the man from Stratford was, after all, the real and true Author. Alas, he disregards the entire Question with contumely, addressing it not at all. What’s worse, he writes in a tedious manner which makes his the least engaging of the four studies. Harold Bloom, a Stratford man through and through, when asked by Harper’s to make the case for Stratford, in a special issue on the Question, in April 1999, at least wrote entertainingly, though he failed to acknowledge that there was a Question at all and entered no argument whatsoever either way.[xli] Jonathan Bate, in 1997, in The Genius of Shakespeare, was also dismissive of the Question, but he at least made an effort to marshal a lucid argument for Stratford.[xlii]

Who, then, was the Author? Certainty would seem to be elusive. Does it matter? Not nearly as much as many other pressing things. What does matter is how you think about puzzles of this nature. What do you most want to believe? Argue against yourself and try not to confirm your belief, but to confute it. You will be among the cognitively commonplace if you stick with the conventional wisdom without arguing the toss, like Ackroyd or Bloom; or if you embrace a plausible con-fiction in the manner of Bolt. You will be a mere pupil if you find yourself beguiled by Anderson, or James and Rubinstein, into believing that the Author was de Vere or Neville - or if you bow to Bate’s reputation and erudition. You will be a free master of your own mind if and only if you sift the evidence with fine discrimination, look for diagnostic evidence rather than confirming evidence and account scrupulously for your deductions. It would, perhaps, be interesting to ‘know’ who the Author of ‘Shakespeare’ was, but it is surely far more important, ultimately, to know what ‘knowing’ really requires.



[i] Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), quoted in the Foreword to Rodney Bolt’s History Play, p. xiii.

[ii] Diana Price Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem (Greenwood, CT, 2001), remarks, “The biography of William Shakespeare is deficient. It cites not one personal literary record to prove that he wrote for a living. Moreover, it cites not one personal record to prove that he was capable of writing the works of William Shakespeare. In the genre of Elizabethan and Jacobean literary biography, that deficiency is unique. While Shakespeare wrote over seventy biographical records, not one of them tells us that his occupation was writing. In contrast, George Peele’s meager pile of twenty some biographical records includes at least nine that are literary. John Webster, one of the least documented writers of the day, left behind fewer than a dozen personal biographical records, but seven of them are literary…If Shakespeare had acquired the education and cultural experiences to write the plays, he would have left a few footprints behind to prove it. Shakespeare’s extant records are not only devoid of literary evidence, they point away from a literary career and toward other vocations.” (p. 150).

[iii] In his acclaimed book 1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare, Faber & Faber, London, 2005, James Shapiro, encapsulates this strange problem, in writing, at one point, “None of the men who wrote plays for a living in 1599 was over forty years old. They had come from London and the countryside, from the Inns of Court, the universities and various trades. About the only thing these writers had in common is that they were all from the middling classes. There were about fifteen of them at work in 1599 and they knew each other and each other’s writing styles well: George Chapman, Henry Chettle, John Day,Thomas Dekker, Michael Drayton, Richard Hathaway, William Haughton, Thomas Heywood, Ben Jonson, John Marston, Anthony Munday, Henry Porter, Robert Wilson, and, of course, Shakespeare. Collectively this year they wrote about sixty plays, of which only a dozen or so survive, a quarter of these Shakespeare’s. Their names - though not Shakespeare’s - can be found in the pages of an extraordinary volume called Henslowe’s Diary, a ledger or account book belonging to Philip Henslowe, owner of the Rose Theatre, in which he recorded his business activities, mostly theatrical, from 1592 to 1609.” (p. 11). (Emphases added).

[iv] “The Sonnets form a huge riddle that demands a solution”, wrote Joseph Sobran, in 1997. “But our natural curiosity about it [the riddle] meets with the sophisticated scorn of commentators who regard such an interest as somewhat improper…Try as we may, we can’t banish the sense that something real lies behind the Sonnets, if only we could find it. C. S. Lewis says they tell ‘so odd a story that we find a difficulty in regarding it as fiction.’…The poet takes bold liberties with the youth [to whom the Sonnets are chiefly addressed], praising him in terms that would be incredibly presumptuous if he were a common poet addressing a man of Southampton’s rank [s is supposed by orthodox scholars]…The poet speaks continually of his ‘age’, of being ‘old’, ‘bated and chopp’d with tann’d antiquity’, and laments the loss of ‘precious friends, hid in death’s dateless night’. His ‘days are past the best’. He looks forward to his grave and obscurity…But why would Mr Shakspere, writing in the early 1590s, feel that he was old, looking death in the face, incurably disgraced, doomed to oblivion, and so forth? There are not the normal feelings of a man of thirty who is doing quite well for himself.’” Alias Shakespeare, Free Press, New York, 1997, pp. 82-89.

[v] Ibid. Appendix 1 ‘Mr Shakspere’s Will’ pp. 227-230 supplies the actual text of the will of Will.

[vi] Jonathan Bate takes issue with the claim that no letters by William Shakespeare survive with the remark that “Letters addressed by William Shakespeare to Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, may be read at the beginning of the texts of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, in any complete edition of his works. The letter prefixed to Venus and Adonis is couched in the servile language which low born writers had no choice but to use of they aspired to the patronage of aristocrats…”. The Genius of Shakespeare, Picador, 1997, p. 73.

[vii] Diana Price op.cit. is widely regarded as the most decisive account of what Brenda James and William Rubinstein have called “the insuperable difficulties involved in accepting the view that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the works attributed to him.” The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare, p. 307.

[viii] The book that first got me interested in the matter is Joseph Sobran’s Alias Shakespeare, Free Press, New York, 1997, which argues that the Author was Edward de Vere.

[ix] Along side these, a number of other recent books are notable for their reflections on the poet’s work, though making no contribution to the Authorship question: Frank Kermode’s The Age of Shakespeare, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2004 and James Shapiro’s 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, Faber & Faber, London, 2005, are prominent among these. Also deserving of mention are Stephen Greenblatt Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Jonathan cape, London, 2004, and Stanley Wells Shakespeare For All Time, MacMillan, London, 2002, as well as David Crystal and Ben Crystal Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion, Penguin, London, 2002.

[x] Peter Ackroyd Shakespeare: The Biography, Chatto and Windus, London, 2005.

[xi] Rodney Bolt History Play, Harper Perennial, 2005.

[xii] Mark Anderson ‘Shakespeare’ By Another Name, Gotham Books, New York, 2005.

[xiii] Brenda James and William Rubinstein The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare, Pearson Longman, 2005.

[xiv] Jonathan Bate op. cit. opens his chapter on the subject with the remark: “There is a mystery about the identity of William Shakespeare. The mystery is this: why should anyone doubt that he was William Shakespeare, the actor from Stratford-upon-Avon?” p. 65.

[xv] The testimony of these three outstanding Shakespearean actors, as well as that of Mark Rylance, confutes the unsupported claim by Jonathan Bate, in 1997, that “no major actor has ever been attracted to Anti-Stratfordianism.” Op. cit. p. 67.

[xvi] ‘The Honor Roll of Skeptics’, which has original quotes from the individuals mentioned and others besides.

[xvii] Anderson op. cit. p. xxiv.

[xviii] Ibid. p. xxiii.

[xix] Jonathan Bate summarized this position in his 1999 essay ‘Golden Lads and Chimney Sweepers’: “The best response to skeptics who doubt that the Stratford man could have written the plays on the foundation of nothing more than a grammar school education is an education to read the complete plays of Ben Jonson. They are vastly more academic than Shakespeare’s, yet they, too, were written on the foundation of nothing more than a grammar school education. The thing is, Elizabethan grammar schools were very good. They put our high schools to deep shame.” Harper’s Folio ‘The Ghost of Shakespeare’, April 1999, p. 61.

[xx] Northrop Frye, in Edward Hubler (ed) The Riddle of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Basic Books, New York, 1962, pp. 26-27.

[xxi] Harold Bloom The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, Harcourt, Brace & Co., New York, 1994, p. 90.

[xxii] Jonathan Bate The Genius of Shakespeare pp. 69-73 supplies the short list: Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont, William Camden, John Davies, George Buc and Leonard Digges. He does not enter into any discussion of the various pieces of evidence which cast these few references into a different light. Most notable among these is the case of Henry Peacham who “In a book on education published in 1622…made a list of poets, including Sidney and Spenser, who had made Elizabeth’s reign ‘a golden age’ of poetry. The list began with ‘Edward, Earl of Oxford’. It made no mention of William Shakespeare, despite his popularity.” Sobran, op. cit. p. 142. See also, Mark Anderson Shakespeare By Another Name, pp. 365-67. Peacham’s book was The Compleat Gentleman. It went through multiple editions for forty years after 1622, but the leading role attributed to Edward de Vere was never altered, nor the name of William Shakespeare included.

[xxiii] Bate, 1997, op. cit.

[xxiv] James and Rubinstein op. cit. pp. 31, 37-41.

[xxv] For the conventional life of Marlowe, see Park Honan Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy, Oxford University Press, 2005, especially Ch 10 ‘A Little Matter of Murder’ pp. 321-60 and Appendix ‘The Coroner’s Inquest of 1 June 1593’ pp. 376-77.

[xxvi] Bolt op. cit. pp. 313-14.

[xxvii] Ibid. pp. 314-15.

[xxviii] Anderson points out that Jonson was “a friend to the Herberts and to Henry de Vere [Edward’s son]” and “was hired to edit and oversee the Folio.” Op. cit. p. 376.

[xxix] Anderson op. cit. Appendix C ‘The 1604 Question’, pp. 398-99.

[xxx] Ibid. pp. 350-53 and 401-403.

[xxxi] Ibid. p. 398.

[xxxii]  Ibid. pp. 314, 371..

[xxxiii] Ibid. p. 374.

[xxxiv] James and Rubinstein op. cit. pp. 33-42.

[xxxv] Ibid. pp. 35-37. The grounds are that he lived too long, dying in 1626 for it to be plausible that he stopped writing plays in 1612; that his well-known prose works are written in a style altogether different from the works of Shakespeare; that he never visited Italy and that he had no close relationship to Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, that would have induced him to write two long poems for him, much less write sonnets expressing a homoerotic love for him, as the Author is believed to have done.

[xxxvi] Ibid. pp. 40, 195-198. adds Henry VIII (1613) and observes that Macbeth could not have been written before the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and that The Winter’s Tale was licensed by Sir George Buc, “who only began licensing plays for performance in 1610.” p. 66. Anderson, op. cit., discusses at some length the autobiographical traces that link The Winter’s Tale to de Vere and the question of its composition, performance and publication.

[xxxvii] Ibid. pp. 40-41.

[xxxviii] Ibid. Foreword, p. xi.

[xxxix] Ibid. p. 49.

[xl] Ibid. p. 49.

[xli] Harper’s April 1999 ‘Folio: The Ghost of Shakespeare’ pp. 35-62.  Bloom’s characteristic style is one of blooming rhetoric, not systematic argument. He wrote: “Oxfordians are the sub-literary equivalent of the sub-religious Scientologists. You don’t want to argue with them, as they are dogmatic and abusive. I, therefore, will let the Earl of Sobran be ad confine myself to the poetic power of Shakespeare’s Sonnets…”. Instead of addressing any argument to the Oxfordians, he seeks to cast ridicule on the whole debate, by offering the hilarious suggestion that the works of Shakespeare were all written by the poet’s ‘dark lady’, whom he identifies as Lucy Negro, “Elizabethan England’s most celebrated East Indian whore”, following Anthony Burgess’s fictive account of Shakespeare’s life, Nothing Like the Sun. This assertion, he ventured, enables us to read Shakespeare with assured political correctness, “since Lucy Negro was, by definition, multicultural, feminist and post-colonial.” Harper’s Folio ‘The Ghost of Shakespeare’, April 1999, p. 56.

[xlii] Jonathan Bate The Genius of Shakespeare, Picador, London, 1997, Ch. 3 ‘The Authorship Controversy’, pp. 65-100.