William Shakespeare and The Authorship Debate: Did he Write His Own Plays
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Essay on William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare is one of the most famous names of all time, due to his tremendous success as a playwright and poet. In fact, his success seems so incredible that many skeptics question the authorship of his sonnets and plays. Although a majority believe he was a legendary playwright and actor from Stratford-upon-Avon who was christened William Shakespeare. Others theorize that Shakespeare is actually a pseudonym for a group of playwrights. There are many theories in between, which name various men, such as Edward Bacon or Christopher Marlowe, as the true William Shakespeare. One of the more common beliefs is that the true author of the Shakespearean works is Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. He is believed to have used “William Shakespeare” as a pseudonym to mask his true identity. Evidence for this theory is based on the lack of evidence for Shakespeare the playwright, the credentials of the Earl of Oxford, and the similarities between the Shakespearean characters and Edward de Vere's life.
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There is little evidence that the playwright William Shakespeare and the actor William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon are one-in-the-same. Not only are there no existing plays or poems written in his own handwriting, many of the plays did not list William Shakespeare on the original transcript as the author. It wasn't until 1598 that his plays hinted at to his participation in them. During Shakespeare's lifetime, two of his most famous plays, King Lear and Hamlet, had absolutely no written acknowledgment that the actor William Shakespeare was the author.
According to research published by Charlton Ogburn's, historical knowledge of William Shakespeare suggests that he did not actually write plays and sonnets that are traditionally credited to him. Ogburn and many of his colleagues believe that due to his Stratford upbringing, William Shakespeare was not culturally diversified enough to have written on such a broad range of subjects. Shakespeare was a countryman, and did not travel very much. His knowledge of other countries and their topography would have been minimal; however, the author who wrote the plays clearly had knowledge of many different places. For instance, in the Merchant of Venice, the playwright displays a detailed knowledge of Italy, that would suggest the writer had traveled there.
Ogburn also believes that the person who wrote the plays and sonnets was much more educated than the historical Shakespeare. Looking at Hamlet and Richard III alone, the author had a vocabulary of at least twenty thousand words. These two plays alone included names of two hundred plants and one hundred musical items. Only an educated person would have such vast knowledge of these things. Interestingly enough, Edward de Vere was known to be well educated and traveled.
Edward de Vere
Edward De Vere
Edward was born in 1550, which places him at the right time to have authored the Shakespearean plays and sonnets. He was also a well known man of noble descent and was an infamous ladies' man. Some suggest he may have been a secret lover of Queen Elizabeth. Even if he was not intimate with her, he did serve the monarchy closely after the Norman Invasion. Edward's prominent standing would have given him motive to hide his identity if he did write a public play. One reason for this is because a play written by someone of his status would be censored much more extensively than if it were written by a common man.
There is also evidence that Oxford was a writer of sorts. In his youth, he was recognized for his poetry writing. As an adult, he is believed to have continued to write many poems. None of them that were written in Latin language survived, but there are several, which were written in English that did survive. Other members of Oxford's family are also well known for their written contributions. His uncles, Earl of Surry and Sir Thomas Wyatt, created the English sonnet form that later became known as the Shakespearean sonnet. The Earl of Surry also introduced blank verse.
Not only was Oxford well educated, but he also had a vast worldly knowledge. He was involved with the theaters of that time. This gave him a close connection to the plays and their playwrights. His first troupe was inherited from his father. Later, he had two more companies of his own and leased Blackfriar's Theatre. Oxford also traveled a lot. Many of the places Oxford traveled were used as settings in Shakespeare's plays. It is not believed that Shakespeare Stratford-upon-Avon ever traveled to any of these places.
Earl of Oxford with Queen Elizabeth
De Vere's credentials seem enough to offer the possibility that he used the pseudonym William Shakespeare. The way his life parallels the plays offers further support. Some believe that Hamlet was a written autobiography of Oxford's life. In his early life his father died, and his mother remarried soon there after, just as Hamlet's mother had. Oxford's personality, interests, and accomplishments were similar to Hamlet's. Both were university educated, enjoyed athletics, and wrote poetry. Even Oxford's close friend had a similar name to Hamlet's friend Horatio. Oxford's friends name was Horace Vere, and there are documents that list his name as Horatio.
Edward de Vere's marriage may have been reflected in All's Well That Ends Well. Oxford's wife gave birth one calendar year after he last remembered laying with his wife. He was in Italy when she conceived. It is rumored that just as the play goes, Oxford was convinced that he had laid with her when he was drunk thinking she was another woman. Unfortunately for his wife, and his possible child, the reconciliation was not as quick as that of Bertram and Helena's in All's Well That End's Well.
Speculation on who the true author of Shakespearean works will continue to rage for centuries to come. Does it really matter if the identity of the playwright is ever truly discovered? It was best said by the mysterious playwright himself, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."
Great Books About Shakespeare
© 2010 Angela Michelle
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Bethell, Tom. “The Case for Oxford.” October 1991
Kathman, David and Tom Reedy. "How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts." 29 June 2008.
"Some Ado About Who Was, or Was Not, Shakespeare." The Shakespeare Mystery. 1987. Fontline. September 1987. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shakespeare/debates/readarticle.html>.