The Authorship Question
The Case Against William Shakspere of Stratford
The Case for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
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The Case Against William Shakspere of Stratford
The Case for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
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That no manuscript of a play or poem by “Shake-speare” nor any other documents have ever been discovered which identify any specific person as the author:

That the circumstantial evidence, and the evidence of the First Folio and the Stratford Monument are insufficient to support the attribution to William Shakspere of Stratford:

Whereas the circumstantial evidence of his early poems and surviving letters, his literary reputation, his association with the theatre, his education and experiences, are sufficient to confirm Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford as the author, using the pseudonym “William Shakespeare”.


Shakspere never claimed to be a writer. None of his children, or grandchildren or their families ever claimed that he was an author.

The record of his death in the Stratford register is simply “William Shakspere gent.” His son-in-law, John Hall, however is recorded as “Johannes Hall, medicus peritissimus” (most skilful physician)

Michael Drayton the poet, a contemporary of Shakspere, who lived in Warwickshire, was a patient of Dr John Hall, but never in his writings refers to Shakspere as an author. Dr Hall himself never mentioned his father-in-law as a writer though he recorded personal details of many others including Drayton whom he called ‘an excellent poet’ .

His death went entirely unnoticed by the literary world compared, for example, with that of Beaumont, who died the same year, Spenser and Ben Jonson all of whom were mourned with much ceremony.

The historian William Camden (1551 - 1623) in his book Britannia recording famous people, in the reference to Stratford upon Avon, includes an Archbishop of Canterbury and Hugh Clopton who became Lord Mayor of London, but not “Shakespeare”.

The plays and poetry of “Shake-speare” reveal a person who received the best education available, yet there is no record of Shakspere attending Stratford Grammar School (the registers for the period are missing) nor either University or the Inns of Court. Nor do we have any record of him being in the household of a great family where he could have received an education.

There is nothing in the papers of his literary contemporaries which refer to Shakspere as a fellow writer.

Although Shakspere was living in London for a number of years while conducting a business and maintaining a family in Stratford, no letters nor any correspondence, whether personal or business, from or to Shakspere have been discovered although other papers of those with whom he did business have survived. Does this lack of any personal correspondence indicate that Shakspere, like his father, was illiterate?

If he were the writer of some of the most beautiful love poetry ever written, why has nothing ever been found which Shakspere wrote to or about his wife, from whom he was living apart in London for a large part of his married life?

The most detailed theatrical records of the time, those of Phillip Henslowe the proprietor of several London theatres make no reference to “Shake-speare” although other actors are named as well as playwrights.

A study of the records of 116, towns including Stratford upon Avon, in which acting companies played at the time of “Shake-speare” show that not one of these lists him in the cast of any play.

No record has been found of payment made to any author for any of the “Shake-speare” plays.

We know William Shakspere was a shrewd and prosperous businessman, yet he makes no reference in his will to the publication or ownership of plays he had written nor to any manuscripts and books which he could be expected to have possessed if he were a writer and which he would have recognised as valuable. Nor is there any reference to his shares in the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres (these also fail to turn up in the records of any of his heirs).

Shakspere was assiduous in pursuing debts yet he allowed his works to be pirated on a scale far greater than any other Elizabethan writer. Most literary piracy was perpetrated on works of dead writers or those of men of rank who would have considered payment unacceptable.

The sonnets were first published in 1609 in a pirated edition which Shakspere seems to have done nothing to prevent. They refer in the title page to the author being “our ever-living poet” a phrase which universally implies that the author was dead. Shakspere died in 1616.

It is widely accepted that whoever wrote the plays had a detailed and first-hand knowledge of Italy. We have no record that Shakspere ever went abroad.

We do not know exactly when or for how long Shakspere went to London. We do know that in 1597 he bought the second finest house in Stratford upon Avon and that he was known as ‘William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon’, not of London.

The name Shakspere which appears on his monument in Stratford upon Avon and in the burial register is spelt as those who could write would spell it - as they heard it, with a short “a”. The playwright’s name was consistently spelled “Shakespeare” and in most cases hyphenated - a sign that would be recognised as a pseudonym.

If Shakspere were the author why did he, having made his name as an author in London, return to Stratford upon Avon around 1598 while still in his prime to spend most of his life there, apparently unrecognised, in a provincial community away from the centre of literary life in London? As a great dramatist surely he would have attracted some attention in a small town of some 1500 people.

If Shakspere were a great writer would he not have wanted his children to be able to read and write, yet his daughter Judith could only sign her name with a mark?

The only written works of Shakspere to come down to us are six signatures, three on the pages of his will and three on legal documents. They are all only partly legible, spelt in different ways and written in different styles but all spelt ‘Shaks...’, not ‘Shakes...’. Handwriting experts at the Public Record Office do not believe them all to be by the same hand.

Simply looking at the practicalities make it very unlikely that Shakspere was the author. If as the Stratfordians purport, he left Stratford around 1587 at the age of 22 to go to London to become an actor, he would have had very little time for anything else while he was making his living as an actor and learning the trade of acting; yet at the same time he would have had to educate himself in the various subjects referred to in the “Shakespeare” plays as well as keeping an eye on his grain business in Stratford, a four-day journey away.

Shakspere’s Warwickshire accent and dialect would have been a considerable handicap to someone writing plays for a London audience, or even communicating in London.

How Shakspere made his money so quickly is a very interesting question particularly as we know his wife had to borrow money from her father-in-law’s shepherd, which as the man’s will shows, had not been repaid at his death.

In Stratford, Shakspere is frequently the plaintiff in legal suits, whereas in London he is forever evading the courts for non-payment of taxes. Not only does he appear to be leading two very different lives, but also, from the evidence, his associates in each location were completely unaware of the other life. For example we know from the records that tax collectors in London in 1600 went to some lengths to trace him to Sussex, whereas his permanent residence and assets were in Stratford upon Avon, where he was not sought by the authorities. Was it because those who knew him in London had no knowledge that he had any connection with Stratford upon Avon?

The engraving by Sir William Dugdale in his book “Antiquities of Warwickshire” of 1656 shows the original monument of Shakspere as being a of man clutching a sack with the four corners tied. Wool was regularly kept in sacks such as this. There is certainly no sign in this engraving of a quill and sheet of paper. Were these added when the monument was “restored” in the 18th century?

The dedication on the Stratford monument is ambiguous. It calls him just “Shakspere” (not “Shakespeare” as the name of the playwright is invariably spelt). The text mentions nowhere that he was an author nor makes any reference to the plays or poems. It appears to be deliberately ambiguous and misleading.

Similarly, the introductory material in the First Folio Edition of the Plays of 1623 contains statements which are untrue, misleading or ambiguous. Nowhere is Shakspere directly attributed with the plays and poems and no biographical information is provided.

There is no evidence that anyone ever painted a portrait of “Shake-speare” from life. He is very much a shadowy figure. The copper plate engraving by Martin Droeshout (who did not meet Shakspere) on the titlepage of the 1623 First Folio, like much else, is ambiguous, even allowing for artistic incompetence. The engraving shows a huge head, placed against a starched ruff, which seems to be floating above an absurdly small tunic with oversized shoulder wings. The right side of the front of the tunic seems to be the left side of the back and the arrangement of the buttons seems quite impossible. The face seems to have two right eyes and light comes from several different directions. An unanatomical curving line from the left ear to the chin gives the face the appearance of a mask.

There is no record of Shakspere ever meeting or having a conversation with Southampton, or Burghley, or ever being present at the court of Queen Elizabeth. The sobriquet “Bard” which originally referred to Celtic court poets, is part of the Stratford mythology.

Even a genius has to acquire knowledge and skills yet there is no evidence of any literary “apprenticeship” - no early, immature works such as we find for example with Mozart. Even the early plays, supposedly written in the late 1580s, show a maturity which one would not expect to find in someone only in his middle twenties. Both Milton and Dante were in their late 40s when they wrote their great works.

The Stratford case relies on Shakspere being able to suppress all his own life experiences when writing the plays, to substitute those of a highly educated, well connected person, closely in touch with affairs of State, and permitted to lampoon with impunity some of the most powerful figures in the land.  
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The plays demonstrate a highly educated mind, with a feudal, aristocratic view of society. They are full of detailed references to lordly pastimes and sports and also show a detailed knowledge of the law and of foreign languages. De Vere studied law at Gray’s Inn after completing his education at Cambridge. The records of his education, whilst living in the Burghley household, show him to have been equipped to be an outstanding scholar, highly proficient in the classics and French.

One of De Vere’s tutors was his uncle, Arthur Golding, who is credited with the translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This is widely recognised as having a major influence on “Shakespeare”. Could this work have been a collaborative achievement by uncle and nephew?

Fourteen of the plays have Italian settings and demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the country beyond pure book knowledge. De Vere spent the best part of a year travelling in Italy in 1575. He was satirized as ‘The Italian Earl’ on his return to England.

36 out of the 37 plays are set in Courtly or wealthy society. The noble characters are all natural, convincing and at ease. They speak the language of their class. Throughout the plays, every character through whom the author speaks on social or political issues is of noble birth or privileged position.

It is “Shake-speare’s” lower-order characters which are unconvincing. Almost all of them are clods or clowns; even their names are undignified - Wart, Bottom, Dogberry, Snout.

By contrast, Ben Jonson’s “ordinary” characters are natural while his nobles are caricatures with the similarly ridiculous names such as Sir Epicure Mammon, Sir Paul Eitherside, Sir Diaphonous Silkworm. Thus the world “Shake-speare” wrote about was the world he knew and the world the court audience knew.

De Vere was closely involved with the theatre; he held a lease on the Blackfriars Theatre and had his own acting company, The Lord Oxford Players. He was acknowledged by his contemporaries as a poet and praised as a playwright. About 25 poems survive under his own name. Around 30 books were also dedicated to him during his lifetime, none by “Shake-speare”. He was also the patron of many writers but again, not of “Shake-speare”.

Soon after the name “Shake-speare” appeared for the first time, poems stopped appearing under De Vere’s own name; the vocabulary, style and imagery are consistent between the two.

De Vere was excellent at the tilts and at jousting. He was known as the “spear-shaker.” The crest of Viscount Bolebec (De Vere’s subsidiary title) is of a lion brandishing a broken spear. The sobriquet “Spear-shaker” also recalls the Greek goddess Pallas Athena who was associated with poetry and the theatre; Athens was the original home of drama, and of the finest tragic dramatists prior to Shakespeare. Gabriel Harvey in paying tribute to De Vere as a poet wrote, “thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes spears”.

There are parallels between his life and actual plays, too numerous, consistent, complex and intimate to be mere coincidences. This is particularly true of All’s Well That Ends Well and, especially, Hamlet. Although sneering at references which Oxfordians quote, Stratfordians constantly search the plays for personal biographical allusions to Will Shakspere - without success, as they themselves admit.

There are also parallels between characters and real court personages recognisable at the time and also today. The most frequently cited are Polonius/Burghley, Malvolio/Hatton, Boyet and Aguecheek/Sidney, Titania, Portia, Olivia/Queen Elizabeth. Only a senior nobleman closely associated with the Queen would surely have been permitted to caricature such eminent people.

De Vere was well known to the Earl of Southampton, the person to whom “Shake-speare” dedicated Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece in 1593/94 respectively. These were the first works to be published under the name “Shake-speare” and for the next five years the records show the by-line “Shake-speare” to have been associated exclusively with these two works. Printed plays under the name “Shake-speare” did not appear until 1598, the year that Lord Burghley died.

The sonnets, the only works by “Shake-speare” written in the first person, indicate that the writer was a senior man both in rank and age, and that the young man of great beauty in the sonnets is himself a nobleman. Even Stratfordians acknowledge that the young man is most likely to have been Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.

There are no documents which confirm the actual date of composition of any play. The best approximation can be derived from the various documents recording when plays were registered for printing with the Stationers’ Company; from references to specific plays by contemporaries and allusions in the plays to contemporary events. Both Oxfordians and Stratfordians have to date the plays to fit the life-spans of their respective candidates, which were 14 years apart, which makes use of “topical” allusions an inexact business. In any case, there is no proof that some of the early plays were not written before 1590, nor that any were written after 1604, the year of Oxford’s death.

If Shakspere were the author, he would have been writing for a company of actors and thus providing plays not much in advance of their first performance. With De Vere, the plays would not have been written at breakneck speed for public performance, but rather for private performance at Court, and subsequently revised into their present, literary, form. When they were written would have no direct link with when they were first performed or published. Like John Lyly’s plays they could well have been written many years before they were actually published.

The quality of the works and the exquisite workmanship of the poetry make it impossible to think of them being produced in any way other than first drafted out, then refined and perfected.

From the conventional, Stratfordian, dating, we find the early ones coinciding with De Vere’s retirement to Hackney alter his second marriage around 1592 and finish with Othello in 1604, the year of De Vere’s death. Later plays have often been considered as only partly “Shake-spearean” and partly by other hands. If Shakspere were the author this would mean that at the age of 40 he consented to collaborate with inferior writers. If Oxford was, plays that first appear after his death in 1604 might well have been completed by other hands.

In 1586, when he was 36, Oxford was awarded by the Queen an unconditional pension of ?1000 a year for life (around £500,000 at today’s value). Why the Queen was 50 uncharacteristically generous remains a mystery. No reason was given and no accounting required of de Vere, and her successor King James 1 continued to pay the pension. In reply to Lord Burghley’s request that Lord Sheffield’s pension be increased, the King refused, saying “Great Oxford got no more...”. Why “Great Oxford?”

Sigmund Freud, a strong supporter of the view that Oxford was “Shake-speare” believed that no author can completely avoid giving insights into himself in his writings and that the character of Hamlet is his own self portrait. This is supported by writers such as Virginia Woolf, Gustav Flaubert and Edward Albee. Stratfordians recognise Hamlet as “the most autobiographical character” but are baffled by the dissimilarity between Hamlet’s “life” and that of the Stratford man.

The records show Lord Oxford’s Players performing in the Boars Head tavern in Eastcheap (referred to in Henry IV part 1). The records also show that two former servants of Lord Burghley were waylaid by Lord Oxford’s men, on the highway between Gravesend and Rochester, the very same stretch of road where Falstaff was ambushed by Prince Hal and his men in disguise.

“Shake-speare” drew many biblical allusions in his plays from the Geneva translation of the Bible. Lord Oxford’s copy of the Geneva Bible is in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. In this copy, marked in coloured inks, are hundreds of phrases and verses that were used, or echoed, by “Shake-speare”.

We do not know who instigated the First Folio Edition of the Shakespeare Plays in 1623, but there is no mention of any executor or relative of Shakspere in connection with it. What we do know is that the two men who financed it, and to whom it was dedicated were the two brothers, Philip and William Herbert. Philip, Earl of Montgomery was the husband of Edward De Vere’s daughter, Susan; William, Earl of Pembroke became Lord Chamberlain, the supreme authority in the world of theatre, and thus in a position to ensure plays which published or suppressed. We also know that Ben Jonson, who wrote much of the introductory material, was an intimate associate of the De Vere family.  
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HTML Rae West. First uploaded 98-08-31. Revd 98-09-29. Comsetic changes 2000-02-03. By permission of the De Vere Society, England, Registered Charity No. 297855. Full unedited version..